Journal – 1/26/17: Ungrateful, Mindless and Whiny

It’s been awhile since I’ve journaled, as usual that has more to do with me letting life get on top of me than lack of nonsense to spew – my sabbatical ended, a new job took its place, a grand-niece was born, I got a kidney stone (I’m still waiting to give birth to), we had a family reunion, and on a surface level I enjoyed every minute of it. On a deeper level, as happens from time to time, I’ve had the feeling of experiencing life rather than living it. Losing touch with my goals, and reverting instead to habit. I have good habits, and I’ve got bad habits – the good ones take care of themselves, but my bad habits tend to fall under the umbrella of laziness.

Now, laziness is different things to different people, for me it’s a combination of ingratitude, willful mindlessness and some self-pity that I’m decaying. Plus I really like a good show (and we live in an age where a great movie/TV show is little more than a thought away). Let me break down those three ideas:

  1. Ingratitude: taking mortality seriously means taking all that comes with it seriously. My belief is that when we go toes up it’s all over – no more me. With this belief comes the fact that life doesn’t have an externally provided meaning – I have to provide the meaning, I have to believe that meaning is meaningful, and I have to act like I believe what I believe. To do otherwise is to be ungrateful for the shot at life I’ve got.
  2. Willful mindlessness: Chris Rock had a great quote to the effect that “We always say ignorance is bliss. Well, if so, what’s the opposite? Some form of misery.” Depending on your state of mind, mindfulness can take you down some dark alleys – easier just to switch it off. Easier, but like heroin, not a great long-term plan.
  3. Self-pity: Related to the “dead-and-it’s-all-over” belief, it’s easy to slide into nihilism (“why don’t I just sit here and eat a box of donuts and binge watch ‘Twin Peaks’? Just gonna die anyway.”). This is a lazy posture, this is life happening at me, and it’s seductive.

In my life, these things are all manifestations of me losing touch with my personal goals. Those goals are me deciding the meaning of my life, for me – and ensuring I’m actively engaged with that meaning. (Note: I don’t put much meaning in things I can’t “do” anything about.) I’m lucky enough to not have to worry about most material things, and that luck can work against you. Real need (like “I need food”) is a powerful motivator; comfort tends to be the exact opposite.

All I have to fall back on is the strength of my convictions, and this has been one of those periods where that strength’s been sorely lacking.

I share this not as some self-castigation, just a reminder that we all drift from time to time – the problem with being human is that drift can be what’s left of a short existence. Keeping a small number of things (you can take action on) top-of-mind can go a long way toward creating the life you want to live. Me? I’m keeping it simple, just going to focus on doing the opposite of what I’ve been doing:

  1. Gratitude: Appreciate that with this finite life, when used well, I can make the art I want to make, impact others positively, continue to learn and enjoy both the challenges and pleasures that seem to come in equal measure.
  2. Mindfulness: The great evil is allowing the mind to dwell in the future or past, which are for all intents and purposes, fictional places. The only place you have any meaning is the present moment. So I’ll be eagle-eyed for those times when I zone out thinking about what needs to be done, and just do it.
  3. Positive mental attitude: The great myth about positive thinking is that it can be a permanent state – it’s a practice, like art, meditation, medicine or yoga – you don’t “get it right” you just get better at it while you pursue it, and lose it when you don’t.

I’m looking forward to holding myself accountable to myself again (I’m a terrible boss, I let me get away with murder!), and reinforcing the context and boundaries I create to keep things meaningful. I encourage you, no matter your thoughts on an afterlife, to think about how best to use the time you have – and take action, make it happen.

We’re all on a freight train to the grave, no stops, no getting off the train – enjoy it, or don’t – but remember that you get to choose. No fate, no destiny, no tarot, no astrology – just you and a decision.