July 2010

Post image for Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed

Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months of traveling.

Because I had been living quite a different lifestyle while I was away, this sudden transition to 9-to-5 existence has exposed something about it that I overlooked before.

Since the moment I was offered the job, I’ve been markedly more careless with my money. Not stupid, just a little quick to pull out my wallet. As a small example, I’m buying expensive coffees again, even though they aren’t nearly as good as New Zealand’s exceptional flat whites, and I don’t get to savor the experience of drinking them on a sunny café patio. When I was away these purchases were less off-handed, and I enjoyed them more.

I’m not talking about big, extravagant purchases. I’m talking about small-scale, casual, promiscuous spending on stuff that doesn’t really add a whole lot to my life. And I won’t actually get paid for another two weeks.

In hindsight I think I’ve always done this when I’ve been well-employed — spending happily during the “flush times.” Having spent nine months living a no-income backpacking lifestyle, I can’t help but be a little more aware of this phenomenon as it happens.

I suppose I do it because I feel I’ve regained a certain stature, now that I am again an amply-paid professional, which seems to entitle me to a certain level of wastefulness. There is a curious feeling of power you get when you drop a couple of twenties without a trace of critical thinking. It feels good to exercise that power of the dollar when you know it will “grow back” pretty quickly anyway.

What I’m doing isn’t unusual at all. Everyone else seems to do this. In fact, I think I’ve only returned to the normal consumer mentality after having spent some time away from it.

One of the most surprising discoveries I made during my trip was that I spent much less per month traveling foreign counties (including countries more expensive than Canada) than I did as a regular working joe back home. I had much more free time, I was visiting some of the most beautiful places in the world, I was meeting new people left and right, I was calm and peaceful and otherwise having an unforgettable time, and somehow it cost me much less than my humble 9-5 lifestyle here in one of Canada’s least expensive cities.

It seems I got much more for my dollar when I was traveling. Why? Read More

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Post image for The Purpose of Life, Revealed

Last week I ran into a few online discussions about those big, big questions that often come up in late-night conversations: Why are we here? What is our purpose?

Strictly speaking, as members of the human species we do have a purpose. But we didn’t choose it, and it might not be us who stands to benefit from it. In fact, you might find our purpose quite upsetting. Maybe you don’t want to know. If you want to take the proverbial “Red Pill”, read on. While it might be alarming at first, it is also very enlightening, and could change forever how you view yourself and what you want to do with your life.

Today’s post is a particularly long one, but it does contain the meaning of life, so it may be worth your while.

To understand it we have to start with a quick biology lesson.

Everything you do, you do for you

It really seems like no matter what we do, we are always serving ourselves in some way. Every action you take is to fulfill some desire that you have, whether that desire is to eat a chocolate cake, run away from a bee, or to help your nephew with his homework. You do it because it promises to deliver something you want.

Even charity and philanthropy always seem to have some identifiable benefit to the giver: recognition, tax rebates, or even just a good feeling inside. There are always incentives for our behavior, and so it seems that we cannot escape self-interest.

That’s okay though. Self-interest doesn’t need to take the form of blatant selfishness, as we tend to call it — taking something for yourself at the expense of somebody else. But sometimes it does, in the form of theft, greed, or physical domination.

Most of us have learned that we can usually serve ourselves better by complying with society’s values than we could by violating them. Approaching life by stealing everything you need would almost certainly lead to a less desirable situation for you than working for and buying everything you need. Read More

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Post image for How to Deal With People Who Frustrate You

Deep down I knew better, but I couldn’t stop myself.

An opinionated Twitter acquaintance of mine had tweeted a snarky comment that dismissed all forms of self-improvement as new age feel-good fluff. It was such a sweeping, cynical remark that I felt I had to set him straight.

So I hammered out a sharp rebuttal, and felt a little better, but there was still uneasiness. He would surely come up with a counter-attack on what I said, and it would go back and forth until one of us let the other have the last word.

After a few minutes, I got the lesson he was trying to teach me: to let go of my need to be right all the time. I deleted the tweet and he never saw it.

A few years ago I learned an ingenious method for dealing with other people when they’re doing things you wish they wouldn’t do. It’s adapted from a technique by the late author Richard Carlson. It’s easy and works exceedingly well.

You go about your day as normal, but you imagine one difference:

Everyone is enlightened but you.

That includes:

The impatient, tailgating driver behind you The intern at work who drinks all the coffee and never puts on a new pot The friend who knows he owes you ten bucks but is waiting until you ask him for it The guy who keeps clicking his pen during the meeting The “greeter” at Wal-Mart who tapes your bag shut every time even though you’re a loyal customer who’s never stolen anything in your life Whoever tagged your garage door last night Your kind old Aunt Sally, who keeps on talking after you’ve said you really need to get going

Imagine all the people in your world are completely enlightened and aware of what they’re doing to you, and they’re doing it only to teach you something valuable. Your task is to figure out what.

A true master won’t simply tell you what he thinks you should know. He’s too wise to say, “Always be patient,” and expect that it will make you a patient person. Instead, he’ll create a lesson that challenges you. He will push a button of yours, and see if you know what to do.

Read More

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At the end of my overseas trip I spent a week winding down in the peaceful surf town of Noosa, Australia. At that point I had over 5000 photographs and two hundred video clips, and I knew people would want to see them. So I took some time to put together a montage of photos and video clips, set to music, to tell the story without an endless stack of photos.

Two weeks ago I reported a laptop disaster in which I thought I lost them all. I was most upset about losing the video. It captures the feeling of the trip pretty well, and losing it was like losing a bunch of awesome memories.

If you hadn’t heard, I did manage to recover all the data, and a week later my laptop mysteriously emerged from its coma and started working again.

So the video is finally online.

It’s about fifteen minutes long, and takes you through my experiences in three beautiful countries: Thailand, New Zealand and Australia. I promise it’s worth your while. Read More

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Post image for Three Typical Mistakes in Thinking About the Future

When I was six years old, I was crossing the little bridge on Center street when I realized I was doomed. I don’t know why it only occurred to me then, but once it did I couldn’t deny it.

I was in Grade 1, and I liked my current teacher, but I was afraid of the Grade 3 teacher (let’s call her Mrs X.) I’d heard stories about how mean she was from older kids, and I’d seen her barking in her shrill voice at the students who were unfortunate enough to be in her class.

Because I was in Grade 1, it never seemed like it was my problem, until it occurred to me that I had no means to prevent myself from aging naturally and eventually becoming a Grade 3 student. She was the only Grade 3 teacher in my small-town school, and I would eventually end up in her class. Fate was marching me right into certain misery.

I scoured my mind for a possible ways out of this. Dropping out didn’t seem to be an option. I didn’t feel self-sufficient enough to run away. No matter how I used my time, the next two years of my life would be spent being funneled towards something I could not accept.

I was so depressed.

All this sudden despair was my doing, but I didn’t know it. I had doomed myself with three common errors in thinking:

1) Letting your thinking snowball.

One of the most liberating discoveries I ever had was that thinking has an insidious snowball effect. Thoughts trigger other thoughts, and if your initial thought carries even a hint of insecurity or worry, subsequent thoughts can explore it and magnify it until you’re profoundly agitated. You can end up pulling your hair out and dreading the rest of your life, just from idle thinking. Read More

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Post image for Good News: Happiness Doesn’t Exist

Happiness is slippery. It doesn’t like to stick around. We know we’ve had it before, but it’s gone away, and we know there are certain things we have to do to find it again. Certain ducks have to be in a row. After all, if you didn’t have to do anything to be happy, you wouldn’t do anything at all. It can’t be too hard to find. Other people seem to be finding it all right.

Yet for all our efforts, we never seem to get this happiness problem nailed down, and there’s a very good reason for that.

When we start talking about solving the problem of unhappiness, it’s hard to avoid the topic of Buddhism. I know not everyone is a fan, but they have lain some important groundwork, even for those of us who like the idea of improving our quality of life but aren’t prepared to buy the whole package, with all its baldness and orange robes. Despite its promises of peace and enlightenment, I haven’t leapt in with abandon, so don’t worry, this article doesn’t delve into pratitya-samutpadas and tathagatagarbhas. It’s about a plain-jane concept you know very well: happiness.

Buddhism developed as a response to mankind’s search for happiness. In the simplest terms, it’s not a belief system but a methodology for being happy. Yet Buddhist literature is known for focusing much more on suffering than happiness. Its curious preference for morbid subject matter has led some to describe Buddhism as preoccupied with negativity.

The reason suffering has become Buddhism’s primary focus, rather than happiness, is that happiness, as we conceive of it, doesn’t really exist — at least not in the same way suffering does. What we refer to as happiness is really just what the absence of suffering feels like. Read More

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e.t. in front of the moon

I’ve been home from my overseas trip for a week now and I haven’t really stopped moving. Seeing all my friends again has been awesome, and I’m so happy to have more than four shirts to choose from. I have my beautiful car again, and my pillowtop queen is more welcoming than all of the eighty-some beds I toured abroad, combined.

But I have to say I don’t really feel home yet.

Right now, Canada feels foreign to me compared to New Zealand. I fumble with our slender coins when I’m paying for things, I forget that sales tax isn’t included, and I bump into people because I’m always walking on the left-hand side of sidewalks and hallways. I lose track of my possessions because I no longer have to collect them all into my backpack every few days.

I’m noticing a real difference in the behavior of people in public here too. There is a certain North American aloofness that I never really noticed before. People seem to be less comfortable engaging with strangers than back in Oz or NZ. They just want to go about their business unbothered. Most clerks don’t smile or (really) look at you. People drive slower and more relaxedly here, but at the same time they seem to be less aware of what’s around them.

I don’t mean any of this to be criticism — after all, while away I learned that Canada is definitely where I want to live most of my life — only comparisons I can’t help but make after looking at the planet from two very different angles. Read More

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