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Post image for Five Things You Notice When You Quit the News

I grew up believing that following the news makes you a better citizen. Eight years after having quit, that idea now seems ridiculous—that consuming a particularly unimaginative information product on a daily basis somehow makes you thoughtful and informed in a way that benefits society.

But I still encounter people who balk at the possibility of a smart, engaged adult quitting the daily news.

To be clear, I’m mostly talking about following TV and internet newscasts here. This post isn’t an indictment of journalism as a whole. There’s a big difference between watching a half hour of CNN’s refugee crisis coverage (not that they cover it anymore) versus spending that time reading a 5,000-word article on the same topic.

If you quit, even for just a month or so, the news-watching habit might start to look quite ugly and unnecessary to you, not unlike how a smoker only notices how bad tobacco makes things smell once he stops lighting up.

A few things you might notice, if you take a break:  Read More

Post image for How to Become Less Uptight in Two Minutes

The classic advice for public speaking nerves is to picture the crowd in their underwear.

I wonder if the person who invented that ever tried it. I find it immediately increases the tension of a speaking situation. It makes you more aware of what’s at stake—the possibility of embarrassment, for the audience too.

What does work is to picture the room around you as it was at 4 am. Empty and silent. Nobody there to need any particular thing to happen, or not happen.

This simple thought makes it clear that the room itself is harmless, and so is speaking into it. Filling it with people changes that sense a little, but not so much that it feels dangerous.

The mental image of an inert room shrinks the prospect of speaking from a frantic story in your mind down to its bare bones again—people in a room, one of them talking. It becomes obvious that however the talk goes, life will continue afterward. The room will be quiet again, with no trace of your forgotten lines or botched intro, if they even happened.

Even if you never speak to a roomful of people, this ability to shift your view of a particular scene in this way is quite useful. You can reduce the stressful effect of queues, crowds, busy subway platforms and family gatherings just by imagining that same space as it might feel with no people in it—either the previous night at 4am, or a century from now, when it’s a dusty ruin. Back in the present, suddenly the place isn’t so threatening or intolerable. It’s just what it is to the senses alone—a space with people in it—and the mind is only adding commentary.

This remarkable little exercise works because our feelings towards the moment we’re in typically have little to do with the scene itself. Instead, we’re wrapped up in our own internal narrative around it.  Read More

Post image for Clarity Comes From Stepping Away

I’m home again after spending a week and a half in Ecuador, plus an election Tuesday in Miami and three days visiting in Toronto. That two weeks away felt like much longer, which is always a good feeling to have about a trip, because it usually means you learned something.

The time in Ecuador in particular was unforgettable, full of new friends and personal catharses. I was there as a presenter at a kind of retreat called a chautauqua, alongside J.D. Roth from Money Boss, Leo Babauta from Zen Habits, and Cheryl Reed, the retreat’s organizer. (I wrote more about the trip here.)

Essentially, a chautauqua is a get-together for purpose of exchanging ideas about how to live. A group of about twenty-five of us spent a week in a small mountainside resort in Ecuador’s cloud forest, reflecting on big-picture topics like lifestyle choices, personal habits, career moves and general well-being. There were day trips and activities, and a ton of conversations. We all sat in random spots at dinner every night so that every single person got to know everyone else.

We got to know each other so quickly that saying goodbye on the final Sunday was almost heartbreaking. I felt like I had known these people for years. By then, everyone had shared so much of what matters to them with everyone else: what moves us, what we love, what we fear, what we want to change about ourselves. We had gone from total strangers to a tight-knit tribe in which every member would do just about anything for anyone else. In seven days.

This is the magic of the chautauqua format. Everyone brings their own wisdom and experience to the group with a kind of generosity and acceptance I’ve never experienced in any other setting. Everyone is away from home and the superficial distractions of their normal schedules, so we were all very present for each other. We were constantly in conversation, constantly offering help with anything we can, constantly looking out for the whole group.  Read More

Post image for Life Gets Real When the TV Goes Off

I don’t remember when they changed it, but Netflix no longer asks you if you want to watch another episode. Instead, it tells you you are going to unless you take immediate action. You have the option, if your drive to get on with your life is strong enough at that moment, to spring to your feet and stop the countdown before it’s too late.

Back in 2008 I quit putting the news on first thing in the morning. I had noticed that I didn’t really watch it, it was just comforting to have on, and that made me suspicious. So I stopped. The effect was strangely jarring—my breakfast-making routine seemed unnervingly quiet. Suddenly it was just me, my kitchen, and creeping thoughts about my job and my boss and whatever troublesome project we were on at the time.

For some reason just having the TV on seemed to soften the reality of those mornings, and turning it off seemed to intensify my problems. It was like life finally had room to square up and confront me directly, whereas with the TV on it could only make glancing contact.

You might have noticed this phenomenon too. Even when the TV has only been on in the background, life and all its responsibilities suddenly become a lot more vivid the instant it plunks off. And that can be a strangely uncomfortable moment, to be in a quiet room once again, suddenly quite aware that the rest of your day and the rest of your life is undecided, and you’re at the helm.

Often we already have an impending obligation somewhere else, and that’s why we turn it off in the first place. But without another vine to grasp the moment we let go of the TV, shutting it off reintroduces a certain existential weight to our experience.

One of the least-acknowledged peculiarities about human beings is that we can scarcely bear being in the moment we’re already in. It’s rare for us to truly be at ease in an ordinary present moment, if we’re not being entertained, gratified or otherwise occupied by something. We’re always planning better moments than this current one, or at least trying to soften or improve it with entertainment or food, or anything else that delivers some predictability to our experience.

Just letting life flow by, without adding anything to it, distracting ourselves from it, or fixating on the future, is strangely excruciating for us. It should be the easiest thing in the world to do, just to let time unfold at its own pace, but we’re so uncomfortable with that.

The present moment is seldom good enough. We’ll do anything to avoid experiencing the moment unadulterated, even useless things like biting our lip, reading the sides of cereal boxes, or thumbing the seams of our jeans.  Read More

movie cinema

It took me years to discover this, but I become really uptight in movie theaters. Usually I’m pretty easygoing, but whenever I enter a room with rows of seats and a large screen, I have an incredibly difficult time relaxing.

It’s as though I develop certain mild mental illnesses as soon as I walk in. Suddenly I have misophonia—I can’t bear the sound of people eating anything, or crinkling packages, even though everyone is eating something, and has every right to. I feel paranoid and persecuted, as though my precious public movie experience will inevitably be ruined one or more persistently clumsy, noisy, or smelly moviegoers.

Even when nobody is doing anything annoying yet, my mind is poised for judgment, almost waiting for a reason to get mad. Undoubtedly, someone is going to talk through the whole thing, explaining to their partner all the references they catch, or asking plot questions the movie itself hasn’t answered yet. Every movie experience begins with a sense of impending loss.

I may be overstating this effect a little—describing the private emotional convulsions of your mind always makes you sound crazy, because we so seldom do it—but there’s no question that my capacity for judgment and indignation mushrooms at the cinema, regardless of what’s actually happening around me on any particular visit.  Read More

Post image for A Question for Regular Readers

Hi everyone. Tomorrow I’ll be going to San Diego for FinCon, and staying there for most of the week. With that, the upcoming Ecuador retreat, and the current season of Camp Calm, my normal daily work routine is upside down, and much of the blog-writing time has been squeezed out of it.

I’ll be publishing probably every other week until I’m back from Ecuador in mid-November. Then things will return to normal, with a renewed focus on blog posts.

In the meantime I could use your help with something. Part of the problem with writing for Raptitude is that the topic of “human well-being” is extremely broad. There are a thousand subtopics and nobody’s interested in all of them. I can write about personal productivity one week, future societies the next week, and existential rumination the week after that.

Surely different readers want different things, and I spend a lot of time wondering whether to write about Topic A because it’s the most interesting to me, Topic B because people seem to like it most, or Topic C because I haven’t written about it in a while.

This leads to a lot of second-guessing, and a lot of articles abandoned halfway through. I begin three or four articles for each one I publish. This has led to fewer articles overall, which I don’t like.

I’ve been trying to please everyone (or rather, not displease anyone) and that’s impossible. I didn’t use to see it like that—I would just write and publish. So I’m going to go back to that less conservative approach, no longer worrying about balancing things between the different branches of Raptitude’s overall topic.  Read More

Post image for Camp Calm is Officially Open

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Okay folks! Registration is now open for the third season of Camp Calm.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ve definitely heard me mention Camp Calm, a lot, and you probably already know whether you want to do it. So if that’s you, you can register here right now.

For new or intermittent readers: a few times a year I hold a 30-day virtual workshop for learning the basics of meditation and mindful living. There’s a daily lesson via email, a short reading, and a daily practice. There’s also a forum where we chat about our experiences and help each other out.

Including everything, it requires 20-30 minutes a day, and you can split that time up if you like.

The goal is to develop a modest but consistent meditation practice that works with your schedule.

Meditation is a household word now, although it’s still a pretty fuzzy concept for most people. We don’t teach it in schools yet, although we are at the beginning of the beginning of that era.

Its typical benefits, however, are widely known now: reduced stress and anxiety, better sleep, improved confidence in social situations, greater openness to beauty and creativity, better habit management, and improved overall quality of life.

So we’re in a weird era for meditation — lots of interest but also a large number of people stuck at the “interested, but not actually doing it” stage. The goal of Camp Calm is to ease you into a daily practice, where you are actually doing it. It’s all done with short, simple sessions, removing the confusion and mysticism.

Even a modest meditation practice develops mindfulness, a skillful type of attention that you can use to bring clarity and ease to virtually any moment of your life. It’s a tool that will never cease to be useful, and will never fade with age. Meditation sharpens this tool, and also helps us cultivate other healthy qualities: wisdom, patience, confidence, and calm, to name a few. 

All 30 lessons are written by me, and they’re all exclusive to Camp Calm. None of it has appeared on Raptitude or anywhere else.

Day One of camp is September 12th, 2016, and the last day is October 11th. The readings and practices are very short and you can do them according to your own schedule each day. Everything else is figured out for you.

Registration is scheduled to stay open for a week, but as I mention frequently, it sold out quickly both times and the number of spots available will be the same.

The price will also be the same as last time: $69 USD. (And as with the previous seasons, those of you who bought You Are Here are entitled to a discount, which you should have received an email about earlier. If you didn’t get it, just shoot me an email before you register to let me know.)

This is what comes with registration:

The Orientation Booklet explains everything you need to know about how Camp works, in a few pages. All you have to do when you register is read it, and you’re set. 30 short daily lessons, which arrive by email The digital guide Making Things Clear: A Brief Guide for People Who Think Meditation is Hard (in PDF, epub and Kindle formats) The digital guide You Are Here: A Modern Person’s Guide to Living in the Present (also in all three formats) Guided audio meditations in MP3 format Access to the discussion forum where you can ask questions and share your experiences with other campers

Campers can also email me directly with questions at any time. I will do anything I can to help you establish a lasting practice that enriches your life.

You can download your welcome package right away. If it interests you, I hope you’ll join us.

Register for Camp Calm

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Over 130 campers offered to leave testimonials. Here are a few:

“Huge differences! I can’t believe how much can be gained in such a short time. I feel calmer and more in control of my emotions. I can find joy at some point, each and every day no matter how mundane the day seems. It isn’t always easy to commit to regular daily practice but the benefits are worth the effort. I honestly think it has been a life changing experience!”

Kim, Manchester

***

“Much better control of my impulses/addictions. Much greater awareness of what is actually happening in the moment. Didn’t realize how much time I spent in my head ignoring what was literally right in front of me. Over time I learned to recognize the sensations going on inside my body too.”

Matt, New York

***

“I’ve been meaning to write to you to thank you. My partner and I have maintained a consistent practice ever since camp ended. We miss a day every once in a while, but always get back to meditating. I’ve also stacked a gratitude journaling habit on top, and I really believe that both are improving my happiness and tranquility.”

Laura, Boston

***

“I’ve honestly been floored by the positive difference in my general day to day life experience. I was dubious to begin with, having heard endless proponents of meditation, but never truly believing that such a simple practice could actually have a profound influence on my existence. I’ve found myself living with lessened anxiety, clearer thinking, and an overall slightly happier state of being.”

Dan, Los Angeles

***

All graphics by David Cain
the wax duke

Even in the information age I still occasionally encounter an otherwise reasonable person who insists that men really do think about sex every seven seconds.

A little thinking reveals this to be pure nonsense—it would mean the average man has been perturbed by over 500 sexual fantasies before he even arrives at work. Yet you still hear it said with a straight face. (Scientists estimate that even college students usually only have about twenty sexual thoughts a day, not seven thousand.)

This not uncommon belief is so astronomically distant from the truth that some strange social force must be at play for even a single person to believe it. After all, we’re not talking about some kind of esoteric knowledge—50% of the population has direct access to a random sample of the data.

For this belief to have become as popular as even a mid-tier myth like “gum takes seven years to digest”, think of how many men must have felt like they had to pretend, when the topic came up, that they were thinking about sex several hundred times more often than they actually were.

It’s hilarious, and kind of fascinating, that anyone could get it that wrong. But having once been a boy, and knowing how boys learn to be men, I can see how it happened.  Read More

abundant tree

Everyone who was once a schoolkid knows the two different phases of Summer holidays.

Waking up on the first Monday of summer holidays is a feeling of unparalleled abundance. School seems light years away. It really feels like you have unlimited time.

This feeling continues until one morning in August, when you look at the calendar and have the opposite feeling, because there are only ten days left before school starts.

These two feelings, abundance and scarcity, are ever-present forces in our lives. Often whole weeks, or months, or even years take the general tone of one or the other. But we also swing back and forth between them throughout each day.

You look at the clock, expecting it to be six-something, and it’s 7:48. A feeling of scarcity descends immediately.

You remember this coming Monday is a holiday. A whoosh of abundance.

You arrive at the show and there’s a huge lineup for tickets. You catch a news report about a sluggish economy. Your girlfriend says she doesn’t want fries but will just “Have some of yours.” Scarcity.

Your boss tells you a deadline has been pushed back. Netflix adds a whole second season of Happy Valley. You’ve done every bit of laundry in the house and it’s all clean and folded. Abundance.

Abundance is the feeling of “All I need right now, and more”. It is the feeling that you can rely on your future, on your personal world, to provide for you.

Scarcity is the sense that it’s uncertain that what you need will be available. It activates the parts of the brain that deal with competition, urgency and despair.  Read More

Post image for The Two Ways to Move Through Life

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we basically move through life in one of two ways, and each of us has a favorite. We’re either moving towards what we want, or we’re moving away from what we don’t want.

It might seem like moving away from what you don’t want accomplishes the same thing as moving towards what you do want. If you’re successfully moving away from pain, dullness and disappointment, what could you be moving towards, other than pleasure, excitement and fulfillment? It should be a simple matter to decide which way to go.  Read More

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