Now.

You know how when you dream you only experience the important details. Think about it for a moment. Do you ever remember walking out to the car, step by step? Or how about unlocking a door and setting your things down after a long day at work? When we dream, we tend to skip the menial tasks. Sure, we take a few steps towards the car but then we skip all the way to opening the car door and so on. Those moments are forgettable anyways. You’ve walked here to there 10,000 times in your lifetime, why would you waste a thought on it.

In fact, we do the same thing in our waking life. We go into a zombie mode when we’re doing simple tasks. There’s no use in being aware of every step we take. You’ve been walking your entire life anyways and you’ll be doing it until you’re dead.

But these moments are the most important. After a long day at work, you walk out to your balcony and lean against the edge. You take a deep breath in and sigh. You see the world in front of you but you’re not living it, you’re not taking it in. That beautiful fucking world is in your eyes. It’s staring at you. But you let it slip away. These moments aren’t worth remembering anyways.

A year later you’ll look back. It was leaning against that balcony that characterized your life. After working a shitty job and coming home in an equally shitty mood, you could let go. It was your relief. That stupid railing where you’d kick your feet and think about how you’d have to go back to work the next day. How you’d imagine a day when you could come home happy.

It’s not the grand moments that make your life. You’ll never find meaning winning the lottery or getting that promotion. You can keep fantasizing though. The true moments, the ones that you’ll look back on and long to relive, are the moments that you forget. They are walking out to your car in the crisp but way-too-fucking-cold mornings or commuting to work. Yes you always got stuck in traffic and you were always 1 minute from being late to work but you always got there. You always made it through.

Remember that when we dream, we skip these details. There isn’t any purpose to them. Why walk when you could just teleport to wherever you want to go. We want life to be in the great moments, Friday night when you go downtown or taking a vacation, but that’s not where life is.

Where it is is right here. It’s right in your goddamn face. It’s you reading these words sitting on your chair/bed/couch. The soundtrack to your life is what you hear right now. It’s the sound of a noisy air conditioning unit or neighbors who never seem to sleep. It’s not a carefully composed symphony. It is what you hear now and it’s happening right in front of you.

I can’t make you to pay attention to it but I want you to know that your life isn’t somewhere in the future. It’s not far away. Nor is it in the past before your horrible life happened. Life is breathing against your nose. It’s pressed its goddamn fingers to your chest and saying “wake up”, “pay attention”, “stop dreaming your life away”.

All you can do is gaze past it. There’s something more interesting over there. You don’t even know where “there” is but it’s definitely not here. It’s definitely not part of your life and you’ll spend your entire life chasing after what you think would make it better. Stop it. Stop making yourself miserable. Stop chasing. Stop searching. It’s right here. It’s right now. Walk to your car. Lean against your balcony. It’s as simple as that. Do everything completely and totally. Don’t let your attention escape. Notice every footstep and breath. Pay attention. Your life is happen now.

Don’t Fade Away

One of the gifts of life is the ability to forget suffering. When a person becomes injured, all of their attention focuses on pain. For example, a stubbed toe heals incredibly quickly. A person may experience a lot of pain for a few minutes but eventually will forget about the incident. Two days later, they won’t even remember it. Suffering caused by headaches or soreness takes longer to recover from. For a few hours or days, all of a person’s attention will focus on pain.

It would take a lot of energy to focus on the physical sensations across our entire body. If we payed attention to how our legs feel when we walk and our breath when we run, we may run into a wall. Unfortunately there is only so much attention that we can spread out. We can either think about what we’re going to have for dinner, how last night went, or we can focus on this exact moment.

Our limited attention isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is so much information around us that if we could focus on more, our heads may explode. At this moment I’m experiencing the sensation of typing, the color of the computer screen, the sound of the fan blowing, the temperature, the humidity, exhaustion from walking, a little bit of hunger… the list could continue. If I could focus on all of these at once, it would be sensory overload.

In the book “The Reason I Jump”, the author, who has Autism, explains how he doesn’t always have the ability to regulate his attention. Most people are able to concentrate on one subject – the book they’re reading, the people around them, the color of the walls et cetera. Naoki Higashida says that this regulation or organizing of thoughts, is impossible at times. Colors jump out, or the shininess of an object, or the feel of fabric. The world feels like it’s too much, full of details but not the overall idea.

Without sensory regulation and the ability to concentrate, we’d overload. The way our body prevents this overstimulation is through forgetting. When we initially experience a new blanket, we may notice the softness or thickness of the fabric. Within a few weeks, we will no longer notice either trait. We adjust to the world around us and forget excess details to prevent sensory overload.

We also forget details because we are mentally preparing for new information. If we walked barefoot through grass for the first time, we would notice how unusual it felt on our feet. After experiencing this multiple times, we forget the sensation. If we continued to focus on that sensation, we may miss new experiences like a plane flying overhead or a deer running into the woods. There isn’t enough attention to focus on everything.

This adjustment to our environments or forgetting sensory data, ultimately leads to unhappiness. When you travels to a new city, it may be exhilarating. The air may feel more crisp, food could have more flavor, the people may appear much different. While any of these could be true, it’s more likely that you’re focusing on your senses. You may have the same feelings in your hometown but you no longer notice them.

An easy way to notice this is to walk around your city. People who are new will be engaging with their environments to a greater degree. If you pay attention to them, they will be looking around and moving their head more. Now focus on other people who don’t look around and move their heads – it is likely that these people live in the city or have been there many times. Instead of looking around at places they’ve already seen, they look straight ahead. Even sitting in traffic you can notice this about people; some will look forward with a dead look in their eyes and other will be absorbing their environments.

The longer we go without new experiences, the more that we disengage from our environments. If we walk down the same street everyday, we will stop paying attention to it. Inevitably we will drone on and focus on our mind.

Earlier we were talking about the limits of our attention; we can only focus on so many details. Well one of the “details” we have is our mind. If we focus on our mind (thoughts, feelings, judgments), we use some of our limited attention span. Putting half our attention into how we feel emotionally (“it’s a beautiful day”, “that building is off center”, “the grass is prickly”) restricts how much information new information we can absorb. If we’re constantly making judgements about our environments, we aren’t fully experiencing them.

A huge part of “Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” discusses a similar concept. We think about what we’re experiencing more than we actually experience something. What this means is that we look at the sky and think “that is blue”. Of course it’s blue, it’s the sky. When you reduce the sky to the word “blue”, you negate the exact experience of looking at it.

Let’s reverse that: you’re sitting in a chair blindfolded. In front of you is a man who is explaining the sky. He says “the sky is blue and filled with white puffs of air”. Now try to imagine seeing the sky for the first time with only those labels. Would your image accurately align with what the sky looks like? No way, because the sky is so much more than words can describe. “Blue” doesn’t do it justice.

It’s incredibly important to understand that your experience of the world cannot fit into words. You cannot fully describe what it’s like to sit on a chair much less what if feels like to fall in love. You can explain pieces of what these sensations are but they will always be less. There will be no perfect combination of words to explain what heartbreak feels like.

The reason this is important is because over time we fade. Our cities lose their color, the grass loses its texture, our work dulls and our lives become boring. We simplify our lives to make room for new experience but in the process we forget old sensations.

Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance discusses a concept which I believe is a solution. The author calls it “pre-intellectualized” experience. It’s the moment when you immediately take in sensations but you don’t process them. An example would be to look at the sky and just feel it. Don’t label the feeling or reduce it to judgements – just look at it. When you step on the grass, don’t think about the texture, just feel it. Concentrate on the sensation instead of labeling it.

While it’s a blessing that we can forget suffering, like injuries or heartbreak, it’s also a curse. Over time we stop absorbing environments we spend a lot of time in. We forget what our house feels like or the comfort of laying in bed. These sensations are what make life full of color and vigor. When we experience the world, we have the ability to appreciate it. If you don’t notice the color of the sky, how can you appreciate it?

That appreciation and awareness is the basis of true love. By removing labels and experiencing life without words, you also remove the desire to change your environments. True love is centered around appreciation and acceptance. Osho once said, “If you love a flower, don’t pick it up. Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.”

Eventually wordlessness creates a silence in your life. Over the last month there have been times where I notice how quiet everything around me is. The loudest thing is my thoughts. At those points I pay attention to the silence and the sensation of what it’s like to be alive. No words, no descriptions.

Unfortunately this is where I run out of words to continue. In life we naturally forget what we become accustomed to. If we stop paying attention to our environments, we stop experiencing. Eventually we don’t look at the sky, because we create an image of it in our head, we already know what it looks like. We don’t feel the grass when we walk because we’ve already experienced that. Food starts to taste dull and it’s because we keep looking for new experience. What you have now is enough. There is so much to experience at this moment, life is never truly dull. You just have to pay attention to your life and take it all in!

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9/31 Blogtober

This is what mindfulness is about! Learning to pay attention to your body and the experience of being alive. Sit down, slow down, and really focus on your senses!

What Is

We all want a perfect life, where we will be loved and enjoy our time. Where we will work less and have more fun. We all want a mate who will make us comfortable and a life that makes a different in the world. Tonight I watched “The Fault in Our Stars” and I recognized this trait inside of myself. So much of my life is seeking perfection but I’ve realized that the only perfection we have is when we stop seeking.

When we search for a more perfect world, we neglect the world that we live in. It’s difficult to appreciate a world that you’re always trying to improve. While it’s not wrong to want a more beautiful world, I think it leads to a lot of unhappiness. By imagining world which isn’t, we neglect what is. When we seek relationships that aren’t, we forget the relationships which are.

There’s a phrase that I’ve used lately; “The secret to life: low expectations”. While I think that’s it’s good to be easily impressed, I think the real secret is to have no expectations. Live life as it comes, as the sky hits your eyes and the smell in the air curls through your nose. Don’t think about how the sky is, know how it is. Don’t expect, don’t change. First you must know what is.

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Cont. “Language as a Barrier”

Yesterday’s post was about language and miscommunication. I explained how language is imperfect and a substitute for more tangible experiences. For example, when I say ‘street‘, a picture appears in your head. You imagine what you remember as a ‘street‘, which limits our communication. Your version of a street is different than my image of a street.

Then we moved onto less tangible words and moved onto emotions, like ‘good‘ and ‘happy‘. Again, these words are placeholders for a memory of an experience. Therefore, inevitably, your ‘good‘, is different than mine. We tried to define what ‘good‘ means but we couldn’t arrive at a conclusion without using other empty words.

We then moved onto internal dialog and discussed thought patterns. To have a conversation, we must have at least two people. We are always talking to ourselves and labeling the world. The conversation we’re having is between two ‘people’; the experiencer and the examiner. At your core, you are the experiencer, you experience life. But another part of you is the examiner, where you label the world as ‘blue‘ or ‘beautiful‘.

Today I wanted to further this discussion and say that it’s important to turn down the voice of the examiner. We use words as placeholders for memories of experiences. We remember what ‘hot‘ feels like or rough‘ food tastes like. Rather than experiencing, we live through our memories.

When we focus on wordlessness, we begin to feel more. There’s no reason to internally label a food as ‘spicy‘ because we know it. The words are useless because we’re directly at the experience. It’s like jumping into a pool of water and thinking ‘wet‘; it’s a useless thought that reduces an indescribable feeling into something that it isn’t. You can’t fully explain what it feels like to be immersed in water, nor can you explain ‘heartbreak’. It’s just a feeling you have to experience.

The reason I felt obligated to write about the same topic is because I wanted to simplify what I wrote last night. It became many words longer than I originally intended it to be. I wish that I could write this in a simpler way but language is limited. The table is… there are no words to fully describe the experience of stubbing your toe. You can try but you can’t fully communicate it. Language only passes a certain amount of information, not all of it. So instead of trying to label the world, just feel the world. When you need to explain something to another person, you can, but know that it’s limited. Perhaps you already understand this, it is simple but complex. Nonetheless, strive for wordlessness.

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Picture of my Home

I sit on the bed in the half-lotus position successfully after months of stretching. To my left are two notebooks of ideas and projects I’ve began over the last year. They’re hardly filled but the pages that are used are detailed and cover everything from interviews to music albums I enjoy. There’s a plate on my right with the remains of pizza from the best hangout spot in downtown Charleston.

This is the last week that I will spend in this room, I want to take it all in. In front of me, a map of the world is plastered to the wall. It’s littered with arrows to places I’ve been and places I want to travel to. Behind me are maps of Scandinavia, the United States, and Europe. They remind me that the world is tangible and only an arm’s reach away.

Whiteboards cover my closet door and any remaining wall space. They’re small but contain different information for the day. One holds blog topics that require more time to write, such as concepts I’ve been thinking about for months. Another holds inspirational quotes that I try to live by in daily life. One above my sink reminds me which vitamins and supplements to take, what time to take them, and how much.

In the background The Thermals play “I’m Gonna Change Your Life” and sound fills my room. The bookcase to my right is full and an excess of books covers my entertainment center, where a TV would be located if I owned one. The titles of these books all revolved around “the road”, whether it be leaving the road, “On the Road“, “Off the Road“, “The Open Road“. Most of them are travel biographies and memoirs, which carry me to faraway places when I’m unable to travel to them myself.

A miniature Buddha guards my lamp and sits meditating with a calm expression. The figure matches another small statue of Buddha on my desk sitting in the lotus position. Together I think that they remind me to sit down and breathe. A candle melts and an orange perfume mixes with the scent of stale pizza. My room isn’t perfect but neither am I.

There are a few pieces of art that are scattered around; a cover of “Quiescent Mag“, some artwork by Kavan The Kid, a watercolor by Sarah Nieman, and a few paintings by Carolyn Snyder. They keep me in touch with the artist inside. Their work serves as a reminder to create and share with the world. Art is a form of communication, and I relate to what they have created.

The small refrigerator issued to my dorm room is covered with postcards. Many of them are from Minnesota, where I’m from, but there are a few from other countries and around the United States. Among them are pictures of friends that I haven’t seen in years and one of my dad when he was deployed. Above the ‘fridge a prized toaster sits. After months of them being banned, my appreciation for toast has risen exponentially. Next to it is TAZO wild sweet orange tea and a container of whey protein. A few more containers fill the area with contents from multivitamins to wheat grass.

This is the place I have spent the last six months growing. It a home of mine, not my sole home, but one that I will remember fondly. There were, of course, days where the air conditioning died and the hot water stopped running, but I’ve fallen in love with it, even in its imperfections. The tile flooring is cold to walk on at night and slippery after a shower. And it seems like every horizontal surface gathers dust quicker than I can clean. My blankets are torn but this is what I call home. This is where I live.

Even in its worst, it’s a place where I find shelter. After long days of working, I joyously collapse on my bed. When Charleston is in a downpour, it’s a place to shed wet clothing and dry out. Days when I want quiet and peace, I find it sitting on my bed, where I’m sitting now.

I wish I could preserve this moment but I know that times are changing. Where I stand will be different tomorrow, next week, and next year. I can feel the change happening but I don’t resist it. I’ve called many places home and I’ve found myself all over the country. This room, in all of its glory, is just a room. It’s a moment in time, a fragment of my life, that I will look back on. I sit on this bed now and take all that in so one day I will have something to look back on. If you don’t breathe your life in, what will you remember in five or ten years?

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“Don’t Change for Anyone”

As human beings, we like security and having a regular schedule. Life is easier when we know what’s around the corner. However, our desire for new experience conflicts with our desire to remain the same. We are unable to be happy if we continually do the same activities, but we desire the security that a boring life provides.

Over time the demand for regularity in our lives turns destructive and we suffer. The unknown is difficult to deal with, and forming patterns is an easy way to alleviate the pain. Waking up at the same time every day, driving the same road to work, and getting the same food at the same restaurant you always visit, are ways to avoid potential discomfort.

Our happiness, however, is directly proportional to how willing we are meet the unknown. By accepting the possibility of both the good and the bad, we lose our rigidity. If the road we take to work is closed, no problem, we try a new one and accept the possibilities. Even if that road makes us late or brings us a more scenic view.

On my cousin Tabitha’s blog, she inspired me by writing:

“No one is perfect, everyone can understand that but when it comes to living it and believing in the statement and idea to accept everyone for who and what they are we become lost. We become defensive, “I’m not going to change for anyone.” If you won’t change for anyone change for you.”

In our relationships we tend to preserve our rigidity, not daring to accept the others or the unknown. We value remaining ‘true to ourselves’, and usually that leaves us suspicious of others. We fear being manipulated or having our opinion changed.

Again, our happiness is equal to how much we accept the world. That includes allowing experiences to expand our horizons and accepting that it’s alright to change your views. We need to let go our routines and the avoidance of new adventures. If you want to feel alive, then you must act like you are alive.

The most influential people in my life are the ones that can entertain possibilities. They can debate from another person’s perspective, even if they don’t share the view. By seeing the world from many perspectives, they understand that life isn’t perfect. One day your route to work is going to be under construction, the job you currently hold may not always be there, and you will have to adapt to changing circumstance.

Let go of the image you have for yourself and accept the world as it is. Find people who thrill you and be open to the possibilities that life throws at you. Your time here on Earth is far too short for nonacceptance, so let the world change you and you will change the world.

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What it feels like to have lips

You know the feeling when you kiss someone for the first time? When their lips feel foreign and their skin feels light because you’re afraid to press hard against it. Everything feels so new and unusual. You don’t know what the other person is thinking and you know that you’re thinking a lot. At this time you’re really in tune with the other person and you’re receptive to whatever they do.

There’s a certain delight in that strangeness and how foreign everything feels. Someone’s lips are weird but they’re not weird at the same time. Their skin has a particular feeling and you like that tang.

The other I was thinking about all of this and it hit me. Why does it feel so unusual? We should be used to feeling of our own skin. Every time we touch something or brush our hands against ourselves we feel ourselves. So why is there a delight in feeling someone else’s skin?

I think it’s because when we’re with someone we have that receptivity. We’re completely present and ready to feel whatever is going on. We pay attention to all of our feeling and all of our emotions. The joy that we get may not be just because we’re with another person but because we’re totally here. We’re fully alive in those moments.

Most of our life we don’t pay attention to the normal sensations of living. The feeling of gravity or our feet as they step on the ground. We only notice our back when it hurts us but we don’t pay attention to it otherwise.

We seek solace in other people because we crave the feeling of being alive. We crave the sensation of what skin feels like even though we’re already wearing a full suit. We don’t notice what our lips feel like when we’re eating or breathing.

What we should be doing is finding that presence within ourselves and sharing that with somebody else. Find where you feel most alive and bring that our in somebody else. Not only when you are intimate but when you’re just walking around. Remember the physical sensations of life like walking into the hot sun or the feeling of grass. Truly feel it and breath it all in! That is the way to happiness, not through somebody else.

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