To Create a World – and an ebook!

So I’ve finally published my first ebook!

It’s been, in all honesty, one of the most exciting and enjoyable things I’ve ever done.

final4thumb

To Create a World is a middle-grade fantasy novel about a boy named Tom who enters a hidden magical world in search of a magician who can heal his sick sister. When he arrives, he finds that the hidden world is all but empty and the magician is long gone. It’s up to Tom to rebuild the world, and fill it with all the magic and adventure a hidden world ought to have.

…and it turns out that writing fiction is awesome. Or, to be precise, finishing writing fiction is awesome. It’s so incredibly satisfying to have reached this point after about fifteen months of working on the manuscript, on top of two or so years of trying to figure out how to write fiction in the first place.

Along the way I’ve been astounded and full of barely-contained glee at all the things that have come together in my life, in my mind, and in my writing as this book took shape.

It’s as though everything has become a metaphor for everything else. Even my experiments with making things like cheese and bacon and beer have flowed back into this creative process, until writing and publishing an ebook became a natural extension of the DIY ethos.

In other words, I’m stoked.

But as with all my other creations, the keyword is experimental. There’s still so much to learn about writing, publishing, and marketing. Expectations are realistic. I have another four books to write in the medium-term along with blog posts and articles to support and publicise this one.

I’m really looking forward to sharing some of my insights and observations along the way!

A big thank you to everyone who reads this blog, and especially to the people who supported me directly and indirectly in writing To Create a World.

The links will take you to my ebook page which lists all the available digital stores. You can purchase it from Amazon if you use a kindle, or the kindle-for-pc app, and it’s available on the iTunes iBook store if you have an iPad or iPhone. Other digital stores can be found on this page.

Enlightenment and Depression

So…if your sense of self is really just a bunch of thoughts and impressions created by your mind – or more profoundly: the mind, Buddha-nature, God, consciousness, Brahman – then doesn’t that mean experiences of negative mental states like anxiety and depression are also products of this same mind?

All thoughts and impressions come from the same place. So although on the relative level your depression can be viewed as your reaction to negative life-events, on the absolute level there is no difference between “you” and “your reaction”. Both are products of mind.

Which is pretty weird, if you think about it.

It’s as if you’re a character in a story, and you think the things that befall you are due to your beliefs and choices and actions. But in fact both you and all the circumstances in and around you are created by the author. You have no control, because “you” are just another part of what is being written.

So when “you” start thinking about this, it’s not as though “you” are exercising your autonomy and control over your thoughts and circumstances. It means the author has gone from writing “you – who doesn’t think about this stuff” to writing “you – now thinking about this stuff and realising how weird it is”.

Likewise, these mental states like depression and anxiety; it’s not that “you” suddenly become afflicted by anxiety or depression. There’s no central, coherent, unified “you” who suffers those states. Instead the author has gone from writing “you without depression” to writing “you with depression”. If the depression stops, it will be because the author is now writing “you with depression stopping and feeling relieved about it”.

So what’s going on? Is the author an arsehole? Why is he or it inflicting so much suffering on everyone?

Well, the weird thing is that there is no “everyone” on whom suffering is inflicted.

There are temporary thoughts and impressions, some of which contain the belief that there is an “everyone” who is suffering.

But there are other temporary thoughts and impressions that recognise all thoughts and impressions as coming from the same place.

The thoughts that are full of suffering only think they are full of suffering. They aren’t actually full of suffering.

In other words, if you are depressed, but you then recognise that all thoughts and impressions come from the same place, then it’s not that you would stop being depressed, but that the “you” who feels assailed by depression would no longer be a separate, distinct, enduring entity who can be assailed by things like depression.

If the author writes a character experiencing depression, it’s not as though he first writes the character and then assails them with depression. No, the author writes the character-with-depression as one thing. Then later he writes the character-after-depression as another thing. There’s no actual, continuous character who exists from beginning to end and is assailed by depression, then recovers from it.

Moment by moment, our thoughts and impressions are coming from the same place. They don’t linger. Like the frames in a movie. Some objects in a movie scene might appear to stay still while others, like the actors, move around. But in reality we are seeing continuous individual frames. The sequence is composed of individual frames, and for an object just to remain static in place it must still be reproduced one frame at a time in every frame.

On the relative level we all have individual reasons for the negative mental states we experience. But on the absolute level, our negative mental states are all due to one thing: we mistake the “self” of our thoughts and impressions for an actual entity.

But who commits that mistake? Isn’t it too a product of the same author?

This is why there is such ambivalence about the nature of delusion in Buddhism, and the nature of evil in Christianity. If God is all powerful, is he also responsible for the existence of evil?

One thing is clear: despite the ambivalence over causation, delusion will be overcome and evil will be vanquished. There is no ambivalence about the end. Delusion and enlightenment, evil and good, they are not viewed as equal and opposite pairs.

Depression is a horrible experience, but when we recognise that both the experience and the apparent subject of that experience are products of thoughts and impressions that arise from the same place, then both the suffering and the one who suffers are transcended. The son of man has nowhere to lay his head.

At the same time, there comes the realisation that even this realisation itself has come from the same place as all the other thoughts and impressions. The quality has changed, but not the source.

And at that moment there comes the realisation that this realisation too is coming from the same place – that the author is now writing himself into the story as the author. And everything it took to arrive at this point – all the suffering and confusion and striving and grasping and gradual realisation – that too was the author, writing everything.

And when it stops, when realisation is replaced with forgetfulness and the door closes once more and it feels like “you” have returned to normal…who do you think is doing that?

Searching for Four Temperaments info?

I’m planning to write a book about the Four Temperaments theory, but in the meantime I notice some of the search terms that bring people to my page, and in lieu of actual questions I thought I would respond to some of them.

choleric sanguine mbti

I use Keirsey’s temperaments to match the four temperaments to the MBTI, though I don’t necessarily follow his system.

Cholerics are Keirsey’s “rational” which is NT in MBTI terms.

Sanguines are Keirsey’s “artisan” which is SP.

My theory is that one’s secondary temperament corresponds to one’s inverse Myers-Briggs Type. So for a person to exhibit both NT and SP characteristics suggests extroverted sensing is in their functional stack, as either their tertiary or inferior function. So if we know that an NT has extroverted Sensing (SP) in third or fourth place, then they must have the inverse in their perceiving function: introverted Intuition. That means a Choleric-Sanguine (as in, a Choleric with secondary Sanguine characteristics) must be an NTJ, either an ENTJ or INTJ.

In theory, an ENTJ will be more Sanguine than an INTJ, because the extroverted Sensing (SP) that makes Sanguines what they are will be tertiary for an ENTJ and inferior in an INTJ, hence more prominent in the former.

is melancholic sensor or intuitive

Intuitive. Definitely intuitive. Melancholics are NF according to the MBTI.

skill and ways of learning sanguine temperament

From the temperament perspective, Sanguines are easily distracted and like “nice things” which includes beautiful objects, fun experiences, social events, etc. In MBTI terms, it helps to consider that Sanguines are defined by their extroverted Sensing, which simply means they are oriented to their sensory input from the external world.

I like to think of Sanguines as being either “entertainment” types or “artisan” types, borrowing from Keirsey a little. Every Sanguine I’ve ever met enjoys a party, but some are more introverted than others and seem more inclined to make things. Bear in mind that Sanguines in the MBTI system can either be Thinking or Feeling dominant, so I wouldn’t generalise about how they learn. The common factor is their appreciation for sensory stimuli.

i am melancholic but i have met some choleric type guys but we always end up fighting why

Because Cholerics are *****.

Just kidding. Some of my best friends are Choleric, I swear!

In the temperament system, both Cholerics and Melancholics form long-lasting impressions of the world. The difference between them is that Cholerics are excitable, which translates into ambition, desire to accomplish things, and pride. Melancholics are not excitable, which translates into hesitancy, rumination or endless reflection, risk-aversion and pessimism. But despite these differences, they are nonetheless on the same “wavelength” when compared to the other two temperaments.

Melancholics and Cholerics will often end up fighting because the Choleric will come across as arrogant, insensitive, and willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. The Melancholic will come across as stubborn, unwilling to cooperate (or be manipulated), and risk averse. Cholerics and Melancholics are most likely to clash when the Melancholic has something that the Choleric wants or needs to accomplish his goals.

By contrast, Sanguines and Phlegmatics can usually be convinced to go along with a Choleric’s plans. They seem more “open-minded”, less risk averse, and often have a shorter memory for the manipulation, forcefulness and deceit that some (many?) Cholerics will use to get their own way.

Ultimately, both Cholerics and Melancholics like to be in control, actively for the former and passively for the latter. Hence conflict is often assured.

intps introverted sanguine

I don’t think so. An INTP should be a Choleric, and extroverted Sensing (SP) should be difficult for them according to the MBTI.

mbti 4 temperaments

I use Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter which does a good job of linking temperaments to MBTI. Just treat the Guardian as Phlegmatic, the Artisan as Sanguine, the Idealist as Melancholic, and the Rational as Choleric.

melancholics and high stress

No thank you.

Actually, Melancholics are quite gifted at creating their own sources of stress. It’s due to the idealism that arises from our lack of excitability and enduring impressions. We don’t get excited by the same things as everyone else, but positive and negative experiences leave a deep impression on us. As a result, we start searching for rules or principles or ideals that can help us to operate more effectively in the world. Unfortunately this very search tends to make us less pragmatic and less tolerant of our own mistakes and imperfections in the world.

In addition, our society tends to be dominated by Choleric and Sanguine and to a lesser extent Phlegmatic influences. We’re told to be more aggressive, ambitious, competitive, and achievement-oriented. We’re encouraged to consume, to have fun, to be easy-going, to smile a lot, and be sociable. Finally, we’re told at the very least to obey the rules, to not make trouble for others, to not stand out, and not be demanding.

So, Melancholics are left trying to find a place in a society that doesn’t really recognise or understand their temperament, with the additional handicap of not knowing their own temperament very well either, and to top it all off they go in search of answers that tend to exacerbate the problem of fitting in.

infp melancholic temperament

All NF types are Melancholic according to Keirsey’s system. INFPs are more likely to be Melancholic with a strong Phlegmatic influence, because their tertiary function is introverted Sensing – the defining feature of the Phlegmatic.

Melancholic-Phlegmatics are hard to find, perhaps because they’re more likely to be at home on their own.

Their idealistic Melancholic characteristics are influenced by the Phlegmatic’s desire to avoid conflict, follow the rules, and get the details right. I think this tends to conflict with the Melancholic desire for eccentricity, radical change, and frustration at the status quo.

melancholy temperament and worrying

Melancholics worry because the experience of being unexcitable but with enduring impressions is like living in the midst of a thick fog, while you’re assailed from all around by the sounds of people enjoying life, achieving things, yelling at you to get out of their way or cajoling you to follow their lead.

All you can see are the brightest lights and the biggest landmarks, but you’re not even sure how close they are, let alone how to reach them.

Occasionally you work out where you are and what lies in front of you, but then the fog swirls and you’re lost in it once again.

So you worry. You worry about going the wrong way, falling down in a hole, getting in people’s way, failing to arrive at your destination, having the wrong destination, and so on.

In real life you don’t even realise there is a fog. So you experience worry on a more subconscious level with the sense that something just isn’t right, that you don’t fully understand what everyone else is doing and why, and they in turn don’t seem to understand you at all.

strange melancholics

Yes.

Imagine if everyone around you suddenly became fascinated with cat feces. They started collecting it, writing about it, featuring it on the news. Some people accumulate huge piles of cat feces and are celebrated as heroes and pillars of society. Cat feces becomes a new currency, a status symbol, and an object of adoration.

What would you do? Maybe you shrug your shoulders and do your best to fake enthusiasm about other people’s cat feces and amass your own modest collection. After all, there are bills to pay.

But you would never get genuinely excited about it, and so you’d never really be able to relate to others. You’d wish there was something more to life than cat feces.

Everyone else would think you were strange.

 

That’s probably enough for now. I’ll continue later when I have the time…

Revisiting the ideal diet

Back in October 2016 I did a follow-up on my diet. Four or so months on, my weight still hasn’t changed despite making no real effort to control intake or exercise.

I’m proud of this diet I’ve created, not only because it works so well, but because I created it by doing what I do best: analysing a problem, breaking it down to its most basic principles, and finding a radical solution informed by those insights.

Radical comes from radix, meaning root. So a radical solution is one that goes to the roots of the problem.

When it comes to being overweight, the root of the problem is excessive intake of food. People eat for many different reasons, but the only truly essential reason – the purpose of eating – is to sustain us physically.

Being overweight is typically the result of eating for reasons other than sustenance. Eating for pleasure, for escape from unpleasant feelings, for camaraderie, or just out of long-established habits. These behaviours distort our sense of hunger, loading it with emotional needs that go beyond the simple goal of having enough energy to live.

One rule

When we consistently overeat, we forget what it is like to feel genuine hunger. Between breakfast, lunch, dinner, and various snacks, our digestive systems are never really empty. We overeat at every opportunity.

What we really need is to calibrate our sense of hunger, emptiness and fullness. Calibrate it by going without food for a while. Eat nothing until you begin to feel physically tired, a bit shaky, a bit irritable, a bit weak.

That’s your new set-point of hunger.

When you feel that weakness, tiredness, failure to concentrate and irritability, you can eat something. You can eat one bite of something.

One bite is all you’ll need to stave off the hunger and replenish your energy.

Thus the one rule of my diet: only eat enough at any given time to stave off the symptoms of actual hunger.

Can I keep going?

So you’re feeling a little hungry, you’re starting to experience the physical symptoms, and you’re considering eating something.

Before you do that, ask yourself “Can I keep going?”

Often the answer is “Yes”. Our reserves are much greater than we think, especially if we are already overweight.

This doesn’t mean we should keep going to the point of exhaustion. No, the whole point is to sustain our energy levels throughout the day so we can maintain a sound performance in our daily activities.

If your daily activity is sitting at a computer, you probably don’t need much to sustain you. If your daily activity is working in a factory or digging ditches, you’re going to need a bit more.

You don’t want to reach a stage where you physically can’t function. But nor do you want to use the first sign of tiredness or boredom as an excuse to eat something.

Imagine your body is like a furnace. You want to keep it running efficiently by adding fuel as needed to maintain it at a constant temperature. You don’t want to overload it with too much fuel, nor do you want to wait until it nearly dies out before you add more fuel.

Your body will get the message

When you start to calibrate yourself according to the rule, you’ll find that your body responds positively to your new behaviour.

If you stop eating for entertainment, for escapism, to avoid waste, or to clean out the fridge of leftovers, your body will change.

There’s something powerful about declining food you would usually eat, declining it not because you’re stuffed full, not because you’re trying to force yourself to meet some arbitrary dietary regime, but because you recognise that your body doesn’t need it – and any other reason for eating is not good enough.

If you adhere to the rule, you’ll find that losing weight happens quickly and quietly.

The catch

Every diet has a catch, a hidden difficulty or challenge. In some diets you can eat whatever you want, but you have to carefully control portions. In other diets you can eat as much as you want of certain foods. These diets appeal to different aspects of our appetite and for some people they work.

The catch in my diet is that you’ll quickly discover the hidden emotional causes behind your normal eating habits. There are reasons why we eat more than we need to. The moment you decide to follow the rule of my diet, you’ll find yourself assailed by whatever fears and negative emotions usually motivate you to eat.

Perhaps you’ll experience an awful feeling of emptiness and pointlessness that you usually fill with food. Maybe you’ll discover you’re lonely, or bored, or depressed, or that you just don’t have enough sources of enjoyment in your life other than food.

It’s going to be painful. But at least you’ll know that it’s painful, why it’s painful, and that eating is not the answer. Even if you succumb to these feelings and overeat, you’ll do so knowing that you’re eating for emotional reasons, not real hunger.

Gradually you’ll learn to recategorise things. You’ll see that what you used to experience as “hunger” is actually boredom, fear, emptiness, sadness, or similar.

In this sense, my diet is more demanding than others. But at least the demands are clear.

Do you create your own reality?

Remember the Law of Attraction?

It became popular in 2006 thanks to the book and film “The Secret”, but the idea has been around for a while as part of the New Thought movement.

The Law of Attraction always bothered me because it seemed incomplete. The promise of changing reality simply by changing our thoughts seemed too good to be true, or to be the complete truth.

On the one hand, I’ve seen in my own life that perceptions can, for all intents and purposes, blind me to possibilities and realities that are outside my experience or my expectations.

Likewise, there is plenty of psychological evidence to support the claim that we create – if not our reality – then our fully immersive interpretation of reality, through cognitive and perceptual biases.

But New Thought wants to go much further than that, claiming that reality itself is dependent on the content or tone of our thoughts, with some going so far as to claim that reality exists in order to mirror back to us the contents of our own thoughts.

I wrote some time ago about the paradox at the heart of the law of attraction, but lately I’ve been reflecting on another, deeper paradox, and I think we can now reconcile the two.

While the law of attraction people were encouraging us to write imaginary cheques or bank statements to help us feel rich, or build scrapbooks of our dream home or dream car, dream partner or dream career, what they failed to clarify was that the you who wants to create a more satisfying reality is as much a creation of your thoughts as anything else.

Your thoughts create reality, but on what side of the equation does your sense of self and your many desires fall? Do you create or control your thoughts? Or are you yourself a product of your thoughts and impressions?

It may be true that your thoughts create your reality, but that doesn’t mean you can willfully control your thoughts or your reality.

That’s because your sense of self is as much a construct and creation as anything else in your experience. It has more in common with the objects of sensation than with the subject – consciousness – at the very heart of it.

So let’s revise the law of attraction thinking: your thoughts create your reality, including your own self and identity. This self or identity is a product of your thoughts, not the origin or producer.

That’s why all the encouragement to focus on and think about your desires should be viewed with ambivalence, because it implicitly reinforces an illusory sense of control, the idea that you can have whatever you want if you just want it with enough effort and focus.

Your thoughts create your reality, including the sense of a self who has control over its own thoughts.

That probably wouldn’t sell as many books as promising people all the wealth and success they think they need, deserve, or desire, but it does explain why those promises fell short.

Incidentally, this is why New Age and New Thought sources often invoke the concept of your true self or higher self. It is in part a valid attempt to depreciate your self-centred desires and illusion of control. It’s an attempt to talk directly to the ‘self’ behind the curtain, the real source of your thoughts and impressions.

The higher/true self idea can be found in the far older Upanishads, which describe the self as two birds sitting on a tree.

Some have argued that the same idea is echoed in St Paul’s depiction of the Inner and Outer man.

This is why mysticism contains the theme of enlightenment as remembering who you really are, or realising the source of all your thoughts and impressions as something mysterious, hidden, and divine.  Likewise it is the outer self, the illusory self that must die or be denied – be recognised as a product, a construct, a creation, rather than the creator.

As the commentary on the “two birds” analogy put it:

We are drowned, submerged, in the deadly ocean of samsara, of continual birth, death, pain and pleasure. Sankara points out that the individual self is overwhelmed with confusion because it cannot understand what is really happening to it, and why. Just like a piece of driftwood on the heaving sea, it is lifted up and down, thrown onto the shore and then pulled out to sea again. So it grieves at its helplessness and hopelessness.

All is changed, though, when the individual sees, right in the core of his being, the very God he has been hitherto worshipping as separate from himself. Experiencing within his own being the presence and the glory of God–and thereby realizing that glory as his own–the individual becomes liberated from sorrow.

This doesn’t mean – can never mean – that the deluded, flawed, illusory sense of self is God. But it points to the Imago Dei of the inner man, the “Christ born in us”, the participation of the individual being in the divine Being of our creator.

Ebooks aren’t books, don’t have covers

I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to design an ebook cover for my new novel.

Who would have thought that over ten years of writing have done nothing – nothing – to improve my graphic design and drawing skills?

But I really want to get this book out there. So while I submit my manuscript to the few traditional publishers in Australia who actually welcome submissions, I’ve continued to research and experiment with cover designs that might not destroy all hope and curiosity in the would-be reader.

After investigating a number of options from crowdsourcing to having no cover at all, I finally succumbed to despair.

Fortunately, despair is where I do my best work.

I concluded it was hard to decide on a cover because I actually don’t care much about it, despite everyone saying a good cover is one of the key determinants of success.

But what does a book cover mean to me? I admit that a good cover is a wonderful thing…but I never before considered how these covers were made or where they came from. Now I know that publishers employ artists and graphic designers to create covers, but that’s part of the publisher’s trade along with printing and book binding.

Despite the prospect of “self-publishing” on Amazon, uploading an ebook doesn’t really make me a publisher anymore than playing a guitar on youtube would make me a recording company.

What I’ve actually done – and all I really wanted to do – is to write a story. It’s the publisher’s job to print books, and despite the neologism, an ebook is not a book.

To be precise, what I’ll finally be distributing on Amazon is a .mobi file containing my story. There is no cover, because there is no book. What we anachronistically refer to as ebook covers are simply advertisements.

Looking at it this way helps demystify the ebook cover a little. Plenty of people have already explained that an ebook cover is different from a physical book cover, and how the latter often fails to transfer successfully into a digital form. But it’s so different, perhaps it’s better not to think of it as a cover at all.

If nothing else, this helps me lower my expectations. At this stage, I don’t want to hire an artist to create something for my book.  Nor do I want to leave it blank or text-only. That leaves plenty of room for compromise.

At the very least, it only needs to not scare people away. If it draws some people in, better still. But we’re a long way from the ideal of having an amazing artist read your book and create something that captures the very essence of your story.

Maybe one day.

Everyday heroism and the value of fiction

My first article for MercatorNet for 2017 is inspired by my past year of writing fiction. I’ve been working on a middle-grade fantasy novel, and have learned so much along the way…it’s completely transformed my appreciation of fiction.

Today’s article is a reflection on heroes and villains, and how they mirror our own struggle with vice and virtue:

We can even see the conflict between the hero and the villain as a symbolising the struggle between our own virtuous and vicious inclinations. On one level we can see ourselves in either the hero or the villain, but on a deeper level we already contain both villain and the hero in ourselves.

Fiction can lead us through this journey, this struggle, in a way that non-fiction cannot. Fiction is figurative where non-fiction is literal, obscure where non-fiction is clear, and imaginary where non-fiction is factual. But it is precisely these apparent deficiencies that allow fiction to go deeper than our literal, factual minds can follow.

https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/heroes-and-villains-the-real-world-significance-of-our-most-popular-stories

Symbolism of posture

I’ve known for a while that there’s something wrong with my posture, but it’s only in the last year that I’ve resorted to learning basic functional anatomy to troubleshoot the problems for myself.

I’ve been learning about extension and flexion of the various joints, bony landmarks, specific muscles and their antagonists, as well as common postural deficiencies like forward head posture, excessive lordosis of the lumbar spine, kyphosis of the thoracic spine, pelvic tilt, rib flare, and so on.

There are lots of variables to examine and many of them are inter-dependent. For example: I started with the issue of rounded shoulders, which is really about protraction of the scapulae. I worked on trying to fix that for a while, but with limited success. Eventually I realised I was flaring out my ribs too much, which is really an issue of excessive extension at the thoraco-lumbar spine – the middle of the spine.

To correct the rib flare requires engaging abdominal muscles to pull the ribs down, but this in turn is not feasible unless the pelvis is correctly aligned. Anterior pelvic tilt tends to weaken the abdominals and the gluteals, while shortening the lower back muscles and the hip flexors.

By the time I’d worked all this out I’d forgotten about the shoulder protraction issue, so it’s come full-circle again.

Beyond anatomy

I think there’s also a symbolic or psychological aspect to these postural issues.

Posture is directly linked to the psyche in two main ways: first, we use posture to communicate with others. Defensive and submissive postures indicate to others that we wish to avoid confrontation. Hunching or rounding the shoulders, dropping the head, collapsing the chest all communicate submission by making us appear physically smaller and weaker.

Second, bad posture feels awful. It makes us irritable and stressed, takes more energy to maintain, and discourages us from the physical exertion required to accomplish daily activities and meaningful projects.

Forward head posture

So let’s take forward head posture as an example.

There’s a simple behavioural component, in that we spend a lot of time sitting at computers or staring at mobile phones or tablets. These activities tend to encourage forward movement of the head.

But moving your head forward to stare at the computer screen isn’t necessary. Perhaps it’s a by-product of intense focus, or maybe it’s a result of the conflict between a sedentary seating position combined with active visual attention.

Even before I began looking into posture I knew I had problems with my neck. It feels incredibly stiff at times, and occasionally it would ache from the tension. Symbolically, I used to relate this tension to my analytical and overly-intellectual approach to life.

I think a lot. I think about everything, all the time. 80-90% of my waking hours involve thinking about something, and this hasn’t changed in over a decade.

I’ve tried a lot of things to let go of this excessive intellection, but I’ve never found a simple solution. The complex solution has been to keep thinking about it, or at least try to improve the efficiency of my thinking in hopes that I’d eventually find the answer.

Trying to think of a solution to excessive thinking may sound counter-intuitive. As Maslow wrote:

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

But if the only tool you have is a hammer, it’s not too outrageous to prioritise all your hammering tasks…maybe see how far hammering alone will get you.

Nonetheless, I can’t ignore the symbolism of forward head posture as a psychosomatic effort to lead with one’s head – putting one’s mind out in front.

And compared to what?

Well if I try to correct my head position, I immediately feel that my throat, chest, and whole torso are more open and exposed. That’s why dropping the head is a defensive position: better to get hit in the chin than in the throat.

If the head is associated with thinking, the chest or the heart is associated with feeling. Perhaps the symbolism of forward head posture is an attempt to use thinking, intellect, and analysis, to get out in front of feeling?

Melancholics are, after all, feeling-oriented. The effort to analyse life rather than feeling it directly is an established trope or cliche, and it makes sense that a feeling-oriented person would compromise their posture through such an effort. Feeling can be a confusing and seemingly ineffectual function. It gives long, slow answers when what we might prefer are short, convenient, and maybe conventional solutions. Feeling often points a direction with no hint as to the final destination.

We can easily blame behaviour for bad posture, and it certainly plays a role. But our psychology also makes us more susceptible to particular behaviours. Maintaining a postural deficiency takes constant effort, and trying to explain it as merely the outcome of certain behaviours like staring at a computer screen is question-begging. Why, after all, am I spending so much time happily staring at a computer screen if it is damaging my posture?

Looking at a postural problem in the broader context of one’s behaviours, psychology, and temperament can reveal symbolic relationships and even solutions.

Not that I found the solution by examining the symbolism, mind you. It’s eight to ten years since I first thought my neck trouble might be linked to my intellectual outlook, but the more I hammered away at that question, the more ingrained my intellectual efforts became.

It’s taken life experience, grudging and sometimes grueling lessons to reveal the real meaning and importance of feeling in my life, and how this mysterious function is to be embraced.

So now my old speculations about the symbolism of posture have come to mind, more like a memory or a realisation than a solution. The solution has happened on a deeper level, and now the recognition of it comes like an afterword, tying up loose ends when the real story is done.

 

When suffering is good for you

Suffering is a key theme of all religious traditions. They tend to treat suffering as something inevitable, but not intrinsic. That is, we all suffer, but only because something has gone wrong in us, the world, or reality itself.

Christianity and Buddhism (and everything in between) attest that true peace and contentment cannot be found in worldly things, or in the satisfaction of our desires.  From a religious point of view, we are all suffering whether we realise it or not. The first step is to realise it.

But it is possible, with sufficient wealth and self-delusion, to distract ourselves from suffering. We can run headlong into distractions – career, relationships, experiences, whatever will feed our pride and fill us with the promise of self-sufficiency.

We can let suffering feel like our opponent in the private drama of achieving success, personal validation, vindication, of finally making it. We can attribute our suffering to not being busy enough, or rich enough, on not having enough holidays, not having the right friends, not having the right distractions.

But these efforts will only intensify our suffering in the long-run. They will turn us into the kind of person who doesn’t know how to suffer, or more importantly, doesn’t know how to let go of the roots of suffering.

Because the roots of suffering lie in our false sense of autonomy, our desire to be in control. At the deepest level of our being there is no “me” to exercise this control, there is no interior agent behind our choices and decisions. Our efforts to feel in control are vain in light of the actual causes and determinants of our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

The mind is very powerful.

It creates an impression of our reality – both the external and internal components. It also makes decisions in accordance with the reality it creates.

But the mind makes these decisions automatically. It weighs the evidence, arrives at a judgment, and thus the decision is made.

It does not require there to be a further arbiter of these decisions, yet we nonetheless have the strong impression that there is a “me” who guides these judgments and makes these decisions.

This is the crux of the problem: the mind creates all our impressions, yet we have an impression of a self, a “me”, who controls the mind. This means that the mind feels bound and controlled by the very impressions it has created.

The mind treats this impression of a self as if it is an actual self. It treats it with care. Like a spoiled child it caters to its whims. It factors this impression of a self into its decision-making so that its decisions are consistent with the illusion of this self being in control.

It creates a center where none exists, and then acts as though that center is vulnerable yet powerful, in control yet susceptible to losing control.

This is the delusion of self that the mind suffers – a delusion the mind itself has created. This is likewise the sin of pride, the root of all sin that seeks to make us the authors of our own glory.

As Isaiah wrote:

You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay?
Shall the thing made say of its maker,
“He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of the one who formed it,
“He has no understanding”?

But what makes pride so difficult to be rid of, and enlightenment so hard to achieve, is that this delusion of a self persists even when we seek to let go of it.

That is why Christianity invokes grace so strongly – the free gift of holiness and redemption that comes from God in spite of our own efforts. If it came via our efforts it would only increase our pride.

Likewise, the point of enlightenment in Buddhism is that there is no enlightenment once the delusion of an agent, a self who is in control, is erased.

But the mind does exist. And there is, in essence, no difference between the deluded mind and the enlightened mind. It’s the same mind all along.

That’s why suffering can be a gift, when it encourages the mind to stop investing in the false impression of a self. Suffering is, after all, something that makes sense only in the context of a self who suffers, desires, strives and fails.

On being special

We all want to feel special.

Special in this context means “marked off from others by some distinguishing quality”.

So to be precise, we all want to be special in a good way.

Maybe we won’t admit it to ourselves or to others, maybe we prefer a different form of words, or a different kind of specialness. Maybe we’d rather say loved, respected, admired, important, powerful, rich, talented, and so on.

But these are, I would argue, just different ways of being special.

Some people may have found the special status they are looking for, but for most of us the desire to be special brings to light the inverse: we don’t feel special, or loved, or respected, etc.

In my experience and study, our search for some means of becoming special is ultimately futile because it is based on a misapprehension. We take “not special” as the default reality and seek to change that reality.

But “not special” is, according to various mystics, sages, philosophers and other observers of the human psyche, a false belief or fear, hence any attempt to remedy it by becoming more special is bound to fail.

The desire to feel special is part of a natural desire for wholeness, peace, joy, and other good things. But we have misdiagnosed the problem, the obstacle to experiencing these very positive emotions.

It seems that the obstacle is reality. I’m not special enough, that’s why I don’t experience these positive emotions. Therefore I need to find a way to become more special.

But the true obstacle is a false self-image, a self-image that contains gaps and holes and knots.

The self-image is false because we built it when we were children, on the assumption that we could take other people’s reactions to us at face-value.

In other words, if your siblings always treated you like a little prince or princess, you would accept at face value that this is how you deserved to be treated. You would assume that something about you was causing this response in them, as surely as good food elicits hunger and ends in satiety.

But if your siblings treated you like a perpetual nuisance, a wearisome annoyance, or an unwanted competitor for parental attention, then likewise, you would assume these reactions followed naturally from some aspect of yourself.

Young children do not understand that the minds of their elders are clouded and confused by a variety of motives: fears, desires, anxieties, and their own flawed self-images.

Children grow up, unwittingly cultivating these false selves. Expecting everyone to treat them like a prince and becoming angry and resentful when others don’t. Or expecting everyone to resent and despise them, and denying opportunities to experience something better.

A large part of our spiritual path lies in recognising that people’s responses to us when we were children were governed by forces and themes much bigger than we could have understood at the time. We come to understand the motives of our parents and siblings. We recognise that the way they treated us was not about us at all, or only minimally.

But the flawed self-image we carry around is hard to shake. It’s like being raised in a cult, and then having to relearn everything about how the world really works. Learning that the government isn’t out to get you, or that aliens aren’t coming to rescue you. Or that your leader wasn’t a prophet but a narcissistic manipulator.

That’s why genuine religion both depreciates and transforms the self. The theme of death and rebirth is ubiquitous because so is the mechanism of our flawed self-image.

In practical terms, what can we do about it?

In a religious context there are devotional and meditative practices designed to lower the protective barriers of this false self. These include practices like trying to feel the presence of God rather than focusing always on your selfish fears and desires, or trying to recognise the fragility of the self in metaphysical terms.

At present I’m just trying to remind myself that I don’t actually know who I am, and to then try to be conscious of the subtle traces of my false self-image where relevant – usually in the midst of fears and desires.

In the context of wanting to feel special, what we seek is not to be found by adding something to ourselves, but by letting go of, or seeing through the illusion of this false self-image. The reason we don’t feel peace and joy and contentment is that we have learned to expect much less from life. We can’t accept whatever peace and joy and contentment are available to us in the present, because our self-image is too tightly wound  to accept it.

We’ve been inculcated with a false requirement to change ourselves, improve ourselves, achieve something in order to be content, to be happy. We’re primed to view everything in life with respect to how it advances or impedes our desire to be more special.