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.
Be Yo’ Self
“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” – C. S. Lewis
I’ve quoted this before. It’s re-emphasis is not without purpose. You see, I’ve known many incredible people in my lifetime, and what continues to strike me is the frequency with which they insist that they were, at one point, “too embarrassed” to look silly.
It’s a poignant remark in my eyes because (and this is not bragging), the idea of looking silly is one that has not entered my mind in probably a decade. The concept that anyone would be embarassed by who they are, afraid to express their thoughts or personality is mind-boggling. We are who we are in the same way that a pear is a pear or a tree is a tree, nothing can change that.
So truly what requires more effort? Being yourself in the face of possible ridicule, or maintaining an unnecessary and futile facade? How much energy are you wasting a day being someone else when you could be the beautiful, powerful you?
Think about it.
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I Am, Therefore I Think
Staring at a blank page, exhausted and taxed, it’s easy to conceive why we may be, at times, uninspired. Even coming up with words in this very moment is a struggle the likes of which I have not faced this millenium. But in a situation like this, three things come to mind.
The first: A little effort, day in and day out, no matter how small, makes a difference. Even if the end product is short, even if you only clean one dish, even if you only learn one word in Japanese, you made a difference today.
The second: habits are liberating. The decision to sit down and write this morning was an easy one because I have made writing a priority. In this way, the cognitive burden of choosing whether or not to put in the effort was made before I even woke up this morning, freeing my mind for more challenging tasks.
And the third: acting when uninspired or doing when bored are powerful creators, in the same way that smiling when sad creates happiness. Our moods and motivations are a two-fold tango of underlying mood and action, and the interplay between them works in both directions. We may be moved to smile by something that makes us happy or create by something inspiring, but the physical act of smiling also causes us pleasure and creating something breeds inspiration.
When you’re tired, work out. When you’re bored, do something. The truth is that restlessness is simply your hungry brain, standing in front of a full fridge, deciding what it wants to eat.
Goin’ on “Vacation”
For several weeks now I have endeavored to fill each day with ambition; taking steps toward my life goals. But It would be hypocritical of me to advise about burnout and not take my own advice.
In that spirit, I am taking a week long “vacation”. I will still attend work, I will still meditate, I will still endeavor to preserve the basic tentants of my lifestyle, but with all other things (coding, language learning, blogging, productivity, music, searching, and scheming) we will back after this word from our sponsors.
In the mean time, enjoy this rainbow pigeon.
Have a great week folks. Be what you want, all of it, right now.
Lebron James is a beloved individual (outside of Cleveland). He parties, he endorses stuff, and he certainly isn’t short on cash and why is this? Because he’s spectacularly good at one thing. The man is debatably one of the best basketball players of all time and it’s clearly paying dividends. Society is riddled with examples like this; individuals who excel above and beyond others at a single thing. We are also taught, frequently, that hard-work and studious effor in one particular endeavor will make us exceptional individuals.
But growing up, one of my favorite concepts was the “Renaissance Man”. While politically incorrect, the concept was that an admirable quality in a person was possession of… well… all admirable qualities. These individuals would study math, science, history, art, language, and politics, never mastering one but acquiring a deep and interested knowledge of all of them. In a society of specialists and specialized economies, this is a concept that, unfortunately, has fallen by the wayside.
But I’m here to carry its standard. A recent article on 99u entitled Picasso, Kepler, and the Benefits of Being an Expert Generalist noted the myriad benefits to scientific and creative professionals that stem from a broad range of knowledge. The understanding of many topics allows one to draw analogies in other topics, spurring creativity and innovation. Even on a personal level, the idea of being a Generalist is a powerful one. When you think of adjectives to describe yourself or a list of your favorite hobbies, do they all follow a streamlined career or interest path? No. You love many things and so do I.
So embrace that. Get curious and learn about everything that interests you. Do it patiently and with conviction and see the world the way it was meant to be seen: as a proud and sophisticated Renaissance person. You’ll be more interesting and more interested, see and learn things you never thought you would, and enrich your life. Wave your standard high brethren and tell the man where to shove it in two different languages, three different mediums, and with a well-written but emotionally subtle haiku.
Keep an eye here for tips on how to successfully generalize yourself in the coming weeks.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Preventing Burn Out
I am not bragging when I say that I do everything and always have. In high school my schedule was packed from before sunrise to after sundown and then I’d do my homework. Even today, I simply cannot find enough hours in the day for all the things I want to do. This, lads and lassies, is not always a good thing.
We are creatures of limited resources. Diet and exercise can stretch those resources by leaps and bounds but no one possesses infinite physical and mental energy. When that energy runs out day after day after day, we experience the dreaded BO: burn out.
Burn out is as real and significant a phenomenon as laziness , and it is potentially worse. But there are ways to safeguard yourself:
1. Consider your priorities.
As I said earlier, we are creatures of limited resources, capable of accomplishing a lot, but not everything we may wish. So know what is important to you and what you can put on hold when times get tough.
2. Practice mindfulness.
Know yourself and know what you are capable of, but also know your limits. Do a regular self-check and notice the signs of fatigue.
3. Take care of yourself.
This is probably the most impactful tip there is. You can drive a car for tens of thousands of miles, as long as you keep the oil fresh and the tires aired up. A good diet and exercise are like routine maintenance for your body and your mind and will help keep you strong when times get tough.
We are capable of great things, but men (or women) of steel are the work of comic books for a reason. Know what’s important to you, keep an eye out for wear and tear, and change your oil every 5,000 miles and you’ll get a lot farther than pushing.
You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis.”
— Chuck Palahniuk
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…
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, I just 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