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Pick Your Pieces - Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Like it or not, your brain creates programs that automate your thinking and behavior. This being the case, the most important question to ask is, Do you understand and accept your role in the programming process? If you do, congratulations. As time passes, you’ll get progressively better at monitoring, deleting, and writing new programs that serve you. However, if you don’t understand and accept this responsibility, you’ll be leaving the quality of your programs and your life to chance. You’ll be more easily programmed and triggered by people who don’t have your best interests in mind. You’ll be more easily programmed and triggered by circumstances that are beyond your control. Worst of all, you’ll mistake the compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of bad programming for “who you are.”

I’ve said that the program “wants to be angry.” Perhaps it would be better to say the program is designed to create anger. It’s simply looking for an opportunity to do its job. (The same could be said of a program that creates fear, lust, envy, insecurity, judgement, depression, etc.)

You have one very important job in this life: Recognize that YOU are the programmer, not the programs. You are the one who can identify undesirable circuits in your brain and, through deliberate conscious effort, weaken and replace them. 

When you create a strong mental image of who you’d prefer to be, you simultaneously create a new circuit in your mind. That new circuit begins to compete with harmful circuits that used to have free reign over your thoughts and behavior. From that point forward, whenever an older/harmful circuit is triggered, your mind will notice the conflict; it will “pause.” In that moment, you’ll be provided the opportunity to identify the unwanted circuit, mark it for deletion, and redirect your energy into a healthier one.

Imagine the following possibility: You acquired some unhealthy mental programs when you were young and, as you grew older, you integrated those programs into your identity. This made them stronger. Now, years or decades later, the same programs continue to control how you react to certain provocations in the world. They limit you. They respond at the level of understanding that originally created them. Allowing them to persist puts you at risk—akin to occasionally giving a child control of your mind. At best, it’s ill advised. At worst, it can ruin your life. 

We hear of childhood wounds that need to be healed. Some people have a hard time relating to that concept; perhaps this is easier: Mental programs that you picked up in childhood can persist indefinitely. (It depends on how often they’re used and how powerful they become.) If the programs are simple and beneficial (brush your teeth, wash your hands, don’t pick your nose in public), it’s not a problem. However, if the programs are emotionally charged and require greater maturity to resolve (feelings of abandonment, betrayal, abuse, fear, insecurity, etc.), it is a problem. If you don’t replace/update those programs, you’ll continue reacting at the level of consciousness that created them, regardless of your chronological age. You will struggle and suffer unnecessarily. 

Perhaps the self-destructive program produces something dear to you. Perhaps you feel that erasing it is akin to erasing a piece of who you are. To be fair, if you’ve embraced the program and its desires, you’re somewhat correct. You are erasing a piece of your habitual identity, but it’s a piece that’s not worth keeping. It’s a piece that can only lead to suffering, a piece that impedes your ability to experience a more fulfilling life.


Sin, Sinners, and Suffering

Everyone has problems, but those who acquire a taste for sympathy have no incentive to solve them.


They’re miserable, and they need you to know it. When their problems bring you down, it makes them feel good. It’s proof that somebody cares and, like a drug, it temporarily distracts them from straightening out the mess in their head. It solves nothing, but that’s OK. They’re not looking for solutions. They crave sympathy and attention; problems are the currency that help them acquire both. Their mind perfects its ability to produce misery because that’s where the “rewards” are.


Through victimhood, they see a path to what they crave: attention, sympathy, or even supremacy—a “right” to dehumanize and disrespect others.


Think of craving or lust as an energetic parasite that infects a person’s identity. Regardless of aim (attention, power, money, sex, etc.), the parasite emerges to feed and strengthen itself whenever possible. At the slightest provocation, it hijacks the mind and behavior of its host. Each time the individual embraces their craving/lust, they deepen its roots and power in the process. However, the opposite is also true. Once the individual sees craving/lust as an energetic parasite, it can no longer hide in the identity. By refusing to embrace it, the individual disrupts the nourishment it needs; it begins to weaken. The less it’s fed, the sooner it dies.


Most self-destructive behaviors are driven by a false belief. “If I do this, it will ease my suffering.” It won’t. Yes, self-destructive behaviors temporarily distract you from something that ought to be dealt with, but the longer the distraction works, the bigger the unresolved problem gets.


The functional capacity of your brain and body can be improved or weakened based on how you choose to direct your energy. You can use your energy to reshape and strengthen your muscles, or you can use your energy to hammer nails into your feet. You can use your energy to reshape and strengthen your mind, or you can use your energy to poison it with substance abuse, crappy food, chronic negativity, and vice. It’s a choice. Each time you choose to improve functional capacity, you create a strength that spreads into other areas of your life. Likewise, if you choose to direct your energy unwisely, you create a weakness that produces harm across the board.

Trading an immediate sense of gain for an inevitable, long-term loss. Trading a moment of perceived pleasure for inevitable, long-term suffering. It’s nothing more than a devil’s bargain.

Finding Fulfilment

Here’s a simple and effective philosophy: Do less of what makes the problems worse, and do more of what makes the problems better.

Gratitude for what you have AND for what you’ve had equals happiness.
Resentment for what you never had OR no longer have equals misery.

There’s no beauty requirement to be an excellent parent, scientist, author, inventor, musician, spouse, comedian, actor, artist, entrepreneur, podcaster, fighter, doctor, trainer, speaker, business owner, consoler, nurse (the list goes on and on). So, ask yourself: What other socially exalted attributes are completely unnecessary for the development of excellence? Better yet, if you’re lacking one or more of them, just fill in the blanks to see how much it matters.
There is no ______________ requirement to be an excellent _______________.

If there is fear, your mind created it. If there is anger, your mind created it. If there is resentment, insecurity, depression, or any other negative emotion, your mind created it as a response to something. But why?
    Is it possible that the negative response is unnecessary? Is it possible that another person could face the same thing with far less suffering, or none at all? Is there any reason to avoid seeking a less-harmful perspective?
    To clarify, I’m not suggesting negative emotions have no value; they do. Negative emotions indicate we’re perceiving something in a harmful way, especially when we ratchet those emotions to the highest degree. What you feel in that moment is similar to the pain response from placing your hand in a fire—it’s nature’s way of telling you to alter your approach.

The keys to achieving something greater than temporary happiness:
1) Develop the ability to recognize and appreciate all that you’ve been given.
2) Develop the ability to recognize and appreciate all that you’ve earned.
3) Develop the ability to recognize and appreciate what you can do with all that you’ve been given and all that you’ve earned.

You can limit your development to avoid provoking insecurity in others, but it comes at the expense of all involved. You miss the opportunity to do your best; they miss the opportunity to think about doing more.

Insecurity usually stems from a desire to be seen in a certain way. If you can admit that you have this desire, you can admit that you have given too much of your power away. Develop true self-respect, and you’ll be less affected by the negative opinion of others.

Yes, I’d prefer to be understood and, if possible, I’d prefer to be appreciated. More than anything, I’d love to know that people find my work useful in some way. But if I’m not understood or appreciated, and if there’s little evidence that others find my work useful, I’m going to do it anyway.

Time and effort are the currencies that will purchase your future. Regardless of what you want from life, invest them in a way that leads to growth. Set aside some of these “funds” for things that will help you become more.

Patience is medicine. Love is medicine. Gratitude is medicine. These states of mind can reduce or completely eliminate suffering.

By reducing the circuits reserved for craving, you make room for something better. By reducing the circuits reserved for judgement, you make room for something better. By reducing any self-destructive or counterproductive tendency, you clear the way for the establishment of something better within you.

Some reasonable goals: Do not bring more hatred into the world, either by nurturing it in yourself or by intentionally provoking it in others. Do not bring more fear into the world, by nurturing it in yourself or provoking it in others. Insecurity, resentment, depression, lust; to the extent possible, do not intentionally bring more of these into the world.

What if we are driven by a desire to maintain our identity? And what if our identity isn’t healthy? More specifically, what if we develop and nurture behaviors that lead to suffering because an unhealthy aspect of our identity compels us to do so? If that is the case, here’s a much more powerful question: What happens to self-destructive impulses and behaviors when, with intentional effort, we improve our identity? 

Every moment provides an opportunity to either correct what you’ve been doing wrong or build upon what you’ve been doing right. The past doesn’t matter.


Personal Notes, Experiences, Dreams, Meditations

I've changed so many things about the way I think, feel, and behave that I lean very heavily toward the idea that all of the programs that affect us negatively can be altered or completely replaced.

When I finally accepted (without resentment) that I DO NOT get to choose all outcomes, my suffering decreased significantly. Each day provides an opportunity to apply and benefit from this lesson, but on some days, it’s needed more than others. Here’s a simple example that anyone with a pet can probably relate to.
    My 145-pound-dog Rocko (who I love with all my heart), has hurt himself a few times while playing. This last time was bad. He ran after his ball at full speed, apparently turned his front leg the wrong way, and immediately began limping. The way he was holding his leg looked really odd. I used to have major shoulder instability, and that’s what it reminded me of—like a subluxation or possibly a dislocation.
    Enter the truth: I don’t get to choose if Rocko has a serious injury or not. I don’t get to choose if he heals to 100% within a couple weeks and never hurts himself again, or if his injury is so bad that it’ll require some type of surgical intervention. All I can do is carefully assess the issue and choose a course of action. Stressing about the final outcome will produce zero value because I do not get to choose that part.
    I wish I could have realized and embraced this concept decades ago, but I had to see it thousands of times in thousands of different ways before it finally clicked in my mind. It applies to so many things: I can’t choose what people think. I can’t choose how they behave. I can’t choose what they believe or what they refuse to believe, what they approve of or what they ridicule. I don’t get to choose how or when my loved ones will die or countless other things about my life that, if it were up to me, I’d likely change.
    When I say that I “accept this without resentment,” it simply means that I’m injecting some much-needed humility into my life experience. This universe isn’t here to meet my expectations or satisfy my every wish. I can work to improve almost anything, but if some things remain outside of my control, I can only assume it’s that way for a reason. One reason, if no other, is that it’s helped me discover and develop an inner peace that transcends outward circumstances.

I can no longer tolerate those who demand sympathy for problems they create for themselves. I truly wish them well, but if they’re unwilling to change, there is literally nothing I can do to help them.

I have no right or desire to make anyone believe anything. My objective is to simply share what I believe and why I believe it.

Regarding my mother (without judgement, without frustration): She has no inner drive to be well. In fact, there appears to be an overwhelming inner drive to be unwell, to intentionally harm herself physically and mentally. Is it self-hate? Is it an unconscious circuit seeking attention, assistance, reduced expectations? All of the above? Something else? I don’t know, but it’s very difficult to watch somebody you love slowly destroy themself.

Some neglect their physical and mental health so severely that it seems malicious.

You cannot help those who have no desire to help themselves.

Forgive them and see what happens to how you feel. Seriously, forgive them. Stop judging. They’re not here to meet your expectations any more than you are here to meet theirs. They, like you, are here to live their life and learn their own lessons. By all means, protect yourself from harm, but don’t waste your time and energy in judgement. You’ll only bring additional suffering into the world.


How To

You’re tired of engaging in a certain thought process or behavior, so you commit to eliminating it. Things seem to be going well until, out of nowhere, you encounter a provocation that triggers the unwanted response. That’s bad enough, but then your inner idiot (which caused the problem in the first place) tries to make things worse by offering you the opportunity to feel like a “failure.” Don’t take the bait.
    Instead, simply accept that there are remaining pathways in your mind that need to be pruned, and new pathways that need to be created. Beating yourself up wastes energy that could be put to better use, and it invites the inner idiot to taunt you further. Listen closely. You’ll realize it’s simply protecting the thoughts and behaviors you’re working to eliminate: “See, you can’t do it. You failed! Why bother trying? Just accept that this is who you are!” It doesn’t know any better; ignore it.

Observe and assess the value of your reactions. It’s the first step toward changing the way you habitually respond to the world. The next step is to understand that any reaction (healthy or unhealthy), can be made better or worse. If you doubt this, begin experimenting with that idea, and make sure to play the experiment out in both directions.
    Assume you’ve observed an unhealthy reaction. Ask yourself: “OK, how could I have made that response significantly worse?” After you realize how far you could have gone in the wrong direction, ask yourself: “How could I have made my response significantly better?”
    The purpose of this exercise is to develop an important concept: The initial unhealthy response is just one of an infinite number of responses that you can choose from. With some effort and patience, you’ll realize that there isn’t a single unhealthy response that you can’t move into a healthier direction.

Lifelong improvement begins with observation. You need to consciously create an “observer” in your mind, a piece of your identity that monitors mental activity for destructive thoughts and feelings. If you don’t, you’ll spend your life lost in the negative experiences that destructive thoughts and feelings create. But develop your ability to observe the mind, and everything changes. Now, the observer steps in on your behalf like a separate stream of consciousness; it interrupts the self-destructive process. It draws your attention to what the mind is doing. And because the observer exists above the destructive thoughts, feelings, and subsequent behaviors, it enables you to weaken and eliminate them over time.

I don’t advocate ignoring reality; I advocate ignoring harmful responses to it.


General Observations

If it heals, it’s medicine. If it only masks the symptoms, it’s a drug.

Your reaction is what matters most, and that depends on the perspective you choose and the meaning you assign.

Everything we encounter affects us. Only we can decide how much and in what way.

At some point in your life, you will be offered the title of “victim.” It’s a trap. Reject the offer.

Avoid judging others. It benefits you more than them.

Just a handful of things moved me toward a much better life: self-awareness, gratitude, honesty, empathy, patience, and a desire to be of service to others.

Unfortunately, some people would rather die than confront and eliminate their self-destructive thoughts and behaviors.

Everything we do meets a need. If we have an unhealthy identity, we’ll develop unhealthy habits to sustain it. 

Self-destructive behaviors are driven by self-destructive impulses, and self-destructive impulses are driven by self-destructive, identity-based programs.

You can create a state within the body and mind that is optimized for illness and deterioration, or you can create a state that is optimized for health and healing. The prescription for illness and deterioration is well known:
1) Regularly ingest things that cause harm to the body and mind.
2) Rarely ingest things the body and mind need to function properly.
3) Avoid regular movement and periodic exercise.
4) Embrace stressful thoughts and negative energy.

The prescription for health and healing is also well known.
1) Rarely ingest things that cause harm to the body and mind.
2) Regularly ingest things the body and mind need to function properly.
3) Embrace regular movement and periodic exercise.
4.) Avoid stressful thoughts and negative energy.



Forgive the deceiver and the deceived, but do not permit them to operate unchallenged.

Don’t misunderstand the concept of “not judging” others. It doesn’t mean ignore bad behavior. If your uncle Pete steals everything that isn’t nailed down, asking him to watch your house while you’re on vacation is probably a bad idea. Not judging isn’t about ignoring reality, it’s about acknowledging reality without feeding unhealthy ego and generating a bunch of ugly energy.
    Example of not judging: “Pete steals—a lot. We can’t trust him in the house. No way.”
    Example of judging: “Pete is a total scumbag; he’d steal his own mother’s last dollar. I wouldn’t loan that asshole a penny to save his life.”

To the extent you can forgive the weakness in others, you overcome a weakness in yourself.

Conceit, hatred, fear, ingratitude, cruelty—when we invite them in, we poison ourselves and our world. Humility, forgiveness, courage, gratitude, empathy—when we invite them in, we do the opposite. We detoxify.

I can live my life in a state of mind that’s healthy and grateful (then die), or I can live my life in a state that’s unhealthy and ungrateful (then die). I choose the former. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s superior to the alternative.

I’m sure it helps that I believe consciousness survives physical death. Physical death and suffering are a lot easier to deal with when you see them as fleeting moments in an ageless cycle of birth, death, and spiritual evolution.

When I was young, it hurt me deeply when others said or believed things about me that were untrue. Many years later, there are two things that bring me complete peace: (1) the fact that I know the truth and (2) my belief that, when they die, they will know too.

You are not your body. You are a piece of the ageless intelligence that created and occupies it.

Bodies are lost; life is not.

The memories of those we’ve lost can fill us for the rest of our lives with limitless love and gratitude, or they can fill us with limitless suffering. It depends on the following: Do we focus on the riches they added to our life, or do we focus only on a desire for them to contribute more.

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