In 2017 I wrote a book called The Most Puzzled Piece. Although some of it hasn’t aged particularly well (I was still deep in one of the pitfalls I spoke about in this post), a great deal of it still holds true. I think it’d be a shame to let these ideas fall into obscurity, so here I am, 4 years later, resurrecting them like a cerebral necromancer. What a horrible image that is.
Apart from correcting a few typos and removing a few swears, this is pretty much verbatim, and if nothing else, provides an interesting snapshot of a period of time in my life where I was really challenging myself to develop psychologically. In many ways, this is the prequel to the psychological journey, and the progenitors of my perspective on pretty much every topic I like to riff on — toxic perfectionism, internalised negativity, artistic resilience — can be found therein.
So here you go — chapter IV: ‘The Best Thing I Ever Wrote.’
Being one of those creative types, I tend to come up with a lot of stuff.
But the best thing that’s ever slipped out of me mind chasm is only a sentence long, and only half of it is actually original. But honestly, this is the kind of advice I’d give on my death bed, so you know I mean business.
The first half—the unoriginal half—I’m sure you’re familiar with:
‘Go With The Flow’
Honestly, once you start doing this, life stops being a battle and starts being a journey.
I was constantly fighting against life.
Anxiety, when you think about it, is the mind resisting the fundamental uncertainty of life by trying to predict it. Worry, rumination, they’re the mind challenging what is or what was or what could be, as though we’re a population of soothsayers (I think they’re the ones that can see the future. Clairvoyants definitely can).
Doing this is ridiculous though because you can’t change what is, or what was. There’s not a lot in this life that you can change, not really, and even less that you can actually have full control over—at least as much as humans would like to. We’re a species of control freaks whether we like it or not.
Once you accept that virtually everything is out of your control, you naturally start giving yourself a break, because you stop taking responsibility for every.little.thing. that happens in your life. You stop trying to swim against the current, and instead relax as life does what it wants, and takes you with it for the ride. Existence is no longer an agent with intentions either for or against you, and you see it for what it is: existence.
It just is.
I realise that so far nothing I’ve said has been particularly revolutionary. This idea of acceptance, of your circumstances, of your decisions and your place in this world (2021 edit: I’d definitely be inclined to challenge this last point), is the cornerstone of virtually every text and mantra designed to help you live a healthier mental life. It’s one of the most blatantly obvious things in the world once it dawns on you, but there’s not a lot of light in the dark places we often find ourselves in, so obvious isn’t always … obvious.
So, on to the second part, my contribution to this well known adage.
We’ve established that life is much more pleasant when we go with the flow, but that’s not all there is to it. You also have to, wait for it …
‘Be Prepared To Row’
It’s no good to passively get carried down the river. Sure, you might end up where you were supposed to be, but you also might float past all sorts of interesting places along the way. You might even bypass tributaries and estuaries (they might be the same thing actually but I’m not a geographer so put the text book down kid) that radically alter your final destination, and no one wants that. Also, there’s a very real possibility you could just smash into a log and have the journey end right there and then.
You have to be prepared to row.
That means, yes, work in harmony with life’s current, but be vigilant of opportunities and be willing to head towards them when they arise. You have to put some work in if your entire life isn’t to fall completely to the mercy of an unthinking river. A lot of people spend their lives rowing upstream. But that’s making vastly unnecessary work for yourself when the river banks downstream are strewn with opportunities that are just as good, if not better. This whole premise is basically taking complete control over the things in your life that you can influence and change, and just accepting anything else as the necessary backdrop for your goals to unfold across. If nothing else, it makes the whole charade more interesting.
If you can’t change something, don’t worry about it. You literally can’t do anything about it, so you might as well just get on with it. This includes really shitty things, like break ups and broken coffee mugs: y’know, the truly devastating problems in life.
If you can change it, then do it, and then you’ll have no need to worry. If you don’t change something when you can, then clearly you don’t care enough about the thing in the first place.
Either way, don’t worry.
Thoughts aren’t really things. That doesn’t make them any less real, or indeed any less painful. But no matter what thoughts you’re thinking, you’re still breathing, you’re still here, alive, experiencing, and that’s more than can be said for the vast majority of people who have ever existed (2021 edit: a quick google search told me that there are 15 dead people for every living person). We owe it to people that haven’t been as fortunate as us to not take existence for granted, especially when you consider just how fleeting and fragile being alive actually is.
It’s interesting to sit and think what a ‘thought’ actually is. It’s pretty much just a bizarre mash-up of concepts and ideas, wrapped up in some kind of mood. They never stay for very long, always on the move, they’ve always got somewhere else to be. You can go from worrying about how much money there is in your bank account to whether you’d prefer to be a shark or a skateboard before quickly jumping over to contemplate the dinner waiting for you in the fridge if you can just get through that last spreadsheet. If you were to line your thoughts up, they’d look ridiculous.
And so often do we actually get them wrong!
Memories are the worst type of thoughts for this, and so many cognitions (basically all of them, in some way or another) are fuelled by memory that this fallibility is worryingly laughable. We give so much purchase to our mental world, believing every piece of nonsense our mind chucks at us, unconsciously choosing what’s important and what isn’t, in the process forgetting (or never even realising) that we’re choosing in the first place.
I’m not saying thoughts and feelings and ideas and emotions don’t matter and should be ignored. I’m just saying they should be taken with a pinch of salt. Like children, our minds can’t really focus on any concrete ‘thing’ for too long before rushing off and chasing a butterfly into a ravine or smearing chocolate down the back of some poor grown-up’s legs.
Of course, not everyone has this problem. Some people have incredible mental fortitude and can focus for hours. But I’m not really talking about those kinds of people because I can’t imagine such a person would have gotten to the end of this book, having instead put it back long ago with a shake of the head in disbelief that someone can come up with such nonsense. But I suppose that’s my gift.
Next time you find yourself having a thought that makes you feel a bit dodgy, just question it. Ask if it’s really important and worth the time and the dodgy feeling, and if it is, ask why. Don’t take everything your mind does at face value, it’s literally its job to manufacture thoughts and feelings. Sometimes it’s just trying things on to see if they fit. They’ll only fit if you let them.
This doesn’t mean you should be actively fighting any emotions or thoughts that aren’t positive. It really doesn’t work that way. Like the external world around you, you can’t actually fight your internal, mental world. If you’re sad, be sad. A lot of the frustration that comes with feeling bad about stuff is this idea that we’re not allowed to feel that way and that we have to get rid of the feeling immediately. Instead, accept the feeling and bear in mind how much value it has in teaching you about your life in that particular situation.
What’s really cool about this is you actually end up with more control when you start to embrace your internal world. I used to get mad frustrated in traffic jams, like the world was so unfair and everyone was conspiring to stop me from getting to where I wanted to be.
When you accept that it’s okay to feel angry in the face of an obstacle, or sad in the wake of losing something, you’re fighting one less thing. Combine that with the fact that deep down, you know you can’t physically fight a traffic jam so to get angry at one is a waste of everyone’s time (and you’d look a right dick running down the M6 punching lorries), and suddenly you’ve run out of things to go up against. (2021 edit: I realise at first that this might seem like contradictory thinking, but what I was getting at was more a case of iterative thinking. You won’t remove the negative feeling by fighting it at the source, but instead, by acknowledging it and then working through it.)
I happily sit in traffic jams now knowing that there’s very little I can do about them aside from just setting off earlier; I take control of the things that I can change and just get on with anything else.
You don’t always have to be happy. But you never have to be miserable. Life rarely deals in extremes (that’s what makes the news so interesting); it’s okay to have a neutral day, a chicken noodle, vanilla ice cream kinda day.
Negative situations, negative people, negative weather, they can all be dealt with without actually having to feel negative. If you’re taking responsibility for what is your responsibility, then you’re doing enough. That’s all you can ask of yourself. Don’t worry too much about whatever anyone else wants from you.
Spend your life doing what makes you feel fulfilled and content, which isn’t always necessarily what makes you happy. If what you’re doing isn’t doing that, then go and do something else. And if you’re not prepared to make that change, then at least be prepared to accept the situation as it is, and find some kind of contentment from it. Fighting it will make you feel miserable, and being miserable is the biggest waste of time going. Especially when you consider the fact that it’s almost completely avoidable.
If you believe, like I do, that you only get one go at this life, then why waste it being miserable? Live it, love it, use it up, and when you finally get to the end, feel good that you didn’t leave any questions unanswered: no ‘what ifs’ or ‘could have beens’. And if there is more after this round of existing, then you’ve got another go haven’t you, so provided you haven’t come back as a slug or ended up in one of the less palatable versions of the afterlife, you can make up for your mistakes then.
And if you have been so misfortunate, well I guess you’ve got an eternity of being miserable ahead of you regardless of what you do.
For now, it can wait.
So, looking back in 2021, do I think I’ve followed my own advice?
Yes, I’d say. Pretty much to the letter in fact. Looking at where I am now, I can honestly say I got here through a combination of serendipity, hard work, and pure resilience. I followed the river, but I pushed towards opportunities, opportunities that would have sailed right by me had I not rowed toward to them.
To that, I say thank you, past Matt. You did me a solid in putting in the work to establish our shared ethos, and it’s benefitting us wonderfully. Remind me to buy you a pint if i ever get this time machine working.
Have a bloody lovely day.
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About the curator - Matt Jenko
Hi my name is Matt, but my friends call me Matt. I’m on the wrong side of 29 (damn I hate it every time I have to update that number), definitely feeling my age, but never felt happier and more content than I do at this point in my life. I’ve been through some rocky patches (who hasn’t) and lived to tell the tale, and boy do I gots some stories.
When I’m not giving opinions absolutely nobody asked for, I’m doing a worldbuilding with my passion project, vivaellipsis. If you like offbeat nonsense delivered through immersive escapism, then go and get involved. Or don’t, I’m not telling you what to do. I’m not yer boss.
I’m a simple man with simple interests. I like Yorkshire tea, the sound of rain on the window, and a bloody good story.
9 August 2021
What today’s insight has granted me is the knowledge that if you don’t check in on yourself, you’ll lose touch with yourself. You’ll become unfamiliar with each other, and it feels very strange. I honestly think this is what it means to feel out of sorts.
27 May 2021
The cinematic score to your psychological journey with Matt Jenko. Featuring artists like: Bonobo • Yotto • Emancipator • CamelPhat • ODESZA • Carpenter Brut • Tinlicker • Four Tet • Jacques Greene • Tchami • RÜFÜS DU SOL