The Blahrg #16 - Deeper Into The Crevasse
"The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek." - Joseph Campbell

Well, Mandatory Vacation, an absolute runaway event that was not at all like a vacation has come to an end. As of Monday, I have returned to work Extra-Full-Time, and will be working doubles six days a week for the next two months. In a word... oof. Balancing this schedule and trying to exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, put enough time into other work, keep up the blog, resume and keep up the streams, finish old projects, start new ones... it's going to be a challenge. A marathon-sprint, I've come to say, because it's neither low on intensity nor on duration.

But I'm not here to talk about that (being busy is a boring story). I want to talk about the struggle. The hustle, the challenge, the upward climb, and how some ways of relating towards life have eschewed the value of "the grind." Most specifically, a kind of "positive mindfulness" melange of philosophy and unprescribed cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, combined with trying to replicate those commercials where people laugh over yogurt or salads in every day life. This "blissmongery" happiness-philosophy is a twisted import of Eastern philosophy (note import, rather than export here, because I think the change is happening closer to home) that, like eating P.F. Chang's, has some of the vague flavors of the original, but is ultimately empty and unfulfilling. 

Blissmonger-happiness relies on joy, a temporary and fleeting emotion, and passive-aggressively lambasts us for not being joyful at all times. It doesn't attempt to reconcile that joy, like a drug, can make greater and greater demands for smaller and smaller highs (when you were a child, an ice cream cone might have made your day. Now? Probably not. And whatever joy you might derive might be cut down by your adult mind reminding you of interceding factors, like health value, or the cost, or the very notion that that joy is transitory.) It has no solution to offer people suffering from a vast chasm between them and joy, like depression or grief or tragedy; just lots of water and a long walk in the woods, right? Right? When "mindfulness" (a Zen concept of no small significance) enters the conversation, it doesn't mean "be present, without attachment" it means "be presently aware of if you are experience joy at all times, and if you find yourself not being joyful, fucking change that." 

This kind of "happiness" or "optimism" is neither a lifestyle approach or a personal philosophy, but a kind of lifestyle decoration. It's the inverse of deciding you like Goth or Metal music and therefore have to be depressed all the time; it's outward-in, a shallow affectation that attempts to turn the outward expression of happiness into deep, inner happiness, despite all evidence to the contrary and repeated, inevitable failure. It's a willful act of cognitive dissonance; instead of experiencing trauma because one's imagined reality and perceived reality differ, the user forces their imagined reality into perception through sheer imagination- but the return of the trauma is inevitable. 

All of this is deeply tied to how we consume content on social media; Instagram and Facebook pictures of only the highlights of our lives, the short reels of great moments, simultaneously apologizing for and wiping away any trace of the banal reality of day-to-day life. If Peers A, B, C and D can show me twice a day how awesome their life is with this cool photo of them getting a cup of coffee, why aren't I happy? Except Peers A-Z could be feeling exactly that to. Just... no one would know.

The most frustrating part of "mindfulness" as a blissmongering concept is that it co-opts and then guts the must useful parts of Zen philosophy. Being about presence in the moment, about experiencing with your senses, not ruminating over the past or dreading the future. It's about allowing yourself to experience all of them grand panoply of emotions, but not ferreting yourself away in fear of trauma, or clinging too tightly to joy. It's a profoundly useful philosophy for people who want to make something of their lives, and it's been made toothless in its most present form. 

The Stoics would have had little appreciation for blissmongering. If Zen is the true origin of that kind of thought, then Stoicism is Zen plus some Virtue ethics, and is perhaps even more useful.  Blissmongery-happiness,  saccarine happiness, demands comfort and comfort demands complacency.  It wants to be the end of the story, forgetting that "happily ever  after" is not the point of any story. It say's that the purpose is to  finish, rather than to do. The Stoics would say that everything about the story except the happily ever after is important, and would have you focus on it; the struggle, the suffering, the need to get better, be more, and continue on. The Stoics would not laugh at yogurt. 

This is challenging, I think, for a lot of people because we have a concept that suffering (or even lack-of-happiness) is a downpayment on happiness later. And in some cases it is; you have to sacrifice to get where you want to go, but the expectation is that at some point you're "done." You're never done. Ever. Wanting to be done is not  a good thing. It's almost bizarre how, when suffering the banal reality of life, working day-in-and-day-out, we seem to be fighting towards another banal reality, albeit one with more creature comforts. People say things like "So long as you're happy," but happy isn't the thing. 

Satisfied should be the thing. Purpose should be the thing. Growth, or compassion, or honesty, or whatever you decide is ultimately important to you. To crib from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, happiness is the secondary goal. It's the symptom of living your life the way you want to live it, not from having enough money, or a good partner, or re-creating salad commercials in your spare time. But by putting happiness on the pedestal instead of A Life Well-Lived, we've gotten our signals crossed. It's like seeing an executive pulling down a huge salary, getting to fly on company money, and having a nice car and saying  "I want that job," while ignoring the extra hours, the missed time with family, and the job risk. Maybe you do want the job, even with those things, maybe it is a better deal, but if you look at the secondary results- the symptoms- first, then what you're asking for is the reward, not the work. 

Worry less about whether or not you're "happy." Worry about if you're fulfilled. Satisfied. Living with purpose. And then go forward. 

Always Forward, Forward Always.