It’s a game…23!

Learning to have fun

When we are fixated on solving our problems or getting what we want out of life, things can seem pretty heavy and serious.

But as our emotional set-point improves, that heavy seriousness doesn’t belong anymore.

I’m discovering as I find myself more and more frequently feeling contentment that the path forward is completely different.

It’s like spending months in painful rehab and recovery and you finally have the strength to stand and walk, and now what? Painful rehab is not the purpose of life. That was just what it felt like to regain movement and strength, but when you’ve regained them life should not continue to feel like painful rehab.

In the Abraham-Hicks teachings the way forward is enjoyment and fun. Enjoyment is an essential part of our reason for being here, and the enjoyment of life should feel like fun.

Resistance to fun?

In years of life defined by negative emotions “fun” was never a welcome answer to my problems.

People told me I should just have fun and enjoy life. But their lives didn’t look like fun to me, and my own experience of fun didn’t seem to offer any answers to my problems.

And I was right: fun was not the answer…relief was the answer.

But now I’m in this turning point where relief has to transform into something else.

It’s like working hard to get out of debt…and then what? You’ve eschewed all kinds of luxuries and enjoyments for the sake of paying off the debt; what do you do with the money now?

How can fun be the answer?

After years of fun not being the answer, now it is the answer. Because when you feel good rather than bad, you’re ready to enjoy things in life.

I guess my problem is that I’ve spent so long looking for the deep and meaningful answers to life that I’m not tuned in to the levity and lightness of real enjoyment. I even overtly rejected fun and enjoyment because meaning seemed more important.

I’m recalibrating, tuning in to fun and enjoyment as the most important aspects of my experience, looking for enjoyment with the knowledge that whatever I focus on becomes bigger in my experience.

It’s a game…13!

Omens and miracles.

Yesterday I had an omen. Walking home with my daughter in the morning we came across a scene.

A cyclist and a local resident flagged me for help. It turned out that a mother duck with eight or nine ducklings had lost several of them down a storm-water drain.

She wouldn’t leave them, and the ducks couldn’t get out. The grate was far too heavy to lift without the right tools, and even if we could lift it how could we catch four little ducks down a one metre diameter drain?

The woman decided to call the RSPCA and our rescue party disbanded. As I told my mechanic on the way home: there was nothing we could do. He replied “you mean you did everything you could do.”

Right – it just happened to be nothing.

To me this was so clearly an omen but I had no idea what it meant.

Then today I was doing an exercise on reprocessing traumatic experiences. The idea is to identify aspects of your past experiences that still inform how you feel about yourself in the present. Thoughts like “I’m weak,” or “I’m powerless” and so on.

The next step is to ask what you would prefer to believe about yourself in that past experience instead.

I came up empty. I couldn’t really see a positive aspect to an experience of powerlessness.

And then I thought of the ducklings. Yesterday’s omen.

“I did everything I could”…and it wasn’t “nothing”.

I did everything I could. I didn’t have the right tools for the job. I wasn’t actually powerless, I did everything I could.

Given the circumstances I did everything that I could do, anything anyone could reasonably do.

That’s such a shift in perception. I’m not weak or powerless. Sometimes there’s just not a lot you can do.

This morning on the walk to school the ducks were gone, and the heavy grate showed signs of having been lifted out and replaced. All the dirt and debris had shifted and the edges were clean and clear.

I like to think the RSPCA got someone out to rescue them. It certainly looked that way. Isn’t it nice that there are people willing and able to do things like that?

As for me I’m just so appreciative of the message or omen that was given to me. It’s just such a clear signpost of the path I’m on and the way my life is changing as I find alignment with my inner being and let go of the resistance I’ve been carrying.

Meta-beliefs: is the game of life worth playing?

I’ve spent a lot of time using the Abraham-Hicks teachings to feel better, largely by changing my thoughts.

But much of this work has taken place in the domain of everyday living, or on subjects like money, relationships, health and so on.

If life were a game, these thoughts and subjects would be the contents of the game – all the stuff the players play with.

Yet despite my progress in feeling better about the contents of the game, it turns out I have some strong thoughts or beliefs about the game itself.

At a relatively early age I doubted that the game was worth playing at all. I started to think it was a pointless, meaningless game, where none of the rewards were worth the effort required to attain them.

Nonetheless I felt I had no real choice but to play. Sometimes I was coerced or conscripted into playing, sometimes the pressures of the game forced my hand.

Once you start playing a game, you can’t help but feel invested to some degree, even if your overall attitude to the game is negative.

But it’s impossible to love playing the game while hating the game. It’s impossible to feel truly excited about winning while also thinking that winning is pointless and not worth the effort.

In Abraham-Hicks terms, this is some major vibrational discord.

Changing your meta-beliefs

A lot of the Abraham-Hicks methods are for people who struggle with a subject like money, and it helps them to recognise their conflicting thoughts: I’d love more money vs money doesn’t grow on trees, for example.

If you only have good-feeling thoughts about money you won’t resist or sabotage opportunities. Money will become an easy subject for you.

I haven’t found as much teaching on the meta-subject of life itself or existence itself. I think I’m slightly unusual in having embraced existential pessimism early in life, and ended up living in the shadow of those negative thoughts.

But all the same principles apply! Thinking that life is meaningless, pointless, and not worth the effort, is just another set of thoughts on a subject that can be soothed, softened and shifted gradually.

Life could be worse. This is not the most absurd and painful of all possible worlds. Parts of it are not as bad, some parts are better than others.

And what if “meaning” is not the only thing that gives life value and makes it enjoyable? What if there is more to life than meaning and purpose? What if enjoyment were the point of life?

If my thoughts create my reality, then haven’t I very likely experienced a whole lot of confirmation bias that life is not worth the struggle? Would I like to revisit this old belief just in case my youthful assessment was not as accurate as I thought at the time?

Reconsidering the game

Whether this game of life seems worth playing or not depends on what I think about it. How I feel about life is, in A-H terms, guidance as to the alignment or misalignment of my thoughts about life. Thinking the game is not worth playing feels bad because my inner being does not share that view.

When I know what I don’t want, I implicitly know what I do want. What I don’t want is for life to be a meaningless, pointless game where the rewards aren’t worth the struggle. Therefore what I do want is the opposite of that: I want life to be a meaningful and pointed game where the rewards are more than worth the struggle.

I asked for this many times over, yet instead of staying tuned into that desire I kept turning my attention back to the bleak unwanted perspective that inspired it.

I can change my reality if I change my thoughts, and focus now on what I have desired. I want this game of life to be fun, meaningful, pointed, rewarding, easy and enjoyable.

Letting go 10: Insecurity

I sometimes get hit by feelings of insecurity, and I’d like to change that. So in this post I’ll go through some of the Abraham-Hicks teachings options to shift the insecurity.

1. Distraction

I can stay off the subject of insecurity and just focus on something that feels better.

2. Change my thoughts

I can look at my thoughts relating to insecurity and try to soften them. For example: instead of feeling insecure, i can start by framing it as not feeling as secure as I’d like. Even small shifts like this make the subject easier and softer to work with.

3. Times I do feel secure

I can think of times that I do feel secure and use those as a kind of touchstone. For example: I feel secure when I have a reason or purpose to justify my presence. So maybe I could look at my overall reason or purpose for existing?

4. Visualisation

I can imagine what I would act and feel and think like if I felt completely secure. If I can imagine it, I can practice it. And with practice it can become normal for me.

What these four methods show is that there are multiple ways to shift how we feel on a subject. Some methods might appeal to us more than others, but there’s no single way.

At the same time what they all have in common is to feel better. The goal is to feel better and the method is to feel better.

Insecurity is one expression of resistance. If we release our resistance, we naturally feel better.

Complications

But be mindful of complications. On an issue like insecurity we can get caught up thinking we need to justify ourselves; the process of shifting our thoughts can inadvertently become an “effort” that seeks to earn our security.

That’s how people get stuck in these and other teachings, as processes designed to help us feel better become burdens that reinforce a sense of unworthiness and struggle.

So don’t do that.

It shouldn’t be a struggle, and it should feel less bad immediately.

Let’s do it right now

My Achilles’ heel is in searching for deeper wisdom and spiritual insight to give me more value and control over my life. So with that in mind, I need to be mindful of when the processes are helping me feel better and when they’re just feeding this action pathway.

The proof is in how it feels: it should feel immediately better.

So if I persist with method 3 and look for my reason or purpose for existing, it should be an affirming and positive reason, not a bleak or unfeeling one.

In fact that’s probably why I feel insecure: I’ve accepted already that my reason for existing has nothing to do with happiness or meaning or fulfilment. I’ve taken it a priori as an impartial and detached universe.

The answer is therefore to feel better about my reason for existing, and to acknowledge that my reason for existing must be one that feels good.

After all, there are any number of possible reasons for existence that we can choose from. My old belief that existence (and God) was detached and remote and cold probably just suited how I felt generally back then.

So in conclusion, I feel insecure at times because I’ve believed my existence has no real reason, purpose, or justification beyond what I myself can scrape together.

It’s an old belief from when my whole worldview was more bleak and depressing. But I can see it now with the perspective of recent years and a commitment to happiness.

I think my purpose for existing is to enjoy my life in the unique circumstances and experiences of my individual being. That means happiness is the point of my life, and, like every other being in creation, I don’t need any further justification beyond the fact of my existence right here and now.

Is there ‘more’ to life than enjoying it?

When people told me that the purpose of life was enjoyment I used to feel let down.

I felt there had to be more to life than just enjoying it.

But I never found the “more” I was searching for. And I could never shake the suspicion that this mysterious “more” was just a different form of enjoyment.

Why did I react so badly to the idea of enjoying life? Isn’t enjoyment prima facie a wonderfully desirable thing?

In hindsight i can see two, interrelated, reasons.

The first is that I was very unhappy from early childhood onward. While there were lots of things I enjoyed, the struggles and conflicts of home life were firmly in the foreground of my experience.

So by the time I started wondering about the meaning of life I already had a very negative outlook and had trained myself out of enjoyment.

The second reason I didn’t like being told that the meaning of life was enjoyment was that I didn’t see much to enjoy in the lives of the people who were telling me this!

To my mind they were satisfied with very little…much too little to convince me that their “enjoyment” would give me the meaning I sought.

But that was simply an error in my understanding: they weren’t telling me to enjoy their lives, but to enjoy my life.

The power of big contrast

Having spent twenty years searching for that elusive “more” to life, I can see that I was in fact digging myself deeper by constantly reiterating and reinforcing my negative thoughts and feelings.

In the Abraham Hicks system negativity is presented under a positive aspect as “contrast”.

Contrast refers to anything unwanted that sparks within us a desire for more. Big contrast or persistent focus on unwanted experience gives us a proportionately strong desire for something better.

So even if we have suffered, the good news is that the suffering translates into “treasure in heaven”, drawing us to an even greater happiness.

Hence my “mistake” of prolonged and obsessive focus on my own misery, anxiety and depression sparked within me an extremely powerful desire for real enjoyment.

With this is mind we can let go of regrets or dismay about the past. While I could have turned to happiness much earlier in life, it would not have been such an epic contrast to the unhappiness that I’ve endured and self-inflicted.

What do you enjoy?

It turns out the “more” I was looking for was really just more enjoyment of life.

It’s up to us as individuals to find out what form that takes. In fact for myself I would say I have a very strong, yet-unfulfilled desire to find out what my enjoyment looks like.

Though life rolled on for those twenty years, I felt as though I had deferred the question of enjoyment until after I had found the answers to my questions.

I wanted to know the meaning of life before I committed myself to really living it.

And now it turns out that the answer is just to enjoy it, and the way to enjoy it is by feeling better about life as it is right now.

Overcoming ‘ordinary’

I used to have a strong repugnance toward anything that felt mundane or ‘ordinary’.

But lately I’ve come to recognise that this is really about my own unhappy formative years, and the fear of reliving that experience for the rest of my life.

It’s the sense of having grown up in an ordinary middle-class home that was actually dysfunctional, and equating dysfunction with everything mainstream and ordinary.

But it’s also about the yearning for “more” and quickly rejecting anything that felt like “same old”.

Yet if we bear in mind the Abraham teaching that we get more of what we are focused on, then my insistence on avoiding my past experience only guarantees I will find more of it.

We can’t remove things from our experience by pushing against them, only by choosing something else to focus on.

Finding a new normal

It doesn’t really matter if my life is ordinary or not, because the only reason I feared the ordinary was that I equated it with feeling bad.

But everything in my life can be viewed in either a wanted or an unwanted aspect. There is always a path to appreciation and immediate relief no matter where I am.

Who cares if your life looks ordinary to you or others? All that matters is you enjoy it. And who decides what is ordinary? What is your comparison point and scope? A middle-class Australian gen-Y perspective of ordinary is actually incredibly narrow and specific!

Rather than being hampered by a need to overcome the ordinary, I can come at all of life with the aim of enjoying it as it is, and as it will be, confident that my focus on enjoyment will lead me further down that happy path.

And freed from an obsession with the ordinary, who knows where the path of enjoying life will take me?

Are you living your purpose?

I used to long to find my purpose in life.

I imagined it as a place I was meant to be, a career I was meant to follow, an ideal or a teaching or talent that would bring me fulfilment in life if I just poured my whole self into it.

I thought I had found it in being a “problem-solver” of the intellectual kind. But however great it seemed at first, thinking for a living eventually grew old.

I wasn’t fulfilled by mastering complex ethical problems, and as my job in ethics came to an end I began to feel increasingly devoid of purpose and even prospects.

My grand spiritual quest was in stasis, my PhD ran into a brick wall, and the books I wrote didn’t provide the sense of purpose, direction, or income I’d hoped for.

The four temperaments taught me that ideals and meaning and therefore purpose in life were fundamental to my sense of self and my worldview. Yet thanks to my deeply pessimistic and world-weary outlook, I regarded these things as unreal.

Getting into positive thinking via the Abraham Hicks material has helped me enormously. But it only just occurred to me that I’ve still been looking at the world through the filter of my past disenchantment and despair of any real meaning or purpose.

What is purpose?

The real reason we want purpose is because we think it will feel good when we have it.

Try to analyse purpose and it loses its mystery.

Purpose is, after all, just an intention or a goal. It’s what you pro-pose or put forth.

But melancholics won’t be content with an arbitrary goal or a self-generated intention.

By our very temperament, we desire something greater and more powerful than ourselves, and that means something inherently mysterious.

That’s why all my attempted goals and paths lost their appeal as soon as I considered trying to make some kind of career out of them: what I sought was, by definition, to reduce them to predictable, repeatable and therefore non-mysterious processes or outcomes.

Mysterious power

And yet there was something I had encountered however briefly in my years of searching. I came upon it while trying to emulate the “acting without acting” of the Daoist canon. I think I hit upon it by accident and succeeded because there were no instructions, no real method, just a description and a feeling.

What I had was best described as a “mysterious power”, a product of faith, feeling, and intuition that I allowed intermittently to flow.

I found it again last night, trying to put my baby daughter to sleep.

I remembered the sense of ease, the feeling of alignment, the certainty (faith) that it would work because (mystery) I was aligning myself with this great power that creates, guides, and nourishes all things.

The feeling is most like those dreams where you discover you can fly just by focusing in a particular way with a kind of expectation and gentle certainty that allows you to find invisible footholds in the air, or simply levitate as easily as drawing in a deep breath.

It’s the feeling you get when you change ever so slightly the angle or focus with which you regard a familiar scene like your own living room. Everything changes and you suddenly appreciate it in a whole new light with a feeling of clarity and buoyancy like a gust of wind has filled the room and stirred everything in it.

Or like a lens suddenly coming into focus, and everything is sharp and crisp and you feel your control over that act of focusing, while everything else is securely in the flow of that mysterious power.

I never knew what to call it, and I tended to lose it in the past as soon as I ran into cold hard thoughts about “reality”.

But last night I allowed it to come to the fore, and with it came a shift in perspective. I wasn’t exhaustedly trying to get my daughter to sleep so my wife and I could relax, instead I was lovingly helping her to sleep so she could rest and refresh and grow.

With this mysterious power guiding me, buoying me and uplifting me I felt not only that I had the energy and the patience I needed, but also the sensitivity and the guidance to find the easiest and best path forward.

Better yet, that by staying in this feeling of power I was already on the right path, and everything else was coming together to make it work out perfectly.

Is purpose right for melancholics?

Whatever this thing is that I find fulfilling, it doesn’t match the idea of purpose. It’s much more like a way of being than an external goal – yet it is satisfying in the way that I always imagined an explicit purpose or direction would be.

It suits the melancholic longing for authenticity, meaning and the ideal.

So maybe that’s the purpose of life for a melancholic: to find authenticity, meaning, and the ideal; not for the sake of accomplishing other tasks, but as the goal in and of itself.

I’ve said before that being a melancholic is a bit like living in a fog. You can hear everything going on around you, but you can’t really see where you are going. This can lead to worry and anxiety, but it is also what makes us desire the ideal – because the ideal is always right no matter what is going on around you.

And when you know how to act, how to be, then you can at last be authentically yourself.

On reading omens

An augur is someone who reads omens.

Since we create our reality, pretty much anything and everything can serve as an omen.

But omens are most potent when they are emotionally significant, because it is as a match to our emotional state that the elements of our reality take shape.

For example, I’ve recently been reassessing aspects of my past, my formative years, with a sense of finality and moving on from bad experiences that had shaped my whole worldview.

Coinciding with this, a neighbour has liberally fertilised his yard, leaving our adjacent yard reeking of death and swarming with flies.

For years we’ve used the back door of our unit as the main thoroughfare, but because of the smell and the flies we’ve started using the front door…like normal people, I guess.

To me it is obvious that this occurrence is full of meaning.

One’s home signifies one’s life. In this instance the back yard is necessarily the past, and I’ve been living through the past for many years.

The openly foul smell and irritating flies are coming not from my property but an adjacent one (not my fault), and I’ve simply had enough of it, choosing to no longer live through the past but instead live in the present.

The front of the house represents also the self that we show to others, whether it be authentic or a facade. I’ve lived in two different places since I left the home I grew up in, and ironically in both of them the front door has stood unused and perpetually locked.

Symbolically, choosing to use the front door is a definite separation from my childhood home and a new way of engaging with the world outside.

I’ve lived here for years, but it feels now like a new home in a new world, no longer quietly coming and going through the back – through the past – at least until the air has cleared!

Coincidence?

Just a coincidence? Well coincidence comes from “coincide” which means “occupy the same space, agree in position” and apparently comes from Medieval Astrology…

We might use the word now to denote a meaningless relationship between two events, but that’s just a reflection of one’s worldview.

If you have a meaningless worldview, then of course events will be meaningless to you.

But to me it is fitting, or meet, that events coincide like this.

And to what end? Always to orient us, to help us see the underlying meaning and purpose and significance of life.

Is it okay to be happy?

In a couple of decades living with anxiety and depression I frequently wondered about the correlation between my mood and my view of the world.

I’ve always valued the search for truth, and part of that search was to understand anxiety and depression themselves. But what if this “search” is itself a symptom of anxiety and depression?

What if looking for answers is just putting a positive spin on endless rumination?

Depressive realism

Sometimes it seems like happy people live in a bubble, unwilling or unable to grapple with the grand humane and existential challenges of life.

The popular notion of “depressive realism” offers a kind of perverse satisfaction in being miserable: the idea that depressed people see the world more clearly, or that happy people are buffered from harsh realities by self-serving delusions of competence and optimism.

If you find it difficult to be happy, you can console yourself with the idea that happiness is just for dumb, superficial, or morally unserious people.

But is this kind of depressive realism any better than a sour grapes attitude toward happiness?

Ironically, this consolation is itself the fostering of a self-serving delusion aimed at making us feel better, as we pride ourselves on being both willing and able to face the harsh realities of life.

When life hands you lemons, sure, you could make lemonade…but a real man will just eat that lemon and grit his teeth against the sourness, because lemons are supposed to be sour!

Intentional optimism

In the past few months I’ve made a conscious effort to change the way I think about life, in order to improve my mood.

In the process it’s become clear to me that despite all the suffering implicit in decades of anxiety and depression, despite being desperately unhappy, I couldn’t honestly say that I wanted things to be different.

We all want to be happy, but our desire for happiness is typically framed and delineated by very strict conditions.

We want to be happy in certain ways, under specific criteria; we want happiness on our own terms, even if those terms are largely unconscious in daily life.

When I first considered changing my thoughts in order to improve my mood, I immediately worried about becoming “delusional”, like one of those dumb, superficial, happy people who lives in blissful ignorance of life’s deeper meaning and struggles

It was very important to me that I maintain a sense of my own realism, honesty, and clarity about the nature of life; so important that I was more comfortable being deeply unhappy than risking a change to my self-image.

I put limitations on my pursuit of happiness, limitations that turned out to be based on little more than crude stereotypes.

Crude stereotypes of happiness

If I was truly honest with myself, wouldn’t I have to acknowledge that those supposed “dumb, superficial, blissfully ignorant people” were just a fantasy?

In all those years of looking for answers, I hadn’t once gone out of my way to examine people who were actually happy, preferring to think that I understood what superficial, derogatory happiness looked like.

In fact, my own experience belies the notion that happy people are ignorant or deluded. I don’t know anyone who matches the caricature that exists in my own mind.

People who are genuinely happier than me tend not to go around thinking and talking about their depressing problems, but to cast that as a moral failing is misguided.

I’ve met others similar to me: deeply depressed, yet repulsed by the thought of having to “delude” themselves in order to feel better.

Such people would never have the audacity to claim that they are free from “delusion”. They might say that they try not to delude themselves, but it’s more a statement of values and ideals than an objective assessment of their overall knowledge and beliefs.

It’s as if we’ve tried and failed at just “getting along” in life, and instead of admitting the failure, tried to redefine the parameters of life itself until those who get along well are the ones who’ve failed the test of moral seriousness.

Temperament defines happiness

The problem is that we aren’t all the same in what excites us and makes us happy, and therefore we can’t and shouldn’t try to “get along” in the same ways.

Those of us who struggle most with anxiety and depression seem to have an (un)healthy dose of what ancient proto-psychologists called melancholic temperament.

Melancholics are excited by meaning and ideals, and not much else. Yet we inhabit a society full of people who find happiness and fulfilment more easily accessible – in the pursuit of power and prestige, the enjoyment of sensual pleasures, or in simply being left alone to do their own thing.

Meaning and ideals are hard to reconcile with a world ordered to more tangible and readily accessible pursuits. That alone is enough to explain a depressed and anxious outlook.

But if we can at least recognise that meaning and ideals are what motivate and fulfil us, and that we are not all motivated by the same things, then we can dispense with attempts to universalise happiness and justify our own preoccupations.

In other words, it is not superficiality that makes others happy; they are happier (in general) because they have greater ease in identifying and accomplishing the things that make them happy.

Likewise, we are not less happy because of our bold embrace of harsh truths and discomforting realities; we are less happy (in general) because we have not succeeded in identifying and accomplishing the things that make us happy, and have in fact gone to the other extreme of denying our need for meaning and ideals.

Putting meaning and ideals first

I think the most important thing is to recognise what it is that makes us happy as individuals – whether that be meaning and ideals or something else – and seek to enlarge that aspect of our life.

For melancholics the initial challenge is working out that it is meaning and ideals that excites us, and the subsequent challenge is learning how to approach meaningful things for the sake of the meaning they provide.

I used to study philosophy, but I couldn’t really articulate that it was the search for meaning that drove me to it. So I tended to go along with other people’s perspectives of what philosophy is and why it is meaningful or important.

There came a time when I ceased to find philosophy meaningful. And it turned out that I didn’t really care all that much about the other aspects of philosophy that people find valuable. I didn’t really care very much about critical thinking or rationality or asking big questions or seeking answers generally.

Ironically this makes a melancholic surprisingly pragmatic in a way that can even resemble a choleric. A melancholic is like a choleric whose ambition is finding meaning, and everything else is subordinate to that goal.

I think that’s what drives my interest in mysticism, philosophy, and religious practice and thought. I’m looking for a pure meaning that can encompass and imbue all of life.

introverted Feeling

Introverted Feeling is a really weird function.

It’s the dominant function of INFP and ISFP; it’s also the auxiliary function of ENFP and ESFP.

I’ve read and listened to lots of descriptions of introverted Feeling (Fi), but hardly any of them feel right to me.

To me, Fi is like an inner landscape of a strange world with diverse terrain. The things that happen in the real world are mirrored in this inner landscape.

So when something happens that you don’t like, it feels as if the inner landscape has become a kind of dark, arid, and rocky mountainside where you’re struggling to find your footing.

When something arduous and oppressive happens, it feels like you’re mired in a horrible swamp, up to your waist in thick mud.

When something unexpected and wonderful happens, it feels like you’re suddenly in a beautiful mountain valley on a warm spring day.

These changes in feeling can be rapid and intense, and they can occur without you even leaving your room.

In an ideal world, a healthy Fi dominant person would use this inner landscape to navigate the real world. We would make choices and seek out directions that take us to good-feeling places in our inner landscape, and avoid actions and circumstances that take us to bad-feeling places.

But as mentioned in my previous post, Fi is extremely hard to describe, especially when we’re young.

We all assume from a young age that everyone else is like us on the inside. So when people act in ways that make us feel really bad, we assume that they also feel bad, but that somehow feeling bad doesn’t matter.

At other times we are explicitly pressured to act according to external parameters that conflict with our Fi, and we are also pressured to provide non-Fi justifications or explanations for our own choices and actions.

Not only do we get cajoled into situations that feel bad, but being forced to justify and explain ourselves also feels bad, as it denies the integrity and authenticity of our introverted Feeling.

Someone calls you and says “Can you please do this for me?”…and your Fi presents you with an endless, stagnant swamp you’re being asked to cross.

But what do you say?

You can say “No”, or “I don’t want to.” But some people won’t be satisfied with that.

Can you say “Doing that for you would feel like being plunged into a foul and interminable swamp”?

I don’t think that would go over too well.

But “I don’t feel like it” sounds capricious and flippant.

So what do you do?

You look for “reasons” or excuses that explain and justify your refusal.

“I’m busy that day”, “I have things to do”, “I’m overloaded at the moment.”

It’s not that these things aren’t true, just that it’s not how your mind works.

You haven’t sat back and thought “Can I help them? No, I can’t because I have too much to do already”.

So you end up having to translate your Fi into a reason that is completely un-Filike.

Over time you develop the unpleasant feeling of being a foreigner in your own country, translating your inner world into something that others deem acceptable.

The good news

Ah, but there is some good news.

The good news is that once you understand your Fi, and the lesser functions that are undermining or inhibiting it, the path to feeling good again is relatively simple.

I’ve discovered that so long as I recognise the interference of Si (intrusive memories, adherence to customs, past experience, old habits and sensory immersion), and the interference of Te (the demand for outcomes, explanations, efficiency, and step-by-step planning), it’s possible for me to take whatever I’m currently feeling and simply change it.

I might be presently mired in a swamp or stuck on that barren, rocky slope, but if I remove the hindrances I can fly in an instant to an idyllic forest, or a sublime mountain peak.

I can go somewhere magical in that inner landscape. I can let my feeling be the substance of my conscious experience, rather than some unhappy by-product of external forces and conditions.

I can – as terrifying and counter-intuitive as it might sound – let my Fi be the guide to my choices and direction in life.

And in that capacity, it really does feel like something miraculous. It really does feel as though “feeling good” has the power to substantively change my experience of life.

 

Happiness and the motivation to change

I’ve been thinking a lot about the principle of reflection I’ve observed in my life lately.

The basic idea is that my experience of reality reflects my own deeper beliefs about reality.

For example, if I really believe that life is an endless struggle, then I will find that my experience reflects endless struggle.

Applying the principle in reverse: if my experience of life is an endless struggle, then on some level I must believe that this is how life is or should be.

In order for life to feel like a struggle, we have to want things that are unattainable, or alternatively we have to sabotage the attainable things we desire.

To be more precise, we have to feel like we want certain things, only to find that these things are unattainable either intrinsically or through self-sabotage.

For example, I used to think I wanted to lose weight. That’s fine if we define ‘want’ as a feeling. But if we define want as a motivational state – a state of mind that moves you to action – then it wasn’t true that I wanted to lose weight.

Paradoxically, when I accepted that I didn’t really want to lose weight, the sudden shock motivated me to do something about it.

By extension, I might think I want life to be easy, free, secure, prosperous, and satisfying. But if life instead feels difficult, miserable, hopeless, and full of struggle, then I need to question this apparent ‘want’.

If I wanted life to be easy and free and so on, then I would act towards those goals. I would at the very least have a plan and a course of action with definable progress along the way.

If I don’t have those things, then in what sense do I really want to be free, happy, and fulfilled?

To get a little more personal: I always had a vague goal of wanting ‘answers’ to life. But if I really wanted answers, shouldn’t I at least be clear-minded about the questions?

When I grappled with the issue of weight loss, it turned out to be quite complicated and full of self-delusion and conflicting desires. At face value I wanted to lose weight, but beneath the surface I was quite complacent about it and not really motivated to change my behaviour.

So it’s not immediately clear what I want from life either. I can only really say at this point that the most obvious answers are probably not correct.

I’ve distilled this down to a useful heuristic: when you find yourself stuck in persistent negative situations, consider the possibility that you are exactly where you want to be.

This might seem absurd, but what we don’t realise is that our psyches are complicated. There are layers of belief and motivation inside us.

For example, I might want to be a successful writer, and do my best to achieve that goal. But years earlier, perhaps when I was a teenager or a child, I decided that it was best to stay on the sidelines and avoid the limelight.

I never challenged or changed that belief, I just went on living and adding new layers as I went. So now as an adult my desire for success in various aspects of life is implicitly curtailed by my pre-existing and still operational desire to avoid the limelight and live life on the sidelines.

The end result is struggle and disappointment, but even so the struggle and disappointment must be part of the picture. On some level I’m comfortable with struggle and disappointment, because they concord with my beliefs about life.

Like I said, it’s complicated.

I don’t think there’s a single, simple answer to it either. Or maybe I just don’t want there to be a simple answer.

But at the very least it’s good to recognise that your unfulfilled desire for success may be the outcome you want deep down after all.

If you merely wanted to be successful, you would surely gravitate foremost to things you could easily succeed at. You would be mindful of your past successes. You would live and breath success, and avoid any enterprise where success seemed tenuous or uncertain. You might still suffer setbacks and failures, but you wouldn’t cling to them.

The weight-loss example is brilliant: all you have to do in order to lose weight is eat dramatically less. But we don’t do that, because we don’t really want to lose weight, or because our motivation to lose weight is far weaker than our motivation to lose ourselves in the pleasure of food.

It seems obvious with weight loss because moment-by-moment we are either eating or not eating, and it’s totally in our control.

But the same is true in other aspects of life – in our thoughts and feelings we are either oriented toward or away from our goal. It may be more subtle than putting food in your mouth, but I don’t think it’s necessarily less effective.

It’s terrifying and confronting to recognise that your supposed wants and desires are only a facade. But terror and confrontation are great sources of motivation! That’s why the weight-loss book I wrote about my experience is not for everyone. It ended up being very confronting.

Sometimes we need to be confronted with the truth of our situation. If you spend your life failing at finding happiness, then it’s worth considering if you really want happiness in the first place. Many of us would have no idea what to do with ourselves if we were happy. We’d quickly find a problem or a crisis or a new struggle to drag us back into our more comfortable misery.

It sounds paradoxical, but the strong feeling I have of wanting my life to change is only a feeling. The proof is that I haven’t done anything differently, despite my apparent frustration and unhappiness.

If we define ‘want’ as a motivational state – a state of mind that results in action – then clearly I do not want life to change. As I note in the end of my weight-loss book, the thought “I want life to change” or “I want to lose weight” is really a form of self-delusion designed to distract us from what’s really going on in our minds.

Because if you admit to yourself that you don’t want life to change, that you want life to continue as it has been, the obvious question is “Why?” Why would you want life to continue in a way that you obviously don’t enjoy?

Looking at it this way forces you to own your role in making life the way it is by performing the same kinds of actions over and over with the same motives, beliefs, and feelings. Hopefully it raises in you a genuine motivation to understand, a curiosity as to why you are perpetuating a way of life that you don’t enjoy, to such an extent that you even delude yourself with thoughts of change.

Before I lost weight I thought the benefits would all be aesthetic. I was surprised to find that the greatest changes were in my relationship with food, and my overall sense of well-being.

I could not have predicted what being thin would be like. In that sense I really didn’t know what losing weight meant until I accomplished it. It’s no wonder I couldn’t really ‘want’ it in the first place.

What helped me in the end was knowing that my relationship with food was dysfunctional and seeking to ‘work it out’. That might be a more constructive approach generally: recognise that things aren’t right and try to understand where they’re going wrong.