As humans we are conditioned to become wrapped up in small and often meaningless problems throughout our lives. Our brains are thought machines that incessantly generate information from our subconscious mind. Try even for a moment to focus on a single thing for as long as possible and your mind will continue to create sounds and images and fantasies despite your best attempts at concentration. One of the effects of this is that we create dissatisfactions for ourselves repeatedly and unnecessarily.
What are the biggest fears people have? What are the things people are most afraid of losing? Generally it falls into a few main categories: physical function, mental function, comfort, and social stability. Let’s do a few thought exercises to realise why none of these should be able to permanently knock us out of action.
Thought experiment 1:
Imagine that you have become a quadriplegic. You have lost all feeling in your body from the neck down. What would that mean for you? Perhaps you’ve always loved playing sport, or the piano, or sex – and now you can’t do any of those things. Pretend that you are currently trying to come to terms with no longer having the use of your body after finding out you’ve just been in an accident. Stop reading for a moment, close your eyes, and imagine that reality. You might grieve for the things you have lost, the things you will no longer be able to do. You might become depressed and feel powerless. Not having the use of your body seems like a pretty permanent thing, doesn’t it? Guess what, though. There are plenty of people who are living very ordinary and very happy lives despite paralysis. Right now, losing your body function might seem like a horrible thing to happen to you, perhaps the most horrible behind dying. But what about the opportunity that the situation creates? Imagine all of the things you would have time to become a master at, all of the reading you could do, and all of the wisdom that would develop as you grow to accept your new life. The way you see yourself in the situation is subject to change, it is subject to shifting from sadness to contentment, from believing yourself to be impaired to knowing that you are as able to live a valuable and beautiful life as any other person, not with limitations, but with parameters. Parameters to direct you forward into growth. In fact, the state of paralysis is impermanent, just as you are. Life is impermanent, life is in an ever changing state. It begins, continues, and then ends. Why become overly attached to a single point in an ever changing process when that point will end and a new one will begin? That is to say, at one point you can move your body, at another point you cannot, why crave the moving body when it will simply end?Every moment in life that we get attached to an aspect of our physical being is one of unnecessary suffering. There is no purpose to these feelings other than that they are necessarily generated by your brain.
If there is no practical purpose to letting your own negativity hold you down despite what some might think is the worst event imaginable, why would you let small and daily things hold you down in a similar way? Why become attached to any moment, why try to avoid the unavoidable? Instead, realise and learn that as life passes you by, all you can do is try to understand it.
Thought experiment 2:
But what about losing your brain? What about losing your mental functioning as neurodegeneration and old age begin to claw you into a state of unknowing? Imagine that things are happening in your head that you couldn’t control, that your attempts to do basic mental tasks were ineffective and useless. What then?
Well, your brain is doing a lot of things right now that you have no control over. All this thought generation, all your internal functions, all the predictions it makes. On the micro scale of here and now you have very little control. Purple snake licking a stop sign. Sexual fantasy about your grade 5 teacher. Murdering your next-door neighbour. These are the kinds of strange and often uncontrolled thoughts that will appear in the mind of every person throughout their lives. And we react as though we made the decision to generate those thoughts. We feel confusion and guilt and disgust as though we ourselves are represented simply by the thought processes that have been generated by many unseen factors.
Thus, losing the aspect of our brains that we actually can control (or think we can) might feel especially difficult to deal with, however the response is the same as the response we should have to our currently out of control brains. Accept the fact that your brain doesn’t work the way you think it should – accept it until you realise it’s working the way does, regardless of your expectations. As it inevitably degrades you will watch it and accept, without pain or suffering. By the time you have so little control that you can no longer accept and be aware, you probably won’t feel anything at all. If your mind is gone, there’s nothing to do the worrying and thus nothing to worry about. We will all decompose, we will all lose the ability to function in the way we once did. We can do exercises to maintain ourselves a little longer if we would like, and we should, but not with the intention of permanent maintenance, with The understanding of our inevitable passing.
Thought experiment 3:
Imagine that you have no money, no home and no social support network. Everything you have is what you are wearing right now. Like thought experiment 1, this is nothing to be afraid of, this is simply a set of parameters acting as challenges for you to overcome. Here, the lesson is that you don’t need much to be happy, and to appreciate what you do have. Many people experience this kind of poverty daily and often the circumstances leading to a life like this neither provide the tools for extrication, nor the wisdom of a growth mindset. But you. You in this situation would be forced into finding and developing the resources to survive with the knowledge of your capacity and your ability to flourish. Whatever state you find yourself in, simply know that it is temporary. Know that things will change. You can either watch and wait for them to do so, or act to change them for the sake of yourself and others.
The point I’m trying to make is stop worrying. Whatever happens, if you change your perspective, life will work out. Life will work out. Nothing will never be not okay. That is not to say you should not act. You should act to make positive change, you should act to better yourself, you should act out of loving compassion and friendliness for all beings, and you should be aware of your faults and the issues of society. Just don’t let it get you down, just don’t worry. You don’t need to. Instead of worrying, instead of reacting to fears, become pragmatic. Do those things that are useful and practical.
Much of what I’ve described here seems to be quite nihilistic, and I agree, it is. However it is simply one model of many to use in life. You don’t have to get attached to this perspective, you can just have it in your brain for when it’s useful, for when it can provide comfort, or motivation, or whatever you need for the situation you find yourself in.
Here’s a video that describes the ideas I’ve shared here in a slightly different way – I hope you enjoy it.