The suburbs don‚Äôt depress me…

…I depress the suburbs.

Walking with my daughter this morning I was overcome with a feeling of nausea at the suburbs around us.

It’s an old feeling so that means thoughts with momentum. And there are plenty of ways to justify my thoughts.

But the fact remains that I create my reality, and at the very least one might ask “if you don’t like the suburbs, why are you living there?”

Isn’t that kinda dumb?

Well yeah it is.

I heard a woman on an Abraham-Hicks video explaining that she lives in Boston but wants to live in California. That was the defining problem in her life.

The advice was to appreciate Boston first and then decide whether to move or not.

It’s good advice because you take your fault-finding mentality with you most places, and if she couldn’t be happy in Boston then there’s a good chance she wouldn’t be happy in California either.

I thought she was stupid, but I guess I’m stupid too ūüėÖ

Finding the positive

The suburbs are convenient because the population density draws in more shops, better roads, more attractions.

Then again, by that logic I’d be happier in the city centre, so why not move there?

Living in the hills is appealing because there’s more space, more nature, more freedom, more beauty.

The suburbs are like a middle-ground that gives people space without losing proximity to others, freedom without losing convenience.

Okay, so why do I really hate it?

I didn’t want to go too negative but sometimes describing how we feel gives clarity.

So for the sake of clarity: when I look at the suburbs I feel like life is small and meaningless. I see each little plot divvied up and built upon in varying degrees of same-old.

I feel the individuality of people circumscribed by standardisation. It’s like each block is a little box, and though they all look different, the differences are superficial.

Not to mention the architecture is frequently hideous.

When I walk by on a cold day I can only assume people spend all their time indoors or away from home, and I struggle to feel uplifted at the thought of their lives contained and defined by these ugly – and audaciously expensive – little allotments.

Bringing it home

Everything I just wrote says far more about me than it does about the suburbs. I mean, you could totally agree with me but just not care, right?

That’s because it’s not about other people and their houses, it’s about me and my thoughts.

These houses are like the one I grew up in. I’m a stone’s throw away from the suburb where I lived most of my life.

To me these suburbs represent a way of life bereft of idealism and joy; they represent acceptance of ugly convention at great personal cost and burden.

I don’t feel this way when I visit friends or relatives in their homes – it’s deeply personal. When I imagine strangers’ lives in these suburbs I project onto them my own thoughts and feelings.

So I am the one who feels as though my life is constrained and confined by the expectations and conventions of others. Yet no one ever told me where to live or what to do. I just inferred what was “normal” and made it into my own constraint.

I looked at what “everyone” was doing and railed against it. In Abraham-Hicks terms that’s a perfect way to get more of what I don’t like.

Holding pattern

In the end I think I live in the suburbs because it’s what I’m used to. I think we chose to live here because it was familiar, and I felt that I could only break with the familiar if I was really sure of what I wanted.

Living in the suburbs is like a holding pattern in lieu of knowing where I really want to live.

But that itself is a form of resistance, raising the bar on how sure I needed to be of a decision that breaks from the norm.

Back then less bad wasn’t good enough for me. I was intensely all or nothing and with that attitude I was pretty much guaranteed to wind up with nothing.

I’m sorry, suburbs. You didn’t deserve so much hate. You never asked me to be here in the first place and it’s not your fault I stayed. We don’t need to like each other, and we really don’t need to live together anymore.

The beauty of knowing what you don’t want is, in A-H terms, that you know implicitly what you do want. You just need to stop focusing on the unwanted long enough to let the wanted in.

What is more real?

What is more real: the relief you feel when

you let go

Or the resistance of telling your old story,

Linking every new moment back to the old

The dead and the past.

What is more real: the joy you feel or

the complicated details

You can’t seem to filter through

To get through to you.

What is more real: the angst of thinking there must be more or

the freedom you feel when you are

There

More

Now.

Going beyond answers

Caution: may contain answers. Please do not touch the paradox.

The basic law of attraction idea is that you get more of whatever you focus on.

I’ve been focused on understanding and answers for about twenty years, super-intense rumination, philosophy and mysticism, hoping I would suddenly find the pearl of great price and be perfect.

It was mostly motivated by fear and lack, so of course the answers I found were never enough.

In learning to meditate I’m wanting to go beyond that whole dimension of answers I’ve accrued and find something more satisfying and more pure.

That’s a good intention. In fact it’s inspiration. I have a backlog of unfelt relief three miles high just waiting to be enjoyed.

Meditation for narrative discontinuity

Without going all author-itative on you, I know what it’s like to write a story, a narrative, and keep thinking “what’s next?” while smoothing out the continuity.

There’s a whole lot of unspoken convention and flow that keeps the audience engaged, and a potentially infinite number of things that could be written that would break the narrative and ruin the story.

We don’t like stories where the character or the setting change for no reason.

But that’s exactly what I want for myself

My own continuity is holding me back, and the continuity lives in my habitual thoughts. Meditation as a way of finding relief without habitual thinking is like a personal deus ex machina swooping in to change things without regard to narrative coherence.

Deus ex meditatio?

My Latin is crap but you get the idea.

Meditation feels like intense relief because it takes me out of the old story, the confining narrative I’ve kept alive for myself.

When I was severely depressed the stories I wrote were bleak and horrible without meaning to be. It’s just what made sense in that state of mind.

How much moreso the story I’ve told myself only half-aware?

When meditation stops the story, it’s the ultimate freedom from old narrative pressures, conventions and constraints. It’s a new creation, true rest, and respite from a world that doesn’t need to be.

I don’t have to make this relief fit; I can’t. My old story is an old wineskin. Time to start afresh.

The feeling of freedom

I saw some kid sitting against a fence by the bus stop waiting for his bus.

Seeing him there alone and waiting, somewhere to go but no hurry to be there, reminded me of a feeling I used to have.

The feeling of freedom. The freedom of no cares and no worries, walking out into the world and feeling existence surround me.

Feeling my own solitude against the world. The isolation and potential of nothing I need to be doing.

Having kids, a home, a wife; people and things to come back to. Yes, they tether me. But they don’t have to.

Freedom is a mental condition. Driving a car can feel like freedom, or it can be a tense, white-knuckle experience.

You can relax behind the wheel and hit some kind of zen-like trance where everything feels connected and flowy.

So why not relax behind life? Loosen your grip on the reins or the wheel, take your foot off the brake. Trust your instincts, trust the journey, trust the flow.

The world is still completely free. It never changed from when I was young and solitary.

I’m still alone, but I also have people I care about, and do you think that’s not part of the flow too?

It’s not my efforts or worry that keep the world going. My heart won’t stop beating if I let go nor will I forget to take my next breath.

If I’m tied down, let the ties do their work! Relax and know that nothing I want will drift away or be lost.

I’m just another ingredient in this beautiful medley. Counting heart beats or following my breath, I’m free to be just a piece of this grand composition that is living me.

That’s what freedom means. Life is loving me and not an atom of my whole experience needs my work to hold it in place.

And on the contrary there are many many wonderful things waiting to join in if I just give them the space to enter, and my willingness to appreciate what they bring.

Happiness Challenge Day 7

If you had the ability to teleport yourself to a beautiful deserted island in the blink of an eye, how often would you go there?

Would you go there all the time? Would you want to live there? Or would your normal life pull you away from this magical paradise?

We have the equivalent power to go to a feeling place that is just as much a beautiful paradise.

But we don’t.

Ironically, I think we are afraid of missing out.

When we look at our friends and family, our work, our communities, and our own projects and struggles, we simply cannot reconcile these things with an immediate experience of unconditional happiness.

We have grown up learning that life is not perfect, and feeling joy and love and well-being is the reward for accomplishing things.

If we were overflowing with well-being we would no longer fit our old lives.

So instead we inhibit the flow of well-being in our lives. With varying degrees of severity and intention we restrict how good we can feel.

We limit ourselves to the amount of good feeling we can “earn” or justify based on our circumstances.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact it only is this way because of our resistance to the well-being that otherwise seeps into every fibre of our existence.

That’s where I’m at on day seven of my Happiness Challenge. I’m learning to view overflowing well-being as natural, and therefore inevitable if I just stop whatever it is I’m doing to resist it.

To feel as good as possible

Focus on the word “contentment” and feel it. It might take a few seconds to really embrace the good feeling of contentment.

If you can feel contentment you can then go to a better feeling:

Appreciation

Love

Freedom

Joy

Contentment is easier and more stable, and good enough if you’re not used to feeling good.

Appreciation is also very good because we have less resistance and fewer preconceptions about it than love, joy, and freedom.

But whatever feels best to you.

Resistance

You might feel some resistance to feeling good. A bit like you’re reluctant to relax or let your guard down.

Keep focusing. The whole point is to feel the relief of letting go and allowing these good feelings.

You might also have resistance in the form of thoughts that dissuade you from the task.

But hopefully the exercise is general enough and simple enough that other thoughts don’t really have a foothold.

If they do, try to soothe the thoughts gently.

Eg. “I suck at this kind of thing” well it’s okay to suck at it. It’s just an experiment, right? I’m giving it a go, and maybe it’ll be interesting. It’d be nice to have this trick up my sleeve to feel content whenever I want to.

“This is pointless” Actually the point is to feel better and I’d like to do that more, and if I can feel better just by focusing on the feeling I want to feel then that would be worth practicing I think.

“This won’t change anything” It will give me the ability to find relief and feel better, and if nothing else were to change wouldn’t it be better to feel good rather than feel bad?

Do it all the time…eventually

My goal is to feel genuine appreciation all the time.

Feeling appreciation makes me a better person – the person I think I’m meant to be. I’m happier, more creative, much nicer to be with! People have commented on how much happier I am.

It makes my life better. I’ve already seen how feeling appreciation can transform my day from a monotony of worries and burdens to a light and easy adventure.

And the only thing I need to do is practice feeling appreciation.

From general to specific

With credit to the Abraham Hicks material, I’ve found that practicing a general feeling of appreciation eventually translates spontaneously into specific appreciation for things in life.

It’s a bit like suddenly coming into a whole heap of money and thinking “wow I’m rich!” And then after a while being inspired to spend your money in specific, good-feeling ways that enhance the feeling of well-being and prosperity.

So the more time I spend feeling appreciation, the more I will continue to notice wonderful things to appreciate in my life.

This is how feeling good really does change your life, because in consistently feeling good you are naturally drawn to entirely different aspects of your present experience and hence to a different future experience altogether.

Life is here to be enjoyed

Life is here to be enjoyed, I am here to enjoy life.

That is such a difficult thing for me to write.

I know it sounds strange, but I’ve spent more than twenty years explicitly thinking that enjoyment is a superficial distraction from the real meaning of life.

With a childhood in which enjoyment was scarce and a temperament prone to sensitivity and idealism, I accepted at face value that “enjoying life” was something that other people did, and to the detriment of finding meaning or purpose.

I looked critically at mainstream sanguine and choleric expressions of enjoyment, and let these stand for “enjoying life” and “having fun”. It didn’t occur to me that I might find my own forms of fun and enjoyment in life.

And anyway, there was a slew of mystics, sages and saints to reassure me that enjoyment and fun were vain, pointless adventures that would leave me empty and full of regrets.

Religious deprogramming

There’s a familiar trope of people who rebel against their childhood religious indoctrination, and need to search out for themselves valid and fulfilling beliefs about life, happiness, and their own identity and value.

I’m doing that now, but the terrain I’m covering is a little more varied and eclectic due to my own early search for deeper meaning and purpose.

I can’t remember all the books I read, and my mistaken beliefs are an amalgamation of many different sources, because I adhered to no single creed or set of teachings.

For example, I’ve gone back and reread parts of Awareness by Anthony de Mello, and I can see how I took that text and interpreted it in my own way, oblivious to my own idiosyncrasies or those of the author.

Yesterday I reread a little about Bede Griffiths, and reading between the lines, the guy had a difficult life and his own fair share of problems. Would the answers that he found really be appropriate for me, two generations later, in completely different circumstances of life?

Just now I’ve taken a quick look back at the writings of Jiddu Krishnamurti, and I can see immediately that his work is decidedly not for me. Wrong temperament, maybe even the wrong teaching, and something that clearly contributed to my sense of needing to battle against an internal enemy, whether it be called Ego or Thought.

In recent years I’ve come to respect my desire to arrive at my own conclusions and my reluctance to invest in anyone else’s point of view. But it was not always the case, and I feel it’s now time to let go of these authorities I discovered and appointed for myself.

Perhaps in a sweeping clean of my past willingness to believe, I can say that: only what speaks to me is of value to me. It doesn’t matter that a person is a saint or a sage or a seer; their inscrutable or obscure insights are their own and not mine, and it’s for me to test them and apply them, not take them on faith and try to force myself to fit.

Do I deserve to enjoy life?

At the heart of this is a question of whether I myself deserve to enjoy life, or whether I must instead change myself, become better, be transformed. Transformation is what I sought in the writings of these mystics. But no matter how hard I tried to change myself, all I found was more and more dissatisfaction with my life, my self, and the whole of reality.

When I looked for answers I hoped those answers would show me the way out, out of unhappiness and suffering, out of the mundane world, out of my mundane self.

And in part that simply reflected the confusion and unhappiness of my early life, but it also reflected a sense that I wasn’t good enough as I was, did not deserve to enjoy life or be happy.

When I think about how we create our own reality through the filter of our thoughts and expectations and feelings, I can see how fitting it was that “enjoyment” looked crass and empty to me, and the things I would have truly enjoyed seemed too distant or ethereal or unachievable.

And my memories of feeling deeply insecure and unworthy when good things did happen completes the picture.

Because there were always good things there, I just didn’t think I deserved to have them, and feeling undeserving I sought to change myself to become worthy of the freedom, love and happiness I wanted.

That is why my prayers went unanswered – I was praying to not be me. Or I prayed to be rid of unwanted conditions, all the while clinging to the thoughts and feelings that exacerbated and created those conditions.

Feeling better is unconditional

Lately I’ve discovered that I do not need conditions to change in order for me to feel better.

That includes the internal conditions I have set such stock in: solving problems, finding answers, understanding, engaging with negative emotions, making progress.

I don’t need to do any of that to feel better, because feeling better is intrinsic to our nature. It is only the conditions we set upon it that keep us from naturally feeling better.

So when I ask whether I deserve to enjoy life, I think the question must be flawed, because feeling better is unconditional and enjoying life is something that flows naturally from feeling better.

If I can naturally feel better simply by not placing any conditions on it, then what is the relevance of desert? Why do I have to deserve to feel better, in addition to simply being able to feel better?

It’s actually exciting to know that enjoying life will flow naturally from feeling better, which in turn flows naturally from not placing conditions on it.

And feeling excited about life is a very good place to be!

The more I think, the less I feel

How can I communicate this without thinking it too much?

Well here we go:

Extroverted Thinking and introverted Feeling are….different.

Te is objective, rational, sharp, efficient, logical, systematic, direct, cold.

Fi is subjective, mercurial, powerful, intoxicating, pervasive, singular, awesome.

I was going to say “polar opposites” but that’s too reasonable. Their difference is more like: listening to music is different from following a set of instructions.

Building a wall out of bricks is different from stoking a fire.

Smiling happily is different from explaining something.

Background and explanation

Swimming lessons: the instructor throws a bunch of weighted toys into the pool and the kids all dive to pick them up.

That’s how Te feels – holding my breath while squinting hard at the blurry objects on the floor, straining to grab them before I rush back up for air.

And I got damn good at it. Diving for treasures, I can hold my breath for a long, long time.

But Native Te-users would look askance: what’s the rush? You seem…stressed. Why so…”all or nothing”?

It’s like a poet working as a technical writer because poetry won’t pay the bills. Hold your breath, get in, get out. Just get the job done.

Your opinions are worthless

I studied philosophy, history, politics, ethics, theology, and did I mention philosophy?

Philosophy is epistemology, moral philosophy, cognitive science, philosophy of science, political philosophy, philosophy of religion, …..

****, try again:

How do you know what you know? What does ‘know’ even mean? What does ‘mean’ mean? What?

You’re just a material composite of chemical reactions or physical interactions, or biological processes, or a figment of Descartes’ imagination.

How does your mind understand the words you just read? Can anyone understand anything? Let’s look at a thousand cases of very localised brain-damage to understand how the undamaged brain works.

There are no moral phenomena, only moral interpretation of phenomena…but that depends on how you define “moral”.

Look, let’s just agree that philosophy is the process of testing the logic and internal coherence of all the sh!t people say. Put your brain through a sieve, and you’ll know at least that your brain is 100% sievable.

Why would you want to sieve your brain? Because maybe all you have is a sieve…and a brain…and a whole lot of time on your hands.

(And you love the idea of being intellectually superior to others and the university used to be an awesome place to live and work).

All that matters is reasons. Reasons. No thought, claim or idea is off limits, so long as its supported. Nothing is unacceptable bar the insupportable.

Support = reasons….reasons other people can follow.¬†

Reasons other people can follow = Te

That’s not perfect, it’ll never be perfect, because philosophy is just a game for intellectuals who enjoy arguing for their competing imperfect attempts to square the circle.

Philosophy doesn’t take into account fundamental differences in temperament because that would totally **** with the game.

What if you prefer theory A over theory B, not because A is more logical or well-supported than B, but because it suits your temperament better?

As William James put it:

“The history of philosophy is, to a great extent, that of a certain clash of human temperaments…Of whatever temperament a philosopher is, he tries, when philosophizing, to sink the fact of his temperament…

Yet his temperament really gives him a stronger bias than any of his more strictly objective premises…He trusts his temperament. Wanting a universe that suits it, he believes in any representation of the universe that suits it…

Yet in the forum he can make no claim, on bare ground of his temperament, to superior discernment or authority. There arises thus a certain insincerity in our philosophic discussions; the potentest of all our premises is never mentioned.‚ÄĚ

Object to it if you like, but philosophers don’t really agree on anything anyway.

Arriving at consensus is not the most important thing in philosophy. The most important thing in philosophy Рas with any hobby Рis having the time and resources to pursue it.

Subjective feeling is the ultimate insupportable claim

This education in philosophy compounded upbringing and added the academic standard of “unsupported truth-claims are worse than useless” to the privately ingrained ethos “your feelings don’t matter”.

Fi doesn’t follow Te rules. They are as if mutually exclusive domains, hence the weird analogies I’ve used.

And I’ve spent the best part of twenty years¬†excluding¬†Fi as much as possible from my decision-making, imagining, and disposition.

I’ve bricked up this living, dynamic, changeable, flowing object and tried to contain it in a cold, hard, unchanging environment.

Water, treasure, and dreams of spiders

I had an iconic dream many years ago in which I was diving for treasure (gold coins) in a shallow pool.

But I dug too deep and out of the depths arose a menacing black spider.

That spider has been a recurring theme in dreams ever since.

But I finally understand it: the search for treasure beneath the water (unconscious) is the lure of Te, my inferior function, and the promise of its mysterious wisdom and knowledge (the treasure).

The spider is the awful feeling that comes with suppressing or disrupting Fi, my dominant function.

The resolution doesn’t come with escaping the spider, killing it, or making it go away. The resolution comes with embracing Fi, the contemptible “baseless opinion” or “insupportable feeling”. It comes with giving up the illusory treasure beneath the water, the false promise of objective reasoning that proved pointless and wearying and endlessly bleak.

For an INFP, Fi is freedom. We aren’t meant to be rational analysts, dispassionate observers or efficient, responsible organisers.

We’re meant to be wanderers, poets, hippies, shamans, all the disgustingly unconstrained and freely-feeling tropes I’ve recoiled from in scorn because they have no power or standing in a Te world.

But that’s the whole point: this isn’t a Te world. This is¬†my¬†world, and it’s a world of Feeling.

Te belongs, but it belongs at the bottom, at the end, an afterthought a finishing touch, an ability but not an obligation. A capacity, but only a small one.

I quit holding my breath, I’m through.

How much for your happiness?

Recently a unit in our block went up for sale with an asking price lower than I had hoped. I went to check it out, compare it to our own unit, and see if we could honestly hope for a better price.

Not likely. Not without doing more work, perhaps renovating the bathroom here, which I would have to do myself to be financially viable. So not without considerable stress, effort, and daunting undertakings.

I have to admit when we first moved into the unit this kind of thinking really got to me. It’s a purely mercenary mindset, which on any other day I’ll happily admit I loathe to my core. Yet owning property and hoping to one day transition to nicer, better, more expansive property makes a money-minded approach seem necessary.

I had been counting on the value of our unit rising by more than it evidently has. Perhaps that was a mistake, but the bigger mistake was to let it get to me. The financial imperative runs so deep that I felt as though I’d just been diagnosed with a serious illness. Yet in reality nothing had changed except my expectations.

In reality, I just put a price on my happiness: 15-20k to feel totally miserable. Turning it around, the absurdity is obvious: how much money would you accept to feel totally miserable? Would 15-20k be enough to justify feeling stressed, burdened, and unhappy?

It wouldn’t be enough for me. So why feel bad about it? If renovating the bathroom is a thankless, stressful, miserable and uninspired experience, then don’t do it. You wouldn’t go back to your old job for the sake of twenty thousand dollars; why pile depressing obligations onto your own life for the same amount?

At the end of my life, I won’t be looking back and wishing I’d earned a few extra tens or even hundreds of thousands. Money isn’t going to be that important, especially not when truly significant acts of freedom and productivity and enjoyment can be had for next-to-nothing.

When we first bought our unit, I went through the experience of having my expectations and hopes ground down to almost nothing. That was painful, but I’ve since discovered that what matters is not how much money or how big a house or property we have, but how free we are to do what we want with what we have. The biggest constraint is not living in a unit, it’s knowing that we can’t do anything radically personal to it, because we don’t intend to stay here too much longer. If we were going to stay here, we could do any number of things to improve it, make it more our own, with no thought for market value and the ‘safety’ of mainstream design.

So, I won’t be making myself miserable for the sake of money that doesn’t exist and which may not have any practical bearing on my future life. I wonder what else I can find to not make myself miserable for?