Anxiety is the symptom, not the disease

Anxiety is just a symptom

Is anxiety a form of fear?

What is anxiety anyway? It seems like a lot of us deal with it on a constant basis without fully understanding it.

When I finally started to examine my own anxiety, trying to discover its roots, I was often surprised by what I found. In a way, I had started to like my anxiety. Like isn’t the right word, though. Maybe I’d just started to tolerate it, to prefer it to the alternatives.

Anxiety is such a meddlesome, sneaky thing. In my own life, anxiety has caused me to miss countless opportunities for growth. From social relations to  career and education opportunities, anxiety has made me back away from value once too often.

I’ve decided to finally tackle it head on. I won’t allow myself to be dominated by an irrational fear of life any longer.

What I want to write about today is how we can think clearly when we’re feeling anxious.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling more anxious than usual.

Part of it is because my skin has been getting worse. For those who don’t know, for the last few years I’ve been dealing with horrific skin problems, but I honestly thought it was over. Not so, apparently.

Apart from that, I’ve had a lot to think about at school, I bruised a rib at judo practice, and my girlfriend and I have been having weird conversations about our sex lives before we met (that’s an anxiety challenge for you!).

So suddenly I’ve found myself at the center of a series of coincidental, anxiety-provoking events.

Ah well. It is what it is.

Seeing clearly

What’s been bothering me about this the most, is the way I stop seeing clearly when I’m feeling anxious. Like, I start to imagine people judging me without an inkling of evidence. Or I start to project negatively into the future, ruminating on what could go wrong with whatever I’m doing.

Worst of all though, I feel like I’ve been alienating my girlfriend somewhat.

We talked about this at length last night, and I figured out that I’ve been projecting all kinds of thoughts onto her, without having anything to back them up. Thoughts like she must be cheating on me, or she doesn’t like me anymore, or she doesn’t want to spend time with me.

After talking to her about this, I realized that I was being incredibly narrow-minded by allowing myself to blame her for my insecurities. As with so many problems in life, this one stems from avoiding responsibility for my own life.

Instead of seeing things as they are, I look to some weird fantasy to comfort me.

What’s actually going on, is that I’ve been having a hard time due to my bad health coinciding with a lot of school work, and that’s made me more sullen and somber than I usually am. This change in my mood all of a sudden is bound to affect my girlfriend. And that’s exactly what happened.

Understanding

It’s okay now, though. I feel like we worked through this issue and I realize the fault lies with me. Not that I blame myself, exactly. It’s more that circumstances are such that life is a bit harder than I want it to be. But now that I understand what’s going on, I can take full responsibility for how I feel and actually change it.

This means, first off, taking my health into my own hands. The last few months I’ve been doing the keto diet, but I feel it’s time for a change. I’ve decided to start following an eczema diet protocol, drinking green juices and smoothies every day and just keeping a super clean diet, in order to finally get over these skin issues.

I’ve also decided to be more present. This is really what needs to happen.

Whatever’s going on in life, presence is paramount. I’ve caught myself a lot recently pining for the future, a future where everything will be magically better and easier. Well there is no such future. Life is f***ing hard, man!

And that’s not to diminish the exquisite beauty of life, either. But the true essence and beauty of life can’t be experienced when we aren’t present to it.

Key habits

I’ve figured out that there are many things that contribute to anxiety. It’s not just a “chemical imbalance in the brain” as I’ve been told ad nauseum. Well, technicalli it is, but it’s not necessarily something you were born with. Rather, our habits and circumstances contribute way more to how we feel mentally and emotionally than we normally admit.

Things like lack of nutrition, lack of exercise, being cut off from nature, or a hectic work routine. But wait, there’s more! Addictions to superstimuli like porn, video games and netflix have incredibly detrimental effects on our ability to feel calm and at peace. Additionally, an irregular sleep schedule and a lacking social life will also throw us out of whack.

It’s not a matter of finding a magic pill that will “solve” your anxiety. You need to solve your life! When you find true health again, your anxiety will melt away.

This is what I’ve felt in my own life, especially in the last few weeks. Although I definitely haven’t been perfect, I have been drinking green juices and smoothies every day, with no processed foods at all, cut out sugar, coffee, alcohol. I also finally managed to cut out porn, this time I’ll make sure it’s out of my life for good. I feel so much better.

The magic of taking responsibility for your anxiety

Here’s what’s lacking in our society today : the call for personal responsibility.

There’s such a nauseating emphasis on victimhood and blaming the one percent and finding out in what myriad ways you’ve been oppressed throughout your life (multiply this effect by 1000 if you happen to be part of a ethnic minority, gay, or female), that calling for people to take responsibility for themselves has started to seem unfair and even kind of nasty.

The truth is, though, so many of the world’s problems could be solved if people in general would stop waiting for somebody to save them. If we all were to take responsibility for our feelings, relationships, and our lives, just think what could be accomplished.

So although I’ve listed a few things that need to be addressed in order to overcome anxiety for good, here is the most important factor of all:

Decide to take full responsibility for the fact that you feel anxiety at all.

If you make this idea a part of your pattern of thinking, I guarantee you’ll feel better. It may even happen faster than you think.

Honesty is a miracle cure

Honesty is a miracle cure

In this post I want to examine the value of honesty in relationships, and the benefits of opening up to yourself and others.

The last few weeks have been very difficult for me emotionally. I had some very real and intense discussions with my girlfriend about our sexual pasts, and about the future of our relationship.

To be honest, what’s been the main issue for me recently has been insecurity. Somehow, just accepting and admitting that my girlfriend had slept with others in the past has been difficult for me.

But that’s why I wanted to have these discussions, because I wanted to examine these feelings and ultimately overcome them. Jealousy is rooted in insecurity, which is in itself a manifestation of fear.

Developing honest communication

Recently, I’ve tried my best to develop honesty and sincerity as a character trait.

Especially when it comes to my relationships. Especially especially when it comes to the people I love the most.

This approach is incredibly scary when you just start out. It certainly was for me. But developing the capacity for honesty has changed my life for the better in so many ways. There are and always will be things that are important to you, that will be difficult to discuss. This is just a part of life.

Learning to overcome the fear and being vulnerable in a relationship has multiple hidden benefits. Things start to become clearer. Your view of the other person will almost certainly change. And who knows, you may learn something about yourself that was hidden.

Expression of emotions is key

What I’ve found is that until you express your feelings, whatever they may be, you can’t fully understand them. You can try to intellectualize them, conceptualize them, but feelings seem to require expression to be fully resolved.

Our society is in many ways fiercely individualistic. So much so that we tend to forget that we are social creatures at heart. In fact, we are the most connected, most gregarious animals that have ever existed. When we look past this subtle fact, we’re in danger of isolation.

We try to resolve our issues by ourselves, we try to work through difficult feelings by thinking about them.

That’s probably the least effective way of dealing with difficult feelings.

The most effective way of resolving emotions

As anyone who’s experienced catharsis during heartfelt conversation with a loved one can tell you, it’s intense. The feelings you’ve been ruminating on for so long will gush out of you like a geyser. Subtle feelings that you may not even have noticed will rear their sometimes ugly faces.

In order to truly deal with an unpleasant feeling you must find a counterpart. You need to create a emotional loop with someone you trust.

Let me expound on the feelings of jealousy I spoke of earlier.

I wouldn’t ordinarily consider myself especially prone to jealousy. This has changed in recent months. I’ve recently realized that my compulsive use of pornography of many years, was a crutch that I used to escape the need to deal with emotional pain. Some do this with alcohol, others with heroin. Yet others with video games. The root of all addiction is unresolved emotional pain. More specifically, the inability to experience emotional pain.

I’ve now been clean for two months, and man! It’s been a roller coaster ride.

Unshakeable feelings

I’ve had really good days, and then I’ve had really difficult days. Days where I’ve had insane scenarios playing in my mind for hours at a time. For example, there was a three day period where I just couldn’t shake the feeling that my girlfriend was cheating on me. Even though I had no evidence to back it up, and even though she was as sweet as she’s ever been.

After three days of this constant ruminating on my girlfriends supposed infidelity, as you can imagine, I was absolutely mentally exhausted.

The feeling just couldn’t be shook! Or could it?

You guessed it. It wasn’t until I actually sat my girlfriend down and had a heart to heart conversation with her about what I was feeling that I started to feel better.

I didn’t accuse her of anything, and I didn’t ask her to explain herself or anything like that. I simply told her what was going on in my head. This was incredibly scary for me, because I kind of assumed that she would be very hurt, think I didn’t trust her, etcetera. But as I said earlier, when you start to practice true honesty, people start to surprise you.

My girlfriend is a wonderful person. She accepted my feelings and did her best to make me feel better. She had noticed that something had been up with me recently. In fact, she had even been worried that I was angry at her for something. That’s the danger of not owning up to your emotions. The people who know you and love you will always notice when something’s up.

Let me end this post by examining the effects of honesty on self.

The effects of lying on the soul

There was a time in my life where I constantly lied to myself. I told myself things were okay when they weren’t. I would fool myself into thinking that doing things badly, or lying, or cheating, was okay.

This has major psychological consequences. I like the way the movie Matchstick Men portrays this. The main character, played by the awesome Nicolas Cage, is a con man by trade. Every day, he lies and deceives. He doesn’t care who he hurts. Not coincidentally, he also has OCD, all kinds of ticks, and generally just feels terrible. At the end of the movie, he’s forced to stop his games of deception, and voilá, his OCD goes away and he feels way better.

Although this may be a simplified depiction of the effects of lying on the soul, to me it feels spot on.

The wonders of self-honesty

In my own experience, the more I manage to come clean to myself and (important) others, the more psychologically healthy I feel.

I would say that the major example in my own life has been stopping my porn addiction. For most people, hardcore pornography is anathema to their values. In my own case this was so. I would think I was a good person at one moment, and then indiscriminately search for brutal, degrading pornography the next.

When I finally managed to rid myself of my addiction, I started to notice all kinds of kinks and peculiarities of my psyche start to dissolve. My shyness has been steadily going away, and especially the constant sense of shame I used to carry with me.

Making an effort to be fully honest and sincere to yourself is the first step to emotional freedom. It’s also the only way to find true connection to another human being.

I wish you luck in your endeavors of honesty.

 

Sexual transmutation and true power

Sexual transmutation, true power

Today I want to expound on my recent experiences with overcoming porn addiction and my growing fascination with the concept of semen conservation. Sexual transmutation is a force to be reckoned with.

Semen retention: Conserving the life force

It’s been “in” for the last few decades to say that any amount of masturbation is healthy and normal. On top of that, pornography, however degrading and hardcore, seems to have gotten a free pass as well.

In my own experience, and many others’, this is just not the case, or at least vastly overstated.

I’ve told snippets of my story in previous articles, but let’s dive a little deeper today.

When I was about eleven, I found a porno magazine in my parents bedroom. That was the first time I had ever been exposed to sexual material. I was understandably fascinated with all the boobs and butts.

Fast forward a few years, and I had begun to search for sexually explicit material online. When I got my first PC at age fourteen, that’s when the wheels really started turning.

My obsession with porn became unstoppable. Ever more frequently, for ever longer periods of time I would lock myself in my room and watch ever more shocking stuff that no fourteen-year-old should ever have free access to.

Let’s fast forward a few more years: at age eighteen, after years of crippling social anxiety, I lost my virginity. She was a nice girl, and I liked her, but I found myself incapable of any true intimacy.

I had become emotionally crippled as well.

My idea of sex (and hers as well) were reenactments of what we’d seen in porn. As you may know if you have any sexual experience, porn is probably the worst sex-education available.

This is incredibly personal, but I feel it needs to be said. This sh*t needs to be talked about.

I feel guilty about the way I treated my first girlfriend. But then again I was young and incredibly stupid. And so was she, to be honest. I forgive myself. All people are deserving of respect, and sexuality is where respect is needed the most.

In school I’d received lip service about “how to have sex”, you know, gruesomely graphic depictions of all the different venereal diseases, the teenage pregnancy scares, and of course the “learning stuff from porn is totally fine because then your parent’s don’t have to talk to you about this stuff” bit.

What’s wrong?

There are many things wrong in modern society. Our collective sexual shame is probably at the top of the list of societal woes.

You may think I’m being overly dramatic, but I’ve thought about this carefully.

Sex is the prime imperative of ALL human beings. No matter how we try to fluff it up, or distill it, sex is our most basic, primal urge.

On top of that, sexual energy is immensely powerful. Sex (or lack thereof) starts wars. It builds cities. It creates other human beings.

Sexual energy is the life force made manifest.

It’s way more important than the media makes it out to be. In fact, it’s as if the media purposely depicts sexuality as something trivial and funny, or sometimes as something that’s just in the way or even downright disgusting.

We think of ourselves as being sexually free, more sexually mature than our forebears, with all the sex on TV, billboards, online. It’s everywhere, but still we can’t seem to actually talk about it like human beings.

Parents don’t tell their children about it. Couples don’t talk to each other about it.

This is because the endless stream of smut all around us is a result of our sexual shame. As a culture, we’ve been inundated with a toxic shame towards all things sexual. Children are shamed for enjoying their genitals.

Guys slither off into a bathroom stall with their iPhones to jack off to porn, but they try to make absolutely sure that nobody catches them. Even though everyone knows, because they do it themselves.

Healthy sexuality is an absolute exception.

As an aside, I’ve been having a pretty tenacious thought lately. Or maybe more of a question to myself. It sounds like this:

Why do I want to write about this stuff?

I’ve been writing about all kinds of really personal stuff, like pornography addiction,  depression, anxiety, illness.

The stuff pertaining to sexuality is particularly delicate. I think it’s all a matter of expression.

I seem to find some kind of catharsis in expressing the ideas going through my head, by channeling out the insights and stuff I’ve learned, especially within the last few years.

Releasing the pressure

Before I started this blog, it felt like all this stuff I’ve been learning was about to make my head explode, and I believe the main reason is that I had no idea about any of this stuff. I used to be so painfully unaware and ignorant of life, health and prosperity that it felt like everything had started going wrong.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that, along with just wanting to empty my head of all this constant flux of ideas, I also feel an obligation to try to get this info out to as many people as possible.

Besides, self-expression is the ultimate way of working through toxic shame, like the sexual shame I discussed above.

I want to do my best to make sure that others won’t have to suffer as needlessly as I did. It sounds impossible, but I think that with small steps and big goals, at the very least I’ll manage to reach a few lost souls.

And you know, that will make me happy.

An extended brain

Let’s just think of this website as an extension of my brain and get on with it.

Let’s move away from the rant on society’s faults.

Today is day 40 since I last looked at porn, and day 16 since I ejaculated. I aim to reach 90 days of no PMO, meaning no porn, masturbation or orgasm. And then, if I still feel good, I’m going to continue.

You know, five years ago, if I had met my past self and told him to stop masturbating to porn, he would have looked at me funny, laughed, and brushed it off. Inside, he would have thought I was a prude, some kind of bible-thumper or puritan, or just completely crazy.

I can assure you, I’m as rational as I’ve ever been. I’ve never seen anything as clearly as this:

Sexual energy is the source of vitality, health, and strength.

Semen is the physical manifestation of this energy. By constantly seeking empty pleasure through porn and fantasy and ejaculating again and again, I deplete this energy.

I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety, lethargy and weakness my entire adult life. The last few weeks, I feel as though I’ve regained that youthful energy I thought I had lost forever.

This is no laughing matter. I’ve discovered that this is the difference between a life of doing awesome sh*t every day, becoming the most powerful version of a man that I can possibly become, and living life as a sheep, or worse yet, a vegetable. This is the concept of sexual transmutation.

If I don’t develop my own life force, someone else will simply submit me to their own.

A dog-eat-dog world

When it comes down to it, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Not that the outside world is particularly malevolent. It’s just the way things are. As they say, nature abhors a vacuum, and will strive to achieve balance. The high must tower over the low, the heavy must hold down the light, and the strong must dominate the weak. It sound harsh, but it’s a law of nature. Where there is lack of motivation and energy, an outside source of these things will seek to gain control. This is where sexual transmutation comes in.

If you fall off a 30 meter high cliff, you’ll probably die. Does that mean that gravity is evil?

If a hungry tiger catches you unawares, you’ll probably get eaten. Does that mean that tigers are inherently evil?

We may find some particular aspects of reality to be unpleasant or even painful. But what causes us most suffering of all is when we attempt to deny the natural laws that govern us.

We often say that in a perfect world things would be different, but this world is perfect. Everything is in balance, and nothing is superfluous.

So, back to the life force.

Amassing creative energy through transmutation

There have been a few times in my life before this where I’ve unknowingly conserved massive amounts of sexual energy, with massive consequences. More often than not, because of my lack of awareness and control, these consequences were quite negative, like outbursts of anger, or destructive habits and tendencies.

However, some things also went massively well. For example, I picked up an electric guitar for the first time at age 15 and within a couple of years I was soloing like Eddy Van Halen and Slash. I was crushing it at the gym, getting buff and ripped, and my energy for going to parties and social events was seemingly limitless. Sexual transmutation drives men to do awesome things.

One thing I haven’t mentioned here, is that for whatever unknown reason, I never ejaculated before the age of eighteen. Even though I was watching a lot of porn at that time, I just never learned how to orgasm, somehow. That means I had three years of massive sexual transmutation, at the time of peak sexual activity for young men. It wasn’t until I first had sex that I ever ejaculated, and after that I quickly learned to orgasm by myself.

The downfall and discovery of sexual transmutation

In many ways, I feel incredibly lucky for having experienced this, even if just by some fluke. I know of many guys who started jerking off at age twelve and were probably cumming daily until the present day. It gave me perspective, even though in the years following my teens everything seemed to go downhill sexually for a long time.

So now that I’ve shared my incredibly personal history, let’s examine the true power of abstinence from ejaculation, especially when combined with methods of sexual transmutation.

There’s a great post that I’ll share here, about men throughout history who practiced semen retention and sexual transmutation. To name a few, Steve Jobs, Muhammad Ali, Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Nikola Tesla, Mike Tyson. We may or may not agree with the philosophies of these men, and we may not support decisions they made throughout their lives, but one thing is for certain: these men had power.

I believe that a massive buildup of sexual energy (sexual transmutation) is a prerequisite for massive success. At least, for massive power. Some people may come into wealth through shear luck and good fortune, but power must be carefully cultivated. Nobody conquers new lands, develops massive scientific breakthroughs, or changes the world in any meaningful way except by developing their vital, creative energies.

There may be many ways of doing this, but I believe it all comes down to this simple truth: Sexual energy can be transformed into a titanic creative force, if properly cultivated.

The dark side – When we fail to transmute sexual energy

I also believe, however, that a surplus of sexual energy, when not properly handled or understood, also becomes a vastly destructive force. We see this in the cases of tyrants and dictators, who, while obviously very powerful, are intent on destruction, misery, and their own self interest, as opposed to those saints who work for the benefit of the good, the true, and the beautiful.

There is a definite polarity in working with this seminal energy. It can tend toward the good, but it can quite easily move in the opposite direction, and become absolute evil. This is just what we have to work with. The key to developing this power in a wholesome way, beneficial to yourself and all of humanity, is developing awareness.

Awareness can guide this sexual transmutation. In the absence of strong and developed awareness, the energy will control you. This is why I’ve been meditating more than ever during this transformation. I’ve been doing visualisations of energy, seeing the sex energy pulsating within me, traveling up my spine and conserved in my solar plexus. This seems to be a lot more stable than keeping it in the default sacral chakra. I’ve also been doing a lot of simple mindfulness meditation, and vipassana.

All of this has been incredibly helpful, because as anybody who’s taken on the challenge of semen retention can tell you, it can be a roller coaster. The energy often surprises you.

I’ll end this here. I wish you great luck on your journey, reach out to me if you want to talk more about this.

Mood, exercise, and mindfulness

A bad mood has consequences.

In the last few years, I’ve become a master of weathering out pain, depression, anxiety and general misery.

I dealt with a chronic terrifying skin disease which left me awake, in pain, all night every night. The days weren’t much better.

I’ve written about this before, so I’ll keep the descriptions to a minimum, but there’s one aspect to this illness that I haven’t talked about: I couldn’t break a sweat.

Well, I could, but it made my skin all over my body itch like crazy. And it wouldn’t stop until I’d scratched off the first layer of skin, leaving me a bloody mess.

This meant that I hardly exercised at all for more than 18 months. I would go out for short walks, do some very limited exercises and stretches when I could find the energy.

Before my illness became that bad I would cycle the 5 km to school and back every day, but at some point I couldn’t keep it up.

The reason I’m writing about this is to put the subject of this post into perspective, so you know where I’m coming from.

It’s common knowledge now that exercise and mood are very closely linked. I’ve been experiencing this first hand for the last few months, especially the last month or so.

After I started regaining my health, I found myself in a sort of limbo: I could finally exercise and sweat again, but the habit of going out for a run or working out was so vague that I had a hard time getting started.

In the last three months I’ve been going out for a short run and doing body-weight exercises daily, with a rest day every third day. I also started training in a Judo Dojo twice a week.

Becoming mindful of my mood showed me the importance of getting off my butt and exercising.

I’ve been amazed at the effects on my mood most of all. My body feels better when it gets to move around like the animal it is, but mentally I feel awesome!

Just now, I got back from a long day at the workshop at school, feeling pretty tired and a bit on edge. I started by having something to eat. That made me feel a bit better, but I was still feeling a bit down, and a bit anxious as well.

It’s weird, we think we know things, but we forget and forget and forget. Then we finally remember.

That’s what happened to me just now. I was thinking, trying to figure out what I needed to do to make myself feel better. After more than an hour I realized “oh yeah! I just need to move my body!”. And so I went out for a short run in the rain, and here I am.

Anxiety gone, motivation for life back (for now).

Another thing I’ve realized is the incredible effects of mood on our ability to mindful. When I’m anxious, angry, depressed or just stressed out, remembering to be aware of my body and mental activities becomes almost impossible.

That’s why we need to set up powerful, mood-regulating habits in our life. Daily habits. We need to learn to recognize states of mind, and how to respond to them. It takes time, but it’s totally worth it.

Exercise is obviously one of the most powerful habits you can incorporate. There’s really no debating the fact that your body is designed to move around, using all the intricate muscles and ligaments and joints that get us from one place to another. I think in some cases, it’s a matter of releasing pent-up energy. If we don’t, it starts to make us feel anxious, on edge, even depressed.

I learned the hard way. You know, when you lose the ability to exercise, you’ll start to miss it. I used to be very active as an adolescent, but in my early twenties it started to become an on-off deal. Sometimes I’d exercise regularly for months at a time, and sometimes I’d be a couch potato, playing video games or watching TV all day instead of going out for a run.

I remember thinking a few times “why should I exercise? I eat relatively healthy and I’m lean, so what is there to gain?”. Well, it wasn’t really until years later, at the point where I started exercising again after being ill, that it really clicked for me:

Exercise isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity.

If we want to feel truly good in life, we need to exercise. Moving your body is like walking a dog: You may not feel like it, but the dog (your body) will thank you for it, and you’ll probably end up enjoying yourself anyway.

We do actually crave exercise on a physical level. It’s like hunger or the need to pee. Our bodies know when we haven’t exercised enough and it tries to tell us so. We just aren’t accustomed to deciphering the often cryptic messages that our bodies send us. Partly this is because we usually find some instantly gratifying substance or activity, like sugar, caffeine, television or porn to take the edge off, but the larger problem is a general lack of awareness of yourself and life.

As you’ve probably experienced, we don’t always feel hunger physically in our stomachs, instead we feel it emotionally via our mood. Sometimes we just feel angry for no reason, but if we stop, breathe, and eat a piece of cheese, we feel better almost instantly.

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Sometimes we get pissed off over something absolutely trivial, only to then miraculously feel better when we get some protein and fat into our stomachs. We don’t always put two and two together, but that’s because most people aren’t even trying to. Lack of awareness is the ultimate problem in society.

I guess the part that’s eluded me the most is the “stopping to breathe” part. It’s definitely the key to understanding what you need, because once we disengage from the emotion for a second, we get a chance to see the root cause.

That’s when we can direct our attention deeper, and see exactly what you need, in this moment, to feel your best.

When you feel your best, that’s when you’re best able to stay mindful of life.

This actually eluded me for a long time. At some point, I was sure that the way to spiritual enlightenment would be to completely separate my mind from my body, by ignoring all sensations, cravings, needs. After all, the flesh is evil, right? Nope.

That’s absolutely the wrong approach. By ignoring the needs of this sack of bones that we happen to be driving in this world, we are making everything more difficult for ourselves. A healthy body is the pillar that supports a healthy mind. We need to become aware of everything we do in our day-to-day lives. This isn’t a chore, it’s a gift. Expanded awareness is always the way forward.

When I’m exercising regularly, eating a completely clean, healthy, whole-foods diet, and I take care to be mindful of my mood, my meditation practice goes through the roof. Concentration is so much easier when all needs are met.

Meeting the needs of this organism we happen to inhabit is paramount in order to develop consciousness further. It’s a game of perception. Learn to understand what your mood is trying to tell you, and you will be rewarded.

Now, as you can imagine, when you get sick for a long time like I did (it’s not over yet, mind you), and you can’t exercise, socialize, or really do anything, you get depressed. In the same way a dog that’s kept in a cage gets depressed, even if you give it food and water.

I got depressed to the point of suicidal thoughts. It’s terrifying to think back to that time. Right now, I’m doing a lot better. My skin is still seriously f-ed up, but it’s gotten better. Slowly, everything seems to be getting better. But what really dragged me up out of the pits of despair was that I started doing Vinyasa Yoga. Intensively.

Even though I got itchy and needed to scratch a lot during yoga classes, drawing uneasy stares from other practitioners (I tried to stay at the back, in the corner), I decided that this was just what I needed to do. I would end the session with a freezing cold shower (even though the water burned in the cuts and sores from scratching so much), which would effectively end the itching for a while.

The point is, I finally took my bodily needs into account. And by doing that, even though my circumstances were virtually unchanged, and my skin was still uncontrollable, I started to feel better. Not just during yoga, but the whole day after, too!

It was like I’d finally been pushed to the edge, where I realized that I needed to exercise, among other things, or my depression would take me to the point of no return.

This epiphany, in turn, changed many other aspects of my life to the better. My situation was still very bad. I had quit school to focus on recovery a few months before, and I was living on disability. I had every reason to be bitter and depressed, but it’s as if a veil had been lifted. I started to get more optimistic about regaining my health, and instead of moping about all day, I started going outside more, into nature whenever I could.

I became more motivated to do what I knew needed to be done. I kept my diet clean, and I started to take way better care of myself.

Most importantly, I started to focus on living a mindful life. I started to develop the habit of slowing down, multiple times a day, in order to just breathe, and feel what was going on within.

In that way I’ve been able to weather the storm that I’ve been going through with my health, without giving in to despair. Mindfulness has truly saved my life.

This is all you need to know: Mindfulness saves lives.

Many people seem to think that mindfulness is just some kind of fad, or self-help gimmick. The truth is that mindfulness is very simple to understand, and it’s been around since time immemorial. In fact, it will be around for eternity. That’s because mindfulness is one of the pillars of consciousness. When we orgasm during sex, we’re mindful. We can’t help it! When we really get deep into a game of chess, we’re mindful. Whenever we’re in a flow state, we’re mindful.

The art of developing mindfulness in our every day lives depends on our motivation for becoming aware of the things that don’t seem to matter as much.

It’s really just deciding to be here, now, without fussing about the future or brooding on the past. If you make this mindset your own, the results are unimaginable. Awareness can’t be talked about, or described. It can only be experienced directly.

That’s what makes expansion of consciousness such hard work: We can’t be aware of what we’re not aware of!

In the context of this article, I’m talking about developing the capacity of being mindful of what our body is asking for at any given time. If this article has sparked some tiny amount of awareness where before there was none, I will be immensely happy.

When you get some experience with this approach to health, it becomes second nature. It’s like learning a new language, the language of your body.

May you be infinitely successful on this journey. I know for a fact that the more people allow themselves to live in the present, the better and more prosperous this entire planet will become.

The development of the individual is the key to the health, wealth, and happiness of society as a whole.

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Responsibility is power

You know, with great power comes great responsibility. That’s a great quote, but it has an underrepresented sibling:

With great responsibility comes great power.

I want to clarify a very important distinction: Responsibility is not the same as blame, or fault. Responsibility means so much more. The word itself contains the meaning, response-ability. The ability to respond. More than that, the competence to respond.

A drunk driver hits a loved one and kills them instantly. Devastating. It’s obvious who’s to blame, really. But who is responsible for the aftermath?

Who’s responsible for the ensuing depression, the sorrow, the empty spot your loved one used to occupy?

More often than not, people shirk responsibility. As if it’s something to be feared, something that weighs you down.

And in the common usage of the word, no wonder. It’s often used negatively. “Who is responsible for this?!” is thrown about in times of trouble. It’s often confused with fault. “Who’s fault is this?!” is often more appropriate. But even fault is relatively unrelated to responsibility.

Responsibility is voluntary, fault is not.

The drunk driver in the example above will always be at fault, whether he decides to take responsibility for what he’s done or not.

You may not be at fault for the bad things that life has thrown at you, but you can certainly choose to take responsibility for them. That means accepting things for what they are, forgiving whoever or whatever you perceive to be at fault (be aware though, perceptions can be deceiving), and taking action to make the situation better, in any way possible.

It means not waiting for someone else to help you, in fact it means not even wasting the mental energy on figuring out who you believe should make up for whatever happened to you.

If there is any way you can make it more likely that the person at fault will take responsibility, like calling them out on it, or actually talking to them, do it. But if there’s nothing you can do, let it slide. If amends are to be made, they will be made whether you brood on it or not.

I feel like this is a very key point. Sometimes, the best thing is for whoever caused a situation to take responsibility for it. It may be hard on them. Don’t take on somebody else’s responsibility unless you’re absolutely sure they’re adamant on not taking it.

However, when whoever is responsible shirks responsibility, you can decide to take it on yourself. This doesn’t mean that you start blaming yourself for what happened, but rather that you decide that you will do everything within your power to make it better.

This is no easy decision, but it can be incredibly impactful. Let me give you an example from my own life.

As I’ve alluded to in many posts, I have been very ill for the last two years. It was a major complication with a medication I had taken for a long timer, and at first I blamed doctors, pharmaceutical companies, hell, even society as a whole.

But two years is a long time.

I had time to see what all that brooding and blaming and hating was doing to me in the long run, and I didn’t like it.

I started to realize that if I ever wanted to get out of this mess, get my health back, and protect the people I loved from experiencing the same catastrophe, I would have to take responsibility for myself. For my own health, wealth, and happiness.

So that’s what I did, and here I am now.

My health is getting better every day, in fact every single aspect of my life has improved since the fateful decision to take on the great responsibility of being. That doesn’t mean that the decision itself allowed me to regain my health. It means that the decision to take responsibility finally allowed me to put in the work to find out what would.

Egg

That’s the thing, really. All responsibility does is open doors for solutions. If your shirk responsibility and blame somebody else, you’re essentially saying that somebody else should fix it. Worse yet, you’re saying somebody else is the only one who can fix it.

It’s all mental, as with so much else. We create our own reality by way of our thoughts. This truth is becoming clearer to me every single day.

That’s not to say that taking responsibility for yourself is easy. It’s not.

It will always be easier to find a scapegoat, somebody to blame. Whether it’s defensible or not. There’s always somebody else.

This is a matter of personal development. We can only change that which we take responsibility for. The power of personal responsibility can’t be overstated.

Let me tell you about another time responsibility changed my life.

I’ve been addicted to pornography for years. My name is Tolli, and I am a porn addict, as they say. One of the definitions of addiction is repeatedly trying to stop an activity, without success, despite destructive consequences. Well, ever since I discovered that you actually could become addicted to pornography, I’ve been trying to stop. That was five years ago.

A bit more than a month ago, I decided that I couldn’t go like this. I ended up installing accountability software on all my devices, which would monitor my online activities and send a message to my girlfriend if I searched for porn.

Suffice it to say, that decision stopped the addiction in its tracks.

So you may be wondering, how exactly does responsibility fit into this story?

Well, when we take on responsibility for a bad habit, it becomes painfully clear what action needs to be taken to remedy it. In this case, the action that needed to be taken was simple : Asking for help.

I installed the software, and then I asked my girlfriend to help me overcome my addiction. Sometimes, the action we need to take involves other people.

So what are the potential long-term outcomes of developing this mindset of responsibility? Let’s explore.

You will develop into somebody who is truly proud of him or herself, your achievements and relationships, because you know that they were truly responsible for their development.

The suffering that comes from the helplessness of blaming others for your problems will disappear. You no longer look to others and expect them to fix the sh*t you get yourself into. This means you’ll also be more careful not to muck things up, if at all possible.

When confronted with disaster, you will be the pillar, the shoulder to cry on. Instead of adding to the burden of grief, you will be able to be there for your family and friends when things go awry.

You will be the strong, stable, focused person you’ve always wanted to be. In part, this is because whatever happens, you know that you can deal with it, however difficult it may be. Life will give you catastrophe at some point. It’s bound to come. It’s just a part of the human experience.

When that time comes, you will be a rock. Your integrity won’t budge. Your mind won’t fill with hate and blame. Instead your mind will generate possible answers and solutions.

Can you imagine a life where you took full, complete responsibility for everything?

When you start do implement this mindset, you will see improvements everywhere. And not just by accident; you will be the reason for those improvements.

Your health will improve because you decide to take responsibility for your diet. Your environment will become more organized because you take responsibility for the mess all around you. Your relationships will improve because you take responsibility for saying what needs to be said.

The potential is truly limitless. This is how we can find true fulfillment. We may not always be happy, but happiness is overrated anyway.

Sometimes the action that needs to be taken to remedy your situation will take hard work. Sometimes blood, sometimes tears. It may not make you happy in the short term, but it will give you a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Apart from fixing your problems, of course.

Let’s say you have a sh*tty diet. You take responsibility for it, and you start to eat clean, get rid of soda (poison water), and even start going for a run every day. Things seem to be improving, but suddenly you notice that your friends are starting to get weird. It’s like you’re shaming them for not taking responsibility for their bad diets by doing so for your own.

They start to gaslight you, make fun of you, call you a health freak (man, I hate that!). You know what needs to be done next.

You need to take responsibility for the fact that these people are even in your life in the first place. If you think about it, most of our friends are just friends by fluke. By chance. You didn’t choose them, mostly they’re just the people that stuck around, that happened to be in the same place as you.

Responsibility means ending those relationships that aren’t serving you anymore. Or maybe they never were.

It also means ending those inner thought patterns that no longer serve you. Many of us have experienced being ridiculed by the inner judge, depressive and anxious thought-cycles that seem designed to crush you.

Instead of going to a shrink and getting medication (which would be very irresponsible, to my mind, although I believe psychotherapy certainly has a place in all this), you decide to take responsibility for whatever’s going through your head at any given time.

That’s friggin’ hard to do!

This is where meditation becomes an invaluable tool. It’s really just a method of observing here, now. Instead of identifying with thoughts, as we usually do, you start to become aware of them as they come. With almost an outside view, a detached view of what is actually happening.

The more you sit down and just observe the thoughts going through your mind, the better you will understand what needs to change.

I try to meditate for an hour at a time, in the mornings and evenings, two hours daily. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but I try to make time for an hour of meditation at minimum. I’ve kept this up, on and off, for a few years, and the results would have been unimaginable to me before.

The main thing is to start where you are. I’m not suggesting that you start meditating two hours a day right now. You won’t be able to keep it up, and it would probably be detrimental to you in the long run. When I started, I literally did meditations lasting one or two minutes at a time. And that felt like a long time of sitting still to me!

That’s where I needed to start. It may be where you need to start.

In a world where nobody takes responsibility for themselves, you will be one in a million. You will become valued by everybody around you. People will trust you, and they will depend on you.

Every moment, you have a chance to change your life to the better. Don’t worry about missed opportunities, because every moment is an opportunity.

The future is now, as they say. What you decide now will create the future. The future is nothing but the result of our decisions in the present.

I’ve decided to go fully on board with this philosophy. The fact is, the way you do anything is the way you do everything. Meaning, do everything as well as you can, and you can do anything well. I look forward to keep discovering the benefits of this mindset for myself.

I’ll end with a particularly poignant quote:

You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.

Marie Curie

Good luck on your journey.

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The paradox of pain

The paradox of pain

The last two years of my life have been intensely painful, physically and mentally. In fact, they’ve been so painful that I was forced to deeply examine my relationship with pain and attempt to change it drastically.

In the summer of 2016 I was thrown suddenly into a terrifying chronic illness which changed my life.

I was no longer able to sleep at night due to constant, bone-deep itching like I’ve never known before, and then the accompanying pain after I’d literally torn my skin off with my nails, bleeding all over, and in the end I would fall into a fitful sleep early in the morning out of pure exhaustion.

Itch is a strange phenomenon. It’s arguably more intense than regular pain, since we tend to try to counteract itching with pain.

Anything to stop the itch

To be fair, normally people don’t get itches that are strong enough to warrant real pain, but I promise that if it gets intense enough you’ll do anything to stop it.

Although the itch may have been more intense, the pain I felt day in and day out all over my torn up body was a sort of chronic, high level burning sensation.

I often felt like a burn victim. It was that bad. I would lie in bed, staying completely still. If I could do this for long enough, the pain would subside slightly and I could calm myself down. If I moved an inch, the wounds and sores would open up again, causing me great pain and even more itching.

And when something commands your attention every waking moment as chronic pain does, you have two options if you want to try living a regular life : you can medicate it away as I did frequently (although I used weed instead of poisonous over-the-counter pain medication), or you can re-examine the way you react to pain.

Change your relationship to pain

At first I refused to face my pain, and I would look for activities absorbing enough to let me forget about it temporarily like video games and porn, and later with good old marijuana.

In essence, physical pain isn’t that different from emotional pain. We seek relief in many forms. We use porn, gambling, alcohol, weed, video games, sugar, and television to help us escape, to help us forget our pain, whether emotional or physical.

Pain

At the core of it, we’re talking about avoidance versus acceptance. In the end, I finally did admit to myself that if I wanted to avoid going absolutely insane, I would have to face what was happening to me and try to accept it.

What is pain?

I began by trying to understand what pain actually is. What the hell is it, really? The most obvious answer is that it’s a bodily mechanism that alerts us to damage being done on a physical level. Not much help there.

It’s also a concept that makes us very uncomfortable and that we avoid talking about. We’re getting closer to a model of pain that we can work with.

Life is all about perception. There is no ultimate reality, only our various perceptions of reality. In other words, in some sense we create reality. So pain, as terrifying as it is, is only as horrific as we allow it to be. If we can change our relationship to it, we can change its essence.

It’s all in the mind you see. I know that’s a cliché, but as you know, clichés exist for a reason. When I started really delving into the nature of my relationship to pain, I discovered some very liberating truths.

My greatest epiphany regarding the problem of pain, is that pain is a bodily sensation. This is a powerful concept, because as a sensation, pain has no real power to harm us. Just as we can choose how we react to sadness, anger, craving and itching, we can choose how we want to react to pain.

Pain and mindfulness

This is one of the precepts of mindfulness practice. Many sufferers of chronic pain, myself included, have discovered the incredible benefits of mindfully observing painful sensations.

In the here and now, there is no pain, technically speaking. “Pain” is a concept, and as such it resides on the mental plane exclusively. When we remove all our negative mental connotations that we’ve accumulated over the years, via family and friends, television and the culture we grew up in, what’s left?

What’s left is the essence of pain. The nucleus of the concept of pain. It can’t be spoken of, not really, because speech relies heavily on conceptualization. It’s ineffable.

The most powerful tool for dealing with pain

Mindfulness is a very powerful tool, or rather a mindset. It simply refers to experiencing reality directly in the present moment, instead of relating to experience mentally, as we usually do. We think of future events, or past events, or we think endlessly about the meaning of things that happened five minutes ago, or the likelihood of things happening five minutes from now. But we don’t ever think about what’s happening right now. The now can only be experienced directly.

Mindfulness takes us from a place of identification with pain, to a place of detached, or I should say non-attached observation. To be clear, I don’t mean to say that the pain actually goes away, rather that our capacity to deal with it improves. More specifically, our relationship to pain can change. It can change to the point that we only feel pain, without suffering.

“Detachment means letting go and nonattachment means simply letting be.”

Stephen Levine

We often feel like pain and suffering are one and the same, but there’s a massive distinction: pain is a sensation, suffering is a thought.

As such, pain may be inevitable, but suffering can be overcome by various forms of mental training.

Sitting with the pain instead of avoiding it

This is a different path that many don’t understand.

When I discovered the potential of mindfulness for changing my relationship with pain, I started doing a lot of strong-determination meditation sittings, which consist of sitting perfectly still for long stretches of time, without reacting to pain or discomfort. They are incredibly difficult, and incredibly rewarding. I would normally sit for 30-40 minutes at a time.

Pain2Only once have I managed to sit for an entire hour without moving, and it was a truly transcendental experience.

Simply observe

The pain had become incredibly intense, and my mind was screaming with frustration, but I wouldn’t give in.

And the more I directed my attention to the painful areas to directly experience the sensations of pain, the more I realized that that’s just what it was : Sensations of pain.

Our reactions to pain may seem absolutely determined, but in fact they are our own choice. The name we give to that choice is suffering.

We all instinctively know the difference between pain and suffering. If someone punches you in the face and breaks your nose, you’ll inevitably feel a lot of pain. But it’s the fear, confusion, and anger at the person who punched you that causes you to suffer.

Who dies?

The book Who Dies? by Stephen Levine really got me to think about pain in a completely different way. It’s one of the most poignant and profound books I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.

“If there is a single definition of healing it is to enter with mercy and awareness those pains, mental and physical, from which we have withdrawn in judgment and dismay.”

-Stephen Levine

Overcoming our fear of pain in this way is truly liberating, and has numerous benefits. I believe that one form of enlightenment may be found in the person that has transcended the fear of pain altogether.

A few of my own observations from working with and accepting the place of pain in my life:

Reduced Fear in General

When you’ve sat through an hour of stabbing pain in various parts of your body, or your daily life is brandished with a painful chronic illness, the numerous fears that we feel towards all kinds of things may start to diminish.

In my own life, I’ve discovered that I’m way less worried about humiliating myself, so I’ve started putting myself out there in many ways. For instance by starting this website. The old judgmental part of my mind that shouts “But what if what I write isn’t good enough and nobody wants to read it and everybody will laugh at me and I’ll be exiled and forced to live in the wilderness…” and so on, can be effectively countered with “I’ve had worse”.

I’ve also seen that fear of failure has greatly diminished. All fear is rooted in pain, be it emotional or physical. Fear of failure is actually a fear of the pain that accompanies failure, like humiliation (see above) or blows to our self-esteem.

A Drive to Live a Meaningful Life

Thank god my chronic pain didn’t last forever. In the last month or so it has rapidly gotten better. So much better that I’m finally able to exercise again, to sleep through the night, and to go out and about without being constantly distracted.

The most powerful result of my work with pain has been this powerful desire to live my life exactly as I want to.

Partly because I now know by direct experience that health is fickle, any number of things could happen to me and life is too short to waste it on worrying about consequences. But also partly because I know that I can handle whatever the universe throws at me. I know that nothing that happens to me can actually break me, especially if I keep cultivating my insights on pain and reality.

An Unobserved life is not worth living

There are some harsh truths inherent in the fabric of human existence. Pain is abundant. It’s everywhere.

People die in agony every single day. Many people lead lives that are so physically painful that it’s unimaginable to those of us blessed with good health. Pain is as much a staple of being human as is being born, loving, and dying.

Even those of us born with a healthy body and healthy mind will know pain at some point in our lives. If you haven’t already experienced some kind of storm in your own life, there’s certainly someone close to you who has.

This is just an inextricable part of being human. We’re playing this human game, and pain is an aspect of that game, whether we like it or not.

It’s funny, I took a course in Vipassana (insight) meditation a while back. The teacher told us that every now and then, a student would come to her after much meditation and strong determination sitting and tell her that he had actually started enjoying the aches and pains of sitting for an hour.

The game

We can make a game of it. We just have to be open to the possibility that pain isn’t what we always thought it was. You can start catching your mind, Ah I see, an old thought pattern of aversion is coming up. Is it anchored in reality? Or is it a mental creation?

Just think of the potential benefits of doing this! The fear of pain and suffering can limit us in so many ways, but when we start to question the fabric of this fear, we find that doors start to open to us. We start to open our minds and hearts to unheard of possibilities and potential changes in our reality.

With an open heart and an expanded mind, we become unstoppable. Fear can no longer crush our spirits, and pain can no longer hold us down. We will cease to suffer.

When we stop avoiding the things that scare us the most, like pain, we find that it leads to a feeling of wholeness. A feeling of acceptance of the nature of things.

When we fully accept pain, a paradox will become apparent to us:

Pain only causes suffering because we allow it to do so.

Much love.

The difference between pain and suffering (and how it can save your life)

Today I want to explore the topic of crisis. More specifically the inevitability of crisis, and what we can learn from that inevitability.

You see, there are few certainties in life. Very few. The fact that things will keep changing, that is a certainty. The fact that you will die is another. But the one that keeps many of us on our toes is that at some point, we will experience disaster in our lives, and suffer for it.

It’s scary, but it’s also true.

We tend to marginalize this idea, thinking that sure, it happens to people all the time, but it won’t happen to me.

We’re good at ignoring important stuff. It’s just a funny coincidence (or is it?) that the most important stuff in life is also the scariest.

I know you may not want to think about pain if you can help it, but I’m telling you, you need to make time to contemplate this fact. The reason I say that is because ignoring it will not make it go away. The more we come to terms with this reality of existence, the smoother we can deal with the crises when they inevitably arrive.

It may not be obvious what this work of contemplating your own inevitable pain will actually give you, but I can tell you this, from my own experience: When I finally put the pieces together and understood this simple law of human existence, my general anxiety about life disappeared.

I don’t mean to say that I attained buddha-hood or something, although it can be viewed as a degree of enlightenment. I still go AHH! when something goes BANG!. I still get nervous when talking in front of groups of people. I still manage to worry about deadlines or tests at school.

What I’m no longer afraid of is pain.

This actually lead me to contemplating death as well, and soon my fear of death greatly diminished as well.

The two often go hand in hand. Understanding the former eases us into understanding the latter, but that’s a topic for another day.

The terrifying truth of human existence, is that people are constantly in pain. All the time. People are diagnosed with excruciating terminal illness every single day. Every day, people get into debilitating accidents, or get betrayed by someone they trusted, or lose a loved one.

This is a fact of life. The Buddha said it best: Life is suffering.

And I know at first glance this all seems absolutely, dismally pessimistic. Even nihilistic. But I say that ignoring the truth is infinitely more damaging and limiting than facing it, however scary it is. Monsters hide in a dark for a reason: What can’t be seen, cannot be understood. What cannot be understood is most terrifying of all.

We need to direct the searchlight of our awareness on these things in order to understand them, and when we do, peace follows.

So let’s start with my experience.

How did I come about this knowledge? By direct experience. A little over two years ago, my life was shattered. I discovered that I had developed a dependency on corticosteroids, a class of drugs used to treat inflammation of all kinds, and that they had stopped working for me. I had used them for years to treat my mild eczema.

However, what I hadn’t been told at twelve years old when I was first prescribed these drugs, was that prolonged use had major side effects, and worst of all, as the body became more dependent on them, there would be a need for ever stronger steroids.

I came to the point where the drugs no longer helped my skin condition except in very high doses, and my eczema seemed to have gotten so much worse over the years.

After a lot of research, I finally figured out what was going on. I was stuck in a positive feedback loop. You see, the corticosteroids are an analogue of a hormone produced naturally in the body, cortisol. When we infuse the body with artificial hormones, the body systematically reduces its own production of said hormone.

The result was that as I stopped using the medicines (I’m loathe to call them that, as intuitively I think of medicine as something that actually heals the body), my body went into full on withdrawal. Topical steroid withdrawal, as it’s called, or Red Skin Syndrome, which is the technical term.

A little further research revealed that this withdrawal was no short term thing. 2 to 5 years on average. I was devastated. To show you why, let me list some of the effects of withdrawal:

  • Intense shedding of skin. I had to sweep the floors in my bedroom every night, because of all of the skin flakes I had scratched off during the night. Think of the sand all over the floor after a day at the beach. This has lasted until the present day, although thankfully it’s gotten a lot less intense, and on fewer parts of my body.
  • Bone-deep itching red skin. My entire body became bright pink, and itched like you wouldn’t believe. I would scratch so much at night that I woke up glued to the sheets due to bleeding, oozing sores. The worst of this lasted for 18 months.
  • Severe lethargy, so that I had a hard time getting up out of bed at all. A big part of this was the insomnia I experienced due to the terrible itching and pain.
  • Nerve pain and “zingers”, meaning my skin was painful even where there were no sores, and I had these sort of heat cramps, like little zaps of electrocution.

I’ll leave it at that. I would say that despite the horror of these symptoms, what got to me the most was the trauma it entailed. I became deeply depressed, developed debilitating social anxiety due to my appearance (my face was swollen, red, and I had scratched off my eyebrows at some point), and generally felt like dying.

In fact, about 18 months in, I was seriously contemplating suicide. The pain and suffering was just so intense and miserable, and even though I (thankfully) knew that this was temporary, it already seemed like it had lasted a lifetime.

At that point I realized I had become fully burned out by staying in school that whole time when I should have just quit right away, so I stopped. That became the first step in regaining my health. I stayed home, slept a whole lot, read loads of books, meditated and journaled. This would be a complete turning point for me.

I started researching ways to optimize my diet for healing. I looked for ways to exercise that were possible for me in this condition. I started to really try to figure out what life meant to me, and what I wanted to get out of it. Did life have value to me, even if it meant this amount of unbearable pain?

Of course, I’m eternally grateful that after much contemplation, I decided that the answer to that question was a resounding YES.

Now that you know my story, let me tell you how I came to this not-too-obvious answer to life’s most terrifying question.

This is an axiom that changed my perception of existence to it’s core:

Pain is a given, suffering is a choice.

If that doesn’t shake your reality tunnel, then you’re more enlightened than you think.

This isn’t obvious, not by a long shot. So allow me to elucidate.

Pain cannot be avoided. Pain will be experienced in life, in varying amounts, to various degrees of intensity.

It can manifest as physical pain, like burning your fingers on the stove, or a car accident, or chronic illness, as in my case. I know you can easily find more ways in which we feel physical pain, so I won’t dwell on it.

It can manifest as mental or emotional pain as well, as in cases of betrayal or great loss, like the death of a parent, sibling, or spouse.

It’s strange, but in many cases we wouldn’t want to remove our pain, even given the chance. My grandfather died a few months back. We were quite close and I loved him dearly. The pain of his absence is what reminds me of what a kind, loving, solid human being he was. It reminds me to miss him.

In the same way, physical pain teaches us to appreciate the times in our lives when we were in good health. I can tell you this much: I will never look at my health in the same way again. I took it for granted once. Now it’s my most valuable asset of all.

Good health is one of those things you don’t even notice until it’s gone.

Pain takes many forms, as we’ve explored here. But what about suffering?

Well, first off, what’s the difference between suffering and pain? Simply put, pain is the event, suffering is the response. What does that mean?

Thus spake a wise soul, eons ago:

I may not be able to control the winds, but I can adjust my sails.

When we’re faced with dire circumstances, we usually have multiple options for responding to the situation. We can run and try to escape (literally by physically running off, or figuratively by for example depending on drugs to escape reality), we can freeze and submit, or we can stand and fight. We can even accept what’s happening and decide to make the best of it.

When most people are faced with disaster, they have no idea how to respond. That’s because they’ve consciously ignored the inevitability of crisis their entire lives!

How can you expect to weather out a storm if you haven’t even thought about the possibility of it ever coming to that?

Let me throw another great quote at you:

Life isn’t about trying to outrun the storm, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.

So here you are. You’ve had an accident. Or you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness. Or you find out your wife or husband has been cheating on you for the last two years. Or your sister just died.

If you’re anything like I was before my own midnight of the soul, you’re in for a very difficult time. Your entire paradigm of the world around you and your place in it will crumble down all around you. What you thought was stable and eternal suddenly seems ephemeral and fleeting.

To be totally honest, I’m not sure if these insights on the nature of pain and suffering can ever be gained without having actually suffered greatly. But the fact is that most of us have, at some point in our lives. Everybody knows what suffering is. Nobody is naturally immune to it. The only difference is how you decide to respond to your pain.

If you decide to dull your pain, escape your misery, you will be just as susceptible to suffering, if not more so, when the next wave strikes.

If, however, you decide to face the thoughts, feelings, and sensation full on, contemplate them, fully feel them, you will gain insight. And through insight, you will become wise. That wisdom will be there for you when you inevitably meet with the next life-crisis.

There’s no trick to this. It’s not easy, but it’s overwhelmingly simple. There’s a lot of fluff surrounding meditation, contemplation, spirituality, but for this life, for the here and now, there’s no need to complicate things.

Sit with your pain, with the conscious intention to understand it and explore it, no matter how terrifying and repugnant it seems to you, and you will be taken to a better place. Your relationship with pain itself will change, and you will transcend suffering.

This takes a lot of work, make no mistake. This is no quick fix. You need to work at everything. Your mentality and attitude, your self-discipline. But rest assured, this is the way to permanently overcome your anxiety towards life.

Taking on this work entails so much more than that, though. You will find that, as your relationship to pain and suffering changes, so will your attitude to life as a whole. As your fear of suffering diminishes, so will your fear of expanding. You will become open to experience in a way that you weren’t before.

You may find yourself following your own bliss, without caring if others judge you for it. You will become more compassionate, doing all you can to alleviate others’ suffering and teaching them to change their own relationship to pain.

You will stop being afraid.

You can partake in life without being hung up about it. You can have fun instead of fretting.

This approach to suffering is ancient. Many attribute it to the historical Buddha Gautama, but it’s older than that. Way older. The Buddha himself relates that he “rediscovered” a technique that had been lost for millennia. Others have done it before us, and more will do it after we’re gone.

In Buddhism and other eastern traditions, this approach is called Vipassana or variations thereof.

The word itself is Sanskrit and simply means “insight into the nature of reality”. It relates to direct experience, as opposed to knowledge gained from an external source.

Mindfulness, as it has been popularized here in the west, is  another approach (which is essentially the same). To call mindfulness a tool is misleading. Instead, it is an all-encompassing approach to existence, in favor of directly experiencing the sensations and events of here, now, as opposed to constant thinking.

The primacy of direct experience is undeniable. We can read, listen, and learn all we want, but in order to fully grasp anything, it must be experienced. Knowledge is power, in every way.

Know thyself, said Socrates.

The better you understand what it means to be a human incarnate in this place at this time, the better time you’re going to have playing this game. The game of life. I believe self-knowledge should be the prime imperative of any human being.

If you learn anything from this article, let it be this:

You are more than the sum of your parts.

In our modern, materialist-reductionist paradigm, we tend to overlook the simple fact of our consciousness. Of our awareness.

You have a body, and a brain, and a mind. You have friends, a job, a personality. But the fact is, you are so much more than all of that.

It can’t be explained, so I’ll stop there.

In conclusion, I will say this: Start to meditate.

Start as small as you have to. One minute, five minutes. Then gradually increase the time. Find guided meditations. There are plenty out there. Stop being reluctant to be fully present with your pain.

It will save your life.

YOU are the creator of reality

Do you ever find yourself asking “What the hell is going on?”?

I mean in general.

We have all these concepts. Life, reality, me, you, self, other, future, past. We talk about our property, our country, our family. We have names for all of this. But sometimes I feel like the naming and conceptualizing detracts from the actuality of what this is. Maybe I should say THIS, because I simply mean what there is.

What is going on?

What does it mean to be sentient, inhabiting a sack of flesh and bones, in this strange, strange place we call the earth? Does it have to mean anything?

I often find myself forgetting, for long stretches of time, just how weird all this is. Wouldn’t it have been easier to have nothing? To be nothing? Simpler, at least.

It’s so strange that anything can seem trivial. The mere existence of the most minuscule, unimportant thing is a miracle! The simple fact that something is here at all is a reason for wonder.

It’s very easy to overlook this fact.

We may all share this reality, but then again, our perceptions of said reality differ so vastly, that we might as well each be absolutely solipsistic.

And you never know. Are other people actually conscious? Or are they just pretending to be conscious, like characters in a dream. Or maybe they even believe that they’re independently conscious.

When I look around me I see an apartment. My apartment. I see potted plants, furniture of all shapes and sizes, electronics, food, picture frames. Cups, mirrors, lamps…

Most of this stuff is man made. They started off as ideas, or concepts, in somebody’s head. Their powers of creation made it solid. And here I am, enjoying these marvelous things without having any true idea of their origins.

Concepts are a funny thing. We make them up in our minds, or we learn them from somebody else, and then we glue them onto objects we encounter in the universe. Like when you put one of those cut-out cardboard celebrity faces over your own.

Then, having adequately labeled our surroundings, our reality, we promptly forget the true nature of what they are, and go on through life acting as if the concepts are the ultimate reality.

Like I said, it’s weird.

What does it mean though, for us normies? Concepts are incredibly useful, as are labels. They allow us to quickly understand what something is without having to constantly reexamine it. For example, because we have a concept of an apple in our minds after countless encounters, when we see one on the table we go right ahead and take a bite.

We don’t need to check if it’s edible, compare it to the other objects on the table, taste it, etcetera. It’s just an apple.

On the other hand, sometimes our conceptualizing is very limiting. Like when we label ourselves. We say that we’re depressed, we’re shy, we’re anxious, we’re lazy. These labels are probably true, some of the time, but nobody’s lazy all the time. We have moments when we’re shy, and then we have moments where we’re assertive.

Self-conceptualization is a major problem for people everywhere. Not only do we frame ourselves withing concepts, we also allow other people to frame us within concepts. And we do the same to them!

Sometimes this is necessary, like if somebody’s prone to violence, the label of thug is appropriate and may save us from a nasty encounter.

But more often than not, these labels limit us to a certain personality type, to certain actions, to certain behaviors. These behaviors may be destructive, humiliating, depressing. The power of social conceptualizing is such that breaking free from these imposed limitations can be a very daunting task.

In many ways, this is the work of meditation. We meditate in order to see reality as it is, not as we believe it to be.

Sometimes we get moments of clarity, often out of the blue. This is often related to the appearance of some sort of anomaly, like seeing a shooting star, or an explosion, or somebody dancing naked with a street lamp (actually saw this a few years back, it really sticks with you).

Sometimes it’s due to some kind of shock, like illness, an accident, or a betrayal. Something that disillusions you so much that it breaks down your model of reality. It can be traumatizing, and in fact, that’s what trauma is. Trauma is a veritable smashing of your reality tunnel, when you encounter something more unpleasant and unbearable than you previously thought possible.

When somebody you love dearly betrays you, your concept of them is shattered into pieces. You need to reevaluate them, you need to reevaluate your relationship to them, not only in the here and now, but past and future as well.

When you unexpectedly lose your health, you need to reconceptualize your mortality. You realize that you’re not indestructible, that in fact you might die today, or tomorrow.

In this way, concepts that have been helpful up until now may become crushingly incomplete in the future. That’s why we need to learn how to see clearly. To live a life of fulfillment and prosperity, we need to be prepared to change our perceptions of reality when the time comes.

There’s a great quote:

Life isn’t about avoiding the storm. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Can’t remember who’s it is.

Isn’t that awesome?

Whoever we are, wherever we are, we are always susceptible to change. That’s the nature of being. Change is the only constant.

When we don’t acknowledge that change is possible, we become susceptible to trauma. Can you believe that a person could meet with a disabling accident, a chronic painful illness, or the death of a loved one with equanimity and peace?

No suppression of grief. No repressing emotions and acting like everything’s okay. We can partake in all these human emotions without letting ourselves be crushed by them.

Dancing in the rain is actually possible. Not pretending to have fun, mind you, but actually accepting the inevitability of crisis and taking it in. There will be storms in life. In fact, that’s what life is. A succession of storms. Some of them we manage to weather out quite nicely, but others will shake our foundations.

In the long run, learning to stay strong in the face of disaster may be the most important skill you ever develop.

My own life, though it hasn’t been perfect (whose is?), was relatively trauma free, up until a few years ago. I guess the most traumatic events in my life before the age of twenty-three were my parent’s divorce at around seven years old, and then successions of moving between cities and countries and new step-dads.

Which in itself has a deep impact on a kid, but being so young I didn’t have the skills or self-knowledge to actually work myself through that trauma until years later.

However, at twenty-three, my life changed forever. I was diagnosed with a chronic skin disease (Red Skin Syndrome) of terrifying proportions. I developed insomnia due to intense itchiness during the night, infections due to endless sores and cuts from scratching my skin raw, and massive psychological trauma.

It’s now been two and a half years since that fateful moment, and I’ve managed to improve my condition by at least 80%. I should clarify, that this disease is most likely temporary (2-5 years average), so a big part of my regained health is due to the passing of time.

However, I also believe that my own efforts for survival and betterment have been invaluable.

I started eating an absolutely clean, whole-foods diet. I cut out all sugars and carbs in general. Stopped smoking weed, stopped using pornography, started exercising as much as possible (although sweating is a real issue with this disease), started a steadfast meditation habit, started journaling a lot, and generally diagnosed everything that was holding me back in life and decided to remedy it as best I could.

Even though I knew there were things I couldn’t control, I decided to do everything I could control as well as humanly possible.

Taking responsibility for my circumstances in life has been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. It has also made me intensely grateful for the mere fact of my existence.

This life is a perpetual roller coaster. We slowly gain altitude in times of peace, and that’s when we have a chance to prepare ourselves in every way for the inevitable swooping, dizzying descent.

When we manage to prepare ourselves and overcome our fears of the inevitable crises, we can actually have fun, just like even the most terrifying roller coaster becomes exhilarating in the absence of fear.

So this brings us the question we posed in the beginning of this article:

What the hell is going on?

We exist, obviously, but why does it have to be so hard?

Why does life have to be so fraught with misery and suffering? Wouldn’t it be easier to just have the pleasant bits and smooth out the splinters and hang-nails?

Well, here’s a profound insight for you: Good is only possible when it’s balanced with bad. Pleasure is only possible when it’s balanced with pain, in the same way up is only possible with the inevitable down.

We live in a reality of opposing extremes. Everything has an opposite, because without it, nothing would have meaning.

It doesn’t take a lot of pondering to see that this is absolute truth.

What this means is simple. Without the dark times, there would be no happiness. Without suffering, there would be no bliss. Without nothing, there could be no something.

When you truly realize this, and take it to heart, you’ll find that you start appreciating what’s wrong in your life. You may not welcome pain, but you start to see its value.

Another thing to consider, is that as there are categorical opposites, like pleasure and pain, up and down, light and dark, there is also an element of opposites within the effects of each category.

This will take some explaining.

When you get into a boating accident, fall into the middle of the pacific, a shark bites your leg of, and then you’re pulled out by your ship-mates, that seems pretty Sh**ty. And it is.

But no matter how terrifying and negative an event is, there is always something to be learned, some insight to be gained. And the value of said insight will be as positive as the event was negative, and vice versa.

It’s impossible to know in advance what the silver lining will be. In the example above, the most obvious positive insight will be your increased compassion for amputees. Your increased awareness of danger and of your own mortality. Expanded awareness, in other words.

There can be zounds of hidden positive aspects to negative events, it all depends on how you decide to react to them. A mountain can be teeming with gold nuggets, but if nobody thinks to look for them, they’re worthless. In the same way, there can be veritable jewels of insight hidden within a break-up, accident, illness, or death, but if you don’t focus on them, they might as well not be there at all.

I know it’s difficult to think this way. Illness is incredibly unpleasant and often painful, and there’s no way around that. But as you take responsibility for that pain and discomfort, you are in a better position to mine the insights and become aware of ways to make up for it. It’s a process, but it can be done.

We are creators of meaning.

Even if we don’t intend to be. We create meaning through the simple virtue of our humanity. It’s what being human entails. And we may not be aware of this, but we get to choose the meaning we apply to anything at all.

It takes self-knowledge, and it takes contemplation of the nature of reality and consciousness. But when we gather together the simple truths and laws of the universe, of human nature, we can effectively change our reality.

And that, my friends, is magic.

 

The awesome power of NoFap

Wow. This last month has been intense for me.

Thirty-two days ago I installed an application on my phone, tablet and pc, called Accountable2you.

As per its name, it’s an accountability program, which just means that it keeps me from viewing material online that I’ve decided I don’t want to use.

In my case, I’m using it to overcome the compulsion to watch porn. It’s working really well, in fact.

I’ve installed filters on my pc before, and though some of them work reasonably well, circumventing them is just a matter of time.

With this program, if I search for porn, it sends the exact links I searched for straight to my girlfriend. Yikes!

So no more midget goat porn for me.

The reason I’m writing about this now is because I’ve been experiencing something I wasn’t really expecting.

As my compulsion to search for pornographic material has decreased, I’ve found myself having way less compulsively sexual thoughts, too.

I’ve been using porn since puberty, and I just thought the constant sexual fantasies were just a by-product of being male. After only thirty days of no porn, I feel like there’s 80% less sexual thoughts in my head throughout the day.

That’s really weird for me! I thought I just had an overactive libido.

It seems to me that the input determines the output. Years of filling my brain with pornographic images made it so that my brain started churning out pornographic thoughts non-stop.

After I’ve finally managed to remove porn from my life, it’s obvious to me that this is the case.

It wasn’t so obvious a month ago, I can tell you that.

So the major side effect of this reduced sexual fantasy is a reduction in the urge to masturbate. Today is day 9 since I last had an orgasm, and I’m feeling it. Definitely feeling it.

It may not seem like such a long time, but to a (hopefully ex-) compulsive porn addict like myself, it feels like a year. Since puberty, I’ve only once managed a month without porn, and never more than nine or ten days without ejaculating.

I’ve known about the community called NoFap for years. I’ve often read posts on the SubReddit and watched Youtube videos from those who swear by it, but I always thought it was mostly bro-science.

Fapstronauts (practitioners of NoFap, in case you haven’t guessed) talk about “rebooting” their minds by abstaining from PMO (porn, masturbation, orgasm) for 90 days.

What I found most interesting about the community, though, was the insistence that once on NoFap you would start to receive so-called superpowers.

Powers like laser focus, supercharged energy, incredible confidence, especially around women, no more brain fog, better skin, more muscle, nicer hair and more beard growth, as well as spiritual benefits.

I’ve always been a pretty skeptical dude, so I pretty much thought this was all wishful thinking. How could any of this stuff be true?

Well, in my very limited experience, I’ve definitely noticed increased energy and drive, physical strength and endurance, a clearer mind, and minor increases in self-confidence.

I’m just getting started though. I feel like now that I’ve finally found a way to put a stop to my addictive porn use, my ability to restrain myself from other destructive habits has increased as well.

It’s as if my will power is getting stronger.

I’m willing and able, finally, to start this experiment on myself instead of listening to other people.

In ancient traditions, semen is considered the life essence, the ultimate creative force.

Considering this is the longest I’ve gone without busting a nut, I’m not qualified to talk about the full benefits of being abstinent for long periods of time, especially using methods of sexual transmutation.

My own direct experience is all I’m willing to divulge. That’s what this blog is all about. Me sharing what I’ve learned on my life’s journey with the world.

Funnily enough, as the days have gone by, my motivation for working on the Joy of Awareness has increased tremendously. I’ve been writing a lot, as well as researching ways for improving the site itself.

The urge to create more seems to be increasing with every day of semen retention. Which is pretty congruent with the label of a creative force, to be fair.

Stories abound of great men who’ve attributed much of their success to their ability to restrain themselves from wasting their vital energies in the bedroom, alone or with a partner.

Which brings me to my next point, SEX!

We all love sex, right? Sex is awesome. One of the most incredible activities known to man, woman, and any combination thereof.

I’ve tried having sex without ejaculating a few times, and while difficult, it can be done. The sensations of staying on the edge of orgasm for longer than I’m used to are very intense.

There are all kinds of sexual practices, some of them very ancient and well developed, like tantra, karezza, and the taoist sexual practices, that talk about exactly this. Learning to have sex without the compulsive need to ejaculate.

And funnily enough, the benefits listed in these practices, superpowers, if you will, are the same superpowers listed by fapstronauts.

I find all this stuff immensely interesting, and I feel like I’ve finally started to understand the value of sexual energy, not as something that needs to be tapped off regularly, but rather as something that can be harnessed, transmuted and directed at will.

Energy that can be used to develop yourself mentally, physically and spiritually.

Energy that can allow you to create wealth, abundance, and power for yourself and others.

Energy that is at the heart of being human, the stuff that you’re essentially made of.

I’ve written about my addiction to pornography at length before, check out my series on the root of pornography addiction, for example.

In that series, I felt like I had been able to pinpoint anxiety as the root for my addiction.

I still believe that’s so, but with an extra twist: Anxiety was the root of my porn addiction, but after the addiction became full fledged, the addiction itself had become the root of my anxiety.

I definitely feel reduction of anxiety after these thirty days of no porn. I can only anticipate an even further reduction, and let me tell you, I am not going to miss it.

When you think about it, internet porn is an incredibly unnatural thing. Video after video of sweaty genitals and often violent depictions of the inherently beautiful sex act. Endless variety, endless levels of intensity.

When you grow up with something, it’s hard to imagine life without it.

Sugar, video games, television, even hot water. There are so many things that are artificial, that we have created as humans, often to make life easier or better in some ways, that end up being taken completely for granted.

Many of these things, like a reliable source of hot water, are an incredible boon and a very useful tool in life.

Others may have seeming benefits at first, if only for pleasure or entertainment purposes, but may carry all kinds of risk and negative side effects. Think sugar, MMORPG video games, and television. Alcohol and cigarettes are another example.

For me, internet porn has always been there.

My dad may have grown up with Playboy and Hustler, but I’m sure my grandfather hardly ever saw any pornographic material, and it would have been hard for him to get his hands on it without social shaming if he had been looking for it in the first place.

Having been inundated, saturated with porn as an adolescent, I’ve been holding the belief as an adult that this was a totally natural state of affairs. Society even tells us it’s healthy. Constantly!

The whole bit about porn being a part of female sexual liberation, about daily masturbation being good for the male prostate, about portraying sexuality in ever baser details in television, movies and advertising, and this being somehow all good stuff.

It sickens me. Really.

Sex is as natural a part of being human as anything. It’s a wonderful thing. But it’s also sacred, in some sense. It’s not something that should be so easily bandied about, so easily available without even the tiniest trace of love and dedication.

As my relationship to my own sexuality becomes healthier and clearer, it becomes ever more obvious to me that something is absolutely amiss in this sexually manic society. We’re obsessed with sex, but only as empty pleasure.

I don’t want to sound like I’m proselytizing (at least not to much).

It’s one of those things that, when you see it, you really see it. Everywhere. And it makes you sick to your stomach that somehow the majority of other people seem to not see it. Or at least they ignore it.

It’s not that society is evil, or that there’s some kind of conspiracy (though you never know), to my mind it seems that something is wrong, sick, diseased, in our culture.

That’s a cliché, I know, but I happen to think it’s also true.

When I think of my eighteen-year-old self, when I remember my thought patterns at the time, my beliefs about the world, my faith in society to tell me what’s best for me and everyone else, it drives me crazy. Or not really, but I feel like it should.

I’ve come a long way since then, thankfully.

I seem to be finally heading the schooner that is my life in the right direction.

When it comes down to it, society isn’t really anything but a concept. It’s a collection of people, just like you and me. It can’t fairly be blamed for anything. In fact, I suggest that you put the concept of blame aside for now. Decide to take full responsibility for yourself, your life.

It doesn’t mean that you’re at fault for what’s wrong with you or your circumstances. It means that you’ve decided to take the power of change into your own hands.

Responsibility is power. The power to change. You can change everything about anything. Your mind is more powerful than a hundred million hydrogen bombs. You just don’t know how to use it.

NoFap is a way to learn how. Don’t let the funny name turn you off. Call it Brahmacharya. Call it conscious celibacy or abstinence. Call it sex transmutation.

Just become aware of the fact that your sexual energy is the most powerful force in the universe.

I kid you not.

Let yourself be open to the idea that you are more than the sum of your parts. You have powers beyond your wildest dreams. By virtue of your humanity, you are endlessly valuable. You are a treasure-trove of potential, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

I’m just getting started with sex transmutation. I’ve dabbled with it in the past, didn’t go so well. My heart just wasn’t in it. My mind was foggy, as if going through life drugged or tied down. I’m in a much better place now. More enlightened, clearer and more focused. There is so much to life that I can’t even imagine.

I feel my potential. I feel my potential to create vast wealth and abundance for myself and everyone I love. What’s required is a little sacrifice. Well, it’s actually a great sacrifice.

To harness the sexual energy, the life force, we need to be ready to sacrifice empty pleasure. Orgasm feels awesome, but as men, it also drains us. Ever tried working out after ejaculating more than once? It makes you weak.

If you are able and willing to sacrifice your urge to ejaculate, you may be able to tap into something higher, something greater. That’s the path I’ve chosen.

Stay tuned to the Joy of Awareness, cause things are about to get real.

Your life force is your birth right. Treat it with respect and the rewards will be astronomical.

Take it easy.

The most effective way to overcome depression

Throughout my life, starting shortly before puberty, I’ve had episodes of deep depression. Depression is common. Most of us have first hand knowledge of it, or somebody close to us does.

The mind is incredible. It learns to process data from this crazy reality incredibly efficiently, to make life easier and more fulfilling.

This attribute of the mind is what allows us to use language, tools, run from danger, think rationally and so on. But as with all things, it has two sides.

The mind is incredibly good at developing habits. Whatever it repeatedly does, it gets better at, and whatever it is becomes easier.

The dark side of this aspect of the mind is that while we can and do develop useful and good habits, we also develop negative habits that hold us back.

In my experience, depression is the result of the highly negative habit of dwelling on unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or events.

These thoughts, emotions, and events almost always originate from our memories of the past or predictions (speculations) about the future.

Depression can only arise when we’re overly focused on the past or future.

The reasons for depression are simple, but dealing with it is anything but.

As anyone who’s had to deal with bouts of severe depression can tell you, getting out of the negative thought patterns that arise seems absolutely impossible.

Whatever our circumstances, whether we’re chronically ill, or we feel stuck in life, or we feel unloved, or whatever they may be, our reaction to them is a choice.

A difficult choice, to be sure. When I was dealing with a horrific illness for the last two years, choosing to be unhappy and depressed was way easier than choosing to be happy.

In fact, choosing to be happy at that point was impossible for me, because I wasn’t even aware of the fact that I had a choice.

As the saying goes, you may not be able to control the wind, but you can adjust your sails. We don’t choose our circumstances, fate does. But we do choose the way we react to the cards that fate deals us.

So this is kind of a paradox.

Am I saying that people who are depressed are simply choosing to be depressed? In a sense I am, but it’s not that simple.

When we’re depressed, we are naturally inclined to be in that state. If we suffer misfortune or just sink into a pit of negative thought patterns, depression is the natural result. We feel like we have no choice.

As with all things, if we aren’t aware of the all of the possible choices presented to us at any given moment, the hidden choices might as well not exist.

Imagine a sparrow who for some reason thinks it’s a cat. It’s standing in the middle of the road, and a car is speeding towards it. It’s too late for the sparrow’s short legs to run out of the way, so he should just fly straight up, right?

Well, remember, he thinks he’s a cat. He isn’t aware that he has the choice of flying out of the way.

So he gets hit by a car.

Surreal allegory aside, we humans are worth more, capable of more than most of us could ever imagine.

We have such inherent power that it’s hard to believe.

We can literally change reality with our thoughts. We imagine something, and then we create it.

We are creators.

When we’re suffering from depression, we’ve forgotten our true natures, and we’ve become ignorant of our powers of change and creation.

In the spirals of self-doubt and destructive thought patterns, we’re unaware of our capacity to change our circumstances.

Depression is characterized by a dreadful feeling of utter hopelessness. Hopelessness towards the future, jaded with regards to the past, and ignorance of the present moment.

Why do I say we’re ignorant of the present moment when we’re depressed? Surely we’re feeling the pains of depression in this very moment?

That much is certainly true. The pain of depression is our only anchor to the present moment, but we ignore it. We ignore the sensations of the present in exchange for ruminations on the past and future.

We project our current circumstances into the future, and we dwell on the mistakes of the past.

This causes pain in the present, but as it goes untended, it stays unresolved.

The way to overcome emotional pain is to fully feel it.

When we decide not to run away from our pain with our medication of choice, be it a substance, porn, TV, sugar, cigarettes, sex, whatever, and instead we sit down and consciously feel what’s going on in the here and now, our depression will start to lift.

Keep in mind, this is a process.

This is in no way a quick fix. It is, however, a permanent fix. Or at least a permanent tool, which can be used as effectively in future bouts of depression.

So what are we doing here?

There’s a term for this process: mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the act of remaining aware of the present moment. Remaining aware of whatever you’re doing here and now.

There are a myriad benefits to practicing mindfulness, such as reduced stress, clarity of mind, stability of mood and, for the purposes of this article, lifting of depression.

I feel like mindfulness has a lot of woo surrounding it, even these days, when it’s become a popular word often thrown around in the spiritual, self-help or even fitness communities.

There’s really nothing supernatural about it (well, I guess it depends on what you call natural). Calling it a method or an activity is a bit misleading, since in itself, mindfulness isn’t a doing, but rather a being.

What I mean by this is that you can be mindful at all times, whatever it is that you’re doing.

You can be mindful of walking, eating, talking, thinking, writing, having sex. getting drunk, your emotions, bodily sensations, any mode of operating as a human entity.

Being mindful is being aware of what you’re doing, feeling, and thinking.

You don’t do mindfulness.

When we get sucked into that headspace, that gnawing negative thought cycle, it feels like we can never get out. It feels like resistance is futile.

The longer we allow the state of depression to drag us down, the more complacent we become, and the more difficult it becomes to get out of the pit of despair. Believe me, I know.

I should say that for me, mindfulness hasn’t been the cure for my depression, but more of a catalyst.

When I managed to become truly mindful of my mental state, and then made that awareness into a habit, I proactively started to research ways of making myself feeling better.

I researched all kinds of exercise, diets, breathing techniques, meditation techniques, psychology, and environment design, in order to set up a life that would be conducive to happiness, health, and fulfillment.

This is key.

Use mindfulness to break the depressive state. Then, before it manages to close in on you again, develop a new habit.

You may already be meditating, or eating relatively healthy, or you may be the worlds laziest couch potato with not a single good habit to talk about.

Whatever your circumstances, they can most certainly be improved.

If you don’t already meditate regularly, that’s the habit I would recommend you instill first. The benefits of regular meditation are so enormous that they outweigh all else.

After meditation, I would recommend cleaning up your diet and exercising, starting a journal, and going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, in that order.

There are plenty of other great habits to start, like deep breathing, cold showers, nofap, and so much more.

But don’t get overwhelmed!

The key here is to start small. Trying to kick-start a two-hour-daily meditation habit from the get-go is a recipe for disaster.

Trying to start a habit of writing five pages in your journal will meet a similar fate.

Listen, always start according to your circumstances. If you’re physically ill, starting an intense exercise regimen won’t be a good bet. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise though!

Go for a walk, do some pushups, and for god’s sake, do it in nature if you possibly can.

The internet is more than saturated with information on everything. Be selective, but be persistent. Research everything that could possibly help you work through your depression and into a more stable, happy mode of being.

Sustained well-being is actually possible! You may not believe it, but it’s true. There are people, sharing this same reality, who feel good almost all the time.

If nothing else, you should strive to be one of them.

After you get the hang of being mindful of your state of being, you should never stop.

You should aim for mindfulness to be your default. Mindfulness is the key to sustained well-being. It’s not the only thing to strive for, but it’s one of the most important.

When I first discovered mindfulness, I might as well have been sleep-walking in life.

I wasn’t aware of anything.

Everything was foggy, everything was unclear.

Life happened to me, rather than me actively participating in life. It’s stunning to me, looking back on my life, how much time I’ve spent being hardly conscious of my own existence.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from being mindful every second of every day, but that is what I’m aiming for. It’s hard work, rewiring your brain that way.

You must learn to become mindful of your thought patterns.

This is probably the most important aspect to overcoming depression.

Take time out of your day to just sit down, and after a brief warm up of mindful breathing, move your awareness to your thought-space.

This feels weird at first, if you’ve never been consciously aware of this space before, but you’ll get used to it, and you’ll probably come to love it.

The thought space is that place in your mind where your thoughts pop up.

Notice that you don’t actually generate your thought, though you can do that with conscious effort. Rather, thoughts come to you.

This point is important. The thoughts that come to you are the results of mental habit.

With conscious effort, these thought patterns can be changed. If you’re often feeling depressed, chances are your thought patterns are generally highly negative.

This is obviously not good. The first step to changing this is becoming mindful of the thoughts themselves.

The thing is, we think we’re conscious. I mean, here I am, right?

We’re actually semi-conscious, most of the time, at best.

We’re on autopilot, almost all the time. We’re creatures of habit. We find a routine, and we stick to it like spaghetti to a wall.

The art of becoming conscious of our unconsciousness is the path to happiness and fulfillment.

Be mindful of your thoughts, and notice what’s going through your mind. Don’t try to change anything yet. Just becoming aware is half the battle.

Be especially aware of thoughts pertaining to yourself.

Now that you actually know what you’re thinking about yourself, it’s time to instill a habit of changing these thoughts as they arise.

The two absolute most effective ways of training yourself to do this is starting a journal and writing in it every day, and affirmations.

Check out the posts I linked to above, and then research some more online. Knowledge is power, my friend.

This is an uphill battle. Maybe even a up-mountain battle. But it’s the most worthwhile battle you can ever undertake. The battle for your sanity.

Collectively, we need to take responsibility for ourselves.

We need to realize that, while circumstances may be crappy, while our bodies may not be functioning properly, while we may be battered, beaten and betrayed, we can still take responsibility for our reactions to life.

This means doing everything we possibly can to improve our lot in life.

Small steps, by all means. Just a little bit at a time. But every single day, seek to make your life just a tiny bit better.

I hope with all my heart that this article will help somebody climb out of the horrific pit of despair that is depression.

Know that I feel your pain, and I know it’s hard, but you can overcome this