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Success and the Ordinary Soul


Here's a test:

Think of someone you consider exceptionally successful, and hold in mind one or two of this person's most important accomplishments.

I'm guessing that most people who complete this exercise will, like me, choose someone famous, and that the achievements listed will have been in the public sphere. We have fortunately moved beyond the era when the chosen person would usually have been male in gender and European in descent. But most of us will have selected a person acclaimed by society at large.

Now, imagine God's choice. You may not believe God exists, or you might have a conception of God that precludes such value judgment. In fact, I probably do myself. But for the moment imagine a God who evaluates people and decides who is successful and who isn't.


Uncertain Worlds

Minds create the world. Rather, they recreate it, since there is some kind of reality 'out there' that the nervous system detects and affects. But the world we live in minute by minute is not that outer world, at least not directly. We reside in an inner model constructed by our brains.

The brain has plenty of information to work with as it continuously builds its inner reality. Sensory cues stream in at rates far greater than we can consciously process. Meditation is interesting for many reasons, but in particular it teaches us how much data the body ceaselessly collects about sound, touch, sight, and smells. The  physiological state of the body is also monitored, as are thought and emotion. Most of the time, we ignore the vast majority of this input. Even during meditation we can only attend to a fraction of it.


Choose Your Universe

What kind of universe do you enjoy?

WillSpirit, my personal blog that started me writing online, sometimes becomes a forum for fielding my spiritual views. The readership is small enough that nothing I write risks causing a ruckus, but it is large enough that I still get a few comments to help me stay on track. I am fortunate to have a venue to work out a spiritual philosophy that helps me thrive. But a blog is not the only or best way to flesh out a worldview. Meditation, conversation, study, art, and many other activities can accomplish the same end.

If one suffers from mood disorders, anxiety, or other psychiatric distress, the importance of clarifying one's spiritual beliefs can hardly be overstated. Mainstream mental health professionals freely advise that people pursue a spiritual path as an aide to their recovery. Why should it matter?


Think Before You Leap

Is there any part of the human psyche without value? No question, unchecked emotions like rage or hatred can cause catastrophic destruction. But if reigned in, do they contribute in positive ways?

Hatred of a person is seldom productive, but hatred of intolerance, or injustice, or environmental exploitation, can spur concrete productive action. Rage directed toward another individual is always wrong, but if employed as an internal motivator it becomes a wellspring of energy that can be used to correct the many glaring problems that surround us.

The point is, so-called negative emotions are great motivators, but their unfiltered expression often hurts other people. They need to be channeled using both compassion and rational thought.


Shelter in a Storm

Darkness happens. To many who read blogs on this site, bleak and anxious spirits may strike often and hard. Episodes can last hours, days, months, or years. When emotional turmoil becomes chronic there are well described, though imperfect, treatments. But what about the shorter storms? How does one weather a crisis that is powerful but not yet fixed in place?

For obscure reasons, probably related to poor sleep, hormonal cycles, and the like, despair can well up without warning. Many people are overly sensitive, and small setbacks or unthinking comments can lead to violent emotional reactions. High reactivity to stress is another source of transient emotional meltdowns. Often reactivity and sensitivity have their roots in abusive upbringings, but some people seem to simply be wired with exceptional touchiness, and have no obvious childhood reason for it.


What Lurks Within?

Recent post have more or less trashed both over-reliance on thinking and unexamined emotions. The third major pillar of mental life is often termed spiritual; it also warrants examination.

Those with strong atheistic beliefs will likely roll their eyes at this point. Having been raised with solid materialist and reductionist attitudes, I am sympathetic to such philosophies even though they are no longer my own. But there is a way to discuss the same part of the human mind without drawing on mystical concepts.


Don’t Believe Everything You Feel

In much of my writing I give the thinking mind a hard time. I aim to highlight the ways our modern world grants linear thought excessive respect and power. No doubt logical thinking has advantages, and can accomplish much in material spheres; the advanced state of our technology speaks to logic's abilities. Even so, linear thinking creates problems when used to the exclusion of other mental skills, especially during social interactions. Our culture devalues vital brain functions that might help us negotiate the many complex societal problems we face as a species.

In usual parlance the word intelligence refers only to linear, left brain activity. Many commentators have worked to counteract this bias by describing 


Why Have Sex? Why Not Just Think About It?

Can you orgasm just by thinking? I can't, and not for lack of trying. Not many people have the ability to climax without physical stimulation. So why do they say the brain is the most important erogenous zone?

It could be because the mind needs to be lured into letting go of thought. So many interesting things to contemplate! So many anxieties to nurture, so many regrets to keep alive. Why would the rational mind let go of its complicated problems to do something as simple, as mindless, as engage in sex?


The Only Thing We Have to Fear…

Fear is a guardian of life, but in the modern world it can become life's destroyer.

We live today because every single one of our ancestors avoided death long enough to reproduce. That implies considerable luck, but also caution. No doubt those early hominids who tended toward recklessness, and felt little fear, soon became meals for carnivores. We have millions of years of breeding behind us, and hair-trigger fright served our ancestors well.

The problem is that despite a high level of essential safety (most of us stand little risk of being torn apart bodily, even if we might get shredded financially), we continue to live on high alert.


I Fought Fate, and Fate Won

It is easier to love the life you have than live a different one. This is not to say that loving one's circumstances is always easy to do. It is also not to deny the importance of working toward goals and improvements. But in the process of imagining a better future, and building it, one is well advised to enjoy the present moment. Embracing what is gives one more energy to develop what might be.

By no means does this imply ignoring injustice, or cruelty, or the need to escape unhealthy relationships and lifestyles. But if we see or experience such things, they are our present reality. We can deplore them, and work to change them, but still do our best to love whatever is good in the present moment, and enjoy the simple fact of living. Maybe the best we can hope for is to appreciate a beautiful sunrise blossoming over a polluted city. But one will find greater happiness by relishing the exuberant and glorious colors, than by focusing only on what they imply.