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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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.

Overcoming resistance

Inner resistance is a weird thing. You feel as though you know what it is you want to do or where you want to go, but somehow some other part of you seems to disagree.

Since I came home from Santiago de Compostela, I’ve been experiencing inner resistance to all kinds of things, but especially with regards to restarting my routine of meditation and journaling.

It hasn’t managed to stop me completely, but I’ve definitely been half-assing it.

So I’ve been pondering the challenge of working through this resistance, how to actually do what you know you want to do.

I’ve found the biggest challenge for me personally has been getting started. Like actually sitting down for a formal meditation session.

As soon as I manage to sit my ass down on the cushion, mental muscle memory kicks in and the meditation goes smoothly.

It’s as if I overestimate the willpower required to sit for an hour. It takes willpower to actually sit down, but staying put does not.

I believe that a change of perspective is required. Instead of, in my case, trying to get myself to do a 60 minute meditation session, I should try to get myself to sit down on my cushion and get comfortable. Break the resistance down into smaller parts.

Then as soon as I’m sitting comfortably, the next 55 minutes become a whole lot easier.

What is inner resistance, though? It’s as if there’s a part of you that actively tries to sabotage you, tries to convince you that you can’t or shouldn’t do something. Sound familiar? It should.

I believe that inner resistance is actually a subtle form of self-judgment.

I wrote about ways to deal with the inner judge in another post, but resistance is a bit more tricky.

It’s definitely a form of sabotage. We all know the feeling when we manage to break through this resistance, like when we exercise when we don’t feel like it, go to a party or make dinner.

The judge tries to convince us that it’s a waste of time, it’s easier to just watch tv, play a video game or order fast food, but in these instances we often see through it.

However, the more aware of this process we become, the more we see that the resistance goes way beyond these more obvious manifestations.

We feel resistance to all kinds of things. Any activity that the inner judge deems to be unstimulating (even though they may actually be very stimulating, like reading or journaling), pointless (even though they may be very useful, like exercise or cooking) or out of our league (even though they may be intensely satisfying, like playing music or making art), this is where we meet resistance.

This is a manifestation broken self-esteem, which is itself a consequence of constant inner judgment and criticism. We feel like we’re not adequate, not good enough to do these things, that we don’t deserve the benefits these activities may bring.

The first and most important step to overcoming resistance is to become aware of it. As soon as you become conscious of the resistance, and of the subtle judgments that are at the essence of resistance, removing it becomes possible.

This takes practice and patience. We need to give ourselves time, plenty of time. And we also need to be aware of self-criticism that may arise when we recognize resistance after the fact.

We have to understand that every single time we recognize the judge for what it is, is a step in the right direction. Even if we realize it a week later, or a year later.

When you become aware of your own resistance to something that you know you want to do, break the challenge down.

Instead of going out for a run and then doing an hour of exercise and stretching, the challenge becomes to put on your running clothes and shoes and stepping outside. A five year old could do that.

Instead of writing 10 pages in your journal, just go get your journal, your pen, and set it up on the table in front of you.

Instead of doing an hour of concentration meditation, just sit the fuck down.

The rest will sort itself out.

Much love.

Building a habit is like building a fire

I’m not really the world champion in self-discipline. In fact, I’m a pretty lazy dude. Actually, I think we’re all mostly lazy. It may be human nature.

I’ve found in my own life that while self-discipline is certainly important, it gets way too much attention in self-development circles, more than it deserves.

Self-discipline is like the scraps of newspaper we use as kindling to make a bonfire. So what’s the actual bonfire in this analogy? Easy, habit. However, the logs that make up the bonfire proper are perseverance.

Kindling is incredibly important to get the fire going, but if you build a bonfire using only scraps it’ll burn out in no time at all. And if you only have big logs without kindling, you’ll never get the fire started.

In the same way, we need the right balance between discipline and perseverance to build habit.

Most of us know the feeling of burning out on something. Playing an instrument, drawing, meditating. We decide that from now on, we’re going to do an hour of running or three pages in the journal every day.

We may even manage a few days before our discipline simply runs out and we give up with our tail between our legs.

It’s true that self-discipline is like a muscle, in that it gets stronger the more you use it, but it has definite limits. It always runs out in the end.

That’s a mistake I’ve made way too often, but I’ve made a lot of progress in habit building since the early years.

The trick is to start small. So small that it’s easy to keep it up. There’s a point in time (21 days has been thrown around a lot, although in my experience it depends as much upon the person as upon the habit itself), where discipline is hardly necessary any more to keep up the habit.

When my meditation habit of two hours daily was still in its infancy, I had a hard time of it. I was too ambitious, really. I decided I wanted to do 30 minutes of medition every morning before work. A worthy goal, to be sure.

But at this point, I found it hard enough as it was to wake up for work at all, let alone make space for another 30 minutes in the morning to sit and do nothing.

Apart from that, I was having difficulties sitting still for 5 minutes, so 30 minutes were quite a stretch.

I would manage to keep it up for a day or two at most, and then I would give up. But I kept beating the dead horse so to speak, and tried again and again. Not only did I not manage to build the habit, I was steadily corroding my self confidence by failing again and again with nothing to show for it.

Not until I decided to change the rules of the game did things start to get better. I decided that to start with, ten minutes before work would suffice. It still felt like a bit of a hassle, but convincing yourself of sitting for ten minutes when you’re groggy in the morning is exponentially easier than convincing yourself of 30 minutes.

I had been trying to light the logs of the bonfire directly, and nothing had happened. As soon as I started to use smaller goals as kindling, the fire started to mature slowly.

After a few weeks I was so accustomed to sitting for ten minutes that adding another ten minutes was easy enough. And then another ten minutes in the evening before bed. And so on until I reached an hour for each session.

It took a long time, don’t get me wrong. It took a year of steady increments and not missing a day to build the two-hour-daily habit.

I didn’t say perseverance was easy, but it is effective. Slow and steady wins the race, as the tortoise said.

To conclude the bonfire analogy, as soon as you have a fire, no matter how small, making it bigger is no big deal. Steadily add bigger and bigger pieces of wood until you have a raging inferno.

And so it is with habits. They seem impossible at the beginning, until we create managable goals. The rest is just sticking with it, adding onto the baseline.

I wish you all the luck in the world with building your habits, but as we both know luck on its own gets us nowhere. It’s what we do with the luck we have that makes the difference.

Much love.

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.

Old age, acceptance, and the future of joy of awareness

I just came home from a week-long trip to Gran Canaria of the Canary Islands with my grandparents. They’re getting insecure in their frail dotage and asked me if I could come along and make sure they didn’t get lost or hurt or get into some kind of trouble. In exchange they paid for my entire trip!

It turned out to be a lot of work, but I enjoyed it immensely. The chance to get to know my wonderful grandparents better and getting a nice tan to boot. Gotta love life.

The whole trip taught me a lot about what old age actually means. As in, your body literally decays to the point where you can’t move around and travel the way you used to, and even your mental capacity begins to be pretty unreliable.

I’m pretty sure one can stay a lot healthier into seniority than my grandparents with a healthier diet and the right kind of physical exercise, but even so, time takes its toll.

My grandfather has very bad spinal arthritis, and he and my grandma have both had multiple hip and knee replacements. Their flexibility and endurance is pretty dismal. My grandfather hardly goes out of the house anymore, and he used to be very active when he still had his stamina. My grandmother has started to become very forgetful and her hearing is not what it used to be.

They know they don’t have much left.

Even so, they always seem to be happy, or at least content. They don’t often allow circumstances to dictate their emotional state. The reason I noticed this may be because I was actively looking for signs of conscious acceptance on their part, mostly because of what I learned in my horrific two year battle with topical steroid withdrawal.

So this trip was a wonderful opportunity for me to gain some understanding and insight on what’s to come in my own life, and I consciously took advantage of it.

On a different note, during my stay in Gran Canaria I did a lot of writing in my journal about my future. What do I want to do, to be? I started thinking more about my past and present as well. I’ve been recovering from the aforementioned times of trouble for the last few months, after two years of constant pain and struggle. I’m finally feeling more like myself again, although saying that makes me feel ridiculous. I’ve been born again.

I’m in no way the same man as I was before my midnight of the soul. I’ve been hardened and beaten in the furnaces of hell only to return, stronger than ever to this beautiful earth.

Before I was forced to quit school to focus on my health, I was studying illustration in the School of Visual Arts here in Reykjavík. I’ve always been immensely interested in drawing and painting, but suddenly I found myself despising art in general. I now see that I had utterly and completely finished up my energy for creative pursuits while battling the terrifying symptoms of withdrawal.

Now that my energy is slowly coming back to me, so is my interest in art. I started thinking about this website. What do I want it to become? What is its purpose?

Well, I want it to develop and evolve naturally. I started off seeing it as a sort of self help website, where I’d share my spiritual insights and other things I’ve learned through the years that I wish someone had shown me, but now I think I want to take it in a slightly different direction.

First off I want to add a section for my artwork, where I can post sketches, drawings and paintings with impunity (heh). I also want to change the format of the articles I write here. I’d rather make them a bit shorter and a little less how-to, and more sort of stream of consciousness and, well, freer.

I still want this website to focus on awareness in all its infinite facets, but I want to take it in my own personal direction. I want to write about what fascinates me at any given moment. I also want to open up the modes of communication. Visual communication is amazingly powerful, not to mention incredibly fun for me to produce. I’m very excited to see where life will take me.

So stay tuned, I’m going to make this site into an incredible source of insight and inspiration, to say nothing of love.

 

A midnight of the soul

Human beings are marvelously adaptive.

We can survive incredible hardships, injury, stress and despair.

Everybody has an identical imperative in life, whether or not we realize it: to maximize happiness while minimizing suffering.

Everything we do is in some way an expression of this rule. We work because we want to avoid the pain of being broke and not affording food and shelter. We play because it gives us pleasure, or sometimes it’s a way of replacing or overcoming a negative feeling.

But sometimes, our circumstances become so unbearable that our methods of balancing our emotions just don’t cut it anymore.

These last two years, I’ve been dragged to the pits of hell and back. Or at least that’s the way I experienced it. All experience is relative to all other experience.

In the summer of 2016 I realized that a feeling of unease that had been nagging me for six months had been pointing me towards a simple truth: I had been poisoning myself since I was a teenager.

Allow me to explain. Most people who either have eczema or psoriasis or any other skin disease, or have someone close to them that does, will have heard of corticosteroids, widely known as hydrocortisone cream.

Well, what most people don’t know is that these medications, if relied upon too heavily, may result in horrific rebound effects lasting for months or years. It seems that only a minority of users ever experience this, but as fate would have it, I found myself a part of this unlucky group.

On June 17th 2016 I quit cortisone creams cold turkey, the beginning of what’s termed TSW or topical steroid withdrawal, and what ensued was the most horrific rollercoaster of pain, misery and despair that I’ve ever experienced in my life.

For about 18 months I couldn’t sleep at night due to bone-deep itching, which I duly scratched until I was bleeding all over the sheets, along with intense heat flashes and nerve pain. During the day I was bright red all over, I was shedding skin in bucket loads, and in constant pain. Eighteen months! It truly pains me to recall the worst of this.

For the first year or so I kind of willed my way through working as a ranger in Ásbyrgi national park in north-east Iceland during the summer, and then through university, where I was studying illustration.

I never really admitted to myself how incredibly sick I had become, and looking back I should have taken time off right from the beginning to allow my broken body to rest.

I never had the energy to do anything other than do my best to finish my assignments, tear myself out of bed in the mornings and in my free time I would basically lie around doing nothing, since staying motionless made my painfully tight skin feel almost bearable.

My social life absolutely disappeared and I had started my descent into deep depression.

I finally reached my breaking point in the beginning of October 2017, after 14 months of struggle. I quit school and started to stay home. It was the most difficult decision I had made in a long time.

It was also the best decision I ever made. I finally allowed myself to sleep in (the worst symptoms came around midnight and then settled down by early morning), and take it easy around the house instead of stressing over school.

Depression can be incredibly sneaky. Initially I felt so much better from not having to tear my bleeding body from the sheets early every morning, but it was an ephemeral respite. Before long I was questioning every aspect of myself and my life.

Despite finally giving my body the rest it needed, I became restless, anxious and agitated. I felt like a failure. I felt like I would never get better. I felt like I was destined to be a broke, angry old man that never got a chance to actually live his life.

Thankfully I never had serious thoughts of suicide, but I started to have a troubling fascination with the concepts of death and dying. I read the book Who Dies? By Stephen Levine, which is one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve ever read. I would constantly think about existence after bodily death. My girlfriend started to become worried about leaving me home alone.

I’ve had bouts of depression before, and man, I thought those were bad. But they were minor annoyances compared to this. Before long I had gone from hardly sleeping at night and forcing myself to wake up at seven every morning, to staying in bed until well after midday.

Life had ceased to have meaning. I was smoking weed almost daily, playing way too many video games, and jerking off to porn in between. A sad excuse for a human existence. I had no confidence at all, even around the people who love me the most.

Lest this article become too much of a downer, let me tell you what this experience has given me.

I’m not out of the fire yet, but I’m feeling so much better, physically and mentally. In some ways, a life is like a tree. The deeper the roots of our sorrows, the higher the lightest and happiest branches of our lives can reach.

Meditation has helped me in profound ways, and so has keeping a journal.

In my own life, I can see this principle clearer every single day. Whatever happens to me can be reduced to the status of a minor annoyance by the smallest remembrance of the suffering I’ve endured. And the happy moments, well, they’re all the happier. Suffering builds character. I never understood that as well as I do now.

Every day now, I see the value of my life, the infinite possibilities, and the beautiful reality my mind can manifest. My suffering is the base upon which I will build the towering castle of the life I intend to live.

Infinite love to you all.

You may want to know what I’ve learned about the Awesome Power of Psychedelics, or how Single-Pointed Meditation can help your Spiritual Practice.