The following is a tribute to one of the founders of SuperOptimism on the occasion of his birthday. Some people wonder why he doesn’t behave like a “mature adult.” We honor him with this essay.
It’s a scientific fact that you’re physically moving from birth to death, with its attendant indignities and infirmities. While scientists work on reverse-engineering your molecular clock to match that of the ageless jellyfish, you’ve still got to deal with your bum ankle, your bad eyes, and that odd swelling on your right index finger.
So what’s the answer? You could make a beeline for the place where Ponce de Leon claimed to find the Fountain of Youth. Or at least buy some face cream that promises to give you the appearance of someone half your age.
But these are stopgap measures. To really shed the heavy burden of the years, we advise tapping into the energy of your own mad spirit and childlike nature. We call this “The Power of Immaturity” and it promises to rejuvenate you as well as any miracle drug.
What do kids have that you don’t? Youth. What do you have that they don’t? Credit cards and no curfew. Here are a few suggestions to ignite your consciousness like a Class B firework:
Ride your bicycle somewhere new. Remember when you were young, and you’d get on your three-speed and go around the block? That block seemed like a trip around the world, didn’t it? Because everything was new and fresh, and you were an explorer to rival both Lewis and Clark. Why not kick start your sense of wonder today by pedaling to an unfamiliar location. Exposing yourself to the new will induce plasticity in your brain, which is where kids have it all over adults. It can be as simple as heading down a street that you’ve never ridden on. Or as drastic as putting a “for sale” sign on your house, packing a satchel and heading out into the great wide open on a road trip that never ends.*
Remove preconceptions one by one. That plaque that’s built up around your emotional state? It’s called “familiarity” and there’s a reason it breeds contempt. The reason kids have is an innate sense of wonder is because they haven’t seen it all. It’s true you’ve got a lot of miles on your odometer, but you can still wipe your slate clean with what Buddhists call Shoshin, or “Beginner’s Mind.” It takes practice to greet another day with an attitude that’s eager for new experiences, but once you get the hang of it, you can employ it at will.
Do not put away childish things. 1 Corinthians 13 in the Bible talks about doing away with the trappings of youth. But the Apostle Paul was referring to being a decent, loving person, not about throwing away your Batman comic books, or jettisoning your Zappa albums, or turning away from the horror movies you loved when you were 10. Keep a drawer filled with the items that fascinated you when you didn’t have so many rings on your tree, to act as a talisman and help you conjure the great power of your 8-year-old self. (Or 6. Or 14. Your call.)
Whatever you think you’re too old to do now, do it. How many crazy chances did you take as a kid? Some of them worked out. Some left you with major contusions. Looking back, it’s amazing you didn’t buy the farm when you fell into that sinkhole in back of Strode’s Mill. That you made it to adulthood really flies in the face of common sense. So really, you’re a lucky duck who is getting extra time on earth. Don’t waste it trying to play it safe now. Go do something that people will scoff at and admonish you for “not acting your age.” They are mere fossils, not living, breathing dinosaurs like you.
And like the young who “don’t know any better,” dream big. Laugh loud. Screw up. Eat some pie. Don’t act the way you’re supposed to. And stop the clock, one hour at a time!
*No need to dress up in fancy Tour de France racing gear to ride your bike. That’s for adults. And most of them look ridiculous in form-fitting tights.
Do you act impulsively when it comes to food? Drugs? Sex? Power? Money?
By understanding our thoughts and cravings are merely electrical impulses which rise and fade, we can teach ourselves to detach from the information that tends to repeat itself in pre-arranged patterns. While our egos would like to believe our thoughts (“Oh, I’m very smart, so this must be a smart thought.”) and our emotions would like to act upon them (“I could really go for that chocolate nut crumble tort.”), rationally this is nonsense. Not to mention an impractical way to live.
Better to treat your brain as you would any other piece of technology, one that doesn’t always perform its computations accurately. You can acknowledge your “hard drive” stores memories which you consciously or unconsciously pull up on your personal touch-screen. If those memories are negative ones, you relive the feelings of the situation, and can get stuck in the cycle of repetition. If they’re positive ones, you might want to repeat them and go chasing after whatever it was that turned you on in the first place.
With the practice of distancing ourselves from constant brain activity, eventually our reactions to “good” and “bad” thoughts will dissipate, and we’ll no longer be held captive by them and the feelings they trigger. As we become the observer and not the participant, all thoughts lose their power to control us. Some call this “freedom.”* Others, enlightenment. Still others, a svelte waistline.
*But not insurance agents, politicians, and marketing executives. They would prefer you act upon every impulse which they send out over the transom. Thinking scientifically, you can zap them at every turn!
Is today just another run-of-the-mill kind of day? Or is it really a full-blown, fall on your knees, cry-tears-of-joy-for-your-lucky-break-miracle kind of day? We think the latter.
Why? Because you are the recipient of an amazing dollop of good fortune, one you may not even be aware of.
You see, scientists have estimated the probability of you being born at about one in 400 trillion. You read that correctly. 1 in 400,000,000,000,000! Those odds are 10 times greater than winning the Powerball. And 4000 times greater than being hit by lightning. (As for winning the lottery and getting struck by lightning together, well, our math skills don’t reach that far.)
It turns out the amount of available DNA to mix into an individual human is so vast, the chance of it combining in the certain specific pattern to form the person you see in the mirror is virtually impossible. No scientific chance whatsoever. And yet, here you are. Making you an official miracle just for the fact of you sitting there absorbing this information.
But the news gets more amazing — since those odds of 1 in 400 trillion against don’t take into account the chance of your parents meeting, finding each other attractive, consummating their relationship, and having a single sperm and a single egg unite in joyous conception. We are now up to 1 in 400 quadrillion. (Even more if you add in surrogates, (In case you’re wondering how big a quadrillion is, think of it as 1,000 trillions. In other words, a f#*@!ing huge number.)
Are we finished? No, not yet. Factor your ancestors going back 4 billion years, all the variables that could have prevented them from ever meeting, dating, having sex, and so on…well, by the time you add up all the coincidences in this long tail scenario, the chances of you being here are 1 in 10 to the power of 2,685,000.
So, the odds that you exist are basically zero. But because you do exist, and you’re aware of how precarious that eventuality is, you’re a big winner today in the jackpot of life. Even if all you’re doing right now is eating a chicken burrito, no cheese, no sour cream.*
*Dancing is an appropriate response to this news. So is finishing your burrito and thanking the server for the extra hot sauce.
** Over 99% of all species that ever lived on Earth are extinct. So consider reducing your climate footprint and let’s see if humans can beat those odds too.
- Travel to your local library.
2. Closing your eyes, walk down an aisle.
3. Pull a volume chosen at random from the stacks.
4. Without looking at the book, turn to a random page.
5. Now open your eyes and read the right hand page.
6. Whatever is on the page, allow it to inspire an action corresponding to its contents.