There is a webcomic I read called “Boy on a Stick and Slither” or boasas for short. The latest comic seen here addresses an issue that has come up a lot for me lately. This issue is most prominent in the book I am currently reading entitled “The Fourth Way”. It is very obvious to me that my life is a routine. I do mostly the same thing day in and day out. Sometimes the routine changes and a new phase in my life begins. I can separate my entire life by routines and it worries me.
Life started out routine. Wake up, cry, eat and go to sleep. I was raised in a society where the same things happened to me at roughly the same times every day. My parents would wake up the same time every day. Feed me at the same times. I didn’t even have anything to do with it. My destiny was not in my control. Because my parents lived a life of routine so did I, even before I had a chance to talk or walk.
Fast forward to nursery school times. Wake up, eat breakfast, watch TV, go to nursery school, come home, watch TV/Atari go to bed. Kindergarten and elementary school where the same, just throw some homework and an NES in the mix. Summer camp. Middle School. High school. Various jobs. College. Every time I change to a new phase in my life I was simply changing to a different routine. My daily pattern was altered and reset. Very rarely did I have a routine that lasted a single day or less. Even vacations were a routine. Travel, check into hotel, play mini golf, eat out every night, play at video arcades all day. On the average 5 day vacation every one of those 5 days was nearly identical.
So we know that people in general live very routine lives. Up until recently I thought I was better than most Americans. Their routine is to wake up, go to work, come home, watch TV and go to bed. My routine didn’t have television and instead I was being “productive” riding my bike and making software. Though it may be obvious my routine is superior for health reasons and that I may be smarter than the average person I am not a greater being. I still live a routine life. I “do” very little, mostly things just happen to me. My machine though is just built differently than most people.
If you’ve read the fourth way or any other of Ouspensky/Gurdjieff books or you know of what they teach you may think I’m just reiterating the text. But in truth I think that most of what the books say is just intellectual fluff. It is not good enough for me to take the “system” these books describe at face value. This is something I cannot do. Instead I must interpret what they are saying, learn new ideas and use them to improve my day to day life. The first thing I have learned though is that the major idea of the system is correct. People are machines. We do not “do” things, things happen to us. The book tries to explain why and how to fix it in a very um.. “fancy” way. I guess that is the best word I can come up with. But I encapsulated the main idea into a form that is very useful for me.
Think about this. Occasionally you do things outside of your normal daily routine. Or occasionally something happens to you that will change your routine for better or worse. These things usually bring joy. When anything out of the ordinary happens people flock to see. Everyone wants to escape their normal hum-drum lives. Disney World is fun because it is not routine. Shopping and consumerism is fun because acquiring new goods causes the daily routine to be different. A new car might not make the ride to work cheaper, safer or faster, but it will make it different. MMORPGs are fun because you can live a pretend life with no routine. Every day is a new adventure in Everquest. Although gamewise the game is a piece of shit, it is very good at what it does, and that is make money for Sony. Apply this thinking to most things and you will see that the greatest fun and enjoyment in life usually emerges from changes in routine.
The most important and most difficult question is why? Why do we live in this mechanical inescapable routine? If enjoyment comes from abandonment of routine why do we not throw it away entirely? There is only one idea I can come up with, and it is only a partial answer. Your brain has many parts, but overall it either does things consciously or unconsciously. Let’s say you have never driven a car before. You will have to pay attention and actively think about driving every time you do it. I have memories of drivers ed and driving very carefully. Drivers ed consisted of 4 very short drives for me. Meanwhile I remember very little of the very many long drives I have been on across the northeast of the US. I had driven enough so that driving became an automatic function of my subconscious. This is how I am able to stay in lane even when half asleep.
Almost everything we do in our daily lives is ingrained in the subconscious. Notice when people argue their responses are immediate? This makes it obvious that they did not consciously think of the rebuttal but were simply following their subconscious programming. If they had thought about it their answer would have come much slower. Almost immediately after the brain learns something it programs the subconscious to do it automatically. The only thing that separates the stupid people from the smart people is that they learned improperly in the first place. For example, I have bad handwriting. If I think about it while I do it I can write very neatly. But if I write without thinking it is sloppy. Imagine learning to talk the same way I learned to write. Imagine learning to walk the same way I learned to write. Your life will be quite terrible indeed as your basic skills are extremely poor.
So what to do? Well, you can go the fourth way. The fourth way will teach you to remember yourself. To be conscious as much as possible. It is suggested you will eventually become person type 7 and have objective consciousness. This implies that you do everything consciously. I must disagree with this way. There is a reason our minds are made the way they are. It is hard to argue that when things are done consciously they are done better. However, much more energy is required to do things this way. The effort required does not pay out in a good ratio. What must be done is a reprogramming. The early stages of the fourth way must be followed. Remember yourself as it is very hard to remember to do things consciously. Once you do you can begin to improve the way you automatically do things.
If you drive poorly, pay attention when you drive and notice your mistakes. Make a conscious effort to stop making them. When your habit is improved, drive mechanically again. If you write poorly, concentrate when you write in order to improve handwriting until your handwriting is improved without conscious effort. Over time, get out of habits, it just makes life better. By doing things like this you can improve your routine so that it is a well oiled machine. Instead of always consciously doing everything I see nothing wrong with doing it mechanically as long as you do it well. If your handwriting is amazing, keep doing it automatically no harm will come. And this lets you put your efforts elsewhere where they are needed more.
Why do this? Life will go on without trying this hard and changing. The reasons for me are twofold. One is that changing how my personal machine works will change my daily routine. And changing routine brings joy. It is obviously a good thing to do, so I will do it as much as I can. The second reason is that if my body/person/being works great all on its own I can use my conscious mind to do other things without worry. I can spend my time thinking about ways to break out of my routine altogether. Nothing can possibly be better than doing something different all the time every day. Everyone dreams of life being a constant adventure, but it takes a lot to make it one. And the benefits are cyclical. If you don’t know what to expect next and you live an adventure, you are forced to be conscious all the time, or you will get hit with something terrible.
Life IS a rut for just about everybody. Making it a good rut is a great thing, since most ruts are just that, ruts. Digging out of that rut is the real trick. I may be in a different rut than the next guy for better or worse. But now that I know I’m in it, I’m getting the fuck out.