What A Beautiful Life

The last few days I’ve been watching a lot of videos about what life was like in the Victorian Era. While the things I’m learning are extremely interesting, they are also quite horrifying. I discovered just how unsafe it was to be alive during that time period, let alone all of the rest of human history. People would meet their death doing things as simple as taking a bath, eating food from the market, having a bathroom installed in their home, having colorful wallpaper, etc. It seems as though there were unlimited dangers all around that weren’t yet fully understood or identified.

It’s very interesting to me how I am able to simultaneously marvel at human achievements throughout history and also be dumbstruck at our sheer recklessness and stupidity. On both fronts it seems incredible that we have managed to make it this far. It really puts a lot of things into perspective for me. Generally I have expected a lot out of the human race. Perhaps that’s because when we’re young we are surrounded with the idea that humans are the pinnacle of evolution, fabulous, unique, God-like beings. At least that’s the impression I seemed to get about what most humans thought of our species. Yet in every waking moment, I seemed to be confronted with human limitation and outrageous foolishness. It would be a constant source of frustration. People never seemed to live up to the standards I had set for them. Not even I was able to meet those standards.

History used to be one of my favorite subjects. But as we learned more and more it seemed like the only things that mattered in recorded history were wars and politics. These things are certainly interesting, but there is so much more to history that I would have rather explored. Learning about society and the way other generations lived awakens a fierce gratitude within me for the luxuries of the time period that we live in. So many simple conveniences that we take for granted were not so long ago unimaginable. I’ve been reflecting on the amazing benefits we now have such as electricity, running water, plumbing, cars, medicine, technology, the internet, the list could go on and on. Most of us tend to use these conveniences everyday without thinking twice about them.

As you know I spend a lot of time worrying about the end of the world. The end seems more and more inevitable each and every day. However, learning about the history of humanity, makes me less concerned about it for some reason. I’m left just feeling grateful that we made it this far. It seems like each moment is an incredible gift. It seems selfish and ungrateful to complain that I won’t get more. In my twenty seven years of life I have already had more pleasure than entire populations had in a lifetime. I’ve allowed myself to feel so cheated that I may not get to live out my life and die of old age as it feels I was promised as a young child. However, when I think about it, I was never even guaranteed the time I’ve already had. Had I lived in any other time period, or even in a different part of the world today, I might have already succumbed to some horrendous illness or accident. This shift in perspective has been extremely therapeutic for me. It has made me feel lighter and reflect on my good fortune.

From now on I plan to work on being grateful for each moment I am given. However much life I have left on this earth will be more than enough. How absurd it now seems to complain when I have so much. Gratitude is truly the cure for so many psychological woes. Perhaps there is no better or more powerful feeling. Even love itself is a form of gratitude. And I really do love this life. I love the many beings I have been lucky enough to share it with. Each day is filled with so many unbelievable blessings. Nice clothing and bed linens, a safe, warm home, a cup of coffee, a hot shower, fresh fruits and vegetables, clean water. How insane the people of the past would think us for finding anything to complain about or to be dissatisfied with. What a beautiful life.

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The Focused Mind

It is interesting to me that when I sit down to write, the ideas that usually come to mind are so negative. I think about problems I see in my own life or in the world around me. I can think of some pretty interesting topics, but that isn’t the issue. I didn’t start writing everyday to be interesting. I am doing this because I like to write and it makes me happy. Depending on what I’m writing about. It always comes down to focus.

I genuinely fear for these younger generations. Even my own has suffered and continues to suffer from the influence of technology. The internet and social media have drastically damaged our mental abilities. The saddest thing is that there isn’t really anyone to blame or a clear solution other than purging our lives of these technologies entirely. We have reached the point in history where “robots are taking over.” It just doesn’t look like what we thought it would look like. It is much subtler. Robot humans aren’t so much moving into our neighborhoods and taking out jobs, as they are tinkering behind the scenes shaping our own personalized virtual worlds for us. There is no evil intention behind this threat to humanity. The algorithms we’ve created are only doing their best, trying to help us as they’ve been designed to do. We just couldn’t have imagined the implications of this progress.

Among the myriad reasons that this new reality we’ve unleashed upon the world is harmful, the most significant to me is its effect on attention span. This has definitely made an impact on all of us who use the internet and specifically social media, but it is particularly easy to see in children. It really breaks my heart to imagine what childhood must look like now-a-days compared to what I was lucky enough to have. Just the other day a coworker and I were reminiscing in front of a 10 or 11 year old girl about before we had internet or even a computer. She seemed stunned and horrified as she listened. I felt like my grandmother when she would tell me about before they had cars and electricity.

It is interesting to me that alongside this rise in social media, there has also been an increase in interest in spiritual practices such as yoga. It is almost as if we are naturally seeking out a balance to the damaging effects we’ve been exposed to. Something inside of us is looking for help. While it can’t solve the problems we face, I do feel that yoga and meditation are instrumental in combating the negative effects of technology in my own life. No matter how long I practice yoga, it continues to blossom and evolve. As I peel back layer after layer, I find new pearls of truth, new perspectives. I’ll think I know what yoga is all about, then have that idea utterly overthrown by a new one.

Once I thought yoga was just about exercise and flexibility. I thought meditation was an effort to keep the mind still. Now I’ve learned that both of these practices are complementary to one another and that ultimately they are both about focus. It doesn’t matter if you can do the splits and hold a handstand if your mind is somewhere else the whole time. You can sit in meditation for hours, but if your mind is running laps it won’t do you much good. The point of both of these practices is to train and harness our ability to focus.

We often hear that we are in control of our own happiness. We can choose the way we want to feel and respond to the world around us. And while this is true, it doesn’t exactly explain how we are able to do this. The answer to that is (yep, you guessed it) focus. Concentration, attention, focus, whatever you want to call it, it is a muscle that we must exercise and train to serve us. Sadly, the internet and social media are actively working against this training, teaching our minds to do just the opposite of focus.

That is why having a regular yoga and meditation practice is more important than ever before. Yoga and meditation are sneaky. They give us things to focus on, and we assign different meaning to why we are focusing on them. We want to be healthy, we want to be flexible, we want to have more peace and calm in our lives. It is only later that many of us realize what we are focusing on has little to do with it. The mere act of mindful awareness and concentration are what produce the positive mental health effects. That’s why eventually we can learn to take our practice with us off the mat. We don’t have to be in impressive postures to be practicing yoga. Don’t forget tadasana (mountain pose) is just as valuable as bakasana (crow pose). Pranayama isn’t necessarily beneficial simply because of the techniques we are using for the breath, but because of the intense focus we put on the breath.

As you go about the rest of your day, try to notice how you feel when the mind is focused, when it’s scattered. It seems silly or even simply, but when you notice yourself becoming agitated or anxious, find something to focus on. It’s harder than it sounds. Watch your mind as it squirms and tries to escape this stillness, the mindful attention. What you decide to focus your attention on doesn’t really matter. The breath is always a good choice because it is always there with us. But you could also focus on a blade of grass, the veins in your hands, the backs of your eyelids, the way your clothes feel against your skin. As long as you’re concentrating, it will help. This is why the flow state is so intoxicating. It isn’t even necessarily because we are often engaged in an activity we love doing, it is because we are intensely focused. So I hope that you are able to practice focus as you move through your day today. Just take it one step at a time. Allow yourself be enjoy each moment as it comes, giving it your full attention.

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