All, Poetry, Writing

Some Thoughts on Writing, Hiding Behind Poems, and a Poem on Modern Love

At the end of this entry is poem I worked on last night and today, and as the poem’s opening line states, it was not an easy poem - but beyond that I don’t I think it’s a particularly great poem; however, there is some substance there; although, it certainly lacks a consistent tone or style – but despite that, there are lines I really like – but the poem as a whole is just not a very good poem. I simply don’t feel the poem achieves the proper balance of style and substance.

But it’s a poem I had to write, because it encapsulates a feeling that’s been turning over in my soul lately, and as I’ve admitted before, poets only write poetry when they are upset – and often I use poetry as a medium for my writing because in a poem I can say things that I don’t feel safe to admit in prose, because I feel like a poem is a safe place to bare your soul for a couple of minutes while the rest of the world pays no attention. 

Poetry just feels overall much less declarative than prose to me, and perhaps it’s because poetry masks egocentricity under the guise of art, or at least it gives the reader the impression that the feelings being communicated are more important than the ideas beneath them.

Perhaps the very nature of poetry as a creative medium, rather than a communicative one, allows for greater empathy toward the writer because it bares some soul and some vulnerability that isn’t obvious in an essay or article format. There’s some inherent asking of forgiveness from the reader that a poet asks simply in sharing his poetry, as if to say – this is a part of me that I fashioned into verse to help myself make sense of this piece of my life – and I think others might profit something from it, either way – here it is, I hope you enjoy it.

Whereas, the writer who takes the liberties and freedom of prose seems more self-important, as if he is saying, I’ve written something here that reveals my own (worthy) ideas about this topic, which the title of is but a tiny promise to you [the reader] that what I have written will enable you to understand this subject much better than you previously did.

And of course the influence of advertising and the impact of the internet as a whole has greatly diluted the perceived value of the written word in the eyes of readers. Content farms and linkbait factories are driven by data with the singular mission of aggregating more eyeballs; clicks and impressions lead to dollars, so even once great publications like Esquire magazine have started pumping out 5-10 clicky titles a day in an effort to win eyeballs online.

Note: If you see any ads here on 7Saturdays it’s because I choose to host this for free on wordpress.com so that this content will remain online long after my death, so any ad revenue from this goes straight to the awesome folks at wordpress. And as an additional aside, it is possible to purchase a yearly upgrade to remove the ads completely.

Being that I’m driven only by my own love for the craft rather than the desire for revenue, I’ve had the wonderful freedom of being able to write whatever I want, and I’ve always written what I felt I needed to write for my own soul – and as such, this blog has been a living record of my inner world, rather than a tool for me to progress within the outer world; however, as I grow older and my writing becomes more paramount to my existence, my desire to write for the benefit of others is becoming equal in importance to my desire to write for my own pleasure.

So what does this mean?

Well, I want to continue writing here, but I want to be more brave about it. Meaning, if I feel something like ‘Hey, I think it’s really messed up that we as a society think it’s normal to discard our ex lovers with zero regard for their wellbeing’ then I want to write about it, rather than burying those feelings in a poem – if in fact I think that prose will allow me to do a better job of conveying what I am trying to say.

By my own admission I’m a much better wordsmith given the freedom to write without rhythm or rhyme, which isn’t to say that I haven’t written some poems I think are great and are perfectly communicated in verse, but as an artist and as a human being I want to evolve and grow beyond the confines of my comfort zone. So perhaps it’s time I start writing as bravely in prose as I have in poetry; although, that’s a scary thought.

So, expect more color here. I’ll still be writing on on psychology and philosophy as those are passions of mine, but I think I need to be as brave in my writing as I have been in the other areas of my life.

Tonight I had gone to the store and assumed I would come home and after dinner I would work on this poem and complete it, but as I walked around the aisles of the store it dawned on me that I was using poetic verse as a protective facade to wrap up raw feelings in a pretty package, and maybe I was afraid of admitting these things outright.

So I came home and wrote the above to preface the ugly version of this poem. It’s ugly because it’s not really finished, but I don’t think it could be any other way. It’s the way I feel, and it’s not pretty, but it’s real.

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I’m Not Built Like That

This poem isn’t easy
But I’ve got words to say

She’s found eternal sunshine -
Apparently, self-preservation means disowning love without reservations
And that’s just the way it is

That’s just the way it is

Though we parted long ago,
A part of me knows our love is a big part of all I’ll ever know
And I wasn’t built for letting go -
So I think it’s time I let the world know -

This is me
At twenty-nine,
On a chaise -
Alone and alone

Once upon a time I was less angry – my heart was less complex
You see -
I grieve for things that were once dreams,
So don’t think I can just look for what’s next

It’s obvious I wasn’t made for modern romance
Giving love then taking it back,
Turning apart to never look back
Simply because society says ‘the past is the past’

So we spend a thousand nights together and then say,
‘sorry I don’t feel that same way’

You see,
The three words I gave thee were a gift – not a loan
And in my hand still exists a place for yours that feels like home
I feel it now
But hope sinks as I write this poem -
Because inside I know
Nothing can help,
Not even making these feelings known

You see,
She doesn’t love me like that:
“We’re broken up”
“You need to move on”
“This isn’t normal”
And -
“Please – just leave me alone”

Icy, frigid, freezing Arctic heart -
I never saw your polar nature on warm, long afternoons in the park
But I’m still here and I’m haunted by the burns from that once bright spark

You see,
I will die loving you
And maybe they’ll say I was born broken from the start,
That I should have just moved on and forgotten,
Made a brand new start
But they’ll never know
Because they don’t have my heart

Still and always will be the goodhearted idealist,
But the truth is -
I feel doomed to feel this
I’m just tired of being the realest

You see,
I’m asking myself:

How many more times can I survive the character assassination of a breakup?

How many more cherished remembrances of the past am I to jettison, cast off, and set adrift?

Each time I come across one it feels bittersweet like finding a board-game-piece beneath the family sofa on moving day -
You stare at it for a moment and look back on a dear memory as you’re served a painful reminder of just how sad it is to say that you don’t know that person today

That’s the pain of knowing you can never go back to that place
And if you do return,
It will be alone -
Face it -
You have to face the past on your own -

I have a hard time accepting accepting
To know that certain pieces of me will be marooned in my own skull for eternity
You see – there are no other houses for these memories – just mine and her mind
And it pains me to know they will never come back home with us again -
But somehow – she doesn’t seem to mind

And I both admire and detest her for that
But I could never look back solely in anger -
I’m just not built like that
-
I could never disown someone I loved
No matter what

You see,
Though my heart is rich and heavy with the patina of grief and pain -
I just don’t know how much more loving it can actually sustain

I can’t bear the weight of it all -
I fear that the sound of the echoes will grow too loud and my heart will feel too small
I can’t carry any more torches in the night
So if you love me don’t expect me to be your white knight

I’m not built like that anymore

I can’t go to that place without facing the truth,
The truth that the wrong love could be the end of me
And maybe it’s time to decide in advance that the next love doesn’t deserve all of me
Will she even deserve the real me?

Because the real me is offering a forever home
And the real me would go into battle to return to that place we used to know
But there is one thing I know

You see,
It’s time to hold my cards close,
And to be the king of my own heart
And if I give my love again, it will be the final start

I loved you once
I love you still
My love is real
My love is real

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All

Oh Sophie

This morning I felt like I had been overestimating humanity and then I met Sophie and I changed my mind.

Later on I went out with friends and at the end of the night I felt let down because I fear the opposite sex views me to be inherently replaceable, and that scares me.

So tonight I’ll hope to astral project in my sleep and meet Marina Keegan and in this thought I’ll birth hope again. Day by day – despair and hope – and back again, we beat on.

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All, motivation, Philosophy, Psychology, Self-Actualizing

Journey to Self‑Mastery: From Self‑Control to Self‑Discipline

I posted a previous – albeit brief entry on the importance of self-control about a month ago, and today I want to talk about it again, but within a larger context.

I want to tell you about my journey to self-mastery, but first let me give you some of the key quotes from the video on self-control, which served as the centerpiece of the aforementioned entry.

On Self-Control (by Leo Gura of Actualized.org)

“When you master your own psychology it becomes easier to influence the world, otherwise the world is always influencing you. “

“Developing self-control, self-discipline is not easy and this is why most people do not do it and why most people’s lives are shit, because they do not take the proper steps to develop self-control and that’s because there is emotional labor involved – there is struggle involved with building self-control.”

“Self-control is difficult to develop and the way to develop it is through work. You’re looking for opportunities to improve yourself, to grow. And what happens is that you start to build these additional layers – and those build extra self-control into you. And you start to notice that you get more awareness, and more ability to control your feelings, more ability to control your emotions, more ability to control your behaviors, more ability to persist in spite of the fear, to have courage, more ability to learn, more ability to introspect, to be very honest with yourself – and this is a great thing, and it just kind of snowballs and you start to build more and more self-control. On the other hand – if you’re not being undisciplined, if you’re not observing the practices and you’re not doing the things that you need to be doing in life – then what happens is you kind of have the reverse process. Your brain turns to mush, your Prefrontal Cortex becomes weak and you are not able to execute on the things that your higher-self wants to execute on, and so what happens is that your lower-self takes control over your higher self – and that is a very bad place to be in, in life, because even though that lower-self got what it wants, it got comfort, it feels good – that higher-self is still there, it’s not dead, and it wants you to be living to your full potential, and when you’re not living to your full potential you feel guilty, you feel horrible – you feel like your soul has been drained. And that’s one of the worst feelings in life.”

So what are some of the things you can do to build self-control?

One – Disciplined Practice:

“Have disciplined practices. That means that you’re getting up at a certain time in the morning when you want to be getting up. That means if you the intention to brush and floss twice a day – do that. If you have intentions to meditate – do that. If you have intentions to journal – do that. If you have intentions to show up on time – do that. If you have intentions of eating healthy – do that.  If you have intentions of going to the gym – do that, and be very disciplined and consistent about it. That practice – with whatever area of your life you point it in – if you’re just disciplined and you’re executing consistently, that trains your brain. It requires the build up of Prefrontal Cortex just to do it. It’s like going to the gym and pumping your biceps, it builds them up – that’s what it does to your brain. So, have disciplined practices and stay on top of those. That’s the bottom-line, quickest way to build self-control. Follow through on your disciplined practices – set a few new ones every once in a while, and build those up into habits.”

Unhook from Media and Stimulation:

“You are overstimulated right now; most of you are overstimulated with television, radio, gossip from your friends, advertising, negative influences from family, from friends – all over the place. You’re overstimulated by it. You need to unhook yourself from it. Get back to your source. Spend some time by yourself in solitude; think about things. Be introspective. Raise your level of consciousness. When you do this you start to develop a level of self-control that’s just amazing. You cannot have self-control when you’re plugged in – when your plugged into the grid, because what happens is your mind becomes a lazy slug and it plugs into the grid and what you’re looking for is that cheap source of energy that you can just plug into. You just want to plug into that TV and let go. You just want to plug into that chocolate ice cream and just let go. You want to plug into that relationship – that comfortable relationship and just let go. And you want to plug into sitting there on the internet all day and browsing all day, and browsing Facebook, and chatting with your friends, and gossiping about the latest celebrity news. You’re just plugging in – you’re letting your brain to to mush. How can you have self-control when you do that – you can’t. You got to snip that stuff off – cut it all off – spend some time thinking, being alone, introspecting, coming up with goals,, coming up with visions, coming up with ideas for what you want to accomplish in your life. That is how you get your self-control back.”

Note: Definitely check out the videos from Leo at Actualized.org

My Personal Journey with Self-Control

In the past month, since publishing the initial entry on self-control, I have fully heeded the above wisdom. The effects of this have compounded upon the already significant changes I have made in my life this year.

Just in the last half of this year I have completely given up all:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Caffeine
  • Sweets and processed / junk food
  • Pornography and self-pleasure (a topic deserving of it’s own entry – and one that has nothing to do with morality).
  • All news websites
  • All entertainment websites and purposeless internet surfing
  • Negative / Unhealthy relationships

Each of these things has required a considerable measure of emotional labor, but I can proudly say that I have exercised complete and total self-control.

And what of these changes – how has my wellbeing been impacted as a result of exercising self-control in these areas of my life?

Well, I could write at length about this but I’ll save that for a future date as there’s yet a considerable amount of benefits to reap and still a great amount of change at work, but I’ll say the following:

Beyond looking better (My bodyfat is dropping to BAWSE levels) and feeling better (my confidence is at an all time high), the greatest thing is that my self-awareness is eons above what it once was. I’ve been able to go within my psyche and perform the kind of deep self-work that produces the rare type of quantum change available once – maybe twice within a lifetime. This has also opened the doors within my soul for a spiritual awakening, which I am massively grateful for. And my identity as a practicing Stoic has benefited immensely, and of course, my mindfulness, and meditation practices have blossomed through this as well.

But simply the increase in self-awareness alone is in itself reward enough to suffice as motivation for me to continue on this path indefinitely. It’s an amazing feeling to be deeply connected to your inner intuition and to experience the alignment of the heart and the mind that this brings. This deepening and awakening of my self-awareness has given me the gift of being able to live from my highest truth – spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, professionally, intellectually – I’ve given myself the gift of stepping into my highest self.

No More Palliatives

But why? How can self-control be this transformative? Well – the italicized notes in the beginning of this entry do an excellent job of shedding light onto this – but in addition to that, I have come to see that these things were my way of numbing myself to who I am and how I really felt. When you become aware of all the things you are plugging into, and you stop plugging into them, you start to see that they were merely a palliative.

palliative

Those palliatives we habituate ourselves to indulging in become automated responses to any disturbances in our mental equilibrium. So we become in a sense very amateur neuropharmacologists, doling out the brain chemicals we feel we need to feel okay. And as a result our mental and emotional awareness is never fully allowed to properly achieve a natural state of homeostasis.

I can’t tell you how many times over the past few years I simply wished I could cry – but I couldn’t; although, I intuitively knew I needed to. That’s no longer the case now that I am emotionally and mentally 100% organic. Music moves me more, I connect more deeply to others, I laugh more, I cry when I need to cry, I dance more, and I feel innocent – like a child.

And I’m centered and I’m grounded; my moods are linear and I am more resilient than I have ever been. And on the rare occasion I do get angry, I can sense just how much that anger has lowered my self-awareness, and it’s just gotten to the point that it’s not even worth it for me to get angry anymore. And I no longer get depressed. Period. Additionally my ADHD has pretty much disappeared. Perhaps my brain has learned that no amount of pain, suffering, discontent, or boredom will earn it the synthetic sources of Dopamine it once was addicted to, and so these things no longer serve a purpose in my life. It’s as if my emotions have gone from existential to experiential – meaning, I am no longer angry – I’m just experiencing anger.

Continue reading

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All, MyFavoritez, Philosophy, Poetry, spirituality, Timeless Truths, Zen

These Require No Gifts of Circumstance

Inner peace – true wellbeing,
Is neither the feeling of thirst satisfied – nor satisfaction

It’s not the pursuit of desire,
Nor the attainment of what isn’t,
Nor the possession of what is

It’s merely the state of non-comparison:
To past or present,
To what you have had,
Or do not have,
Or to what anyone else may have

It’s neither found in detachment nor attachment;
But rather, it’s grounded in the knowing:
Who you are,
What you believe in,
And what you’re made of

These require no gifts of circumstance

Ground yourself and your happiness in these and you will be unshakable, unbendable, and unbroken

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Note: This was adapted from this evening’s journal entry and is designed to remind you that it’s not the seeking or even the pleasure of attainment that will ever please you.

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All, Meditating, meditation, Self-Actualizing, spirituality, Timeless Truths, Zen

It’s Time to Climb Down off the Black Rock and Get Comfortable

I’ve been meditating on the same rocky outcrop each morning for the past month. Just north of this outcrop sits a tall lava-rock that lies out on a point, and – low tide permitting – I’ve been climbing up on top of it in the evenings and sitting there for sunset meditations.

These two spots have been cherished elements of my meditation practice and I’ve had beautiful experiences on each; however, I’ve abruptly stopped using both.

Why?

Something happened; I just came to the realization that I was this guy (albeit much better posture, and my rock is a lot cooler).

meditate

And what I mean when I say ‘I came to the realization that I was this guy’ is that I noticed my ego creeping in…

Pretty girls jogging by on the beach, and I felt cool up on my black rock. Shirtless, and contemplative – dare I say sexy…

And that’s cool, I mean – if you are living a life where meditation is more important than happy hour, and you are in prime physical shape, and you are aggrandizing yourself then you deserve to feel good about it, sure. You’re fostering a positive and healthy self-image, and that’s great.

But, what happens when those feelings of pride creep up into your meditation (or yoga) practice?

Suddenly you lose the state of flow. You lose your self-awareness of “I am” in exchange for self-conscious feelings of “These people think I am”. And that’s antithetical to meditation, that’s counterproductive to the objective of transcending the self.

So, in that moment (specifically the one where I noticed myself consciously appraising myself via the imagined approval of others – aka ‘that guy looks cool’ = “I look cool up here”), I suddenly realized sitting high on a rock where I looked the part of mr. meditative beau was not authentically me.

It was not serving my spiritual goals to be the guy on the black rock – as much as I love the song.

And don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-ego as some spiritual teachers would advocate (i.e., Eckhardt Tolle). I think confidence is an aspect of the soul. The soul is supposed to be unique and confident. The soul is inherently a bit of a rebel and a bad ass; soul is sexy.

But confidence is not ego. Confidence is a product of internal validation, and ego is a product of external validation. Ego is the you that your inner child projects in an effort to gain approval from others. So, up on the black rock, in that moment I sensed the insecure inner child within me feeling quite chuffed with himself – and I didn’t like that, because I don’t want my inner child using the ego to feel good.

So, in my noticing of an attractive female eyeing me, I was naturally taken into a state of ego, and it’s impossible to be fully present when you are experiencing yourself through that state, because it’s externally based. So if you’re meditating or doing yoga and ego creeps in, you lose your sense of internal orientation – you start judging yourself.

Confidence is a product of internal validation, and ego is a product of external validation.

I’m not into judging myself; I’m not 24 anymore. I’m 29 and I’m coming into my mature male masculine energy. As a result I’m not as interested as I once was in bringing that kind of attention to myself – particularly not while I’m trying to meditate on the internal world, which requires no external knowing. The inner world of meditation is about connecting to your inner intuition. It’s about connecting and listening to the inner voice within you that tells you to climb down from the black rock and go sit on the comfort of the sand.

And you know what, about 25 yards south of the black rock is the greatest little meditation spot – a rounded rock shaped like a bulbous piece of modern art furniture, complete with a deep depression, which fits my cross-legged lower body almost perfectly.

So, this morning I sat there and I got into one of the deepest, most beautiful meditative states I’ve had in nature.

And my inner intuition spoke to me and told me that so many of us are always chasing pleasure as a means to alleviate our discontent, and that so few of us are fulfilled, and that we just need to take the pleasures as they come, let go of the pain, and appreciate it all. And I heard my inner voice tell me how I didn’t need to be thirsty or hungry for those states of pleasure, because I could ground myself deeply through gratitude. And I felt incredible love, and my inner voice told me that I was love, because I create love, I produce love, and I attract love. And the universe told me that others can only mirror back to us the love we have within ourselves, and that I would never have to want for love again, because it is within me, and it grows when I become it, and I am love.

And that is what it feels like to transcend.

So, ask yourself, what black rocks am I sitting on in life? Where am I participating in the pageantry of vanity?

Maybe you’ve been trying to grow your hair long because you think other people would find it attractive and that’s a black rock. Maybe you have been pursuing someone’s approval and that’s a black rock. Don’t chase the states. Don’t be hungry. Don’t seek internal peace through external things. Detach from looking and feeling cool, and you’ll be the coolest motherfucker in the world.

Climb down off the black rock and get comfortable with yourself, with life, with others, and with your relationship to the world. The possibilities awaiting you will bring you closer to the truth in your heart than you could ever imagine.

Bonus: Matt Kahn on Emotional Oneness 

I implore you to watch the video below with an open mind and an open heart. Life changing stuff.

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All, humanity, Philosophy, Self-Actualizing, Timeless Truths

Why True Love is so Rare

When I saw the title ‘The Truth About Love’ in my FB feed I thought, Damn linkbait! Now I have to click and make sure I’m not missing anything. 

But I was very happy I did click – not because I discovered something I didn’t know, but because I was reminded that what I know is true. You see, I’ve come to find out the exact truth about love that Ben Neal wrote of in this mini essay. I’m almost certain Mr. Neal learned this truth the way I did, which is to say, the way you learn this, through massive heartache and loss, and searching, and lots and lots of inner work.

Eventually I may write something that encompasses previous entries I have written on love (ranging from the relatively idealistic to the purely rational), but for now this encapsulates how I feel very well.

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This following was published in Elephant Journal, and was written by Ben Neal.

“Do you believe in love?

I’m talking about that deep down, life changing, earth shaking, always-and-forever kind of love—the stuff of poetry and legend.

Many people are skeptical, and for good reason. Today’s culture isn’t very fertile ground for romance. With social media, text messaging and online dating, we’ve revolutionized communication but we’ve lost the art of relationship. There are very few success stories. (Sometimes it seems like there are very few people having real, face-to-face conversations anymore!)

But I believe. Scratch that. I know.

True love is real—deep, unconditional, everlasting love. The reason it is so rare is because it is so misunderstood.

Most people’s idea of “true love” looks something like this: Mr. or Mrs. Right is waiting out there somewhere, “the One” they are destined to be with. And that special someone is looking for them too, and it’s only a matter of time before they meet each other—and of course, they’ll both live happily ever after.

Bullshit.

Happily ever after doesn’t exist. And God didn’t hand pick one special person just for you. In fact, the whole idea of finding fulfillment in someone else is an illusion.

The truth is, love can only be found within.

Most people who are looking for love “out there” are actually just running away from loneliness. They constantly settle for less than what they want, and less than what they deserve, because their greatest fear is to be alone, grow old alone and die alone.

The fear of loneliness prevents us from experiencing real intimacy. True love lies beyond that fear. We have to face what Louis C.K. calls the “forever empty,” the unquenchable sadness deep within us; the ever present knowledge of our own mortality, that in the end we all face death all alone.

The truth is that real love requires real inner work that most people just aren’t interested in. It requires that we first be happy in our solitude; that we come to know ourselves, accept ourselves and love ourselves. We have to find our peace of mind, find our purpose, our passion, our joie de vivre.

It requires that we lay down the ego’s defenses and be naked and vulnerable; that we give up our planning and fantasizing about the future and live in the Now. Only then are we really ready to love. When you fully grasp that tomorrow is not guaranteed—that this moment is truly all that we have—there is nothing to do but give everything you’ve got, expecting nothing in return.

In fact, you know in advance that your heart will be broken. You will be lied to, you will be taken for granted; you will be hurt and disappointed. Sooner or later, between here and your deathbed, you will have to say goodbye. You know it, you accept it, and you love anyway.

Real love is divine. It comes from a relationship with God, a dance with emptiness which takes us beyond the human self, beyond the ego’s petty games to know a timeless love; to taste the fullness of joy.

What we call “true love” is that rare and sacred union that happens when two people join in this dance together.

It is a friendship, a love affair and an act of worship. Passion, lust, affection, caring, trust, respect and devotion all become part of an exquisite surrender. Lovers merge with each other and with the vast, wild universe. Neither knows for sure if it will last a weekend or a lifetime. It doesn’t matter.

All that matters is this moment of oneness—holy and beautiful.

It contains eternity.”

When you have discovered that abundant love lives in that higher place within you, and when you have learned to reinterpret your stories and reevaluate your belief systems about what love is, then you can begin to cultivate the true self-compassion, unconditional self-acceptance, and healthy self-love that true love requires. And two people who have each discovered this is such a rare thing. And this is why true love is so rare.

Bonus: Watch the Prince EA Video on love in this entry to get an even better sense of what true love is.

Update: The following is excerpted from the above referenced video by Prince EA (on love), which I wanted to include here because it puts this entry and the message here about what true love is in such a clearer context:

“See, the truth is, we have forgotten what love is. Our ideas about love come from storybooks, romantic comedies, popular songs, facebook memes – and they all show this fuzzy romantic type of love, and as you are aware, in your own life, these ideas have led to more anxiety and pain then true pleasure [fullfilment] and happiness… because these ideas themselves are flawed, they are based on ownership and selfishness “You are my bae, my boo, my sweetheart; I love you – but only if you’re with me”. That’s a possessive type of love, that’s a love with strings attached, that’s an impure type of love.

Ask yourself this question: who do you hate? It’s probably somebody you used to love right.

Thinking that somebody can fix you or that you can fix somebody else is just plain wrong. See, love is an inside job. In order to love others we must first love ourselves. We have to mature in a way that we can take care of our own emotional needs –  we can help ourselves – and that way, we accept the flaws in our partner because we have already accepted the flaws in ourselves.

There’s no more anger or controlling clinginess in this type of love, there’s a relaxed acceptance, there’s kindness, there’s tenderness, there’s vulnerability.

And when you are reflecting your true self, your true soul, you’re no longer reflecting anger, pain, your past failures, and your ego – that’s when love can blossom because the souls only expression is pure love.

And I think when two people, when two souls come to this understanding – that’s rare, that’s beautiful, and that’s something we should all strive for

So word to the wise, if you don’t know how to love, you will ultimately destroy it.”

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All, MyFavoritez, Psychology, Self-Actualizing, Timeless Truths

Rewire Your Brain to Be Grateful Morning, Noon, and Night

Image credit: Mandy Ingber on Abundant Gratitude

Image credit: Mandy Ingber on Abundant Gratitude

I could begin this entry with a preface a mile long about how the changes I’ve adopted in my life have changed me. Suffice to say – I am very grateful.

I thought about this last night as I reflected on my journey over the past year, and what I knew to be absolutely true was that the change had been gradual – conscientious and directed, but gradual. And a resultant product of that graduality is the compound effect these habits and ways of thinking have had on each other. My wellbeing today is a very holistic product of the sum of my habits – so much so that I’m working to methodically fine tune my habits of routine over the coming weeks (yes, there is a spreadsheet), and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for my inner and outer life. Feelsgoodman. And if my words come across as self-gratifying at all, that’s probably because they are. I’m not here to tell my story today, but I’ve earned my inner sanctity through nothing less than sheer force of will. My goal with this entry is simply to help propel you, my dear reader, forward down this same beautiful path.

I suppose I did end up with a mile long preface regardless, but brevity was never my strong-suit.

I want to begin with the story about how gratitude changed my life. Firstly, I loathe the word gratitude. It just inherently feels like new age smugness to me. But g-ddamnit, the shit works.

Part of my journey over the past year has been a conscious choosing of new habits in order to rewire my brain. I’m not kidding. It’s called neuroplasticity, and it’s one of the most glorious scientific facts I know – nothing short of a biological miracle.

Here’s a one-minute video on neuroplasticity at it’s most basic level – the synapse:

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.

Mahatma Gandhi

Seeds of gratitude are powerful forces for influencing your destiny – and as this Psychology Today article on the psychology of gratitude states, gratitude is different from, and more powerful than, appreciation:

Gratitude should also be distinguished from appreciation, which is the recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of a person or thing, but without the dimension of awe or wonder or profundity or humility that is the essence of gratitude.

Unfortunately, from an evolutionary psychology perspective, we are wired to be negative. Our survival was dependent upon our ability to identify dangers and threats. So, in the modern world, we are still subject to the same automatic negative bias that once helped our ancestors make it through each day with their lives intact.

So we end up going through life rarely cognizant of the amazing gifts and blessings that envelop each of our days in an abundance not known in centuries past, or to the majority of the world’s inhabitants who aren’t blessed to live in a peaceful and prosperous nation where they have not only basic human rights, but clean water, heat, shelter, and ample food.

But I’m not asking you to base your happiness on the fact that you aren’t in a North Korean gulag. As true as that is, it can also be a dangerous cop-out to use gratitude as an excuse for not living your life to it’s fullest potential. The real secret of gratitude is that it’s not meant only as a means to augment your happiness based on your existing circumstance, but to augment your existing circumstance based on your happiness.

The real secret of gratitude is that it’s not meant only as a means to augment your happiness based on your existing circumstance, but to augment your existing circumstance based on your happiness.

So, here’s what I have done to augment my circumstances with the additional happiness the practice of gratitude has given me. And let’s be clear, gratitude is a practice – you must practice it each day. Remember we are rewiring our brain.

1. Each morning, upon waking – the very first thing I do is begin to think of things I am grateful for. 

If you were living your dream life – what would you do upon waking up? You would be grateful. Period. Don’t make me get verbose to explain this, use your imagination.

2. Each evening, I write in my journal the list of things I am grateful for.

This allows me to catch anything I missed during the day, and allows me to relive the feelings of gratitude I experienced. Not to mention that journaling itself can change your life – something I will write on in the future.

3. Each night before bed, I think of the things I am grateful for as I lie in the dark.

This way I can never go to bed in a bad mood.

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It’s that simple. Period. You were meant to be grateful.

The problem is that society has programmed us to be negative. We focus on lack. We think we will believe it when we see it, but the truth is we will see it when we believe it. Try this for a month. I promise you, you won’t want to stop.

And pretty soon, you will find yourself more mindful of the things you are grateful for throughout your day.

And pretty soon you will find you have more to be grateful for. I beg of you my dear reader to trust you are reading this for a reason. Just try it. You’ll be surprised at what you are grateful for. You’ll come to find that you enjoy the things you are grateful for more the next time you experience them. You don’t need to read a book on gratitude, you merely need to practice it. By doing this, you’re requiring your brain to be grateful morning, noon, and night and thus rewiring your brain for a more grateful life.

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All, Philosophy, stoicism, Timeless Truths

10 Themes of Stoicism: This is Good Stuff

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I ended up on Youtube this afternoon looking for a couple specific videos on Stoicism (this and this) to forward to someone I know who is currently facing some very challenging and uncertain circumstances.

In my own life, Stoic teachings have been an extremely transformative force – so much so, that today I describe myself as a practicing Stoic Philosopher, and I am; Stoicism is a part of my daily routine – a part of my psyche. And just to put this into context, I had long loved Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, but only started getting deeper into Stoicism over the past year, at which point I quickly discovered something more valuable to me than years of therapy and self-help books. Interestingly enough, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is actually based on Stoic teachings, which the founders of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have freely admitted. Note: I happen to regularly practice self-administered CBT exercises – namely belief / story editing (I have touched on both before, but will write dedicated entries on each soon – so subscribe if you would like to get them), and overall I have a very positive outlook on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. My journey as a Stoic has only emboldened this as the two [CBT and Stoic Philosophy] are extremely complimentary.

So getting back to my youtube search this morning for the links placed in the first paragraph, I noticed a related video titled 10 Themes of Stoicism that I had not previously viewed. Needless to say (given the title of this entry) I was impressed.

I have previously published an entry covering 8 Great Ideas from Stoicism based on the work of Jules Evans, author of Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations: Ancient Philosophy for Modern Problems.

Just to recap those 8 great ideas, they are as follows.

  1. It’s not events that cause us suffering, but our opinion about events.
  2. Our opinions are often unconscious but we can bring them to consciousness by asking ourselves questions.
  3. We can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we react.
  4. Choose your perspective wisely.
  5. Habits are powerful.
  6. Fieldwork is vital.
  7. Virtue is sufficient for happiness.
  8. We have ethical obligations to our community.

The full entry breaks each down in further detail.

Now, just as I did in that entry [on the 8 great ideas from Stoicism] – I am going to break down the 10 Themes of Stoicism within this entry – per the source material, which is excellent. Kudos to the creator of this wonderful video. Sidenote: it’s clear the narrator is a professor at a college, but I cannot find his name, nor the name of the college! Kind of a frustrating and amusing mystery.

Note: If you do not wish to watch the videos (I would recommend it for a better learning experience, but that’s just me), you may scroll down for my transcripts and notes.

Part 1

Part 2

Just to recap and preserve the content for posterity’s sake, I’ve broken down verbatim – with my notes in italic – the 10 Themes below.

Note: The above video is much more thorough than the notes that follow, which just cover the themes themselves and do not include the author’s wonderful explanations.

10 Themes From Stoicism

1. Recognize what’s under your control and what’s not on your control. Don’t worry about what’s not in your control.

Under my control:

  • My reactions (how I choose to perceive events / what I decide to believe about them)
  • My Emotions (how I choose to respond to events)
  • Virtue / Doing the Right Thing

Not “really” under my control:

  • External Events
  • Body, property, fame, reputation, history, fate, pleasure / pain

The first and most important theme is to recognize what’s under your control and what’s not under your control – and don’t worry about what’s not under your control. This is the most important Stoic theme; all other themes connect to it in some way.

You cannot control things, but you can control your reaction to them.

To paraphrase the words of Marcus Aurelius, from Meditations:

Nothing is either good or bad, but only our thinking that makes it so. Remember, nothing can touch the mind.

So for the Stoic, it’s permissible to try to manage the uncontrollable, but you shouldn’t attach your identity or happiness to controlling the uncontrollable.

So say to everything that you cannot control:

I can be happy and good with or without you. My happiness and goodness is based on what I can control.


 2. Conform Your Will to The Divine Order of The Universe

  • Be content with what you have instead of constantly striving to get what you desire.
  • Be content no matter what happens
  • Divine order of Universe

The second theme of Stoicism is to conform your will to the Divine Order of The Universe. The Stoics believed that people should conform to this perfect order that permeates the universe.

A deeper reading of Stoicism supports the idea of contentment no matter what happens, not passivity. So, Marcus Aurelius is a good example; he worked to make the world a better place but he did not base his happiness on the results, because the results are outside of his control – his efforts are in his control but not the results.

The important thing to understand here, which the video touches on in this section, is that Stoic metaphysical beliefs support the idea of fate. As the video states: 

Since we can’t change this beautiful divine reality, we should live in harmony with it – that is, we should conform our desires to this reality, rather than making reality conform to our desires. Submitting to this reality will lead to peace of mind, happiness, and virtue for the Stoic.

It’s important to keep in mind that the Stoics were not pessimists, but rather believed in the idea of destiny – and Stoicism is designed to help you live a happy life by not fighting ‘what is’. 


3. Understand Your Emotions. Don’t Repress (or assent to) All Emotions.

  • Modern Cognitive Therapy
  • Belief / Emotion Divide
  • Stop and think about your emotions. Be the master of your own mind.

Interestingly, of this theme – the author says:

This is one of my favorite themes of Stoicism and what got me into Stoicism in the first place.

While I don’t think this theme is of vastly more value than the previous two, it’s relation to modern cognitive therapy makes it of particular interest to me as well. It’s important to remember that Stoicism is a way of life, which is what makes it such a valuable philosophy. 

So the Stoic simply recognizes that emotions are based on beliefs, and many of our disruptive emotions are based on false, unreal beliefs.

This is the basis of CBT, and per the author:

Now this type of cognitive therapy is one that many therapists still use today, and if you study Ellis’ [Albert Ellis, one of the original founders of CBT] Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (a type of CBT), which he created in the twentieth century – if you read his biography, you’ll see that he got many of his ideas from the Stoics. Note: the Stoics lived over 2,000 years ago.

The author then makes an important distinction about this value that clarifies the misconception that Stoics are ‘emotionless':

Now of course, the criticism is that some negative emotions might be caused by a chemical imbalance, so this cognitive, Stoic approach won’t work. But I still think the Stoic, or Cognitive approach works for most people with disruptive emotions, because most disruptive emotions are based on false beliefs or unrealistic expectations.

So, in the end the Stoics show far less emotion because they understand that most emotions are simply errors in judgement, and they have conditioned themselves to think about emotions before giving their assent to them. Their advice is to avoid becoming the emotion – don’t go with the flow – rather, think about the thinking that created the emotion and doing so will give you control over your negative emotions.

Mindfulness is also extremely complimentary to this!


4. Do The Right Thing No Matter The Cost

  • You only control your soul / mind, so take care of it. Live virtuously and with integrity.
  • Do right no matter the cost.
  • Conforming your mind to reality will lead to virtue.

The next theme is to do what’s right no matter the cost; so Stoicism maintains that the only thing you can really control in this life is your soul, your mind, and the way to protect it is to live a life of virtue. So, do the right thing even if it hurts, and don’t complain of the hurt.

Stoicism is very much focused on virtue, integrity, and duty – in a sense, it’s the embodiment of some of the most important qualities of the mature masculine male. 

According to Stoicism your central focus in life should be conforming your mind to reality and this leads to virtue, a recognition of integrity – it leads to doing the right thing because it’s the right thing. Conforming your mind takes time and effort, it’s as if you’re sculpting yourself, you’re creating habits of thought and behavior that are realistic – and therefore virtuous.

So, Stoic virtue is a form of training, just as a soldier or an athlete trains. Now, I think one important thing about Stoicism is how important motive or intention is in Stoic ethics. I cannot control the outcome, but I can control my motive so I should focus on acting from a good motive. They believed you should do the right thing simply because it’s right, not because it brings about happiness – not because it’s in my short term self-interest, not because God says it’s right – you do what’s right because it’s right.

My favorite quote here is Aurelius':

An emerald shines even if it’s worth is not spoken of – Marcus Aurelius

So, if you are virtuous, maybe nobody recognizes it, nobody praises you, but there’s still value there, just as an emerald shines even if it’s worth is not spoken of.


5. Understand that events are not problematic; rather it’s your thinking that makes them so. 

  • Adjust your beliefs and expectations to fit reality.
  • Youtube Video: Seneca on Anger.

“With any luck, nothing so terrible will happen to us, but bad things can happen, and the best way to soften the blows if they come is to be prepared. Anger and frustration are essentially irrational responses to setbacks, and the only rational strategy is to stay calm about the fact that things do go wrong. That way we’ll be in the truest and best sense of the word philosophical.”

  • Great, great video by the way, you can also read Seneca’s ‘book’ On Anger.
  • Have more realistic (less optimistic) expectations and beliefs. Optimism is often harmful. If you disagree with this notion [that optimism is often harmful], watch the above video. It posits that pessimism is often more aligned with the rational nature of reality, i.e., don’t get angry in traffic because traffic is by nature not pleasurable. Selective pessimism is certainly something you need to be cognizant of in order to carefully apply it where it can benefit you, and not where it is a hindrance to your success, which I feel pessimism usually is. So perhaps we should think of a lack of optimism as realism and not pessimism.
  • Prepare your mind (for loss) so you don’t lose it.
  • Two people experience same event, but react differently.

Again, everything ties back to the first theme or principle of: ‘recognize what’s under your control and what’s not under your control’. How we choose to perceive things is always under our control. 

If you accept such things to happen, then you won’t be as angry and disturbed when they do happen. That is you won’t lose your mind – remember that is they only thing that you can control, if you prepare your mind for reality. For example, consider how two different people may react to the same situation. Let’s say they both stepped on a tack. The first person cries and screams and complains about the tack all day long. But the second person steps on the tack, calmly removes it and then forgets the event ever happened. Notice the difference between these two people lies in their thinking, not in what happened to them.

The fact that the second person is not disturbed shows that much of our suffering comes from how we think – how we interpret events, not what happens to us externally.


6. Live With Compassion and Respect for Human Rights

  • Every human has a spark of the divine Logos within (rights).
  • Everyone is a brother or sister (compassion).
  • Everyone is a piece of the vast puzzle. Most Stoics don’t believe in afterlife (humility).

The sixth theme is to live with compassion and respect for human rights. So, I mentioned earlier that the Stoics believed in a universal, divine, pantheistic and fiery Logos, and that every human has a spark of this within them. So you can infer that we are all one blood, we are all one body. Every person we meet is intrinsically valuable – they are like a brother or sister to us. So, as in Christianity, the Stoic makes it possible to see everyone’s humanity. Everyone is valuable, intrinsically valuable.

So the proper response to this worldview is compassion to all humans. It also creates humility since it maintains that everyone is part of the fire that makes the whole, everyone is a part of God. So each of us is a piece of the puzzle and this creates humility and appreciation for others as well. Each of us is intrinsically valuable, divine, and beautiful.

So – far from repressing emotion, the Stoic mind supports a strong sense of compassion, and a ground belief in human rights, and a strong sense of humility.

And as a side note it’s interesting to compare Stoicism to Christianity, you know both emphasize recognizing what’s not in your control, and not worrying about it – and both ask you to submit to something higher. And if you look at the Serenity Prayer, you can see some of the similarities between Christianity as exemplified by the Serenity Prayer and Stoicism. (I personally can not find any other obvious parallels between Stoicism and Christianity beyond the virtue of compassion, and the Serenity Prayer.)

Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Amen.


7. Cultivate Right Thinking Through Daily Activities like Meditation, Contemplation, Reflecting, and Journaling

This is another area that really separates Stoicism from other Philosophies as not just a way of thinking, but as a way of living. 

  • Meditation on death and all that could go wrong.
  • Immunize yourself.

The Stoics engaged in all these activities, so for example as you read the Stoics, you find that many of them as you to meditate on your death – especially the decomposition of your physical body. And among the benefits of dwelling on your death are a greater appreciation for the present and a larger and more accurate perspective on life. So such a perspective will help me and you prioritize your desires, immunize yourself from stressing about trivial things.

Also, thinking about the death of others can help you prioritize. So, for example, remembering that my parents may die tomorrow makes me want to call them to enjoy the time we have together.

So what the Stoics are saying here is not to dwell on death all day, but rather to take 5 to 10 minutes to remember the big picture, to remember that you are mortal and you are finite and so are you loved ones. And it will remind you to stop and smell the roses if you do this each day.

The Stoics also ask you to dwell on your worst case scenarios each day. So imagine that you will get sick, that your spouse will leave you, and so on. Don’t dwell on them, just remember that it’s possible – for 5 or 10 minutes each day.

The purpose of these meditations isn’t to depress you, but it’s to help you be happier by adjusting your expectations and helping you be prepared. To give you an example, I won’t lose my mind in anger if I prepare myself for long lines at the grocery store. So, if I expect a line to be 20 minutes at the grocery store, and it’s only 10 minutes, I probably won’t lose my mind in frustration or anger, but if I go in being overly optimistic – if I expect the lines to be two minutes long then I will probably get frustrated, get angry, and lose my mind.

So in short, too much optimism, expecting the lines to be short at the store is a vice; too much pessimism can be a vice too, so you want to adjust your expectations to reality. If I deeply understand that I’ll be fine no matter what happens to me in an external sense, I’ll live more happily and more peacefully – again, I won’t lose my mine (aka, you won’t ‘lose your cool’).

These activities that cultivate right thinking, – they’re really not difficult, you can do many of them pretty much anywhere in a matter of seconds. And this is really a strength of Stoicism, since many religions, and other philosophies seem to require a great deal of time to master.


8. Understand The External World is Determined, but you have Internal Freedom to Choose Your Attitude Towards these Determined Events

  • Clarifies first theme (control / can’t control).
  • More forgiving of others since they are controlled by forces beyond their understanding.

So, the Stoic believes in external Determinism but internal freewill. And this theme clarifies the first theme, what we can and can’t control. So again, the Stoics are determinists,  but they believe in an internal freewill. They say we can’t really change externals, but we can change our reactions and attitudes towards those externals. So we can control our attitudes and choose to do the right thing no matter the cost.

The Stoics also think that understanding the deterministic nature of the universe will make you more forgiving of others since people are controlled by forces beyond their control.

The Stoics were not pure hard determinists in the modern sense, but they believed in an internal ability to alter the way we see the world.

My own spiritual views are highly complimentary to Stoic philosophy and pantheistic ideology, but I believe our internal freewill largely influences the external world. 


9. Calmness, Humility, Discipline, and Indifference to Pleasure and Pain

Because of their worldview and training, the Stoics are calm in the face of adversity.

  • Calmness: prepared for all scenarios
  • Indifferent to own suffering: they understand pleasure and pain to be externals, beyond control.
  • Disciplined because mind guides, not pleasure or pain. They were not hedonists. (Temperance rather than YOLO)

It’s really important to understand that the Stoics give us a worldview and a philosophy of emotion, and various techniques like premeditation that help us achieve these virtues of calmness, humility, discipline, indifference to pleasure and pain. In other words, these virtues don’t just arise in a vacuum, they arise in the fertile soil that is the Stoic worldview.


10. Stop Whining; Turn Adversity into Advantage

  • Builds on other themes.
  • Think of the many ways you can turn failure into something good.

Make the best out of any difficult situation you are in. So the Stoic worldview equips people to get the most of of life. Understanding emotions they won’t pity themselves. Understanding natures order, Stoics will be more forgiving of what others do. Understanding the divine spark in each of us, the Stoics won’t hate someone who creates adversity. Thereby the Stoic will face adversity and calmly turn it into an advantage.

Note: A book that recently came out, which I just read on this theme is The Obstacle is The Way. It’s based on the Marcus Aurelius quote: 

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way

Personally, I found the book perhaps a bit verbose and drawn out but that’s probably because as a Stoic I felt it was too limited a peek at Stoicism, but I loved the idea. As Marcus Aurelius wrote: “What could be more suited for me than that which is fated for me”.  As I have always found, adversity has it’s plans for you. Trust them, but fight like hell. 


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I’m really excited I came across these videos. I unfortunately have a packed day and do not have the time to write more, but I just wanted to finish by comparing the 8 Great Ideas from Stoicism with the 10 Themes of Stoicism we have covered here.

8 Great Ideas from Stoicism:

  1. It’s not events that cause us suffering, but our opinion about events.
  2. Our opinions are often unconscious but we can bring them to consciousness by asking ourselves questions.
  3. We can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we react.
  4. Choose your perspective wisely.
  5. Habits are powerful.
  6. Fieldwork is vital.
  7. Virtue is sufficient for happiness.
  8. We have ethical obligations to our community.

10 Themes from Stoicism 

  1. Recognize what’s under your control and what’s not on your control. Don’t worry about what’s not in your control.
  2. Conform Your Will to The Divine Order of The Universe
  3. Understand Your Emotions. Don’t Repress (or assent to) All Emotions.
  4. Do The Right Thing No Matter The Cost
  5. Understand that events are not problematic; rather it’s your thinking that makes them so.
  6. Live With Compassion and Respect for Human Rights
  7. Cultivate Right Thinking Through Daily Activities like Meditation, Contemplation, Reflecting, and Journaling
  8. Understand The External World is Determined, but you have Internal Freedom to Choose Your Attitude Towards these Determined Events
  9. Calmness, Humility, Discipline, and Indifference to Pleasure and Pain
  10. Stop Whining; Turn Adversity into Advantage

Mind you, I’m sure neither of these authors meant for these lists to be exhaustive, but I think between this entry, and the 8 Great Ideas entry, you can really get a sense of what the Stoic way of living is. Mostly, I just wanted to line them up a bit so that I can access the information as a reference for my future writings.

If you enjoyed this, also check out Example Stoic Philosophy Regime.

P.S. I’ve very much still been and still am in knowledge attainment mode when it comes to Stoicism, but I am very much on this journey for life, and it’s a deep part of who I am, and a consistent part of my daily life. I look forward to writing much more on the topic of Stoicism in the coming months, and adding my own voice to the discussion in a more impactful manner.

I have many exciting things I look forward to sharing with you my dear reader.

Edit: just as an immediate reflection after publishing this, it’s amazing to read this and see just how much the Stoic worldview and Stoic mindset has changed my life in a relatively short period of time. There’s a reason I’m deeply passionate about Stoicism.

- Lawrence

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Meditate with Compassionate Posture
All, Meditating, meditation

Meditation Posture: Sit with Compassion

This is not the most exciting entry in the world, but if you meditate, or wish to – you want to assume the correct posture. Keep in mind, you will undoubtedly find yourself uncomfortable in the beginning and you can always sit comfortably in a chair; although, it would be hard for me to associate being seated in a chair with anything other than work – but perhaps that’s why I should try that [meditating while seated in a chair]. Also, as an anecdote about the evolution and fluidity of my own meditation posture, I initially only practiced guided meditations (youtube has many – this is my favorite) while lying down on the floor with a small pillow under my head. From there, I gradually started practicing meditation while seated comfortably in a cross legged position; however, I still sometimes enjoy lying down for guided meditations.

This morning I wanted to check out a few videos to improve my meditation posture because I know my seated posture could be better. I found the following four to be beneficial and wanted to share them here.

The first is nice and short and covers the basics of correct seated posture. It’s from a gentleman named Jordan Mallah.


The next video is a little more in depth, and goes over some of the different options for your legs and feet – among other things. This is from a woman named Mindah-Lee.


This video is a great recap of all and is probably the video I would suggest viewing if you only watched one.

I enjoyed seeing the cushion set up here, and have been occasionally using a cushion under my bum, but am definitely jealous of this set up now that I’ve seen how comfortable it looks; time to step my cushion game up! (But I should note that I don’t always practice meditation in my home, and many times have a rocky outcrop on the beach I sit on, so this level of luxury isn’t always going to be possible).


I also enjoyed this video, which is a bit more general on meditation itself, but provides some good reminders on the mental state of meditating (observation of breath), and the mind body connection.


It’s important to note that my meditation practice and my mindfulness practice is something that I carry into all areas of my life. So, checking in with myself in the present moment and centering myself through my breath is something that I do even while walking, or just mid day. Hopefully, I can increasingly incorporate better awareness of my physical posture into this as well, which I expect will happen naturally as I become more accustomed to what proper seated meditation posture feels like.

Also, this is not about trying. It’s not about forcing yourself to sit still. It’s about self-love, compassion and inner peace – true relaxation. Meditation is an act of self-care, so don’t feel as if you need to “try harder”. Just be.

And there are a lot of varying and even contradictory messages out there, some people tell you to close your eyes, some tell you to allow a soft half-gaze. I implore you to play with what’s best for you and switch things up. I enjoy meditating with my eyes open as well as with my eyes closed, and I follow my intuition in deciding whats best for me. You should listen to your body with compassionate self-awareness. So, just to see how this feels, try out the practice of using a very slight smile by turning up the corners of your mouth slightly. Experience what this shift feels like. Feel the shift in contentment and any additional sense of wellbeing this brings you.


Bonus: Self-Compassion Meditations from Kristin Neff

Here are ome great guided self-compassion meditation audios, from Kristin Neff, a leading expert on the science of self-compassion. I’m currently reading her book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself up and Leave Insecurity Behind and practiced the first [Affectionate Breathing] of the six-guided self-compassion meditation audios this morning and will enjoy the rest again each morning over the next week.

Note: I wanted to include these here because I feel it’s very important to practice sitting with compassionate awareness for our bodies. Particularity as you listen to her Bodyscan audio, you will get a sense of what this [sitting with compassionate awareness] means. And if you only listened to one, try this [Bodyscan]. It’s easy to think of meditation and get the picture in our heads of a Buddhist monk, someone we perceive as having complete discipline – but that’s not what meditation is.

I really admire her [Kristin Neff's] work, and am fortunate to have discovered her contributions to the world. There’s just something very endearing to me about her openhearted and compassionate disposition. Big, big heart. (I’m pretty sure just listening to her speak has a relaxing effect on my own heart.)

Here’s a short little video on her advice for being kind to yourself:

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A Meditation Infographic from Happify

As a happify user, I was delighted to come across this meditation infographic in my assigned tasks today, created by meditation ambassador and mindfulness expert (and ABC news anchor) Dan Harris. As an aside – check out this video to see his story and how meditation changed his life.

Enjoy the infographic. SO MUCH good info here.

meditation-happify

If you want to learn about mindfulness meditation, check out this post of mine.

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The Importance of Mindfulness and The Connection Between Mindfulness and Meditation

If I would have tried to conjure up an impression of mindfulness in my head a couple years ago I would have imagined an affluent woman in her sixties, drinking tea and looking out over her oceanfront view, with a warm and contented look on her face.

Today, I’ve come to know better. Mindfulness isn’t some far off, esoteric destination only available to those who meditate and live on a higher plane. No, mindfulness is simply the practice of observing yourself and consciously focusing on your emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

Wikipedia defines mindfulness as the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment, which can be trained by meditational practices…

Now, the interesting thing about this [this definition] is that I personally came to understand and know mindfulness not as a result of study, but as a result of practicing meditation. And when I began meditating, I did not even know this was going to happen. I wanted inner peace. And meditation helped me connect to that – but more importantly, I became aware that there was something within me more still than my thoughts, and I became aware of what it felt like to transcend that [my thoughts and feelings].

As a result, I became more self-aware. I realized when my feelings were making me feel poorly. I began to automatically notice on walks when I wasn’t being attentive to myself – when I was out of touch with the present moment. And I would focus on my breath, and I would return to that stillness. And I would feel better. I felt better because I could stop identifying with whatever I was thinking or feeling, and I could check back in with myself, with the eternal part of my soul that’s always present and connected – whether my mind is or not.

Mind you (pardon the pun), I’ve never read a book on mindfulness. And I have a lot of work to do to improve on this practice – namely, I need to not only practice the awareness of my body, thoughts, and feelings – but I need to consciously choose to practice the intentional non-judgement, and acceptance of these sensations – because for me personally, I typically go straight into self-talk, and other cognitive behavioral practices so that I can “optimize” how I feel. And while I don’t think this is a terrible thing to do, I think the act of acceptance and non-judgmental awareness will help me let go of some of these [less positive] feelings with greater ease.

So, this morning I wanted to look into mindfulness and I watched handful of videos, the best of which I have included below for you, my dear reader.

Sam Harris: Mindfulness is Powerful

This is an important video to watch, because aside from Sam Harris describing the purpose and value of mindfulness, he asserts that mindfulness should not be viewed as a religious experience, but rather as a bridge we can use to close the gap that exists between science and spirituality. I think disconnecting meditation from Buddhism makes it more approachable and less seemingly unobtainable. The power to transcend ourselves is truly within us all.

…the sense of self that we all carry around from day to day is an illusion. And cutting through that illusion I think is actually more important than stress reduction or any of the other conventional benefits that are accurately ascribed to mindfulness.

The enemy of mindfulness and really of any meditation practice is being lost in thought, is to be thinking without knowing that you’re thinking. Now the problem is not thoughts themselves. We need to think. We need to think to do almost anything that makes us human – to reason, to plan, to have social relationships, to do science. Thinking is indispensable to us but most of us spend every moment of our waking lives thinking without knowing that we’re thinking. And this automaticity is a kind of scrim thrown over at the present moment through which we view everything. And it’s distorting of our lives. It’s distorting of our emotions. It engineers our unhappiness in every moment because most of what we think is quite unpleasant. We’re judging ourselves, we’re judging others, we’re worrying about the future, we’re regretting the past, we’re at war with our experience in subtle or coarse ways. And much of this self-talk is unpleasant and diminishing our happiness in every moment. And so meditation is a tool for cutting through that.


Dan Harris: Hack Your Brain’s Default Mode with Meditation

Dead on. Selected quotes and citations follow:

There was a study out of Harvard that showed that short, daily doses of meditation can literally grow the grey matter areas of your brain having to do with self-awareness. and compassion and shrink the grey matter associated with stress. 

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/

There was also a study out of Yale that looked at what’s called the default mode network of the brain, it’s a connected series of brain regions that are active during most of our waking hours, when we’re doing that thing that human beings do all the time, which is obsessing about ourselves, thinking about the past, thinking about the future, doing anything but being focused on what’s happening right now. Meditators not only turn off the default mode network of their brain while they’re meditating but even when they’re not meditating. In other words, meditators are setting a new default mode. And what’s that default mode? They’re focused on what’s happening right now.

From an article on the study out of Yale:

“Meditation’s ability to help people stay in the moment has been part of philosophical and contemplative practices for thousands of years,” Brewer said. “Conversely, the hallmarks of many forms of mental illness is a preoccupation with one’s own thoughts, a condition meditation seems to affect. This gives us some nice cues as to the neural mechanisms of how it might be working clinically.”

And finally, Dan Harris’ closing words on happiness as a controllable choice:

The common assumption that we have – and it may be subconscious – is that our happiness really depends on external factors: how was our childhood, have we won the lottery recently, did we marry well, did we marry at all – but in fact, meditation suggests that happiness is actually a skill, something you can train, just as you train your body in the gym – it’s a self-generated thing, and that’s a really radical notion. It doesn’t mean that external circumstances aren’t going to impact your happiness – it doesn’t mean that you are not going to be subject to the vagaries of an impermanent, entropic universe – it just means you are going to be able to navigate this with a little more ease.


Chade-Meng Tan, on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence: 5 Lessons

If you want to learn more in depth on mindfulness, I suggest watching this full talk, but Cade-Meng Tan, delivered to an audience at Google, but at least watch from 24:12 to 31:50

If you do not wish to watch those seven minutes, here are my five takeaways from that portion of Chade-Meng Tan’s talk.

The Ability to Turn Emotions Off

There are a couple of very useful things, and they’re so useful that the degree of self-awareness that you can gain can create profound changes in your life. The first example is that if you’re able to perceive an emotion the moment it is arising, that gives you the power to turn it off if you want to. It gives you choice. Therefore, you have a choice of, “Hmm, I feel anger rising. Should I be angry or should I be not?” You can choose. I mean, there are situations where I chose to be angry, and because I was getting ripped off [to be purposefully assertive]. I figured the best reaction is to put that out to other people. And the situations where you’re “Nah, I don’t want to be angry, especially since she’s my boss. Let’s turn it off.” So you have a choice. The first thing, already, this is life-changing. If you have to ability to turn off anger. Already, it changes your life.

How Self-Awareness and Emotional Awareness Translates into Self-Knowledge, and Opportunity

Another example is that if you have a lot of strong self-awareness, emotional awareness, the emotional awareness translates into self-assessment. You get to know yourself a bit better. You get to know your resources. This is what I’m good at, this is what I’m bad at. These are my strengths, these are my weaknesses. This is what I really like to do, this is what makes me happy, and so on. And the effect of that is that once you are able to figure out, quote on quote your “deepest values and motivations”, then you know what opportunities to look out for. If you did not have the insight, the opportunity would just come and go. However, because you had the insight, you catch the opportunity when it’s there. Therefore, you’re always successful. And then people will think you’re very lucky. I mean, you’re lucky, but at the same time, you’re there to catch your opportunities and you’re able to catch opportunities because you have deep knowledge of self.

Making the Shift from Existential to Experiential

There’s a third one, which is even more profound, which is this: if you experience an emotion, we like to think that our emotions are existential experiences. What does that mean? We like to think the emotion itself, is us. And it reflects in the language that you use. For example, we say, “I am angry. I am sad. I am happy.” So the emotion becomes me. I become the emotion. However, as the power of your mind, the sharpness of mind, your resolution, your vividness becomes stronger over time. You discover something about a process of emotion and then you read an emotion in a very subtle way that has a profound change in your life. And that profound change is this: is going from existential to experiential, which means going from “I am angry” to “I’m experiencing anger. I’m experiencing happiness, or sadness, or whatever.” What does that change? Now it changes from “I am this, this is me” to “My mind is like a sky.” Then emotions are the clouds occupying the mind, but they’re not the mind. So that’s a powerful shift.

Separating Emotion into a Physiological Experience – Changing Your Perception

But wait, it gets better. The way it gets better, which is – there is another step you can go. As your attention becomes even more refined, you discover something else, beyond being experiential. You discover that the process of emotion, the experience of emotion is physiological. You experience emotions in the body. Every emotion has a bodily correlate. And then you discover something. You discover that painful emotions are not that different from painful feelings in the body. For example, I hurt my hand. Ow! And then I know this is pain, I know this is unpleasant, but the pain is not me. It is a sensation in my body. Having that perception changes everything. Because it’s not me, I can do things about it. I can take Tylenol. I can massage. I can put in ice. Or I can ignore it. Or I can experience it mindfully. Or I can just eat ice cream and forget all about it. And so on. There are things I can do because this experience is not me.

Using Mindfulness to Practice the Habit [intention] of Loving Kindness

The first habit that is very conducive to being socially skillful is the habit of kindness, or loving-kindness. That is a habit of looking at any human being, anyone you’ve never met before. Looking at any human being, my first thought is, “I want this person to be happy.” I want this person to be happy: that’s just it. Already, you can imagine if you have that mental habit coming effortlessly, it changes everything. You go into a meeting room; you look at everybody, you think, “I want all these people to be happy.” It reflects unconsciously in your body, your face, your language, your tone of voice, your facial expression. Because it reflects unconsciously, it’s picked up unconsciously by the other person. Their feeling, their perception is, “I like this person. I don’t know why. This Meng guy, I really like him. Maybe it’s his good looks. I don’t know.” [laughter] But it’s not just the good looks, it’s because I’m wishing for this person to be happy. I want Tara to be happy, and Tara can sense it unconsciously. In a situation like meetings and so on, if you have that mental habit all the time, people want to work with you. Then you find yourself becoming successful. You’re not clear why. But it’s this; it’s just simple things like that.

Note: You should read Chade-Meng Tan’s book Search Inside Yourself, I will be!


Start Your Own Mindfulness Practice

The following three videos will allow you to practice what mindfulness feels like. Start with the first and build up to the third. As you learn what this feels like, you’ll be able to do each without a video guide; although, I am still a big fan of practicing guided meditation on a regular basis.

The Quick Mindful Check in

5 Min Mindfulness Check in

Guided Mindfulness Meditation Practice

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Opening The Door: The Patterns of Fate, Serendipity, and Happiness

I talk about serendipity a lot.

I just came across a post shared by modern day expeditionary, soul-searcher, and human philanthropist Dave Cornthwaite. It’s written by a man named Matt Ridings, and it tells the story of how he [Matt] felt compelled to reach out to Dave, and how the two subsequently became friends.

You definitely want to read The Patterns of Fate, Serendipity, and Happiness.

As much as I read – when it comes to online content, I’m underwhelmed the majority of the time. Not so in this instance. The big lesson is that Matt not only trusted and believed in serendipity, but he took action to listen to that feeling within him. This trust was the seed that intervened to open the door for fate to make it a reality. He soon was face to face with Dave over dinner.

I’m reminded of the obscure Steve Jobs interview where Jobs tells the camera about how most people don’t pick up the phone – they never ask.

This is really relevant to me because I’ve recently set a goal to become friends with my intellectual heroes. Not that heroes is the right word, but I think in the past I held these people up as somehow out of reach. Today, my vision and my goals are larger than ever. I know I’m going to need these people in my corner. I’m going to need mentors, I’m going to need to enhance my peer-set to align my relationships more closely with my mission, vision, and purpose.

Coming across a story like Matt’s is such a crystal clear reminder that we should all have the faith in serendipity to be confident that fate just may line up for us. The universe has lots of possibilities in store for you that you will never even open the door to. These limits you have are a human construct. If you’re going to take your life to the next level, you need to surround yourself with exceptional people, with passionate people. Don’t keep yourself on some sub-level below those whom you admire. They are passionate about what they do and so what they do to inspire people, and many of them would love to connect with someone who shares their passion and their vision.

While someone like Bill Gates or Elon Musk might be out of reach for obvious reasons, I bet if you wanted to reach out to and connect with one of Space X’s top scientists or to one of Microsoft’s top engineers you very well could. On a sad note, which I have to publish for obvious reasons, I was having lunch in Manhattan Beach two years ago and met two Space X Engineers who invited me to come by for a tour, and I never did : / – today I would not make that mistake. I know that when a door presents itself, I owe it to myself to open it and walk through if I can.

There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be reaching out to the people who inspire you. Not every person will reply, but those who do will make your efforts worth it to an exponential degree. This is how successful, no-limits people operate.

How many strangers have moved you in the last year? How many times have you been inspired? How many of those people have you reached out to. Do you have a dream? Who in your city has done something similar? Who do you want to be friends with? Read a book that changed you life? Fire off a letter to the author, start looking up email addresses, create opportunities, and for chrissakes, seize them.

If you trust in serendipity, you can recognize the patterns of fate, serendipity, and happiness that present themselves to all of us. If you don’t knock on the door, no one can answer it.

P.S. Watch this video from Dave Cornthwaite and envision yourself reaching out to someone like this and having dinner with them.

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