September 2019 - ?

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September 9. I'm feeling uninspired this week, so I've gathered some one-liners that I've jotted (actually typed into Notepad++) over the last few months, while high:

Cannabis resets the kind of memory that causes boredom.

Ninety percent of wisdom is been-there-done-that.

Indecisiveness is grief: your options are your pets.

Anxiety and depression are disorders of attention.

A religion is a social organism that feeds on spiritual experience.

The presidential race is a reality TV show. They're all performers pretending to be authentic, and trying to avoid getting voted off.

Confidence is that which enables you to move on from mistakes as if you'd meant them.

September 19. A reader wants me to say more about anxiety and depression being disorders of attention. Of course that's not all they are -- sometimes there's actual brain damage. But I think a lot of us can go a long way toward mental health, just by practicing different habits of where and how we turn our attention.

Lately I've made some progress on managing anxiety, with a practice that I call expanding into pain. Every self-help guru will tell you, expansion is good and contraction is bad. What they don't tell you is what exact thing you're expanding, because it's really hard to explain. Another thing they don't tell you is that expansion feels terrible. If it felt good, we wouldn't have to be told to do it.

But for me, the pain is the key to the practice. I usually do it in the morning, when I'm still lying in bed, making the mental transition from the world of dreams to the world of earthly responsibilities. I'll be thinking about something that feels bad, and the practice is, never mind the thing, focus on the feeling, and amp it up, as strong as I can, as long as I can.

I'm sure a brain scan would reveal some action in the amygdala or wherever, but what it feels like, is that the world is made of needles and knives, and I'm expanding my astral body into them. I've started to call it my morning stretch. And after doing it enough, it becomes like a muscle that I can flex at will.

So if I'm out in the world, in some anxiety-causing situation (typically driving, which is so dangerous that if your attention lapses for half a second it can ruin your life) I can expand into it, and it's like the martial arts move, where someone throws a punch, and you move toward the punch, so that it hits you before it builds up any power.

Or it's like, anxiety is paying interest on pain, but if you catch it in time, you only have to pay the principal.

September 23. So the other day, after writing about pain, I started wondering about boredom. What exactly is it? Is it the opposite of pain, or another kind of pain?

Then I started thinking about attention again, and came up with this: boredom is the absence of anything that earns your attention; pain is the presence of something that demands your attention without earning it. So having to listen to your boring uncle at a family dinner is not actually boredom, but pain.

Now I'm thinking about attention as a dimension of power -- or really two dimensions. Power can force you to give attention you don't want to give, like ads, and it can give you attention you don't want, like surveillance.

Then I'm thinking, those two dimensions of attention can also make two different definitions of the self -- or two different things that the word "self" points to. The first is that you are a perspective which navigates a stream of experience. The other is that you are an object in other people's streams of experience.

This is not a new idea, and I'm not sure where I'm going with it. I just think it's strange that a concept as important as the self, which we think we understand, can point to two things, both based on attention, that don't overlap.

September 25. Depressing article, Public Opinion in Authoritarian States. The main idea: "for many of the most effective authoritarian systems, controlling the thoughts of the ruled is secondary to shaping social cleavages in the population."

Then it goes on to explain how ordinary humans do not choose their political positions out of rational thinking or even self-interest, but for social reasons: they want to believe the same stuff as their in-group, and the opposite of their out-group. And even in a supposed democracy, the ruling interests understand this and use it to control us.

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