Pick Your Pieces - Chapter 2
The Inner Idiot
Let’s start with a basic premise: Somewhere in your head, there’s an unhealthy version of you that sucks. We’ll call it your inner idiot. It's whiny, anxious, easily irritated, and compulsive. It wants to blame, complain, and judge. Ultimately, the inner idiot produces self-destructive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors because these are necessary for its survival. It feeds on negative energy, and so it manipulates you into producing its meals. Contrary to what the idiot would have you believe, your primary battle isn't against the outside world; it’s against the idiot’s attempt to monopolize your reactions.
When you feel yourself slipping into a state of intense anger, fear, depression, judgement, or craving, consciously acknowledge that some small part of you WANTS to enter that unhealthy state of being. Consider it your inner idiot, and please don’t feel bad; everybody’s got one. By identifying the idiot, you begin the process of limiting the amount of damage it can do.
Bad habits (mental and physical) can be conquered, but many people won’t even try because they’re too afraid they’ll lose the fight. This fear is normal, but unnecessary. First, if a person hasn’t developed the required circuits to overcome a bad habit before they attempt to eliminate it, they shouldn’t be surprised if they come up short here and there. It’s common. Second, even the “coming up short” part of the process can be used in a way that eventually leads to the desired change. It all depends on how they mentally process events that take place before, during, and after the “slip-up.”
As an example, let’s consider a hypothetical compulsive eater; we’ll call her Sally. Sally has finally realized that her love of sweets is a problem, and she’s also realized that she should alter her behavior. Unfortunately, she’s currently home alone with her inner idiot, and the idiot is tempting her to get into the ice cream. What Sally hasn’t realized is this: As long as she doesn’t embrace and identify with the desire, she can still turn an ice-cream-eating incident into a win. As long as she doesn’t say, “Screw it! I’m gonna eat the entire gallon of this chocolate chip, double fudge, cookie-crunch surprise, and I DON’T CARE! I LOVE ICE CREAM!” she can still secure a win. But how?
Well, once again, it starts with refusing to embrace and identify with the unwanted circuit that’s creating the desire. Sally needs to understand that she’s been feeding that unhealthy circuit for years; it’s still strong. But she also needs to understand that it’s not a fixed part of who she is. Sally could just as easily feel disgusted by the idea of eating a gallon of ice cream. For instance, if she firmly associated the sugar in ice cream with metabolic poison—if she linked excessive sugar consumption to the chronic psychological pain of her obesity, the suffering caused by diabetes, and the incapacitating effects of premature aging—her desire to gorge herself with sugar (in the form of a gallon of ice cream), would be nonexistent. And, of course, that’s the ideal outcome: zero desire to engage in self-destructive behavior.
But we’ve already established that Sally is new at this. She’s still in the “win some, lose some” phase of overcoming her impulse to get into the chocolate chip, double fudge, cookie-crunch surprise. Today she has decided to partially indulge the urge. It’s less than ideal, but it’s OK. Here’s how she can limit the damage and even gain some ground:
1) Before she begins, she establishes that she is in control of the decision, and she’s going to attack/undermine the “idiot circuit” the entire time.
2) During, she does exactly that. She maintains her contempt for the unwanted desire. Her inner dialogue might go something like this: “OK, circuit, here we go. Let’s eat a little bit of this poisonous frozen sugar…Wow, tastes like diabetes, heart disease, and premature aging. How fantastic!” It sounds silly, but belittling an irrational/self-destructive circuit is infinitely more useful than enthusiastically embracing it as if it represents “you,” only to hate yourself later for embracing it. And ending on that note:
3) After the event, Sally needs to make sure that she doesn’t get conned into hating herself. Odds are, if she followed steps 1 and 2, she didn’t eat anywhere near a gallon of ice cream, but even if she did, she needs to realize that hating herself is another inner-idiot-driven impulse. This is true for everyone. It’s OK to hate the circuits/impulses, but don’t let the idiot convince you that you are the circuits. You’re not. You are the consciousness that can observe and change them. And with consistent, intelligently directed effort, that’s exactly what you’ll do.
The inner idiot, at its core, is self-destructive. It chases temporary pleasures and distractions that produce long-term pain.
I'm convinced the ruling class relies heavily on cultivating and manipulating the inner idiot in as many people as they possibly can. It enables them to exploit vulnerabilities in the default human operating system. Fortunately, to the extent we raise our level of consciousness and overcome those vulnerabilities, we become far more difficult to manipulate and control via fear, hate, status seeking, resentment, depression, and self-destructive escapism.
Don’t let the idiot drive.
Sin, Sinners, and Suffering
Lust produces insatiable desire. It is suffering disguised as pleasure. (Lust for money, fame, power, sex; it’s all the same.) The solution to this suffering is to see lust for what it is and to acknowledge your role in creating it. In the simplest terms: You create lust by exaggerating the value of what you desire while simultaneously minimizing (or completely ignoring), the cost of worshiping it.
Despite presenting itself as the ultimate escape and path to pleasure, lust cultivates beliefs and behaviors that inevitably lead to suffering. Whether the aim is food, attention, power, sex or anything else, lust exaggerates the value of these things and, over time, enslaves the mind. Unchecked, the individual trades their long-term health and happiness for short-term rewards—rewards that bring ever-decreasing pleasure and ever-mounting consequences.
Physical pain provides the most basic indication that you are doing something wrong. (Touch fire. It causes pain. You instinctively pull away.) But for some reason people never figure this out when it comes to psychological pain. The principle is the same: Pain provides an indication that you are doing something wrong (in this case, using your mind as a weapon against yourself). But people become attached to their psychological pain. They seem to cherish it. Their suffering becomes part of their identity, and they don’t want to let it go. They not only “touch the fire” whenever possible, they douse themselves in gasoline prior to doing so.
Do not take pleasure in the suffering of others. If you feed that impulse, it will grow and eventually feed on you.
The victim personality gravitates toward bad choices because the subsequent hardships provide access to what they consciously, or unconsciously, desire: sympathy, attention, and assistance. It’s a self-destructive path to power, often via guilt, over others.
Sympathy, like a drug, only makes problems temporarily more tolerable. It numbs the symptoms but leaves the cause of suffering intact. Worse, it actually encourages people to do nothing. It diverts their attention away from options that could improve or even solve their problems. In short, seeking sympathy, unlike seeking solutions, tends to prolong suffering and make things worse.
Some people equate sympathy with love, and that creates a perverse incentive (often unconscious) for them to avoid solving their problems.
There are necessary struggles that stem from the growing process. They’re different from the unnecessary struggles that stem from refusing to grow.
The fundamental treasures of life cannot be borrowed, stolen, bartered, or bought. They are kept within and can only be earned.
Trying to control things that are outside of our control will always erode our confidence. In a social setting, this often boils down to wanting others to view us in a favorable way. We’d prefer to be seen as intelligent or funny or good looking or moral or talented or strong or tough, etc. What this really means is: We’d all prefer to be seen as desirable in some way. But that’s out of our hands.
By all means, we should strive to make the most of ourselves and contribute our best, but always with the understanding that others will see and judge us as they see fit. That is their business, not ours. When we want everyone to see us as we wish to be seen, we are asking too much and we suffer for it. It’s a problem that only we can solve. We do that by returning our focus to the one thing we can control: our reaction. But what does that look like in practice?
The first step is easy: We express gratitude when people view us in a favorable way. (You’re probably doing that already.) The second step requires significantly more effort: We develop our ability to tolerate the negative opinion of others, just as they must develop the ability to tolerate our less-than-fantastic opinion of them. Although step two is more difficult, it’s where real strength is developed. It not only forces us to respect the rights of others (which includes the right to judge us negatively); it reminds us to avoid defining our value, high or low, based on their opinion.
If you can remain humble while receiving praise, you’re halfway there. If you can remain humble while receiving insults, congratulations; you made it!
It’s easy to feel gratitude when others appreciate you, but what about when they don’t? What about when they unjustly disparage or outright lie about you or a group that you identify with? How can you find gratitude then? Admittedly, it’s much more challenging, but it’s still possible if you’ve done the work. (1) you can be grateful that the illness within them no longer has the power to infect you. (2), you can be grateful that your peace of mind doesn’t depend on something you simply can’t control (what other’s think and say). (3), you can be grateful that you’re not filled with ugliness and suffering like they are.
Have they lied about you? Have they mischaracterized who you are? Are you furious? If so, your peace of mind depends too much on the perception of others. There will always be liars, and there will always be those who believe them, but honest and thoughtful people will see through and ignore them both.
If I take an insult personally, who does it harm?
Next time you’re provoked into a state of anger or disgust—next time you feel an insatiable urge to vilify somebody—shift your focus to the energy within you. Look at it closely; you’ll realize that it’s pure poison. If there’s any doubt, shift your focus again, this time to somebody who inspires love, gratitude, or a deep sense of admiration. Which energy would you like more of?
If you don’t train your brain, it will behave like a reactionary idiot. Your first thought/response to daily provocations is rarely the best, and it’s never the only option to choose from. Develop better responses and you’ll eliminate an enormous amount of unnecessary suffering from your life.
Independent people are sometimes viewed as aloof, or worse, arrogant. It could simply be that they’ve recognized the foolishness of deriving their sense of self from the opinion of others. If you think about it, chasing approval is a terrible waste of time. The average person can love you one second and then hate you the next based on the silliest of things. If you’re not secure in who you are, that will lead to a very unstable emotional existence.
Arrogance is ugly, even when it’s based on something earned. It’s even uglier when it’s based on something the person had nothing to do with.
If you’re unaffected by the negative opinion of others, don’t be surprised if they accuse you of arrogance. Also, don’t expect them to recognize the irony. (The arrogance of suggesting that their opinion of you is more important than your own opinion of yourself.) When dealing with people like this, there’s no reason to let them under your skin. Assuming you treat people with respect, odds are the “problem” has more to do with them than you.
The wise focus on becoming better. The unwise focus on becoming “better than.”
Personal Experiences, Dreams, Meditations
I had another extremely profound experience today. I’ve been taxing my mind with many different things the past week, not the least of which involves this final push to get my mom off psych meds/SSRIs. (They’re literally destroying her mind.) I decided that the MOST IMPORTANT THING I COULD DO to get myself back to feeling normal was to do nothing. So, I turned off the air purifier, turned off all but a couple of lights, opened the door (so I could hear the bugs), and sat down on the couch to stare at our sandstone-block wall and fireplace. It was 10:10 p.m.
Within a few minutes I started to feel a slight bit of disorientation and uncomfortable awareness. Not as freaky as when I woke up in Cleveland and had no idea what I was, let alone where I was or what I was looking at, and not as bad as the comparably disturbing experience in New Hampshire when I woke up and, looking at the TV, felt like I was staring at an exploded diagram of its molecular structure—nothing like that. But a feeling of slipping into a disassociated mental space was there, and it was unsettling. Fortunately, I managed to just observe the state (without scrambling mentally to regain my bearings), and that allowed the experience to present itself as a concept: like it was a higher form of awareness “coming online” and struggling a bit to get acclimated. That idea made it easier for me to “get out of the way” and, once the awareness settled in, the experience changed completely. I could see or almost feel my brain rewiring…reorganizing. As if the dendrites were all moving around, forming new, healthier connections to perceive and erase errors. The slight anxiousness (brought on by initial disorientation) had disappeared, and I was suddenly just present. It was truly amazing.
For nearly an hour and a half, I simply stared at the wall, listened to the bugs, listened to Rocko snoring…and it was like being nourished or renewed. Not once did I feel any desire to think about anything that I “had to do” or anything I “had to make a decision on.” Somebody could have handed me 10,000 dollars or 10 million dollars, and it wouldn’t have had any effect; it wouldn’t have increased the incredible sense of peace and gratitude that I was feeling. I needed nothing.
Nearing the end, Rocko woke up and rolled over on his back (his way of requesting attention). I got off the couch, laid face to face with him on the floor, scratched his chest, and while looking at his upside-down face (lips flopped back, revealing a beautiful doggy grin), I realized something. As long as I remind myself to do this from time to time—to simply sit and connect with peace and presence— I’m going to be just fine.
Don’t be fooled. The inner idiot is simply a maladaptive network of neurons that you’ve unconsciously created. (It’s not you.) If the idiot is causing you sufficient harm, it can and should be evicted from your mind. Begin by interrupting its energy. Stop feeding it. Stop identifying with its errors. Your brain will get the message and initiate the “pruning” process.
It’s important to occasionally measure your progress. Regarding unwanted reactions, there are three areas that are worth looking at:
1) The frequency of the unwanted reaction
2) the intensity of the unwanted reaction, and
3) the duration of the unwanted reaction
In the past, were you provoked multiple times per day and now it only happens a few times per week? Did the intensity of the unwanted reaction reach level 10 in the past, but now it rarely exceeds a five? Would an unwanted reaction normally occupy your mind for hours or even days, but now you can get over it much more quickly? Whatever the improvements are, it’s important to recognize the progress you’re making and allow yourself to feel gratitude. Even if there is still a lot of ground to cover, your trajectory is what matters. Never let the inner idiot convince you otherwise.
Your reactions are the only thing you can develop real control over, so learn to catch yourself when they go wrong. Learn to say, “I refuse to use this as an excuse to poison myself. I refuse to feed anger, resentment, anxiety, or depression because they only make me suffer.” Then, as soon as you’re able, reassert your control over the present moment. Shift your focus toward the innumerable things that you can be grateful for (things that are far more important than whatever triggered you). It’s like a muscle that has to be developed, but once that new muscle gets strong, it will change your perception of yourself. You’ll realize that you’re much more powerful than you formerly believed.
When people are feeling ungrateful, they’re often told to list things that they should be grateful for. The problem is when you’re in a deeply ungrateful state of mind, it’s difficult to generate any sincerity or positive emotion while writing the list. So, next time, try some reverse psychology.
When ungrateful energy has you in its grip, instead of writing a list of things you should be grateful for, make a list of things that you are choosing NOT TO be grateful for. It works because it allows you to maintain your ungrateful/negative state while simultaneously revealing its absurdity.
Your list can include anything: “Right now, I don't care that I’ve got plenty to eat” (imagine an empty refrigerator, empty kitchen cabinets, and no money to buy food). “I don’t care that I currently have a roof over my head and a warm bed to sleep in” (imagine living on the streets without shelter). “I don't care that I've got two arms and legs” (imagine trading places with Nick Vujicic), etc.
This thought experiment makes it easier to weaken the ungrateful circuit pretending to be you. Clearly, you do care that you’re not starving, homeless, wet and cold, or that you aren’t forced to overcome the challenges of living without arms and legs. And if the inner idiot insists that you’re not grateful for any of these things, take a moment to really imagine one month of hunger or one year of homelessness or a lifetime without your limbs. Odds are the real you will shut the idiot down in a hurry.
There’s nothing wrong with choosing a path that leads to suffering. There’s nothing wrong with remaining on that path until the day you die. What’s wrong is the idea that you’re not capable of choosing another path.
Intense pain indicates improper action. (Physical or mental.)
For better or worse, we absorb thought patterns and behaviors from those around us. If you grew up with psychologically healthy/well-adjusted people, you’re probably doing alright. If you grew up surrounded by lunacy (like most of us), you’ve probably got some work to do.
It’s one thing to identify a circuit that needs to be reprogramed, but it’s another thing entirely to get it done. Like exercise, knowing what you need to do isn’t enough. You have to do the work.
The harder you work to acquire something, the more strength you’ll develop to keep it.
Negative emotions are earned. How you direct your mind determines how much of each you’re paid.
Best case scenario, you consciously program your automatic mind to serve your healthiest and highest self. Worst case scenario, your automatic mind is programmed by others, and you mistake the programs for who you are.
School struck me as an attempt to teach one primary lesson over and over again: “Do and say what the teacher tells you, and you’ll never be wrong; do or say something else, and you’ll never be right.” It was that simple. All incentives were stacked on the side of blind obedience, and all punishments were reserved for those who refused to cooperate. I was punished often. It was worth it.
It’s not where you launch; it’s where you land that counts.
ONE useful thought that you choose to act on can dramatically improve your life.
When all is said and done, only one thing will matter: Did you disobey your demons, or did you empower them?
As you increase your level of awareness, the fool within has fewer and fewer places to hide.
The spiritual path begins with calmly and patiently observing the unhealthy inner voice. As we learn to notice it, the process of disassociation begins. We start to see the difference between the voice and the peaceful awareness that observes it. In that moment of awareness, we not only experience what we are, we simultaneously identify what we’re not. The chattering is pushed out, and it takes our unnecessary suffering with it.
Spirituality opens new realms of consciousness. It connects us to something greater, something ageless, something infinite. It eases suffering. It imparts strength and understanding. Best of all, we needn’t work to develop spirituality. We simply need to eliminate the characteristics that obstruct it.
While laying down for my nap today, I suddenly heard a booming voice in my head. I didn’t realize that I’d fallen asleep, and because so, it startled me. For a split second, I thought, “Is this what a person with schizophrenia experiences?” Immediately following that thought, I snapped out of the semiconscious dream state, and my focus shifted to the four words that I’d heard. “You KNOW it's true.” It was like somebody beamed an audible answer directly into my brain. Next, I remembered the question I’d been thinking about before I drifted off: Does our consciousness survive physical death?
After having a near-death experience, survivors often return with the same message: Death isn’t what you think it is; it’s nothing to fear or mourn. Our consciousness does not require a body to exist; it survives physical death. Lastly, they inform us that the suffering of this world is only temporary; the indescribable peace that we return to is ageless…eternal.
I can’t prove that consciousness survives physical death any more than somebody else can prove that it doesn’t. However, I know that profound experiences have led me to believe that it does, and this belief has added immeasurable value to the quality of my life.
If you could choose your dreams prior to going to sleep (and experience them as reality), what type of dreams would you choose? Would you only choose pleasurable experiences, or would you choose difficult experiences as well? What if you knew that difficult experiences in your dreams would lead to deep insights, greater strength, and spiritual growth when you woke up?
With that in mind, take the question a step further. If you could choose your experiences prior to entering this life, what type of experiences would you choose? What if you knew that difficult experiences would lead to deep insights, greater strength, and spiritual growth when you “woke up” from this dream that we call life?