4. Life Starts Now

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Life doesn’t start tomorrow, or one month from now, or five years from now. 

If you’re forcing yourself to endure weeks, months of drudgery by lying to yourself that you’re doing it for a greater purpose, stop it now. This doesn’t mean quit everything that’s difficult or tedious. 

What I’m suggesting is, all of us move through life with certain expectations of what outcomes we’d like to see at the end. It is my understanding that successful folk are more specific and conscious about their expectations and outcomes than regular folk. Sometimes, I catch myself seeking negative and self destructive outcomes even. It’s part of the unconscious human condition. 

Take for instance behaving a certain way to gain praise/approval from someone to avoid shame and disappointment from the same person if you were to behave in a manner more true to yourself. I’m guilty of this sometimes. It’s something I’m actively trying to overcome. 

Rather than pursuing joy, the outcome I would be pursuing in the above case would be self shaming and self denial in order to please another individual, under the delusion that external approval is a prerequisite for joy and self approval. 

It’s very important to be cognizant of what targets you’re truly aiming for, and like a space ship, constantly perform “course corrections” daily, whether in the form of a daily review of your principles, morning affirmations or reading passages that inspire you to live more fully. 

I have suffered enormously physically, mentally and emotionally by being dishonest with myself, and by attempting to live someone else’s dream. I find myself aiming to reach my parents’ expectations, my boss’s expectations and my friends’ expectations sometimes as well. It has taken a lot of compassion to understand that being imperfect is part of the human condition, and that this honest recognition is the starting point to undoing the false voices in my psyche. This is a work in progress, one among many. 

A big part of being authentic to our own blueprint is to be honest with ourselves. Ask yourself the following questions daily:

1. What are my goals?

2. What are my values? What can’t I live without? What brings me joy and peace? 

3. Are my goals in line with my values? 

4. Are the activities that take up most of my time today in line with my goals?

5. If not, what can I change to move more directly towards my goals? 

Pursuing your goals is not meant to be eternally exciting- there will always be grunt work to put in. However, when you’re pursuing goals that are in line with your values, your daily activities will feel meaningful. You won’t mind putting in hours of work researching ways to raise money for your business, or weeks building that sculpture. You’ll be driven by a benign rage of sorts, a passionate motivation. 

Life doesn’t start in the future. Life Starts Now. If you find yourself swallowing bitter pills every day, telling yourself that what you’re doing is for your own goals, you’re doing something wrong. The call of your desire must be louder than the complaints of your inner sloth.

Start living

 

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3. On Control 

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In this post, I will explore the idea of mainstream “control” being largely a social agreement phenomenon, and how personal power can be realized through bringing to light these unconscious agreements. 

​Sometimes we become angry or agitated because we *fear* someone might impede in some way in our lives, or with our *plans* that we elaborately and meticulously construct. 
Maybe we act a certain way to influence an outcome from other people, or we behave a certain way so as to not face their wrath or sorrow, for example. 
Have we forgotten the occasion where we expect someone to be angry, and before we could begin the appeasement routine (a form of manipulation), we discover that they are in fact understanding and joyful?
Whether someone chooses to respond with consciousness and compassion, or fall prey to unconscious behavior, is their choice. It’s in their hands; it’s on them. 
Whether someone interferes in your plans or not is their choice; and their choices are their birthright. You have no control over that. 
What I’m getting at is this: you can’t control whether someone responds with conscious compassion or unconscious lashing. That’s not in your hands. Your attempts to manipulate the outcome may be put off due to your own initial misunderstanding of the situation, or by the exceedingly intricate mechanism that runs reality, our existence.  You may not have accounted for their understanding, or they may have chosen not to bother you at all.

 
The only thing that is in your hands, is how *you*choose to act. 
If a child interrupts your daily prayer, meditation or journalling- you may communicate your intention to not be disturbed, and *Choose* to continue undisturbed. 
But can’t a parent scold/discipline a child? Well they can. It is something that is in their power. But once again, it’s up to the child whether to accept the correction or not. One can visit to a correctional school and see all manner of “incorrigible” children. The bottom line is, the illusion of control does not equate control. At some point, the child must choose to accept or decline the lesson. And that power is not in your hands. 
A chided child may continue irritating behaviour, a chided child may not continue irritating behaviour. That’s up to the child. You may have some control over the child, but the outcome might still bite you in the behind. 
By owning yourself and relinquishing control over what you truly cannot control, you can guarantee that you will receive what you expect from yourself. 
However, this superpower and virtue can take patience and commitment to master. Learning to gain mastery oneself means losing the identity of the victim- that the outside world dictates how we must feel and act. It entails gaining the belief that you are only in control of yourself, and have no complete control on the events around you. This involves breaking down the ego, which desperately plans and plots and hopes to control circumstances, all to keep you “safe”. It involves growing more conscious to the point where you can dissociate reactions from circumstances. When you are no longer forced to “react”, you gain a mighty power- the power to ACT from a place of conscious determination. You are no longer controlled by automatic socially conditioned physical, mental and emotional responses to situations. 
You can *choose* to be happy in what others may call “ill winds” or “bad twists of fate”; after all, you are a conscious being and have full control over your actions, and have relinquished the illusion of external control. 
Do not interpret this as living life passively- that is the opposite of what we want. We want to own our power completely. This entails relinquishing what we have no control over. Here is a scenario- you want a job, and are dreading the prospect of being unemployed for long. It is in your power to apply with professional resumes that convey your strengths effectively. However it is not in your power to manipulate the hiring manager to hire you out of all the other talent. You also do not have the power to see the future. You may get a job next week. You may not. Therefore, gaining mastery over oneself involves only taking responsibility for what one can truly control- ones own actions. Worry is seen as fruitless. Elbow grease is the order of the day.  An attempt is made after hours to enjoy the present, in the company of oneself, friends or loved ones. 
Start today. Start identifying patterns where you are made anxious by, or dread the thought of someone interfering with your plans. Focus on the feeling of frantically grasping for control. Can you control the reactions of another? Do you know the future, and can you know for sure how they will act? 

2. The Seeds We Sow

…a description of a mental habit that can help one become more productive, happy, and also exercise mindfulness.

As you sow, so you shall reap, proclaims the old adage.

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In my previous post, I introduced the idea of uncoupling one’s inner state from the ever changing external world to find lasting joy.

If the secret to happiness was just that easy, I would have wrapped up my blog then and there and quit my day job to live the rest of my life in eternal happiness. As many of us already know, it is simple but not easy to harness the power of consciousness in a life already chock full of stressors. Hence I have decided that I will share some strategies that work (for me) to increase my awareness.

Let’s get started. 

You have no doubt attempted (for a minute, for a day, for a year) to be mindful, to project consciousness upon the world to achieve inner peace, or wealth or to become a ninja or whatever your goals happen to be. And it is quite likely that, if you were lucky, you caught a glimpse of this deep inner peace, calm and joy in a relaxed setting, say on a beach during your vacation. You may have found that this is much more elusive and challenging in a stressful setting, say 11:30AM at work (although sometimes stress can act as a catalyst and help you reach new heights of inner discovery!).

Image result for trafficImage result for anger

Image result for peacefulImage result for smiling man

You may have attempted a few more times, and would have given up. Every now and then, you read a blog like this one, hoping to catch another glimpse of that place, of home, a place you felt you had been searching your whole life. You are still at the mercy of the (fickle and fleeting) external environment. 

This difficulty in exercising mindful presence can be likened to improving one’s vertical jump. While jumping more often does improve the jump, assistance exercises like weighted squats have been proven to improve your numbers. In a similar fashion, it is my personal belief that cultivating awareness can be made more enjoyable, and the results hastened through the cultivation of simple habits. 

This brings us to the meat and potatoes of this article – sowing the right seeds.

It is much easier to maintain control of what grows in a farm, rather than what grows in a jungle. This is because you decide what seeds get planted, and which ones receive nourishment in the form of water and fertilizer.

This analogy can also be used to describe habitual thoughts. Destructive thoughts are like weeds. The problem with weeds is that they spread with the slightest provocation. Ever kicked a fluffy dandelion head? It’s the easiest thing in the world – which conveniently carries hundreds of those little buggers into the wind.

Negative, destructive thoughts are the same way. It is oh-so-easy to curse, complain, shame, put yourself down, hate and fear. Ever notice how quickly time passes when you go on one of those internal rants? No wonder so many of us find it so hard to remain positive. The cognitive-behavioral triangle tells us that thoughts lead to emotions, which lead to actions, which reinforce the same thoughts as before and so on.

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I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how draining destructive thoughts and emotions can be. You could sit at your desk all day, but if you’re drained emotionally, you will have no motivation to do anything. Conversely, a day spent in physical labour that is emotionally fulfilling (such as volunteering at a food bank, SPCA, or building homes for the poor) leaves one full of inner vigor that transcends your physical state. Imagine if this emotional energy can be harnessed towards your desires, rather than used to dwell on circumstances and mental distractions not resourceful to you.

The solution I offer for your consideration is: guard your thoughts! Observe your thinking – when you catch yourself complaining, worrying fruitlessly, or shaming yourself for a past action – consider this a ‘weed’ and mentally visualize yourself destroying the seed.  Mentally choose not to plant it. Tell yourself that you don’t want to plant this thought, and are destroying it. Visualize its mental and emotional energy as being used for positive change. 

In its place, plant a beneficial seed  – a re-affirmation of your goals, your intent and your conviction. It is vital to do this with emotion and passion, as you are in essence “jump starting” the cognitive behavioral cycle – you’re putting in place new thoughts, and reinforcing them with new emotions.

The benefit of this exercise is twofold  –

  1. Gain greater control over one’s mental state – the pause required to be mindful of destructive thoughts exercises mindfulness and slowly builds it up.
  2. Mental hygiene – awareness of, de-construction and reconstruction of one’s unconscious self destructive mental habits into positive habits that build resilience and contribute to joy and worldly success.

Like any other habit, you will start seeing results over time. It is much easier to track changes in your psyche if you regularly write in a journal. Compare your progress weekly.

Just like the previous analogy with squats and vertical jumps, ‘going through the motions’ of a squat half-heartedly is only fractionally as effective as exercising in a fully engaged and sincere manner. Similarly, don’t just go through the motions,”Ok so this is a bad thought and I’m not gonna plant it  blablabla…” It is crucial to sincerely stop and decide with sincere conviction that you will use the energy to plant more fruitful seeds in your metaphorical farm. 

In my life, regular and sincere application of this philosophy has resulted in me feeling less emotionally drained and saves me more energy to be grateful, be present in the moment, and experience more of that fleeting bliss that comes with being truly alive.

I really hope this method helps many of you achieve the same. All the best.

-P.

 

 

P.S. I recently downloaded the WordPress app. I realize I haven’t been writing nearly enough, partly due to the crushing standards I have set for myself, and also due to the fact that I don’t have my laptop with me when motivation strikes (which is quite often these days).

I will be experimenting with writing more minimalist articles as time permits, but will be writing more often. I will also attempt to describe more of my own life circumstances, and what impact they have on my mental and spiritual practices. Hopefully that’ll make for an engaging read and be useful to me as a point of reflection. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

 

1. Grace is Power

In this article, I will discuss the art of truly not allowing external circumstances affect your internal balance, and its value in living a graceful life.

I have been obsessed with the idea of living with grace for a long time. Me being a martial arts enthusiast, I had always watched with sparkling eyes as the karateka, upon preparing his focus, breaks a stack of bricks. Or when a modern samurai cuts a 6mm BB (travelling at hundreds of feet per second) in half. Or when I watch UFC fighter Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson evade punches with catlike agility and fluidity. They all shared certain traits- the seemingly unnatural physical and mental stillness, a counter intuitive, serence relaxation in stressful circumstances, and their mental attitude of gentle yet utter domination over their circumstances.

They insist on playing by their own rules, which leverage the momentum of a situation, rather than fight it. This is in complete contrast with us, the majority, who are dominated by our surroundings. Their level of involvement is so deep, that it appears as though they are in profound detachment to the situation.

The more I looked around, the more grace I found in life. From a university professor who solves a problem in the fewest required number of steps, to the way the expert musician pulled the heartstrings of his audience through his precise manipulation of notes, to the way the lone hawk expertly navigates air currents with no wasted movement, grace was everywhere, just out of casual sight. I was hooked, and I couldn’t deny it any longer- grace makes life an unbelievably amazing and fulfilling experience. I must pursue this search further. I must become a student of the phenomenon that is grace.

The word comes from the Latin word Gratus, (pleasing, or thankful), leading to Latin gratia (having the favor of the gods). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, grace is defined in English as follows:

“1) Smoothness and elegance of movement

2) Courteous good will

3) An attractively polite manner of behaving

4) The free and unmerited favour of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and bestowal of blessings”

However we try to define it, there is always an element to grace that cannot be quantized, an unknown element, a je ne sais quoi. It is at the edge of your mind, the tip of your tongue, just beyond reach. The more you reach for it, the more you try to recreate that moment, the further it recedes.

The Value of Living with Grace                      

It should come as no surprise that we live in a neurotic society. Most of us wake up when we’re not fully rested. The average person propels oneself onward using sugar and caffeine, while encountering frustration, anger and boredom in various forms. Frustration with traffic, repetitive and uninspiring work, the annoying co-worker, and bills that induce anxiety, are all examples of sources of the neurosis that is widespread in modern civilized society.

For the most part, we’ve become so acclimatized to this neurosis, that it’s almost expected. In fact, we are taught young, how to follow the neurotic path. Elementary schools condition children to fit the image of the quiet, obedient student with a singular mode of intelligence (happily, this is changing). Hyperactive students are taught to suppress their natural and healthy urges, and are medicated to fit the strict demands of scholarship. In young adulthood, it becomes easy to pass up on personal hobbies, healthy diet and exercise to free up a few hours, which are spent on homework, projects and exams. Later in adulthood, the years of conditioning, the years of learned imbalance further enhance the imbalanced lifestyle. Physical, mental and social well being are forsaken for goals imposed by society (for example, the millions worldwide pursuing “the American dream”).

Don’t get me wrong, society is great! As a society, we’ve prolonged our lifespan, developed cures for previously fatal illnesses, built durable homes and cities, and created means of incredibly fast travel. By forming a society, most of us we have escaped the first rat race – eat or get eaten. I’m not blaming society for causing imbalances in our lives. I think of society as the target setter. We set targets through our collective consciousness, what most of us strive for is imposed heavily upon the rest of us. When we don’t know any better, we pursue targets which are unhealthy and cause discord within our spheres of existence.  The problem with the current education establishment is that we are taught very little about how to effectively manage and utilize human conditions – our emotions, personal attributes, habits, mental self-talk, how we associate with our peers etc. These are things we must confront and manage every single day.

You don’t have to live a hermit’s life in the mountains to live gracefully. In fact, quite the opposite.

While one may find grace in living a hermit’s life, it is perhaps more graceful to live in a pressured society, untouched by the pressure. Consider the oft-cited lotus, which lives in muddy ponds but rises above the mud, a testament that great things can arise from the worst circumstances.

Slightly closed lotus

Have you heard the phrase, “First World Problems”? It characterizes a universal human trend, where as humans, we create our own problems (I know you’re about to disagree, but hear me out). Circumstances are inevitable, but our response to these circumstances determines what is a “problem” and what isn’t. A man in poverty worries about finding his next meal. A middle class teen worries about his acne, and his appearance before his peers. In both their minds, they are deeply worrying problems. However, as we’ve all heard, worrying is not a productive reaction. In fact, it increases stress hormones and generally makes things worse for you. Worrying is the act of dwelling, rather than acting, on problems.

why worry

If we can avoid creating problems for ourselves, we simplify our lives by a longshot. When the teenager experiences an acne breakout, he could see it as a breakout, and not as a problem. He has a choice on whether to act, or worry. The choice is in his hands (well, his head, really). Years of conditioning and socially accepted practices compels him to choose worry and frustration.

Worry

Image courtesy: “Rocking Chair” by basykes. Source, license.

One of the best examples of the power of choice is Viktor Frankl, a Jewish doctor imprisoned in Auschwitz, who describes how he transmuted his fearful and morbid existence into a meaningful one, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. This is where Grace enters the picture. His work and experience is a testimony to the power of a graceful mindset. But choosing to make his time at Auschwitz a meaningful experience, he made a choice to not resist the inevitable circumstances he was stuck in.  He refused to allow EXTERNAL circumstances attack his INTERNAL balance as an individual.

To be clear, a graceful mindset does not require you to reject reality. It simply requires you to understand that problems arise out of resisting the inevitable.

By living gracefully, we make a choice- we choose to not resist life. This is much, much tougher than it sounds. You’ve heard the phrase, “Go with the flow” and “Just be” a million times, tried going “with the flow” a few times, and likely dismissed it as hippie mumbo jumbo. You must remember that mindfulness and non-resistance to circumstances are cultivated habits- it takes months to grow and a lifetime to perfect.

I’m not suggesting that you live passively. On the contrary, living gracefully involves mindfully taking proactive approaches to overcome challenges, but avoid excesses- specifically excessive worrying. Here’s a good analogy: Water in a stream flows around obstacles, but it never stops moving forward. Bruce Lee famously explained in his quote:

Bruce Lee Water

How will one find grace?

You don’t find grace – it finds you. It is a state of being; you allow yourself to become its conduit. You allow grace to enter your life by non-resistance to life, and by reacting to circumstances with awareness. Stuck in traffic? Observe your reactions; don’t get wrapped up in them. Notice the urge to get frustrated, and realize that although the circumstances are what they are, you are the source of your own frustration.  See what steps you can take to escape traffic. Make the choice to not induce frustration upon yourself. This will not be easy, but like any habit, gets easier with time and consistent practise.

Sometimes, I really can’t help myself. Some circumstances are extremely worrisome.

A healthy amount of stress (eustress) is good- it motivates you to get off your bum and into action. However, distinction must be made between eustress and distress (useless, harmful stress). Hey, I get it. Maybe you’re not into this self-improvement crap. Maybe you are. Whatever your choice, remember that it takes patience and mindfulness to catch yourself when unconscious behavior strikes. Grace is a state of being that must be cultivated. You must be patient with time, for habits demand time to change. You must also practice patience with yourself- correct yourself gently each time you catch yourself resisting reality. Demetrious Johnson did not learn to become a skillful fighter overnight. Rome was not built in a day.

Start observing your inner dialogue as you encounter frustrations in life, and make the choice to not harm yourself. Circumstances can’t change your inner world – only you can, and you owe it to yourself to change it for the better. I’d like to end with a quote:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

-Viktor E. Frankl, author, holocaust survivor

For further reading, I recommend (obviously) Man’s Search for Meaning, and also An Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. This book contains well structured arguments about how and why you can, and should, remain unaffected internally to changing external circumstances. I will write a post about this wonderful read in the future. All the best!   -P