Winding Up

When I talk to most people; friends and strangers alike, mornings are often a shared bone of contention  – It’s common to grumble and complain, and since it’s a common phenomenon, something to share with others in its distaste.

It’s easy to get into the habit of hiding under the covers, waiting until the last possible second before rushing through a shower, a hastily swallowed breakfast, then rushing out of the house to miss the bus or to waste more time trying to get the car started.

This process sets the tone for the whole day: arriving to work flustered, taking up to an hour to become focused. An attitude of always lagging behind that’s near inescapable. It doesn’t stop once we’re home either: often worrying about what we didn’t get done, and trying to shoehorn in as much relaxation as we can, going to bed way past our bedtime, or unable to sleep due to an inability to put our phones down.

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What if you could recapture your day, frame it in a positive light? Wind it up at your own pace?

There’s only so many hours of daylight, but chances are you are not using them all to the fullest. Waking up earlier gives you the flexibility and room to enjoy your morning. Get up, stretch for half an hour while you make a nice pot of tea or coffee. Sit on your mat and meditate, or in the rocking chair on the porch, hugging the mug in your hands and watching the sun rise.. A relaxed cadence sets your pace where instead of being behind, you’re ahead of your schedule, getting the chores, work, and tasks you need to on your own time.

Try just going to bed 10 minutes earlier, and waking up 10 earlier than you normally do. Then every week, wind it back another 10. 3 months from now you will have reclaimed 2 full hours of the day. It will take a few weeks not only to add sufficient time to your day to reap the rewards, but also to experiment with what sort of things you want to add to your new morning routine. Enjoy the process and set an unhurried pace.  What’s equally appealing about this process is that you’ll end up in bed much earlier, but you’ll find it much easier to wind down in the evenings after work – your quality of life will be better, you’ll leave more stress behind, and it will leave you relaxed.

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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.

Recognition and Value

I’ve got about ten days left until this cast comes off, and then I can enjoy the burgeoning springtime.. I’ve been re-prioritizing my time, figuring out how I can live more authentically once I’m mobile again.

One thing I’ve identified in myself is this need to be known, recognized. At first I attributed this to some sort of lifetime accomplishment that would allow me to live on posthumously, but now I realize it’s much more basic, and dwells somewhere much less grandiose: recognition from others. Not for anything in particular, just for me to have some sort of value to other people – to be relied on or needed in some regard.

Naturally, we all have a little of this built-in: as humans we share social spaces, living spaces, work spaces.. Unless we hermit ourselves in the forest and chop wood for a living (namely our living.. in Ontario you’d freeze to death otherwise!), we can’t really escape this requirement to “need” other people – But I’m referring to a deeper recognition. The value that others attach to our worth as individuals. Whether it’s feedback from our peers at work, management telling us we’re indispensable, or our friends and loved ones telling us how awesome we are as people – it’s normal to enjoy this attention, but sometimes I find that without this, I have less inherent worth. Now this only really rears it’s head in any severity if I’m travelling through a stint of depression, but for me, who is regularly in a state of general malaise, that destination is always one short stop away from any current location.

The “aha” moment came to me when I read this quote by Harbhajan Singh Yogi:

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Now while this quote doesn’t directly pinpoint the question at hand, as it deals with the reaction of others as their issues versus those of our own worth, I ended up resonating as if I was the other person – Not only that, but I immediately assumed the behavior in question was poor in nature – I was the one who was troubled, and perhaps projecting that state of disturbance onto others.

Instantly concluding that the quote referred to someone reacting negatively towards me is one thing, but actually identifying as that person who’s behaving badly is one further step towards the realization that my internal value scales are well out of alignment when weighing my self value.

I’ve known in the past that poor self confidence has been a struggle for me, but I’m constantly amazed at the number of paths and ways that I end up back at this same conclusion. Sure, it’s easy and “obvious” to see the value is self-respect, but for many, changing this value from a 0 to a 1 isn’t all that simple as it is in binary terms.

On a journey from black to white, expect there to be plenty of grey: change doesn’t happen overnight, and a small setback can’t become the unforgettable pea under the mattress.. it’s just a bump in the road. As long as self-worth becomes the cornerstone, a non-negotiable priority in all situations, positive change will manifest.

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.

Belief: In yourself, your Dreams

People often harp on their continual search for the “motivation” they need to get started on whatever difficult tasks they have been procrastinating. It’s a little bizarre how this requirement for motivation is not only seen as the holy grail for conquering difficult or unwanted (yet necessary) tasks, but also common as an excuse for not taking the first steps towards not starting a new hobby or for realizing a lifelong dream.

To further define this behavior, it’s well documented that while motivation might indeed provide some sort of impetus to get started, it’s ensuring that well designed habits are ready to put into place to continue to fuel the path towards completion.

I have something further to add to this discussion, and that’s the importance, power, and requirement of belief.  I’ll go so far as to stipulate that it’s belief that is not only the precursor to motivation, but an essential additive that continues to increase the effectiveness of habits to continue our drive towards success and happiness.

Belief provides us with the confidence that what we want to achieve is, in fact, not only possible, but attainable. It allows us to see the value in hard work, the meditation in preparation, and creates an almost palpable, tactile desire to create the energy to keep moving forwards. Want an example? Think about something you’re already good at. Something you might even take for granted as so effortless that it comes as second nature. Got it? Ok. Now remember the last time it was called into play: when you were “called up to the plate” to either lead a group along with a task that you were uniquely qualified to spearhead, or even a when you were talking to someone about it and realized they were hanging onto every word. The passion you conveyed by your confidence and sheer unassuming knowledge and comfort in this area was inherently, if subconsciously, fueled by the unequivocal belief you had in yourself.

Now. Imagine something you know almost nothing about. Try to choose something that you have interest in, perhaps even have Googled a few times to try to understand. Imagine you could master it with the same level of comfort and ease of the previous example. No matter what this new desire is.. the only thing that’s standing in your way is your belief that you can achieve it. That’s right: this belief will let you visualize your goal, motivate the first step, generate the habits you need.. everything will fall into place: this belief in yourself will extinguish the fear that is stopping you from achieving success.

Let that sink in for a moment. The one thing standing between you and success is the belief in yourself.

But the best is yet to come… Belief isn’t as difficult to attain as some of the other obstacles you have in your life. Belief is something that can be it’s own habit.. Belief is something that should be practiced daily: Every morning, make a mantra out of your dreams and desires.. Tell yourself that you believe in yourself, and in your ability to make them happen. The very process of belief will banish the demons of doubt and fear – they cannot exist within such a sphere of positivity and self-assurance.

Changes

So it’s confession time. I’ve not been sitting for a couple months now, since getting to my new apartment. I’m definitely missing the positive effects it carries with it, but I still find it incredibly easy to procrastinate even taking ten minutes to myself to just breathe.  For someone like me who is such a fervent supporter of meditation, and a champion of just how many areas of life it changes for the better, I’m almost scared to get back into it again.

Now I’ve written about fear before, but I’ve never experienced it like this. The last few months have led to increased anxiety; what’s the solution? Medication? Moving to Thailand and selling coconuts on the beach? I’ve been looking for answers in all the wrong places: I can easily admit that it’s a common behavior for me.. I’ve been doing it most of my adult life. In fact, it’s become so ingrained that I often find myself following patterns and behaviors where I am in complete awareness of the impending negative outcome.

Am I along for an oblivious ride? Not even.. I am fully  cognizant of the destination to which I am headed. Despite common sense weighing in, prompting me to turn the wheel.. nothing happens. I’ve been trying to understand this repetitive process, perhaps looking for the easy way out, how to stop getting in that car in the first place. There’s a few things that I have identified (and continuing with the automobile imagery)

  1. I take some modicum of comfort in the familiarity of the destination. I’ve been there before, and it’s actually an easy, self-fulfilling processsabotage-your-diet
  2. Steering the car in a healthier direction becomes harder and harder as the journey and time spent in the car increase
  3. Identifying this pattern before it begins, stopping myself from even getting into the car, would probably be the best decision in avoiding these scenarios in the future, but this doesn’t effect any current travels I’m still undertaking
  4. A general sense of self-approval and internal gratification model is woefully absent from my psyche. While this sort of thing is not uncommon (as humans, we all wax and wane on the happiness scale: some controllable, some inevitable), I feel like introducing one at this stage would require far more resources than I have available.
  5. I’m more used to failure than I am success. In fact, so much so that I often sabotage efforts before they begin. Am I afraid, not of change, but of happiness? What on earth has convinced me of something so foolish? (Bit of an epiphany here. Blinking back tears)

There may be more to add, but I’ll stop there so I can continue with my train of thought. Now despite all the history listed above, I don’t live entirely obliviously, without any effort to break the pattern. If you’ve read anything else I’ve posted, you’ll already be acutely aware. I will admit here that perchance I might not work on it as dilligently as I should, or put in the energy and focus that is required to clear results. And here’s a further obstacle pointing to that portion: When I decide to actually implement a positive change in any area, including this one, I am ridiculously inflexible, unbending..there can be no room for error. Obviously this self-imposed stress only exacerbates the situation and I abandon any beneficial changes almost right away

So what now? Where do I go from here? I think I’ve identified a number of things in this post that could use attention. Most of them I’ve known about for awhile, yet there were some revelations as well. I’ll post a follow-up in a couple weeks with updates and (hopefully) a strategy

Headspace

I’m often asked how to approach meditation.

Well there isn’t much to it. Sit, breathe, repeat.

Yet in our hectic society, the very action.. (or inaction, so to speak!) of turning off our minds can be quite challenging. Naturally there’s a number of books out there worth reading, and I’ll go into those in another post.

This one is all about Andy Puddincombe. A Brit who gave up his studies to become a monk, he eventually returned home to set up a clinic to promote mindfulness..

This eventually became Headspace, and helps anyone get into a meditative, mindful practice for 10 minutes a day.

While I’ll be linking my daily vlog at the bottom that accompanies this short post, I’ll fist embed Andy’s “virally popular” TED Talk.

Now mindfulness is something that’s received immense attention in the western world, and it’s only increasing.

Mindfulness GoogleGranted Google is a global “product” or service, but it seems most of it’s use in the more developed cultures who are often less in touch with their spiritual identities. I don’t intend this to be a discourse on religion, but on spiritual behavior, which I think transcends all faiths. In fact, searches for meditation using the search engine have climbed dramatically since 2004.

I am, for one, immensely excited to see where this trend takes us. While I got into mindfulness and meditation a bit late in the game, I do feel that I was able to get in right as the wave as started to crest.

I’ve often maintained that genuine, personal, spiritual connections with ourselves and with a similar respect for thah headspace in each other has been missing and vitally important in western urban environments.. We all live in a very dense physical space: mindfulness provides a key for coping and identifying as healthy individuals.

Little Things

When you’re in a bit of a funk, or surrounded with a dark fog, finding that first step to bring yourself back out is often challenging, if not wholly insurmountable.

It’s easy to overwhelm ourselves with a massive list that sets ourselves up for failure before we even begin. While it seems like an optimistic goal in the moment, it’s effectively sabotage.

What we need is the linchpin (Word of the day?) that starts the ball rolling.. We need a single habit that is simple and easy to execute.

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For you it might be letting your dog out into the yard, turning on the coffee machine, or meditating. For me it’s sitting up the moment my eyes open, and stretching, getting the blood flowing, so that I don’t lie back down and procrastinate.

Then I follow it up with a number of other small habits, each taking less than 5-10 minutes. This process is known as stacking, and is much more effective for creative positive habits, as each builds on the success of the last.. and since each one is tremendously easy to accomplish, you feel great for finishing each one!

I like to further build on this process by ensuring that most of these rituals creates some small instance of joy or happiness. For example, making the bed; takes under a minute, but provides a welcoming environment for me to collapse into at the end of a hard day. I also fill a bottle with some slices of lemon and filtered water… This give me an excuse to be mindful each time I take a sip throughout the day, keeping me positive and healthy.

So what are your “little things”? What gets you up in the morning and puts you in a great mind frame? I’d love to hear from you!!

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.

Growing up OK

I usually share here when I’ve come through a hardship,  and learned a lesson.  Not this time.

Instead,  here,  now,  I’m struggling. This is the hardship,  and the lesson seems inherent;yet it disinterests me.

This time I search for a root cause,  to dig into why it’s difficult in general for me to feel anything more than disconnection,  especially when that very connection is what I strive to fertilize.

I really don’t feel comfortable as an adult. When I was a kid,  I always looked at my elders as having this structure,  this foundation that they’d built. It was emotionally sound,  and financially viable.

Yet here I am,  well stuck into my 30s, and I still feel like I’m barely getting started.

Sure,  I’ve quit drugs,  smoking,  and booze. Sure,  I’m healthier and feel stronger.

But I am still a frightened child at heart,  whose best friends are his parents,  as they are the only people who unconditionally love and understand him.

Maybe I feel like I was cut of a different cloth because I am a product of their generation. Maybe I yearn to live in a simpler time without laptops,  texting and the Internet.

It’s made to make our lives easier,  but it just makes the distances between us smaller. This might seem like a good thing,  and while it has that potential,  it also has the opposite effect.  It let’s us hold a measuring stick,  a mirror,  and any other comparison method to stack ourselves up against everyone else.

It’s easy to fall prey to that side of technology,  to crave a connection with everyone else while shirking the one with the most important person in our lives. Ourselves. 

Getting back to that relationship is increasingly difficult while still maintaining our social identity in an urban environment.  There’s a balance to be appreciated and to be cultivated.  It’s too easy to sit on one side of the fence or the other. The dark side is full of self depreciation,  depression,  and poor self worth. The light side is exhausting and impossible to maintain for any length of time.

The middle allows us to keep our own best interests at heart,  and to recognize when we are slipping into poor thought patterns. But instead of relying on our connections and friends,  we should come to rely on ourselves.

This is why working on your own self worth,  healthy coping mechanisms and general wellbeing is not in vain. The benefits aren’t instantly apparent,  but will become vital in times of darkness.

I keep being reminded to breathe. It’s something I’ve read again and again, but always forget in the times I’d benefit from it most. My most recent reminder came in a random blog I came across on Twitter, by Jordan Bates..
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To him I am grateful tonight, because he’s helped remind me of the easiest coping mechanism we have at our disposal. The most automatic process in our lives, when consciously practiced, is the most healing benevolence we have available. And it’s always accessible

Tonight I remind myself to breathe, and to not be so hard on myself. Humility and honesty with ourselves are the keys to healthy mindfulness