Weed Control

“Don’t let the tall weeds cast a shadow on the beautiful flowers in your garden.”

Steve Maraboli

Take some time to think about your body and what a truly wonderful miracle it is. It’s like a giant bag that holds and protects everything essential to your survival. Your stomach, lungs, heart, and brain are just some of its important tenants. In short, your body serves as the boundary between you and the outside world.

Without these barriers, your internal organs would be covered with dirt and bombarded by UV rays. They’d probably be lacerated by all the things that you bump into on a daily basis. Be grateful that they’re protected since they were definitely not designed to survive in the harsh environments outside our bodies. Your body does such a fantastic job of keeping the bad things out. It also does an equally impressive job of keeping the nutritional things in. Blood staying in your body is a good thing™.

But the real wizardry of this apparatus is its ability to let only the good things in and push strictly the bad things out. Your nose, for example, lets you inhale air while your nasal hair and mucosa prevent particles from getting into your lungs. On the inside, your kidneys differentiate the wheat from the chaff in your bloodstream and route all the waste to your bladder where you eventually urinate it out.

Unfortunately, we don’t have such an involuntary system to regulate things that affect our psyche. We have to consciously perform this task since our minds tend to let everything in – for better or for worse. The most miserable part about this reality is that by default, the negative emotions are more powerful than the positive ones and therefore tend to dominate our lives.

What can we do about this? Again, we can consult the wisdom of Patanjali’s yoga sutras. The first niyama, saucha, is one of the most important virtues in Indian philosophy and is about achieving purity of body and mind. Only after purity is achieved can ecstatic love be discovered.

If we wanted to mimic the restorative intelligence of our bodies in our minds, then there are two critical pathways we must build and fortify. First, we need a process to let the pure in and keep the tainted out. And, we also need a mechanism to excrete the thoughts that are nasty and retain those that are pleasant.

Mindfulness and meditation have been helpful for me in realizing these two goals. Both of these practices improve my attention so that I can focus on the pleasure of the present moment and firmly plant positivity in my mind so that the negative weeds cannot and will not take root.

What systems do you plan on putting in place?

Tidying Up

“‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.”

Marie Kondo

On the surface, Marie Kondo is a petite Japanese lady with an unhealthy obsession for tidying. If you’ve read her books or watched her Netflix show, you know she’s fixated on finding things to keep instead of scrounging for things to throw out.

This makes her a brilliant ambassador for Aparigraha, the fifth yama. This virtue is about restraint from greed. It centers around keeping only what is necessary and important for your current stage of life. Note that tidying is not a one-time operation. It is in fact a continuous process that must be done repeatedly and frequently to help develop a state of non-attachment. And like the preceding yamas, this intent applies to both the mental and physical worlds.

Living a life without attachment is easier said than done. Letting go of things is a tough 2-phase process. You have to depart with something physically first before you can send it off emotionally. The time it takes to become detached varies from person to person and thing to thing. Irrespective of how long it might take, don’t forgo the goodbye ritual.

The ritual is the most important part of the send-off. It is exactly the time when you celebrate the joy something has brought to you and articulate why it no longer belongs in your life. Without this reflection, you don’t crystallize this wisdom and therefore become susceptible to the same mistakes over and over again.

Unfortunately, there are times when someone else does the tidying for us. There wasn’t a single reason for it not being in your life. To this, I don’t have a good answer. But, maybe you’ll find solace in this Chinese parable:

A Chinese farmer gets a horse, which soon runs away. A neighbor says, "That's bad news." The farmer replies, "Good news, bad news, who can say?"

The horse comes back and brings another horse with him. Good news, you might say. The farmer gives the second horse to his son, who rides it, then is thrown and badly breaks his leg.

"So sorry for your bad news," says the concerned neighbor. "Good news, bad news, who can say?" the farmer replies.

In a week or so, the emperor's men come and take every able-bodied young man to fight in a war. The farmer's son is spared. "Good news, bad news, who can say?"

The Meaning of Life

“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”

Joseph Campbell

All around me, I see objects. As do you. We can interact with these objects using all of our senses. This object is smooth to the touch. This one smells like citrus. That one looks shiny. These taste sweet and those objects are noisy. These are simply physical properties of objects. These objects don’t matter until we assign them meaning.

Once something has meaning, we know how it relates to us and how to interact with it. For example, the clothes we wear help us stay warm and protected. They may also help us make a fashionable impression. So, we take care of them – we launder, fold, and neatly store them. And once they’ve outlived their usefulness, they lose meaning and disappear from our lives.

So what then, is the meaning of life? It either has no meaning, or it does. If it doesn’t have a meaning, there’s no reason for us to exist. So, we assume that there is meaning. And that’s what we spend time searching for.

While I don’t think it’s useless to search for meaning, sometimes it’s more efficient to assign ourselves meaning. For some, that might mean having kids and creating a supportive environment for them. It might mean dedicating your life to saving nature. Or, it might mean putting the tastiest things ever created into your mouth. The only wrong answer is to not have one.

Many of us think we fear not having purpose in our lives. However, the reality is that we actually fear having a meaningful life. Having meaning in our lives means that we can’t just lounge around. We mean something to someone, even if it is just ourselves, and therefore have responsibilities and obligations to fulfill.

So, what are you waiting for? Go figure out what you mean. I mean it.

Energy Expenditure

“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

This is a continuation of my previous post, Conservation of Energy. It seems facetious and obvious for me to state that you should spend your time on things that bring you more energy and avoid things that don’t. I’d like to explore this concept with you in more detail.

It’s common to misidentify what we think will energize us. Binge watching a show starts out as a great idea, but usually ends with us becoming one with the sofa and sinking into apathy. In some rare circumstances, we’re able to power through the series and feel better at the end than when we started.

The discrepancy is due to our mental state – which in turn is largely influenced by the amount of skill we have and the challenge presented by the task. Take a look at the image below.

Mental state as a function of challenge and skill
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Challenge_vs_skill.svg

This model asserts that there are four negative and four positive states that we can meander between. Our goal should be to remain in target states of arousal, flow, control, and relaxation so we can end our day feeling invigorated and satisfied.

But, we can’t always choose to work on challenging tasks that we’re skilled at, can we? We can! All it requires is some trickery to modulate the task’s difficulty and the skill required.

For example, spending money is one of the easiest things in the world to do. There is virtually no challenge or skill involved. However, you can dramatically increase the difficulty by trying to find the closest brick and mortar store with the lowest price. Or, maybe we see if we can buy that chicken cheaper than the last time we bought it? Et viola! Have we discovered why so many people partake in extreme couponing?

So, next time you have to do something that puts you in a state of anxiety, worry, apathy, or boredom, see if you can add or remove difficulty to sharpen your skills on. Eating food for the fiftieth thousand time in your life? Enjoy it with your eyes closed or with your opposite hand. Can’t beat that video game level? Play it on easy. Yet another shower? What’s the coldest temperature you can shower in? Let your creativity flow and I can’t wait to hear about your new Guinness World Record on the fastest time to make a bed.

Conservation of Energy

“Don’t mistake activity with achievement”

John Wooden

Energy is vital to human life. We recharge our batteries through two main activities: sleeping and eating. Sleep refreshes us mentally while food recharges us physically. Without an adequate amount of either, we end up unmotivated and too lethargic to do anything. Oddly enough, if we get too much of either, we also run into the same problems.

There’s clearly a balance that needs to be struck. Brahmacharya is the fourth of Patanjali’s Yamas. The original text talks about sexual restraint but it has been adapted for the modern era to mean conservation of energy. The amount of energy you have is different than the amount of time you have. Just to be clear – your reservoir of energy can vary from day to day.

You have a fantastic amount of control over this power. So, how should you use it? You can take a bath, or read a book. You can learn a new skill or refine your appearance. Maybe you’d rather connect with your family and friends. There’s an overwhelming number of options to spend your vitality on. But, what if you can’t decide what the wisest investment is?

Let’s draw inspiration from the world of finance. Spend your energy on things that will give you more energy and avoid those that won’t. Fraternize more with individuals who inspire you and reject energy vampires who criticize your life. Begin to make deliberate choices about each activity you engage in. Once you make this practice a routine part of your life, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by your inexhaustible pool of energy.

The Ideal Steal

“Trouble brews when we steal from the poor and give to the rich.”

Robert Kiyosaki

Disney’s animated version of Robin Hood was a vestigial part of my childhood. I watched the VHS many times, humming and singing along with the musical numbers. Decades later, I’m discovering the wisdom hidden in that film.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Robin Hood’s claim to fame was that he robbed from the rich and redistributed the wealth to the poor. Why would this foxy character do such a thing?

Stealing germinates as a simple thought in our minds: “There is something I want.” When we don’t have the money, skill, time, or patience to acquire it, we pursue stealing. In the fable of Robin Hood, the poor coveted the supposed riches of the aristocracy.

Most individuals can recognize that stealing is an immoral action. It is so much so, that it has cemented its place as the third yama: asteya. This virtue translates to “non-stealing” and addresses the pilfering of both the tangible and intangible.

Maybe you’ve been inspired by quotes like Pablo Picasso’s – “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” This is not the same type of stealing I’m talking about. These ideas, thoughts, and creations were meant to be shared prolifically. Stealing is when we take something that is not freely offered.

We often steal from ourselves. We limit our joy of the present by ruminating on the past and anticipating the future. We also curb our potential with limiting beliefs.

Our stealing permeates into the external world as well. For example, a friend may come to you for some help. They ask, “what do you think I should do?” Don’t you dare give them an answer! For, if you do, you’re stealing away their power. The power to have control over their thoughts and decisions. In most cases, they’re just looking for support and validation for decisions they’ve already made. A more empowering approach would be to pose a question: “What options are you learning towards?”

Given that thieves are everywhere, how do you solidify your defenses against these malicious actors? Write down what’s valuable to you and guard it with your life. Perhaps that’s your time, heart, money, family, or friends. In every interaction, deliberately ask yourself if someone is trying to take something you’re not offering. Become good at saying no.

In some circumstances, the attackers are extremely skilled. We often discover the theft too late. Take social media, the undisputed master at pickpocketing our time. It is only hours after a TikTok fest do we realize that something feels wrong. And at that point, there’s reasonable doubt on who the culprit actually was!

And in these cases, be that cunning fox and take back what other’s stole from you. That truly is the ideal steal.

Compassion

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

Dalai Lama

One of the very first books I’ve read by the current Dalai Lama was “The Art of Happiness.” This book repeatedly reinforced the notion that happiness comes down to a state of mind. It’s not something that happens passively like aging, nor is it something you can catch, like a butterfly in a net. Happiness must be grown and cultivated internally through compassion.

Reading the book was like watching a TED talk. I felt inspired and motivated. I had the power to control my own destiny! But that outsourced enlightenment I experienced didn’t last. It simply wasn’t something that I internalized and practiced daily.

Several years later, I’ve rediscovered the wisdom of the Dalai Lama’s words while practicing yoga. The very first yoga Yama is Ahimsa – the practice of non-violence in all aspects of life.

We inflict self-violence daily in subtle ways. A punch is thrown when we don’t meet our own expectations and feel shame. Then it progresses to a kick when we get offended at someone who criticizes our taste in music. And finally, the coup de grace, the infinite anger we possess when the concert we’ve been looking forward to all year is cancelled. For days on end we batter and bruise ourselves emotionally without giving ourselves the necessary respite to heal. That’s why we need compassion. We need it to reduce the amount of hostility in our lives.

Compassion revolves around patience and understanding. These ideals that we apply to ourselves? Where did they came from? Other people. And how about those expectations that we enforce upon others? They came from us. There’s no reason that we need to be so strict about how life should and shouldn’t be.

I often get frustrated when people I care about make progress at a glacial pace. For example, why can’t they stop eating junk food after I told them it’s unhealthy? But compassion (and inspiration from nature) has helped me through it. Not everyone can change overnight, and that’s okay. Did you know that caterpillars can stay inside their cocoons for weeks, months, or even years before they metamorphose and emerge as butterflies?

It would be so beautiful if we could just observe our judgements without attaching any negative emotions to them and simply just let nature and time take its course.

The Truth

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off

Joe Klaas

In light of the ongoing pandemic, it’s hard to differentiate between what’s fact and what’s fiction. There are a lot of view points flying around out there with no shortage of passionate supporters. However, just because someone is willing to stake their life on something doesn’t make it true.

It is in these times that Satya becomes so important. This yama is about restraining from presenting distorted truths in our speech, thoughts, and actions. It is about presenting the unchangeable pure essence of reality to ourselves and others.

How do we go about discovering the truth? Through experts, observation, and patience. Some facts are quick to digest and others are so fibrous that it takes some time. For example, the area of a square is s2, where s is the length of a side. Do you have the same mercurial confidence that the area of a circle is πr2, where r is the radius of the circle? I certainly don’t, and that’s why I rely on the attestation of experts.

“But,” you protest, “there are no experts for my emotions!” Perhaps – but you are capable of becoming that expert through observation and self-awareness. Until then, the truth will be stretched by our emotions. Don’t the following sound familiar to you?

  • “He didn’t text me because he’s mad at me.”
  • “I’m less attractive now because I have wrinkles.”
  • “She smiled at me so she must want my number.”

Reality often proves us wrong time and time again. He simply forgot his phone at home. Your smile lines make you even more attractive. And, she’s just a happy person. All it takes is some additional observation while you suppress your primal judgement. Yet, sometimes a part of us refuses to believe these explanations. There is no way my gut instincts are wrong! And that’s where patience comes in.

If the truth truly is unchanging, then consistency can be a strong indicator of the truth. And, those things that continuously waver are falsehoods. After all, isn’t spotting inconsistencies the easiest way to find a liar?

Introspection

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”

Lewis Carroll

Who are we exactly? What differentiates one human from another? Clearly, we all have different physical and mental attributes – but which one differs most dramatically? I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb to say that it is our minds. Sure we have identical twins, but are there such things as identical minds?

Physically, we’re very easy to compare. You simply just use your eyes. And if you want to compare yourself to others, you throw a mirror into the mix. From there, it’s easy to deduce what sets you apart. We’ve all compiled a list of things that we love and hate about our physical appearance. And, we’re acutely aware of what things can and cannot be changed. We’ve also accepted that wisdom comes with wrinkles. Well, at least most of us have. Is there a similar way to compare our minds and other hidden attributes?

There is. It’s through Svadhyaya, yet another niyama. This yogic philosophy is all about the inquiry into the self by exercising introspection. This is the figurative mirror that allows us to understand who we are. We’re probably the only life forms on this planet that have this ability. Others can barely pass the mirror test so what are the chances that they can even do self-reflection?

And, just like looking in a mirror, introspection is something that we should practice daily in different situations and environments. Because at different times and in different lights, we will look different. This isn’t a competition and making it so is dangerous. Have faith that who you are is uniquely beautiful and what you see of other people is only the part that has been unveiled. How rare it is to see someone truly naked!

What can we hope to gain by studying ourselves? We can understand who we are better and begin to make improvements so that ultimately we can be the cause of our lives rather than just the effect.

Routine Happiness

“Routine: a regular course of procedure”

the Merriam Webster Dictionary

If I were to list out all of my daily routines, I’d probably find out that I’m a boring creature. It’d be a fairly mundane list along the lines of:

  • wake up
  • brush my teeth
  • get dressed (sometimes)
  • practice yoga
  • surf the web
  • eat
  • go for a long walk
  • eat
  • shower
  • sleep

Week two of the 52 Lists for Happiness is about circling all the routines that bring me joy and crossing out the ones that don’t. I have a lot of difficulty doing that. On some days, eating feel amazing and on other days it feels gluttonous and over-indulgent. Should I just circle and cross out everything?

Or maybe… I should dig deeper. Are routines in life good or bad? I can see both sides. It’s great to have predictability, stability, and something to look forward to. However, it’s also fun to combat staleness and introduce spontaneity and randomness. “Variety is the spice of life” they say. But, what’s the ideal balance? What makes something more joyful than another? Why is it all so dependent on our environment and mood? Is it possible to take time and enjoy whatever happens in our lives?

I’ve found the beginning of an answer in my yoga practice. There’s a Niyama that I’ve been deeply fascinated with called Santosha. This Sanskrit word embodies the yoga philosophy of contentment. It encourages you towards a life where you accept your circumstances and have a joyful and satisfied mind regardless of your environment. Irrespective of any routines.

Before you raise your pitchforks, please recognize that I’m not advocating for you to resign yourself to the life you’re currently living. You may be in an abusive relationship or unsatisfactory job and it’s unhealthy to will your mind into a happier albeit distorted reality. Get a good grasp on the things you want to change and walk towards that change. But, don’t be afraid to carry a smile for all the great moments that do show up.

The fundamental way I do this is to live in the present and to be present in whatever I do. This means I don’t dwell on my past successes or failures nor do I worry about future ones. It also means that when I’m doing an activity, I’m fully engaged and giving it my best whether it be washing dishes, driving, or having dinner with friends. I’m not thinking about how nice it will be to finish, arrive at my destination, or to go home and sleep. I’m also not compulsively checking my phone. This anticipation of the future causes a lot of anxiety in the present.

I’m not telling you to eschew planning though. You should still plan for the future. However, that’s an act which is done in the present. You set aside some intentional and deliberate time to “create your future”™ to prevent it from overriding your daily thoughts.

Living in the present should be your ultimate expression of happiness. This seems paradoxical, doesn’t it? If you’re supposed to be perfectly happy as you are, why do anything to improve your situation? If you do improve your situation, shouldn’t you be even happier? But if that’s the case, when do you stop climbing the infinite mountain of happiness or scaling the glacier of goals? When you’re the richest person in the world? The smartest? The most attractive? The most successful?

Think of life more as sailing in the ocean. You don’t need to go anywhere. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy the soothing motion of the ocean waves. Permissible to enjoy the wind, sun, water, and briny air. And, if you get bored, you have the choice to sail towards whatever catches your eye, in whatever direction you please. Let your curiosity drive you. It all reminds me of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “life is a journey, not a destination.”

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