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April 2013

Post image for How much of your life are you selling off?

Note: This is a long post (3000 words) but it can easily save you years of your life, so take a lemonade break halfway through if you have to.

When I was a TV-watching child in the 1980s I’d see a lot of commercials for something called “Freedom 55.” It was a financial planning service, offered by a life insurance company, but at the time I didn’t know what any of those things were. I knew what retirement was though. I also knew that companies in commercials always try to make themselves sound as good as possible. So the message I took from those commercials was that age 55 was an ideal age to retire, a few years earlier than the norm.

That stuck in my mind as a pretty universal benchmark, throughout my gradeschool life and working life, and it was steadily reinforced by how the working adults around me talked about retirement. It was something for old people.

I pictured the typical career-fueled life as settling out into three distinct phases: pre-work, work, and post-work.

Pre-work lasts about 16-23 years, while you live off of your parents, student loans, or both.

Work, the longest phase, lasts about 40 years. During this time you earn an increasing amount, and so as you soldier on through these four decades, you can afford an increasingly rewarding lifestyle.

Once you are in this phase you also begin to save some of your income for the next phase. The gold standard benchmark here, culture taught me, was 10%. Save 10% of your income for retirement, beginning as early on in the work phase as is feasible for you, and you’re cruising. Almost everyone recognized this benchmark too, yet almost everyone described it as being hard to do. I found it hard.  Read More

Post image for Honesty can be pretty damn rude

Lying is regular a part of being polite.

Long-time readers know that I don’t accept guest posts here, other than two or three by-invite exceptions. But I get requests all the time and I try to turn people down graciously.

Even though a lot of them are probably mass-mailing their submissions, I reason that in each case there may be a sensitive and hopeful person reading my response, and I don’t want to hurt them by being cold. So when I reject their offer, I add a lie. I tell them I am afraid.

“I’m afraid I do not accept guest posts on Raptitude.”

“I do not accept guest posts on Raptitude,” sounds too unsympathetic I guess, so some ridiculous habit has me claiming that this fact actually scares me, so the submitter knows I find my own policy as unforgiving and insensitive as they do.

Our language customs are full of these kinds of insulators. The truth, in very many cases, is just too brutal or embarassing to state as a fact, so we add in little fictions.

“Hello, Mr Smith, I was just wondering if I could borrow your pickup truck Saturday afternoon.”

In my culture, it’s normal to be afraid to even ask, “May I borrow your truck?” So you phone Mr Smith not to ask anything of him, but just to declare to him something you’ve been wondering about. Presumably, you believe he is the type of person who may find it interesting to know what topics you’ve been pondering recently, so you phoned to let him know. Perhaps he will then have the idea to offer you the truck, so that you no longer need to continue to wonder if it is possible that you could borrow it Saturday afternoon.

In a restaurant, I notice that when I decide that I want the veggie wrap, what I do not say to the waiter is, “I want the veggie wrap.” I don’t want to be crass. Instead I tell him that I would like the veggie wrap, as if we’re talking not about our immediate desires but hypothetical ones in some peripheral universe. Essentially I’m saying, “If we were in a situation where we were actually stating what we want here, I would tell you I want the veggie wrap — just so you know, for what it’s worth. Do with that information what you will.”

I have a memory of running punishment laps around the basketball court, while our coach stood on the bleachers yelling, “Sorry is the most misused word in the English language! Don’t tell me you’re sorry! You aren’t sorry, not yet!”  Read More

Post image for Mindfulness lives in the sink

The antibiotics didn’t work, so next I’m going to try doing the dishes.

The illness I referred to in my last post two weeks ago — the one that I said has been impeding my consciousness, shrinking my world down to its most selfish and short-sighted concerns — is still going strong even after taking the whole course of pills prescribed by the doctor. It’s been almost a month altogether.

If it doesn’t get better in a few days I will consult modern medicine again, but in the mean time I’m going to start treating the symptoms in my own way. The coughing and fatigue are annoying, but by far the worst effect of this bout of sickness is that I’ve become a lot more reactive and stressed than normal, which I described in the last article as being stuck in the “lower latitudes” of the overall human spectrum of consciousness.

This lowered consciousness causes all kinds of secondary side-effects. I’m less patient about cleaning up properly, which leads to house-clutter, which in turn creates more mental clutter. I haven’t been especially pleasant to be around, which leads to a correspondingly ill social life, and a growing feeling of missing out. The mental fog makes writing a lot more difficult, and being more reactive means I’m quicker to throw out ideas before I give them a chance to develop. Together, these side-effects create an exaggerated sense that my life and all its little duties are beyond my current capacity to meet.

I normally derive a lot of my sense of stability and peace from the habit of mindfulness — the way in which I walk across parking lots and make tea — and since I’ve been sick it has not been very appealing. I tend to want all the normal moments to be over, or to not happen at all.

A month is a long time to be in such an impaired state and I’m alarmed at how far I’ve fallen in that respect. It’s normally very easy for me to just let my attention settle on an ordinary moment, and find that it reflects some peace or beauty back to me. But right now it only takes a few seconds before something annoys me: the pain in my chest, or the weird clamminess I have, or how it is almost mid-April and still freezing.

If my compromised physical state has created a compromised mental state, then I suppose that treating my current mental state is only going to improve my physical state. It certainly can’t hurt. I need a single, regular place to apply deliberate mindfulness every day.

Signs have been pointing to my sink. My mother’s dishwasher broke months ago, and she never bothered to fix it, because doing them by hand was almost as easy and nothing about it can break down. Read More

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