A physical representation of my digital Kindle library.

Questioning Control

Re-Calibrating The Mind To Accept What Is

I have a terrible habit of buying too many books.

In Japanese, there’s a cute, one-word way to represent this (bad) habit: tsundoku.

It’s a portmanteau of 積む (tsumu; to accumulate) and 読 (doku; reading). You get it. Genuinely cute word.

At least it used to be cute. As of late it’s begun to represent a terrifyingly stressful existence to me. As the curious me continues to add to the pile (my Amazon Wish List alone is over 400 books, and I can’t help but purchase one new one a week), my Kindle is now more of a backlog that I must deal with than the idyllic treasure trove of new ideas that I can lose myself in.

Damn you, peaceful reader. How I wish I could be you.

No, right now the Kindle icon has come to be less of a source of fun and more one of anxiety. Each time I glance at it, I see my own future self, replete with a scowl of consternation, looking down upon the me of now, head shaking, as if to say: “Take responsibility for your books.”

Sometimes this (strange, very strange) anxiety builds up and pushes me into “work mode” vis-a-vis the pile; i.e., I work my way through finishing the books. The outcome then becomes more important than the path.

Tsk tsk… This is no state of mind to be in when you read, man! It’s almost the exact opposite of the curious, playful mindset one should strive for when absorbing new ideas. And to think, I’ve been locked in it for the past few years!

Going down this path a bit further (I promise I’ll get to the point soon), the result is that I’ll open up 2 new books in any given week, just to get that feeling of progress, whittling down the digital stack. Predictably, I get even more overwhelmed as time goes by.

Recalibrating

Short of developing iOS icons for each book in my Kindlepile (a job so stressful as to send a real shiver down my spine just contemplating how it would be done), jailbreaking my iPhone, and changing the Kindle app to only display one book at a time (not to mention having to employ some stressful hack to stop myself from buying more books on Amazon), I’m not going to overcome this growing source of stress in my life.

And this is what I realized as of late. I used to see stress as something to be overcome. I would “hunker down” and get over my anxieties towards this and that task in order to “just get shit done.” This helped get me to where I am today — still healthy, enjoying life, with a lot of good things going for me — but looking back, there has to have been a better way. And a better outcome. I fear that, thanks to my focus on overcoming stress, I’ve moored myself in a bog of self-loathing, stuck on the foothills of the mountain of creative self-expression. No where near the peak.

But recently, I’ve come to view the continuum of stress as ranging not from avoidance to victory (predictably, not all stress can be overcome within the time constraints of a human experience, and you’re forced to give up and avoid some of it — with the stress you give up on haunting your mind as a battle lost, if you’re like me), but rather as a spectrum of acceptance.

Don’t get it twisted — pushing through and overcoming something is often the optimal choice. Doing so can lead to the prevention of many future stressors that would otherwise have an effect on your experience).

But for the stress you choose to take on, or for that which is presented to you, rather than tackle it as something to be overcome (or, if not overcome, ex post facto avoided or perhaps rather dismissed), try to understand and accept it. This practice has many other names that our parents taught us: being patient. Not sweating the small stuff. Whereas these words were bandaids, accepting things as they are beforehand is a panacea that not only cures the symptoms of stress, but leads to a future experience that is so different from the previous one, it’s like being able to experience a whole new dimension. It’s like understanding imaginary numbers.

This post is, like many, unfinished in that there is so much more I’d like to explore with more (or hopefully less!) words. The me of months ago would be so stressed at the prospect of not being able to write out exactly everything I wanted that it would prevent me from writing anything at all. Now that I’ve accepted that I’ll not be able to achieve that, I’ll actually be able to achieve much more.

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