Intro to Contemplation and Commentary on “The Important Things”

I recently published many notes from quite a few books in a series of posts called Book Notes. It become a compilation of summarized thoughts and quotes from the books. I added a tiny bit of commentary and questions. I really enjoyed putting the categories together.

I combined the categories of the book notes with large sections from three of my favorite books Constructive Living, The War of Art, and The Tao te Ching. Then I added a couple of my favorite journal entries, combined with my responses, and labeled the document “The Important Things”. I labeled it that way because everything that I included, I thought, was important as advice, knowledge, or as something interesting. Sometimes, just as something interesting to be explored.

I have this document now as something to read and remind me of, you guessed it, important things. I was reading back through the document—editing and revising—and there remains many things in the document that deserve way further examination (and explanation). If the Book Notes series was a series of depth, I hope to start a new thread that is less all encompassing, and has more depth.

Here, now, is the first examination.

“We are sometimes prejudiced, sometimes not; sometimes thoughtful, sometimes not; sometimes clever, sometimes not; sometimes suffering, sometimes not. From situation to situation, from minute to minute, and even within the same time period and place we have multiple identities that shift and flow in a complex dance of variation. There are no neurotics or geniuses or failures or fools.. There are only neurotic moments, flashes of brilliance, failed opportunities, and stupid mistakes. But these moments, pleasant or unpleasant, can never fix us into rigid, immutable characters. We cannot help but change.

David K. Reynolds, Constructive Living

I usually call on the book Constructive Living to answer the seemingly impossible question that I get asked, “What is your favorite book?” My difficulty in answering the question is strangely related to this one. It is sometimes my favorite book. Just like you are sometimes in a good mood, and sometimes in a bad mood. I am absolutely loving this quote right now, so let’s break it down.

“We are sometimes prejudiced, sometimes not; sometimes thoughtful, sometimes not; sometimes clever, sometimes not; sometimes suffering, sometimes not. From situation to situation, from minute to minute, and even within the same time period and place we have multiple identities that shift and flow in a complex dance of variation…

This might be a fantastic thought, or cool off-the cuff examination, but it is not how the mind thinks day-to-day. During the course of our days we are constantly doing things. When the mind is not focusing on doing those things, it has been observed that our minds go into the default mode network. The DMN is described on Wikipedia as being;

“[…] shown to be active when a person is not focused on the outside world and the brain is at wakeful rest, such as during daydreaming and mind-wandering. But it is also active when the individual is thinking about others, thinking about themselves, remembering the past, and planning for the future. The network activates “by default” when a person is not involved in a task.”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Default_mode_network#cite_note-Buckner-3)

Part of what the DMN is doing is reinforcing the ego. It is taking thoughts, in a way that we talk, and repeating them back to us describing why we did certain things, what we are going to do to other people, or how we should have acted. I also want to look at the reasoning. The DMN will often take reasoning (in the form of sentences in our own voice) and repeat it back so our own minds can listen repeatedly. This is kind of crazy, but hang in there. It’s the voice that tries to work out how you’re going to explain yourself to others later, and it’s the voice that explains why you did something ridiculous (or hurt someone’s feelings) in the past.

(side note: the DMN is not all bad, and does have some important characteristics)

Why is it important to explain the DMN and how it reinforces and serves the ego? Because the ego gives us an “I” in our minds, and the “I” in our minds has traits, and characteristics. To the ego, the idea that we might not be a continuous person with very distinguishable and predictable traits in every moment is very difficult. It breaks down the idea of a solid conceptual “I”. In reality, there are a number of things that affect how a persons’ traits activate or don’t inactive in different situations (the easy ones are amount of sleep and diet).

To make this simpler…  A person has an ego, that ego believes in an unchangeable “I”, the ego is fed by the DMN in ways that are positive or negative. When this feedback loop is negative people progress, they regress.

Just as important is how little the ego (with help from the DMN) believes in the possibility of change. It looks at the “I” that exists in our minds and believes that can’t be changed. And if that’s the thought process that prevails, it’s true that trait cannot be changed because that trait, as it IS you, is being defined in a way that gives it the smallest most unrealistic ability to change.

The perspective obviously needs to change. This quote from David Reynolds is the right perspective. I will try to explain it with a little help from the book, “Who Are You Really?” by Brian Little. In this book, Brian talks about free traits. These are ways of acting that fall outside our normal personality features. Introverts can have incredible moments of extroversion, but they need recovery time after the incident and the acts must be practiced.

You won’t be a person that consistently exhibits the trait you desire, but you are absolutely someone that can exhibit that trait. There may be some biasing towards a certain trait, but you don’t have to subscribe to frame that doesn’t let you act in ways that you see beneficial, or not act in ways that you see destructive. Let’s go to the next section;

…There are no neurotics or geniuses or failures or fools.. There are only neurotic moments, flashes of brilliance, failed opportunities, and stupid mistakes…

I actually don’t completely agree with this, because of it’s use of absolutes, and my understanding that rare circumstances do exist. However, a moment of anger should not make you an angry person by definition. (although your mind, and others’ minds will see it that way). It is only one moment in an incredibly long series of moments. Onward to the last section.

…But these moments, pleasant or unpleasant, can never fix us into rigid, immutable characters. We cannot help but change.”

The most important part of this last section is We cannot help but change. We truly can’t. Our abilities are diminishing or improving. Our lives are constantly in a flux. The reason you are not improving your trait, characteristic, or other, is because your mind is actively working to suppress it when the opportunity to act differently comes into play. It is a silent pet-peeve of mine when people say that they can’t do public speaking, or that they can’t do ‘x’ number of things, or when my own mind rationalizes anti-social behavior in a way that I know really isn’t completely truthful.

The truth, in it’s purest form is that you are who you are RIGHT NOW. You may have lacked courage in the past but there are ways to feed that doubt of courage positively, and give it strength to emerge next time. If you’r not cultivating, then you’re killing. Whether you call it that or not.

However, it all starts with noticing. Noticing that your perspective on yourself, and your capabilities is changeable. You certainly aren’t the lost and confused person you were four years ago, and you’re not the confident/intelligent person you could be in a couple years.


 

I really enjoy writing posts like these, and I hope to do more in the future. If you liked it, I hope you share it, or at least the idea with someone else.

 

 

 

 

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