Pronoia Therapy

In my book Pronoia
Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower
You with Blessings
, I offer an extensive array of experiments,
games, rituals, and meditations you can use to boost your levels of
ingenious happiness. Below is an excerpt of a few of those exercises.

If you feel so moved, send your responses and testimony to me at [email protected].


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TORRENTIAL PRONOIA THERAPY

Experiments and exercises in becoming a blasphemously reverent, lustfully
compassionate, eternally changing Master of Transgressive Beauty


1. Take inventory of the extent to which your "No" reflex
dominates your life. Notice for 24 hours (even in your dreams) how often
you say or think:



"No."

"That's not right."

"I don't like them."

"I don't agree with that."

"They don't like me."

"That should be different from what it is."



Then retrain yourself to say "YES" at least 51 percent of
the time. Start the transformation by saying "YES" aloud 22
times right now.


2. Go to the ugliest or most forlorn place you know -- a drugstore
parking lot, the front porch of a crack house, a toxic waste dump, or
the place that symbolizes your secret shame -- and build a shrine devoted
to beauty, truth, and love.



Here are some suggestions about what to put in your shrine: a silk scarf;
a smooth rock on which you've inscribed a haiku or joke with a felt-tip
pen; coconut cookies or ginger candy; pumpkin seeds and an origami crane;
a green kite shaped like a dragon; a music CD you love; a photo of your
hero; a votive candle carved with your word of power; a rubber ducky;
a bouquet of fresh beets; a print of Van Gogh's Starry Night.


3. Late at night when there's no traffic, stride down the middle of
an empty road that by day is crawling with cars. Dance, careen, and
sing songs that fill you with pleasurable emotions. Splay your arms
triumphantly as you extemporize prayers in which you make extravagant
demands and promises.


Give pet names to the trees you pass, declare your admiration for the
workers who made the road, and celebrate your sovereignty over a territory
that usually belongs to heavy machines and their operators.


4. What causes happiness? Brainstorm about it. Map out the foundations
of your personal science of joy. Get serious about defining what makes
you feel good.


To get you started, I'll name some experiences that might rouse your
gratification: engaging in sensual pleasure; seeking the truth; being
kind and moral; contemplating the meaning of life; escaping your routine;
purging pent-up emotions. Do any of these work for you? Name at least
ten more.


5. Have you ever seen the game called "Playing the Dozens"?
Participants compete in the exercise of hurling witty insults at each
other. Here are some examples: "You're so dumb, if you spoke your
mind you'd be speechless." "Your mother is so old, she was
a waitress at the Last Supper." "You're so ugly, you couldn't
get laid if you were a brick."



I invite you to rebel against any impulse in you that resonates with
the spirit of "Playing the Dozens." Instead, try a new game,
"Paying the Tributes." Choose worthy targets and ransack your
imagination to come up with smart, true, and amusing praise about them.


The best stuff will be specific to the person you're addressing, not
generic, but here are some prototypes: "You're so far-seeing, you
can probably catch a glimpse of the back of your own head." "You're
so ingenious, you could use your nightmares to get rich and famous."
"Your mastery of pronoia is so artful, you could convince me to
love my worst enemy."


6. Salvador Dalí once staged a party in which guests were told
to come disguised as characters from their nightmares. Do the reverse.
Throw a bash in which everyone is invited to arrive dressed as a character
from the most glorious dream they remember.


7. On a big piece of cardboard, make a sign that says, "I love
to help; I need to give; please take some money." Then go out and
stand on a traffic island while wearing your best clothes, and give
away money to passing motorists. Offer a little more to drivers in rusty
brown Pinto station wagons and 1976 El Camino Classics than those in
a late-model Lexus or Jaguar.


8. In response to our culture's ever-rising levels of noise and frenzy,
rites of purification have become more popular. Many people now recognize
the value of taking periodic retreats. Withdrawing from their usual
compulsions, they go on fasts, avoid mass media, practice celibacy,
or even abstain from speaking.


While we applaud cleansing ceremonies like this, we recommend balancing
them with periodic outbreaks of an equal and opposite custom: the Bliss
Blitz.



During this celebration, you tune out the numbing banality of the daily
grind. But instead of shrinking into asceticism, you indulge in uninhibited
explorations of joy, release, and expansion. Turning away from the mildly
stimulating distractions you seek out when you're bored or worried,
you become inexhaustibly resourceful as you search for unsurpassable
sources of cathartic pleasure.


Try it for a day or a week: the Bliss Blitz.


9. When many people talk about their childhoods, they emphasize the
alienating, traumatic experiences they had, and fail to report the good
times. This seems dishonest—a testament to the popularity of cynicism
rather than a reflection of objective truth.



I don't mean to downplay the way your early encounters with pain demoralized
your spirit. But as you reconnoiter the promise of pronoia, it's crucial
for you to extol the gifts you were given in your early years: all the
helpful encounters, kind teachings, and simple acts of grace that helped
you bloom.



In Homer's epic tale The Odyssey, he described nepenthe, a
mythical drug that induced the forgetfulness of pain and trouble. I'd
like to imagine, in contrast, a potion that stirs up memories of delight,
serenity, and fulfillment. Fantasize that you have taken such a tonic.
Spend an hour or two remembering the glorious moments from your past.


10. "You can't wait for inspiration," proclaimed writer Jack
London. "You have to go after it with a club." That sounds
too violent to me, though I agree in principle that aggressiveness is
the best policy in one's relationship with inspiration.



Try this: Don't wait for inspiration. Go after it with a butterfly net,
lasso, sweet treats, fishing rod, court orders, beguiling smells, and
sincere flattery.


11. Become a rapturist, which is the opposite of a terrorist: Conspire
to unleash blessings on unsuspecting recipients, causing them to feel
good.



Before bringing your work as a rapturist to strangers, practice with
two close companions. Offer them each a gift that fires up their ambitions.
It should not be a practical necessity or consumer fetish, but rather
a provocative tool or toy. Give them an imaginative boon they've been
hesitant to ask for, a beautiful thing that expands their self-image,
a surprising intervention that says, "I love the way you move me."


12. "There are two ways for a person to look for adventure,"
said the Lone Ranger, an old TV character. "By tearing everything
down, or building everything up." Give an example of each from
your own life.


13. To many people, "sacrifice" is a demoralizing word that
connotes deprivation. Is that how you feel? Do you make sacrifices because
you're forced to, or maybe because your generosity prompts you to incur
a loss in order to further a good cause?



Originally, "sacrifice" had a different meaning: to give up
something valuable in order that something even more valuable might
be obtained. Carry out an action that embodies this definition. For
instance, sacrifice a mediocre pleasure so as to free yourself to pursue
a more exalted pleasure.


14. What is the holiest river in the world? Some might say the Ganges
in India. Others would propose the Jordan River or the River Nile. But
I say the holiest river is the one that's closest to where you are right
now.



Go to that river and commune with it. Throw a small treasure into it
as an offering. Next, find a holy sidewalk to walk on, praise the holiness
in a bus driver, kiss a holy tree, and shop at a holy store.


15. Are other people luckier than you? If so, psychologist Richard
Wiseman says you can do something about it. His book The Luck Factor
presents research that proves you can learn to be lucky. It's not a
mystical force you're born with, he says, but a habit you can develop.


How? For starters, be open to new experiences, trust your gut wisdom,
expect good fortune, see the bright side of challenging events, and
master the art of maximizing serendipitous opportunities.



Name three specific actions you'll try in order to improve your luck.


16. Entomologist Justin O. Schmidt drew up an index to categorize the
discomfort caused by stinging insects. The attack of the bald-faced
hornet is "rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your
hand mashed in a revolving door." A paper wasp delivers pain that's
"caustic and burning," with a "distinctly bitter aftertaste.
Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut." The
sweat bee, on the other hand, can hurt you in a way that's "light,
ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your
arm."



In bringing this to your attention, I want to inspire the pronoiac rebel
in you. Your homework is to create an equally nuanced and precise index
of three experiences that feel really good.


17. Some scholars believe the original Garden of Eden was where Iraq
stands today. Though remnants of that ancient paradise survived into
modern times, many were obliterated during the American war on Iraq.
A Beauty and Truth Lab researcher who lives near the confluence of the
Tigris and Euphrates Rivers kept us posted on the fate of the most famous
remnant: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Until the invasion,
it was a gnarled stump near Nasiriyah. But today it's gone; only a crater
remains.



Let this serve as an evocative symbol for you as you demolish your old
ideas about paradise, freeing you up to conjure a fresh vision of your
ideal realm.


18. "Two chemicals called actin and myosin evolved eons ago to
allow the muscles in insect wings to contract and relax," writes
Deepak Chopra in The Book of Secrets. "Today, the same
two proteins are responsible for the beating of the human heart."



If you use your imagination, you can sense the connection between the
flight of a dragonfly and the intelligent organ that renews its commitment
to ­keeping you alive every second of your life. So use your imagination.


19. Is the world a dangerous, chaotic place with no inherent purpose,
running on automatic like a malfunctioning machine and fundamentally
inimical to your happiness? Or are you surrounded by helpers in a friendly
universe that gives you challenges in order to make you smarter and
wilder and kinder and trickier?


Trick questions! The answers may depend, at least to some degree, on
what you believe is true.



Formulate a series of experiments that will allow you to objectively
test the hypothesis that the universe is conspiring to help you.


20. The primary meaning of the word "healing" is "to
cure what's diseased or broken." Medical practitioners focus on
sick people. Philanthropists donate their money and social workers contribute
their time to helping the underprivileged. Psychotherapists wrestle
with their clients' traumas and neuroses.


I'm in awe of them all. The level of one's spiritual wisdom, I believe,
is more accurately measured by helping people in need than by meditation
skills, shamanic shapeshifting, supernatural powers, or esoteric knowledge.



But I also believe in a second kind of healing that is largely unrecognized:
to supercharge what is already healthy; to lift up what's merely sufficient
to a sublime state. Using this definition, describe two acts of healing:
one you would enjoy performing on yourself and another you'd like to
provide for someone you love.



P.S. What would the world look like if there were doctors who specialized
in fostering robust health in their patients? What if the textbooks
that psychotherapists used to evaluate their clients were crammed not
just with descriptions of pathological states, but also with a catalogue
of every variety of bliss, integrity, magnanimity, eros, and wisdom?
Imagine how odd and wonderful it would be if universities began turning
out professionals in a brand new field, the science of happiness.


21. Those who explore pronoia often find they have a growing capacity
to help people laugh at themselves. While few arbiters of morality recognize
this skill as a mark of high character, I put it near the top of my
list. In my view, inducing people to take themselves less seriously
is a supreme virtue. Do you have any interest in cultivating it? How
might you go about it?


22 "Creativity is like driving a car at night," said E. L.
Doctorow. "You never see further than your headlights, but you
can make the whole trip that way." I would add that life itself
is like driving a car at night. You're often in the dark except for
what's right in front of you. At least that's usually the case.


But for a few shining hours sometime soon, I predict you'll be able
to see the big picture of where you're headed. It will be as if the
whole world is suddenly illuminated by a prolonged burst of light; as
if you're both driving your car and also watching your journey from
high above. Write about what you see.