Got Troubles?

by mkriegh

Sometimes I feel like this sad little hobo on the porch. The world seems a bag of troubles that I struggle to carry. Don’t even know why I want to carry. During times like this my mind works overtime, running through all the different gruesome possibilities and I am able to convince myself that the sky is indeed falling down. I can do all sorts of dumb things in an effort to cope. Eat too much, drink too much, yell at my wife, kick the dog, well not kick the dog, would never do that. At any rate, if you are an average human being you know what I am talking about. Almost all of us have our fair share of troubles, some of us more than our fair share of troubles, a few of us less than our fair share. Will the last category please leave the room. You would struggle to understand what I am talking about anyway.

I recently gave a talk, a link to which you will find right here at the top of this blog page. Yah, the button that says “Talks.” Hover over it and you will see two talk titles, “What Intelligent Life is Made Of,” and “Fear, Desire and Free Will.” Your homework assignment is to read the Fear, Desire one. Oh right, we are not in school, I am not offering credit and there is no reason you should do so. Ok, I will give you the cliff notes version. Basically we are not concously in charge of our decisions. Neuroscientists have experimented and come to the conclusion that our brains contain an amazing number of sub-components each with a specialized task that it is essentially prewired to do in a particular way. These sub-modules know long before your conscious brain does what it is you have decided to do. As many as ten seconds before. Having been left in the dust, your conscious brain makes up the best story it can to explain what you did and why you did it. This is why eye witness testimony is notoriously unreliable.

Back to troubles. So, among the things the brain appears to have a prewired module to do is worry. Right? Worry seems uncontrollable. It keeps us awake at night, stresses us out and makes us do the dumb things I alluded to above. Its all part of our survival mechanisms. And interestingly, at least it seems from my experience, the worry module and modules like fear and self loathing (I am making some of this up as far as particular modules are concerned) seem to have a really dominating effect when they kick into action. This was probably a good thing when a bad boy like this was staring you down:

I am not, however, convinced of its utility in many modern society situations. Yet it is there. About the only thing I can think of as stronger than the worry, fear and self loathing modules is the desire for sex module. Yah, that one rules. We all go wacko on that one, just watch a male praying mantis as he attempts to mount the object of his desire. I am told he is as likely as not to wind up as lunch for the female once he’s had his way with her. I can think of some women I dated in the past that made me feel that way. No, I probably didn’t date them, just wanted to because I was convinced the sex would be awesome. Come to think of it, maybe the worry, fear and self loathing modules did their job. Hmmm…

Worry, fear and self loathing. These are strange super power emotions in our lives, brought on by an instinct to preserve ourselves. The problem with them is that most of the time the perceived threat to our survival isn’t anything like a nasty, vicious predator. They are more like windmills that we are tilting at. Not that you should ignore them, if the worry, fear and self loathing modules have kicked in, there is probably something up. Its just that most of the time, it isn’t really life threatening. Most of the time, at worst, it is quality of life threatening. Big difference. Its a big difference because quality of life, I mean really good quality of life, does not take much. We need the basics, food and shelter, friends, family, and community. We need to be a valued member of our communities. But that is about it. And most of the time, just waking up to a new day is a blessing. One that we fail to appreciate when we worry, fear and self loath. Yesterday, I talked about bliss. I wondered what it was and how it is achieved. I wondered whether our society distracts us from our bliss. I think it does. In some follow up discussion to that post on facebook, we decided that bliss is not something separate that you can follow. Bliss is something that is us, that we always carry with us. Its a capacity we have that we need to learn to mobilize. Bliss, though, seems a bit like the kiddy pool in this picture:

Its there, its bright, its optimistic, but so overshadowed by all the fear, worry and self loathing. The object then is to grow this kiddy pool into an olympic sized swimming pool. I think it starts with waking up each day and saying to yourself, gee, I am glad to be alive. I have been playing around with a new app on my iPhone called SuperBetter. Behavioral scientists have gotten together with computer game nerds and created a game that leads you forward towards positive, life affirming behavior in the face of adversity. Its kinda fun. And its been helpful. Only you know what your SuperBetter strategy might be. Could be meditation, going for long walks (one of my favorites) sharing with friends, family and community. Whatever it is, do it. Enlist the help of friends and family to help you do it. Grow that kiddy pool into an olympic style swimming pool. Then go for a swim.

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