Everyday Is A Gift

Every single day that passes is a unique series of moments, that will never repeat, ever again, in the entirety of time. Sounds pretty overwhelming, can you feel that pressure building in your solar plexus? Now fill that space in your chest with a deep breath, and release it slowly, and attach all that stress to the air leaving your body…

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– by Phạm Hữu Dư

There’s no pressure to be anyone you have to be other than who you are, right now. There’s no reason to do anything other than accept yourself, as in order to exist within this very moment, we need to be at peace with everything exactly as it is. Anything that distracts us from that feeling actually takes effort to maintain. If you surrender to the moment, fully, you’ll feel buoyant, yet anchored, in each moment. That giddiness is the elation of living authentically in each now as it passes onto the next.

We’ve all heard the age old mantra that everyday is a gift, and that each day we have the opportunity to begin anew. There’s only one thing about this that I’m not such a fan of, and that’s treating each day as a separate “existence”. Sure, it gives us the excuse, the power, to reinvent ourselves as we wake with the rising sun, but what about those days where we open our eyes feeling tired, sad, or hungover? Those days where the very act of getting our weary bones unfolded and out of bed is a near insurmountable chore? Are we to struggle haphazardly throughout the day, waiting for the promise of beginning anew tomorrow?

Here’s the thing – it never comes, and as much as the promise of renewal gives us hope, it equally dashes the existence of the dreary hum-drum days that often, realistically, populate the majority of our lives.

So what if each moment is treated as a new day? Each breath, each heartbeat, each “now” is an excuse to exist authentically in the now? This new perspective teaches that sort of mindfulness where even the most mundane day can be as beautiful as the sunny, warm, lazy ones at the beach?

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a personal day, but instead of dwelling in the guilt accompanied by not spending it as we should, instead we should simply bask in it’s unique existence, as we only get to experience a limited number of them in this precious gift called life – by adjusting our perspective, we suddenly change how we see everything – and that small shift is the most precious thing we have to appreciate, not just every day.. but every single moment.

 

 

 

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Deliberance

I always abhor those articles that extol various life “hacks” that preach small effort techniques delivering huge results.

So it’s with trepidation that I share this advice with you, as it carries a similar message.. but it’s by no means a shortcut. It’s more a method to refocus your perspective on everything you do, which produces the result of keeping you in a mindful state.

Think about everything you do on a daily basis. No, not the tasks, work, or the “big picture” stuff: instead, I’m talking about the little things that fill in the gaps. When you’re walking, place each foot with deliberation, when you put a carton of juice away in the fridge, slot it into it’s place mindfully, don’t just drop it into place.

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Tightrope walking is a great example to apply to deliberate activity: each step is done with careful placement and purpose: balance!

The easiest task to try this activity is with the way that I got into meditation in the first place: washing the dishes (which is now one of my favorite activities). Pick up each plate carefully, slide it into the water with care. Each careful swipe with the sponge or cloth should be deliberate and done with attention to detail, with purpose. This behavior translates into rinsing, and placing each item into the rack. At first, all this effort will feel unnatural, perhaps even mentally taxing.. But as it becomes a measured, practiced effort, you’ll fall into a rhythm. You’ll start to appreciate the feel of the hot water on your hands, the suds running off the plate, the rainbows dancing in the soap bubbles, the lemony scent of the water.. This is what it is to be present in the moment, each moment.

As you start to understand the calm that these moments hold, you’ll catch yourself applying this same behavior to other banal tasks.. Each step you take, every keyboard key you type, the notes in the music that fill your ears: every activity will anchor you in each moment as it comes and goes.

It’s important not to let this active deliberation stress you out. It should use minimal effort. If you’re doing multiple things at once, let your attention drift from one activity to the next, taking delight in each as you dwell in it.

Mindfulness is not a chore, it’s a simple process of living purposefully. Not only will this sort of mindset improve your mood, but it will also create a sense of confidence, of conscious existence in the world that surrounds you.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

I’m driving to see a client this morning, and I’m bubbling along happily in the right hand lane. Around me are other commuters, drivers – all of us travelers, but most are rushing around me, impatient to get to their destinations.

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I can’t assume, but I can only guess they are all running late, or otherwise just eager to be somewhere else than they already were.  Completely oblivious that their current presence in the now is inescapable – another great comparison to how many of us lead our lives. But this post isn’t just about the analogy to slow down and enjoy your life. I could wax philosophical about enjoying the cool breeze from your open window, the panoramic view of the clouds, the sun peeking out from behind a skyscraper..

But I’d rather be far more direct, simple, for you see, this post is one of those extremely rare ones where I’m urging you to do the bare minimum.

Go the speed limit. Do not exceed it. If you need to make it easier on yourself, or you have a lead foot, use cruise control (for most cars the minimum for this is 60kph). As you drive, pay attention to your breath, to the periphery of your vision – live in this space.

Listen to music if you wish, but my caveat here is that you must dance, sing along, and bounce to the beat. Enjoy your life, enjoy the now – it’s the only one you have.

As a caveat, I will admit I do enjoy driving in sports cars, even as a passenger, and I would be a hypocrite to say that it isn’t fun to drive a little fast (keep it safe folks!). But in those situations, driving is part of the experience – a Sunday ride on my motorcycle through a set of the local twisties or taking the top down on the convertible for a weekend away in wine country is completely acceptable and understandable. Here, the car and the company is integral to many as part in parcel with the destination – just be wary not to make it a habit in daily life.

Conscious vs Unconscious – Active Existence

At the end of February, I broke my ankle. It was a bad break, and it has left me to run my empire from the couch. One thing it has rather painfully reminded me of is that we cannot take anything for granted: our mobility, our independence, can be whisked away at a moment’s notice.

This also prompted me to re-evaluate conscious existence: how much of your day passes without creating any sort of meaningful memories? How often do you find yourself daydreaming, or in autopilot? How many hours are your thoughts racing without any result or direction?

Don’t panic if you often find large chunks of your day disappear without much conscious involvement. It’s actually so common that it’s considered normal. We always seek some sort of “break” from our mundane, day-in, day-out activities – some sort of distraction. Yet the departure we seek is often unreachable, or rather the state of relaxation and peace we seek feels unsatisfying. This is because we are looking to escape..from escape.

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You can’t escape a life that you aren’t consciously  engaged in. Without active living there’s no escape.. but what you’ll find, if you grab life head on, that suddenly you don’t want to run away.. because you know those little moments? When you pour a fresh cup of coffee, the steam swirling a pungent cloud into your nostrils, when you hear the first few notes of a song from your rebellious youth, when you bite into a fresh croissant as you walk from one meeting to the next? That’s what makes life worth living, makes existence so sweet. And why would you want to run away from those?

So, as you go about your daily schedule today, start consciously  appreciating the small things. Even if you have to book an appointment with yourself.. Try sitting on a park bench, closing your eyes, opening your ears, your nose, and live within that moment. It might take a few repeat sessions, but you’ll get hooked on life – I promise.

Guided Assistance

I returned to Canada from a trip overseas for a family funeral, elated and awoken, like I was being reborn. A few days before I left, I started to sit daily again. Today marks the 17th day in a row that I’ve sat on the mat, and is the longest daily streak. One of the techniques that I have employed that has allowed me to reach this ongoing goal is to not employ any one technique.

All-we-have-is-nowInstead of creating a strict time period to spend on the mat, or to practice a single doctrine or “established Buddhist path” (such as Zen, Vipanassa, and so on) I’ve just made it a priority to sit daily. While in the UK, I experimented with counting breaths using a Zen Mala, a gift from an old friend who returned from Korea, and his own family funeral, discovering that a 20 minute session is approximately 160 breaths. This awareness now allows me to meter my sessions without having to rely on a mechanical or electrical timer. My sessions were also almost exclusively late evening sits just before midnight.

Since my return, I’m back to morning sits, and today, I experimented with a guided meditation. This ~25 minute audio session takes the listener through relaxing their entire body, one piece at a time. While it instructed the listener to lie down for the session, I elected to sit Burmese on my zafu, as is my normal posture.

By the end of the session, I was truly present, mindful, and extremely relaxed. I also felt connected with myself, and with the world. Confidence is but a side effect of being present, and I’m pleased with the results. I plan on repeating this guided audio journey a few times a week to see if it cultivates a laid back, broader awareness not only during my “regular” zazen sessions, but also in the rest of my life.. I hope to recognize my discomfort in my anger, sadness, stress, basically “caught” a state of “reactivity”.. There’s something that feels off..

Our minds have a natural pull towards mindfulness and peace, but we’ve taught ourselves to accept this reactive state, that it’s normal to dwell and overthink this feeling of disquietude. Yet the more we sit, the more we actively train ourselves to relax and to become mindful, the more we recognize how alien this philosophy is, and how unhealthy our vibrations are as we stew in this discomfort.

I’m sharing the guided meditation with you now, as a public Dropbox link. Unfortunately I found it quite by accident, and have no one to credit for the file. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.. It will give many of you a way to sit for almost 30 minutes, perhaps impossible to imagine, or achieve, without months of practice and training.

If it helps even just for today, please share it, and this post, with others, so we may elevate our consciousness as a whole, and eschew the “normalcy” of living in stress, fear, and anger. Live in the now, not in the past or future. Nothing is certain, nothing is written. All you have is Right. Now.

Getting back on the horse

I sat on the cushion this morning, and my 10 minutes was up in the blink of an eye. I was a little astounded as to how thirsty I was for some sitting practice, but looking back, I was even more shocked to see that its been over 6 weeks since I spent any time meditating.

No wonder I’ve been overly anxious and my path towards my goals clouded.

Diligence is essential to progress. Goals remain dreams without forward momentum, and can actually cause more stagnation when they don’t instigate completions.

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After seeing my mentor last week, I was pleased to hear that he believes we actually exist as a co-mentor dynamic: that as I learn, he too benefits from the conversations similarly.

If you don’t have someone like this in your own life, seek them out, or be open should they present themselves to you. The relationship is worth the investment of honesty and trust.

Channeling

Living in the city isn’t easy for many. At least not those who crave some quiet solitude.

We often yearn for some “downtime” spent at a familiar cottage, or even desperately feel a burning connection to a photograph or painting of a place that elicits the promise of an immediate sense of calm.

Yet that very craving we feel can be refocused and turned into something positive, versus a tight, uncomfortable frustration.

The next time you feel the need to be somewhere else, you just need to channel it.

Close your eyes and see the immediate area around you. See familiar details, or create objects that you personally connect to as relaxing.

Now here’s where the magic happens..

freesia-612dbfRecall a time you were in a similar space.. Remember what it sounded like, the temperature of a soft breeze against your exposed skin, the scents and smells that breeze carried..

Recreating these details (especially the senses other than sight) has been proven to elicit a strong memory, making it easier to return there in our minds.

Now that your brain has recreated a memory where you are in a space of calm and tranquility, drink it in. Breathe deeply, and picture that breath as filling you up with peace.. Hold it, and enjoy this feeling, let it spread through your whole body, all the way to your fingertips.. Imagine it replacing all the stress and frustration. Now, as you forcefully breathe out, imagine all those unwanted feelings leave with the stale air.

The more you repeat this habit, the better you’ll become at it. Also, next time you are somewhere where you truly feel relaxed, be really aware of how all your senses are being stimulated.  Being mindful in these situations not only wrings the most out of it in the moment, but makes it easier to recall and reap its benefits in the future

How to Sit

Ok, let’s work together on this one.

Go ahead, open a browser, and Google “How to Sit”

Not only will you not find anything about meditation (which, maybe, should be expected) but you’ll be inundated with articles and links that detail how to sit at a desk while looking at a computer screen..

Try to tally up the amount of time you spend in front of a screen. If you think it’s not that many hours, tack on the hours you spend with you television.

If you have come up with a number that’s under an hour or two, you’re probably in the minority. And that’s bad news.

When I recently flew to the UK for Christmas, all the seat-backs had small screens built into them. The people all sat like mindless drones, watching movie after movie after television show after music video.

As the we flew above the clouds, and I knew the sun to be rising, I attempted to open the window next to me to watch this glorious spectacle.

WalleYet I was met with the groans and complaints of all those around me that were touched by the sunlight as it spilled into the plane. Now, I’m not one to be nostalgic, but maybe there’s a reason we all yearn to return to living in a “simpler time”. Sure, no doubt we were equally stressed, but at least we were less connected to each other, and perhaps more connected to ourselves? It seems that in a gambit to become closer, we’ve retreated further into ourselves. The experience on the airplane grimly reminded me of how lazy the human race had become in “Wall-E”, everything automated to the point of a complete lack of effort in any fashion.

Now I don’t want to stray off topic, so I’ll bring this back around.. It feels like humanity is striving to remove effort from our lives.. but results feel less satisfying without it:

The less we work for something, the less we feel proud, accountable, and rewarded by the final product.

Learning to sit takes patience, takes effort, and takes perseverance.. But in today’s society, we are fighting an additional “enemy”: progress. Now I might catch a bit of flak for this statement, but I stand by it. While there’s plenty of new and exciting innovations that serve to assist our journey into the future of the human race, there’s always a higher percentage of those that are marketed at facilitating our procrastination: and let me tell you, as humans who have the power of choice, we don’t need help in shirking our responsibilities.

So, in closing.. Invest in yourself. Invest 5 minutes a day, make it a habit, and sit. Not in front of a computer, or a tv. Sit, in silence, in the moment, and get back in touch with someone you might have been taking for granted: yourself.

The Five Minute Miracle

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been slacking a bit recently. Ok, not the first to admit it. It’s difficult to share when we’re not walking the path we aspire to. Yet as I put my routine back into place one block at a time, it’s the smaller habits that I find form the foundation for larger ones.

I live in a new apartment with 2 other roommates. While one barely ever eats in, and is often out of the house, the other is always here. This leads to dishes in the sink that I wasn’t responsible for. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking: How is this news? Get to the point!)

The point is that I’ll always do them, regardless of whose they are. While I initially got into doing my own dishes right after using them as an exercise in mindfulness, I’ve come to the conclusion that pretty much anything can be an excuse to be mindful.

Yet when things start to fall by the wayside, be begin to procrastinate more and more. And the big things we’re putting off, just like a foundation of building blocks can be good, can also be the root of our lackadaisical behavior. By putting off the small things, they end up becoming big things as time passes. One dish becomes a mountain, a pair of socks becomes a huge hamper overflowing with underwear. These tiny tasks have created huge obstacles in our lives, and block us from seeing the true mountains: the really daunting tasks that we want to chip away at until we’ve mastered them.

So as you go about your daily activities, and you see something that can be resolved, cleaned, put away, etc, and it takes five minutes or less?

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DO IT.

It’s not rocket science. But it’ll make you feel good, accomplished, and keep your life (and ergo your mind) uncluttered. It’ll also reset your perspective, give you a spurt of motivation, and keep you sane. In order to make this a habit you repeat, reward yourself for this small task. I find that this system can be as easy as writing the chore down and immediately crossing it off the list. I don’t want to overwhelm myself by adding all these jobs to the list beforehand, but by doing them as the come up, recording and ticking them right away, I have a tally of everything I’ve done.

This is a great way to get yourself out of a funk as well. It’s easy to feel the winter blahs in the depth of February, when it’s just as cold as it was in December. All these small 5 minute tasks can create a chain of activities, and these then become part of a daily routine (as I’ve mentioned before, routines are a great way to say on the right path – Look out for a post focusing on this soon!)

Once you start, you’ll be amazed how well these 5-minute chunks add up to a general sense of well-being, and they’ll soon lend their structure to all parts of your life.

Here’s a little secret: This is how I started sitting. Five minutes a day is effortless, but once the habit is in place, and you see the benefits, you’ll want to sit longer.

Try it, and you’ll see…

Zen and the Pursuit of Happiness

Why are we always trying to make happiness out to be more complicated than it has to be? This isn’t a diatribe into classic dead ends that extol that “the less you have, the more you have”, and that “materialism is an endless journey with a fruitless, unreachable goal”: these are tired arguments and easily met with a familiar eye roll.

Let’s move past all this and focus on something more positive. Happiness isn’t found in the future. It’s found in the now. And it’s always now.

I was watching the winner for best short in the Banff Film Festival this week.. A Norwegian vehicle about two young lads that build a cabin out of flotsam so they can live the winter on a remote northern beach, hoping to surf as much as possible, just to see if they can do it.  Near the end of the short film, it features them standing on the beach, seeing the sun for the first time in almost 3 months (the beach is so far north that during the winter, the sun doesn’t ever reach the sandy shores) As they stand motionless in the sun, arms outstretched, and eyes closed, one says to the other “What shall we do today?” to which the other replies, simply, “Just stand here.”

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As you’d expect (or, for me, perhaps hope), a number of these films contained heavy inspirational themes anchored in timelessness, a meditative inner reflection that is based in a feeling of immense calm and an immediate, automatic humbleness.

I had a flash of inspiration, a breakthrough, as I watched these two Norwegians standing on that beach. This is the same sun that warms us all, fills our faces with light and our hearts with joy. And with my eyes closed, that beach can exist anywhere: their joy and happiness of living in that moment can be replicated by anyone, anywhere, anytime. You just have to fully surrender yourself to that moment.

And that’s the amazing thing. It’s *always* that moment.

You can always experience that giddiness, that inner calm, that happiness. Even right now. No matter what is troubling you, occupying your mind, distracting you from feeling at peace, none of it matters. For right now, just take a deep breath, close your eyes, and stand in the sun.