The Frustration Threshold

SUBHEAD:The main characteristic of arriving at the frustration threshold is that the fragile ego/superego is frustrated to the point of dysfunction.  

By Arius Hopman on 12 August 2011 in Island Breath - 

Image above: Couple crossing stream in Kalalau Valley, Kauai. Photo by Arius Hopman. From (

The USA is now in a frustration bubble and are approaching a frustration threshold. There are many converging trends that point to this conclusion. Let’s take a look.
1). The Information Age:
Daily we are inundated by emails, phone calls, twitters, letters, TV, radio, videos,movies, books etc. That flow of information includes sports casts, a mountain of advertising, web browsing, international news and gossip. We are carrying around an ever-increasing burden of concepts of the world. We get so much of it that we can no longer turn off the mind chatter even after we turn off the information source. Our minds have hijacked our attention. We need to come to our senses. That is where our attention is designed to be. Information is increasing, as are the sources of delivery. We have reached the information law of diminishing returns: frustration… or we can choose meditation, yoga and a long hike.
2). Peak of Everything:
|Disasters are increasing because we are speeding up, there are more of us, and we are up against the limits of our planet. We are approaching, or have already past, the peal of oil, the peak of food, the peak of available fresh water, the peak of soil fertility, the peak of forests and lumber, the peak of minerals, the peak of exploitation of nature, and maybe even the peak of civilization, good will and tolerance. The peak of population cannot be too far behind. Take just one of these; Forests: forests make the world seem larger and more pleasant. We genetically like trees. As we cut down the forests, frustration rises. I believe the Middle East is such a “hot bed” for this reason. The “peak” means that we have been bullish in our consumption of the world and are now pampered and are taking it for granted. But now we must begin to contract. After the peak all the scum rises to the surface, as we saw after the stock market crash. Frustration. But we can also disconnect from that entire unsustainable lifestyle and reinvent ourselves.
3. Race to the Bottom:
One side effect of “free market” competition is that if one party gains an unfair advantage due to an unethical practice, their competitors are tempted to follow suit to stay in business. All false advertising falls in that category; so does built in obsolescence, packaging that is more pricey than the contents, artificially ripened/ irradiated fruit, food that is pretty but tasteless and un-nutritious. The race to the bottom is prevalent in politics, mining/drilling practices and even personal ethics. Knowing that we are being cheated is frustrating. Understanding the race to the bottom gives us the choice not to participate.
4). Addictive Progress:
Thousands of years ago already, we set about to “improve” on nature…and look at the mess we have made! All inventions are supposed to be improvements on our genetic hunter-gatherer lifestyle (note that that was also the last time we were sustainable). Every “improvement” gave humans a skewed advantage, and our population grew. Over half of all the destruction humans have caused to nature has happened just in the last hundred years…coinciding with the rise in oil consumption. The first half of the destruction took 10,000 years. When you project that graph into the future, you hit a wall: we simply can’t keep destroying. It is estimated that we are loosing 100 species to extinction every day. They simply vanish without making headlines. We are now at this paradox: progress is destroying the world. We are sawing off the branch we are sitting on. Paradox: Two guys are standing in a completely devastated, smoldering landscape. One says to the other: “Well, looks like we are the last surviving species. That makes us the most successful… right?” We are up against the frustration that the great promise of “civilization” is turning to garbage all around us. “The way to hell is paved with good intentions”. Seeing the error, we can correct our ways.

5). Falling Empire:
The recent economic collapse and the rapid vascillation of the financial markets are just one of the many indicators of the falling business-technology empire. The Week Magazine recently reported that the total exposure of junk derivatives (ie. gambling with other people’s money, part of the race to the bottom) world-wide is now an incomprehensible $600 trillion! Greed must be recognized as a pathology and treated clinically, like alcohol. The uncertainty of the falling empire add to our uncertainty and our frustration. Our infrastructure has been built by oil. What happens to it after oil? The other thirty million species on earth have found a thriving lifestyle without oil.

6). Uncertainty:
You can make up your own list of uncertainties. We all have many. If we dwell on them, they add to frustration. A Chinese saying considers confusion a high state because all the options are open. We can use our frustration as energy to find a new, more sustainable way.
7). The Ego: The false self aka. fa├žade self is the elephant in the living room that nobody wants to talk about. It is a juvenile, make-believe phase that we must outgrow if we are to survive and if the world is to survive. One slip of the ego and we could blow ourselves up. The ego is behind all other five points mentioned above and they all feed the ego’s frustration bubble in a vicious cycle: the more we try to “improve” the more mess we make and the more frustrated we get…so we try to “improve” some more. This is the story of western civilization and now also of the whole world. The ego itself is unsustainable and begets “improvements that are unsustainable. The ego indulges it’s prejudices. Fundamentalism and hate propaganda ala Rush L. are megaphones of frustration. Stress is now the number one medical complaint in the USA. Turn off the hate mongers. Count your blessings to live in Kauai.
8). Pollution:
The pollution nowadays is extreme and often invisible/undetectable. Were talking about environmental poisons of which there are thousands now; radiation pollution including nuclear, x-rays, radio waves, TV waves, microwaves; garbage of all varieties; genetic pollution; industrial wastes, seen and unseen; exhausts and greenhouse gases; psychological pollution and propaganda etc. etc. We don't know how all these varieties of pollution are affecting us, but they definitely contributes to our malaise and frustration worldwide.
9). Circumstantial Torture:
The frustration threshold is when we “lose it”, and get so severely displaced from our homeostasis [comfort zone] that we become deranged. For many this states may already be occurring and is often accompanied by panic.
The main characteristic of arriving at the frustration threshold is that the fragile ego/superego is frustrated to the point of dysfunction. The ego is a very recent cultural phenomenon and is therefore not robust. It is basically our waking state, the status quo, the comfortable known. The Toltecs call it the “tonal” [the known, the ordinary, the individual concept of reality].

Most people identify with their “conscious” daytime story and their object relations. Meditators strive for peace of mind, a state where the life story and the story of self [which are the same] are absent. Peace of mind is innocence [in-nocere]; the mind becomes a pure receiving-responding antenna. The importance of recognizing the frustration threshold is that it mimics the process of military torture, which works by systematically undermining a person’s comfort zone, self image and world image/concept/story. The more a person becomes displaced and disoriented from their comfort zone the more their confidence and composure are broken. That raises their frustration/tension level to the point that they finally snap. Recent world circumstances have colluded to re-create on an almost global scale the steps leading to torture and breakdown of sanity and security: economic security, identity security, belief security, political security, climate and shelter security, as well as food and physical security. As the structure of “civilization begins to collapse, people don’t even know where to escape to… And most attempts at escape are in the wrong direction: emotional indulgence and indulgence in food, drink and entertainment.  

The Way Out:
Famous author/philosopher Oscar Wilde once said: “The way out is within!” So true that is. We are getting one wake-up call after the other. Wilde also stated: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.” Hopefully we get the message before it is too late.

One thing is for certain; we are headed for lots of change. We can either confront it with resistance, emotional indulgence and temper tantrums (unsustainable), or we can face it as adults with measured composure, curiosity and emotional sobriety (sustainable and mature). Each individual reaches their own frustration threshold where the spoiled, indulgent child battles with the mature voice of reason.  

• Arius Hopman is an artist and a practitioner of permaculture who lives on Kauai, Hawaii.

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