Mood, exercise, and mindfulness

A bad mood has consequences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Responsibility is power

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

With great responsibility comes great power.

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

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

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

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

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

Responsibility is voluntary, fault is not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But two years is a long time.

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

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

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

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

Egg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s friggin’ hard to do!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll end with a particularly poignant quote:

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

Marie Curie

Good luck on your journey.

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When life gets confusing, this is what you need to understand

As winter approaches, I feel like I’m getting old. Not so much physically, with the wrinkles, aches, and white hair, but more so mentally.

I feel like the illusions of youth have been shattered to some degree.

Listen, I’m only 26. I’m not old by any stretch of the word. But what I want to write about today is seeing through illusions.

Recognizing our models of reality for what they are.

The thing with illusions is, well, you don’t know they’re illusions until you go beyond them.

Life to me seems to be a sequential trading of one illusion for another. As a baby, we understand nothing apart from our own satisfaction/pain/discomfort/hunger, and our mother’s voice and breast.

Anyone seeing the baby from the outside is aware of the baby’s illusion, that the world is in fact infinitely larger and more interesting than baby can ever imagine, but we don’t try to explain this to the baby.

We know that with time, experience, and maturation the baby will experience this expansion of consciousness for itself.

The reason I feel old today, is that I’ve become aware of this part of the nature of human experience.

I may not know the absolute truth of reality, but I do know that I don’t know the absolute truth of reality. If that makes any sense.

“The only thing I know is that I know nothing.”

Socrates

This knowledge, however trivial it may seem, has been changing my life. Knowing that I don’t know, that I can’t know anything for sure, is a double-edged blade.

On the one hand, it’s a bit sad. My models of reality become pretty meaningless, everything seems a bit confusing and ephemeral. On the other, it frees up a lot of energy. Mental space.

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Knowing that my models of reality are not absolute allows me to apply the energy that I used to use for keeping them up and running, to other things.

Now, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak (does that saying terrify anybody else or is it just me?).

Even though a model of reality isn’t absolute truth, it may still be applicable, or even useful.

A model that’s not absolutely true, in other words, may still be true enough.

“I don’t believe anything, but I have many suspicions.”

– Robert Anton Wilson

True enough to keep you fit and healthy, along with your relationships. True enough to find happiness and fulfillment.

We live in this ever-eddying, swirling, constantly up-down, in-and-out, ever present experience we collectively call the world or reality.

I have no idea if anybody has discovered a truth to this thing, or if it’s even possible.

What I do know, is that some peeps have models of reality that move them forward, and others have models that hold them back.

The nihilist who sees only the bleakest side of every experience isn’t occupying a different reality than the optimist who strives to see the good instead of the bad.

They’re both here, now, right?

They’ve chosen different models of reality to live by, that’s all.

“We are happy when people or things conform and unhappy when they don’t. People and events don’t disappoint us, our models of reality do. It is my model of reality that determines my happiness or disappointments.”
Stefan Zweig

I’m not saying that blind optimism and denial of the pain of the world is a good thing, because it’s not. Nor am I saying you should be nihilistic. Not at all.

Both world views have their pros and cons. The nihilist will be way less likely than the optimist to blindly trust a malevolent stranger, for example. The optimist will be way more likely than the nihilist to grab a rare opportunity that presents itself to them.

But neither model is true. And both have serious drawbacks.

These are simple examples. Most of us don’t have a label we can apply to us. Nobody’s a pure nihilist or a pure optimist.

Our models, our reality tunnels, are an amalgamation of whatever experiences and influences we’ve encountered throughout our lives.

We’re cynical about some aspects of life, optimistic about others.

We’re open to new experiences in some realms of experience, and we’re closed off in others.

We react with love in some instances, and fear in others.

I think building a model of reality that’s absolutely true is a fool’s errand, to be totally honest.

I can hear the rationalists gasping in disbelief, the religious among you shouting “blasphemy!”.

What’s more, I think trying to build an absolute model of reality is a waste of energy. There are more important things to do.

“There is but one reality, that is true — but the two of you experience it in slightly different ways. The older you get, I should think, the more you will come to understand that the universe is very much a looking glass, Miss Lancaster.”               Jim Butcher, The Aeronaut’s Windlass

Accepting the fact that you don’t know what the hell is going on, as well as the fact that you may never know, will set you free.

Earlier in this article I stated that whatever our reality tunnel may look like, we all inhabit the same reality. This statement is arguable at best.

Do I inhabit the same reality as a fish? Or a snail? Or a piece of glass?

How do we actually define reality? Does reality exist without someone to experience it? Is there such a thing as an objective reality?

In other words, if a tree falls in the woods and there’s nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Realizing that reality is fundamentally subjective, and not objective, has been a huge step for me in not only formulating a more precise model of reality, but in becoming a happier, more fulfilled, conscious human being.

This brings me to an incredibly salient hypothesis called consciousness first.

It’s very simple really, and goes hand in hand with Occam’s razor. In fact, it’s the neatest, simplest explanation of reality that I’ve ever encountered:

Consciousness is the point from which all reality arises.

There can be no object without subject.

In the history of the world, nobody has experienced anything objectively. How could they? Experience in itself entails consciousness. Without consciousness, nothing is.

“Nothing” is really an overstatement. The term “No-thing” is more appropriate. The former implies the absence of “something”. The latter implies the absence of “thing”.

“Nothing” is a concept. A concept is a thing. “Nothing” can be experienced as a concept, “No-thing” can’t be experienced at all. In the absence of consciousness, no-thing is.

If that doesn’t make your head spin the first time you think about it, congratulations!

This all ties into the nature of illusion. When we realize that out entire reality is subjective, springing out of consciousness rather than containing it, the possibilities for experience and growth become limitless.

Unninlitil

What I’m saying is, life is a dream. A dream is the most famously illusory state of mind known to man, but as you realize the fact that life itself is illusory as well, it changes your idea of what’s real.

If life is a dream, or an illusion, does it necessarily make it any less real?

But then we’re lead to our next question, which is this: If life is real despite being an illusion, then how can we say that dreams are any less real than life?

The thing is, all experience is as real as it can possibly be!

If you experience something, anything, it can’t be experienced any more or any less than it actually was. In fact, that statement would be meaningless.

Everything that arises in consciousness, arises in consciousness. And that’s that.

So in that sense, any experience is real.

Okay, so that’s pretty interesting, but how is this practical in any way? How can this knowledge improve your life?

Well, when we stop fussing over reality, over what’s real and what’s not, we can actually start having some fun with experience. We can decide to enjoy and learn from all experience equally.

Meaning is to be found in anything. Humans are creators of meaning. Meaning isn’t inherent to anything, instead it’s our minds that imbue experience with meaning.

Notice that I said experience. Not item, place, person or teaching. In the end, all concepts, all things, all people and all places are only as real as they are experienced, meaning as the appear in consciousness.

Listen, having fun with experience is all well and good, but it doesn’t seem practical in this world to just take any old dream or hallucination for reality. Does it?

Absolutely not. This human experience has rules, laws. We need to follow those laws if we want to keep playing this game. Fair enough?

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be aware of the fact that we’re playing it.

You know when you play monopoly and you get so sucked into the game that you start to act and feel like you’re actually a millionaire? That the plastic houses and fiat currency are actually real and valuable? Even though at the end of the evening, it all goes back into the box?

Take it a step up. When you inevitably die, all your possessions, friends, personal attributes will go straight back into the box. Sound familiar?

Now imagine two players of monopoly. One of them’s so engrossed in the game that he’s forgotten his existence outside of it.

“A person who plays the game knowing he will win, doesn’t impress me as much as the person who plays the game even though he knows that he might lose.”                 N’Zuri Za Austin

He follows the rules because they’re all he knows, and he builds up an empire of hotel chains and real estate because that’s where you get meaning in monopoly.

The other guy does everything the same as the first player, with one difference: He still remembers his existence outside of the game.

When things start to go badly for him in the game, he reminds himself of the piece of cake he has waiting for him in the fridge. He’s not attached to the outcome. At least not in the same way as the other player.

If the first player loses the game, his entire universe (seemingly, to him) crumbles down all around him. His clinging will make him irrational and prone to stupid error.

The second player, although he may be enjoying the game immensely, will be cool and detached enough to see what’s actually going on, and the fear of losing will not be all consuming.

This is enlightenment.

When you get that life is a game, everything changes, even though everything actually stays the same.

The buddha saw through all illusion, maya, and that’s why he was called an enlightened one.

Seeing through the illusion of separateness, of subject and object, of self and other, is a noble goal. But even getting a glimpse of what’s on the other side of the curtain can change your life forever.

In my case, a lot of meditation, psychedelics, and a chronic illness all worked together to get me to the point where I could peak behind the curtains and see the truth.

Then I put the curtain back and went on with my life. But I will never forget what was on the other side, even if it can’t be conceptualized, or much less put into words.

There are ways to see beyond the illusory nature of reality. In fact, there are plenty of ways. I’ve written many posts on this site detailing them. But they all have something in common: work and dedication.

You need to be prepared to work for the glimpse. You need to want it enough.

When you take that drive, that need to see beyond the veil, all doors will be open to you.

5 reasons to be grateful right now

I tend to worry a lot about the future, about being good enough, about not being where I want to be.

I find it incredibly important and soothing to just remind myself how much good is in my life.

That doesn’t mean life can’t improve, and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues that need resolving.

But it means that you can cut yourself some slack, and just enjoy the positive for a change. Here are five reasons to be grateful right now:

1. You are capable of reading this article!

You have eyes that work. You’re literate. You probably have a smartphone or a PC to read this on. ‘Nuff said.

There are plenty of people who are blind, have had no opportunity to educate themselves, and who don’t own a single thing apart from the clothes they wear.

Not to make you feel guilty, but that’s definitely a reason to feel grateful.

2. You have time to read this article!

You have enough free time to browse the internet, searching for fulfilling articles and videos (or just to pass the time).

You’re not breaking your back in a coal mine from dawn to dusk like the peeps of 150 years ago.

You would have been lucky to get 6 hours of sleep per night, and there was no concept of minimum wage, workers’ rights or even workplace security!

So take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief and head on to reason number three.

3. You’re not in danger of being attacked by a wild animal (hopefully)

There are a lot of problems in modern human society, but thankfully being mauled by a panther is not one of them. At least in the vast majority of cases.

One of the reasons for our perpetual state of stress and anxiety in life is our highly evolved biological system for evaluating danger and hopefully escaping it.

And a big part of that danger for our prehistoric ancestors were predators. Lions, tigers and bears. Maybe the odd dinosaur thrown in the mix.

So life may still be difficult, but at least we can not worry about being eaten alive.

4. You have access to the vast stores of information of the internet

You can learn about anything. There may be a lot of bad information, but with a little know-how, you can learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.

You can learn all there is to learn about engineering. Or medicine. Or psychology. You can study the history of philosophy, carpentry, plumbing, you name it.

University degrees are fine, but knowledge is power.

In all eras of human existence, up until the last twenty years or so, knowledge was incredibly limited, and as were the means of communicating it.

In the middle ages, if you wanted to learn to read, you had to either be one of the lucky 0.001% of people born into royalty, or you had to become a monk or nun.

And even then your reading would have been mostly limited to the bible and its derivatives (at least in Europe).

5. You are conscious

You have something, without which none of this would exist. You are a conscious being. You’re not a rock. You’re not empty space, or a rotting piece of wood.

You were fortunate enough to be born. You are a human being. Your potential for spiritual growth is limitless.

Whatever may be wrong in your life and in the world around you, know this: The fact that you’re here at all is the most valuable thing you will ever encounter.

There is so much to be achieved with consciousness. Infinite possibilities reside in the human incarnate.

It’s quite easy to forget this simple fact, to feign ignorance about it. But your value as a conscious being cannot be overstated.

Each of us live in our own reality. We play the main role of existence, each one of us. We have our ups and downs, and we have a purpose to fulfill.

This is a game. A long, complicated game.

We can certainly be grateful for the chance to play it at all.

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You think you know what you need. You’re wrong.

A few years ago, I thought I knew what I wanted from life.

I thought I knew what was best for me.

In fact, every single year I laugh at how sure of myself I used to be.

Things change. Sometimes things happen the way you want them to, but mostly they happen in unimaginable ways.

Three years ago I saw myself living as a hippie backpacker, hopping from this hostel to that, meeting new girls in every port, counting pennies, working as little as possible.

Pleasure was my ultimate goal in life.

Respect was up there as well, but back then I didn’t know what respect meant.

I may not have had a plan for the future, but I sure as hell knew what I wanted here and now. I was sure of it.

Fast forward six months, and, as is the way of life, I got a devastating existential kick in the face.

I watched my expectations crumble around me through the tears in my eyes.

Lightning struck.

I found myself in an ever-tightening vice of a little-known, even-less-researched, nightmarish illness. It was related to medication I had been taking for a long time.

Better yet, it seemed that the illness would be chronic. At least two to five years, I found out.

The five stages of grief. I went through them all.

Denial

It couldn’t be that bad for me. Exceptional cases of this illness resolved themselves in two to six months. Surely I must be one of the lucky ones. I wasn’t even hoping, I was certain.

Anger

After half a year of crushing pain, sores, insomnia, isolation and nightmares, I started to get pretty pissed.

Why can’t anybody do something for me!? Why can’t this be fixed?

Bargaining

I started buying all kinds of supplements, I changed my diet again and again.

I ate only steamed vegetables and white rice for six weeks. No salt, no spices, no animal products, no sugar, no chocolate… No coffee or tea, nothing really.

Try it, and if you don’t get depressed I’ll send you a medal.

Depression

After trying everything I could possibly think of to end my suffering, to no avail, color faded from the world. Meaning was nowhere to be found. Why bother at all?

Suicidal thoughts became frequent, and even welcome, guests.

At this point I was still in school, barely scraping through, on a special deal with my teachers so I didn’t have to come in every day. Even so, I had no interest in what I was doing. I was totally burned out.

Acceptance

The point of acceptance only came at around the eighteen month mark. I was still hopeless, I thought there was no way I would regain my health and live a normal life again.

However, I started to accept my lot.

This was the hand I had been dealt in life. Better do what I can.

I quit school, and spent all my time researching what I could do to get better. In fact, I finally did find some remedies that seemed to work!

After a few months of giving myself the rest I needed, I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My symptoms got markedly better, the black smoke of depression started to lift.

I started to exercise a bit. I felt confident enough to leave the house once more.

It finally looked like I would be able to climb out of the pit the universe had pushed me into.

A few months after that, I felt well enough to walk the eight hundred kilometers from the Pyrenees in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I made a pilgrimage.

It marked a new chapter in my life. I finally felt like I was gaining some control over my fate once again.

I didn’t get what I wanted. Life didn’t give me what I thought I was entitled to. I got pure horror instead. I was given a reminder of my mortality.

And you know what?

I wouldn’t change a thing.

I never did get what I wanted, but by the grace of something higher than myself, I got what I needed.

Life is tricky. It’s not really what it seems. It’s an illusion of endless layers. We live and we learn. We learn through experience.

We’ve all been smacked in the face by life, and if you’re young enough or lucky enough to have dodged it, someone you love and cherished has been.

And anyway, life will get you too.

I may sound harsh, but it’s nothing to fear. It will be difficult, painful, and you will suffer. But, if you stay conscious, you will also grow.

And that’s why you’re here.

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.

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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Settling down

Finally! I’m back in Reykjavik, I’ve started my woodworking course, my health is better than ever, and we just finished unpacking in our new (temporary) apartment.

It’s weird, I used to think I was such a free spirit, that I couldn’t handle staying in the same place for longer than a few months, that I was a citizen of the world. I’m starting to accept that I’m not. Not as much as I thought, at least.

I’ve traveled quite a lot, having moved a lot as a child and into adolescence, and then after high school I’ve taken long backpacking trips, short courses, volunteering posts and a cross-country hike, all around the world, for years. And it’s been cool, but man am I tired of being on the move all the time.

The sentiment of wanting to slow down, to stay in one place for once, is one that I’ve only now started to accept, even though it’s been brewing for quite some time. It didn’t fit my ideal persona of happy-go-lucky world traveler, I guess.

Settling has some pretty negative connotations in our culture, if you think about it. “Settling for” something or someone, for example, implies not fulfilling your true potential. “Settling down” implies that youth is gone, and with it any lingering sense of adventure, or even chance for adventure.

Bilbo Baggins was pretty settled when Gandalf came knocking on his door. He would have missed the greatest adventure of his life if it hadn’t been for the wizard’s refusal to do so.

I’ve started to think of settling down as more of a digging down, a developing of roots. And I think having no roots is just as bad as having roots so strong that you can’t even imagine moving out of your bubble.

I’m not quite ready to decide on buying a house or start a family, but I’m inching towards it. I’ve started thinking about ways I can improve my own future, and the futures of everyone I love and ever will love along with it.

Actually, part of the reason I started to study carpentry at 26 years old, is because I have a vision of building my own house, or renovating an old one, somewhere out in the country. I don’t know exactly where or exactly when, but that’s the direction I’ve taken.

I can build endlessly upon that dream. I want to become more self sufficient in life. I want to grow my own food, to repair my own stuff, to raise my own children. To manifest my own dream instead of somebody else’s.

Because that’s what we’re really doing, when we refuse to take responsibility for our own health, wealth, and happiness. We’re lining someone else’s pockets, building someone else’s house/castle/palace.

In order for the tree of your ambitions to grow, it needs strong roots. And that’s what I’m working on now.

Much love.

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Keeping a journal, seeking the truth

What is it about keeping a journal that makes it so beneficial?

I write or record a journal entry just about every single day. I’ve done it for years. In fact, as a habit it’s become self-perpetuating. I’m not sure I could stop even if I wanted to.

A journal is a lot of things, yet in the end, if you’re doing it right, it can be summarized in one word: truth.

You see, honesty is integral to the process of journaling.

I remember writing my first few journal entries. I was embarrassed. I was sloppy. I didn’t know how to communicate. Not to other people, certainly not to myself.

I would write superficial nothings, as if I were being watched by a room full of people. I wrote as if I were writing on MSN messenger (remember that?). I would even pop in a few smileys, just to make sure of not stepping on my own toes.

For some reason, though, I stuck to it. I kept writing. At first just whenever I remembered to. Soon enough, it became a habit. Now, self communication is integral to my sense of self.

When I think back to the time before I started keeping a journal, it’s hard to believe that I used to be so blocked, so inarticulate, so lost in triviality.

You can’t really love other people until you truly love yourself, and the same is true of communication. If you can’t articulate ideas, feelings, events, or ambitions to yourself, you can be sure that you can’t communicate them to others. As within, so without.

The act of keeping a daily journal is a practice. It’s a practice in communication with self. It’s a practice in finding the core of concepts, ideas, emotions and difficulties. It’s a practice of articulation.

I’ve filled hundreds of pages of soul-searching. Some of them contain inane navel-gazing, but more and more they seem to contain profound insights into what it means to be me. I keep a few full journals in a drawer at home. Others I’ve lost. One I burnt on a beach in South America.

To others, they may seem overly dramatic, even contentious. Maybe they seem pointless. But to me they have immeasurable value and vast meaning. Even if I hardly ever look through old journals, the mere fact that I wrote them, the hours of work behind them, the deep, surgical search for fulfilment, day after day, fill me with a sense of awe.

Truth is the key word when it comes to keeping a journal. You may be able to lie to others, but you always know when you’re lying to yourself. And it hurts all the more.

If you start a journal today, and just write, and you keep it up for a few weeks or months, you will realize how much you’ve been lying to yourself, and you will seek to find truth.

Truth heals. Truth is purely subjective. What you sense to be true is what’s important here.

By no means have I arrived at the end of the path of journaling. In fact, I think I’m just getting started. But it’s a fulfilling path, I can tell you that much. When you realize truth, your relationship to past, present and future changes. The more you manifest truth in your life, the better life will be.

Good luck on your journey.

Much love.