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.

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 root of pornography addiction – Part 3

This post is part of a series. Check out part 1 and part 2.

I’ve been writing about anxiety a lot recently.

The reason is that I’ve realized how titanic the role of anxiety has been in my developing addiction to pornography.

In the last few posts on pornography addiction I’ve been going into the causes and consequences of dealing with anxiety with porn, but today I want to talk about what makes pornography such a perfect (temporary) anxiety medication.

The easiest way to get rid of anxiety (temporarily) is to forget it. That’s why so many of us develop addictions to all kinds of stimulating substances and activities.

I believe that some form of anxiety lies at the root of most addiction.

Certainly there is a physiological reason as well, such as dopamine desensitization and chemical dependency, but those seem to arise after the fact.

Anxiety also has different facets and levels of intensity, as may seem obvious when we think about all the different circumstances that allow anxiety to arise, from going to a party to finding yourself in a war-zone.

In order to forget our feelings of anxiety we look for substances or activities that are so stimulating or engrossing that nothing else can catch our attention.

People have used all kinds of things that fit this bill, for thousands of years. Alcohol is arguably the most obvious of addictions in the collective consciousness, but there are all kinds of other ways to forget, as you probably already know.

Cannabis, gambling, tobacco, opiates and cocaine are all prime candidates, but all of these along with alcohol tend to form very obvious consequences that are easily recognized and usually heavily stigmatized by the people around us.

Alcoholics, for example, develop a notorious body odor and the changes in behavior make others feel very uncomfortable. Smokers tend to smell like the ashtrays they seek wherever they go, and crack addicts become highly neurotic and paranoid. All of these side-effects are highly repelling to most people, and there will be dire social repercussions.

That’s why most of us, especially when our anxiety is more mild than extreme, seek more socially acceptable ways of forgetting. Sugary food and drinks, television and video games, coffee, sex and pornography are all more or less socially acceptable and they all more or less allow us to forget uncomfortable feelings of anxiety.

So why do I say pornography is especially sinister? The reason is simple, really, when you give yourself a bit of time to think about it.

In the last few years, with the advent of ubiquitous high-speed internet and smart phones in every persons front pocket, seeking out pornography has become easier than ever before. This ease of access, along with the fact that porn plays on our most primal, powerful urge to reproduce, is what makes pornography addiction inevitable in people with anxiety.

It’s even easier to binge on porn than to binge on sugar or television or video games, because it’s a solitary act, and leaves no traces (when you use incognito mode, at least).

This is a major problem for society, due to reprogramming of youth, especially of young men, to become unable to get aroused except by pixels on a screen. Real boobs and butts won’t do it anymore.

I say this is a societal problem because, as I’ve experienced in my own life, inability to become aroused by real people leads directly to depression, and stokes the fires of anxiety that you sought to extinguish with porn in the first place. Depression leads to unemployment, social isolation, all kinds of other physiological ailments, and at the extreme, suicide.

However, the main problem lies with the individual. Society is made up of individuals. In fact, society only exists as a collective of individuals. You and I are society.

This means, I believe, that individual responsibility is the key to a healthy society. How can people take responsibility for something they don’t understand?

That’s why we need to direct our energy, on an individual basis, toward understanding our anxiety, where it comes from, what we do on a quotidian basis to relieve it, and what the consequences are or will be. We can’t depend on a broken society to save a broken individual. The individual needs to learn to save him or herself.

Meditation is an immensely powerful tool for self-change. It’s not a quick fix, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Meditation should be looked at as a life-long activity. Throughout the years, meditation has been my anchor in a life that’s been rocking violently back and forth on the tidal waves of coincidence and chance.

Writing a journal has also been invaluable to me, as a tool for thought-organization and introspection.

The bottom line is this: Forgetting anxiety is a temporary solution, with dire long term consequences. Instead of seeking unconsciousness, seeking ways to move our attention away from our most difficult feelings, we need to seek ever more conscious living.

Becoming fully conscious of our anxiety as it is happening is the key to truly overcoming it.

I’ve written several articles on the power of meditation and journaling, which have been the keystones of my life for many years now, and the benefits are still compounding exponentially.

I wish you all the best in your journey of expanding consciousness.

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 root of pornography addiction – Part 2

This post is part of a series. Check out part 1 and part 3.

Last week I wrote about the insidious yet widely ignored dangers of porn addiction.

This will be part 2, this time focusing on the more subtle aspects of what makes this such a difficult problem for so many people.

In my last entry, I wrote about how I felt I had discovered the root of my own addiction, namely my anxiety.

I’ve been trying to hold on to that epiphany, although like everything else it seems to be fleeting.

I think breaking down the problem into its smallest parts is very important. Like a weed, an addiction can be summed up as a root, a stem, and the fruit or flower.

Roots are hidden underground

The root will be an underlying difficulty or emotional ignorance, often unnoticed or at least very vaguely recognized.

In my case, it’s anxiety.

Especially anxiety concerning social issues, but also other kinds of anxiety, like anxiousness over health, safety or life trajectory.

Everybody deals with anxiety at one point in there lives or another, but fewer experience the hell of chronic anxiety.

Chronic anxiety is sinister. It will be the death of me, unless I find an effective way to manage it.

The stem grows out from the root

Addiction to pornography is, I believe, a very gradual process. At least in my case. It started out as curiosity, first and foremost.

It’s not until I started to use it as medication, albeit unconsciously, that the addiction started to escalate.

In the same way people dealing with chronic pain develop addiction to opiates, I, with my chronic anxiety, developed an addiction to the only sedative (maybe not a traditional sedative, but a sedative nonetheless) I had easy access to as an adolescent.

The stem is the activity itself, the action we take to diminish or hide the root. I could have become addicted to cigarettes or Xanax, but my poison happened to be porn.

It’s not really rocket science, is it? I mean, it’s sex, for crying out loud. The highest priority of all higher lifeforms, after food and shelter.

That’s one of the most cogent aspects that makes this addiction so insidious, because pornography taps into the most primal instincts humans possess, the drive for reproduction.

The weed

The weed blooms after the roots are strong and stable, i.e. the anxiety has become more of a constant state than an acute annoyance, and after the stem has grown high and hard enough, as when porn use escalates more intense and novel images and videos as well as longer time spent perusing it overall.

The plant itself is the result of a lot of time and energy directed in the wrong direction. The flower is the consequence of not pulling the disgusting weed out of the soil when you had the chance.

Consequences of pornography abuse are numerous, but I’ll outline the most salient of them: Social isolation, dopamine desensitization and, as a direct result of the first two, deep depression. Not to mention that as time goes by, porn tends to exacerbate, instead of curb, the anxiety it was used to overcome in the first place.

This is a vicious cycle, a desperate joke. Except it’s in no way funny.

I know I’m not the only one dealing with this. In fact, I believe this is the new crack epidemic, the new opium. The results have been devastating in my own life, and in the lives of many others I’ve spoken to or corresponded with.

I think it’s time to stop living in shame. It’s time to overcome this shit.

It’s time to take responsibility for what is happening, for how we’re feeling. Only by taking full responsibility will we gain full power to change it.

Much love.

 

The root of pornography addiction – Part 1

This post is part of a series. Check out part 2 and part 3.

In this post I want to delve deep into a terrifying topic: pornography addiction.

My history with pornography use does not paint a pretty picture. I would go so far as to say that it’s been an addiction. However, there are two reasons why I want to write about porn today.

The first reason is that I know how important honesty is, and there are countless times I’ve read blog posts that are written straight from the heart, as honest as can be, and those posts have changed the way I look at life.

So I want to help myself at the same time as I help others dealing with this same problem.

The second reason is that today I became conscious, for the first time, of the problem that’s been underlying my compulsive porn use for all these years: Anxiety.

I’ve often thought about anxiety in my own life and the lives of others, but I never really paid it much thought.

It was kind of a stiff-upper-lip kind of thing for me, where I would tell myself to ignore these feelings of anxiety, that they were unnatural, that others might judge me if I were to show them in public.

I finally realized how infested my life is with anxious thoughts and emotions. Many aspects of my life, especially the social aspects, have long been riddled with them. But where does pornography fit in?

Self medication. That’s it! Finally!

That’s why I’ve consistently gone back to porn, even after weeks of abstaining, when some kind of stressful or anxiety-provoking events happen in my life. It’s the way I’ve trained myself to respond to these disturbing emotions.

Just like Pavlov’s dogs salivate to the bell, feelings of anxiety will, without fail, induce almost simultaneous cravings for the oblivion of porn.

Or better yet, just like a crack addict in the first painful moments of withdrawal, with all the misery and suffering that ensues, who starts to crave her hit, knowing full well that it will only make things worse in the long run.

Because that’s what porn actually is, especially the high-speed-internet variety. It’s not a suppository, it’s not an intravenous drug, it’s an audio-visual drug.

And a powerful one at that: pornography addiction is very real and poses a similar threat to the individual as cocaine addiction.

Hypofrontality, leading to poor impulse control, and even a reduction in brain matter in certain areas. Not to mention the devastating social and economic consequences.

Sure, porn is a less expensive, legal, more socially acceptable kind of drug, but so are cigarettes and alcohol. It doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

That being said, I can’t speak for everyone. Maybe some people are more prone to abusing these things.

In fact, I find that pretty probable.

Just as the majority of people can enjoy a glass of wine or a beer every now and then without becoming raging alcoholics, maybe some people can jerk to porn every once in a while without developing addiction. Who’s to say.

However, there is a subtle but importance differences between internet porn and the substances I’ve been comparing them to: accessibility.

High-speed-internet is ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. Which means that technically, porn is everywhere. It’s saturating every cell in your body as we speak.

Anybody with a smart phone, most people nowadays, can furtively slither into the nearest bathroom stall for their hit, many times a day, without arousing the notice of friends or family.

Compare that to seeing a friend sneak into the kitchen to nick a vodka bottle, or drink his fourth beer in broad daylight, or a sibling smelling like cigarette butts every time you meet them.

These things arouse worry in loved ones, as they should. It’s a slippery slope. Pornography addiction is particularly sinister because it can be tucked away and hidden so effectively.

I’ve wanted to quit porn for years. I’ve tried to quit for years. Many things have helped, but I never managed to overcome this addiction. I’ve often felt hopeless about this.

On the other hand, there have been multiple times where I’ve been clean for weeks, before falling back off the wagon.

I’ve trained myself to see the positive. Every second of abstinence, every time I manage to resist is a victory.

But I think I’ve been focusing on the wrong thing. Just as western doctors tend to focus on the symptoms while ignoring the roots of illness, I’ve been directing all my attention to the symptom: porn addiction.

The root is obvious to me now: anxiety.

Feelings of anxiety are always a precursor for my cravings for porn. Without fail. When I’ve been at my happiest, calmest, most productive, the cravings are nowhere to be found.

Where attention goes, energy flows.

I need to stop focusing on what’s gone wrong, and instead focus on what needs to be right. I need to learn to respond to anxiety in a different manner. Mindfulness is crucial.

I’ll keep you updated on how my change in perspective works out.

Much love.

Check out the root of pornography addiction – part 2 and part 3.

Overcoming FOMO and regaining inner space

FOMO(Fear of Missing Out) is poisonous. It corrodes self-esteem, torments the mind and distorts reality.

When I quit social media years ago, I remember going through something of a withdrawal. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but looking back it’s obvious.

I used to be a major lurker on facebook, meaning I almost never posted anything but I was constantly skimming the news feed, looking for tidbits of stimulation.

Quitting was the best thing I ever did for myself.

FOMO is such an apt term for the emotions that social media like facebook stir up. It sums up the whole experience, from our deep fears of not being beautiful enough, tall enough, cool enough, photogenic enough, witty enough, all the way to the fear of missing out on actual experiences, like travel, sports, sex…

This is a vicious cycle that everyone on social media experiences whether they’re conscious of it or not. We feed each others insecurities, in a fruitless effort to cover up our own.

It’s self-judgment at it’s worst, or at least at it’s most glaringly obvious.

I don’t normally experience FOMO, but today it hit me full on.

I have an Instagram account where I post my artwork, but I never really use it except when I actually post something. Today I got a notification that Instagram was updating their terms of use and after I accepted I started to check out the feed. Coincidentally, all my colleagues from school, from the illustration course I had to quit due to illness, had graduated a few days ago.

Naturally, my head started to fill up with negative thoughts and unfair comparisons. “I should be graduating with them!” was the first thought, then came good old “What a failure I am”, and so on. I’m sure many of you can relate.

It wasn’t until ten minutes into this process that I managed to put things in perspective. Yes, it’s absolutely true that I quit the course, but I had good reason: I had become too ill to continue. And apart from that, I’m now almost fully healthy, I just finished walking the Camino de Santiago, I’m now in Sicily soaking up the sun, and life is better for me in every way.

But fighting the inner judge isn’t the answer. Where attention goes, energy flows. We need to dis-identify with these judgements. And that’s very tricky.

What I mean is, in order to be judged, permission is needed. We need to take back that permission. Nobody has a right to judge you, or me. Even our own minds have no right to judge us. As soon as we realize this and accept it, we can start to create real change for ourselves.

Of course, this wouldn’t be the Joy of Awareness if I didn’t say “mindfulness is the answer”. So, mindfulness is the answer, as with so much else.

Without becoming mindful of these thought processes, we have no hope in changing them. Increased awareness is always a good thing. So the first step is becoming mindful of FOMO, which is really just a part of the grander web of self-judgment, and the second step is dis-identification, or taking back the permission to be judged. But how do we do that?

Becoming aware is one thing, but how do we stop identifying with what our mind says about us? Well, I would split it into two facets. The first facet is pretty brusque, but bear with me: tell the inner judge to shut the FUCK up. Easy enough, right? Try to feel the anger, the feeling of offence. Your mind has no right, so tell it so.

You may thing this is stupid, and I agree, it does sound stupid. But I’m all about direct experience. I’m not here to give you results, I’m here to give you ideas. Ideas that have helped me work on the problems we share. So try it. That’s all I ask. You may find that the voice dies down, and what’s left is a feeling of spaciousness.

The second facet of dis-identifying is body-awareness. Becoming aware of body sensations is the easiest and most efficient way I’ve found for expansion of awareness and calming down mind-chatter. The sensations of our bodies are an anchor to the present moment.

Both facets are important. The inner space we gain from asserting our inherent value to the judge makes the shift of awareness from mind to body all the easier.

We may all be different, but in many ways we are the same. We can all work on overcoming self-judgment, and we can all benefit from it.

I pray for our success in expanding our capacity for self love. We’re in this together.

Much love.

Expansion and contraction – Rebuilding habits is easier than you think

Sometimes we manage to build excellent habits and routines only to see them come crashing down around us. It might be because of a difficult event or even a crisis, or it may just be a lapse in awareness or even laziness.

I’ve been going through this in my own life for the last week or so.

Those of you who’ve read my latest posts (yep, all two of you) will know that I returned from Spain about ten days ago, where I walked the way of St. James.

It was a wonderful experience, but coming home has left me very much out of sync. I’ve gotten so used to waking up between six and seven in the morning and just walking, eating and sleeping that now that the walk is over I find myself not knowing what to do with myself.

Before going to Spain I had gotten into a great routine of twice-daily meditation, journaling, yoga and exercise and general mindfulness, but the walk changed all that.

That’s not to say that I didn’t do all those things during the walk, in fact I think I’ve never managed to develop my awareness so much before.

I was very focused on being mindful while I was walking and I kept up the journaling habit as well, but the routines I had built were no longer relevant there.

So now I have this challenge that I’ve been working on since I got back, the challenge of re-adjusting to non-pilgrimage (haha).

First of all, I think accepting that I’m having difficulty getting back into habits that I thought I had gotten down completely is most important.

Sometimes we won’t admit to ourselves when something we thought was a sure thing ain’t so sure, and that obtuseness prevents us from seeing how things actually are and most importantly, prevents us from changing them to the better.

Secondly, I believe realizing that all the time we spent on building said habits was not wasted time.

Imagine a musician picking up his instrument after a year of not playing at all. He’ll be rusty, and he may even think his skillz have just evaporated completely.

But give him an hour or two of getting back in to the groove, so to speak, and he’ll almost certainly have remembered loads of tunes and licks.

Compare that to the person picking up an instrument for the first time in her life. An hour or two of practice will not bring nearly the same results. That’s the difference between having ingrained neural pathways and, well, not having them.

In my experience, this phenomenon isn’t limited to muscle memory only, but in fact applies to all habits that we build, consciously or not, good or bad.

We may have difficulties getting back into habits right away, after being lazy for a week, a month or a year, but like the musician we can get back into the groove relatively quickly if we put a bit of effort in.

I emphasize the ‘if’ because in the past, I’ve often put lots of effort into building a habit, only to drop it again, and then even if I want to build the habit again I wouldn’t put in the effort. Why? Because I felt like I was back on square one.

We have to realize that if we’ve worked on building a habit, we’ll never be back on square one. Every time we rebuild a habit, the easier it will be.

Expansion and contraction, up and down. Building a habit and then losing it again are two sides to the same coin, and they are inevitable.

That’s what I’ve been trying to accept.

I’m not perfect, but then nothing is. Perfect is an abstract term, concieved by human beings. In nature, nothing is perfect, and so everything is perfect. Everything is just as it should be, just as it needs to be.

So let’s allow ourselves to expand and contract, without hang-ups.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to rediscover the joy of awareness.

Mindfulness or multitasking?

It continues to baffle me, the power of being mindful. I’m was the kind of guy who, if I wasn’t doing at least two things at the same time, would feel as if I were ‘wasting time’. I now see the error of my ways.

The topic I want to rant about today is the seductive allure of multitasking and why it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Multitasking is the norm today. It’s almost considered lazy to do only one thing at a time.

When I was a teenager, I loved playing electric guitar. I started playing at around sixteen or seventeen. I played mostly rock, with a majestic emphasis on Slash’s guitar work in Guns ‘n’ Roses. I would play all day, every day.

Okay, maybe not all day, I still had to go to school and whatnot, but I would skip every class I could get away with skipping, I would skip meals, I would even call in sick for work (I worked in the meat section of the local supermarket at the time). All so I could go back home, lock myself in my room, and play.

I became incredibly proficient in a very short time frame. A friend of mine who had played for years by then was awestruck. I was shredding and soloing like nobody’s business.

Then I discovered the concept of multitasking, and it was pretty much downhill from there. I applied it to guitar practice. I started to watch documentaries, listening to audio-books, sometimes even reading physical books (I had to contort into some pretty weird positions to make that work), while practicing riffs and scales and all that stuff you do to get good.

And mysteriously, inexplicably, I stopped getting better. Well, I was still getting better to some extent, I was just improving at a snail’s pace.

Except it’s no mystery to me today. I’ve long since lost interest in electric guitar, though I still play acoustic every now and then, but I often go back to that time mentally to see what lessons can be learned.

At first I thought I must have been practicing less, but that’s nonsense, because I had finished high school by then and could practice without worrying about homework or cramming for tests.

Then I reckoned maybe I had just lost interest, but that explanation’s no good either. I remember distinctly that my interest first started to fade after I realized that I wasn’t getting any better.

Pretty recently, though, I started applying mindfulness to drawing, which is a great passion of mine. Specifically I started being mindful in model drawing sessions. And the results went way beyond what I expected.

To be clear, when I speak of applying mindfulness to something, I simply mean focusing fully on the task at hand without distraction. No radio, tv, eating, talking, or anything else to split my attention.

As you may already know, mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR, is an approach to reducing stress and anxiety through present awareness. That’s what got me interested in trying out mindful model drawing.

I always used to listen to podcasts or audio-books while drawing, and I was consistently absent minded, unfocused and stressed. All of that was gone in the first few minutes, but what really struck me was the quality of focus I attained and the results of that first mindful model drawing class were very good. My best work so far. And then I had an epiphany.

The above are from my first mindful model drawing class, all in ink.

The epiphany was simply this. A skill will improve in direct correlation to the quality or amount of focused attention directed to that particular skill.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been improving steadily in model drawing even though my attention has been divided. It’s just that I could quite simply feel the improvements, the learning, when I focused solely on what I was doing in the present moment.

When we divide our attention, we think we’re spending our time wisely, when in fact we are missing out on the incredible power of fully focused attention.

This is what happened to my guitar playing as a teen, I’m sure of it. When I started playing, I was focused on my practice and nothing else. I made incredible progress in record time. As soon as I started to divide my attention between practice and *insert distraction here*, my progress effectively halted. Beautiful in its simplicity.

I’ll bring this to a close now.

What can you learn from my mistakes? There is no such thing as wasted time. We do what we do. That is what time is. A measurement of change. When eating, eat. When sleeping, sleep. When practicing or working on your passion, do that. There is no need to try to ‘improve’ any activity with anything else.

That’s not to say that every activity is equal, far from it. Practicing guitar is way more fruitful than watching TV, for example. But if you do decide, consciously, to watch TV every now and again, just do that. It’s pretty simple, really.

Where attention goes, energy flows. That’s the essence of this post.

So since I realized this, I’ve been applying this principle to all aspects of my life. I still feel the weird need to ‘make full use of my time’, but consciously decide not to multitask. I hope you will too.

Until next time, much love.