becoming Possum – applied eudaemonics

regarding adaptation
redoing adaptation

on accepting reality for long enough to learn adaptive coping mechanisms to replace maladaptive ones

because Possum inspires and motivates me to be a human animal capable of adapting to the urban environment that has displaced us from our natural habitat

I am disappointed with myself at the moment and doing my best to not berate myself over and over because I know that would be maladaptive.

I had a couple of drinks last night while making dinner and listening to Paul Kelly. So far so great, I was feeling good and not trying to drink my pain away as I learnt how to excel at for the last 30 years in our culture.

Actually I did have a persistent headache, but I wasn’t experiencing intense emotional pain. I felt I was coping pretty well with our stressors and was safe to have a wee tipple. I was treating the booze a bit like paracetamol, a kind of experiment. And I felt like getting a buzz on. It felt healthy, and it was, compared with how I’ve abused substances in the past, so I can say truthfully that overall I’m making progress with becoming less dependent on exogenous hedonic pleasure for that false and fleeting sense of well-being it brings.

This kind of thinking helps me to curb the self-flagellation.

Thing is, I’m supposed to be on a self-initiated three-month “sobriety binge”. I want to subject myself to coping with reality without external crutches like booze and weed and Minecraft and see what comes up, what I learn, how I manage. I’ve done these sobriety binges before and they’re great, like a detox, very illuminating.

What started as a few healthy drinks to get a buzz on and curb a headache turned into Nikki and I sharing a bottle of vodka. Still not such a great big deal in itself. We didn’t drink a bottle each, which is something. I feel confident we will not relapse so far that we are doing that again, once or twice a week.

We are making progress with becoming less dependent on exogenous hedonic pleasure for that false and fleeting sense of well-being it brings.

We didn’t get so intoxicated that our perceptions fucked out completely, causing us to do anything we deeply regretted, as we have done in the past. Of course I value the Buddhist precept recommending that we not intoxicate self or others, lest we become unskilful and cause harm. I also value the Middle Way, and am less likely these days to exploit the teaching of “moderation in moderation”, to justify excessive binges that result in immediate harm and then days and days of regret and shame.

So there is progress being made – I am becoming Possum, the great urban adaptor. I am proud of myself and of Nikki and I am immensely grateful that I share this journey with such a committed alchemist as my wife. We are learning that there are ways of transmuting suffering into joy and that idea is feeling less and less abstract and esoteric and inaccessible as we draw from the courage to actually implement the ideas and test them, apply them.

By turning toward suffering with the right coping skills, we are learning a lot about the nature of mind and reality and about the way these interact to form interpretations of either happiness or misery, and in that turning toward we are finding choice, the ability to choose our interpretation, to choose happiness in the midst of suffering. Just imagining that and feeling it’s possible brings a micro-moment of actual joy, an emotion that is rare for me at this stage but becoming slowly more frequent.

So far still good and actually this little story doesn’t have the plot twist that usually follows the “so far so good” trope.

What concerned me this morning was the underlying motives to drink that I was not quite aware of last night.

The motive was to get a buzz on and curb a headache, which really is not such a big deal. I’m not a crack addict or a criminal and I don’t fly into drunken rages and trash the place. I don’t beat my kid and then fuck off for days at a time to whack the pudding in the mistaken hope that this will make me feel better and then return home full of misplaced shame. I am a kind and gentle contemplative person who was raised in a materialistic culture and doing pretty well at getting off the hedonic treadmill by learning applied eudaemonics.

Sick! Kickin at goalposts I’ve set for myself and sometimes missing. But I was raised around AFL and as the joke runs, aussie-rules football is the only game where you get a point for missing!

Still, the motive was to make reality more pleasant than it was (by adding a ‘buzz’), and to avoid the pain of a headache instead of accepting that symptom as a message screaming, SLLLLOOOOOOOOOOW DOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWN.

I’m still learning how to stop and do nothing and relax and enjoy just being alive on a beautiful planet.

The plan was to do our home-coming decompression meditation, have a couple of bevvies making dinner while Nikki did some gaming, then crash out early to practise good sleep hygiene as the first foundation of mental and emotional fitness.

That’s my trip these days – I’m that kind of “fitness freak”. That’s why I feel disappointed. I let myself down. But I can accept that, and start where I am with beginner’s mind.

The plan was to be responsible and do self-care. Our life has been a comet of stress lately, and yesterday was no different except I felt I was keeping abreast of it, not getting blown away by its sheer force. We pulled into the driveway yesterday feeling we had got to a place in our incessant metaphysical nattering that we could stop and just be without trying to solve the problems of the collective unconscious with the power of conscious thought alone.

Because life happens while we’re busy making plans, Nikki got a call from a friend whose daughter and our friend has been admitted to the psych ward. The family is not coping well and we’re trying to position ourselves as advocates for the daughter to help them navigate the punitive public mental-health-emergency system. So Nikki spent an hour and a half on the phone, advocating on the daughter’s behalf, which is good, this is what we want to be doing, just maybe not at 5.30pm on Friday, mere moments after we had decided to stop and just be without trying to solve the problems of the collective unconscious with the power of conscious thought alone.

The phone call was not the problem. It just kind of threw us out. The problem (for want of a better word) is not even that a few drinks became 3 and then 5 and 6 until we finished the bottle.

We had a nice dinner, Nikki did some gaming while I did some study and we went to bed watching Dead Poets Society, because I thought it would be a nice easy-going drama that wouldn’t be too stimulating and would distract me just enough to drift off to sleep. I’ve been afraid of sleeplessness since a heinous mid-week bout of insomnia.

Somehow it was 1.30am before I was able to wrench myself away from what I had somehow forgotten is a profoundly inspiring (read: stimulating) film for me. This was progress for me – normally I would eat the whole proverbial bag of chips.

I even managed to sleep instead of bouncing off the walls of my mind all night, which is sometimes what happens when I drink enough to edit the unpleasant out of reality but not enough to wipe myself out.

The ‘problem’ is I employed a maladaptive coping mechanism to deal with stress I’m almost not aware of because it has become so normalised. The problem is I don’t know how to do nothing and just be for long enough to relax on a Friday evening.

It’s not a problem exactly because these skills can be learnt.

It’s not even a problem exactly that I woke up wide-eyed and pinging at 6.30am, still with the headache.

It’s just I’m disappointed because I thwarted the opportunity to get the rest I needed and now I’m back to square-one. I was wanting to bounce back from that heinous mid-week insomnia, and instead I did maligned adaptation.

Like the possum that fell into one of Nikki’s succulents on our back deck the other night, which picked itself up and scampered away when I stepped out to see WTF that noise had been. Possum inspires and motivates me to be a human animal capable of adapting to the urban environment that has displaced us from our natural habitat. Through healthy adaptation we are able to flourish – that is what eudaemonia is all about, human flourishing. It’s about getting off the pleasure train (the hedonic treadmill) so we can stop long enough to see where we are with clear and healthy eyes, without resistance, without trying to change reality to suit our desires.

I said to Nikki when I woke up that I find it vaguely distressing or depressing that in our culture we don’t know how to do nothing, how to just relax and stop and be still. We are either being productive or entertaining ourselves or distracting ourselves or running around doing errands. And then we need to use things outside ourselves to bring the nervous system back to relax mode. Things like booze, which don’t even actually do that anyway – hence the term maladaptive coping mechanism.

Nikki and I are not employed in the traditional sense and we still manage to pull 16-hour days 6 days a week because being alive and healthy is a full-time business.

And we’re needing to teach ourselves how to de-stress from that in ways that are healthy. But we are at least teaching ourselves these skills, and it is precisely these skills that I am hoping to share with others through the business I’m setting up around Kokoro 心 Heart:

  • coping skills
  • mental, emotional and nervous-system regulation
    • through meditation and the art of skilfully doing nothing in motion

Today hopefully there will be nothing but a long swim and some cross-stitching. [We ended up visiting our friend in the psych ward, but today today – the day of posting, two days later – we are going for a long swim. I went to a day-long silent-meditation retreat yesterday and have managed to get 9 hours sleep last night!]

[Meanwhile yesterday:] I at least am successfully not berating myself, and remembering:

S = R x r

H = R x a


S = suffering

R = Reality

r = resistance

H = happiness

a = acceptance

So that:

Suffering = Reality x resistance

Happiness = Reality x acceptance

I am accepting that this self-inflicted tiredness is where I am at, and remembering that the world as it is (with me not sleeping well in it and everything) is perfectly imperfect.

A unique and deeply personal modality is forming around me through Zen training, Cultivating Emotional Balance and Somatic Experiencing.

I am learning to have an embodied mindful awareness throughout the day and it is helping me to notice those once-hidden underlying motives to avoid reality in one way or another.

Through making this unconscious conscious without freaking out, we gradually become awakened enough to accept reality and all its warts with equanimity and joy.

That’s what I believe anyway and I’m doing the experiment to see if it’s true.

During my “sobriety binge” I got tipsy and messed with my sleep – now I’m trying to respond to that with kindness so I don’t continue repeating this cycle of maladaptive coping mechanisms.


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