January 23./ Leaving Social Media (again)

Staying off social media has been an interesting change in my life lately. A couple weeks ago I decided to deactivate my Facebook account and remove SnapChat, Instagram, and a couple other apps from my phone. The motivation for this decision was a bit blurry and undefined.

A few times each year I get frustrated at something. I struggle to define what it is exactly. Not only in communicating this to others but I struggle to understand what it is within myself. Sometimes it feels like loneliness, other times it feels like a desire to retreat from others.

There were various reasons for this withdrawal; social media’s inability to duplicate one-on-one relationships with other people, how distracting it can be to wonder if I have any notifications (or that I can neurotically check them at any moment), the onslaught of memes that deliver humor but lack substance, or finally how blindly this can consume large pockets of my life.

Perhaps it’s out of nostalgia but MySpace will always feel like the original social media to me. It didn’t have an instant messenger and there was no infinite NewsFeed to scroll through. Although it supplemented relationships, it never felt like it was replacing them.

With live video on Facebook, Messenger installed for texting, and customized NewsFeeds, it feels like Facebook has deeply ingrained itself in how I maintain relationships with my friends and family. Leaving social media has felt like I’ve hacked away at those relationships.

One relationship that’s particularly damaged at the moment is the one that I have with myself. Empty moments where normally nothing demands my attention have disappeared. Between tasks, I pull out my phone and check for updates. It’s not that I’m desiring news but that I’m filling periods where I’d normally be doing nothing.

For example, when I wake up I silence my alarm and check my phone. When I go to the bathroom, I’m scrolling through a newsfeed. If there isn’t a conversation going on in the car with friends, I probably have my phone out. Sometimes when I’m walking I’m looking at Facebook more than I’m looking at my environment.

What am I looking for? I’m not sure exactly. Exciting news? To cover moments that I would feel bored? To stay ‘connected’? Maybe a mixture, I haven’t really figure it out. What I do know is that the cost of looking for these things is my attention. And my attention, unfortunately, is limited.

The content of social media is mostly white noise. My Facebook NewsFeed consisted of  only a couple stories relevant to my friends and family when I left. It was mostly memes, politics, recipes, lots of ads, and irrelevent short videos. There was no central substance or social expression of my friends other than sharing someone else’s content.

Don’t get me wrong, this content can be interesting and expresses what a person likes – but it does not foster social connection in a way that justifies how much time I spend using it.

It isn’t like binging a TV show on Netflix where you finish a season of your favorite show and wonder where the weekend has gone. It’s so much more subtle than that. Those empty moments I spoke about before; rolling over in bed in the morning, riding in the car with friends, even walking down the street; they’re valuable.

It’s hard to define their worth because these moments are empty. Normally we would be doing nothing in their absence. But emptiness itself is valuable. It’s filled with possibility and needed transition time.

In the car with friends, maybe I’ve missed conversation because I’ve been on my phone. Or maybe there’s a bond that happens when multiple people are together, not distantly looking at Facebook, even if nothing is said. When I’m out walking and looking at my phone, maybe I’m too zoned out from what’s actually happening around me. Maybe I need to let my mind idle for a few minutes before I get where I’m going.

I just know that I’ve felt restless and unable to define why. I’ve felt busy, though I’ve accomplished nothing. I’ve felt lonely, though I’m connected to many people. I struggle to balance this and I know that many other people feel the same way and perhaps they don’t understand it either.

So disconnecting myself hasn’t ultimately changed my life. I still wake up and go to work each day. I’m not filled with tranquility or any other emotion. But I do notice the empty moments now.

When I sit at work and everyone around me is on their phone, I open my eyes and look around. When my alarm goes off in the morning, I stretch in my bed and begin the day without taking on the burden of knowing what’s happening somewhere else. I can sit down with my breakfast and gaze out the window at the bustling world – knowing that ultimately I’m here. There’s no notification, no urge to fill the empty moments with empty content, no reason to neurotically try to strengthen relationships with others. Just here and now.

 

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Doing Nothing

It’s been a couple of months since I last meditated. I’m human. I make excuses on why not to. The benefits are obvious and it’s silly that I don’t do it more often. I read books on meditation, watch movies with characters that meditate, and I really want to do it. But usually when it comes down to actually doing it, I choose not to.

Last night I procrastinated. I wanted to meditate but I shoved it to the back of my head. The same feeling comes and goes often, so I didn’t think too hard about it. When bedtime came around, I decided that I wanted to meditate. Not only did I want to do it, but I decided to do it for an entire hour. That’s significantly longer than I usually meditate for.

I just went with the whim and set the time on my phone. When I sat, I cleared my mind the best I could. Thoughts kept arising left and right. Music that I listened to earlier in the day came to the front of my head. The tunes drove me nuts. I just wanted mental silence.

Eventually I started focusing on physical sensations. What my body feel like, how heavy I am, the sound of the AC unit, and the taste of my tongue. My mind kept grabbing my attention and that song kept coming back over and over again. It felt chaotic. Every nerve inside of me made me want to get up and do something more productive.

Then I realized something; my view of meditation has been skewed. All this time I had tried to make meditation more than it was. I wanted clarity and mindfulness. Yet both of these are things that I could choose to have more of. My goal became to simply sit. I abandoned any expectations I had. I only sat. I slowed my thinking and paid attention to the physical sensations around me.

Meditation is really boring. Sitting down for an hour and literally doing nothing but breathing is not an exciting experience. I didn’t try to make it an exciting experience. I didn’t try to make it anything more than it was. It was just sitting.

If I couldn’t just sit, then how could I live other parts of my life totally. Sitting is an incredibly simple exercise. All you do is have your butt on the ground. If I couldn’t put all my consciousness in that, how could I walk totally, or talk to others totally. Learning how to sit fully would be the first step towards living totally.

Most of life is boring. Going to work, eating, sleeping. These are generally mundane activities. Trying to make them more important than they are is a cause of suffering. To eat with a wandering mind, I avoided tasting totally. When I walked, my mind would drift off. How am I to enjoy life if every moment that isn’t exciting makes me disconnect? I think the point is to stick with it. To live with the mundane and really enjoy it. Then, when you’re really enjoying it, you can experience the really exciting things totally as well.

Maybe that didn’t make complete sense. It’s hard to put it in words. Doing nothing has really had an impact on my life. Silly as that sounds, sitting has improved my life.

BLOGtober day nineteen!

Misconceptions about Meditation

A few weeks ago, a friend on Facebook posted about taking a course on ‘Mindfulness’. He wrote about how his intent was to make the voices in his head shut up. While in the beginning this seems like a natural reason to meditate, it can lead a person away from mindfulness.

Everyone has a different view on meditation and how to do it. This is fine because there is not one path that is correct. Many ways lead to the same goal, or in this case, inner peace. Therefore, take what I say with a grain of salt. My path may lead me in a different direction than yours.

Meditation seems to be taken for more than it is. There is an importance placed on meditation as though it is more than just sitting. Therein lies the problem. We try to make it more significant than it is. Meditation is simply sitting. The more that you complicate it, the further you get away from your goal of inner peace.

For those who have tried sitting meditation, they may have thought about how boring it is. After 5 minutes of sitting, their mind starts to wander. It is natural for everyone. The mind is curious and doesn’t like mundane activities like sitting in one place. This is when fantasies begins. The mind concocts what it’s going to do when you’re finished meditating. Maybe it remembers what you were doing before you sat down.

This is one of the popular ideas in Western meditation: you have this monkey mind that’s swinging around endlessly. If we want to get to peace, we’re going to have to calm it down. The monkey dabbles around in one area, then abandons it randomly for another. The mind chooses a topic and changes it rapidly. Naturally this monkey becomes an enemy – after all, it’s preventing us from being peaceful.

Well, the monkey and peace thing is somewhat true. But chasing after your mind, trying to calm it down, is not going to help. The monkey will run free and wild. The more you attempt to slow it down, the more it will run rampant. The monkey is not the cause of your unhappiness or dissatisfaction, your attachment to your mind is.

Think of your mind as a dog. Each day when you wake up and let it out, it runs around energetically. You can chase it but chances are it will elude you. The dog will run too fast for you to catch it and when you trick it, it’ll escape again. But if you sit down and let the dog run wild, it will get bored or exhausted. That doesn’t mean you should concern yourself with the dog, recognize it as your own but don’t try to overly control it. It is an animal after all.

The focus of meditation shouldn’t be to suppress your mind. It will only find ways to elude you. Besides, the mind is a wonderful tool. Instead, we need to open up and sit back. Let the dog run around but don’t attach. Don’t mistake yourself as the dog. Enjoy the sunny day or the rainy day. Feel the breeze and what it physically feels like to be alive. Focus too much on the dog, concern yourself too much with where your mind runs off to, and you will unhappy. How can you enjoy when all you do is suppress.

This seems to be the misconception of western meditation: we are not trying to get rid of the mind. It is not evil or wrong. It is simply a tool that, if used improperly, harms the person using it. When you want to get a specific job done, bring out the tool kit. When you’re done, set down the tools. Simple as that. Sit down and enjoy a frackin’ lemonade! It’s the weekend guys and yesterday was payday! Woot woot!

Can’t believe BLOGtober is already half over, day sixteen is finished!

 

Surrounded in Love

Don’t ask why I decided to stare at the TV for the last 7 hours before writing a blog post. Usually I don’t spend much time playing videogames but I didn’t have work tonight. There wasn’t anything else I wanted to do other than relax and, hey, why do I have to justify myself to you. My brain is a champ though, I’m surprised I’m awake enough to write. *dozes off

Speaking of which, last night I had an interesting dream. Moving away from friends felt a little traumatic and it’s been hard for me to reminisce without feeling nostalgic. It’s been easier to push it all out rather than feel this weird ache for “the good times”. But I dreamt I was at one of my old friend’s house playing board games with everyone. There wasn’t a pit in my stomach, I just felt… happy.

Usually I sleep solid through the night but I woke up after this dream. I laid in bed with a deep feeling of love. I felt content having had the experiences back in Charleston – and I no longer felt the need to go back and mentally relive those memories. It didn’t feel like letting go but I wasn’t desperately clinging to the past. All I felt was love. A love for my friends, a love for the places I visited, and a love for life.

I laid on my back content for what felt like ages. Eventually I rolled over to the nightstand and wrote on a post-it-note, “I’m so lucky”. I believed it too. I deeply appreciated the people who had wandered through my life and the circumstances which had led me to this part of my life journey. I appreciated both the good and the bad that happened to me.

It felt natural to have this experience. There was no desire to go backwards (or to skip forward, for that matter). I was at peace. The only expression that comes to mind is that it felt like “coming home”. I’ve read that phrase through numerous books but never understood it in the way that I do now.

Last night, I came home to myself. I laid in bed in awe of life. I felt my body’s weight and the way the pillow sat under my head. I was conscious of so much. I feel like a restraint within me has broken and I can move freely again. Oh, how wonderful it feels to be surrounded by so much love. I’m so lucky to have friends and to be alive.

Or… maybe my body just realized it’s humpday and the three-day weekend is approaching. Eh? Eh? :-p There’s joy in making it half way through the week without succumbing to workplace depression. ALSO, one week complete of BLOGtober. What on Earth am I going to do when this month is over?!

Day seven of BLOGtober complied with. Over and out.

OH! Go check out Björk’s song ‘All is Full of Love’, totally applicable emotion of the day!

Over and out for real this time. ;-P

The Meaning of Life

It’s late, so today’s post is going to be briefer than usual.

After work, there was a guy sitting outside of his dorm room a few doors down from mine. We met a few weeks ago during a fire drill. Everyone in the dorms evacuated downstairs and while we were waiting, I introduced myself. He was reading a book by Deepak Chopra and seemed like an interesting guy.

Our conversation cut off after the fire alarms stopped ringing and we didn’t get to really have a deep conversation. Over the last couple weeks we’ve walk passed each other and exchanged head nods and hellos.

Well, when I got off today, he was sitting outside writing in a book. I awkwardly said hello and asked him to if he wanted to talk. I didn’t know what about but I don’t meet many people who read. I walked into my room and changed quickly. When I walked back out, I sat on the ground next to him and we started talking about books.

The conversation delved quickly into the meaning of life. He talked about how our purpose in life is to pursue happiness. Ultimately the desire to be happy. An interesting, if not cliché, idea. I was more than okay to discuss this with him. I’ve read enough Buddhist books to feel equipped for this kind of conversation.

He went on about happiness was the meaning of life. I played devil’s advocate and asked him if sadness was the opposite of this goal. Is the point of life to avoid sadness? He disagreed, then continued on about happiness. I asked him if he was happy. “No”. Then I asked him why not.

His answer started to fade out in my head. He started labeling the reasons he wasn’t happy. As if there was this resistance around him that prevented him from achieving happiness. I’m not saying this to invalidate his logic or beliefs but rather to discuss my reaction to it.

He brought up what’s going on in his life, what he’s doing, how he’s pursuing happiness but it just faded in my head. All I could think was how he wasn’t choosing happiness. There was no resistance. It was just him. Nothing in his life was preventing his happiness, only he was.

When I told him that, he said that maybe he wasn’t ready for happiness. Everything within me rumbled. He was pursuing happiness by trying to understand it. He wanted to know what it was, how it got there, and why he should feel it. Yet, the purpose of life, in his head, is to have happiness. He couldn’t have happiness until he understood it.

I asked him if he needed to understand happiness to have happiness. He said no, but he just wants to understand why he’s so resistant to it. Why this and why that. There were so many questions that were getting in the way. Big fancy questions about life that ultimately served no purpose.

These questions used to drive me mad. I wanted to know. Deeply within my being, I wanted to understand happiness and why people feel happy or sad. The questions would feel like a weight on my shoulder. I could only have what I understood emotionally. If I didn’t know what happiness was exactly, how would I know if I had it.

Over time, I’ve realized that these questions, while they seem important, often aren’t. There’s no way I could calm his mind and say “be happy”. He has to find that himself. He’ll pursue understanding of many things – and that’s alright. Maybe he’ll find happiness in a way that I haven’t.

I bring this up because I learned a lot about myself today. He felt like a reflection. I resisted happiness and wanted to understand it. I wanted to know things which are ultimately unimportant. Why my relationships have failed, why I’ve chosen this life path working in the military, what am I going to do to be happy when I finished my contract.

These questions are distractions from happiness. Seeing him fumble through these questions made me realize how much I’ve been focusing on removing obstacles from my happiness. The only block in my path is me. I’m the one who distracting myself and blaming circumstance for my unhappiness.

It seems so simple now. There’s no way I could properly communicate my understanding of this. I tried to explain it to him. Understanding doesn’t always equal happiness. Knowing how to be happy doesn’t make you happy. (As I shout this last sentence at my bookcases filled with self-help guides).

While these are noble pursuits, they don’t bring you what you want. In fact, there’s nothing out there that you don’t already have within yourself. If you want happiness, then take it in. Really appreciate it when you have it.

I don’t think the purpose of life is to seek happiness. I think seeking happiness leads to unhappiness. The purpose of life seems to be to experience life to the fullest. Feel every emotion as deep as it is. That means happiness, sadness, anger, bitterness, bliss, and the wide variety of emotions that you feel on a daily basis. Really take them in. Experience them.

When you walk, feel your feet hitting the floor. When you eat, really taste the food. When you lay in bed, really sink in and feel it. That is my current view on life. Not to say it’s right or wrong but it’s what I’ve learned thus far. Talking to my neighbor today really highlighted that belief. You can choose to take everything and experience it… or you can try to understand it and examine it at every angle. Neither is better than the other. Life is just life.

Anyways, this post is becoming longer than I anticipated and much more existential than it needs to be. It’s almost 0300. I need to hit the hay.

If I haven’t said it enough already, go check out my cousin Tabby’s blog. She’s writing everyday for the month of BLOGtober. AND… AND… she just redesigned her blog. Go give it a looksey through this LINK. Today she wrote an update about living at home while her husband is deployed. It’s worth a read. Her deployment series is interesting – since I haven’t experienced it yet, I enjoy reading her perspectives on it.

Happy day five of BLOGtober!

 

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!

Take Charge of Your Emotions

Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that everyone acts what they feel inside. A person who is at peace internally, will act peaceful to others. If a man is angry with himself, he will act angrily at the people around him. Happy people are internally happy and extend it outside of themselves.

We reflect our internal world and attempt to actualize it. However, we have control over ourselves (and our own mental world) but not the physical world. We can choose to be happy or sad but we cannot make another person happy. Only they can make themselves happy.

It’s difficult to believe this because we think “she made me angry”, “he wanted me to feel sad”, and we think others can control emotions. This is not so. No one can make you angry, only you can make yourself angry. You can beat me up, hurt my family, take away my things, but you cannot make me angry. That is inside of me, it’s my own choice.

The same is true for you. Take notice of your emotions and responsibility for them. When you feel happy, it’s not because of anyone else, it’s inside of you. Someone can buy you roses, but it’s not the person or the roses that make you happy – you make yourself happy.

When you take responsibility for your emotions, you realize this. You cannot blame anyone else for how you feel. Nor can you justify acting out of an emotions because of another person. You feel, that is you. Take everything in, feel your emotions. Take notice of them and realize what you feel.

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