Ever been in a fight? It’s an ugly affair and can leave emotional residues. Yet, boxers get into fights all the time and not only do they walk away like nothing happened, but they often even embrace their opponents and speak glowingly of them. What gives?
The match is basically a game. Boxers enter, knowing that they will fight and treat it as the backdrop to something greater. As such, the violence is framed and it does not consume them. They use it at will and put it away at well. Of course on occasion, things get out of hand, but very often the match is a controlled affair.
By framing, boxers have achieved something of a holy grail of self-discipline; controlling dark emotions rather than vice versa.
We frame all the time, although with less extreme emotions – work and games are two examples. However, given the power of framing, it’s natural to ask how far we can take it. Can we frame life itself? If so, what would be its backdrop?
In religion, the answer is yes, and the backdrop is the transcendent (God, Heaven, etc…).. To those who TRULY INTERNALIZE the religion, life is a test and one’s only concern is responding appropriately. Thus, regardless of whether the religion’s claims ultimately turn out to be true, one has the ultimate security in life; one is unaffected by anything that happens. After all, this is just one event in the context of a larger event, and the larger event is a completely secure, blissful affair.
What about the non-religious, or for that matter those whose religious faith has not so permeated their lives? It would seem that life is everything, and thus there is no backdrop, but I think there are two candidates that suffice for a backdrop.
The first is ethics. By trying to live ethically, one is treating ethics as a backdrop for life as it dictates rules, even at the expense of getting ahead at life itself. Therefore, whether or not one admits it, it is treated as a transcendent entity. Much like religion, one must truly internalize the importance of ethics in order to get maximal benefit.
The second is the mind. While it too is in the midst of life, it creates our life by creating our experience via filtering, interpreting and organizing sensations. This means our “life” is our experience and is hence a few steps removed from reality, as in the following diagram:
Reality → Mind → Experience
For example, a person walks down a dark alley and sees a shape. He thinks it’s a mugger, and flees in terror. This experience was real, even if the “mugger” turned out to be a stack of boxes. This person’s life was his experience and a hulking mugger was part of his life. The mind created this.
It’s important to realize the mind’s power. If our lives are created by our minds and we can control our minds, then we can control our lives. It may not be as easy as turning on a switch, it may be subtle, it may involve radically re-orienting ourseleves, and it’s hard and long work, but the payoffs are worth it.
What’s the alternative? Trying to find happiness by chasing things over which we have limited control? This seems particularly silly when we realize that we only chase those things because our mind values them! Why not just cut out the middle-man? Besides, when have we ever had lasting happiness from getting what we wanted? More often than not, we get used to it and chase after the next thing.
Unfortunately, we often use our minds to reinforce our bad habits, thus making us unhappy. So rather than working with the mind to free us, we use it to dwell on the things we don’t have, negative experiences and so on, thus enslaving ourselves further.
So ask yourself if you are willing to spend the rest of your life the way you are spending it now.