Offering Help vs Offering to Help

I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern in my own life, and how I frequently offer advice or help unasked. When friends, family, or others choose to open up, or to vent about something that is bothersome in their lives, I seem to see it as an opportunity to provide solutions.

A few friends have called me out on this, but it’s gone fairly unabated until recently, when I chose to not help a moth that was fluttering, struggling, with wet wings outside my apartment. I realized that the assistance might actually hinder, or create further problems with its wings.

Wet moth

Choosing to let others’ paths and lives unfold as they would, unaided or unaffected by my own influence is empowering and eye opening. In fact, it only further lessens my social anxiety and need to feel like I “fit in”. By letting others live their own lives, I am free to live my own, unfettered by their judgement or perspectives. I see it as boats in a stream.. we all idly float by each other, and choosing not to cause ripples at a strangers bow only further lets me focus on what’s ahead of my own boat.

Conversely, I want to defend and strength this philosophy. Naturally it’s not absolute. There’s still space to offer to provide advice or help without actually doing so. It shows willingness and compassion: just don’t be insulted if you’re rebuffed. You also should be wary about re-extending the assistance on the same/similar topics. Even if your friend or loved one chooses to stumble and fall over the same obstacle repeatedly, all you can do is to be there to help pick them up when they open up.

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.

Naysayers: How to handle negative influences in our life

Now, hang on, before you all lynch me for addressing what you might think is an obvious answer, there are plenty of reasons “Just cutting them out” isn’t the easiest option, or even viable.

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I always worry that I won’t have enough things to talk about here, but topics seem to not only drop into my lap – they actually contribute to a unifying theme over a few days, giving me ample time and ammunition to construct a pretty cohesive post: as well as allowing me the time for my pertinent perspective to congeal quite nicely.

That said, I had a conversation with a wonderful new friend yesterday on this very topic, then this morning had a relevant online chat with someone who’d fall quite nicely into the “naysayer” category… So since I’ve had a couple days to think about this, let’s define where we stand.

For me, a naysayer is, at their core, someone who dwells in the negative during any interaction I have with them. This allows room for those who either cannot stop thinking about how dissatisfied they are with their own lives, but also those who feel the need to judge me on how I lead mine. Don’t get me wrong, friends who are blunt with me and expose me to see some of my own “less than desirable” habits or behaviors are immensely helpful: as long as their perspective and advice comes from a trusted and loving place! Instead I refer to those who only speak ill, as if their way of seeing a situation is the only way that’s acceptable.

You’re going to laugh now, because the advice is, obviously, simple. You need to reduce or eliminate these interactions, and how you choose to do so is where the intricacies lie.

So if they’re an acquaintance and there’s no “love lost” between you, telling them to get bent or get stuffed (choose whatever colloquialism matches your country of origin or abode) is short and simple. Depending on how you interact, you can end your relationship in one of two ways. If you only chat in the virtual sphere, either ignoring their messages or blocking them from your lists is a great non-confrontational technique. This is similar to receiving unwanted advances from someone on a dating website: ignoring/not replying to a message has the same effect as responding to them telling them you aren’t interested, while sidestepping your actual reasoning.. It lets them form their own reason, versus you having to uncomfortably tell them that you aren’t attracted to them, or something they might find equally insulting. Skipping that whole interaction is often easiest, especially if you haven’t studied conflict resolution.. Inevitably if you give your real reasoning, a counter message will follow. Be prepared!

What if they are a close friend, or a family member? The former can be treated as above, but with an even softer, cuddlier variant of kid gloves. If it’s family, and breaking all ties is (usually) not an option, honesty of some variety is the only recourse if you want to change the dynamic. I’ll link the “Aikido in Everyday Life” book again here, please ignore the poor Google reviews: while some of the situations and names used as examples show the age of this “manual”, the techniques are not only still sound, but incredibly efficient in their effectiveness. Basically, knowing how to present your feelings and standpoint on how the other person makes you feel doesn’t have to be communicated in a way where there’s a clear “winner” and “loser” in each conversation. The book does a far better way of describing these techniques than I do, and I won’t try to do them any justice in replicating them here. Even if this particular post doesn’t apply to you, the book is still a wonderful read for anyone who deals with potential verbal conflict in their lives. Aka, everyone!

In my situation, as far as the old friend I chatted with this morning, it was far easier to just choose to cease initiating or responding to attempts at conversations. Not that it’s easy – in fact, it’s a little painful, but it’s less hurtful to both parties with this particular flavor of history that I’d rather not dredge up or revisit that time in my life: I’ve made such vehement, severe efforts to leave it far behind and move on, whereas that circle that I have extricated myself from (in my perspective) hasn’t grown in the direction that has become pillars supporting the strongest core principles in my life. I won’t say that I haven’t tried to make our tentative friendship work over the last few tumultuous years, but each time we conversed, old behaviors surfaced on both sides, perhaps out of previous paradigms of comfort. Once we’d part ways, I’d head home and “stinkin’ thinkin’ ” would pervade my mental headspace, often for days, as I’d try to process and eliminate these previous past thoughts from my thoughts. No more. It’s far healthier for me to move on alone in this situation, and only wish the best for this old friend.. I wish him well and hope that he’s able to wade through the waters to the comfort of personal resolution on his own.

Video discussion below:

Cluttered Space / Cluttered Mind

I’ve been bad with the whole regularity thing in my past, and I still struggle daily with the process. When I had a full time job working for the man, despite my general malaise, at least I had a structure that was imposed upon me, and I could fit the rest of my own life within the crack, making a nice comfortable padding.

Now that I am responsible for everything,  it is only more important that I prioritize a routine that extols healthy habits: physical, mental and psychological are equally essential. That healthy mindspace has its root in the physical realm: comfort and familiarity are bred from a well organized living and working environment.

The apartment in which I call home (and my office) was an emergency choice – I needed to get out of my previous unhealthy space, and did not have much time to search.. It’s pretty awesome, but way too big, and way too expensive for me as a longer term solution.  I think I’ve moved every couple years for the last decade: comfort in my inhabited space often seems to elude me.. whether I convince myself that I need a room mate, or to live on my own.. this basement is too dark, or this other apartment is too big.. Excuses are everywhere..

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I’ve always found myself attracted to smaller multi-use spaces.. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been on my own for the better part of the last decade, but my space is very much my own, and how I inhabit/am comfortable in it rarely involves making it somewhere that’s ideal to share with a friend or for general socialization… I find that the more space I have available, the more I will find things to fill it up.. The older I get, the less “knick knacks” I own.. But the cleaner my space, the less non-essentials I have “cluttering” my space, then the more relaxed I feel.. If I forget where I put my keys, and they aren’t in their “home”, the less surfaces I have, and the less things those surfaces are adorned with, the easier it is to find them.

The image below is a bit amusing to me, as it details how to declutter one’s life.. yet the graphic itself is a mess, a veritable tangled maze of color, suggestions, and ideas.. Yet it does have plenty of merit. Part of organizational habit is making sure to take decisive permanent action every day to create a space and a system that works for you and your unique needs/situation; the other part is ensuring to divest time every day to keeping your space clean.. Sweeping for 10 minutes a day, washing dishes as they are used.. Not putting anything off. Decluttering is as much about avoiding adding new chaos as it is about stripping existing anomalies away!

How to Make a Living…

What does that even mean? How does one “make” a living? Doesn’t living just happen on it’s own, and the way in which we invest our limited time on this planet define how we perceive not only ourselves, but how people perceive us?

Self satisfaction isn’t necessarily tied to what we are seem as skilled doing.. Now, conversely, anything can be manifested as an art form so long as we spend so much time doing it that the actual core principles become automatic, and we start to add artistic flair in order to continue to stay actively engaged with the tasks. Take this street vendor as an example. His hours of practice have evolved into a passion for flair

As we continue into the new millennium, how we make a living only becomes more flexible and varied in its choices. We can operate an online store, delivering products from Thailand directly to other westerners without the products even touching our hands.. we can sell ideas: ebooks and online courses that teach others how to live healthier, more productive lives.. even informing others how to follow our footsteps and to become entrepreneurs themselves!

Setting our own hours lets us take even more control of the ship that is our lives. By taking responsibility of “paying” for our own space in the world, it only serves to strengthen and further boost self confidence and lessen anxiety. In fact, even those who supplement their normal jobs “working for the man” with part time endeavors can often build a platform that provides a slowly growing and stable business.. so that once it’s stable enough, and generating enough income, they can “jump ship” and work for themselves full time!

So, perhaps you’re now chomping at the bit.. “How do I get started?” you’re saying.. “What’s the first step?”

Now as alluring as all this sounds, know that most people don’t embark on this process without encountering, and conquering, fear.  It’ll seem insurmountable at first, and when you think you’ve finally knocked it out cold and persevered, you’ll find it lurking in the darkest corners of your success, where you least expected it to be. Don’t worry. This is normal, and how you continue to fight fear, and past it, is what will continue to fuel your passion and your ideas.

Start with Chris Guillebeau’s $100 Startup, and go from there.. There’s plenty of other resources, plenty of which you can search out yourself.. or you can comment below and we can discuss it right in the comments. I’m eager to see the fruits of your labor, and what your potential will produce!

And yes.. vlogs are finally back, as is the warmer weather. Enjoy!

 

Connections

The digital world facilitates connections. Someone half a planet away can quite easily find you if you’re both somewhat public about announcing your mutual interest in a shared topic. New tools, platforms, services.. They all exist to make these connections easier, automated, and more transparent.

Yet they all facilitate virtual space. Even those that promote shared activities like hiking or running groups can also be host to dozens of participants that live too far away from each other to make actual “meat space” connection either impossible, financially improbable, or inconvenient. As the rarity of the time we spend with others in physical space, the more valuable that interaction becomes. Or it should…Yet the majority of social situations are rife with faces illuminated by handheld devices.. Each connected device is a fully user dictated portal to access specifically controlled content. No matter what physical space we inhabit, we can retreat into this screen and have total control – Any lull in the conversation, any discomfort.. All addressed by handheld escape.

What only exacerbates this situation even more is the specialized content that is available through mobile screens. Since it has such complete penetration in the developed world, the social rules that surround it make it a fairly acceptable activity.. Or at very least silently tolerated by all but the most outspoken pundits in most situations that might be much less flexible with other activities.

Of course, everything above that I’ve written is common sense, but still helps set the scene, to illustrate the new “norm” that’s taken hold in as little as maybe 8 or so years…Most of my content always comes back to self control, moderation, balance… Human beings as a species, especially in 1st world countries and civilizations are always seeking the route of minimal effort.. By not being challenged by basic elements of survival, we tend to create alternative stresses and still want to spend considerable time escaping those artificial situations.

are-you-making-the-right-connections

The more time I spend away from other people, the more excuses I’m make to continue to hermit away. Perhaps it’s because my job can be easily accomplished from anywhere with a laptop, but I have to physically force myself to get outside, to get in front of people.  The real kicker is that when I do I realize how much I missed it. How much I need it, how much I thrive in the interaction.

Tonight I had a drink with an old friend. Our parents were social when we were kids, we went to high school together (albeit a year apart, and so there was less academic social mixing)  As we sat and chatted about various tech solutions, and what we’ve been up to for the last decade or so, it was refreshing to be spending time discussing the human element within all these faceless services, tools, and ideas. We didn’t pull out a device once.. And it was glorious!

It’s prompted this rant, and only motivated my writing anew. I have committed to engage in something similar at least once a day, whether it’s seeing my folks, or talking to a stranger at the bus stop.

Try it. Keep your phone in your pocket and say hi to someone new, or make plans to have coffee with an old friend you haven’t seen in ages: you’ll thank me for the suggestion, and perhaps feel as rejuvenated as I do!

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.

Little things

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!!

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.