Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

Meditating in my office a week or so ago, suddenly my heart leapt out of my chest at the sound of an airhorn. My friend was in one of his more incorrigible moods and decided to play around with our new coworker. I, of course, was not amused. However, afterwards, I did find a lot of things to be grateful for about that irritating experience. Firstly, there were many lessons to be learned through my reaction and subsequent internal dialogue. Because I was in the process of meditating, I was in an especially good position to be able to observe these thoughts and reactions.

The first thing I noticed was my unwillingness to let my anger and annoyance subside. I kept replaying all the reasons why that was so rude and aggravating, instead of just being in the current, once again peaceful, moment. The other thing I noticed was the tension I continued to hold within my body. It was as if I was trying to brace myself for yet another piercing sound to impinge upon my quietude. This I found particularly interesting to witness. What good was this state of tension and anticipation doing me? How was it serving me?

It wasn’t serving me at all, actually. I’ve often heard and believed in the idea that anxiously anticipating suffering in the future does not lessen that future suffering, it merely brings it into the present as well. But for some reason, this incident made a particularly strong impression on me as a metaphor to emphasize that truth. I think despite ourselves, a lot of us still fret about possible displeasure in our futures in an effort to somehow prevent it from happening. Yet a lot of the most painful things that happen in life are not things that we can plan for or prevent. It may behoove you to feel stress about losing your job, if you’re not performing your responsibilities. That may be something you can take actionable steps to prevent. However, I think more often we worry about things like death, aging, accidents, or other such sudden and inevitable things.

One of the most striking parts of my air horn meditation was the realization that no matter how tense or focused I was on being ready for another sudden sound, I would undoubtedly still jump and be surprised if and when it occurred. It would still be jarring and angering, despite having expected it. Although some part of me felt like I needed to be prepared, I knew logically that I simply couldn’t be. In these situations it is best for us to just accept that we may or may not encounter this experience, then let it go and return to the present moment. What good does it do us to discard the peace of the present in order to make futile efforts to deflect the effects of something in the future?

“Hope for the best, plan for the worst” is a turn of phrase that at first seems like sage advice. And as I said, in specific situations, it is. The tricky part is determining when there is a benefit in this strategy and when there’s not. I think the only way to determine this is to ask yourself: what practical steps can I take right now to mitigate this future event? In my scenario, there was obviously nothing I could do. I suppose I could have paused my meditation and kindly asked that he be silent for the next few minutes. But I don’t think that would have necessarily brought me any peace of mind, because knowing what a goof this man is, I wouldn’t have been confident he would respect my request.

So say you’ve determined that there is nothing you can do to prevent this future suffering. What now? Logic doesn’t seem to have the ability to diffuse emotion or the response of our physical bodies. What we can do is make an attempt to refocus our minds, despite our anxiety, on what is happening in the current moment. We can work to remind our bodies and minds that despite what may happen, right now we are safe and content. This is the perfect time to practice grounding exercises that can bring us back to the here and now. Pay attention to the sensations of your physical body. Notice any tension that you are holding in preparation for your fears. See if you can release that tension and instead center your mind on your breath, or perhaps the weight of your body on the earth and the points of connection to the ground below you.

This is definitely a practice and something that I still need a lot of work on myself. However, with this in mind, I think it’s a great place to start to view these minor incidents as excellent opportunities to do so. That’s one of the beautiful things that my yoga and meditation practice have given me. Now I am able to view even distasteful or outright painful experiences as gifts and opportunities for growth. Rather than focusing on my own pain and suffering and feeling like a victim in life, I can ask myself, what can I learn from this? What is this experience teaching me about myself? How can I use this misfortune to improve myself and my life in the future? It’s never easy, but it’s always worth it.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Accepting the Unspoken

Feel your feelings. This is one of the new popular phrases floating around the internet. But it’s never really made clear what is meant by these words. A lot of us resist this advice for that very reason. Why would I want to feel my feelings? I’ve been taking such pains to avoid them for most of my life. What isn’t explained is that these mental loops that we are labeling as “feelings” are not, in fact, our feelings. They are the cascading cycles of inner dialogue that we have built up in response to our feelings. These thoughts are really want we desperately want to avoid.

The way to escape these thoughts isn’t by pushing down our feelings or trying to numb them through distraction or substances, it’s to direct our minds away from the words and into the physical sensations we are experiencing. This is definitely something easier said than done, but it’s a practice worth putting effort into. Watch your mind as it tries to move back into thinking instead of feeling. I did this with my anger just the other day. I moved my awareness into my body. I felt the tightness around my heart, the heat in my face and neck. Then after just a few seconds, my brain was back to narration, finding ways to justify and bolster these uncomfortable sensations. Again and again, I had to keep putting down these words and picking up the actual feelings I was experiencing instead.

It’s quite difficult to remain in silent sensation, especially when it’s not a pleasant one. The mind is so good at labeling and explaining and creating stories. It’s an odd experience to not focus on defining and labeling everything. I’ve spent my whole life searching and trying to learn the words and explanations for what I go through every day. That’s the reason I got a degree in psychology. It may be helpful to have a background of knowledge about these things, but sometimes even that isn’t what we really need. Sometimes all we need to do is allow and be present with whatever is there, whether we can define it or not.

Learning that it’s safe and beneficial to trust and allow the physical sensation of my emotions without constantly analyzing has opened the door for me to accept this level of awareness in my relationships as well. I have a tendency to become fixated on what the other person may be thinking or feeling in regard to a shared experience or out interpersonal bond in general. I become overcome with worry that they perceive our relationship differently than I do, that I like them more than they like me, that they are unhappy, upset with me, etc. In order to relieve myself of this anxiety, I search for ways to reassure myself through explicit, verbal communication.

However, I often notice that even hearing the exact words I am looking for from the other person, I find myself unable to trust their words alone. I revert back to internal analysis, worrying, and skepticism. Giving myself permission to accept my own feelings for what they are at the simplest, most primal level, has encouraged me to do the same with other people. Ultimately we will never know what another person truly thinks or feels about anything. We have to eventually trust our interpretation and move on.

Like most things, this lesson is magnified while under the influence of psychedelics. Whenever I’m tripping with someone, there are phases where I feel we are perfectly in sync. Everything is easy. I feel connected, understood, and loved. Then a thought will arise or some slight friction will occur that leaves me questioning. Have we really been on the same page? Am I just being delusional to think they’ve understood me thus far? A dark cloud will appear for a moment, but will quickly pass as I allow myself to trust and enjoy again.

Our lack of trust in our emotions and our perceptions is what causes most of our stress in modern times. I think the fear behind this is primarily the fear of being wrong in our assumptions. We want to guard ourselves against every possibility. This is an impossible task, though. We will never be able to verify the validity of our perceptions and interpretations. Therefore, the best thing we can do for ourselves as well as those we love, is just accept, allow, and be present for whatever may arise. Give yourself permission to enjoy your experiences even when you can’t explain them, put words to them, or back them up with empirical evidence. Some things are meant to be felt, not spoken or explained.

People with blunted emotions have harder time reading their body's signals

Mind & Body Gratitude

Reading about all of the microscopic intricacies of what is going on behind the scenes every second inside of our bodies has given me an entirely new perspective on just how much I have been taking for granted all these years. Our bodies and the trillions of cells that they are made up of are truly our dearest and most valuable friends in this life. It is absolutely staggering the amount of vital functions being performed rhythmically, silently, efficiently, and without thanks within each of us at every moment.

Our bodies are tirelessly defending us even as we sleep, completely unaware of their endless efforts to protect us and keep us healthy. The body must simultaneously perform so many different functions with precision and diligence from directing immune cells, to transporting oxygen through our bloodstream, to identifying good vs. bad bacteria in our gut, to forming new neurons, to storing memory, etc. Many of these necessary tasks are carried out despite us having little to no understanding of how or why the body does them in this way. Even in our dullest moments, there is an entire world of activity going on just beneath our fragile skin.

Really contemplating these facts, it becomes clear to me how ludicrous it is to spend so much time criticizing my body and mind for not being they way I want and expect them to be. Can you even imagine, making a cake from a molecular level, concocting everything yourself down to the very atoms that it consists of, only to have it criticized for being the wrong color or being too round or too flat? That is the rough equivalent of what we do when we judge our bodies and their worth/value to us based solely on appearances. It’s laughable when you think about it.

My body is not just what I see in the mirror. It is a fucking miracle. A perfect and awe inspiring gift from the universe crafted from eons of evolution, built on the backs of all the living organisms that have come before me. It’s an absolute crime to think I have spent most of my life hating this body for what it’s not instead of shouting my praise to the heavens for everything that it IS. And not only this body, but this mind of mine as well.

I am so harsh with my mind, sometimes even more than the rest of my body. I feel sorry for myself for suffering with anxiety and depression, for not being able to control and subdue my emotions. Yet I should know better than a lot of people how well my mind actually works in comparison to others. How many nights I’ve wasted wishing my brain worked differently. I never stopped to consider that it is actually not one I’d likely trade for another if given the chance. My brain may offer me anxiety more than I’d prefer, but it is still amazing in so many ways. For one, I have been gifted with an impeccable intellect that I cherish more than most things about myself. On a simpler and more important level though, my brain consolidates an avalanche of sensory information each second and compiles it into an understandable and accurate portrayal of the world around me. This may seem trivial. After all, that’s what the brain is supposed to do, right?

I’ve seen first hand that many brains are not up to this monumental task. Quite a few of my former clients suffered with severe mental illnesses such a schizophrenia. What a terrifying and disturbing thing it must be to not even be able to trust what your own mind is telling you. We all have slightly skewed perceptions of ourselves and the world, but for the most part, we feel confident that what our brain creates in our field of vision is actually there. What sounds we notice, come from outside of our heads, and are true vibrations being picked up by our ears. These details seem so simple, but we cannot forget that so many people would react with undying gratitude if their brains did the same things that ours do without us even noticing.

So no matter what you may think of yourself, the way you look, or the way you think, take a few moments today to be grateful for being here at all. Understand that even when you don’t love yourself, each one of the trillions of cells in your body do. They are fighting every moment for you. They are protecting you and healing you and giving you information to keep you alive and healthy and hopefully happy. We are all unimaginably complex miracles. Just consider that today, and if you can be grateful for it too.

82,472 Human Cell Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

Slowing Down

Living busy isn’t giving you your worth. Slowing down is fighting back. The time you take is given back. Shifting gears is saving gas. Hiding in the quiet is a well of wisdom.

Rest – Half Alive

With our technological advancements, we’ve been able to accomplish great things as a species. Electricity particularly ensures that we can continue working as long as we like. We are no longer restricted by the loss of sunlight. However, while we all enjoy this extra time, it has at some point switched from wanting more time to work on things, to feeling as though we always have to be working on something. Without a forced period of rest, we run ourselves ragged and never deem ourselves worthy of any respite from constant productivity and progress.

It took me a long time to even realize that I was struggling with this need to always be accomplishing something. Sadly, I didn’t consider myself one of those “busy” people because I never perceived myself as someone who was doing all that much, even when I was. Even now I constantly have to remind myself that it’s okay to just be. That is enough. There is nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about for spending time without a goal or direction.

For the last few days, I have been feeling particularly tired and unmotivated. Instead of allowing this to be a cue to give myself a break, usually I fight against it, making myself feel even worse. Whenever I’m tired, I’m also spending what little energy I do have beating myself up for it. “I don’t have time to feel this way,” I think to myself. “I’m already so behind on all that I want to get done.” Then as if by divine intervention, I heard exactly what I needed to hear last night on a podcast: Achieving your goals will not make you happy. Working on them will.

These words really put into perspective just how silly it is for me to rush myself to finish all of these things I want to work on. There is a part of my brain always telling me that is where happiness lies. Happiness is something to be handed at the finish line, after you’ve completed all of your goals. Even though we all know from experience that this isn’t the case, we need reminded of it often. The joy is in the process not the end result. So don’t feel overwhelmed for having a lot on your plate, feel grateful. That plate of yours is full of opportunities to find joy.

Another aspect of our reluctance to slow down is this strange idea that if we allow ourselves to rest, if we get off our own backs, that we’ll never do anything again. I feel this deep within my bones. I’m constantly vigilant of my momentum. I fear slowing down for even a single day will derail me entirely and make it impossible to ever pick my responsibilities back up. Even though logically, I know this isn’t the case, I can’t help but hold onto this irrational belief.

One of the things that helped me yesterday was shifting my perspective a bit concerning what my goals even are. I decided that my goal was actually to slow down and rest, to be kind to myself. That’s it. Viewing it this way, helped me see “doing nothing” as something productive. Although it sounds easy, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. It is actually one of the more difficult goals I’ve given myself.

So if you’re someone who is feeling exhausted, overworked, and rundown, this is your permission to rest. It’s not a waste of time. It’s not selfish. You deserve it. You need it. It’s worthwhile. Just as our technology needs to be unplugged and plugged back in sometimes so that it continues to work, we also need to let ourselves be unplugged for awhile. Today’s the day. Don’t put it off any longer. Rest.

Introduction to the REST API - RESTful Web Services

Love the Life You Have

You can’t love the life you live until you live the life you love.

Fortune Cookie

I read this riddle of a fortune cookie last night after dinner, and I have been pondering it ever since. I suppose there are a lot of different ways that you can interpret the message behind these words, but for me I read it as you won’t love your life until you are able to acquire the life you want to have. Not sure if that was the intended message, but I would have written instead: Love the life you live and you will live the life you love. Not a huge difference, but I think my way emphasizes more that we already have a beautiful life to be grateful for exactly where we are. The way to find happiness isn’t to make this “perfect” life of our dreams. Happiness is there waiting for us right where we are, in the life we already have. No matter what that may look like.

Ever since I was little, I found it interesting that so many people desperately wanted to be rich someday (or famous, which baffled me even more.) Imagining being rich and having the ability to throw money at all my problems and buy whatever I want whenever I want does sound fun. It’s just not really very important to me. Of course, I wouldn’t turn down a million dollars, but I also have no problem accepting I’ll never have that kind of money. And as an introvert, being famous never appealed to me at all.

I guess I learned early on that buying things never brought me happiness for long. Sure there was that initial sense of satisfaction, but it quickly dissipated, leaving me right back where I was before. The most appealing part of being wealthy for me was never about what I could buy, it was more about the idea that I wouldn’t have to spend 40 hours of my week working. Now, I’m not sure I’d even quit my job if I could, because I love the people I work with and what we do so very much. So really, I don’t think being rich would change my life that much.

Whenever I sit and write down my goals and aspirations (which I do often) it always leaves me in a strange state of mind. I begin to wonder why exactly I want the things I’m listing. Sure it might sound like a cool thing to pursue, but is it even worth it? After all, I am already perfectly content with the life I have. I make enough money to live and support myself and my fur babies, and that’s all I’ve ever really wanted. I’m sure I even have enough that I could splurge on bigger purchases for myself every now and then, yet I never seem to have the desire to do so. I have what I need and that’s always been enough for me.

Still, it seems strange to not have any plans for my future, so I’ve been trying to shift the focus of the goals I make for myself. Rather than thinking about the outcome, I try to consider the process. Do I want to practice a new form of art or start a business in order to make money? Or do I think I’ll have fun along the way? If starting a podcast causes more stress than enjoyment, is that really what I want to do? I’ve lived long enough to know that white-knuckling my way through steps towards a goal, rarely results in the level of happiness that I’ve envisioned. I’d much prefer to enjoy the journey. That way whatever the ultimate outcome, I won’t feel as though it was a waste of time and effort.

Especially in America, we’re always taught to focus on the things we want rather than what we already have. The thing we don’t realize is that if we’ve taught ourselves to always be looking at what we lack, we’ll continue to find that sense of lack no matter how much we acquire or accomplish. But if we can practice being grateful for what we have now, we will always be able to feel that gratitude regardless of where we find ourselves.

Somehow it’s seen as a virtuous quality to always be striving for more. It almost makes me feel guilty for being okay staying where I am. But working with low-income, at-risk populations every day, all I can think about is how fortunate I am. It seems selfish to ask for more when I already have so much.

So my advice to anyone reading this that is struggling to find happiness in their lives is to stop focusing on what you think you want and start focusing on what you enjoy doing. If you like to write, go ahead and write. It doesn’t have to turn into a best-selling book, or anything at all. Even if it’s just one poem that no one else ever reads. And maybe you don’t even think it’s particularly good. It’s still important because it brought you happiness while you were writing it. If you want to start making YouTube videos, ask yourself this first. Are you only imagining what it might be like to be a famous YouTuber? Or do you think you’ll have a nice time coming up with videos, filming, and editing? If the latter sounds like a burden instead of something pleasant, maybe YouTube isn’t the right path for you.

Spend more time focusing on where you are right now and what might bring you pleasure in the moment instead of obsessing over where you’d like to be someday. Because no matter what your future looks like, I promise you that your happiness isn’t waiting there. Happiness lives in the present. All you’ve got to do is let it in.

The Health-Wealth Connection - Coastal Wealth Management

Long-term Pessimist, Short-term Optimist

I heard a guest on one of the podcasts I listen to describe himself as someone who is pessimistic in the long-term, but very optimistic for the short-term. He said this in a light-hearted, humorous manner, but it has resonated with me ever since. This is precisely how I would describe myself. I may fully believe that in just a few decades, the earth will collapse from underneath us due to our selfishness and our negligence. However, that doesn’t have to take away from the beauty and meaning still left to be found in the months and years we have before us.

It can be hard to hold these two perspectives in my mind at once, but I’ve been practicing it for a few years now and it’s gotten easier. At first, I only felt cheated and victimized by the current state of the world. Now I see that instead I should be immensely grateful for the life I have been given regardless of the length or the way it ultimately ends. It’s a bizarre frame of mind to be sure, but I am capable of being thankful for where I am and what I have even as everything around me slowly crumbles. I’ve heard before that death is a gift because it forces us to more fully appreciate life. And to a certain extend I view the impending climate crisis in the same way. It has made each small moment that much more poignant and precious to me.

I may not know how long I have left, but I do know that I have been blessed with the most amazing people to share this life with until then. In twenty or more years, the earth may be decimated, but in a few months, I’ll be in the arms of the man I love. I’ve managed to find someone to share my remaining years with, someone who understands and respects my beliefs and opinions. Someone that acknowledges the threats we face as a species, and as a planet. Someone that can hold my hand through it all and face it with me when that day comes. I have a job I love to go to everyday with people that mean so much to me, that help me grow, and that allow me to do something meaningful. I have a family and friends that love and understand me even when I don’t always understand myself. I have three soft fur children that adore me and depend on me, that bless me with indescribable tenderness and warmth each and every day.

In ten years I may not have access to clean water or food, but right now I have everything I could ask for and more. Each week I get to go collect a fresh, vibrant bounty from the store to nourish me and keep me healthy. In a few weeks my entire country will celebrate that bounty and the company of those most precious to us as we brace ourselves for the cold months ahead. I reflect on this miracle each day as I prepare my colorful collection of fruits and vegetables and turn them into delicious meals.

I have a home. I am loved. I love. When I am thirsty, I may always drink. When I’m hungry, I may always eat. Each night I lay my head down in my soft, warm bed surrounded by my sweet babies. Soon that bed will even contain my loving partner. I have heat in the winter and cool air in the summer. I have electricity and running water. I have clothing that keeps me protected from the elements and allows me to express myself to those around me. I have a community to teach me patience and teamwork. I have a stable foundation laid beneath me from all the those that came before to ensure that future generations would have plumbing, highways, public services, and a power grid.

Despite the downfalls of the modern age, never before in history has life been so easy and filled with pleasure. When life has given you so many incredible gifts, it isn’t fair to complain when they eventually run out. Someday I may suffer, but the fact that I have never truly suffered in 28 years of life is unbelievable. And I am so grateful for all of these blissful years I have been given, and I am overjoyed to likely still have quite a few left ahead of me. The future may ultimately hold fear, pain, suffering, and uncertainty, but that future will not be here tomorrow, or next week, or next month. And for that I am also grateful.

1,048 Pessimism Illustrations & Clip Art - iStock

Holding Your Breath

Pranayama Benefits for Physical and Emotional Health

Stop whatever you are doing and take a moment to just notice your breath. Don’t worry about changing it, just observe how you breath when you aren’t paying attention. What is your breath like? For me, at pretty much any given moment unless I’m doing yoga, my breath is painfully shallow. Often I’ll notice that I’ve actually been holding my breath! I particularly notice this tendency when I’m feeling anxious.

For most of my life, I never thought about breathing at all. Breathing is unconscious, it’s a reflex, our bodies are taking care of that for us. These are the things I remember learning when I was growing up. Without yoga, I never would have learned the power that is held inside of my breath. I had no idea that we had the ability to retrain ourselves to have more beneficial breathing patterns or that the breath had any significance besides keeping us alive.

Society tells us that we need all of these magic fixes for our depression, anxiety, fatigue, etc. We medicate and distract ourselves, doing anything to avoid the signals our bodies are sending us. We are never taught how to value and honor our breath for the miracle that it is. In my opinion, pranayama (breathwork) is one of the most advanced aspects of yoga and also the most important.

Living in a world of excess, it seems impossible that there could be so many life changing benefits from something as simple as breathing. Yet there is a breathwork practice for anything that you may want to achieve. Through the power of our breath we can energize ourselves, we can calm our nervous systems, we can elevate our mood, we can cool ourselves down, warm ourselves up, we can even experience altered states of consciousness! And we can do all of this for free, regardless of where we are, regardless of who we are. If you’re living, you can practice pranayama.

Unfortunately, I am still far away from unlocking the full potential of my own breath. Even after years of yoga and meditation, I am still working on just being able to notice my breath as I move through my day. I’ve particularly been trying to focus on checking in with my breath when I feel anxious. When our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) kicks on, the body naturally makes our breath quick and shallow. It is under the assumption that it needs to prepare to either flee or attack whatever threat may be nearby. However, this is supposed to be a short-lived experience. When we find ourselves perpetually in this heightened state, we start to experience various mental and physical health issues.

Interestingly enough, this feedback loop works in both directions. Our mind is usually the one running the show, telling the body it’s time to act. The body has just as much control over the mind though. If we can learn to recognize our stress response, we can override it with our breath. Now, this is no easy feat, and it definitely takes a lot of practice, but it is worth it. Don’t give up. Keep practicing and eventually we can all cultivate a beautiful symbiotic relationship with our own breath.

There is so much pleasure to be found in the simple act of breathing. One of the most valuable parts of my last acid experience was finding a stronger connection to my breath. As I laid in the grass with my boyfriend, enjoying the sun streaming down through the leaves above us and listening to the hum of locus in the background, I became intoxicated with the feeling of my own inhales and exhales. Each sip of air felt incredible, fresh oxygen, the gentle expansion of my lungs. Each out breath was a gorgeous release, a cleansing. I could have spent the whole evening just savoring my own breathing.

That experience has stayed with me since then. I am still able to tap into that sense of gratitude and wonder as I breathe. My breath alone can be better than any drug or addiction out there. And it’s mine to enjoy whenever I wish without consequence. I’ve even come up with a little visualization that helps me get back in touch with my LSD experience. I think it would work well for anyone who has been or still is a smoker.

As you breath in, just imagine you are taking a nice long, delicious drag off of a cigarette, vape, or joint. I genuinely think one of the reasons humans seem to enjoy smoking things so much is because it allows us to slow down and focus on our breath for a few minutes. You may even find it helpful to visualize the air as smoke moving in and out of your body. This would be an excellent visualization to try the next time you find yourself holding your breath or breathing very shallow.

Wherever you may be in regard to a pranayama practice, for the rest of the day, just try to come back to your breath whenever you notice yourself feeling anxious. Are you holding your breath? Is washing the dishes really that unpleasant or is it because you are unconsciously trying to not breath until you’re finished? No matter what is sparking that anxiety in me, checking in with my breath is always a huge help.

Let me know what your experience has been like regarding breathwork. When did you first realize the significance of the breath? What are some of your favorite pranayama practices? If you decide to try my little visualization, let me know how it went for you.

Pranayama for Anxiety: 4 Breathing Exercises to Try | YogiApproved.com

Learning to Be Happy (Even When You Don’t Get What You Want)

True Contentment: In Simplicity — SECOND CITY CHURCH

The other day, while listening to a talk given by the American spiritual teacher and guru, Ram Dass, he said something along the lines of: Learn how to be happy even when you don’t get what you want. For some reason, the way he said these words really struck me. There is something about listening to the gentle, slow, thoughtful voice of a spiritual leader that allows simple ideas to penetrate directly to your soul. Since then I have kept that idea close to my heart.

It’s so easy to forget that external circumstances don’t dictate our internal state. Finding contentment where we are now, doesn’t mean that we won’t want things anymore. However, we won’t allow the outcome of these wants to decide how we feel. Certain desires are easier to let go of than others, but it’s important to remind ourselves that we always have the power to let go and reside in happiness.

All of us already know how to do this to a certain extent. We have varying levels of wanting. We may want to have a certain fruit for breakfast only to realize that it has spoiled and we must find something else to eat. Depending on who you are, this usually isn’t enough to ruin your day or mood. We simply think, “oh, rats” and prepare another food. On the other hand, we may be planning to get married only to have our
fiancée leave us at the alter. That’s not going to be as easy to let go of as a rotten mango.

I wonder, though. How much the variation in reaction has to do with our preconceived ideas about the “appropriate” reaction in each scenario. When I used to get upset, it genuinely felt like I had no choice. Then in addition to not getting what I wanted, I felt an added level of suffering due to a feeling of powerlessness. There is a certain freedom in simply knowing we have the ability to choose.

When my ex left me the last time, I remember feeling frustrated that now I’d have to go back to being sad and miserable. The idea of doing that seemed so repulsive to me that I decided I didn’t care if that’s what I was supposed to feel. I decided to discard my ideas of what I thought society expected of me in that scenario. I didn’t want to be sad anymore, and for the first time in such a situation, I realized I had the choice not to be.

Sometimes just remembering that we have that choice is enough. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never experience sadness, anger, frustration, or suffering again. There are some times in life that we actually want to feel sad, and that’s okay. There is a difference between holding space for a genuine emotion and feeling trapped by one.

The next time I find myself not getting what I want, rather than getting upset and ruminating, I’m going to use it as an opportunity. Each time something doesn’t go the way you planned, it’s an opportunity to practice being happy anyway. One of my favorite questions to ask myself is: Can I love myself even though…? Fill in the blank. Now I’d like to add another question: Can I be happy even though….? Sometimes phrasing the issue in this way allows us to see the choice we have. When I’m getting down on myself because of some small flaw, asking the question, “can I still love myself,” brings things back into perspective and reminds me what really matters. If I can still love myself anyway, why bother being upset about whatever it may be? The same goes for “can I be happy anyway.”

Asking these types of questions also helps me be more lighthearted about the problem. Sometimes the answer isn’t clear in that moment. Then I become curious. Can I? Let’s find out. It can be fun to explore our own hearts and minds and find a path back to happiness. And just like paths in the forest, these paths become more worn and easier to follow the more we use them. So don’t worry if your mind seems like particularly dense woodlands right now. You can still make those paths. Even if it’s hard at first, know that it only gets easier.

Ram Dass talks about 'Becoming Nobody,' the documentary on his spiritual  journey | Datebook

Rest

Introduction to REST APIs — RESTful Web Services - DZone Integration

When was the last time you really allowed yourself to do nothing? Not planning for the day ahead, not going for a walk, not even doing yoga and meditating. Really and truly nothing. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a day where every second wasn’t accounted for with some form of activity. I used to think that as long as I wasn’t at work, I was resting. Now I realize life isn’t that simple. Even on my days off, I have a rigorous schedule to follow by the minute. I am constantly checking the clock, checking my to-do list. Sometimes my relentless repetition from day to day has the effect of turning even fun, lighthearted activities into chores. Chores I nevertheless continue to perform, forgetting that my original intention was to enjoy myself.

I heard this phenomenon referred to the other day as “internalized capitalism” and I hated it. Is this really why I feel the need to always be productive? I may not be someone who obsesses over their actual job, but I tend to turn my own personal pursuits into a job. I am my own task master. But behind my own neuroticism, is capitalism really running the show? After all, why do I feel the need to be productive all the time? I’ve always thought working only as much as I absolutely have to and saving the rest of the time for myself was a rebellion against capitalist ideals. Now I’m beginning to wonder if that very system managed to seep into my mind somehow anyway. Why am I so afraid to rest? Why does “wasting time” feel so taboo?

Part of the conversation on “internalized capitalism” was really interesting to me. The hosts of the podcast mentioned that perhaps we tie our self worth to our productivity and usefulness to others because at the end of the day, none of us really know why we’re here. I thought that was a fascinating idea. Without inherent direction or purpose, we subconsciously decide that our purpose is production and selfless service. On paper it doesn’t sound like a bad purpose. It’s quite noble to dedicate your life to serving others. The problem only appears when we decide this is the only thing that matters.

The search for meaning is a perplexing one. Why do we humans long for a reason? Do other animals question their purpose? Do plants wonder why they exist? It seems self evident that we would want to find meaning in the chaos that is existence, but what makes us so sure there is a meaning in the first place? Furthermore, why is the idea that our purpose is to simply exist so unsatisfying? What is it inside of us that makes us desire a reason for being alive? Isn’t just being alive enough? Can’t we just be grateful and enjoy it? Then again, perhaps our innate need to understand this mystery implies that there is an explanation out there somewhere. Whether or not we’re meant to find it in this life is another story.

I’ve always liked the idea that we get to choose our own purpose. The meaning of life is for us each to interpret for ourselves. However, why is it so hard to fully commit to our own interpretation? For instance, I would say the purpose I’ve assigned to my life is to love and be loved, to learn, to experience, and to enjoy. When I break down my day to day existence though, does it really reflect that purpose? Not really, but how can that be? I get to choose the purpose, and I get to choose how I live, don’t I? Our actions are so often counterintuitive to our own wishes.

Given that none of us really know why we’re here, why is it so difficult for many of us to simply rest? I think part of me is afraid that if I allow myself to rest, I’ll never find the motivation to get back up again. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest right? Humans aren’t objects though. I shouldn’t fear slowing down every now and then. Objects are moved by external forces, momentum keeps them going, and once they stop, they never know when or if they’ll be propelled into motion again. Living beings are different. My energy, my movement comes from within. It’s important to rest so that I can refill my energy stores. There is an elegant dance at play, an eternal struggle to find balance between these two states.

I want to learn to trust my body, to listen more closely when it whispers what it needs, to stop denying it’s pleas for rest. I’ve been pushing myself for so long now, it seems like my body only ever asks for rest. I’ve tricked myself into believing this is all it has or will ever ask for. That it’s my job to overcome this desire for inertia each and every day. I’ve lost faith in my own resilient spirit. I’ve forgotten that it’s a joy to move, to create, to explore. Allowing myself moments of stillness won’t leave me trapped there. I’m sure that if I were to only give myself time to rest, once I was replenished, I’d be eager to get back to “work.” Maybe intervals of rest would keep me from feeling like my life is work at all.

I may be pleasantly surprised like I was after my stint of working from home. I had thought working from home would be ideal for me. I had always wished for that or even not having to work at all. Yet, after a few months I was actually dying to go back to the office. All that time alone had the opposite effect. I wasn’t happier. I was being consumed by my own self-destructive behaviors. I had worried that it’d be a huge burden to go back eventually, but I was surprised to find myself overjoyed when my time at home finally ended.

Try to give yourself at least a few minutes of true rest today. Sit in the grass and stare at the clouds. Listen to your favorite album start to finish. Have a long bubbly bath. Take a nap without guilt. It’s been so long since I’ve incorporated rest into my life, that I’m honestly struggling to come up with examples. What do you like to do to rest? I would love to hear your ideas. Maybe you’re an introvert and rest looks like spending time alone. Or maybe you’re an extrovert and to replenish yourself you like to spend quality time with loved ones. Whatever it is, you deserve it. Give yourself the gift of rest. Use it as an experiment if you like. How might rest give you the energy you need to more fully enjoy the busy moments?

Invest in rest (and live better. Seriously.)

One Step at a Time

You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. -  Martin Luther King, Jr. #quote | Wholeness, Take the first step, Martin  luther king

“Just take it one step at a time.” “Live your life one day at a time.” We’ve all heard these familiar platitudes a million times. A perfect counter platitude would be “easier said than done.” It’s always an interesting moment when a phrase such as these really sinks in and starts to feel meaningful in a significant way. I don’t know what causes these moments to occur, but sometimes a lesson you use to roll your eyes at and ignore, becomes piercing and poignant. I had one of these moments with the idea of “taking one step at a time” a few days ago.

Often I don’t start moving towards a goal unless I have every step of the process planned out in detail. This rarely happens though. It’s a big challenge to map something out from start to finish. Therefore, I don’t take action steps to achieve most of my goals and aspirations. I spend most of my time waiting and hoping one day everything will become clear. The perfect moment will materialize and everything will magically start to fall into place. Unfortunately, that moment never comes.

On the flip side of this I am often paralyzed and overwhelmed when I do try to plan out all the details of something I want to accomplish. Even something as simple as doing the laundry or cleaning up around the house can become a daunting task when you are constantly ruminating over each little step in the process. When you look at all the components lined up in a row, a goal can become an impossible feat in your mind. “I’ll never be able to do all of that,” I end up telling myself, which leads me to give up before I’ve even started.

Intentionally reminding yourself along the way to only focus on the step you’re on is a great way to lessen both of these extremes. If you have a goal and you only know the first step towards that goal, go ahead and take that step. Trust that the universe will reveal the next step once you’ve taken the first one. If it feels too hokey to “trust the universe” then trust yourself instead. Once you’ve taken that first action, you’ll have a new vantage point or new information with which to decide what the next action should be.

Now, I’m not saying this works for every situation (although it might.) But I wouldn’t advise something like quitting your job because you know you want to be an entrepreneur instead, if you haven’t the foggiest clue what you want besides that. I’m speaking more about smaller goals, at least in the beginning when you’re working on building that trust. For instance, I’ve been wanting to start a podcast with my two best friends for years now. We’ve all talked about it dozens of times. It’s almost become an inside joke. “We’ll talk about this for our podcast” or “Wouldn’t this be a great episode? Why aren’t we recording??” The idea never went much farther than that though. Even though we all wanted this to happen, none of us were willing to take the first step. I can’t speak for my friends, but for me, this was because I couldn’t visualize where it would go from there. None of us know anything about podcasting or marketing ourselves.

I’ve finally decided to take that initial leap of faith though. I downloaded a free podcasting app, made sure my friends were still on board, told them to brainstorm ideas, and made a plan for us to meet next week to discuss. Sure enough, the next steps have already been appearing before my eyes. I’ve been having such fun coming up with ideas for taglines and topics. I’ve even been doodling ideas for a logo. It even finally gave me enough momentum to purchase an electronic drawing tablet which I’ve been wanting to do for awhile. (I may be going too hard on the logo part, but fuck it, I’m having a good time.)

Focusing on one step at a time not only helps us make our goals more achievable, it also reminds us that the end goal isn’t necessarily what’s most important. Life isn’t about reaching the goalposts, it’s about thoroughly enjoying the moments leading up to them. When you just focus on what’s right in front of you, it’s easier to reevaluate as you go. Is this still what I want? Is this still making me happy? Sometimes just by taking small steps towards one goal, we uncover new things about ourselves and/or new opportunities along the way that completely alter our trajectory. When we get fixated on the goal itself, we can end up trudging toward it for years only to realize once we get there, it isn’t what we want anymore. That kind of tunnel vision can also stop us from recognizing the other avenues that open up for us along the way.

So if there is something you’ve been wanting to do, but you’ve been waiting for the right moment, this is it! The stars have aligned in the form of this post. I’m here to tell you that you’ve got this! It’s okay if you don’t know exactly how you’re going to get to your goal. You probably know at least one step you’ll have to take. Just start and I promise the rest will begin to unfold naturally from there. The only questions you really have to ask yourself as you go are: Am I going to enjoy this step? Does the idea of this process excite me? Inspire me? When you’re working towards a goal your enthusiasm is the only compass you need. It won’t let you down.