Philosophies, Productivity

Residing Within the Eye of the Storm

Today’s thought is a simple one, yet un-ignorably powerful:

Peace resides within.

It’s three words, but if we look a little deeper, it is wonderfully revelatory. To begin with, the word “resides” stands out. The suggestion is that peace exists within us already, waiting to calm us and bring us serenity.

The second word that stands out is “peace”. What does this mean for you? Physiologically it means a slower heart-rate, calmer breathing, relaxed muscles, and a still or slow gait and manner. Psychologically it means acceptance of circumstances, calm with the consequences of circumstances, stillness, diligence, and purposefulness of mind. The methods of attaining these states depends entirely on your personal situation and the method of calming and accepting you respond to the most.

The final word is “within”. This word is probably the most powerful because it reframes our concept of where peace comes from. In general we spend a lot of time trying to obtain relaxation through external means or by changing external circumstances. The truth is, if Buddhist monks can find warmth wearing only robes in the frigid mountains, simply through meditation and force of mind, we can find calm in our daily lives by looking inward instead of outward.

Pretty cool right? Three words, such profundity. Work today to find calm within and envision yourself within the calm eye of the storm. Peace is attainable, today, right now.

Habits, Philosophies, Productivity

Strengthen Your Core

If you’re reading this today, I have a simple question for you: who are you?

It’s something we think we know. We attach a name and a job and an address to our identity but our principles, loves, passions, cares, and dreams can go completely ignored. These accessories to our lives, the “identifications” of our clothes, location, and career are little more than fruit of a tree and identifying our core values, nurturing that tree, leads to healthier, more bountiful fruit. Fruit of confidence, fulfillment, personal accomplishment, and long-term, sustaining happiness.

So, at least for today, consider your metaphorical tree. What ideals and character traits are important to you and which ones comprise you? What truly makes you, you?


It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon this article. It’s a Lifehacker piece about helping those that are grieving. Being someone without any recent deaths or friends with recent deaths, it wasn’t exactly topical but I decided to read on anyway. I didn’t expect to find anything, but what I did find has become profoundly helpful for many people in my life, including myself.

The tip I’m referring to is the phrase, “You don’t have to have the answers right now.” The basic message is that healing will take time, but on another level it makes the suggestion that it is okay to not feel perfect. We spend a lot of time trying to change our emotions. We believe that by focusing on the symptoms of our personal ailments, that we can treat their root cause. But what if the cause is beyond our control, like a physical disease or a stressful time at work? Clearly, acceptance is a more helpful path than rejection of our very natural feelings.

And when I say acceptance, I very explicitly mean acceptance of ourselves. We don’t have to have all the answers right now, we don’t have to feel better right now, and, as a result of this, we do not have to dislike ourselves or our circumstances for making us feel less than perfect. Understand your circumstances and uncover potential solutions if they exist, but above all else, accept yourself.

Commentary, Habits, Philosophies

Is This Real Life?

Context: this particular post was written a couple of weeks ago while the misses was away for a business trip and my work was exceedingly stressful. The commentary is, however, no less universal today than it was then.

Barring a stroke of pure genius, welcome to my ham-fisted introduction, pounded out beligerently on the keyboard well past my bed time on a school night. I’m tired, my head hurts, my eyes are extremely dry, and the cat will, not stop, jumping, into, my lap. At this point, it’s hard to appreciate my tea or find the patience for studying Japanese, my physical circumstances simply don’t permit my attitude a sliver of optimism or enthusiasm. Yet, at the same time, I cannot ignore that my perspective as a self-improvement junkie, aspiring polyglot (knower of many languages) welcomes the reluctant learning as a badge of honor; a moment when my willpower and intellectual curiosity won out over my physical circumstances.

You see, today was a difficult day. Besides the brow-beating a 9-to-5 work environment can regularly lay on unsuspecting victims, the absence of my paramour (business trip) has made maintenance of my usual (pardon the term) “swagger” exceedingly difficult. Physically drained, emotionally exhausted, and mentally taxed beyond my usual burn-the-bitch-at-both-ends work style, normal circumstances simply aren’t what they would be in the right lighting. My persistent pesimism born of a physical inability to muster a smile makes crackers bland, tea uninteresting, and conversations labored.

On the flip side, my usual sunny demeanor has its benefits, pardoxically serving as a hindrance to my dispassionate evaluation of the world around me. The same day, viewed with a good night’s sleep, a warm hug from mah bebe, and a fresh batch of esoteric albums to listen to would taste the same crackers with delight, sip the same tea with appreciation, and lead to joke after hilariously delivered joke (I’m a God damn delight). Unfortunately, what this means is that regardless of the circumstances, you and I both are bound and determined to have our subjective evaluations swayed more by our physiology than by the flavor of crackers in front of us (I’m really hungry and all we have are crackers).

So what defines us? Clearly we aren’t serial killers one day and happy-bunnies the next. You see, the common thread that runs through all of our perceptions is our perspective. The perspective that comes from many years of living our own lives, walking in the shoes of others, and having cultural experiences that expand our minds. No matter how pissed off you get that X didn’t do Y or Z doesn’t taste like Q, down at your core you know who you are: a person capable of patience and empathy, unwilling to rely on heartburn and assumptions when making judgments or decisions. You are capable of doing better.

I’m not saying it’s easy, God knows it isn’t. But seeing the world objectively, not attaching a label or a positive/negative evaluation to everything you perceive will help you be a more calm, secure, and happy person. I speak from experience. Look beyond your assumptions and ask yourself, what is happening in this moment? And when you’re done, come back here and tell me about it because once my knee stops hurting and my complexion clears up, I will be a person that wants to hear about your life.

And you will be to.

Philosophies, Productivity

Breeze, Breath, and Bravado

I am an app-aholic. I love getting on my iPhone and discovering what tasty new code candy will improve my life in some way shape or form. Generally, the applications are productivity based; helping me organize my thoughts or daily habits in ways that breed success. The overwhelming majority of the rest are aimed at improving my capacity for life consumption. By this I mean, anything that allows me to somehow make sense of all the books, movies, places, restaurants, recipes, thoughts, articles, and albums that I want to experience.

The habit is a consistent one. I am constantly looking to expand my realm of impression. I’ve always felt that by digging deep into the gold mine of culture that our world offers, I will somehow become a better person. So I create lists of books, rate old movies that I’ve seen, and delve into historical albums that influenced their generation. But certain apps don’t have the books I’m looking for. I’ll try this one. What movies did I watch in 2007? Better just sit down and knock that off in a weekend. This list of influential artists seems a bit biased toward one genre or another, so I’ll just listen to the lists from several different sources. But that’s gonna take time, I’ll have to listen to those while I’m reading NPR articles. You know I’ve always been interested in science, this new science blog seems like a good fit to my Google Reader account. I’ll have to remember to add that to my to do list…

Ad nosium.

The task of trying to take in, be, and do everything is a daunting one. I equate it to the image of a man carrying a tall stack of books, knees buckling under the weight, struggling to keep the stack from crushing him. The task has lead to persistent and sometimes debilitating anxiety in my life and I know now for certain, after quite a bit of reflection and professional advice, that making the trivial far more important than it really is, is the culprit.

Since the apex of my confrontation with anxiety, several things have changed. When I listen to an album, sometimes I will close my eyes and allow only one sense to partake in the experience. When I write posts, I minimize every other window and utilize a minimalistic text editor that cuts out distractions. In conversations, I minimize exterior annoyances and keep my mobile devices on silent so as not to interrupt my concentration and my colleague’s or friend’s thoughts. I’m doing my best to live simply, focusing on priorities, shoveling off what is unimportant.

It takes practice, but the benefit is palpable. Even after weeks of practice, Ijust had to re-listen to an NPR story about the social impact of Honey Boo Boo because I was too distracted by other things. I spend close to an hour a day (split into three installments) meditating and the result is a more calm, more coherent perception of the world. My journal is always at my side so that I may record my felt impressions on a moment’s notice and I no longer conflate emotional flare-ups with fictitious greater life issues.

Granted, my ideas and practices may not work for everyone, but the concept is universal: live simply. Consider the house pictured above. Imagine the peace the owner must feel, the connection they experience tied to the land, and the focus they feel devoid of traffic noise and obfuscation. Regardless of your practice, all of us can benefit mentally and physically from a simple life. Prioritize what is important in your life and get rid of the things that aren’t. I’m not saying go Spartan and shirk smiling because it wastes energy that could be spent studying astronomy, but we can all take a moment to look at the clutter in our lives, in all its forms, and do some cleaning.

The process is not easy. The tools to enable an over-saturated lifestyle are in our very pockets. But with a little effort, we too can become pioneers of our environment, cutting through the underbrush and constructing something truly awe-inspiring, learning about ourselves and providing the best for our loved ones in the process.

Photo from ISO50

Habits, How-To

Meditation: A Primer

One of my favorite subjects to write about here on CFiST is peace and one of the greatest ways to attain that peace is through meditation.

For some, (even me) it can be a weird experience to try something new. My first tip is very simple: be open-minded. The scientific and psychological benefits of meditation are well-documented, so allow yourself to know that your actions are beneficial on many levels and that millions of people meditate every day.

So how does it work? How do those of us without access to Tibetan monks know what to do? It’s very simple:

1. Breath

Meditation is a very simple thing (achieving meditative consciousness is not but we’re only trying to relax at first). The most important thing to remember is to breathe. Take deep breaths from the diaphragm, taking twice as long to breathe out as in, and focus all your attention on that action.

2. Posture

Sit cross-legged (the lotus position), hands resting either on your knees or in folded in your lap. Sit tall, as if a string is drawing the crown of your head upward. Relax your shoulders. Your back should be strong but you should not be tense.

3. Environment

Find a quiet, well-lit (preferably by natural light) room with minimal distraction. The temperature should not e too cold but also not too warm. You should be comfortable in your space but awake and focused.

4. Duration

As long as you like! There is much to be gained from long periods of meditation, but you have to work up. Your attention span will be minimal, your mind will wander, but after a while you will find that practiced focus comes naturally. Gradually increase your time when you feel comfortable but always focus on clearing your mind and the time will dictate itself.

Again, this is just a primer, but every journey begins with a single steps. Implement these tips for just a moment per day and you’ll find that what starts as a chore becomes a beautiful retreat.