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March 2013

Post image for How to find the way

Being sick is one of the circumstances in which the higher functions of my mind start to go dormant. I often feel like I can’t write about anything other than being sick, or some peripherally related topic.

My whole human experience sinks to the low end of something — some kind of spectrum. As it does, I get duller and less compassionate. My mind turns inward, becomes self-absorbed. My self-consciousness grows and my consciousness of others shrinks. Mental chatter increases and takes more of my attention.

Even when I’m in the throes of its dysfunctional lower end, I am quite aware that I’m always somewhere on this spectrum, and that I have been on farther-flung parts of it (in both directions) in the past, and I’m sure I will be in the future.

I don’t know what to call this spectrum, but I do know I want to be closer to the other end of it as much as possible, which I know from experience is more likely to happen under certain circumstantial conditions: not being sick, being on top of my responsibilities, eating mostly whole foods, and taking my time whenever I drink tea or walk across parking lots or do anything else, to name a few.

There’s a problem with the words “higher”and “lower” though. They imply that one direction is definitively superior to the other, the way gold medals are superior to bronze medals. I want to avoid that, for reasons explained below, even though I obviously think one end is vastly preferable. So maybe “north and south” are slightly less-misleading words to label the two directions on this spectrum. They have nothing to do with geography, at all. I just need some poles in order to talk about it.

I know I’m being vague here. There’s a reason for that. Traditionally when people talk about subjective inner states they wade into semi-spiritual territory, where explanations start to sound hokey and assertions become unprovable, because there can be no second observer of what’s happening inside you. In an attempt to describe your current condition you might hear yourself saying something like, “Wow my energy is in disarray today,” to which your hippie friends may nod knowingly and your science-head friends may roll their eyes.  Read More

Post image for How to make hard things easy

I live in a land of temperature extremes. In a typical year my city will see both 35 degrees Celsius and minus 35 (that’s 95 and -31 to Americans.) We have the greatest range of temperatures of any major city in the world. Average temperature is slightly lower than Moscow. Humidity and wind chill stretch these extremes further.

Our dramatic climate constitutes a large part of our modest civic pride. It’s particularly relevant to me though, because my day job has me working with my hands, outside, all times of year.

Construction crews know how to build things — roads, pipes, hydrants, and buildings — but they couldn’t possibly build them in the right place without a professional surveyor staking them out. That’s what I do. I read engineering drawings and mark exactly (to the inch) where all the new stuff belongs in the real world. Thousands of years ago, this was done using wooden stakes pounded into the ground at carefully measured-in points, and they have not yet found a better way.

Most construction happens in the summer. I find the points while a student assistant does most of the hammering. In winter, the construction season is on an outbreath and the industry slows way down. The students are gone, so two or three surveyors team up to create overqualified super-crews of stake-holders and hammerers. Many of my workdays, another surveyor does the technical stuff and so I become essentially a manual laborer.

Minus 35 is something everyone should experience at least once. The air shimmers with cold. When you inhale, the inside of your nostrils freeze. Your breath comes out in clouds. If there’s a breeze and some of your skin is exposed, say between your glove and the cuff of your coat, it feels like it’s being cut with a knife. But you wear layers, you keep moving, and you make sure to find a job for the extremities that tend to go numb first.

Worst of all for the surveyor, the ground is about as soft as a brick. Wooden stakes shatter when you try to hammer them in. So we must always first pound in an iron bar to make a hole.

Even with a pointed iron bar it’s almost impossible to make a hole if you’ve never done it before. If you don’t hit it dead-centre, often the bar bounces right out. It takes several great, two-handed swings with a ten-pound sledgehammer to make any progress, which means someone else has to crouch down and hold the bar for the hammer guy.

It becomes a cogent exercise in trust. A miss could be disastrous for the wrist-bones of the holder, but the hammer needs to be swung hard, and we have to do this thousands of times. Being the hammerer is actually scarier than being the holder — I would rather get hit with a sledgehammer than hit someone. After working a few weeks with a particular partner, a person gets less nervous and it feels a whole lot safer. The upside to swinging the sledge is that you stay warm.  Read More

Post image for How to grow

This month Raptitude will turn four years old. Some of you were here right from the first few awkward posts, a time when all of my subscribers could fit in a school bus. But now the regulars alone could fill an NHL arena, along with enough casual readers to form a pretty scary mob in the surrounding parking area.

The numbers are big enough to be abstract to me now, and when I think of Raptitude’s readership I’m usually still thinking of the same few dozen faces (or avatars) that were on that original schoolbus. So I sometimes forget that a good proportion of you are quite new, and we’ve never been properly introduced.

My name is David. I’m a 32 year-old Canadian. I write about creating moment-to-moment quality of life, mostly by reframing how we look at the world and its people.

It has worked for me. Unbelievably well. Every year I reach a new level of confidence and ease. If the Me of 2012 could travel back in time, he would make short work of the problems suffered by the Me of 2011. This is the kind of growth I expect of myself every year now, and I want you to expect that too.

Whether they read this blog or not, everyone is interested in that: more ease, more perspective, more self-dependability — to know how to be less needy, less unstable, less worried.

For people actively interested in personal growth, the existing reading material tends to settle into two slightly overlapping camps. There are the “summon the winner within” people you find in the audience at Tony Robbins events, and the spiritual/new-age people who talk in soft voices about meditating and manifesting things.

People do get lots of mileage out of these camps, but I think the greater proportion of people don’t really want to live in either one. On Raptitude I borrow what I’ve learned from both and pass on what works, but I don’t really like the tone of either one. They just feel too forceful a lot of the time. Most of us don’t want to become practicing Buddhists, or recite affirmations into the mirror every morning, and we don’t believe that’s what happy people do.

For me it’s about cultivating personal perspectives that work internally, for you, better than what you’ve been prescribed by society (or by Tony Robbins, for that matter.) In my experience, the conventional ways of life that most of us inherit from our parents, our religions and our cultural norms make for lives that are many times harder than they have to be, and much less rewarding. I feel like I’m about twenty times better at life than I was ten years ago, but only because I made a point of it.  Read More

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