Staying sane in an insane world

I’ve been in kind of a fog recently. I guess you could call it brain-fog, but it’s not quite that bad though. It’s more like a state of anticipation, on the verge of being anxiety. I feel like I haven’t been thinking clearly.

I’ve been very busy planning my pilgrimage on the way of St. James, figuring out what I need to take with me, what I should leave behind, and constantly reassuring myself.

Doubt and fear have been making regular appearances in my mind in the last few weeks. I’m no longer fully in the wonderful state of bliss I experienced after my last mushroom trip, although the experience was very helpful for me to overcome the residual depression of my midnight of the soul.

After that beautiful trip I felt invincible, fully at peace and present, for a whole month. Much of that bliss can be attributed to the fact that I started to meditate for two hours every day and writing many pages in my journal daily. I also started this blog after some magnificent revelations, and it continues to give me a sense of purpose and happiness.

However, after a few weeks I felt that wonderfully peaceful feeling starting to fade, as I became immersed in everyday life once more. The feeling never faded completely, and with mindfulness I’m able to reconnect to it without much hassle, but it takes some effort. And that’s fine. Life would be boring if there weren’t ups and downs.

One thing I learned in the last few weeks, a sort of epiphany, was that as life starts to get more stressful, the first things to be thrown overboard tend to be our most nourishing activities.

For example, when all the ‘important’ stuff starts to pile up, like having to pay rent, or looking for work, or traveling to my grandparents for my granddad’s 87th birthday, the things I started to cut down on to make the time for it were meditation, journaling and reading.

Now, writing it out like this makes me feel a bit ridiculous, because I know from bitter experience what happens when I don’t give myself the time I need to do these nourishing activities. It happens slowly, but it’s also insidious. Our energy slowly drains, and having removed the things that normally replenish it, it just keeps draining.

This becomes dangerous. Literally. It’s called burnout. In my own life, it came to the point of suicidal thoughts. Granted, that was after a horrific illness had shredded me down to a shadow of my former self (makes me sound like Voldemort). It’s a very real thing, and way worse than you think if you haven’t experienced it for yourself.

What I’ve been working on today is figuring out what exactly drains my energy, and what replenishes it. We can split our day into two rough categories, plus and minus.

For me, my morning might look something like this:

Wake up, get a glass of water and drink it – PLUS

Sit down for an hour meditation session – PLUS

Have a cup of organic black tea – PLUS

So far so good right? Starting the day off like this is wonderful, and gives you the energy you need to tackle the less attractive things you need to do. But what if it looks more like this.

Wake up to the sound of my phone ringing – MINUS

Talk to a pushy salesman on the phone, trying to hang up – MINUS

Realize I don’t have time to meditate any more, or have tea – MINUS MINUS

Rush to school/work – MINUS

Shitty. This happens. We try to plan our day, to make it the way we want it to be, but sometimes something comes up, something doesn’t go the way we expected, or we just oversleep. Does that actually have to ruin our entire day though? I don’t believe so.

We have a tendency to manifest our day as a continuation of the way it started. What I mean is that if we have a shitty morning, we project that shittiness out onto the rest of our day.

In the second example, I can a) go to school, work all day on minus activities, then go home exhausted and watch TV or whatever, or I can b) go to school, work on minus activities but taking frequent breaks for mindful contemplation, to make up for my lack of morning meditation, and even go home early to have time to chill out and have a cup of tea.

Sometimes we feel like something requires our full attention, so much attention that we can’t afford to do the things we enjoy and give us meaning. But nothing is that important. Would I lose my job to keep my sanity? Absolutely. It’s all a question of priorities. I know it’s hard to put yourself first, but it is a choice.

After experiencing burnout first hand, I can tell you it is not a pleasant experience, and it’s a hole that’s difficult to get out of. For your own sake, make the decision now to put yourself, your energy, your love and joy and awareness before all else.

Until next time, much love.

 

 

A different kind of trip – The way of St. James

For the last few days, I’ve been anxiously planning an upcoming trip. Not a psychedelic trip this time, but a different kind of trip nonetheless.

I’m planning on walking the Camino de Santiago starting April 5th, an 800 kilometer pilgrimage from the French-Spanish border near the Pyrenees to the town of Santiago de Compostela, where the alleged remains of St. James, an apostle of Jesus Christ, lie.

The walk itself will probably take me around a month to complete, with 20 – 30 km daily. I’ve never walked this far in one stretch in my life, and I’m a bit nervous, but most of all I feel invigorated. Looking forward to a new kind of adventure.

By the way, I’m writing this post on March 13th, but it’ll probably be released in late April, so I’ll be more than half way to Santiago at that point if all goes well.

As I’ve mentioned in several posts already, I’m finally (almost) in full health once again after two years of horrific illness. This pilgrimage will mark a new chapter in my life. I feel like the last few months have been all about getting me back on my feet after a rough tumble, and I’m just on the verge of being able head out into the wide world once more.

I’m going to approach this trip as a pilgrimage as opposed to ‘just a long walk’, in the sense that I want this to be a way to expand my limits, mentally and physically, at the same time as I acknowledge the transience of my existence. Maybe that’s not the traditional meaning of the word, but that’s the meaning I choose to give it in my own mind.

I’ve been working hard at instilling powerful habits in my life these last few months, and I’m going to have to let go of some of them. Out with the old and in with the new as they say. I’m going to keep meditating and affirming, drawing and journaling, but I’ll have to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. Some days will be wet and cold, others warm and dry.

Some days I’ll have a moment to my self, others I’ll be surrounded by people. Some days I’ll be exhausted from walking for miles on end, and others I’ll be full of zest. My plan is to accept all of this and meet these different moments with loving awareness.

Then again, people say this pilgrimage has a way of throwing all plans out the window. So I’ll just go with the flow.

I’ll start off with a short trip to Riga in Latvia with my mother and sister, where we’ll stay for three nights. Then off I go to Albania where I’ll meet up with my lovely Sylvía and we’ll have some fun together in a strange new setting for another two weeks or so. After she flies back to Iceland I’ll head to Bayonne and from there to St. Jean Pied de Port, where I’ll start my walk.

Then when I come back home, I want to write all about it. What I’ve learned, what I loved, and who I met. So stay tuned.

Until next time, much love.

 

Affirmations, Prayer, and Intent

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on my approach to affirmations. I want to expand on that article today, adding the concepts of prayer and intention.

Wands.jpg
The magician, colored pencils. Based on Pamela Colman-Smith’s original from the Rider-Waite tarot deck.

I’ve used affirmations daily for little over a year now, and they’ve changed my life. It’s been gradual but profound. The way I see it, repeating positive, loving statements to yourself is a way of rewiring thought patterns. Negative thought patterns are made habitual by constant repetition, and it stands to reason that the more we repeat positive thought patterns, the more habitual they will become.

But repetition of a particular affirmation is meaningless without meaning, or emotion. When repeating an affirmation, for example I love myself unconditionally, we must find the feeling of love within ourselves and radiate it throughout ourselves, effectively visualizing the affirmation.

Affirmations

I used to repeat my set of eight affirmations seven times in rapid succession, without actually giving myself time to actually feel the meaning behind them. I now repeat them only three times, instead inserting a pause between each of the eight affirmations where I consciously visualize or feel the meaning of each affirmation in my body and mind’s eye. I’ve started noticing good results only a few weeks after implementing these simple changes. For those of you who haven’t read my first article on affirming reality, here are my affirmations:

I am free from all addiction

I am healthy, wealthy, and content

Every day, in every way, everything gets better and better

I love myself unconditionally

I feel my inner peace deepen every day

Riches flow toward me from all directions

I am conscious and mindful

I deserve all good things that come my way

I’ve also added two different forms of affirming my reality, with prayer and intent. I call them forms of affirmations because I see them as variations upon a theme of reprogramming thought patterns.

Prayer

Prayer has some unfortunate religious and dogmatic connotations. To my mind, the difference between an affirmation and a prayer is really just to whom or what the words are being directed. In affirmations, we are directing our thoughts to our immediate state or circumstances, whereas in prayer we direct our thoughts to a higher power, whatever that might be.

To those of you with reductionist leanings, this is where our philosophies differ, because I see myself as more than the sum of my part, as well as the universe around me. If directing a prayer to something ineffably wiser and more expansive than yourself is for whatever reason unthinkable to you, then skip it.

Really, just do what you want to do. I will say though, that in my experience, prayer can be an immensely calming and humbling activity, whether or not there is a higher power.

The only prayer I’ve used is one that I made up for myself, and you’re free to use it for yourself. However, I’m pretty convinced that creating affirmations and prayers for yourself is a lot more beneficial than using someone else’s, if only because different words have different meanings for different people. Only you know yourself well enough to know what to pray for. Here’s mine:

Grant me the strength to withstand all temptation, to overcome all fear, and to live in eternal love.

Simple but effective, right? I repeat this slowly to myself three times, giving myself ample time between words to truly feel the meaning behind them. Meaning is key in all work with thought patterns.

Intent

The most recent addition to my own thought-pattern work has been intent.

Intent is similar to affirmation in many ways, but I guess that the way I use this particular tool differs in that intent is more specific to where I am here, now, while my affirmations tend to be more general.

I use the concept of intent to shape each day of my life. My intent for today went something like this:

I am love. Today, I find the love within me and radiate it toward myself, those I love, and especially toward those I find difficult to love, because I know that they probably need it the most.

I am energy. Today, I make conscious decisions to avoid all activity and circumstances that rob me of my energy, and I seek out the activity and circumstances that allow me to expand my energy.

I am consciousness. Today, I practice mindfulness in all aspects of my life. In meditation, I work hard at developing and expanding my awareness, making conscious decisions on all aspects of my life.

I am courage. Today, I face my fears head-on, whatever form they may take. I overcome all fear through love and awareness.

I am gratitude. Today, I feel gratitude for all aspects of my being. I’m grateful for the people who love me, the roof over my head, my health, and the simple fact that I’m here at all. I’m equally grateful for the challenges that come my way, as these are the greatest lessons of life.

I say all of this slowly, out loud whenever possible, or in my head when there are people around. I use the same sense of feeling the meaning of each statement. And I also allow myself to improvise a bit in my intent every day, depending on that day’s particular challenges and the way I feel. As before, feel free to use mine, but I strongly suggest that you figure out your own priorities and develop your own intent. This is a very powerful way to develop and discover true self love.

I want to add that all of the thought-pattern work I do, is part of my daily meditation habit. The first ten minutes of the hour session is earmarked for affirmation, prayer and intent. If you haven’t already started meditating daily, I can’t recommend it enough. It will change your life, even your experience of reality, in ways you can’t imagine, in ways that cannot be explained. I wrote a short article on how to start, check it out here.

That’s the funny thing about awareness, you can’t be aware of what you’re not aware of already. The expansion of consciousness is infinite.

Until next time, much love.

The cold, hard embrace of the floor

For the last three weeks or so, I’ve been sleeping at the foot of the bed. Like, on the floor. It’s been amazing!

I keep a wool blanket and a thin duvet underneath me to insulate and, well, soften it up a bit. Apart from that, it’s hard. I’ve learned to love it. It’s a sort of tough love I guess, because I still find a soft mattress really comfortable. It’s more of a support thing.

Allow me to explain.

I’ve long been interested in the paleo movement. At one point I was a total paleo ideologue, as I used to be a fierce vegan, but I’ve since put that behind me because culture and ideology are not my friends. However, even though I consciously abstain from identifying with ideologies, it doesn’t mean I can’t find meaningful concepts within them.

As you may know, the paleo diet (or caveman diet) is all about eating foods that we would theoretically have been eating before the agricultural revolution circa 8000 BCE. That’s what most people think of when the word paleo is mentioned, but the rabbit hole is deeper than that, because paleo can be expanded to include our entire lifestyle.

In the case of my sleeping on the floor, I reckoned that people probably weren’t sleeping on 2000 dollar memory foam mattresses during the last ice-age.

Sure, people probably used leaves and hides to keep themselves warm and comfortable, but the firm embrace of the earth was never far away. The problem with modern western sleeping habits is the lack of support.

After I started to wake up with all kinds of aches in my back and neck about a year ago, I began researching what could be wrong. I tried memory foam pillows, sleeping with a cushion between my legs, and what have you. Nothing helped, at least not much.

I eventually stumbled upon this little article on the way members of modern hunter-gatherer societies (these peoples’ lives are arguably very similar to pre-agricultural life) usually sleep. Strikingly, there doesn’t seem to be a usual way to sleep in these cultures.

In these societies, people often sleep wherever they happen to find themselves. On stacks of firewood, on fallen trees, or just on the ground.

They don’t sleep 8 hours in one bound, instead some will fall asleep very early, just after sun-down, and then wake again in the night for quiet reflection before eventually falling back to sleep. Interesting stuff.

What struck me the most was that it is in fact not only possible to not sleep on a mattress, but people have actually been sleeping on hard surfaces for most of human existence! As with so many other luxuries of materialist society, there’s a fine line between being comfortable and going way over the top.

Sleeping on a nice soft mattress is incredibly comfortable, but what are the consequences of sleeping on such a soft surface every night for thirty or forty years?

From my own, admittedly short, experience with sleeping on a very hard surface, I can say that I’ve been waking up feeling better rested, less stiff, and even less groggy. It’s not fixed all my back and neck pain, but it’s definitely a step up.

Another thing I read somewhere was that by lying on a hard surface, it gets easier for you to breath deeper into your abdomen, whereas on a softer surface your hips will sink down, effectively folding your body up and preventing full breathing. I’ve definitely noticed that, and I think it’s one of the main reasons I’m feeling more rested upon awakening.

This guy has loads of answers as to why sleeping on a soft surface is detrimental and ways to start to transition. You may be pleasantly surprised if you try it out.

Until next time, much love.

Who are you?

What does it mean to be me anyway?

We think we’re someone, but we’re not. Not really.

A large part of our body mass consists of bacteria and mitochondria, none of which share the DNA of our cells, the cells that make up what we consider to be ‘our’ bodies.

And even ‘our’ cells are constantly splitting, multiplying, dying. Not a single cell in my body is original. They’ve all been replaced. So where does that leave me?

It leaves me nowhere, to be honest. A man cannot step into the same river twice, as it will not be the same river, and he will not be the same man. The greatest paradox of being me is that I’m not me at all! All that holds this particular personality together is my memory of myself, my past. And we all know how unreliable memory can be.

I used to ‘remember’ the girl who used to babysit my sister and myself when we were kids, as being blonde. Then when I met her 10 years later she had flaming red hair. She said she had never in her life colored it, and had been a redhead when she was taking care of us ten years earlier. Go figure.

It may seem trivial but it’s not. If we can’t trust our memories, what can we trust?

I’ve been watching the new Westworld series, and it’s incredible. Poignant. Scary as fuck. I highly recommend it to anyone with even a minor interest in the nature of consciousness. A big part of the plot is the fickleness of memory, in androids to be sure, but the point remains the same.

Without self-awareness, mindfulness, are we just sophisticated machines? Like the hosts in Westworld? To paraphrase Anthony Hopkins’ Robert Ford, humans are just as stuck in their loops as the androids are.

When somebody has worked in the same office for ten years, going to the same bakery for a coffee and danish every single day, and then collapses into the same couch every evening to watch whatever bullshit show that happens to be on TV, is that somebody still somebody?

The more I develop my awareness in all its magnificence, the more I realize how asleep I’ve been, for my entire life, with the exceedingly rare pocket of consciousness here and there. During hardships and trauma, or moments of extreme beauty and kindness, we are pulled from our unconsciousness for seconds at a time, but without effort we fall right back into darkness.

In the words of Socrates, the unexamined life is not worth living. When I think of the hours, weeks, years that I’ve been unaware, I see that I may as well have been nonexistent.

Every day I work on expanding and solidifying my conscious awareness, because I see that it’s the only reason I’m here. All else comes and goes. Experience is forever. Now is eternal. There is no beginning and there is no end. Only here, now.

I intend to go higher and higher. I want to take you with me. There is immense possibility within us all, all we need is awareness. There’s a reason this site has the name it does. Because awareness is the path to true joy.

Much love to all, until next time.

Are you really self-aware?

The standard narrative has us believe that self-awareness goes hand-in-hand with being human, but how much of the time are we really self-aware?

In the last few weeks, I’ve been working on becoming mindful in every day life. What repeatedly surprises me is how much of my day is completely automatic.

From the way I stumble out of bed in the morning (well, actually I sleep on the floor now, but that’s a story for another day), to the way I get dressed, to the way I brush my teeth in the evening before bed.

All of this has become automated from years of repetition, and that’s well and good, to be honest. It saves me the energy of having to control every muscle in every instant.

But sometimes it becomes harmful. Negative patterns of behavior, like negative thinking, repressing emotions, addiction and compulsion are just as easy to imprint as positive patterns. For example, a mindfulness project of mine these last weeks has been to improve my posture, especially the way I carry my shoulders.

It amazes me how many times in the day I suddenly realize that I’ve tensed up my upper back, pulling my shoulders to my ears or rounding them forward. When I notice, I remind myself that this isn’t a healthy way to sit or stand, and I correct it consciously. Those moments of sudden awareness of my posture are glimpses of true self-awareness. And that implies that the rest of the time, I’m not actually aware, or at least not fully aware.

Mindfulness is the key to correcting any and all harmful behavior and compulsions, but realizing when you’re mindful and when you’re not is the tricky part.

The way I see it, the only time we’re truly self-aware is when we’re completely and utterly here, now. At the mercy of the present.

Thinking is not indicative of self-awareness, unless you’re actually aware of your thoughts as the come and go.

Movement is not indicative of self-awareness, unless you’re actually aware of the sensory input your body is picking up from its surroundings.

Saying ‘My name is Tolli and I live in Iceland’ is a script that I’ve repeated a million times, and thus is not indicative of self-awareness.

Only when I actually am in the process of being Tolli from Iceland, am I truly self-aware. And in those moments of clarity and presence, my name and nationality are meaningless. My past and future is irrelevant.

All I have is now. When I become truly present, I realize that the present moment is all there is.

Memory is fickle. Prediction is unreliable. Now is where it’s at. The past and future are concepts. They aren’t real, and they cannot be experienced.

They feel real when we think of them, but we can only think of them in the present moment. Because that’s where we all are, and that’s where we’ve always been.

So now that we see that here, now is all there is, we can deduce that ‘not being in the now’ actually means thinking of past or future events instead of experiencing what is happening around and within us. B

eing outside of the present moment is literally impossible. Even if by some incredible scientific breakthrough a person manages to travel to a different time period, that will become his or her present moment. But I digress.

My goal in life is to become fully self-aware. I want all my behavior to be fully conscious. Conscious thoughts, words, actions.

Compulsion has no place in the life of a fully conscious human being, nor does addiction or depression. I want to take full responsibility for my entire existence.

Consciously accepting and embracing the good and the bad. Consciously deciding to feel love and gratitude in every moment.

Living a life of kindness and compassion. All this will come with increased self-awareness, as it has for countless others.

Much love to you all, until next time.

Awareness is curative in and of itself – Living the mindful life

For the last few weeks I’ve been studying mindfulness.

I’ve been taking an eight week MBSR (mindfulness-based stress-reduction) course, reading a lot about it, and of course, attempting to actually implement it.

I’ve come to the conclusion that mindfulness is the key to fulfillment.

I’ve been meditating for a few years now and the benefits have been astounding, but it’s only recently that I started to seriously attempt to bring the awareness I was developing on the meditation cushion over into my every day life.

The results have been so much more positive than I expected.

For those of you that are out of the loop, mindfulness is pretty simple in essence. It basically means to be here, now.

Whatever you’re doing, whatever your circumstances. In that sense, mindfulness is a sort of meta-skill, meaning that it’s an activity or practice that affects all other activities.

Sort of in the same way that improving your grammar and vocabulary affects your ability to study and learn the entire spectrum of academic disciplines.

You can be mindful while eating, or while walking to school, in a conversation, standing in line at the store, reading, exercising, while doing anything really.

No matter where you are or what you’re doing, mindfulness is always a stone’s throw away. And the strangest aspect of practicing mindfulness is this: Awareness is curative in and of itself.

There’s a reason MBSR is such a huge thing now: because practicing mindfulness, that is, developing your every day awareness, actually does result in stress reduction. That’s what I’ve experienced anyway.

The Perils of Multitasking

I used to always read while eating. At least, I would try to read. Normally I would manage to read at most two pages in whatever book I was reading while shoveling down my food, without even actually remembering what I read.

And I also didn’t enjoy my food, because I was too focused on trying to multitask that I couldn’t enjoy the taste and texture of whatever I was eating. Bummer.

I kept this up for years, but I’ve stopped now. Why? Because I found that as soon as I started to actually just eat, I started to chill out.

I think that when I try to do more than one thing at a time, I’m sending my body the message that my time is limited. Which means I should hurry, which means I should release stress hormones. Make sense?

That’s another thing I’ve consciously stopped doing: Hurrying. Hurrying is such a stupid thing to do anyway, unless you’re actually missing a bus or late for a meeting or something.

And even then, you only need to hurry just enough to catch the bus, or arrive on time. There’s no need to stay in hurry mode while waiting for the next bus after missing the one before it, or to keep feeling stressed because you arrived ten minutes late. What’s done is done, just be here now.

What is hurry?

Hurrying is really a way of postponing the present for some future event. You think ‘I can’t be here now, because I need to be there, then!’.

It’s ridiculous, really. Like I said though, hurrying has its place, even though it’s always pretty unpleasant.

The real problem for me at least has been hurrying for no reason whatsoever. Like hurrying up with washing the dishes because I want to then hang up my laundry because then and only then can I enjoy lying on the sofa to read a book, or have a cup of tea.

But what I’ve found is that I can feel quite fulfilled washing dishes or hanging up wet clothes when I actually decide to do it with conscious awareness.

Moving my attention away from thoughts or cravings for some future point in time, instead focusing on the sensations of handling wet cloth, or the sound of running water, or the light bouncing off slick porcelain.

When I said that awareness was curative, this is partly what I meant. When we become fully aware of the present moment, whatever it may hold, all kinds of changes take place. Heartbeat slows down, adrenaline production decreases, muscular tension dissolves.

It’s not that you’re suddenly in control of these automatic responses to stress, but instead that by virtue of moving out of doing into being, the mind and body calm down. It’s incredible when you realize this simple truth.

Try it out for yourself. You don’t need an expensive course, you don’t even need to buy a book. Everything you need to feel fulfilled is right here, right now.