Notes to self.
There Is Nothing to Find Out There!
(This one is especially useful on Friday evenings – when catapulted by a week of stress and energy toward the temporary relief of the weekend – as the mind finds itself anxiously grasping for some unreachable comfort...)
When you find yourself mindlessly scouring, mindlessly reaching… scrolling youtube, checking a text thread for a reply, looking for something to stimulate you, scraping the bottom of an experience pale, which is simultaneously abundant and entirely empty…. let this be an invitation to pause. Take a seat on the river bank of your mind. Breathe. Watch. Let go. The external world is noise. Of course, it feels good to swim in noise from time to time, but to do so frequently, mindlessly, is antithetical to wellbeing. Thich Nhat Hanh, says, “All the things we think we’ve got to find on the outside are already there inside us. We already are what we want to become. We don’t have to run after anything anymore. We only need to return to ourselves and touch our true nature. When we do, we have real peace and joy.“
As Epictetus suggested, “If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation”. Catch provocation in the river of your mind, observe it, sit with it, then respond thoughtfully (or not at all).
Every desire is suspect! Every desire gets a background check. No desire gets a free pass. Observe thoughts carefully to find the underlying drive for your desires. Distinguish cravings, i.e. things that provide fleeting pleasure, from meaningful long term aspirations, i.e. things that are hard work, where the journey is arguably more enjoyable and significant than arrival at the destination. Ditch the former, embrace the latter.
Moderate Psychological Utilities
Caffeine is motivating, but inability to experience time without the propulsion of caffeine is a trap. Microdosing is insightful, but inability to find clarity in the absence of neurochemical glow is a mistake. Every utility in life should be used thoughtfully. Occasional abstinence from utilities is essential. A baseline, unadulterated awareness is a necessary vantage point from which to assess the value and consequences of everything else.
As William James reflects, “we are mere bundles of habits“. The origin of our drives and impulses comes not from some spontaneous, beautiful, masterful inner-artist, but instead from somewhere deeper in the brain, from conditioning and environmental manipulation that covertly establish emotional reflexes in our minds, beneath our awareness. How then, can we foster a healthy garden of the mind? Inspect carefully how you spend your time, inspect carefully what frequently passes in the river of your thoughts. Are these things worthwhile? If it is true, that we are not the ones choosing what to think about from moment to moment, then we had better vehemently protect our mind’s front door – what we choose to attend to with our precious energy.
Patience and Feeling Stuck
An excerpt from Wherever You Go: “Look into impatience and anger when they arise. See if you can adopt a different perspective, one which sees things as unfolding in their own time. This is especially useful when you are feeling under pressure and blocked or stymied in something you want or need to do. Hard as it may seem, try not to push the river in that moment but listen carefully to it instead. What does it tell you? What is it telling you to do? If nothing, then just breathe, let things be as they are, let go into patience, continue listening. If the river tells you something, then do it, but do it mindfully. Then pause, wait patiently, listen again.“
Make Time for Reflection
From the moment you wake, your brains soaks in information from the world like a sponge. Whether deliberately, through news feeds, podcasts, books, youtube, email, work, or indirectly, ambient conversation, advertisements, signals. A soaked sponge is useless without wringing. Reflection is the wringing process: harvesting the gems of insight and discarding all that is superfluous. This comes in the form of regular meditation, a good night’s sleep, and days worth of uncommitted time. Maintain all of these things as regular parts of your life.
Remember Why You Work
As previously explored, the essential purpose of work is to provide for oneself. Once a person has sufficiently revved the flywheel of resources to survive until death, time can be fully allocated toward what one chooses to do. This is an overlooked treasure of modern life. This is the escape-velocity John Maynard Keynes dreamed about. Hold steady until you get there. Until then, don’t allocate more stress and energy than required, toward work.
Everything You Need Is Within
To quote a short tribute to Eckhart Tolle: “We are always looking externally for answers to our problems for validation for security or love but everything you will ever need can be found within. The Solution to all suffering can be found inside our mind because our thoughts are the cause of all suffering in life. Discomfort is inevitable, but suffering is a choice. We are not our thoughts.“
How tragic, to live life mostly in anticipation of what is around the corner. As Sam Harris noted, “If the whole point of childhood is to have a good adolescence, and the whole point of a good adolescence is to have a good young adulthood, and the whole point of a good young adulthood is to have a good middle age…. you see where this is going. It might make some sense if we life forever. [but we don’t]” Sadly, we all die someday. If we live our lives prioritizing activity in support of some future manifestation (or worse, reflecting on regret), what time does that leave us to enjoy and cherish life? How unfortunate might it be to not understand this, until it’s too late?
Be Kind – Watch for Tests
Human relationships are a great treasure in life. Each of us are chronically struggling with something – caught in a wrestling match with some adversary that’s dominating our minds, obstructing our satisfaction. Yet – if we are too focused on our own struggle, how can we ever focus on our friends, our family, our neighbors, any fellow man, who simply may need a moment of our time to drastically improve their wellbeing? Do not overlook opportunities to make someone’s day. If the situation presents itself, take it, even if doing so shifts you briefly away from your own struggle.
Kill Your Smartphone
Smartphones have “cured” boredom. Have we noticed the cost? Ironically – boredom is the doorway toward understanding wellbeing. A stepping-stone toward reflection, and loving solitude, and inner peace, and spending energy on things that are most meaningful. Pay attention to how much time you spend on this little monster. Your apps should provide support for doing the things that matter most in life, not a place to escape to entertain yourself. As ugly as it may be at times, pay attention to your screen time. Answer honestly, was that time well spent?
Take inventory of all the things that support good life: Shelter, health, food, aspirations, access to knowledge, access to wisdom, opportunity to express oneself, friends, family, love for others, love for all mankind. These are the riches of the world. If you have these things, life is wonderful. You already won.
A Closing Excerpt from Wherever You Go
It is easy to come by the impression that meditation is about going inside, or dwelling inside yourself. But “inside” and “outside” are limited distinctions. In the stillness of formal practice, we do turn our energies inward, only to discover that we contain the entire world in our own mind and body.
Dwelling inwardly for extended periods, we come to know something of the poverty of always looking outside ourselves for happiness, understanding, and wisdom. It’s not that God, the environment, and other people cannot help us to be happy or to find satisfaction. It’s just that our happiness, satisfaction, and our understanding, even of God, will be no deeper than our capacity to know ourselves inwardly, to encounter the outer world from the deep comfort that comes from being at home in one’s own skin, from an intimate familiarity with the ways of one’s own mind and body.
Dwelling in stillness and looking inward for some part of each day, we touch what is most real and reliable in ourselves and most easily overlooked and undeveloped. When we can be centered in ourselves, even for brief periods of time in the face of the pull of the outer world, not having to look elsewhere for something to fill us up or make us happy, we can be at home wherever we find ourselves, at peace with things as they are, moment by moment.
Don’t go outside your house to see the flowers. My friend, don’t bother with that excursion. Inside your body there are flowers. One flower has a thousand petals. That will do for a place to sit. Sitting there you will have a glimpse of beauty inside the body and out of it, before gardens and after gardens.
The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.
Thus the Master travels all day without leaving home. However splendid the views, she stays serenely in herself. Why should the lord of the country flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro, you lose touch with your root. If you let restlessness move you, you lose touch with who you are.
– LAO-TZU, Tao-te-Ching
Direct your eye right inward, and you’ll find
A thousand regions in your mind
Yet undiscovered. Travel them and be Expert in home-cosmography.
– THOREAU, Walden
The next time you feel a sense of dissatisfaction, of something being missing or not quite right, turn inward just as an experiment. See if you can capture the energy of that very moment. Instead of picking up a magazine or going to the movies, calling a friend or looking for something to eat or acting up in one way or another, make a place for yourself. Sit down and enter into your breathing, if only for a few minutes. Don’t look for anything—neither flowers nor light nor a beautiful view. Don’t extol the virtues of anything or condemn the inadequacy of anything. Don’t even think to yourself, “I am going inward now.” Just sit. Reside at the center of the world. Let things be as they are.