It is human nature to ponder anxieties that do not exist.
The mind is a fabrication machine, developing worries before they deserve any attention. Wrote Carlos Castaneda in Journey to Ixtlan: “To worry is to become accessible… And once you worry, you cling to anything out of desperation; and once you cling you are bound to get exhausted or to exhaust whoever or whatever you are clinging to.”
The only way to assuage the nerves is to focus on what’s in front of you, to do the work regardless of the way you feel. Progress happens to the relaxed.
You’re not your brain; you’re the CEO of your brain. You can’t control everything that goes on in “Mind, Inc.” But you can decide which projects get funded with your attention and action. So when a worry is nagging at you, step back and ask: “Is this useful?”
As a survival mechanism, anxiety pushes us to take action — the most basic fear is that we need to eat and have a place to sleep for the night. But anxiety is also a thinking problem that needs to be neutralized by greeting it at the door where it appears wearing the same costume as it did before.
Everything is going to be alright, just like it was yesterday.
Ask more questions, not because you want to be right but because you’re naturally curious and want to know more about the spaces inside, not the exterior of opinion. Wrote René Magritte: “Everything we see hides another thing; we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.
Every thought has one that precedes it. Opinions can be traced back to what you’ve seen, heard, or read in an effort to confirm bias. But loosen the emotional grip of sidedness. Said physicist Richard Feynman, “You must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Have strong opinions, weakly held
It is not necessary to be confident in order to act. “Rightness,” wrote author Louis Menand, “will be, in effect, the compliment you give to the outcome of your deliberations.” Your gut instincts remain plastic. Dealing with conflict and uncertainty is what makes us human and non-robotic.
Going deeper provides more questions than answers. Curiosity stimulates the will for discovery. Things tend to only make sense in reverse.
Do you ever ask what happened to the day that just past?
We often carry on throughout the day without thinking about our actions.
We tune out of our existence, and we turn into robots, competent without comprehension. Said writer and philosopher Colin Wilson: “The more I allow the robot to take over my life—that is, the more I live passively—the less real I feel.”
On the flip side, one can also be too mystic, excessively absorbed into the occult.
Reality is too sober
There are some things worth being awake for and others being drunk on habit. Even the routine — doing the dishes, going for a walk — can excite the deepest thinking. Meanwhile, overthinking like anxiously driving a car stresses one into accidents. Thinking how to run will trip you up.
One day we’re going to miss the powerful silence of the natural world, the way it smells and begs for an inquisition. That’s because “most people are on the world, not in it,” wrote the father of national parks John Muir.
In putting a “fence around nature,” we lock ourselves into a secluded wall of emotional current.
Nature nurtures, it humbles our deepest desires. Because we can’t control the skies, nor the mercurial blob of ourselves, we must give in to nature’s fickleness and beauty.
We’re going to be shocked when we wake up from digital’s second life and realize that becoming also means embracing the evolving whims of those things around us. We are overpowered by the Earth’s forces.
Below are this week’s interesting links and recent discoveries for your weekend reading.
The London Milkman. Photographer Fred Morley staged the famous photo of a milkman walking through the destruction of London after the German blitz during the Second World War. “Morley walked around the rubble of London until he found a group of firefighters trying to put out a fire amidst the fallen buildings, as he wanted that specific scene in the background…Apparently, Morley borrowed a milkman’s outfit and crate of bottles. He then either posed as the milkman or had his assistant pose as the milkman.” While the British government censored images of London’s destruction, it promoted this photo to show the world Britain’s resiliency and evoke a sense of calm.
How to do nothing. It’s not easy to escape the computer screen or leave that portable rectangular glow behind, but disconnecting is becoming indispensable to our mental health. We don’t always need to be switched on. Writes bird watcher Jenny Odell who likes to decompress at the park: “The function of nothing here, of saying nothing, is that it’s a precursor to something, to having something to say. “Nothing” is neither a luxury nor a waste of time, but rather a necessary part of meaningful thought and speech.”
Why You Should Write a Memoir—Even if Nobody Will Read It. According to recent studies, writing your own memoir has various psychological benefits. Whether for private eyes or for public viewing, writing extensively about traumatic events helps you break free from the cage of anxiety. “Psychologists believe that by converting emotions and images into words, the author starts to organize and structure memories, particularly memories that may be difficult to comprehend and accept.”
Book I’m reading
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman: “Here is a fact: nothing in all civilization has been as productive as ludicrous ambition. Whatever its ills, nothing has created more. Cathedrals, sonatas, encyclopedias: love of God was not behind them, nor love of life. But the love of man to be worshipped by man.”
Video I’m watching
Perhaps what we see isn’t what we get. Instead, life is just computer code and humans are information.
So does a simulated life mean that we can live forever? Says theoretical physicist James Gates: “If the simulation hypothesis is valid, then we open the door to eternal life and resurrection and things that formally have been discussed in the realm of religion. As long as I have a computer that’s not damaged, I can always re-run the program.”
Words signify a consciousness, of which a newborn or pet can only hear. The baby goes on to learn the language of memes and communicates with itself while your dog relies on its own form of internal narrative.
There is some form of mental awareness in all creatures. A body without a brain contains zero working neurons and a dead narrative.
Words are a different animal than pictures, perhaps the most effective at harvesting attention; humans use words to propagandize, market, deceive and spread evil. Said Nikola Tesla: “If hate could be turned into electricity, it would light up the whole world.”
Words are sensory stimulants, carving out emotions for which both the bad and good stuff sticks. “Talk, talk, talk: the utter and heartbreaking stupidity of words,” wrote William Faulkner in 1927.
We invent words because we don’t want to die. Yet it is their existence that poses the most threat to consciousness.
“Why write? To write. To make something.” – Claude Simon
Most people think of writing as a creative outlet. But it’s also an instrument for coping.
According to recent studies, writing your own memoir has various psychological benefits. Whether for private eyes or for public viewing, writing extensively about traumatic events helps you break free from the cage of anxiety.
“Psychologists believe that by converting emotions and images into words, the author starts to organize and structure memories, particularly memories that may be difficult to comprehend and accept.”
Words can save your life
Making sense of the past not only gives you perspective, it also strengthens your personal operating system by refocusing attention on what matters.
Want to better control your inner-narrative? Consider funneling your thoughts from mind to paper by starting your own memoir.
We must look at our surroundings with a keen eye otherwise every day just becomes transactional in nature.
Writes Susan Sontag in On Photography: “Ultimately, having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it, and participating in public event comes more and more to be equivalent to looking at it in photographed form.”
At the same time, we must ration our shots. Infinite digital film can turn a photographer into a visual hoarder of half-truths.
Photographs also lie
Images are a kind of confidence trick lacking truth serum. “The camera is just as capable of lying as the typewriter,” wrote Bertolt Brecht in War Primer.
The paradox of photography is that copying reality excuses the inspection of its meaning. All context gets reserved in the process of life, unfrozen from the stillness of the lens.
If you want to remember a vacation, you’re almost better off framing a picture rather than just posting it on your Instagram feed.
According to recent research, owning a physical photo is more likely to encourage someone to share their experience with others. It turns out that digital images are terrible cues.
“Back in the old days, we’d wait until we finished a roll of film and then bring it to the store to get printed. So waiting for the pictures kept the experience top of mind. Then, we’d take the pictures around to our friends one by one (or group by group) and get to share our experience over and over again. Now, we simply post it on social media once and we’re done.”
However, it’s not all digital media’s fault. It’s also our dwindling attention spans driven by the urge to consume what’s next. To echo Om Malik in a recent New Yorker piece: “We have come to a point in society where we are all taking too many photos and spending very little time looking at them.”
Apps like Timehop and Facebook’s “One year ago today” feature attempt to revitalize old posts to conjure up past memories. I personally recommend reviewing “On this Day” in Day One journal, not just for vacation recall but also to gain perspective on all life’s milestones, ups, and downs.
Whether it’s in the form of a framed photo, a souvenir, or relived Facebook post, you can extend any fond memory with subtle reminders.
We can only construct with the tools at our disposal. Before cameras, artists painted pictures of the world. However, it wasn’t necessary to paint with exactitude; like writing, images were fabricated in the mind’s eye before putting color to the canvas, ink to the paper.
We never know what we’ll get until we put it down first: making precedes meaning. First, we do something and then we interpret its significance.
Conversely, the digital world is all about identifying objects for us. SnapChat, Google, and Apple use artificial intelligence to tell you what’s in our pictures, providing a shortcut to meaning. They are our third and fourth eye. Vision exceeds a one-way street.
But there are no absolutes. Consciousness manufactures data. It is our responsibility to convert the external world through our various lenses, reality and irreality. We make what you see. To quote Hemingway, “All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”
From the 16th to 18th century, Leonardo da Vinci’s grotesque sketches from the High Renaissance period in 1493 were his most emulated and celebrated works of art. Wrote art historian Kenneth Clark: ‘For three centuries they were [seen as] the most typical of his works. Today we find them disgusting, or at best wearisome.’
The beauty is in its strangeness. Why did we ever lose our taste in monstrosities?