Commonly, people pose the question: "What would I do if I had only 1 day left to live?" Answers are generally comprised of places they would go, things they would accomplish, and people they would visit. This is a good way to help you understand the things and people that are really important to you.
Imagine now, that I told you that you have only 30 seconds left to live...
I'd like you to actually put yourself in this situation now. You're sitting right where you're sitting now and wearing whatever you're wearing when you read this. And you're all alone; at least more than 30 seconds away from any other human being. Savor this moment.
What do you do with your last 25 seconds on earth?.... Do you make one last phone call? How do you decide who to call? And by the time you decide, is it worth calling? What do you say, and will you be gone before you can say it? Savor this moment.
How many things can you actually do in 20 seconds of life? Do you retrieve a favorite memory or look ahead at your unfound goals? Which memories / goals to you choose to relish? Savor this moment.
You only have 15 seconds left now. Do you panic in fear of the actual sensation of death or do you revel in the glory that was your life? Savor this moment.
Death is only 10 seconds away and what have you done with the last 20 seconds? Have you made the best possible use of them? If only you had more time to decide what to do... Take a look around. Use your eyes. Use your ears. Look at your hands. Savor this moment.
Take a deep breath of fresh air, you have 5 seconds to live. Do you realize your own human impermanence? Does all of the worry and dischord in your life seem distant? None of it means anything anymore. What does it feel like to be wearing this skin you've been wearing for so many years? Savor this moment.
You have one second to live. What does being alive feel like? Savor this moment.
Wait, you're still alive! Keep reading!
In Bushido, the philosophy of the Samurai, death is always imminent. They lived their lives as if each moment could be the last, savoring every step of the journey and always putting their best foot forward, whether it be on the battlefield or training ground, or playing with their children or drinking tea. Death is held in the highest regard and is never forgotten by the Samurai. All the moments in our lives lead up to it.
This exercise can help you gain a better understanding of the intrinsic nature of your human being-ness. Not really having enough time to prepare for imminence, every moment must be lived completely. What would change about your life if every 30 seconds was your last?
Do you commute to and from work every day listening to the radio or spacing off thinking about useless things? I was on my way home from work the other day and I approached a turn trying to guess how many times I had made the turn. It was far more than I wanted to admit, so I shut off my blinker and kept going straight. It was a road I hadn't travelled before; I'd never had a reason to. And as soon as I strayed from my normal route my eyes and ears awoke to new sights and sounds that weren't necessarily awe-inspiring, but they were new and different. And the turns I made were new as well; they weren't a part of my muscle memory. I instantly starting paying more attention to my driving and became more aware of the things around me.
I saw some kids playing by the road whom I'd never seen before, and I drove by an old barn that looked like it would make a great martial arts school for when I am ready to open my school. This got me thinking about what the school will be like, and all of the details that I love to daydream about anyway.
I only drove a couple miles down the road, turned around in a driveway and headed back home, but it made such an impact in my commute to have discovered a new part of the world, and also to have triggered new thought patterns about my future martial arts school plans.
The point is: Do something different. If you've become complacent with anything in your life, mix it up a bit. Give your mind something new to think about. A new perspective can awaken new thought patterns and stir up mental and physical energy in a very healthy way.
What is Mind Mapping?
Mind mapping is a method for organizing thoughts that can be used to improve the way you think about your life, tasks, workflow and even how you relax. It helps categorize and associate different thoughts with one another and makes it easier to memorize and recall complex thought structures. Mind mapping in some form was originally conceived and used by Leonardo DaVinci but is commonly used by thousands of people today. I was introduced to it from the book How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci by Michael Gelb. From a very broad level, mind mapping starts with one thought or concept and allows you to create a physical map of other associated thoughts. Very little structure is given to how the actual mind map is formed giving your mind creative freedom, and it is encouraged to let your mind wander within reason and record how it wanders.
How can Mind Mapping Help Me Live a Better Life?
By organizing your thoughts in a mind map you are able to gain a better understanding of how your mind works and look at the big picture of:
- how certain things in your life effect other things,
- why certain thought patterns may arise,
- what to do to short-circuit thought patterns,
- how to memorize different associations between thoughts
- how to anticipate thoughts before they arise by understanding how your brain works.
All of the above are very powerful big-picture tools to use in every facet of your life. Other benefits of mind mapping, that will help you live a better life on a more detailed level are:
- realizing different methods of achieving short-term goals,
- laying out the direct and indirect benefits of performing certain tasks,
- visualizing the interconnections of many thoughts and ideas,
- creating representative imagery that will be easy to associate with later,
- realizing how you can accomplish multiple goals with one activity or at least how you can combine short-term goals.
Why is Mind Mapping so Effective?
Mind mapping combines thinking strategies of both right-brained and left-brained thinkers. This makes mind mapping easy to conceptualize for both types of thinkers, but more importantly, by combining these right and left-brained strategies we’re able to unleash our mind’s full creative and conceptual potential.
How to Create a Mind Map
It’s best to create a mind map with a pen or pencil on a large piece of paper. Start with one word that represents a thought, goal, idea, problem, etc. If you need more than one word that’s okay, but try to keep it VERY simple. Write this word in the middle of the paper and create a quick doodle or symbolic graphic that represents your central word. It’s great to use colors and be as creative and vivid as you can, this will help with recollection later, and will also help to unleash the creative prowess not generally used when planning or organizing. Next, write down associated words around the center word and connect them to create appropriate associations. Continue using color and creating symbolic graphics for each word. Outside of those words create more words and associate them appropriately. Soon, you will see a complex network of associations all related to your central word.
Expanding the Map
This network of relationships is your mind map for this particular topic. You can expand on it infinitely so be careful not to stray too far from the intended relevancy. Once you have added a good deal of content to your map take a step back and look at the big picture. Look at all of the tiers you have most likely created. Try to look at each word on its own and determine whether it can be associated with anything else on the map. Create lines between all associated content, and if lines are not practical, use graphical indicators or numbers to indicate a connection between two things. Eliminating the need for tiers of information that only have one “parent” is one of the main principles of the mind map.
Don’t focus on one word at a time when you are making the map. Keep looking at the big picture and come up with any word that is associated with any other word in the map. Jumping around from place to place will keep all of the words fresh in your mind and will make associations easier. If you see your mind map taking on a different direction, think about taking one of the words from your map and creating a new map with that word as the base word. This can be done for any word.
Look at the mind map and try to determine the various paths through which any two things are related. How are they related? Which other items do the relationships pass through? Are there multiple thought processes, ideas or tasks that lead to the same outcome? Is one path shorter than the other? Is one path more important than the other? Does one path address more elements than the other?
Examples of Mind Mapping for a Better Life
Vacation Mind Map
Create a mind map about all things related to a day off, or a vacation. This can help you prioritize your next vacation plans. It can also give you insight into how you can accomplish multiple things at one time thereby making your vacation time more effective.
House Work Mind Map
This mind map will most likely start with items like “Cleaning”, “Maintenance”, “Organization”, “Projects” etc.. this map will help you realize how these things are interconnected (ie. Cleaning & maintenance might have many interconnections) and will help you to better optimize your efforts around the house.
Shopping Mind Map
Creating a shopping mind map may be a little bit large, so it might be better to start with “clothes shopping” or “consumables”. Organize these mind maps, not by individual item, to avoid over-complication, but by category or other properties. For instance, consumables could be interconnected by timeframes like “daily”, “weekly”, “annually”, or by importance like “critical”, “needs”, and “wants”.
Health Mind Map
A health-oriented mind map could help to align and associate different critical elements of your health, such as diet, exercise, anxiety level, enrichment, etc.
Work-Life Balance Mind Map
Create a “work-life balance mind map” that helps you to organize your short term and long term goals, your time, and other important criteria between your work life and your social life. By creating these interconnections between these two large facets of your life you will start to realize how, or if, your goals are in line with both of these areas. You will also be able to visually see how compartmentalized your life may be in these different areas, what is contributing to its compartmentalization, and new methods of improving the effectiveness of your pursuit of happiness in any faculty.
Problem Statement Mind Map
If you have an obstacle you’re struggling to overcome, put a very simple problem statement in the center of a mind map and write down all associated items. Other similar problems, similar solutions, tools that might be helpful, methods of solving problems… etc. Get creative. These associations will inevitably lead to a new solution.
My “Vacation” Mind-Map Example
Above is an example of a mind map that I created the other day when sitting at the lake. I didn't have a large peice of paper or colored pencils so it's not as extravagant as it could be, but it gets the job done. If you read through it, starting with "Vacation" in the middle, you can see that I've used "Play" "Accomplish" and "Explore" as some of my subcategories. If I were to re-draw it, I would probably lump "Beach" and "Sun" into one "Relax" subcategory.
As I drew the map, the evolution surprised me more than once, in that the ends of the branches linked up to one another, creating a "bridge" of sorts between two subcategories. It was interesting to look at these "bridging" elements from both different perspectives. For example, the branch: "Accomplish > Housework > Improve > Landscaping" leads to the same place as "Sun(Relax) > Outside > Landscaping". This tells me a few things...
- First, it means I must enjoy landscaping.
- Second, if I find myself landscaping, I can be aware of the fact that I am both, accomplishing housework, as well as relaxing.
- Also, if it is Saturday afternoon and I know I should be doing housework, but I'd really rather be relaxing, this is something I could consider doing in order to cover both bases.
These bridging elements occured in several places on my mind map and are indicated by a number in a square. Some other bridges are:
- "Play > Kung-Fu > Practice > Workout > Dynamic > Games" and "Sun(Relax) > Frisbee"
- "Explore" and "Sun(Relax) > Outside"
- "Explore > Nature > Swimming / Kayaking" and "Play > Kung-Fu > Practice > Workout > Dynamic > Swim/Kayak"
Imagine if the mind map had been any bigger! And this exercise probably took about 30 minutes to complete with all the doodles. Not very long, and creating the mind map in itself was quite relaxing as well. (doodling has always been relaxing to me)
For me, creating a mind map was very eye-opening and I’m excited to explore more maps to re-create the important parts of my mental structure in a form that I can see and comprehend. I also plan to use mind maps as a tool at work or around the house for organizing workflow and chores.
Give it a try and let me know what you think! Is this a tool you can see yourself using?
Life is an incredible platform for existence. Every day we meander through our lives at slower or faster paces performing hundreds, even thousands, of tasks that are completely second nature to us and require no conscious thought. This is an incredible capacity and should be wholly appreciated.
People who teach meditation and life improving techniques often discuss awareness. Practitioners are encouraged to meditate on their breathing, their sitting, their walking, their immediate physical surroundings, etc. These awareness meditations can have a profound mental, physical and spiritual effect on a practitioner. However, it can be difficult to comprehend the intention of these exercises. It’s a foreign, ambiguous concept for most people to “be fully aware” and I think it is often misunderstood or misconstrued.
Reduce the learned simplicity of tasks
Here’s a different method to raise your awareness in a more physical, understandable way. Take for example talking on the phone, flipping a light switch, handing someone money, drinking tea, using utensils… etc. These are tasks that you’re probably not very well aware of because you learned to do them at such a young age and have become complacent in doing them.
Today try performing all of these simple tasks with your left hand. Performing these tasks with the left hand will bring you back to the time of your youth when you were still learning coordination and everything was a new experience. Things like dialing the phone, eating, and using a computer mouse took more concentration on the task at hand and, therefore, gave you more awareness of what you were doing. Try this and let me know how it feels!
How was your day?
What did you do today?
What was your favorite part of today?
Were time and life both pleasant in their passing today?
How exciting were the events in your life today?
Was your day as awesome as mine was?
Asking the above questions all basically have the same intention, it's an inquiry about someone's day. But they elicit completely different answers and more critical thinking on the part of the responder. “How was your day?” is such a commonplace question that not much thought really goes into answering it, and there’s a good likelihood that you will get a pretty quick, pretty generic answer. Whereas if you were to offer a more thought provoking question, the answer might take a few more seconds and might be a bit more pensive. Trust me, you will get some strange looks from time to time, but someone having been asked a question will generally try to give an answer.
Another benefit of asking generally unasked questions is that you can come across as asking about someone’s day while implying that something positive should be included in the answer. For instance, “Was your day as good as mine?” is infinitely more positive and healthy to ask than “Did your day suck as much as mine?” Essentially it is the same question, but the implication is very different. Each question exudes a feeling of positivity or negativity, respectively and gets the answering party thinking in one direction or another.
This is also a great way to test your vocabulary and grammar skills. By conjugating sentences that are carefully crafted to elicit certain responses, the questioner must be more diligent about wording.
What are some questions you can use to replace the commonplace everyday questions you might use now?
Have you ever noticed that people who have active or adventurous hobbies that require a high level of physical awareness are generally more pleasant or have a good outlook on life?
Namely things like rock climbing, dancing, martial arts, yoga, skateboarding, etc? Activities that require you to pay attention to your body parts and learn how to move them in certain and precise ways.
The huge amount of coordination and physical awareness necessary for these sports is so healthy for the mind and and contributes largely to the broad picture of awareness such that these types of people are more closely in tune with the world around them and the people around them. This allows them to interact with others in the most optimal way, having established a better understanding of the present moment and situation at hand.
What is the broad picture of awareness?
Conventional wisdom, the natural human life cycle, and common logic all agree that there is an optimal progression to developing conscious awareness as follows.
Increasing your physical awareness will very much help you to become better in tune with your life both mentally and spiritually.
The moral of the story is, go find a new cragg to climb, learn a new dance step, or check out a class at your local martial arts school; it could be the beginning of something good.
Great love is born of a deep understanding of the thing loved. - Leonardo DaVinci
Learning new information, new skills, new tricks, is something that is so highly reverred and encouraged among our young, but our lifestyles generally tend to steer us away from learning as we grow older. Other priorities and responsibilities become too abundant to avoid, and we are gradually weened from the intrinsic desire (and even instinct) to learn.
In today's wonderful world, humanity and the technology industry is brining so many new and useful tools into your home to make it easy to pick up where you left off and keep learning. Podcasts, video classes, free encyclopedias, and a myriad of other sources of knowledge is only seconds away from you right now.
You can find free math and physics classes online at http://www.academicearth.org These classes are actual videos of a full semester course at the top academic institutes in the country: Harvard, Yale, MIT, etc.
USC Berkely now has tons of podcasts online for free at http://webcast.berkeley.edu/courses.php
Learn out loud also specializes in podcasts and other media designed to teach you new and interesting things.
What is the Importance of Learning?
Learning (anything) offers a great opportunity to increase your appreciation for a certain subject, or life in general. If you have ever had an appreciation for something - and I'm certain that you have - you will inevitably by knowledgable on the subject, at least to some extent. This can work in both directions, if you find that you're depressed, or stuck at your job, or can't find the happiness that you'd like, try picking up some new knowledge on a subject.
For instance, I recently took a course through The Teaching Company, on Ancient Egypt. And having no prior knowledge on the subject, I was clueless as to what I would take away from it. The course was 24 lectures, each 45-60 mins, and I learned all about the pharaohs Normer, Hatshepsut, Ramises and all the way through Alexander the Great. It was a great lesson and now that I'm finished, I have a great appreciation for life in 2000 BC and the struggles that people faced.
No matter what you learn there will always be something that will give you some sort of appreciation.
Leave a comment about something you're learning now, or something you'd like to learn about.
Getting to know yourself is a major turning point on the way to truly enjoying your life. In order to understand the world around you, you must first understand yourself and how you react to stimuli in any given situation. Physical awareness is the very first step to take on the road to full awareness of mind and body. Mental and spiritual awareness would follow, but for now let's just focus on the body. This helps us to realize what we can and can't do and also how others perceive us. Here is a short list of 10 questions that will, if you take the time to honestly consider them, will help you to better understand yourself and become more physically aware.
- What is the distance from the tip of my thumb to the tip of my little finger when my hand is outstretched? (This can be very useful when taking quick measurements of objects around the house.)
- What does my normal sitting posture look like? What would I need to do to improve it?
- What is my average reflex time? (Take this online test) Is it above or below average?
- What is the speed of my resting heartbeat?
- What is the duration of one full breath? How does it change depending on my mood or activity?
- How much weight can I lift without injuring myself?
- When standing or sitting, is my center of gravity perfectly centered over my feet or chair? Is my weight naturally shifted? This could mean issues with your posture.
- How high can I jump? How far can I jump? (See Always Challenge your Limits)
- How long is my normal walking stride? This will increase accuracy when pacing off distances.
- What volume of food is comfortable for me to eat and not be stuffed, or left hungry? (See 10 questions to avoid over-eating)
Feel free to add your own questions to the comments.
In ancient China, Shaolin monks developed a fighting style based on the physical characteristics and iconic elements of the personality of the Tiger. They called this Tiger style Kung-Fu. Since a Tiger has very keen eyesight, the monks developed methods of exercising their eyes to improve thier eyesight. These would have been exercises that they trained and developed from a very young age. They would have been performed by eveyone training in the Tiger style regardless of whether they had so-called "20/20 vision". No matter how good you are at something, you can aways become better with more training.
I have been recently practicing the following exercises and have noticed an improvement in my eyesight over just the past couple months.
One exercise was to count the leaves on a far away tree. With meditative patience they would focus in and count hundreds of leaves at a time. (This is a good one to practice in the fall since the leaves are changing colors and you may be staring at leaves quite a bit anyway.) Start up close with some leaves that are easy to make out and count 50 of them. With patience, slowly pick trees that are farther away from you and then slowly increase the number of leaves you count. Work your way up to 200 which will give you a good amount of time with your eyes focused at a distance. Do this once daily.
Another exercise is to focus on an object very close to your face. I usually choose my hand. Get it as close to your eyes as you can while retaining a good focus on it. Look at it for about 2-3 seconds after you've fully adjusted your focus on it, and then pick another object that is more than 20 feet away. I generally pick a leaf on a tree or something else that has some fine detail that will allow me to really focus on finer and finer detail. If you pick a flatt wall or something that doesn't have much texture or detail it will be hard to focus on. Again, look at the object for 2-3 seconds after you have achieved a good focus. Go back and forth between these two objects about 20 times and do this exercise daily.
Reference previous post: The Pain is Only What you Make It - Mind over Matter
With every impact, blood seeped out of my aching knuckles as I struck the wall-mounted training pad over …and over …and over again. Right, left, right left, right, left… My senior instructor, in his naturally menacing manner bellowed, “Punch harder!! I better feel the building shake! The pain is only what you make it.” as he walked out of the dojo and went upstairs to eat his lunch…
There were two of us testing for our black belts that day and we both took a healthy breath, focused in a little closer to our targets …and we punched harder. As our fists throbbed and knuckles stung, his words resounded in ears, and we persevered. My mind sunk into contemplation and became detached from my current situation. After many years of martial arts training, I knew the capabilities of my body, and I knew how it would react to certain types of damage. “They’re only knuckles. They’ll lose their skin and bleed. Since I’m human I know they’ll heal.”
“If the pain is only what I make it, then the fact that I’m stuck in this situation is unimportant.”
Physical pain is only a response to outside stimuli, and it tells a brain that there may be damage occurring at a certain location on the body. Essentially, it’s an electrical memo sent from your nerve endings to your brain and can be thought of as merely a form of communication. Well, if you are already aware of what is happening with your body, then you have no reason to read the memo. You have the option to disregard the memo in order to more effectively get your task done. Of course, the same philosophy can be applied to more than just the physical sort of pain or suffering.
“I know that I am in pain now, but I know that some time in the future I will no longer be in pain.”
Knowing that pain is temporary is also helpful. When you begin to realize that the climate of life is always changing, then you will always be prepared to embrace the approaching climate, be it painful or joyful. If this is the case, what difference does it make that there is pain now?