Simply Be.

This is my birds and the b talk

We sit, stand, lie and stay still. We close our eyes, relax our face and breathe in deeply to the slow count of three. Hold it and notice how everything stopped, if only for this moment, for you to focus on this one breath.

Now the time to breathe out begins. Again to the count of three.

We notice how the calm air feels on our upper lip or how our chest falls as our lungs slowly empty.

The world has slowed to the beat of One. Two. Three. One. Two. Three.

That’s what it means to simply be.

Taking the time to find pockets of stillness in your day is important for it is one of the few times where we cannot be consumed by the anxiety of the future or beaten up by regrets of the past. No longer living at the pace of other people’s agendas or taking the frequent journey into our negative thoughts.

The thoughts that bombard us and attempt to dictate how we feel are allowed to pass for what they are. Unimportant.

As with many people, I’ve had multiple moments when I begin to worry nearly endlessly about what the future holds and my inability to control what’s ahead of me. It drags me away from the good things that I’m probably experiencing right now, no matter how small. But sitting down to meditate reminds me to notice the present. To enjoy it for what it is.

It does not force calmness onto any person but it begins to cultivate a habit of staying calm in the face of stressful moments. The act of remembering to appreciate the present instead of getting lost in the future. Taking time to be instead of imagining the worst.

The worrying slows because we don’t attach judgements to the thoughts that fly through our heads, nor do we linger and follow them. When we are still, the thoughts leave our minds with the same speed they joined us with.

Observing this is remarkable. It separates us from the thoughts we have about ourselves and the other things out there in the world. Ever so slowly I begin to understand why there’s so much joy in being as still as possible. There are many really convincing thoughts that fly through our heads – usually about how bad we are at something or a flaw that’s “obviously” irreparable. Spending more time building pockets of stillness into our day forces us to slow down. And more importantly, it doesn’t mean that we analyse the thought in order to determine whether the thought it true for that is a battle easily lost.

We can let it pass. Attach nothing to it. No judgement, no reaction just acknowledgement.

By doing this, we come to better understand that so many of the thoughts which plague us leave our heads then join us again. Then leave again. They aren’t stitched into the fabric of our minds.

This isn’t easy. Stillness doesn’t cure depression or anxiety. It builds appreciation of slowing down and experiencing the day more on our own terms.

We Simply Be. We do not live for the future nor dwell in the past. We experience how we are at the present moment.

simply-be-web

Pockets of stillness can be difficult to make and difficult to sustain. Especially if you can’t find an immediate reward to the practice. To that I say, simply keep trying – it’s worthwhile.

Meditation is a practice not a solution. It’s something you do and keep doing. In the process, you appreciate its rewards. The journey doesn’t end when you’ve reached your first “moment of stillness” – these pass too. With stillness, you won’t find perfection every day. What you can find is a separation from hectic thoughts and negative judgements. For all you do is be.

How can you build more pockets of stillness in your day?

  • Meditate for 2 minutes in the morning.
  • Slow down when you eat, appreciate the flavours and smells of your food.
  • Take 15 minutes of your morning and make it yours. No time for emails, messages, or mindless web browsing.

And so on.

Remember, to simply be, we…

…sit, stand, lie and stay still. We close our eyes, relax our face and breathe in deeply to the slow count of three. Hold it and notice how everything stops, if only for this moment, for you to focus on this one breath.

Now we breathe out. Again to the count of three.

We notice how the calm air feels on our upper lip or how our chest falls as our lungs slowly empty.

The world slows to the beat of One. Two. Three. One. Two. Three.


As always, thanks for reading :)

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5 lessons from writing every day for 3 years

January 28th 2014, I challenged myself to write every day for a month. I wanted to improve my writing and thought the best was to write more.

Over 1000 days and 1 million words later, I’m still going and have no temptation to stop.

I want to share a few things I’ve learned from writing consistently for three years.

  1. It’s possible.

After my 30 day challenge, I realised  it was something I enjoyed it and decided to continue. The streak was still young so I wasn’t concerned about breaking the streak.

Without noticing, it slowly evolved into something much bigger that I could have expected. I’d wake up, and want to write. I’d think about my day and make sure that I could find the time for writing. I’d tell friends while on holiday that I’m going to disappear for 15 minutes and write a bit.

I’d carve out time instead of just hoping that I’d be able to get round to it. As the streak grew and grew, I became more attached to it.

Did I aim for 3 years? Never. If I did, I don’t think I would have achieved it.

Thankfully, this applies to other habits as well. With some persistence, the habit eventually grows into something you can’t not do instead of something you try to do.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

2. It’s OK to write bullshit.

So much of me is glad that I haven’t sat down to just publish everything in the journal. Half of it doesn’t make sense and the other half just repeats the same thing.

You can dance like no one is watching and you can write like no one is reading. It’s yours.

Surprisingly enough this gave me the confidence to write work then publish it because the first draft of your work is yours and hidden away. Write like no one is reading then edit the life into it. It doesn’t matter how repetitive, boring, and verbose it is.

Good writing comes from writing loads then editing the rubbish away.

Write. Write. Then edit a bit more.

3. It’ll pass.

For those who don’t know, I deal with chronic pain. I’ve written a lot about it in my journal (and much of that led to me writing Living With Chronic Pain) but I’ve also noticed that in the darkest times I’ve experienced, I’ve felt that it’s going to go on forever. It doesn’t.

Emotions pass with time. Especially if you give yourself permission not to latch onto them and see what it’s like to let them go.

This doesn’t mean the depression will just leave or the anxiety will turn into comfort but I do have a greater appreciation of myself and the problems I see myself experiencing. There’s a lot of shit that comes with disability or just living life in general. Having a log of some emotions is somewhat nice.

With time things pass. And that is comforting.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

4. You learn more about yourself.

Occasionally, I’d just spend time writing about my day. Maybe I had a particularly good day and I wanted more time to experience it and relive it as best I can.

Then I moved onto writing more about myself and the values that I hold. It’d take some struggle and time because I often didn’t know what I believed about myself and the world. It was something I’d studied but never really taken the time to reflect and learn.

It took a lot of time but the value in being slightly more reflective, even if it is 15 minutes every week or month, is remarkable. It showed me that there’s still so much for me to learn and improve upon as a person. How to treat other people better and with more respect or even how to treat yourself with more respect.

Taking time to reflect is important. Writing about it occasionally is helpful and better yet gives you a log of how your views have changed over time.

5. It’s OK to change your mind.

When I would sit down and write about something substantial, I’d occasionally find myself just changing my mind. Sometimes I’d dislike it.

But changing your mind is vital to being able to assess the world honestly. It’s uncomfortable. But worthwhile. Most worthwhile things are difficult.

And those are some of the things I’ve learned. It’s been enjoyable and something I hope to continue. As the streak grew, I gained more and more confidence in my ability to keep long streaks like this going. When I reached 2.5 years, getting to 3 years felt easy. When I was at 30 days, getting to 60 seemed impossible.

Start one day at a time. Ignore the end goal and focus solely on creating.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

Now if only I could apply this to the blog…


As always, thanks for reading :)

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Have you ever tried maintaining a journal?

Care About The Important, Intensely

Create more. Consume less. Add value.

I live by these values because I believe they help me contribute to the world in an important way. Everyone is in this world together, and there’s something special about helping others without retreating to malice or hatred. Adding joy multiplies happiness but adding darkness only subtracts.

Of course, I ask myself (probably too often) for the point of living by these specific values. I haven’t been moved far beyond finding it helpful with creating a better world. Why spend my time creating instead of consuming? Why care about people other than myself?

Perhaps these values aren’t necessary but they are important, to me and I think extremely helpful for many others. So, I’ll keep them up and live my life accordingly. That’s the aim at the end of the day. To be a person of integrity.

Having this conversation reminded me of the book I recently finished. When Breath Becomes Air.

Paul Kalanithi, an upcoming neuroscientist-neurosurgeon who found he had terminal lung cancer, wrote a book. He spent his time in his life trying to understand what makes life meaningful. To do that, he wanted to wrestle with death and the mind. And he did so with grace and did so with quality. That alone is special. Just caring intensely about your craft because you think that it’s a moral duty. He didn’t view his work as a job but he viewed it as a calling. Even while he had cancer.

From all the pain he suffered, a question arose. Can you live with integrity while visiting the doorstep of death?

He answered that question with a resounding yes. Not with his words but with his actions. He never once said that he was going to fight cancer and beat it. For it’s somewhat of an unhelpful metaphor. To beat cancer. What if you lose? Does that mean you lost a battle? Apparently. But were you really participating in it in the first place? It does seem like something that just happens to you rather than something you engage with. The same seems to follow for many illnesses.

Despite the decision to not use such metaphors, the book showed me you can be a bit more generous here. Perhaps the focus of beating cancer or suffering in pain isn’t on whether you survive or the suffering ends. This way, your actions aren’t defined by something you may not control. Rather, it is on finding your values and making sure that you live in accordance with them as best you can. It means spending your time thinking about what is important to you and following these things intensely.

By living your life as such and always pursuing the good, by caring about people around you and never letting them out of your mind, by finding yourself and living as yourself the best you can, that is when you ‘beat’ whatever it is you’re facing.

It’s difficult to say that when you fail to live as yourself, as the values you care for, as a person who does good, you lose. Some things you simply cannot control and for those things, you should not be blamed for. In some cases, you can’t even control your efforts to do so.

But with the things you can control and hold dear to yourself, it is those things which define you. Don’t let illness or negative life events make you malicious or cynical. Don’t let it tear you away from the values you hold dear and most definitely don’t let it steal integrity from you and throw it into the night.

As the poem goes: “Do not go quietly into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I’ve found that ‘rage’ doesn’t have to mean anger. There are always going to be many moments of pain, suffering and death but this does not mean we must lose our will to care. I’ve found there can be so much more to the day if we try to care about it. Whether that’s talking to a friend and enjoying their smile, finding your favourite spot in the library, walking to work and hearing friends enjoy a joke or waking up and thanking yourself for trying to just get by for another day. These are small and my desire to care more isn’t accelerated by the fear of death. Kalanithi’s work is a helpful reminder that it is possible to live with integrity in good and poor health. And for that, I thank him.

We start with finding what is important to us and caring about it intensely.


I haven’t written in a while. I apologise – I’ll be back at it soon enough.

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@improvingslowly

Let the Fear Pass

Fear is like a cloud.

It hovers over your head and the tasks you want to complete. But after a while, it passes and the sky becomes clear again.

When I notice myself putting something off and ask why, I tend to feel uncomfortable. Usually because there’s not much reason other than  ‘I don’t want to’. Appealing to laziness is the same thing.

Usually, the bigger the task, the greater the uncomfortable feeling. This, and generally poor energy management, is probably why students tend to leave big essays until they begin to panic about the deadlines.

I experience this feeling a lot. It often leads to potent self-criticism that only serves to make me feel bad.

One thing I’ve found helpful is to meditate on this feeling. It takes less than a minute.

What am I experiencing right now? Am I worried about what’s going to happen if I try?

More often than not, it’s fear. Either the fear of discomfort or fear of failure. Every time I catch myself experiencing these feelings, the less powerful they become.

We don’t have to fear the discomfort of trying something new because it can signal a challenge that fosters some personal growth. It’s important not to diminish this growth even if you think it’s tiny. If your challenge was to pick up dirty clothes from the floor and you surpassed it, that’s a cleaner room you didn’t have yesterday.

Neither should we fear failure to the point where it stops us from moving forward because we can only succeed at something if we try and the joy of succeeding is greater than the pain of failure.  Giving ourselves the excuse not to try is only a disservice to our abilities and passions.

Once permission is given not to be consumed by fear and not influence our actions, it passes. Just like a cloud.

As with many things, observing fear and letting it pass takes practice. I still fall victim to putting things off due to these fears as they will always pop up somewhere. It’s a normal thing and it’d be silly to expect everyone to be fearless all the time.

The goal is to move forward despite its existence.

At first, even noticing you’re afraid of something is difficult then moving past it can be a small battle. But don’t get discouraged if you notice its been victorious. Next time you’ll focus on the feeling again and it’ll become easier.

With time and practise, the fear will weaken and you will be immersed in the present moment.

***

Further Reading: 

  1. Create without expectation
  2. On Productivity and Presence
  3. What’s wrong with now?

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Don’t Break the Chain

One of the most helpful ideas in habit creation is making and keeping streaks.

It’s as simple as it sounds. Start something, do it every day and you’ll see the benefits.

I’ve tried holding a number streaks and there are a few I’ve kept for a very long time. They’ve ended up becoming quite special because they literally happen every day. Here are some of my most significant streaks:

  1. Written at least 750 words every day for 561 days.
  2. Meditated for 303 days.

These streaks might look difficult to keep up but it becomes automatic and turns into a normal part of the day that doesn’t feel like a significant effort. How so?

For three reasons.

  1. They’re easy to start
  2. It’s done daily
  3. They’re important

I’ll discuss them separately.

They’re easy to start

Changing behaviour big steps at a time is difficult because comfort zones are really easy to stay in.

Right now, your bed is a comfort zone because it’s warm and …for lack of a better word, comfortable.  It’s even more comfortable when it’s cold and raining. The cold wind is meant to represent new behaviours like going to the gym or writing in a journal every day.

Hopefully you see what I’m going for here. In order to make leaving your bed easier, you need to start with a small step instead of jumping out and dancing in the rain.

Writing every day actually started with jotting a few sentences down in a paper journal. I later started writing on 750words which might have taken me 30 minutes to write. After a year, I now average over 1000 words a day.

Meditating every day started with 1 minute every day. Then 2. Then 3 and so on. It capped at around 20 but I’ve settled down to 5 to 10 minutes every day.

Some other examples:

If you want to start exercising, commit to running for one minute.

If you want to eat healthy, commit to buying apples instead of chocolate bars.

It you want to meditate, meditate for one minute.

You might think that these are too easy and they should be more significant. What’s the point in running for one minute? They’re meant to be easy to start and keep up. A big mistake is to overestimate what we can maintain over a few days and weeks. Lifestyle changes never happen overnight.

It’s done every day

A habit is essentially a behaviour that’s near enough automatic. Like brushing your teeth or checking Twitter in the morning.

Doing something every day is more likely to change an occasional action to a habit because you’re used to doing it and being a part of a positive feedback loop more often. If you choose to do something once a week and miss it, it’s very easy to dismiss it and say you’ll do it the next week. If you choose to do it every day, it’s always on the list of things to do and harder to ignore. If you do manage to miss it, to get back on the routine, you pick it up the next day. It stops you from losing track of your habits due to a simple mistake.

If you want to write, try to write a small amount every day instead of a big amount at the end of the week.

If you’re starting the gym, go every day instead of twice a week. [1]

If you want to wake up earlier, commit to it every day including the weekends.

It’s important

In the beginning stages of habit creation, we need reminders before they become more automatic and easier to do. This is why importance helps.

I’ve experimented with waking up at 6:30 every morning and realised I didn’t care about it. I didn’t do it so I could meditate for longer or write more. I tried to wake up at that time simply because I read that successful people did it. That justification ignored why it was done and the need to continue disappeared.

The value of the tasks will grow and change the longer you do them but the initial desire to start a new habit should be found through research rather than doing something without understanding the potential benefits. Meditating is important to me because it helps me find peace during my day and has made me more mindful. Waking up early just to wake up early (and spend the extra hours doing nothing at all) is a much more likely to end in failure and feel like a waste of time.

With this being said, feel free to experiment with different habits. If you don’t want to keep one up, don’t. Sometimes the benefit of the task takes a while to be realised but research helps with picking some habits you might want to start with. I can recommend reading for 10 minutes and meditating for 2 minutes a day.

Keeping streaks going is great. They’re an interesting test of dedication as you begin to make time for them rather than find time. All to continue a streak you created for yourself.

I’m a space bird and I’m going to graduate to a space monkey eventually.

If you have any streaks going, what are they? Is there anything you’d like to start?

***

If you found the post helpful/amazing/super amazing or any other adjective, use the links at the end to share it with the whole world (or a few friends. That’s cool too.)

Some stuff to read:

  1. One step at a time
  2. Stop doing so much
  3. 5 Reasons to start meditating
  4. A Very Short Guide to Meditation

[1] I mentioned going to the gym every day and can already hear the cries of ‘but rest days!!1!’

In the initial stages, going to the gym every day isn’t a bad thing. You don’t need to do an intense workout daily since it can vary from heavy weights one day to mobility work the next.

You can still measure streaks without making them daily. Count towards the streak on dedicated days (e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and if you miss those it’s broken. I advocate working on the habit every day because it makes it automatic quicker.

I’m 20

I’m 20

Self-review can be difficult. Especially when it feels like the negatives from the previous year have become worse and the positives more rare.

However, there is nothing wrong with this difficulty. This year has been tough but there’s little value in either trying to show a false persona (whether the portrayal is happy or sad) nor would I benefit from ignoring it completely.

I’m turned 20 a week ago and here’s the review of my past year.

What’s happened in the past year?

Writing

My journal has continued and become an even more important part of my life. I started when I was 18 and it’s still going. I’m nearly at 500 days with over half a million words. Even if it just tends to be personal rambling, it shows the usefulness of consistency. In the early days, there were times when I just didn’t want to write anything. Either because I’m too tired or I’ve had a bad day. Now, I don’t do it based on how I feel. It’s just something I do. It’d be weird if I didn’t write every day. I’m pretty sure journalling is more regular for me than eating breakfast or sleeping for 8 hours.

It’s a wonderful habit which has slowly proved itself as a much needed anchor throughout my day.

On the other side of the coin, my blog has been inactive. I will explain why later. I did have a productive month in March but I can’t explain to you why that was the case! The same thing happened last year. Maybe March is just the best month of the year.

I have a few favourites though. My post on living with chronic pain is the best explanation of my current problem. I also enjoyed writing about comparing yourself to others and why we should listen.

University

I study Philosophy for those who don’t know. I’m still at university and it’s not the worst thing in the world. I’ve kept and made new friends. I don’t actually know if I’m any better at philosophy at the moment but I have gained new interests in the field. The main one being about global justice and health.

The course is based on what can and whether anything should be done about healthcare in countries around the world. Currently, there is a great inequality of healthcare around the world and it’s something we all know. However, we are also much less likely to actively do anything about it and much less likely to claim responsibility for all the poverty-related diseases in the world. Questions such as ‘Does Aid Work?’ and ‘Are all humans moral equals?’ were central to the course. I feel the course has made me much more compassionate and at the same time, it’s made me feel like my arguments are actually increasing in relevancy instead of being dismissed as useless.

For anyone reading this who know me in real life, I’ve gone on and on about this course. I apologise for nothing.

Depression and Health

This is what I wrote last year:

“Being in pain every day for over five years has started to take its toll on my mental health. My various coping mechanisms are struggling to handle just how prominent all of these medical problems are in my life.”

Unfortunately, nothing positive has developed. My depression is much worse and my pain continues without change in intensity.

I could write for a long time about this depression but I won’t bore you with the rambling. Depression makes me feel alone in the company of my best friends and sad when I’m surrounded with happiness. It has sucked out any motivation I’ve had for the things I used to enjoy and made it difficult to just do normal things. For a while, even during my exam period, I would just lie in bed doing nothing of value. But it’s not like I would sleep either for I also have to deal with insomnia. I’m also still using a walking stick. Which clearly doesn’t help this whole situation.

As you can guess, this year has been filled with a lot of frustration which is often directed at myself. I still meditate but I’ve struggled to find any kind of peace. The days when I would walk outside and just appreciate the sounds and sights are far and few between.

Very recently, I was actually told I can’t have anti-depressants yet because I needed to test stronger painkillers! That seemed to just highlight some of the absurdity of the whole situation.

But that’s ok. Things like that happen to people all the time. I’m not alone with this depression but I don’t know how much comfort that brings to me any more.

So that helps explain why I haven’t written that much over the past year and my current difficulty with university.

I’ll get better. I haven’t lost all hope in the world. I need to get to a million words in my journal, after all.

Looking Forward

To every psychologist I’ve spoken to, they’ve asked me: What are your goals for the end of our sessions?

I have to filter out the standard “I don’t want to be depressed” answers because it isn’t that useful.

To all of them, I have said in response “I want to be ok with how I’m feeling”. That doesn’t mean that I have to feel happy all the time. It is centred on finding peace with myself and mindful of who I am. And really just being involved in my own life rather than being a passive spectator of the days that come and go.

Aside from the standard goals of becoming a better writer and developing new skills, I’d say that is the most important. If that means that I’m not on a walking stick when I’m 21, all the better. If I still have to deal with chronic pain, hopefully I’ll still be able to find some peace in my day.

And that is it. Here’s to a better future.

 

A Very Short Guide to Meditation

This is a very short guide to mindfulness meditation. If you want a few reasons for why you should meditate, you can read my post: 5 reasons to start meditating

You will need:

  • Yourself
  • A timer
  • A comfortable place to sit

How to begin meditating:

  1. Sit down with your back straight (or lie down)
  2. Set the timer to two minutes
  3. Focus on your breathing

And that’s it.

You don’t need to get into a complicated lotus position. You don’t need to wait until the world is silent.

All you have to do is sit still and focus on your breathing. When a random thought pops into your head, gently bring your focus back to your breathing.

You’ll find it difficult at first. Your mind will race in many different directions simply because you aren’t used to slowing down for couple of minutes in the day but it will get easier. You only have to do it for 2 minutes. Then do it again the next day. Maybe in a week you’ll increase it to three minutes.

It’ll get easier and you’ll be able to meditate for a longer time. Then you’ll reap more benefits of meditating every day.

You’ll feel calm, relaxed and more mindful of the things you do.