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.

Happiness, Pleasure, & Self Denial

Pleasure and happiness are not the same. We’ve been taught this nearly our entire lives. This lesson is often handed down with a derogatory attitude toward pleasure in general. Pleasure is a distraction, a trap. True happiness is found only when we master our desire for momentary pleasure in favor of loftier personal pursuits. I still remember learning in my high school psychology class that people with an ability to postpone pleasure, or delay gratification, end up reporting higher levels of happiness. This was a significant moment in my education that still stands out to me. I’ve held fast to that information ever since, hoping that if I could emulate those self-sacrificing people, I too would one day be happier.

It should be said that even though I continued on to get a bachelors in psychology, it didn’t really dawn on me until recently that I should question those early lessons. Psychology, like medicine, is constantly evolving. The things I learned ten years ago can no longer be trusted as confidently. For instance, I also learned in that class that happiness is to a certain extent predetermined by our genes. I’m not even sure if it was ever put in such simple and direct terms. I just recall learning about a study where they recorded people’s levels of happiness before, right after, and then again a year after either a positive or negative life event. It seemed that regardless of whether you won the lottery or lived through the holocaust, a year later your happiness level would basically return to the level it was before the event.

At the time I took this to mean that it was hopeless to try to change your happiness. We were doomed (or blessed) to always revert back to our predestined, baseline levels of happiness. However, now I realize that psychological studies are not so simple. While this study produced interesting results, there is no reason to jump to such harsh conclusions. Our happiness may return to baseline after an extraordinary event, but that doesn’t determine whether or not we can change our happiness baseline.

Despite my original despair about genetic happiness deficits, I still hoped that through hard work and focus, someday I could build a solid foundation of happiness for myself. After all isn’t that the American dream we’ve been sold in this country since infancy? Work hard and you can achieve anything. The unspoken part of that equation somewhat bolstered by the first study I mentioned about delayed gratification, is that the “hard work” portion is not enjoyable. We must struggle and suffer first. We must claw our way to the top. Then and only then can we enjoy the spoils of victory. The road will be rough and arduous, but at the end our “happily ever after” awaits us. Even most major religions teach us to deny ourselves the pleasures of the moment, to deny earthly pleasures. Someday we will be rewarded with true paradise for our martyrdom and devotion.

I’m not trying to say there is no value in this lesson. It is certainly important to be able to resist certain temptations in order to keep ourselves safe and healthy. Seeking short-term pleasure should by no means become our sole focus in life. At the same time, I think our society has perhaps taken this lesson to the opposite extreme. Pleasure has been muddied with ideas of weakness, recklessness, and debauchery. We’ve become so good at delaying gratification that we no longer know how to enjoy the moment.

When was the last time you just allowed your mind to rest of the simple pleasure of the sun warming your bare skin? When was the last time you truly tasted and relished a hot meal? There are so many small moments such as these that we pay no mind. There is an abundance of pleasure to be experienced each and every day. Yet we overlook these innocent pleasures in favor of the thinking mind’s agenda. I don’t have time to focus on this delightful hot shower, the soft steam filling the room, the pinpricks of hot water enveloping me, the sweet smell of flowery soaps, the snug embrace of a towel against clean skin. I’ve got to spend these moments thinking, planning, mentally preparing for the hours, days, even months ahead of me.

These constant mental preparations and ruminations have become so essential to us that we lose the ability to distinguish which are actually helpful and which are merely senseless chatter. We start to feel that this nonstop mental activity is a shield against the uncertainty and unpredictability of life. What would happen to us if we didn’t have this internal dialogue nagging us day and night about our car payment or keeping the house clean or that disagreement we had with a friend last week?

I want to remind you (and myself) that it’s safe to take a break from these intrusive and obsessive thoughts. They are not protecting us from life. They are just keeping us from experiencing it at all. The good news is that most of our suffering is tied to this nonstop cacophony of thoughts. When we step away from them and return to the moment right in front of us, we often realize that we already have everything we need to be happy. I can’t promise that allowing yourself to be present will bring you success, riches, or greater happiness in the future, but I can promise that it will allow you to live the life in front of you with all the pleasures and surprises that come with it.

Here is your invitation to drop your worries, expectations, hopes, and fears for just one day. Give yourself permission to simply experience all that your life has to offer you today. Take notice of the little things that bring you pleasure. Be present in your body and be curious about what pleasure feels like. It’s surprising how much the small stuff can mean to us if we let it.

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This Is It

Waking up. Cool morning air. Start the coffee. Hear the dripping as the hot water saturates and spills past the grounds. Feed the cat. Let the dog out. Brush your teeth. Walking back and forth, daily repetition, absent minded, heavy footed. These are the moments we rush to get through, moments we skim over and ignore. Our attention is focused elsewhere in these moments. Making to-do lists. Ruminations about the day before, the day ahead. Frustrated by monotony. Bored by actions repeated hundreds of times. Angered by the uncertainty of it all, the futility of doing something only to do it over again, and again…

Rushing back and forth between the meal I was preparing and the garbage can at the other side of the kitchen last night, I realized something: This is it. These “worthless” moments, the “wasted” time of washing, eating, using the toilet, cleaning off counters, sweeping the floor, opening and closing doors, these are the moments that make up our lives. How we spend these moments matters. Trying to rush through and gloss over these moments does not serve us. Rather, it trains us. How we perceive and live these moments becomes the way we live and perceive the rest of our lives.

Are these daily tasks obligations or are they opportunities? Are these experiences arbitrary or are they important challenges to be faced with curiosity and attention? Yoga has taught me the importance of repetition. It has taught me how to find nuance in the mundane redundancies of life. Though the different postures we assume with our bodies are limited, our experience of them is unlimited. A sequence of poses performed precisely at dawn each day will never result in the same practice twice. There are always differences, slight subtilties to take notice of if we have the patience to look for them, if we practice truly being there in our bodies from moment to moment.

It’s easy to be present in a new place or performing a new task. The mind is not clouded by expectations. It is unable to fall into auto-pilot. However, we are creatures of routine. The longer we live, the more deeply these grooves of routine become. Of course there is value in routine: efficiency, mastery, and many other wonderful things. Eventually the challenge changes from the task itself to maintaining mindful attention to said task.

We have been conditioned to view some parts of life as pleasant and other parts as meaningless, unpleasant, or simply maintenance. There is nothing enjoyable about waking up early and getting ready for work, doing the laundry, or mowing the lawn. This is the narrative that most of us recite unconsciously each and every day. But when it comes down to it, don’t these activities comprise the majority of our lives?

Enjoying life isn’t just about traveling, partying, playing, or whatever else we may label as “fun” or “meaningful” experiences. Enjoying life is something we practice in each moment. If we pay attention, there is pleasure to be found in even the most insignificant of activities. Pleasure is not derived from the experience itself, rather the attention we afford the experience.

To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur to us only when we are not doing them. Once we are standing in front of the sink with our sleeves rolled up and our hands in warm water, it is really not bad at all. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to go and have dessert, the time will be unpleasant, not worth living. That would be a pity, for every second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles!

Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve found that the easiest way to be present is to get curious, to ask myself questions. The answer to these questions doesn’t really matter. What is more important is the focus my mind experiences while searching for an answer. Use the morning routine I mentioned earlier as an example. As you wake up, ask yourself: What does it feel like to be awake? How does the air feel this morning? Is it humid? Chilly? What do my sheets feel like against my skin? As you prepare your coffee, ask: What does coffee smell like? What is happening in my mind and body as I pour the grounds? Do I feel groggy, excited, calm, impatient? How are the hills and valleys of the piled up grounds different than they were yesterday?

It may be difficult to hold your interest in these kinds of mindfulness practices, especially if you’re in a bad mood. The good thing is, this disposition is also something we can take notice of, be curious about. Sometimes trying to be mindful feels like a poorly veiled attempt to force myself into a more positive headspace. This type of heavy handed energy can defeat the whole purpose, creating anxiety, frustration, and resentment, rather than patient acceptance of what is. It is important to remind ourselves of this and to constantly reconnect with our true intention: simply to notice, to observe. There is no need to judge or change how we are feeling. No need to feel upset or guilty about how we are feeling or what thoughts are coming up. Just notice, examine whatever is there with interest and equanimity. That is enough.

Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred. In this light, no boundary exists between the sacred and the profane

Thich Nhat Hanh
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Making Change a Habit

After 27 years of life, a pattern that now seems so obvious has finally revealed itself to me. While I’ve always heard that change is the only constant, it seemed equally as natural that we will inevitably resist and detest this constant change. How many times have you heard someone say something like “I wish things could stay this way forever”? I’m sure we all feel that way sometimes. However, even if it were possible to avoid change in our lives, should we?

I’m reminded of when I learned that despite having clear ideas about what will make us happy, studies show that we don’t have very good judgement in that regard. We don’t know what will make us happy. It’s a hard concept to wrap my mind around. I feel so sure that this or that will make me happy. I almost don’t even realize it when I acquire said thing and am still just as unhappy as before. I thought working from home would be a dream come true, but it turned out that I’m actually much happier coming into the office every day. Despite clearly remembering this baffling realization, a few months after coming back to the office, I find myself hoping for another shut-down so I can work from home again. I can’t seem to convince myself that being at home alone every day actually makes me feel depressed and more anxious than usual.

This strange dilemma is similar to the way I view change. I assume most people would say that they don’t like change. Evolutionarily, change is an obvious threat. If we’re able to survive with the way things are, change could potentially be catastrophic. Our minds and bodies are inclined to try to hold on to what has been working for us up to this point, even if something else may work better. As long as we’re alive, change seems like a big, unnecessary risk. I think this is one of the complexities that make modern day society so difficult for us to navigate. It is not an accurate reflection of what our minds and bodies were designed for.

I mentioned in some of my recent posts the new habits I have added into my daily routine to promote mindfulness and self care. While I initially felt an immense positive impact from these changes, after a month, they have begun to feel lackluster. This is the pattern I have finally noticed within myself. I am constantly concocting new plans and habits that I believe will help me live a happier and fuller life, more in line with my values. These changes are always amazing for the first week or so. Then they start to seem ineffective. I find myself back where I started. I fall back into the mindless hum of habit.

I’ve begun to wonder if perhaps what is making me so happy at first isn’t the specific tasks I’m including in my day, rather the change itself. Although the habits I’ve cultivated are mindful, I wasn’t being more mindful simply due to the actions I was performing. It’s much easier to be mindful when you are doing something new. Perhaps I wasn’t less anxious because I wasn’t watching TV while I ate, but because I was doing things differently than I normally would.

I’ve often had the feeling that intelligent minds are more prone to anxiety and depression. I believe this is due to the effort that we have to exert to stimulate our active, easily bored brains. Not many of us are willing or able to make that effort. I’ve always detested challenges as well as change. I don’t know if that was innate or a result of my early environment, but it is a misguided opinion nonetheless. I need to be challenged, I need new, novel experiences and information to make me happy. Now the issue is how do I go about intentionally including these things in my life.

When we’re growing up, we have little choice in the matter. There are lots of consistent changes that come our way which we have no control over. Maybe our parents move or get divorced. We have to go to a new school. We suddenly have a new sibling. Whether we are resistant to change or not, we know there is going to be a lot of it we’re going to have to deal with. Once we are adults and have more control over our own lives and environment, it becomes easier for us to avoid change. Often we even avoid changes we want to make out of fear. Stagnation may be unpleasant, but it is safe and that is our prime biological imperative.

After trying for years to cultivate healthier habits, there is one I have been missing. This month, I’d like to try to make change a habit. In order to break free from what has become a quite oppressive daily schedule, I think intentionally doing at least one thing differently or trying something new each day would be an excellent way to invite more mindfulness and mental stimulation into my day.

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