By: Elaina Giolando,
From: Life Before 30
I can’t say it happened overnight. I’ve been on a journey to achieve greater mindfulness and calmness for some time now, especially because it’s not something most of us can switch on or off and suddenly stop being a part of the “next!” generation whose answer to most things is to just keep scrolling, clicking, and updating to discover what’s better (and driving ourselves insane in the process).
With this kind of prevailing mentality rushing us onto the next thing, I found it was a huge challenge to suddenly start paying attention to a simple but daunting exercise: keeping my body and mind in the same place at the same time.
Have you also realized that we often spend all day thinking about what we’ll do when we get home and then when we get home we spend all evening thinking about the next day? The scary thing is, if we spend our lives this way, we never truly live. If we keep projecting ourselves into future scenarios that will never transpire in the same way we envision, we lose out on the only real opportunity to get closer to the life we dream about: the right now.
Once we understand that in each moment we’re being given the opportunity to actively create the life we want, minute by minute, day by day, then and only then can we truly begin to live.
This is where I’m at — the beginning of this understanding, and these are the 12 simple and transformative practices that have made the greatest difference in achieving a new-found personal happiness and sense of peace. They’ve helped me turn down the noise, feel more centered, and reignite my capacity for kindness and empathy.
1. Leaving early for things. I really don’t like when other people are late, and I really don’t like myself when I run late. The easiest remedy for this is to take control of the single aspect of our ever-more-flaky society that I’m actually able to control: my own behavior. Leaving with plenty of time to arrive at my destination puts me at ease, knowing I’m doing the right thing by not making someone else wait on me, and I also have time to enjoy the journey there. I’ll walk a new route, stop in a shop, and resist the urge to run if I hear the subway coming. Life can move so much slower if you allow time for it to do so.
2. Non-resistance in crowds and traffic. Just let the other guy go first. Instead of pushing your way onto the train first, step aside and let others disembark. Instead of trying to merge aggressively ahead of traffic, let a couple cars pass first. Life is only a combat zone if you contribute to it, so reduce your stress, think of these as acts of kindness, and let the busy-bodies get out of your way. Try it for a day and see if you feel a weight lifted off your shoulders when you stop putting up a fight in these relatively unimportant situations.
3. Incorporating acts of kindness into your diet. Along with taking deep breaths and letting the lady on your right merge during rush hour, make an overall effort to be more kind. Kindness to others contributes to a sense of accountability to one another, which in turn helps manifest and maintain calmness. I started with smiling at the person next to me on the subway when I sat down or holding doors for others without expecting a thank you. Then I moved on from strangers to loved ones: picking up the dinner tab, surprising mom with a little something, you get the idea. A lot of people emphasize doing random acts of kindness for strangers, but it’s equally as (or even more) important for the people you care about most.
4. Eating at a table. It may sound silly, but one of the best things I’ve started doing is being mindful when I eat my meals. I don’t multi-task, I don’t use my cell phone, I don’t take calls, I don’t have lunch at my desk, I don’t do my make-up during breakfast, I just sit and eat — even if I’m alone. I also try to schedule meals with other people as often as possible. In his How to Live to 100 speech, Dan Buettner shares the all-important principle that our health hinges on more than just what we eat, but howand with whom we eat. By all means, eat organic, increase your daily intake of fruits and vegetables, reduce sugar, meat, alcohol, and coffee, and eliminate processed foods, but also be conscious of food as a social and even meditative practice.
5. Living well below my means and saving money. Both of the greatest gurus of Western and Eastern civilization, Buddha and Aristotle, preached the principle of moderation as the key to happiness. Andrew Carnegie, in “The Gospel of Wealth”, writes that the wealthy should view themselves as custodians of excess revenues and agents to act on behalf of their “poorer brethren.” Ostentatious spending is wasteful, supports a contagious breed of consumerism, and offers no path to long-term happiness. A thoughtful savings regime promotes selective purchasing behavior that values money as a resource, not a quick-hit commodity.
6. Monitoring for self-defensive thoughts or actions. Many people live life on the defense, which is a direct product of our ego, the part of the brain that houses the self-created concept of who we are and leads to feelings of scarcity and incompleteness. It is always focused on the past or future and is perpetually seeking what it needs outside, creating a compelling future but not a compelling present. It devotes its energy to proving who we (think we) are and defending ourselves against anyone who threatens that sense of self. It is based on separateness from everything else and everyone else. It creates “plans” for our happiness that come from money, fame, and success instead of what we already are. We can be held hostage by our ego, driven often by fear, struggle, guilt, attachment, competition, and survival. Monitor for that kind of “ego thinking” and acknowledge and accept that areas of deep insecurity it usually reveals.
7. Eliminating TV watching and exposure to media advertisements. Surveys show that heavy TV watchers are less happy on average than non-TV viewers and other studies have shown an inverse relationship between TV consumption and social trust, an important ingredient for a thriving society. TV is addictive because, for the most part, it portrays a convincing mirage of reality where everyone is unrealistically better looking, funnier, more intelligent, and more successful. It’s harmful for our self-esteem and prevents us from engaging more deeply in our own imperfect, but present realities. To the extent possible, I also try to limit my exposure to advertisements that promote purchasing things I don’t need or drawing false connections between material goods and values or outcomes. Instead, I focus on my outlets for creation: writing, publishing, photography, and running a small business.
8. Having an aggressive reading regimen. Every day I read for a minimum of one hour before bed. When I’m traveling, this surges to 3 or 4 hours during the morning. I stick to mostly non-fiction from reputable authors that educate me about something and prevent distraction by unimportant things: TV, social media (above maintaining my blog audience), fashion, many news headlines, and shopping. A distracted society runs the risk of ignoring or underestimating the more powerful truths and challenges about our existence.
9. Looking at problems differently. The Buddha once said that everyone has 83 problems — and the 84th is our wish to have no problems. Try this tactic the next time things don’t go your way, something one of my favorite authors, Nick Williams, advocates: instead of getting upset, ask yourself, “What am I being called to understand here? What would be the most loving and compassionate response in this situation?” We can use challenges to either take us off track or to teach us love and forgiveness, so why not choose the latter?
10. Incorporating meditation into my daily life. All the latest yoga and meditation rage is on to something: these practices work. I find meditation is kind of like going to the gym — you absolutely dread going at first, but you’re always glad you went and you even start craving it after awhile. I read Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, which helped me get started, and now use the Headspace app to find a few minutes for quiet and observation every morning.
11. Doing a daily gratitude exercise. I’m not one of those people who keep a “gratitude diary” or anything quite so regimented, but taking a few moments to be thankful has gradually become an important part of my outlook and something I naturally remember to do when I’m feeling stressed, upset, or even when something wonderful is happening.
12. Positively interpreting life’s gray areas. This one’s my favorite, and we’re all guilty of failing here. Think about the people laughing at the bar and vaguely looking in your direction — are they laughing at you? The guy you like who didn’t text all day — is he over you already? The lady who snapped at you for bumping into her on the train — what’s her problem? All of these situations that offer no direct explanation are opportunities most people take to assume the worst, beat themselves up, and develop negative ideas about people around them. Instead of being like most people, assume the best in people and interpret things positively: the bar-goers are just having a good time, your new crush is busy at work like everyone else, and the cranky lady might have a sick husband at home and deserves a dose of extra special kindness from you.
As Richard Bach says, teaching is simply reminding people of they already know. And the biggest reminder of all, my friends, is that we live in a society driven by notions of scarcity where we’re taught that there is never enough of anything: money, jobs, natural resources, time, or success. This is the opposite of what we need to do to be mindful, happy, and calm. Instead of looking around and seeing what’s lacking, we need to look at our lives and see the abundance of all that is already present. Once we do that, we can finally come alive.
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