2022.38 : You Happy

I5, Central California, U.S.A. Circa 2020

The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.

— Marcus Aurelius

My Central Valley I5 trance was shattered as I passed the scene captured in this week’s photograph. I exited at the first off-ramp and figured out how to navigate to what I had high hopes was an impactful image.

Immediately upon arrival, and still to this day, I needed/need to know. Did the artist intend …

“You are happy.” or “Are you Happy?” but reached the edge of the canvas? For now, my interpretation is, “So you’re happy in the face of all this despair?”

I have chosen not to frame my life in the “Are you happy?” frame. Happiness is a transient emotion. A more apt framing I have experienced would be, “Is this satisfactory?” (not to be confused with the colloquial use of “satisfied”). To answer this question requires examination of emotions and outcomes, along with my ability to adapt to factors beyond my control.

The genesis of this way of framing was my first journey to Japan. I had purchased a JR Pass that afforded nearly unlimited rides on the vast network of bullet trains.

Two weeks provided a lot of alone time … with nearly no Roman characters to read and a spoken language that, while pleasurable to listen to, was as understandable to me as white noise.

Staring out the airplane-like window at the countless villages as the bullet train ever-so-smoothly raced along, I was, for the first time ever, truly alone with my thoughts. And also, for the first time in my life, my daimon, the observer, separated itself from the noise of my thoughts and emotions and demanded to know:

“What was that thought? And that one? And that one? I didn’t design any of them! How did they get into my mind? They’re not even in my voice.”

Emotions. Thoughts. Voices. So many I didn’t author nor recognize. They belong to others or to the past. Many of them were angry… all were unwanted trespassers.

My world returned to the “normal” state of conflating these foreign thoughts and emotions as my own. My daimon’s observer voice drowned out.

You, too, can pull the observer out from the noise. It may seem complicated but it’s actually quite easy.

“What is he talking about?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is it worth it to keep reading?”
“Maybe a little more.”

That is internal dialogue. Yours will be unique to you, whether similar to the example or not – but the example isn’t the point. The point is … Who are you (all of us) talking to?! Seriously. Who is talking to whom?

The pursuit of the answer to that question, and the consequences of the answer, is the purpose of mindfulness training. Note that there is a distinction with a difference between mindfulness and meditation, but the explanation isn’t necessary for this week.

For decades I have dabbled in meditation. I quickly gave up each attempt due to my allergy to woo-woo and religious framing. Four years ago, I came upon the “Waking Up” app, described as “a new operating system for your mind.” Two years ago, the catalyst for my new life had me drowning in emotions and thoughts. I was forced to get serious about a mindfulness practice, and I clung to it as if it was a lifesaving flotation device. Which in a way, it was.

With every lesson, I learn more and more … more and more gaining control over emotions and thoughts. Emotions and thoughts being less and less of a factor in my emotional state, reactions, and decision making. What that means is, more and more liberation.

Here is a fun illustration of the concept I was sent. The lack of credit for the illustrator and photographer is due to a lack of knowledge. If you know, please let me know. The art is excellent at communicating an obtuse concept clearly. I would just add thoughts.

Treat emotions like visitors, who are just passing through!

Yet there is so much more to learn. I’m currently trying to get my head around the concept that even the observer is a manifestation in consciousness. It invariably leads down a very deep rabbit hole of, What exactly is consciousness? You can expect many posts about this in the future.

A few closing words … from a young age I have been a member of a small population of folks for whom the ticking of time rings loudly. Much to my chagrin, only in the last year, thanks to mindfulness training, have I come to appreciate how precious attention is.

Einstein changed the world when on the shoulders of giants, he saw that space and time are not separate elements; they are, in fact, part of one phenomenon that he called “space-time.” Without which the numerous layers of technology that facilitate your reading these words in the fashion you are wouldn’t be possible.

I am enticed by the notion that attention and time should be understood as “attention-time.” Each minuscule morsel of understanding results in more and more satisfaction.

So, highway artist. To your challenge, “You Happy.” I reply, No … but I am satisfactory.

And now … know the photograph.

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