Thursday, May 5, 2016

Pleasure: The Primary Motivator (Part 1)

I've spent a lot of effort considering how to build and maintain motivation for all the different things I want to do. After all, I have no external authority like a company boss to set objectives or schedules, nor is there even something as concrete as a profit motive. My vision is long-term, amorphous, self-defined and often conflicting in various ways or with difficult opportunity costs to weigh. And so it'd be easy to lose motivation or direction, or become depressed at the seeming lack of progress, or have some other emotional issue derail me.

In response, I'm developing a 2-track approach to maintaining motivation:

1) Only do things I find deeply pleasurable and fulfilling. Pretty much no exceptions.
2) Through various strategies, consciously self-recondition so that I find pleasure in every activity, human interaction, etc that helps me build the life I wish to lead. Explore ways of achieving a goal or doing an activity pleasurably, or explore more pleasurable alternatives to that goal/activity.

I've pulled ideas from tons of sources and traditions, including observations I made of indigenous from the Amazon. All this leads me to believe that pleasure-seeking and pain-avoidance, (as opposed to obligation-fulfilling and stress/guilt/shame/anxiety-avoidance) is how native, unexploited humans and communities motivate themselves. This works because the native culture conditions each member to align their sense of pleasure with behavior that is in both the individual and collective long-term, wise interest. Thus the two-step process: learn to feel meself and seek pleasure, and self-recondition so that healthy and pro-social behavior feels pleasurable and anti-social or unhealthy behavior, unpleasurable.

This has been an effective strategy so far. Pretty much every day seems rich and happy. If something isn't fun, I'm learning to pause, reflect, and ask a few questions:
1) Do I really want to accomplish what I'm trying to accomplish? If the desire has changed, then I halt the activity. For example, maybe yesterday I decided that today I would read about a particular kind of mushroom, and today I don't care for some reason. I just stop reading; I have no feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety, etc.

2) If I still want to accomplish the goal, I enjoy finding a more pleasurable way to go about it, or remember why I felt excited to reach the goal or do the activity in the first place.

3) More profoundly, I've learned to find pleasure in activities that used to seem peripheral to life and that would bore me. I enjoy cleaning the kitchen or hand-washing clothes or cleaning the bedroom; I enjoy decorating my living space and writing thank-you notes; I feel comfortable sitting still for extended periods without music, computers, or other distractions.

There's a lot to it, but basically the idea is to recondition meself so that everything I seek to do brings a deep pleasure, not through some arbitrary process of self-tricking, but through a) A deep commitment to loving meself, b) conscious recognition of the wide range of benefits of every activity and relationship and how they form an interrelated web which supports the new life I seek to build, and c) using meditation and other activities to directly understand sources of anxiety or ways of self-sabotage that may otherwise derail me. Nothing is single-purpose or done only to please someone else I feel obligated to please or just to make money (although I am making enough to sustain a very frugal budget – and enjoying that process too).

For example, to show the interrelatedness of everything:

The meditative practice builds self- and other-awareness and empathy, supports vastly more emotionally intimate and pleasurable sex, and improves observation skills, presence, composure, self-love, and comfort around other people.

To pick just one of those, the 'comfort around other people' benefit leads to new relationships, opportunities to practice meeting strangers, chances to practice listening and empathizing, and possibly to work-trade, volunteer, or apprenticeship opportunities with myriad possible benefits.

I'm learning to forage and identify wild plants. Benefits: makes the forest and wilderness a home rather than a scary, foreign place full of 'resources', helps me learn to eat locally and seasonally, saves money on food bills, makes me more resilient in the case of food shortages and increasing food costs, allows me to contribute to a community if/when, in the future, difficult times demand more self-reliance, gives me a powerful skill to offer others to help free them from the industrial system, gives me a new possible income stream as I can accept money to teach others what I learn… the list goes on, at scales large and small. I could make similar lists for my knitting/crocheting/weaving/spinning skills, or pottery work, or cooking, or music-making.

I welcome every consequence and side-effect, intended or otherwise, though I acknowledge the environmental costs I incur as part of this transition strategy (i.e. I do drive to go meet local experts for plant walks, tree planting events, etc, when outside of biking range. Though I did a 60 mile bike ride recently to buy an ex-knitter's yarn, so the range is pretty far!).

And each and every activity supports in multiple ways the effort to achieve three overarching goals:
1) Learn the individual skills (both 'hard' and 'soft') that enable me to live in mutual relationship with the land, enriching the world around me and living consciously and joyfully as part of it, rather than separated.
2) Learn to relate to others so that I can be part of a joyful, powerful community that collectively lives in mutual relationship with the land and each other (this part is ridiculously challenging, but I feel psyched to figure it out).
3) Enrich the ecosystems around me to enable the life I'm building with (1) and (2). This involves everything from reforesting and river cleaning to political activism and who knows what else.

It's intense; every time I consider, “Why am I doing [this activity]?” I can mentally race through 5-6 really compelling reasons for how the activity helps me reach one or more of these goals. Working with the chickens, knitting in the coffee shop or offering to teach knitting to new friends, practicing empathizing with strangers, decorating my room beautifully, learning to forage wild plants and fungus and learning how to support their habitat needs, everything. Everything! And I feel so happy with my vision for the future, the life I wish to lead, the people I have and will surround meself with, that somehow, when I see clearly that a particular activity or attitude or relationship helps me 'get there', it becomes easy to feel pleasure in doing/having that activity/attitude/relationship. And of course, there is no 'there', no final achievement point like a job title or salary level or retirement date; just an ongoing journey which will end when I die, every step of which I'm determined to celebrate and enjoy in the moment.

That doesn't mean I always feel pleasure each time I do a given activity, like for example following my exercise program. When the activity brings pleasure I do it, and when not I don't, with no sense of guilt/shame/anxiety. If I go on long enough without doing an activity – say, continuing in my exercise program – I reflect deeply and ask 1) Do I still wish to do this? 2) If so, why don't I feel pleasure at the prospect of doing it? And sometimes I seem to be low on energy or in an unhappy mood, and I learn not to self-hate or draw unhappy conclusions, but just respond to the needs I feel in the moment.

And often I slip into a mental space where I cease to feel aware that I'm doing things out of habit and not enjoying them; sometimes this can last for hours or days - so it's not like every second of every day is pleasurable, but I move in that direction.

In this way, I become really honest with meself about me needs and feelings, never numbing them or ignoring them in order to do something I feel I 'should' do, and never succumbing to cognitive dissonance. With this honest self-understanding, I can creatively find ways of reaching goals through joyful play. And I have felt really surprised at how high I've kept the sense of motivation with this approach. Not every moment of the last few months has been blissful, for sure, but it's been a happy process of moving in that direction.

When every single activity is play and every relationship playful, I feel so energized and full of love; it's hard to describe.

And certainly I still feel stress or sadness from time to time about money or state violence or environmental damage, among other things. I'm learning to deal with all this awareness in a healthy way. This could be its own book. I've met so many people who fail to handle this awareness healthfully. Some cease being aware (stop learning or stop thinking about issues deeply), some stop self-loving (feeling guilt or anxiety from a feeling of helplessness or doing less than they feel they could to help), some delude themselves about their ability to cause change or the need for change, some numb their feelings so that things like cops beating up peaceful school children or profit-driven wars do not offend them or prompt a meaningful response… the list of dysfunctional responses to awareness of ongoing social and environmental challenges seems long. I'm not saying I've figured out the perfect attitude, just that I feel like I'm learning to handle the awareness in a healthy way.

This post feels a bit rambling, but it's difficult to express all this: I'm integrating so many new emotional, social, and spiritual concepts into how I relate to meself, others, the natural world, time, change, money, risk and uncertainty, debt, power, cooperation and competition, language, love, and more. It'd take a thousand pages to describe it all and how it interrelates.

I'm even creating my own dictionary with new vocabulary and new grammatical constructs to allow me to better express certain thoughts and feelings, which I expect will enable more precise expression, stronger, more intimate relationships, better recognition of individual and collective needs, and more. This will be a collaborative effort with a few other friends once I get the website I'm building for it up and running (which itself has multiple benefits, including keeping me computer skills sharp). I've sprinkled some of the new language concepts into this letter, such as using 'meself' instead of 'myself' as a mode of expression. I prefer 'meself' because I contain no separate entity which possesses the self - it's just me! I say 'me hand' or 'me feelings' in the same way, using 'me' to describe whose thing without separating the body, feeling, need, etc from the sense of self. This represents a profound shift in a lot of ways, but that's for another letter. Some other changes are less noticeable, as for example I just avoid using certain common English words or expressions like 'good' or 'bad' (though sometimes they still slip through!).

I avoided using other new vocab or constructs in this letter which I thought would seem too confusing without explanation. I'm in the early phase of experimenting with actually using these language changes as opposed to just brainstorming them. It's another fun aspect of life right now.

In part 2 of this post, I'll share how this attitude towards pleasure has really helped me mature emotionally and relate to women partners in a healthier way.