Our greatest instrument for understanding the world—introspection . . . . The best way of knowing the inwardness of our neighbor is to know ourselves. Walter Lippmann (1889-1974)
So you go about your daily life and might not think too much about your every action. In martial arts we say that "He who conquers others is strong, but he who conquers himself is mighty." In order to really understand the world around you and make it work for you, you must first understand - and conquer - yourself. Conquer your fears, answer your own questions, find truths that are critical to your existence and understand them.
Easier said than done? Indubitably.
In my last post I suggested that you "question everything". And didn't really explain it. Sorry about that. What I mean is:
- Question the answers you're given even if it is from a "reputable source". No one is perfect and if the world is to be your oyster, you must be the one to understand the answers. If that requires that you create your own answers then that is the best way.
- Question your own capabilities. At first this will lead to doubt --> then understanding --> then confidence.
- Question your own solutions to problems. How did you come up with that solution? How were you influenced?
- Question your own subconscious actions. Why do you sit in a certain place at your dinner table?
- Get out of your routine. Take a different route to work. Read something that you would normally be put out by.
- Keep an objective attitude. Don't be put out by anything. Don't fall back on reactions you would normally use. Treat each moment as if it is entirely new and create responses to situations as if you had never experienced them before.
- Put yourself in someone else's shoes. Erase all of your notions of someone you interact with and create entirely new notions as if you were THEM observing YOURSELF. Watch yourself objectively as you proceed to live your life. Notice the details of your movements, your thoughts, your reactions.
Question yourself like you question others. Forgive others like you forgive youself.
It's only when you understand why you do the things you do that you will start to see better ways. Be open minded and take influences for problem solutions from anywhere you can. Don't let pride get in your way - immediately admit when you are wrong, or when you start to question yourself. No one is perfect, so learn from your surroundings.
Man has come a long, long, long way over the process of evolution and development of our kind. From communication to simple tools to building large structures, creating and adhering to political infrastructure, creating currency, creating and supporting new businesses, venturing into outerspace, etc etc… Through all of this, it would be pleasing to think that mankind, by nature, has “good” intentions overall with respect to life and the universe on a broad scope. What that means exactly, I’m not sure, but I’m fairly certain that it’s false.
Over the course of evolution in any species, beings tend toward actions and behavior that best contributes to their individual survival or the survival of their family, loved ones or species. Currently, the speed of our technological development (otherwise known as “physical impact and modification to life and the universe”) is increasing very rapidly. Currently we are at a very volatile juncture in our development. We are at the “knee” in the curve, or the turning point where population, technology, knowledge and impact will be increasing far more rapidly than ever before. If we can see the errors of our ways and look beyond our own personal prosperity and look beyond the prosperity of our species, we will be able to identify a better way to live life that is less impactful to the universe and will make us a stronger more intelligent species in the long run.
Developments have been made over the millennia that, if gone unchecked, could mean the downfall or worse yet, the corruption or our species. Below, I’ve listed some of these developments and ways that you can address them in your life in order to take control of your part of the universe and the development of your offspring.
- Blind faith in technology. Don’t use or support a product until you know everything about what it does and how it works. This includes how it was made, who will be impacted by its use, who was impacted by its development and construction, negative impacts to yourself when using the product.
- Reliance on others. Due diligence means finding your own solutions to problems and personally making sure that all of the details have been covered in a manner that is satisfactory. Relying on others’ choices, products, opinions means that you have made the assumption that you agree with all of their beliefs.
- Question everything.
- Find your own answers to every question. Don’t be satisfied with an answer you’ve been given even from a trustworthy source.
- Write down the elements of humanity that are important to you. Writing them will solidify them in your mind and they will emerge in your actions.
- Keep yourself physically and mentally healthy in order to be able to make clear decisions and also be able to act on them.
- Acknowledge a major personal flaw. There's got to be ONE! Personality traits, over-eating, violence, lying, cheating, sub-optimal performance, etc... Acknowledging a flaw is an absolutely critical step to take in fixing it. Once you have acknowledged it, you will find it immensely easier to make realizations on how to fix it.
- Never take anything for granted.
- Whatever you do, act as if the whole world was watching.
- Always aim for improvement
- Double check all actions against your ethical beliefs. You may be in the habit of doing something that is contrary to your ethics, and not even realize it. Double check your every move and you'll most likely find things about you or your actions that you would just as soon change.
Everyone has the choice to enjoy every single day as it comes. No matter how you’re feeling or what your circumstances are; no matter what has happened or what is happening in the immediate future or immediate past, as a human being, you have the privilege to make the choice to appreciate the present moment.
When I was about 16 years old, I realized that I could make a choice at any given moment that would determine whether I was content or unhappy. If I made the right choice, I would be absolutely content with myself and my surroundings no matter what. If I made the wrong choice, each moment of anger and misfortune would be compounded on one another as the day went on. I would be more prone to hurting myself, breaking things, making mistakes, etc. I never really knew what the “choice” was, or how to define it but, with practice, I knew that it was as easy as flipping a switch.
I stood in the parking lot this morning stretching in the cool morning mist, as I like to do after the commute to the office, and as I took a nice long breath of fresh air, a van came careening into the parking lot and pulled into a spot right beside me. Even thought there was no one else in the parking lot, the van still missed the spot and had to pull out and pull back in. Then I listened as the front bumper crunched up onto the curb and was dragged off when the driver pulled back.
He got out of the car and shook his head, saying to me “It’s gonna be one of those days, isn’t it?” Then proceeded to walk quickly toward the building with his briefcase in hand and head down at the sidewalk. He walked past this:
Had he not noticed what a gorgeous morning it was? What was he thinking about so hard that took his attention so far away from his surroundings (not to mention his driving…)? Always thinking about the previous mishap, misfortune, or feeling, he was never present enough to prevent the next. I can imagine what kind of a day he is having today (although I’d rather not).
To this day, I continue to practice flipping this switch. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but it comes more easily every day. And I can often see this turning point in others’ days as well. A point at which, if they closed their eyes, wiped the chalkboard clean of all the past misfortune and anguish, took out a fresh piece of chalk and opened their eyes, that they would be able to start fresh from this moment on.
It is man’s natural state to be content, it requires only attentiveness.
There will always be discomfort in your life. On some level, in some facet, either physical, mental, social or otherwise, discomfort will always be a part of our lives. Is discomfort uncomfortable? By definition... yes. Does it have to be all bad? No. Here is a list of items that will hopefully help you to keep your eyes open and see some of the benefits that your discomfort can provide you.
1. Learn about the world around you.
Where does it come from? When did it begin? What are all of its constituents? Can you learn anything on the basis of observation alone?
2. Ponder interconnectedness.
What is the direct and indirect impacts of this discomfort on you? What is its impact on others? Is this discomfort caused by others? Is it caused by you?
3. Realize how your accommodations can improve.
Look around. Are there other methods or strategies that could be implemented that would not require the problem to be solved, but rather would render the situation non-existent?
4. Practice awareness.
Practice bringing attention to the situation in order to really understand it before trying to rectify it. Bringing your attention to a particular sensation and avoiding other thought patterns can help you to isolate the problem. The sensation of having a rock in your shoe is far different than the thoughts of "Why do I always get rocks in my shoe?" or "I really can't afford a better pair of shoes".
5. Understand your tolerance for pain.
This can apply physically or mentally. Ask yourself. "Okay, how much is this really bothering me?" See Pain is Only What You Make It.
6. Increase your tolerance for pain.
While pain is a signal to your brain that your body is in danger of being damaged, it often overcompensates. After understanding what your pain tolerance is, make it a personal challenge to ride that line and accept it as a simple indicator to your brain.
7. Brainstorm a solution.
What can you build/make/modify, to rectify the situation? Think about the items at your disposal. Try to challenge yourself to come up with an inventive and unique solution. By patching the problem with a carelessly thought-out solution or something that won't quite work, you're only giving yourself something to complain about and fix again later.
8. Practice "creative experimentation"
Example: There's a painful wart on my foot. How can I change my stance, foot placement, stride, etc to ease the pain? Are there other objects nearby that I could be supporting some weight on to take it off of my foot? How many helium balloons do I have to hold to alleviate the pain? This will help you with creativity, as well as take your mind off the situation and it may also provide a reasonable solution.
9. Practice acceptance
Harboring "The serenity to accept the things you cannot change" is a very powerful skill. You may need to find something, a phrase or thought, to constantly remind yourself of the goal of being more accepting to avoid getting frustrated with the practice.
10. Harbor compassion
Somewhere out there, there is someone with the same discomfort as you. Somewhere else, there is someone far worse off than you.
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?
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.
Everyone has something that they want to accomplish or get better at or do more often, and no matter how much we think about it, it just keeps slipping by. Another opportunity to eat healthier or practice a certain piano piece, etc. is trumped by other priorities, other obligations.
Accept that this will happen.
You have priorities. Everyone does, and always will, that’s just part of human nature. Priorities that are higher on the list get done before those that are lower. Sometimes you have control over the priorities list and sometimes you don’t. Priorities come bundled with an inherent level of importance depending on your lifestyle and the elements you cherish.
Increasing the importance of a priority.
If you have something in mind that you have wanted to undertake, but have not been able to find the time for it, there is a way to increase the importance. Generally speaking the items that are a "bigger" part of your life get more attention - the house, kids, job, etc. So with this philosophy, if you make something a larger part of your life, it will inherently become more of a priority.
Make your priorities a hobby!
If you make something a hobby it will become more important to you because of the fact that it has become a larger part of your life. My wife recently became fascinated with eating healthy. She fed that fascination by learning about food from the bottom up. She studied hundreds of healthy foods, read books, blogs, labels and talked to other people with similar minds. She became immersed in this knowledge and has gained an invaluable understanding of what is healthy and why . She made this lower-level priority into a hobby that expanded and consumed spare moments that would otherwise have been used doing other things. Her other priorities didn’t necessarily have to wane to make room for it, but they were simply rearranged to accomodate for it.