Purpose (or not?)

What’s my purpose?

Why am I here?

I guess everyone has the same fears of not living up to their potential, at least sometimes. But maybe purpose isn’t something we need to find. Maybe purpose finds you.

I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time fretting over my perceived lack of purpose in life, so much time that I think the meter is full, so to speak.

I’ve decided to stop worrying about it. Of course, if I could just decide not to worry life would be a walk in the park. But I can’t, and it’s certainly not. Life is hard. Magnificent, but hard all the same.

A purpose isn’t really anything. It’s very abstract, and physically intangible. Emotionally, though, purpose is very salient. We want to feel like we’re heading in the right direction in life, like we’re doing the right thing.

I submit to you remedy to this constant yearning for knowing what to do:

Accept that you don’t know what to do, and just do what you enjoy.

It’s not easy, but it’s simple.

But I don’t even know what I enjoy doing! Is watching Friends a life path?

To which I answer,”no, you idiot, of course not”. Be sensible.

We all have multiple interests, some of them have little or no value, inherently, while other interests have great potential for making a living and feeling good about yourself.

I guess I should articulate this thought a little more precisely: To enjoy something is one thing. I may enjoy eating cake, or watching netflix. And that’s fine, really. But feeling fulfilled is a different story.

You can feel enjoyment for something without feeling fulfilled by it, like I enjoyed the last birthday party I went to and pigged out on cake, but it didn’t leave me feeling like I’d done something important, valuable, or relevant.

You can also feel fulfillment from doing something that you don’t really enjoy, like intense exercise, drinking a green smoothie, or hanging up laundry. You know it’s important, and that’s why you do it.

Then there’s the third category, the one we should focus on for the purposes of this post.

There are activities that you enjoy (everyone’s different), that also leave you feeling fulfilled!

For myself, there are a few things that fit this profile. Writing is one of them. So is drawing. Another is building or making stuff. Meditation, nutrition, studying subjects pertaining to my other interests. There’s loads of things, really.

Now what?

Well, pick one, preferably the one you feel most exciting, and stick to it. Get better at it. Become as skilled as you can become. I believe well-directed, intelligent work leads to increased fulfillment and motivation.

Fulfillment and motivation lead to mastery. And mastery opens unimaginable doors in life. Finally, all those open doors will reveal your purpose.

Obviously, I hope, some sensibility is required. Building castles out of playing cards may be fulfilling and enjoyable, and in some cases you may be able to make a living from it if you play your cards just right (pun actually not intended).

But I would tuck it away into the dusty folder of “monetization highly unlikely”. It’s really your call though, because unlikely doesn’t mean impossible.

You see, I believe that purpose is less a question of fate, and more a question of free will. To some degree, we decide on which purpose suits us best. And thank god, right?

It would be pretty ****ed if all you wanted to do was be a conceptual artist but fate had decided that your purpose was to be a corporate accountant.

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What do you *really* want?

It may be a car. A nice house. Kids, a husband or wife. Someone you love who actually loves you back.

It might be a dream job, a successful career. You may want to travel the world, you may want fame, you may want fortune.

Sexual exploits? Respect? A mountain of gold?

Maybe you want power. Maybe you want to dominate.

Whatever you think you want, you can have it. You can have it.

But keep in mind, whatever it is, that once you get it, it may no longer be yours. It may end up owning you.

But even that’s part of the game. We sometimes get what we want, only to have it taken from us.

Our goal changes from reaching, to holding. To keeping.

And when it starts to drift away, it turns to grasping.

In the end, it all goes back in the box.

And when it does, you may not get what you want, but you’ll certainly get what you need.

Anxiety only slows you down

Okay, maybe not all anxiety. Anxiety in the face of seeing a truck flying toward you at a hundred miles per hour will probably speed you up and make you get the hell off the road.

At some point in human history, all anxiety probably had a purpose. Make sure the fire doesn’t die, don’t be too loud so you don’t attract predators, get back to the hut before dark.

Anxiety in the face of survival and self-preservation is important, obviously, it always has been and always will be.

However, I think we can mostly agree that the majority of the anxiety we feel day to day in the modern world (at least in the west) is unnecessary and often harmful.

Being late to work or school makes us anxious, even though it’s nowhere close to being life threatening.

Being ridiculed or rejected in social situations often leaves us feeling pangs of anxiety, even though the true consequences are trivial.

Sometimes we’re anxious, chronically, for long periods of time, months, even years, about things that are so physically distant as to be virtually nonexistent subjectively.

I’m specifically referring to the mass media, like news outlets and football games, soap operas and crime thrillers.

Granted, being anxious in a dramatic way, via a good movie, is a great feeling, and knowledge about how the world works and what’s going on in the far corners of our planet is certainly important.

But binge consumption of television shows, 24 hour news networks, and a seemingly ever-increasing amount of obnoxious football fans leaves chronic anxiety in its wake.

And don’t get me started on the super-stimuli, like sugar, porn and video games. There are things that we do in the modern world that are so incredibly stimulating that we get desensitized to the simpler things in life, like exercise, social interactions and healthy food.

We are then only able to find pleasure in these specific substances and activities, which leaves us feeling anxious and empty the rest of the time.

Mind and matter aren’t as distant as we like to believe. What goes on in our mental space, and in our emotional space, affects our body, and vice versa.

This is obvious through a little self inquiry. Discomfort in the body, like feeling to hot or being in pain, has a very noticeable effect on our concentration and mood.

Likewise, as anyone who has ever dealt with depression or anxiety will know, a heavy or manic mood will destroy your ambitions and leave you feeling lethargic and weak physically.

The reason I’m drawing attention to this is to illustrate the point that anxiety literally slows you down, like a weight on your shoulders. Physically.

Anxiety is exhausting mentally and physically. We all know this. After feeling anxious all day in anticipation of a musical performance or making a speech, when it’s finally over, we crash down in post-anxious bliss, ready to chill out and go to sleep.

Therefore, minimizing or eradicating anxiety in our lives will leave us with way more energy to work on the things that truly matter to us, like expansion of consciousness, exercise, study and family.

Now, how this eradication of anxiety is to be achieved is simpler than it seems, although it will most likely require a lot of time and energy. I haven’t yet been able to fully rid myself of my own anxiety, so I can’t really say how long it will take.

Anxiety seems all-encompassing while it’s got its claws dug deep in your mind, but the mere act of becoming fully conscious of it, becoming aware of body sensations and mental activity, is often enough to calm you down and allow you to deconstruct the situation.

This is mindfulness. A word that’s thrown about a lot these days. There are good reasons for its growing popularity, but I feel like it’s often misrepresented as something that you do, whereas, the way I see it, it’s the direct opposite.

Mindfulness is learning to not do, to not think, and to just perceive what’s going on directly.

I’ve written a few posts on mindfulness in the past, like this post and this one.

I’ll keep you updated on my own deconstruction of anxiety, and I hope you’ll leave a comment if this seems at all relevant to your own life.

Until next time, much love.

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The fear of wasting your life

Fear is a dirty word. It’s never easy to truly own up to it. I regularly have bouts of fear. Many times, like right now, it’s a fear of inadequacy. A fear that I’m wasting my time, wasting my life.

Sometimes there’s a trigger, like reading about what other people are doing, but sometimes it seems to pop up out of nowhere.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. In some sense, FOMO or fear of missing out is a manifestation of this, but I feel like there’s more to it. FOMO is more of a belief that everybody else must be having more fun, doing more meaningful things etcetera.

The fear I’m describing is more all-encompassing and profound, not directed at moment-to-moment pleasure and experience, but rather lifetime achievement and fulfillment.

Here’s approximately what’s going on in my head right now: Man, I’ve spent so much time developing drawing skills and studying art, and now I’ve decided to learn woodworking?

Maybe I should think about this some more, because that’s years of my life basically gone down the drain in pursuit of something that I’m just going to throw away? I’m twenty-six now, in a few year’s I’ll be old, so I better get my **** together. I’m too old to start pursuing new interests anyway.

Twenty-six years old is too old? For what? To learn new things? And what exactly am I throwing away? The ability to draw and make art, or the experience of learning it?

Experience is what it is, nothing can take it away from you. The same with knowledge.

Life is a system of paths, and sometimes, for whatever reason, we decide on a new path. It may take us to a better place, or maybe even a worse place, but the freedom to choose a different path later on is still relevant.

Writing this stuff down really takes the edge off. It makes it easier to see the flaws in my reasoning. And besides, an anxious mind is unreasonable anyway.

However, it’s very tricky to be aware of these sorts of anxious thoughts as they’re happening. It’s easier to look back on them and shake your head and chuckle.

I’ve been working hard on understanding anxiety, what causes it, how to fix it. How to soften the blow when it hits you head-on.

Anxiety is fear. Fear is universal. I think the purpose of being, if there is one, is the overcoming of fear in it’s infinite guises.

The more we learn to see fear for what it is, the more we understand where we stand, and what we are. Fear is the shadow. Light is important, but without the shadow there would be no outlines, no tonal differences, everything would be white. Everything would be blindingly invisible.

We need to incorporate the darkness, and see it for what it is: an irreducible part of being. There’s darkness within all of us, and facing it head on is the best thing we can do for our mental health.

There’s no way to remove fear, except through death, be it partial or complete. Courage is the answer, feeling the fear, facing it without retreating from it.

Much love.

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The way you do anything is the way you do everything

As far as work goes, I’ve been pretty happy with my lot these last few years.

This is the eighth summer I’ve worked as a ranger in a national park in the north of Iceland, doing all kinds of maintenance work along with nature interpretation and education.

I’m privileged enough to get paid for spending part of my day every day in silent solitude, surrounded by magnificent nature.

However, like most people, there are things about my job that I’m not too thrilled about. Telling people off for breaking the strict rules of the park is one of those things.

Cleaning filthy, and I mean filthy (at least sometimes) dry toilets is another.

Most tourists are just regular people looking to experience something new, but every now and then you meet some real dick-heads. Dealing with those peeps is definitely on my list of things I dislike at work.

In years gone by, I would rush these chores off as quickly as I could, usually not paying much attention to the quality of my actions, and the consequences.

I would make sure the bathrooms at least looked clean, but I would cut corners wherever I could. I would make sure people ended up following the rules, without making sure that we parted on terms of mutual respect.

I’ve learned that the way I do anything is the way I do anything. If I do a shitty job cleaning toilets (poop-pun intended), I can be sure I will be more likely to lazily brush off something that is actually important to me.

If I deal with people brusquely when all that’s needed is a gentle reminder and a kind smile, I can be sure that the relationships I truly cherish will suffer for it.

Integrity is the name of the game.

If I’m going to do something, it deserves my full attention and devotion. No matter how unimportant it is to me, relatively speaking.

It’s a form of meta-practice. Practicing excellence in everything we do seems to be a pretty good way to go.

Much love.

Preparing for a rainy day

Summer is coming to a close, as is this chapter of my weird life.

The last few months have been kind to me, relatively speaking. I’ve enjoyed better health than I’ve had for years, physically, and my mind has stabilized in accordance to that.

I’ve been diligently preparing for the next disaster, so to speak, since I know that the disease I’ve been dealing with tends to come in flares.

I’m sorry to say that the last few weeks have been hard on me. My health has been deteriorating once more, though I hope this flare will be calmer than the ones before it.

The illness has been taking its toll on me physically, mostly, but my mindset is starting to catch up.

I said that I’d been preparing for this next flare, and that’s no joke.

I’ve been working on developing healthful habits in all areas of life, from diet and exercise to meditation and journaling.

Going out for a run every day, developing mindfulness in every day life, eating healthy (though honestly, I haven’t been fully devoted to my diet in the last few weeks), and developing a vision for the future.

Expecting the worst, I was working on building a pillar of virtue to lean against when life gets rough again. The time has come to put it to the test.

Or I may just be overly dramatic. I hope that this is the worst of it, and that my health starts getting better from here. It’s certainly possible.

But my hopes have been shattered multiple times in the past, and besides, being prepared for a rainy day is always sensible.

This post is mostly just an update on what’s going on with me, why I haven’t been posting too much in the last months.

In about a week I’m moving across the country and starting school once more, in carpentry. So things will be quite hectic for me in days and weeks to come.

In no way am I quitting this website though. When things have settled, health-wise and otherwise, I’ll come back stronger than ever, with better content than the world has ever seen! Or somewhere along those lines anyway.

Until then, much love.

A new way of looking at anxiety

I hope that one day I can be truly free from anxiety, but until that day comes, I’m going to need to learn effective ways of dealing with it.

I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last couple of years. What keeps me going and what holds me back. I’ve learned that fear is the major obstacle keeping me from following through with my goals, my dreams.

Fear, like the devil, has many names, many guises. Anxiety is one of them. In fact, anxiety is the main manifestation of fear in my life.

It’s so maddeningly subtle and sinister that sometimes I don’t even see it for what it is until a long time has passed.

I think we all intuitively understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy anxiety, if we think about it.

Being anxious about walking alone through the woods at night is totally understandable and will even be of benefit if you run into the bogeyman, giving you faster reflexes and increased energy.

Being anxious of running into an acquaintance in the street because small talk stresses you out, however, that’s unhealthy. It’s unhealthy because it causes a spike in stress without good reason. You may have faster reflexes and increased energy temporarily as in the previous example, but dealing with increased stress wears the body out fast.

In my own experience, anxiety seems to be rooted in my childhood. I had a weird and stressful upbringing, although fortunately free from physical violence for the most part. All kinds of things stress me out unduly, and I’ve spent days of my life picking apart the reasons for it.

This retrospection has helped to some degree, in that it’s allowed me to understand why I feel the way I feel, but after all this time I’m still an anxious guy.

Apparently, understanding is not enough to overcome anxiety.

That’s why I’ve been directing my energy into the present, finding ways to deal with the feeling of anxiety itself, instead of trying to logically figure out why I’m feeling it. It seems to be helping, albeit quite slowly.

The thing is, during periods of intense anxiety, we tend to forget important things. Like if I decide that I want to become aware of my bodily sensations or something the next time I feel anxious, when the feeling actually arrives I won’t remember that decision. It’s infuriating, really.

Instead, what tends to happen is I direct myself to the nearest thing that can comfort me, be it sugar, porn, sex, weed, alcohol, or whatever. There are many ways of dampening, or even forgetting, anxiety. Some of them are relatively healthy. Exercise or meditation are good examples.

But unfortunately, the easiest ways of dealing with anxiety seem to also be the most harmful in the long run. Sugar, porn, booze, ganja, stronger drugs… These are all very effective, but they also carry with them great risk of bodily and mental harm and dependence.

I recently published a two part series on porn addiction, which happens to have been my poison of choice for the last decade.

The thing is, during bouts of anxiety or even depression, you crave whatever will relieve those horrible feelings as fast as possible. It’s very difficult to be disciplined and follow through on what you decided you were going to do next time you felt this way, when you actually do feel this way.

I live in the hope that with practice and determination, and clear conscious mindfulness, I will in the end be free of my compulsions and become the arbiter of my behavior. A life of freedom and grace.

Until that day arrives, I’m going to keep developing my consciousness and self compassion through meditation, mindfulness and journaling.

I wish you peace and much love.

The peak

Have you ever heard of peak experiences?

I just climbed the mountain Tungufjall in Öxarfjörður, Iceland. It’s not very high, at roughly 500 meters, but the view from the top is amazing.

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Anybody who’s climbed a mountain knows that hiking is always an adventure. There are highs and lows, successes and defeats.

Reaching the top of a mountain is a literal peak experience. After hiking for hours, reaching the chilly winds and spectacular views are an incredible reward.

After a few minutes of gazing over the magnificent landscape, I started to feel cold. I started to feel hungry. I felt like heading back down into the warmth of home.

It’s funny that it took all that work to spend a few minutes on a cold, rocky precipice, only to head straight back down.

I think that’s what happens in the metaphorical sense of peak experiences as well. It’s all a matter of perspective.

We reach great heights after tons of work, whether it be playing a concert after months of practice, or publishing a book after writing every day for a year. Or maybe finishing a marathon after training in rain, wind and snow.

And it makes us feel amazing, but that feeling is usually very fleeting.

The thing is, we can only appreciate the peak experience if we spend time in the valley first. If we were constantly in a flux of good emotions, that would become baseline for us, and we would probably start grasping for something more.

In this world, everything waves. Like waves in the ocean, they build up and crash down, only to repeat endlessly. What goes up must come down, and then it goes up again.

So then what’s the point of seeking these experiences, only to come (sometimes crashing!) back down?

I would say the point is the expanded awareness of the way of the world. A new perspective. Just as seeing the earth from 500 meters above puts our lives into perspective, showing us how small we really are, seeing our lives from the lens of a peak experience also shows us something.

It may be difficult to figure out what that something is, and therein lies the real work.

Much love.

Into the dark

My grandmother died last night.

Her death had been looming for months, to be honest. Even years. We weren’t very close, and I can’t say I have very fond memories of her, but it’s still very strange to me.

My father called me around eight last night to break the news. I could hear he was devastated. After all, the distant grandmother I hardly knew was, of course, his mother.

Whatever her faults, that’s who she was to him, and that’s who she always will be.

She had been very sick for a long time.

In fact, even in my earliest memories of her she was an incredibly feeble, sickly woman.

I remember thinking that she couldn’t have much time left on this earth, even when I was very young. Still, she remained in that state for a solid twenty years.

Death is a strange thing. We all know about it, but we feign ignorance.

Every day, we act as if we’re immortal. Then when death comes a knockin’, we become indignant, flustered and confused. In no way are we prepared for the fact that someone very dear to us may pass away in every passing instant.

We have a silent cultural agreement. We believe that if everybody looks the other way, ignores it, maybe it won’t happen to us. It’s something we see in movies and tv shows, read in books and magazines, hear from friends, but still we see it as something that happens to “other people”.

The fact is this: You will die. You will die. I will die. It’s only a matter of time. Do you think you would live life differently if you truly understood this fact?

Would we worry about mundane things like bills, arguments or the news if we were fully aware of the fact that, in a matter of years, it all goes back in the box?

We’re playing a game.

When we play board games like Risk or Monopoly, not to mention some of the more immersive video games, we tend to forget that we actually exist outside of the game-world. In fact, that’s a big part of the appeal of a good game. We get to forget who we are, and experience a different paradigm.

So it is with life.

We forget who we truly are. Am I this body? Am I the name I was given at birth? Am I my possesions? Am I the persona that other people see me as?

A major hurdle in my quest for increased awareness in all aspects of life was my brush with mortality.

As I wrote about in previous posts, I’ve recently overcome a devastating illness. It dragged me down into the pits of despair. I contemplated death, my own. I contemplated suicide. My entire concept of myself was broken down and rebuilt repeatedly.

Psychedelic mushrooms were a great help in these difficult times, as was meditation and my beloved journal.

I’m convinced of the polarity of human existence. If life is hard, there is always a silver lining of equal goodness.

My battle with illness was a slap in the face, a wake up call. A chance for me to sort out the important bits from the chaff that was my life before my difficulties. What seemed important a year before I got sick became absolutely meaningless to me in that dark place.

I think becoming seriously ill is like dropping a cup of coffee on the monopoly board. It snaps you out of the game mentality and reminds you that you do, in fact, exist separately from your in-game persona.

There are many different types of wake-up call, just as there are an infinite variety of beverages that can be dropped on the board. A serious accident, death of a loved one, even an especially difficult break-up.

We need to receive these difficulties as gifts. Pain is a letter from god, to paraphrase Duncan Trussell, and whenever we ignore or try to remove it, we’re throwing that letter into the fire.

Imagine what you can learn from death if only you meet its gaze.

Much love.

Awakening to the dream of life

I had a lucid dream last night.

As always, the experience itself was incredible. I mean, what’s not to be amazed at when you find yourself in an alternate dimension, somehow warped from basic reality?
I am starting to become a bit frustrated though, because I semi-regularly become lucid within the dream only to have the dreamscape fall apart or my awareness dissipate.
For example, last night I became aware of the dream-state, tried to center myself by rubbing my hands together and feeling my body, shouted out “clarity” at the top of my (dream) voice.

All of this helped somewhat and I became more stable, more aware.

But still I couldn’t seem to realize that all of this was, in fact, a dream.

It’s all in my control, if I only reach out, believe I have the power to change and understand the nature of this world.
This has been happening again and again.

I know, however, that every second of lucidity within the dream-state is a step toward further lucidity and development of awareness. Frustration can’t be helped. All I can do is keep walking the path of ever-expanding consciousness.
I can no longer look past the incredible similarities between dream and “real” life. In fact, I’ve started to view waking life as a form of dream. Sleep-dream and life-dream.

What you believe you can do in the dream sets the limits for what you actually can do.
In a less obvious but more profound way than in dreams, belief also shapes the life-dream. What do I mean by this?
In sleep-dream, becoming lucid to the fact of the dream isn’t enough to facilitate change.

Only when you truly believe, truly know, that you are the dream can you achieve the impossible. This is well known in lucid dreaming circles.
When a novice lucid dreamer attempts to walk through a wall in a dream, most likely he’ll bump into it and fall over. It might even hurt.
An experienced lucid dreamer, however, will most likely have plenty of direct experience with the malleability of dreams.

She will be absolutely certain of the fact that the wall is, in essence, an illusion, and will proceed to walk straight through it.
In waking life, there are rules. Rules that are difficult to bypass.

Gravity, for example, is particularly unforgiving. If a coconut falls on your head, it will certainly knock you cold.

There are certain needs of the physical body, like food, shelter and companionship, that must be regularly met.
If you truly, truly believed with full certainty that you could stop eating and still thrive, maybe you could. I would say that I doubt it, but I don’t even know anymore.
There are very salient examples in mainstream consciousness of the power of belief, not least of which is the notorious placebo effect.
In simple terms, the placebo effect refers to this:

Three people, A, B and C, have a life-threatening disease, which is certain to lead to death if left untreated.
A recieves standard medical treatment, and with a 99% recovery rate, he recovers in a matter of weeks.
B goes to the doctor to recieve treatment, but the doctor gives her anti-fungal pills by accident. B goes on to take the pills as prescribed, and she has a full recovery as well.
C goes to the doctor to recieve treatment, but the doctor tells him that unfortunately the standard medicine for this particular illness is finished.

He recieves anti-fungal medicine instead, the doctor insisting that it must be better than nothing. C takes the pills as prescribed, but dies within days.
So what’s the difference between B and C?
Well, B believed that she was recieving standard medicine that should have been effective for her illness, and that alone allows her to recover. The anti-fungal medication has no effect.
C, however, knew that the pills he was taking would have little or no effect. With this belief firmly etched in his mind, he was certain he was going to die.

And so he did.
The placebo effect is well established in medical science, though it may sound pretty out there.
The power of belief manifests in all aspects of life, not always in such a life-or-death fashion.
The athlete who is certain that he can compete with the best is way more likely to do so than the athlete who doesn’t.
A person who is sure that she can write a novel is one step closer to actually doing it than the person who believes they don’t have the talent, time or energy.
It may not always become reality, but belief is certainly the first step to accomplishment.
I can’t help but wonder how deep this rabbit-hole goes.

If I were absolutely certain that walking through walls were possible, would I be able to do it?

The only way to know would be to try it, but changing our beliefs is easier said than done.
I think the easiest trap to fall into is listening to other people. All to often we take the opinions of others as holy gospel, especially if they’re “experts”.

F**k that.

Direct experience is the only way to go, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Ha ha, got you there. You shouldn’t listen to me either. If this sounds like bullshit to you, stop reading. I don’t mind.

We need to get out of the habit of giving other people permission to tell us what to think.
I’m going to keep expanding my limits, increasing potential in my life.

Meditation is one way of doing that. Journaling is another.
I’ll conclude with this: You already know, deep down, what you need to work on to overcome limiting beliefs. Do that.
Much love.