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In November, an article did the rounds—entitled “Actually, Let’s Not Be in the Moment”—in which the author describes, hilariously, a failed attempt at mindful dishwashing.

It’s quite relatable if you’ve ever tried to force yourself to “be with” some unpleasant domestic task like sorting recycling or scrubbing a drip tray. Even if you’re attracted to the idea of mindfulness, actually trying to commune with tedious or objectionable experiences often proves to be neither enlightening nor fulfilling.

The piece is mostly an exasperated rebuttal to the New Age tenet that we should force ourselves to “live in the moment”. It’s an understandable rant, and I think it represents an increasingly common sentiment in the self-improvement world: mindfulness is annoying.

At least, it’s annoying to try to be mindful all the time, and it’s annoying to be told to be mindful all the time. I receive emails expressing similar frustrations, from people who are tired of trying to find peace in the folding of laundry or the raking of litterboxes, even if they still believe it is somehow possible.

As the author, Ruth Whippman writes, “Mindfulness is supposed to be a defense against the pressures of modern life, but it’s starting to feel suspiciously like it’s adding to them.”  Read More

Post image for Mindfulness is the Opposite of Neediness

Whenever someone tries to convince you that eating breakfast prevents weight gain or that cold weather makes you sick , just send them one of Tyler Vigen’s charts. He graphs strange similarities between seemingly irrelevant statistics, demonstrating that you can find apparent links between all kinds of unrelated events.

Per capita cheese consumption appears to mirror the number accidental deaths due to being tangled in bedsheets. The number of pool drownings rises and falls with the number of films Nicholas Cage has appeared in that year. Tyler has written a book on this phenomenon, called Spurious Correlations.

Still, we can’t help but notice patterns in life, and they aren’t necessarily coincidence. I don’t have any data to back this up, but I’m convinced meditation makes your phone battery last longer.

I’ve tracked this relationship informally over a few years, and I believe there’s a causal effect. Whenever I get away from meditation practice, my phone needs charging earlier in the day. During the summer, I got inconsistent with my practice, and my phone’s battery died really fast. Now that I’m back to two brief sessions a day, I don’t have to charge it until bedtime.

The explanation is pretty simple, but it hints at something more profound going on. A simple usage-tracking app would surely confirm that the more consistently I meditate, the less time I spend dicking with my phone throughout the day.

There are other behavior changes I’m sure are related. I’m eating less junk food, I make fewer dumb purchases, I get out of bed with less fuss, I’m more attracted to work.

Basically, I’ve been much less impulsive. And that’s because regular meditation makes me more mindful throughout the day. Whenever you’re being mindful, the present moment doesn’t seem to need improvement.

This means there are fewer moments that I feel could be improved by pulling out my phone and checking my Twitter. So my phone stays in my pocket, I stay in the moment, and my battery stays green.  Read More

Post image for How Mindfulness Creates Freedom

Dan Harris, best known as the host of ABC’s Nightline, began his path to happiness by having an on-air panic attack.

He was reading the national news, live, when he lost the ability to speak coherently. For 35 awful seconds, he stumbled through a segment about statin drugs for cholesterol, saying related words but making no sense. With several stories still unread, he bailed out: “…that’s all for news right now, back to Robin and Charlie.”

The incident forced him to face his mounting stress problem. He explored the many forms of self-help, and during his stint as ABC’s faith reporter (even though he was a skeptic and an atheist) he found something that worked for him: meditation. Over the next few years he used it to transform his relationship to stress and his work, and still meditates daily.

But his go-getting type-A colleagues gave him a hard time for his “weird” habit, and he had trouble explaining to them what it did for him. To say it simply reduces stress was really selling it short; it does much more for a person than that. But to describe the benefits more specifically — that it allowed him to see the world the way it really is, or to see the mechanics of his bad habits, or to inquire into the nature of the self — hardly makes it sound attractive, and fails to convey its value anyway.

Eventually he came up with a stock response: “I do it because it makes me 10% happier,” although he admits this was both an understatement and an oversimplification.

Although I think his catchphrase makes meditation sound much less useful than it really is, I understand the problem he was trying to address. Meditation is still a hard sell in the Western world. It’s so unusual to us that it’s hard to make it appeal to materialistic Western sensibilities. But we all understand the value of a life with less anxiety and more happiness.

Meditation isn’t specifically about happiness, but more happiness is a likely side effect. One thing it does do, in my experience, is expand one’s freedom in a particular way, and this freedom can be used to pursue happiness and ease with much less trouble. I’ll show you what I mean.  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

red door

When you sit back and reminisce about your life, it’s almost a given that the most enjoyable and memorable moments are the ones in which you were completely present. Do you look back with fondness all the times you spent thinking about work while you drove home, or pondered dinner while you wheeled down the frozen aisle?

Unfortunately most of life passes that way for most of us. We’re in one place doing one thing, thinking of things we aren’t doing and places we aren’t at.

The bottom line of almost all self-help, spiritual, or religious literature is that our ability to be happy is determined by our ability to stay in the present moment. The Buddhists, the Toltecs, the Bible, Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass, Emerson, Thoreau — anyone at all who is known for having found a path to consistent, recurring joy — cites staying present as the essential teaching.

Only when we’re present do we see beauty, enjoy gratitude, and experience happiness. It’s the moments we’re present for that make life good, so it only stands to reason that being present is something we’d do well to get better at.

We all know this already. Yet most of us — normal people with errands, work and to-do lists — spend most of our time considering the past and future rather than the present. Why doesn’t it click? Read More

Post image for Three Recession-Proof Investments for 2021

Tough economic times are no barrier to getting rich, unless you believe monetary wealth is the only kind.

Monetary wealth is the only kind of wealth that has no intrinsic value. It only gives easier access to some of the stuff that actually provides well-being: shelter, tools, social status, freedom from certain kinds of stress and toil, pleasures and conveniences, and opportunities to do what’s meaningful for you.  

If piles of money are not forthcoming — or even if they are — why not go directly for the intrinsic value?

Given the hobbled state of the economy, here are three lucrative areas to invest in, requiring no monetary capital. Unlike stocks or mutual funds, they tend to perform better during times of hardship and recession, providing direct gains to well-being in both the short- and long-term.

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Post image for How to Gradually Become a More Relaxed Person

I’ve tried many getting-to-sleep tips over the years, and one of the best involves vigorous stretching in bed.

Lying on your back, you extend your arms and legs out, squeezing your butt and pointing your toes, stretching in both directions like you’re a giant banana. This is to create muscle tension throughout the whole body.

You hold the stretch for a few seconds. When you release it, a certain feeling that is almost the opposite of tension — a feeling of relief and relaxation — floods into the body. It feels great, and seems to prime the body for rest.

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Post image for How Are You?

In March, just after things got serious, I asked in a post how you were doing, and what life looked like from where you are.

There were over 600 comments from all over the world, each person reporting on their inner and outer environment, as it appeared then.

Time felt so slow that month. But then summer happened, and we each tumbled onward into our weird new normals, learning what we actually need to stay sane and what we don’t. Tears were shed. Souls were searched. Pizzas were ordered. Zooms were Zoomed.

Then I blinked, looked up from my desk, and discovered that seven months had passed, Flight-of-the-Navigator style. The tree outside is now caked in snow, I have a beard, and according to the math I am in my forties.

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Post image for The Healthy Emotion We Don’t Get Enough Of

With winter approaching, I’m brainstorming ways to help myself, my friends and family, and my readers to stay sane.

Darker, shorter, colder days are already harder on our mental health, but this time they’ll be combined with the isolating effect of pandemic lockdown. So we’re looking at a new challenge level.

I’m not yet sure what my full Winter Sanity Program will entail, but it definitely involves lots of walks.

Going for a walk is an age-old salve for many ills: isolation, disappointment, drowsiness, worry, heartbreak, writer’s block, general stagnation, and boredom. The activity of walking benefits the mind and body in ways we’re still discovering, due to its all-star ingredient list of fresh air, exercise, change of scenery, contact with nature, and contemplation time.

A recent study has identified another beneficial ingredient of walking: the emotion of awe.

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Post image for Make the Power Move

In serious chess games, every move is written down. That way, every choice made by either player can be analyzed, by anyone, even centuries later.

The notation itself is very concise. Bh4. Nxd5. The Bishop moves here. The Knight captures the pawn there. A whole game can be reduced to a paragraph the size of a newspaper classified ad.

In chess books, analysts will sometimes annotate certain moves with praise or criticism. To indicate an exceptionally good move, they add an exclamation mark. Nxg6!

To a chess nerd, the “!” is very exciting. It means the move wasn’t just good, but that it gained more for its player than seemed available at that moment.

The exclamation mark signals a hint of genius — a moment in which a player sees through the position’s usual pitfalls and predictable struggles, and puts them behind him with the single push of a pawn. Boom! With a sudden punch out of nowhere, the game has changed.

On many occasions, I’ve witnessed people do things in real life that seemed clever and unexpected enough to deserve a “!” -– simple, right-to-the-bone power moves that cut through the struggles and stalemates one might have expected.

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