shaving

Dear young men,

I want to tell you what I wish I’d been told, as I bumbled through the awkward years between 15 and 25. This whole letter might sound self-important, coming from a 34-year-old who writes mostly about how he’s just beginning to get the hang of adult life. Maybe it is, and you can take it or leave it.

All I know is that when I was negotiating that stretch between junior high and full adulthood, I could have used some guidance from men who were old enough to be done with that phase, but who were too young to be my dad.

But I didn’t have that, so like most of us, I picked up my strategies from the similarly confused young men around me. Even though that’s pretty normal, in terms of instructions on how to be a mature and respectful adult it’s hard to do worse than that — so I hope I can offer you a bit of insight you might not find among your peers. You’ll still have to choose who to believe and who to ignore, I just want to offer a different voice than the ones you may be hearing.

Some of what follows applies particularly to straight young men, because I’m pulling it from my own experience, but I think the principles behind it are pretty universal.

You will constantly have people telling you, both implicitly and explicitly, that you have to be a man. What that even means, in the 21st century, I don’t quite know. It certainly has a less specific meaning than it used to, and that’s a good thing. Machismo was never a good fit for many of us guys, and it clearly doesn’t make the world a more enlightened place.

Still, if you are male, you will be forced to relate to this increasingly irrelevant concept of “being a man” in some way or another.

Even though we humans are (thankfully) moving on from seeing ourselves as two distinct kinds of creatures, there’s nothing wrong with being a man, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There’s nothing wrong with doing traditionally “manly” things. Don’t be embarrassed by them. If you want to watch football on Sunday, or train in MMA, or grow a handlebar mustache, or buy a pickup truck, make no apologies.  Read More

crowd

During a moment in the checkout line at Costco, it occurred to me that it wouldn’t be the worst time for the apocalypse to strike. There might have been two hundred souls in the building, and if we were suddenly thrust into a survival situation by nuclear attack or zombie outbreak, we would have hundreds of tons of food, along with plenty of pharmaceuticals, first aid supplies, and toilet paper on hand.

If a crisis forced you to spend weeks or months together with a fairly random selection of strangers, you’d soon find out which of these people are a positive, helpful presence, and which aren’t.

Like most people probably do, I like to think I’d be one of the more helpful and welcome members of this new post-apocalyptic family, but I’m not sure why I think that. It’s probably the “Lake Wobegon Effect” — our tendency to overestimate our value and capabilities in relation to others. It’s the same phenomenon that has 90% of us believing we’re better-than-average drivers. (Clearly about 40% of us are wrong on that count, but I’m still somehow nearly 100% sure I’m not one of them.)

As Sam Harris points out in Waking Up, one of the reasons we feel so comfortable watching movies and television is because they allow us to observe and judge the intimate happenings of other people’s lives, while at the same time being completely shielded from their scrutiny of ourselves.

In any case, I’m fascinated by how readily we make judgments about strangers, yet how little we actually know about their personality and character (until, perhaps, some unlikely crisis brings them to the surface.)

Over the years I’ve become more aware of my snap judgments, but they still happen all the time. I frequently catch myself damning certain strangers as altogether bad people, on the basis of one instance of their not using their turn signal, or having a conversation that blocks a doorway.

I’m trying to overcome the habit of justifying these casual, internal condemnations of strangers. Instead, I see if I can overcome my initial negative impression completely, whenever I notice I’m being judgey. My new response to that negativity is this: I decide to drop the low-level resentment, and instead become their secret ally, for the few minutes we are in each other’s presence.

I’ll explain what I mean. This practice started spontaneously on an ordinary day a few months ago:

I’m walking several blocks to a little grocery store down my street, stuck behind a slow-moving man who is walking directly down the center of the narrow sidewalk. There’s no room to go around without stepping into the street, or shimmying past him on the building side.

At first I have my normal reaction of disdain and character judgments. The usual self-righteous internal monologue starts up: Some people just never think about how they affect others! I would never be that unaware of my surroundings! And so on. The fundamental message of all of these thoughts is, “I’m better than you.”

It’s telling that I only become interested in the Ethics of Proper Sidewalk-Sharing in moments when I’m being personally inconvenienced. Even though the issue undoubtedly affects millions of people every day, it never seems to be an important topic to think about at any other time. Many or most of our internal moral complaints about others are really just petty reactions to being inconvenienced, and not any kind of meaningful examination of personal ethics or how to run a society. I’m learning to distrust these kinds of thoughts when I have them, but I still have them.

Anyway, on this occasion I’m lucky enough to feel a pang of guilt for judging this person. He’s a middle-aged man, dressed in a golf shirt and dad jeans, almost certainly unaware that he’s blocking all but the most aggressive and acrobatic attempts to pass him. Still, it’s not fair to deem him a less aware or less considerate person than I am, because even though I’m frustrated with what he’s doing right now, I really know almost nothing about him.

Although I tend to walk at Manhattan speeds wherever I am in the world, right now I’m not exactly in a rush. So instead of making a move to get past this man, I decide to just relax and walk a good ten meters behind him, at a pace of his choosing. And instead of my normal habit of presuming he’s an especially bad or inconsiderate person, I’ll presume he’s an especially good one, or at least good enough not to deserve bitter glares from a stranger.  Read More

Post image for Why Travel Makes You Grow

Being away from home makes you more conscious. When you’re at home, each day is so similar that you can navigate most of it via autopilot, without much conscious thought.

From the moment we wake up, most of our decisions have been made already: what to do for the first half-hour of the day, what time we get dressed, where we go when we leave the bedroom, who we will interact with, what time we’ll eat, where we’ll be when we do, what we need to worry about and not worry about, and so on.

When you wake up staring at an unfamiliar ceiling, with unfamiliar sounds in the background, and no routines to lean on, the day has a lot more question marks, and they demand conscious thinking and decisionmaking.

You remember more of what happens when you’re away from home, because life resembles your past experience so much less. The days seem longer and fuller, and details appear more significant, because you’re too far outside your comfortable grooves to let your mind wander out of the present into idle, irrelevant thinking. Your attention feels like it needs to stay on your surroundings, which is not true when you’re living a normal day at home.

Personal growth happens much more quickly. You have more challenges — how to get hot water out of this particular faucet, or whether it’s even possible, or where to find breakfast nearby — or how to find the answers to any of these questions without using your first language. All of this requires much greater application of inquiry, observation, and decisionmaking than a normal day at home.

Most of all, you become more conscious of who you are and how you live, because both are reflected back to you constantly when you’re temporarily unable to be who you’re used to being, and to do what you’re used to doing.

So a stint of travel in an unfamiliar land is just about the perfect setting for self-reflection. As most of you know, I just got back from three weeks in Ecuador, where I presented at a chautauqua, organized by Cheryl Reed from Above the Clouds Retreats. The idea of the chautauqua was to get away from our normal lives, convene with somewhat like-minded strangers, and exchange our ideas about the big-picture things: life paths, outlooks, bucket lists, and happiness.  Read More

Tortuga Bay

As most of you know I’ve been in Ecuador for the last couple of weeks. Internet access has been extremely spotty, and writing time has been scarce. Right now I’m on Isla Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands, enjoying my last week abroad, and it’s difficult to sit inside when there’s so much out there to see. When I get back I’ll resume my regular posting schedule.

The chautauqua was amazing and I’ll have a lot to say about it when I get time to sit down and work out my thoughts. In the mean time I’m going to share a few of the many hundreds of photos I’ve taken here. Click the thumbnail to view the photo in large size.

[If you're reading by email and can't see the photos, see them on Raptitude.com]

Read More

Post image for What happened during my 30 days on a liquid superfood

The experiment is over, and my life is really different now.

Since the first week of July I’ve been eating only one solid meal per day, and I’ve never felt better. More than a month ago I began making my own nutritionally-complete liquid food, and subsisting on it for about two-thirds of my daily calories.

It’s based on a ready-made mix called Soylent, which I wrote about in May. I was really excited to try it, and finally did when a helpful reader sent me a day’s worth. However, the producer, Rosa Labs, is comically behind schedule filling their existing orders, and won’t begin shipping to Canada for probably another year.

So, I’ve joined many thousands of others by making a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) version, with ingredients purchased from grocery and health food stores. Essentially, you can make it with anything, as long as the ingredients

1) are edible
2) provide all necessary micro- and macro-nutrients in adequate amounts (there is an online nutrient calculator for doing that), and
3) result in a palatable substance

Usually, DIY recipes are cheaper than the commercial one, and you can tailor the ingredients to your preferences. Mine is made primarily of masa flour, oat flour and ground almonds. (The full recipe is at the bottom of this post.)

Why?

In my original Soylent post I used over two thousands words to explain why a healthy liquid food intrigued me. But now that I’ve experienced it, my short answer is this: imagine cutting your food bill in half, adding 2-3 hours of spare time to your day, and having more energy than you know what to do with.

This was the most interesting and successful of my 18 experiments so far. I experienced an immediate (and so far permanent) increase in energy. I don’t get tired until bedtime. I need less sleep and I’m not groggy when I wake up. Combined with the additional free time from reducing my cooking, grocery shopping and dish-washing duties, I have several extra hours a day that I didn’t have before.  Read More

toronto from the water

Congratulations on winning our sweepstakes!

We’re pleased to welcome you on a most-expenses-paid, open-ended trip to The Future, where you will enjoy fantastic technologies, abundant luxuries, exhilarating freedoms and opportunities, an inexhaustible supply of entertainment, and other truly ludicrous privileges.

You’ll be so awash with options, you won’t know what to do with yourself! Take a stroll through our modern cities and towns, free of threat from animal attacks and most infectious diseases. Wrap your body in a variety of warm, protective garments, available for next to nothing at garage sales and thrift stores or — if you’re feeling extra-luxurious — at one of thousands of retail shops.

Or perhaps you feel like eating something. That will almost certainly not be a problem! Beans, rice, legumes, flours, and — unbelievably — any amount of safe, fresh water you desire, are all widely available for little more than pocket change. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. For a little more you can get fresh fruits and vegetables, and even game, transported to you from exotic locations around the world. We even offer a “super-luxury” option, where you can pay a modest premium to have professionals find, prepare, and cook your meal, and even place it right in front of you, with additional doting provided by trained servants.  Read More

Post image for Don’t make a Thing out of it

One of my favorite articles in The Onion shows a picture of a man dressed up to leave for work, with his hand on the doorknob and his ear against the door. The headline reads, “Exit From Apartment Delayed by 20 Seconds to Avoid Pleasantries With Neighbor.”

It made me laugh because I know I’ve done exactly that, many times. The article has been shared thirty thousand times on Facebook, so apparently it’s a thing for many people too. Now that I think about it, my neighbors have probably done the same thing to me.

What’s interesting is that I never really decided to do that. I never consciously thought about avoiding pleasantries with the neighbors, I just got into the habit of slowing down if I heard shuffling outside, sometimes hesitating at the door until it goes away.

After seeing this Onion article, whenever I notice that neurotic impulse avoid the neighbors, I feel silly and just go whenever I’m done getting ready. Somehow, I had made a “thing” out of having hallway interactions with the neighbors.

Because I apparently spent the last two years avoiding my neighbors, there isn’t much to these “pleasantries” when they do happen. I don’t really know these people, so there’s nothing to catch up on. I just give them a genuine “Good morning,” and go. I feel like I’ve solved a problem that never should have been a problem.

Shrinking your world

Now that it’s summer I go for a bike ride almost every evening. I live in a semi-urban area, consisting of a strip of restaurants and bars sandwiched by two grids of well-treed residential streets. I love the residential streets. They’re lined with pre-war two-storey homes, with old style trimmings and no stucco. Every night I pick a nearby neighborhood to explore and sort of meander my way there, without needing to take any particular route.

The other day I was heading to a neighborhood across the main strip, and I noticed that up ahead, the cross-street I was on passed a busy restaurant patio.

I guess I have a negative association with these patio scenes. I love my neighborhood, except for its loud, Thursday-night bar crowds that leave cigarette butts and empty bottles behind. Instead of proceeding past, I noticed myself turning around and taking a detour down a back lane.

As I was riding down the back lane I realized that I had just made a Thing out of avoiding certain streets because they require me to pass by a noisy patio. Next time I’m not going to worry about it.

It seems like this isn’t something worth thinking about. One street’s as good as another — I might has well have taken the back lane. But it seems completely absurd when you realize that this silly little aversion actually made me physically stop my bike and turn around to take the back lane instead. Obviously I’ve made this dislike of patios into something that matters, something that will put a little bit of my world effectively off-limits.  Read More

Post image for You Are Here

Yesterday I released my new mindfulness guide, via private email, to the small group of early-birds who signed up for email updates on it.

It was a huge hit. I really couldn’t believe it. Thank you so much everybody! I spent pretty much the whole day interacting with readers, it was just fantastic. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

Today, You Are Here: A Modern Person’s Guide to Living in the Present is available to everybody else. (Early-birds, this is basically what was sent to you yesterday — check your inbox!)

I know a lot of you have been waiting for this guide for a while, so if you want to skip the preamble and get it now, you can get it here.

But some of you will want to know more about it first.

If you read this blog you’ve definitely heard me rave about the endless benefits of mindfulness. Nothing has made a bigger difference in my quality of life, and I make this point over and over again with different anecdotes and points of view. I’m now more confident, more calm, less frazzled and less worried. Mindfulness has even made my cooking better.  Read More

Post image for 5 Easily-Overlooked Truths About Thinking

People don’t talk about thinking very much. We talk about what we’re thinking about all the time, but rarely do we talk about thinking itself. Thinking is a huge part of our lives, maybe the most prominent part of our experience.

It affects everything else in life too. It affects your actions, your self-image, your possibilities in life, your stress levels and your health. Your thinking habits determine whether your predominant experience in life is one of fear, excitement, abundance or scarcity.

My life got a hell of a lot better when I started paying attention to the role of my thoughts in life. There was a time when I would have balked at the following five truths about thinking, but now I’d consider them to be pretty basic facts of life.

1) We are thinking almost all the time.

Young children are great observers. Most of the time their attention is occupied by what they’re currently seeing and hearing. They can definitely think and ruminate, but the present-moment sensory world seems to be more important to them. It’s not unusual to see an adult lost in thought, barely aware that he’s there, but it would be strange to see a two-year-old in with that same glazed, absent look.

By the time we reach adulthood, thought occupies the foreground of our experience nearly all the time. Even when we’re actively paying attention to the sensory world, we’re constantly interpreting, predicting and judging.

As children get older, they devote more and more attention to their own internal “mapping” of the world, until it becomes more important than making fresh observations of the present moment.

Imagine tourists walking around, navigating with a map held out in front of them. They see the real-world landmarks beyond the map, but they use them only as a reference to find out where they are on the map, and how they can get to other places on the map. Most adults engage with the world in the same way, out of habit — the contents of our thoughts and impressions make the main landscape, and the present-moment sensory experience is secondary.

2) Most of our thoughts don’t really accomplish anything.

We absolutely need to think, and our minds can do amazing things. But most trains of thought aren’t leading to any kind of decision or insight that’s applicable in the real world. They’re just kind of kicking up dirt.

One thought always leads to another, but following a train of thought is something like following a trail of randomly-growing flowers, rather than a trail of purpose-placed breadcrumbs.  Read More

cat in a hammock not giving a shit

During a very famous moment, Krishnamurti asked the audience if they wanted to know his secret. The lecture hall went silent, and everyone leaned forward.

“You see,” he said, “I don’t give a shit.”

I’m paraphrasing. By most accounts he said “You see, I don’t mind what happens,” but he could have easily said either, and not giving a shit is a concept more people can identify with. I apologize for the vulgarity of the phrase — I will use it a lot in this article — but nothing else captures this piece of wisdom quite as well.

When you tell people to “not mind what happens,” they’ll probably look at you funny unless they’re the type of person who would be in the audience at a Krishnamurti lecture. But everyone understands that there are times in life when the best way to respond to an unpleasant event is to not give a shit.

Giving a shit really just amounts to thinking about what happened. If someone was rude to you on the phone, and you think a lot about it, you are giving a shit. If you hang up and shrug and then go for a bike ride, then you are successfully not giving a shit.

Giving a shit does not necessarily mean you’re doing anything useful, but it makes it seem like you are. It feels like there’s some kind of justice that you’re getting closer to with every moment you give a shit. But that’s not true, because giving a shit, by itself, is only thinking — and thinking has little use aside from figuring out what to do.

This illuminates one of our most stubborn, silly beliefs about human thinking: that most of it is worthwhile, that it’s actually getting you somewhere. Most thoughts just fill up your head and distance you from the life that’s still unfolding in front of you. They’re not leading to any important decisions or insights, they’re just taking over your present moment, and possibly shortening your life on the other end too.

We often believe that our thoughts are accomplishing something just because they’re emotionally charged, or because they’re “about” something we consider important, like fairness, respect, or the state of society.

No. They are useful only insofar as they get you to move your body and do something useful.  Read More


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