The Joyous Flow of trying to sidekick someone

pexels-photo-356147Flow describes the state of being blissfully immersed in a task to the exclusion of everything else, including one’s self. Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist introduced this concept back in the 70s.

I have felt this type of bliss just a few times. Decades ago, I competed in my very first karate tournament. I had just gotten my green belt, and I appeared to be the only one at that level. All the others had blue and heaven forbid, brown belts. They were like demi-gods back then. The black belts had their own special time and location.

My nervousness approaches extreme levels. We engaged in some preliminary sparing at our own club, but I had never been in a real tournament when people were planning to give their all.  The rules were fairly simple. The first to two points wins. Don’t hit anyone hard.

I found my assigned ring and they called all the names. I answered to mine with the standard OSS! Which can be used for yes, no or present. The word OSS symbolizes the attitude of suppressing your emotions and to preserve through all of the training. Similar to the army slogan. Karate Strong!

We do the traditional bows to each other and to the judges and line up outside of the ring. The ring comprises of tape on the floor of the gym that the competition is being held. Makes getting in and out way easier.

We all wear the white sparing gloves. They do protect the knuckles somewhat, but since you are not supposed to actually hit anyone, they don’t serve any other purpose. They work most of the time. The one time they didn’t resulted in one of my knuckles residing in my palm ever since then.

I don’t recall anything from my first four fights except that I managed to win them somehow. The fifth and final fights sticks in my mind. My opponent was a brown belt, and tall and athletic looking. I tried not to get somewhat too off-balance from the fact that he had more skills, musculature, and experience. Meanwhile, I felt exhausted, pained and severely bruised. I had banged my toes against harder objects like knees and elbows all afternoon.

We both bow to enter the ring, and come up to our own line. We then bow to the referee, and to the judge and then to each other. The referee says Hajime, I feel an additional spike of adrenalin as the fight starts.

Csikszentmihalyi suggests that there are five basic aspects of flow.

Firstly, intense and focused concentration on what one is doing in the present moment. In the middle of a competition, the last thing on your mind is that project due tomorrow. You are totally focused on what you opponent is doing, and you let your own body take care of itself. You can’t think and hit at the same time. Although Yogi Berra was not thinking about throwing punches when he said that.

Secondly, there should be a merging of action and awareness. My opponent steps in with a kick and I quickly block and respond with a reverse punch. Just a half point for me since the referee perceives that the technique may have been less than perfect or that it may have partially blocked.

Thirdly, there is a loss of reflective self-consciousness. You are no longer engaged in a competition, you essentially become the competition. Constant repetition allows you to react without thinking. I sense an opening and respond with a quick roundhouse kick. Another half point for myself.

Fourthly, a sense that one can control one’s actions. I normally have the traditional anxiety interacting with people, but the moment I enter the ring this all falls away. The rules are certain and the objective is laid out. This is totally different from social situations where you don’t know the rules and you don’t know what the objective might be. My opponent wins the next half point.

Fifthly, there is a sense that time has passed faster than normal. Time becomes thicker and denser. The bouts are generally two minutes. My opponent wins the next half point again. We are now tied where one more well executed technique would win the match and the division.  I glance over at the clock. Thirty seconds remain.

Lastly, the experience of the activity becomes intrinsically rewarding such that the overall goal just becomes an excuse for being there in the first. So if winning falls away, and the focus becomes exercising the best technique you can, then you have entered the flow. The match starts once again. With my left side forward, I start to compress myself smaller. Like a spring. Every m  scle become galvanized. I imagine the tiger behind me as I try to jump a chasm. I bring my right knee up and launch myself directly at my opponent with a right straight punch. This catches him completely off guard and he rotates around to try to evade me. This becomes a mistake as now I can punch his unprotected side.

The referee throws himself between the two of us and calls the fight. I am awarded an ippon, a full point and the match.

I don’t recall the awards ceremony, or the little trophy they give you afterwards or even being happy about winning. The goal completely disappeared. But that one technique became burnished in my mind like another tattoo. I am sure that the surge of neurochemicals such as endorphins, dopamine and serotine were responsible for my feeling good about it and for a short time after.

The recollection does come in handy on occasion when I am doing some bench presses and I want to squeeze out one more rep. Putting your all into something becomes easier with a visualization and an extra little shot of adrenalin.

Part of the flow includes a balance of skill level and challenge level. You can be easily overwhelmed by a foot sweep and the balance would be gone. The challenge can’t be so far above you that you are too anxious about even being able to succeed.

My own challenge appeared to be above me, but not so far above that it seemed impossible. Once again, the struggle becomes more important than the destination.

Even the smallest animal needs care.

full-moon-moon-night-sky-53153

So, what’s the next best thing if you have a bit of social anxiety dealing with people?

Our connection with animals of course. And I don’t mean the eating kind, although that factors in later.

It was a dark and stormy night. Or rather, the night darkness concealed the source of the intense storms. That seems much better. My wife and I waited for the storm to pass that evening before setting off to walk the dogs. The reflection of the street lights glistened off the wet streets.

All down the street, I could see small ridges. Upon closer examination, I could see that there were literally hundreds of night crawlers stretched out perpendicular to the road. The road friction made them stretch out to a tortured length of about a foot and a half. Normally plump, this condition thinned them out considerable. Night crawlers are earth worms on steroids.

Feeling some form of compassion for this Lumbricus terrestris, I started to scoop them up and toss them back on to the grass. Some worms can survive being cut in half. Being half squashed flat by a truck did not seem very survivable to me.

Now, under normal conditions worms produce a fair bit of mucus. Adding torrential rains to that seems to add to mucus production as the worm exodus continued. I started to regret my misplaced compassion and tried to distance myself from my emotions. My wife just simply distanced herself.

I assumed the common knowledge that worms attempt to escape drowning in their burrows. However, they breathe through their skin which needs moisture. So there may be a number of reasons why they engage in such risky behavior.

One good reason would be migration. Lots of rain would allow them to move great distances. However, half of them moved from the south to the north, while the other half moved from north to south. But, hey, they’re worms. The grass always seem more organic filled on the other side of the street it is said.

An interesting phenomena occurs when you experience a situation and learn something new about it later. I learned that another good reason worms travel is that they want sex. My recollection of the event includes an added ‘ewww’ quality to it.

What better time to find a mate than when everyone else is stretched out in the same area. We have a beach here that seems to serve the same purpose for humans.

Although worms are hermaphrodite, male and females together, they cannot reproduce solely by themselves. They need a mate. I must have cast aside, and severely disappointed, several dozen night crawlers. Destined now to remain virgins they’re probably bitter. Unless that was going to be their choice anyway, and so that is perfectly ok.

This sex migration behavior can bring down planes. After a rain, worms like to stretch out wherever they can, including airport runways. Worms do not get sucked into turbines, but the birds coming to eat the worms can be. Particularly the flocking birds like gulls which tend to ignore whatever happens around them when they fight over food. So airport authorities tend to use fungicides to reduce worm populations. [1]

Night crawlers contribute to the US current account deficit! Some politician should complain about this. If nothing more than the neat optics it provides. “Congress needs night crawler NAFTA negotiations!” Apparently $20 million of night crawlers are exported to the US each year with little or no USA content. A few years ago, the price leapt from $35 per thousand worms, to $80 per thousand. Economics 101. Supply was tight, and owing to inelasticity of demand, prices skyrocketed. Worm futures may not have the panache of Tesla stock, but you would have made a fortune otherwise.

 

full-moon-moon-night-sky-53153

[1] Environmental note. You are likely better off not using chemicals and fertilizers on your lawn which can be worm unfriendly. The worms, if left to their own devices, can aerate and fertilize the lawn for you.

Does Happiness come from others?

youth-active-jump-happy-40815

I read that happiness can come from other people. Your significant other and friends should make you happy.  Certainly marriage makes everyone happy. Either in its creation or its destruction. Those that ride the razors edge and are unhappy with it, but can’t move to destroy it are caught on this nasty razors edge. I would suggest making a choice. Choosing the status quo is not a real choice.

Studies[1] indicate that our happiness depends upon other people. Good social relationships consistently predict a happy life and form a necessary condition for happiness.

But can you be happy by interacting with those you have not meet before?

Strangely enough, helping other people brings me a type of joy. Whenever I leave Costco I scan the parking lot to see if anyone is in need of my particular superpower of being overly insufferable.

One time I hit pay dirt when a mother with two young children was trying to load up her SUV when it was raining. Not so much a problem, but the lift on the rear lid was broken so the door was resting on her head. This gave my father-in-law and me an opportunity to hold the door and load the groceries. A two for one!

We could look towards history for examples to emulate. Perhaps we should say that we could look backwards at history for examples. Things always look better in the mirror. Caution, items may appear more romanticized than what they actually were.

We would look for a time when socialization reached its zenith. So before smart phones. We should also look for a time when fewer predators chased us and pillaging was minimized. I will have to go with Aug 15-18 1969. It was a tough slog up to then, and it has been downhill ever since then. Yes, the Woodstock festival was the happiest time in the US. Good thing we have photos on our smartphones to reflect. For everyone else that missed this weekend era, I would suggest going camping with the family with no power supplies and outside of cellphone coverage.

Experts suggest examining our relationship with other people to look for happiness.

 

The Meaning of Life from a Tattoo

hiker-travel-trip-wander-163688

The Triskelion Tattoo

I finally reached that age when it was time to get a tattoo. There is a fine balance between the years you can appreciate your tattoo and the years that you finally regret it. Turning 60, my years of tattoo appreciation seemed likely to exceed the years of tattoo regret. Only 10% of my age bracket, the baby boomers have a tattoo. Moving from the middle of the pig in the python, I was on the verge of being an outlier.

My spouse got her own tattoo as a 50th birthday present. A nice Celtic knot on the side of calf. I have admired her determination to show who she was and an insight into her heritage. The only thing that people could tell about my heritage was that I came from nice hair.

Getting a tattoo would reveal my inner rebel. Getting a tattoo, and a motorbike, would go hand-in-hand. My spouse did point out the error of that logic, and a tattoo was a stand-alone rebel stance and would not require a motorbike. My rebel was appropriately schooled.

What tattoo could do this, without the motorbike? Latin phrases such as carpe diem have been done to death. The best approach would be a symbol. I was looking for something that spoke to me and represented what being human was all about. No easy task since people search all their lives for personal meaning, and I was looking for something like that that could fit on my slightly increasing, soon to be decreasing body size.

In the time that it would have taken to gestate five consecutive baby elephants, I finally set upon a design. A triskelion. A three part symbol that even predates the Celts. The interesting aspect is that you can apply any meaning you want to a trinity. Past present future, mind body spirit, grande decaf latte. The last is a bit of stretch, but the symbol is multipurpose. I wanted to include my wife’s initials in between the spokes of the triskelion. My spouse smiled. My adult children mildly rolled their eyes. PDAs, parental displays of affection, are to be avoided.

The placement of a tattoo also makes a statement. Men prefer arms while woman prefer upper back and legs. Each placement makes a different statement. A facial location would make the statement that I was not happy with my present employment. A deltoid shoulder placement was more in keeping. Not too shy, not obvious at work, and would integrate well with the yoga crowd when I wore my lululemon tank top.

This was the way to show my free spirit. I copied out varioustattoo sizes and taped them to various body locations. Apparently my free spirit likes to be guided like a slow moving trolley on tracks.

After contacting my local tattoo parlor, and checking out needle safety, I had my consultation. I veered away somewhat from the artists that would otherwise have been comfortable providing prison tattoos, while in prison. I settled for a more artistic looking artist.

The fateful day arrived and I was feeling flushed and decided to walk to the tattoo parlor instead of driving. I loaded up on ibuprofen. Upon arriving, I signed the necessary forms. There was no legal jargon to pour through. A good sign. I sat down in the dental looking chair, not a good sign, and my artist explained the process. He applied the stencil and I checked the mirror. This was the one last chance to bail, but I smiled and said ‘hey, it’s exactly what I was thinking of’. This may have been true at some point, but my mind was blank. I leaned back and closed my eyes. I can just about fall asleep when getting my teeth cleaned. I decided that I should try to stay awake and become more ‘fully engaged’ in the moment. But I was more concerned about my tattoo artist. If he nodded off and didn’t move from a certain spot after a minute, I wondered if I would be left with a large black splotch. And if so, what would this very unhappy looking death balloon symbolize?

The entire process took less than 90 minutes. I had been warned that getting a tattoo was like getting scratched by a cat. My previous scratching experience was rescuing a friend’s cat from a tree. The cat was terrified, but I coaxed it to leap into my arms. Yes, mistake, scratch wise. Fortunately getting the tattoo was way less painful.

When my artist was finished I paid the balance of my account. I gave him a nice tip. Even though the experience is almost the same, countless small punctures, I don’t usually tip my lawyer or my accountant.

Afterwards, I did feel different. After thinking about the meaning of the design, I understood how people can feel that their totem, crystals and the like are channeling another power. We all like to be attached to something greater. The triskelion reminds me to work on all aspects of myself continuously, a permanent conscious guide.

I like how they worked my spouse’s Celtic initials into the design which shows how our past, present and futures are intertwined.  I have committed to things that are important and to leave aside things that are not. There is no time like the present. Why wait?

 

Happiness/Unhappiness from within

pexels-photo-718899Recently the main focus has been trying to be happy from within. That mediation or other similar forms of therapy can bring you happiness. Or at least let you let go of things that might be getting in the way of your being happy.

 

Can we find happiness from nothingness? This is the existential option. Friends! Friends! I don’t need no stinking friends! (Bit of a line from a movie about deputy badges that I have always taken to mean that righteousness comes from within and not from a further regulatory authority. But I am drifting.) So, can you be happier alone? Or at least use that aloneness to step up and join the world.

 

A quick search provides countless APs that will send you cheery and uplifting messages that you could share with a friend, if you had one. So we are getting ahead of ourselves.

 

Some happiness aps are merely free and set out path for you to follow to reach your goal. Another AP allows for in-app purchases. This is a sneaky way for you to increase your happiness feedback by purchasing awards to encourage yourself to be even happier with unbridled consumerism. With this logic, all billionaires should be so ecstatic that they would have to be tethered to the ground. Alas, this is not the case. There must be more to happiness than just money to buy stuff.

 

Most inspirational quotes revolve around the main theme that somehow happiness comes from within. So we merely have to draw it out. Sort of like coaxing a deer out of the forest. And we all know what happened to Bambi’s mom when that happened. Or at least we assume we know. Like all the best tragedy, it occurs off screen for better dramatic effect.

 

Or happiness can be found within, and we simply have to let go, or for more reluctant egos, carve off parts that are blocking the happiness within. This journey within appears to be taking greater effect in today’s world.

 

One can begin to think that maybe happiness does not want to be found. And if you did find it, perhaps it was better left there. Sort of a be careful what you wish for. The pursuit of happiness makes us happier than actually achieving happiness, which might be more depressing in the long run.

Happiness/Unhappiness from the outside

I can easily recall the worst and best of times of my life. And they all involved other people. Some of the obvious picks are some people that are somehow in charge of some aspect of my life that I cannot simply get back. This mainly includes my surrounding environment. Such as repair shops. Or airline lost luggage counters.

pexels-photo-278312

Let’s first start with Hell is other people.

There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE!  This quote comes from Satre’s play “No Exit”. Satre’s existentialist stance did not make him a people person. But he threw one hell of a party. Or rather, his parties were in hell. 

I was trapped in a hellish situation one time. Like when I was trying to enjoy Avatar at the same time that the person beside me wanted to enjoy his fast food hamburger. The assault of all the senses over a period of an hour as he slowly relished his simulated food product (Condensed Reconstituted Artificial Product or “CRAP”).

First we start with the smell. This CRAP smells good for about one minute, then the same smell takes on new dimensions. All of them hell like. Imagine being trapped beside this slowly descending smelling piece of CRAP for the next hour.

Then there was the sound. The slow uncrinkling of paper. So stealth like. Perhaps he was hoping that no one was noticing his transgression of bringing in a foreign piece of CRAP. In any event, he unwrapped his CRAP so slowly that you wanted to grab it from him and fling it across the theater.

Next came the slow sound of slowly biting off a piece and slowly machinating the CRAP for the next minute. CRAP is basically predigested, so chewing would seem to be redundant. One would think this was prime rib that deserved the extra chewing assist just to savor the aroma.

The next sensation was touch. I didn’t actually touch the burger as so much as a piece of greenery flicked off of the paper and hit me. The next touch was only imagined. My fingers around his throat. But this never happened. My lawyer would have told me to stick with that amnesia approach.

Avoiding crappy people would be an easy to gain a level of happiness. But another level of happiness can come from people that can make you happy.

 

Pursuing Happiness

nature-person-red-woman

 

Henry Thoreau said that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. You can see it in the eyes of the men and women that commute to work on a daily basis. They have been consumed by the work that that they do. Most are looking for a way out, or they wonder if there is something more to life. This makes the pursuing happiness goal seem unattainable. Well, there is an easy answer. Just change the goal. If you are doing what you are doing by choice, then you must be happy. If you weren’t happy, and wanted to be happy, wouldn’t you be doing something else? Or at least trying?

That comes across as a bit mean as opposed to being helpful. Here’s an emoji to soften the wording.  🙂

Does happiness remain in one place like a tree in the forest, or does it race around like a retriever in the field? Does one pursue a tree? One normally chases a dog. The metaphors do not assist in the understanding. But pursuing something suggests that it tries to evade you. Police pursue suspects and leads. Perhaps happiness should be pursued as a thief in the night? Or even better, as a neighbour’s retriever making off with your favorite tree sapling.

The pursuit that people conduct may appear to be somewhat aimless. They shift from new hobbies, sports, religions, partners in order to find what may be missing from their lives and ask what the meaning of life is. But you should consider reversing the question and ask instead how to add meaning to your life. This does not mean adding hot sauce to your nachos as you continue to watch contrived reality TV. The term ‘fake’ has been ruined for me. Sorry.

The US Declaration recognizes certain unalienable Rights, which among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. So, no one guarantees happiness, but the government certainly allows you to pursue it. Up to a point. Public nudity always springs to mind. But back to the point, the government recognizes the journey as opposed to the destination. They held these truths be self-evident, basically meaning that it should be obvious. A little description may have helped future generations a fair bit of angst.

Back in 1776, happiness may have referred more to the Greek concept of Eudaimonia, the good life or flourishing. There has been a transition from the happiness of virtue to the virtue of happiness. Very convenient in a consumer based society if more stuff makes you feel happy.

“Greek class is tough!” If Mattel used that line, perhaps it may have saved itself a fair bit of grief and ridicule. The Greek approach to happiness through virtue can be tough.

In psychology, happiness refers to an emotional state of well-being ranging from contentment to intense joy.  The emotional state appears to be the more common usage today, so let’s go with emotion and virtue for now using another approach grooved into the population’s psyche.

The Happiness Pursuit shall be a topic for the next few weeks as we look at ways to travel down this path.