Archive for the ‘Meaning’ Category

February 9th, 2012 No Comments

Three Ways to Break Free From the Chain of Consumerism

Breaking Free From the Chains of Consumerism
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from TJ Chasteen of

So you want to be happy, yet you find one of the largest hindrances to this is the amount of time you slave away at work. Day after day you dread waking-up, hit snooze 16 times (you were smart enough to set the clock a tad bit early), roll out of bed, go waste valuable life in exchange for currency, come home watch TV, and repeat. Sounds familiar right? Well that’s how it works for nearly everyone, in a matter of fact it is so common that it seems normal!

But my friend I am here to tell you it is not normal at all, it is conditioned… And it can be broken once you find the culprit (soon to be revealed).

Dig a Little Deeper

My darling girlfriend of many many years, was watching Disney’s The Princess and The Frog when a cute old lady with a triple neck bursts into a musical. The theme of the song was that in order to be happy we must not know what we “want” but instead know what we “need”. To do this we must dig a little deeper inside ourselves to find out what we really value in life. Oh great you’re thinking, this guy is going to take that old route (live on necessities only). No that’s not what I am suggesting, however it is a smidgen similar.

Our culture has taught us that in order to be happy we must follow a familiar pattern. One that looks something like this: Step A + Step B + Step C + Step D = Happiness. With the steps following a similar pattern to these:

Step A – Spend loads getting a sound education, have a blast doing it, and obtain everything you want during this youthful stage.

Step B – Use your education and go get yourself a good job.

Step C – Spend the next 35 + years working your tail off until you pay everything back from Step A.

Step D – Congrats you are 60+ and if life worked out perfectly you get to spend the rest of your health-ridden life doing as you please. However, many find this impossible because they do not know how to live a life that is different than the one they’ve had for so long!

Wow glamorous right? Most people have been so dog-gone busy that they have not even had time to look at their own lives to see if they are a current victim. Are you? hmm…

These Culprits Double Team Us

What I am suggesting is to simply have less “wants” and have less expense to live free. Easier said than done, sure. In American society (I realize many readers come from elsewhere), the system functions on consumerism. Our citizens are constantly being tempted with new gizmos and gadgets. Buy the iPhone 3 to be cool, (shortly after) buy the iPhone 4 to be cool, (shorty after) buy the iPhone 4s to be cool. It’s ridiculous and insane the way things work here and in many similar countries. The pressure to fit in with peers and regular members of society is extreme and to do that one must continue to consume.

The irony is that in an attempt to get away from work and find true happiness, people trap themselves in it even more deeply.

How do people have fun outside of work?

  • $$$ Bar
  • $$$ Dinner
  • $$$ Vacation
  • $$$ Movies

What do people do to cure depression and unhappiness caused by working every free day of their lives?

  • $$$ Shopping spree
  • $$$ Spa
  • $$$ Manicure
  • $$$ New “Toys” (Computer, Truck, Fishing Pole) ~~~ Sorry girls, the list was becoming a bit female dominated.

In order to pay for all of these short term solutions to happiness, trapped consumers of the world must continue chugging along and hooting their stem engines while they work to support the habit.

Having more wants only means having more failures. The more we want the more chances of not getting everything we desire, resulting in sadness. To want less is to appreciate what we have. If we want less we depend on money less and slowly develop a sense of liberation from it.

Expenses are the real chain keeping you locked away from happiness – A consumer can never be free of work unless they learn to have less expenses. When you really sit back and look at it, are the things that force you to work worth the time you spend trading life for them? For example is a $30.00 Pampered Chef Magic Chopper really worth the 1, 2, 3 hours someone gives away at work to earn it? Or would it have been perfectly okay for them to have spent an extra 15 seconds a meal chopping the carrots themselves? (Who knows how much time one of those things would save you anyhow, plus like most things bought with the traded life people spend to earn them, it would probably end up in the landfill.) Way to be green happy consumers!

Three Ways to Break Free

If you truly wish to beat the system then you must be willing to make a HUGE life adjustment. One must learn to “dig a little deeper” and live by being able to fulfill their needs by working less.

1) Work less – Your time is more valuable than the money you trade it for. Learn to live with a lower amount of expenses that way you can spend less time chained up working. Some people manage this by working a seasonal or part-time position where they bring in enough money to cover their needs. As long as your expenses are covered then the rest of your time can be spent living. Make sure you are working to live, not living to work.

2) Stockpile – Another great strategy is to work hard for a number of years while saving like crazy and spending very little. The idea behind this is to save up enough money to live on the interest. While working yourself to death certainly isn’t a solution to break free, it is a solution should it be for a limited number of years. If you can manage to save up enough money in 15 years to live on it’s interest and therefore retire early, then you by all means have beat the system.

3) Make your money work for you – When consumerists run out to the stores and spend their hard earned greenbacks on materialistic things, their money isn’t working for them. Their money is instead working for 1% of the population which holds 99% of the wealth. To make your money work for you figure out exactly what you need it for and see past the cultural trends of throwing it away on useless items that will be discarded in the near future. This doesn’t mean be cheap. If you need pots and pans by the best darn pots and pans there are that way you don’t ever have to replace them! However avoid the other little cheapo nick-knacks that line the shelves of Wally World.

A Real-World Example: Jacob the Stockpiler

There are people who learn to live on as little as $20,000 or even $7,000 a year such as Jacob Fisker.

Jacob was a stockpiler, he managed to retire in his 30′s by working hard and being a slave to his job for five years while living on 7,000 a year. After saving an amount he was satisfied with he was able to use the money saved and retire by living only on its interest! For example, 140,000 dollars makes an interest of 5% per year which would give Jacob the $7000 he needed everyday to survive. And yes his health insurance is included in this number. Of course 7,000 probably won’t cut it for many people but it is a strategy for living frugally for a set number of years 10, 15, 20 (still beats 35 any day) and then retiring before one is too old to walk the beach without a cane.

If you’re not happy now, ask yourself what really makes you happy? Would more free time but a simpler life spent with those who matter be a better solution?

tj chasteen
TJ Chasteen is the founder of TJ believes nothing is more important than living a life full of happiness. He promotes free happiness research, strategies, and how-to guides to improve life-long happiness on his blog.

Chains image copyright Sfu.Marcin –

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January 24th, 2012 No Comments

Using Facebook, Youtube and Twitter Too Much? Create Healthy Habits for Your Free Time

twitter cat

The future will belong not only to the educated man, but to the man who is educated to use his leisure wisely.

-C. K. Brightbill

What do the Internet (Facebook / Youtube / Twitter), television, newspapers, film and radio have in common? These are all forms of mass media. If you spend your free time passively consuming mass media, it is likely to be disappointing in the long-run. Mass media consumption requires very little psychological energy, and rarely helps you grow. Its purpose is not to make you happy. It is (usually) to make someone else money. And by passively consuming the same information as everyone else, you are likely to think like everyone else.

As technology continues to improve, it is becoming easier than ever for you to spend your free time passively, living vicariously through the creations of others. An example would be getting home from work and deciding to watch television or Youtube videos instead of creating something of your own. You are stagnating during your free time when you could be growing. This is okay occasionally, as you need time to relax and recover after work. The problem is when it becomes a daily habit (e.g. watching television for 4-5 hours per day).

Create Healthy Habits For Your Free Time: Mass Media Rehab

By using your free time to create and grow, instead of passively consuming, you will find yourself living a more meaningful life.

Create your own content: You wouldn’t be reading this blog post if I hadn’t started LifeEvolver.Com four years ago. With the Internet, it’s easier than ever to create your own content and get instant feedback. For example, you could start your own a blog or create videos on Youtube today. Immediate feedback from the online community could help you improve and refine your talent. This type of instant feedback wasn’t available to artists 50 years ago. And don’t forget to reach out to friends and family for feedback as well.

Examples: Write your own book, create your own movie, start your own blog, create a video on Youtube

Become an active contributor: You can continue to use mass media, but become an active contributor. The Internet is the easiest form of mass media to participate in. Did you know that only 1-2% of website visitors actually contribute content? This is the case for Wikipedia and most other websites (Benkler 2007). If you have a valuable opinion, or are an expert on a subject, why not share it with others? You might be surprised how much feedback you start getting, how many interesting people you meet along the way, and how good it feels to contribute to a greater cause. You can help support online communities by content, contributing feedback, comments, and ratings to websites.

Examples: Create an article on Wikipedia, comment on a blog post, rate a Youtube video, edit a spelling error on a Wikipedia article

Get away from mass media: As with your work, it’s healthy to create a daily ritual of disconnecting from your home computer and television. There are plenty of leisure activities which do not require the passive consumption of mass media.

Examples: Play a sport, learn to play an instrument, create art, create music, exercise, join an improvisation group

Create goals for how you use your free time: Choose goals that are intrinsically rewarding. This means that you enjoy the process of reaching your goals. Also make sure that your goals are challenging, have clear objectives, a clear timeline and performance criteria.

Example: Let’s say that you decide to create a leisure time goal of reading one book per week. Choose books that you enjoy reading, and you will enjoy the process of reaching this goal. Your goal would be “I will read one book per week of at least 200 pages for the next three months, starting on April 1st and finishing on June 30th.”

Creating Healthy Work and Leisure Habits

Escape the Rat RaceFor more tips on creating healthy work and leisure / free time habits, ready my mini-book Escape the Rat Race:

Escape the Rat Race: Change Your Mind or Take the Emergency Exit
How can you escape the rat race? Should you change your job? Or can you keep it, while making smaller changes to your daily habits and ways of thinking? This mini-book explores both options, and teaches you when each is appropriate for escaping the rat race.

Creating Alternate Sources of Income During Your Free Time

Are you interested in creating alternate sources of income during your free time? Check out my other mini-book Modern Moonlighting:

Modern Moonlighting
Modern Moonlighting: Keep Your Day Job, Make Extra Money, Do What You Love
How can you create alternative sources of income while keeping your day job? This mini-book teaches you how to start moonlighting and gain more independence from your job.


  • Benkler, Y. (2007). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Yale University Press.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. 1ST Edition. Harper Perennial Modern Classics.

Creative Commons License photo credit: zophonias

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October 7th, 2011 No Comments

Common Sense Buddhism: A Compelling Life Philosophy for Everyone

Big smiling buddha

Only by stripping away irrelevant cultural and social values will we see the full spectrum of what this wisdom is in its naked form and what it has to offer our modern cultures.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Whether you are a religious Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jew, or non-religious Atheist, Agnostic, or Freethinker, the original teachings of Buddhism provide a compelling life philosophy. The teachings are not in conflict with your beliefs or non-beliefs, with a few exceptions. There are several supernatural, cultural, and religious aspects of Buddhism can make it hard for everyone to stomach. Fortunately, recent Buddhist authors have broken apart these cultural and non-scientific aspects of Buddhism. What remains is a common sense life philosophy.

How Buddhism Started

Buddhism started in present day Nepal with the birth of the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha was a prince who gave up his position in search of the truth. He was deeply moved by the suffering he saw all around him and resolved to find a key to human happiness. The story of the Buddha can be found in detail on Wikipedia. Over time, Buddhism spread to Central, East, and Southeast Asia. Buddhism evolved into three main traditions- Theravada or Southern tradition, Mahayana or Northern tradition and Vajrayana or Tibetan tradition. Different traditions adapted to each culture and give varying emphasis to different aspects of the teaching and practices.

Is Buddhism A Religion or Life Philosophy?

It can be either, depending on the individual. The original teachings of the Buddha seem to be more of a life philosophy or way of life. But over time, as Buddhism spread across Asia, it evolved to each culture, and sometimes became more of a religion.

Why Buddhism is A Good Fit For Everyone

Buddhism is Agnostic. It does not require a belief in a god, making it attractive for both religious and non-religious, the believer and non-believer. The Buddha explained that he was not a god, and that believing in gods was not useful for those seeking enlightenment. While it is common for people in Asia pray to the Buddha, many consider this a corruption of the original teachings of the Buddha.

Common Sense Buddhism: The Original Teachings of the Buddha

The original teachings and basic philosophy of the Buddha (The Four Noble Truths) provide a common sense life philosophy for everyone. They don’t require a “leap of faith” or belief in the supernatural. The Four Noble Truths are taught in all three traditions of Buddhism:

1. The nature of suffering

Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.

2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires

It is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination.

3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases

It is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it.

4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the eightfold path

The Noble eightfold path (summarized) is being moral through what we say, do and our livelihood, focusing the mind on being fully aware of our thoughts and actions, by developing compassion for others and by developing wisdom by understanding the Four Noble Truths.

Sources: Wikipedia, Buddhist Studies

According to the Buddha, these four noble truths can be tested and proven by anyone. During his lifetime, the Buddha was a strong proponent of skepticism and critical thinking:

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

Taking the Nonscientific Aspects Out of Buddhism

While The Four Noble Truths do not conflict with science, there are two Buddhist beliefs that do: Karma and Rebirth. In addition, there are some New Age philosophies we need to watch out for as they can confuse us by linking their philosophies with Buddhism.

Karma: The Buddhist belief that every action brings about a result in this life or in a future life. Similar to the saying “What goes around comes around.” There is no way to scientifically prove karma, and so skeptics must discard this aspect of Buddhism as a life philosophy.

Stephen T. Asma PhD offers an interesting re-interpretation of karma in his book:

But the only really compelling interpretation of karma-one that doesn’t conflict with science-is the radical reinterpretation that asks us to think about karma as a psychological fact rather than a metaphysical one. For example, it is possible to say that one’s early lack of mental control and discipline results in a later batch of suffering-perhaps I never disciplined my cravings for fast food as a young man, and now I’m an obese older man who lives like a slave to French-fries. Or my younger taste for drama and negative attention has resulted in a later relationship pattern wherein I only try to date married women. This more naturalized version of karma is the only one that seems reasonably defensible.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

Rebirth: The Buddhist belief that upon death, a stream of consciousness flows from the deceased into a new person. Again, this (and the afterlife in general) cannot be proved, so cannot be accepted by a skeptic. During his lifetime, the Buddha himself even encouraged skepticism of the afterlife and karma:

“Suppose there is no hereafter and there is no fruit of deeds done well or ill. Yet in this world, here and now, free from hatred, free from malice, safe and sound, and happy, I keep myself.”
-Buddha, Kalama Sutta

In his book, Stephen Batchelor makes a good point about the power of believing in death’s finality:

It made me realize that belief in rebirth was a denial of death. And by removing death’s finality, you deprive it of its greatest power to affect your life here and now.
-Stephen Batchelor, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

New Age “Magical Thinking” to Look Out For: Popular New Age philosophies are often linked with Buddhism, which can be confusing for those seeking the truth. As a wrote about previously in my post How Does the Law of Attraction Explain The Holocaust?, recent “magical thinking” presented in movies such as The Secret (2007) is harmful, and sometimes promotes a blame-the-victim mentality.

Stephen T. Asma PhD explains the problem with this modern day “magical thinking” that has become a part of popular culture:

… The more recent The Da Vinci Code phenomenon (2003), or the New Age variations such as The Celestine Prophecy (1993), The Secret (2007) and so on. Most of these worldviews share a common conviction that “positive thinking” and/or secret knowledge can, by itself, rearrange the universe to your liking. I believe The Celestine Prophecy and other such magical philosophies are popular for one reason: they indulge all our infantile desires to control the world. This is Freud’s famous critique of magical thinking, and I find myself in agreement. We all have these infantile desires to control the world through magical means… It is juvenile to expect the world to bend to my will.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

Stephen provides a second example of quantum mysticism, which has also become part of popular culture:

The purveyors of quantum mysticism include Fritjof Capra (the author of The Tao of Physics), Deepak Chopra (author of Quantum Healing), and the makers of the film What the Bleep Do We Know! (Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment). One of the things they are all trying to sell is the idea that there’s some deep, ancient agreement on the other side of the planet that we should reject our rationality. And the second major plank in the quantum mysticism campaign is that the conscious mind can and does make reality.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

What Remains: Common Sense Buddhism

Having read several books on Buddhism, I came across “common sense” themes and words of wisdom that expanded on The Four Noble Truths. None of these themes require a belief in karma or rebirth. If you are interested in learning more about Buddhism, any of the books quoted below are a good place to start. My favorites were Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind
and Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey.

The Nature of Suffering (Noble Truth 1)

There are many types of suffering, but there’s one that’s worth contemplating above all others: nothing lasts. Life is short, the clock never stops ticking, and the time of your death will be a surprise.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Suffering’s Origin: Cravings and Attachments (Noble Truth 2)

When you start to study your mind, you begin to see how mind works. You discover the principle of cause and effect; you see that certain actions produce suffering and others produce happiness. Once you make that discovery, you understand that by working with suffering’s causes, you can overcome suffering itself. You also begin to see, in the contents of mind, a clearer picture of your own psychological profile. That is, you begin to see the patterns of thought and feeling that repeat over and over. You see how predictable you are in your relationships and interactions with the world. You come to see, too, how ephemeral the contents of mind are. At a certain point, you begin to glimpse the total space of mind, the brilliant awareness that is the source of your fleeting thoughts and emotions. This is your first look at mind’s true nature; it’s a milestone on your path and an experience of personal freedom.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Whatever our desires may be, getting the object of our desire is not the same thing as contentment, which comes from within. In the end, we’ll never find complete contentment, a perfect sense of peace, if our mind isn’t content and at peace.
Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

No matter how much freedom we have, there’s still a sense of struggle. We always seem to be fighting for more freedom or a different kind of freedom, and therefore the suffering is endless.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Activities themselves, whether they be helping old ladies across the street or selling your body for money, are neither good nor bad. They are inherently value-neutral, they just are. The activity becomes “bad” only if you become attached to it, only if you find yourself “needing” it and obsessing about it and not being able to be content without it. Even helping old ladies across the street can become “bad” if you become sanctimoniously righteous about it and stake out cross-walks to get your pious “fix.” So, too, sex for money is problematic when either the sex or the money becomes an addiction, but not before that. This means that there is no commandment list of absolutely wrong things in Buddhism, and while sexual desire and drugs and greed might trap you in this world of suffering, so might rigid religiosity and moral righteousness.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

If I simply cannot help myself from gawking at a stunning model on the street, then I have overturned a division of labor inside myself. I have become the servant of my desire, rather than being the master of my desire. I am being led, rather than leading.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

We cling to our bodies because we are all craving for immortality. In doing so, we make the error of thinking that an inherently impermanent thing will last-a philosophical mistake in thinking. And we succumb to an unhealthy fantasy-a craving that we will live forever.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

…Without attachment, we can think clearly about whether we want to eat the cake, and if we decide to, we can eat it peacefully, tasting and enjoying every bite without craving for more or being dissatisfied because it isn’t as good as we expected.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Meditating on impermanence and seeing the transient nature of things helps us to let go of attachment and to set our priorities wisely. Imagining getting all the things we are attached to and then asking ourselves, “Now am I forever happy?” enables us to stop obsessing about the things and people we are attached to. As we let go of the attachment, our fear of not having or of losing these objects of attachment will naturally dissipate.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

When we are attached to others, we don’t see them for who they are and thereby develop many expectations of them, thinking they should be like this and they should do that. Then, when they don’t live up to what we thought they were or should be, we feel hurt, disillusioned, and angry.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

The causes of our problems lie not in the external environment and those inhabiting it, but in our own mind. The disturbing attitudes and negative emotions, such as clinging attachment, anger, and ignorance are the real source of our unhappiness. Since these are based on misconceptions about the nature of reality, they can be removed from our mindstream.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Though a man conquer a thousand thousand men in battle, a greater conqueror still is he who conquers himself.

He whose mind is subdued and perfectly controlled is happy.

Death is not an event among other events, something that will just happen one day like anything else, but an ever-present possibility that quivers inside us each moment.
-Stephen Batchelor, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

Freedom From Suffering, Giving Up Craving (Noble Truth 3)

Freedom can happen swiftly. One moment, we’re bound by something, the sum total of our life—our concepts about who we are, our position in the world, the force and weight of our relationships to people and places; we’re caught in the fabric of all that. Then, at another moment, it’s gone. There is nothing obstructing us. We’re free to walk out the door. In fact, our prison dissolves around us, and there’s nothing to escape from. What has changed is our mind. The self that was caught, trapped, is freed the minute that the mind changes and perceives space instead of a prison. If there is no prison, then there can be no prisoner. In fact, there never was a prison except in our mind, in the concepts that became the brick and mortar of our confinement.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Compassion, Helping Others, Being Kind and Giving (Noble Truth 4)

The essence of the Buddha’s teaching is to avoid harming others and to help them as much as possible.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

When you wake up in the morning, try to make your first thought, “Today, I don’t want to harm anyone. I’m going to help others as much as possible. May all my actions be directed toward the long-term goal of becoming a Buddha to benefit others.” After you get up, meditate for a while to get in touch with your inner calm, to learn about yourself, and to set a good motivation for the day.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

What is a true gift? One for which nothing is expected in return.

If we consider ourselves part of the same organism of all sentient life, we will reach out to others as if they were us. That is the type of compassion we try to develop through practice.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Hear ye all this moral maxim, and having heard it keep it well: Whatsoever is displeasing to yourselves never do to another.

By abandoning negative actions, such as hurting others, and destructive motivations, such as anger, attachment, and closed-mindedness, we stop harming ourselves and others.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Meditation means habituating ourselves to constructive, realistic, and beneficial emotions and attitudes. It builds up good habits of the mind. Meditation is used to transform our thoughts and views so that they are more compassionate and correspond to reality.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Breaking Bad Habits (Noble Truth 4)

We are creatures of habit and need to put effort into pulling ourselves out of habitual judgments, emotional responses, and behaviors towards others. Each moment of our life is a new one with the opportunity to experiment and do things differently. Each time we meet someone we have an opportunity to connect, to give and exchange kindness.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

These are precisely the things from which we work to free ourselves on the Buddhist path: the habitual patterns that dominate our life and make it hard to see the awakened state of mind.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Handling Stress and Difficult People (Noble Truth 4)

Our stress is often due to not accepting the reality of a situation. We want it to be different or we want ourselves or others to be different. However, what is happening at the moment is what exists. Instead of rejecting the situation, which causes us more anxiety, we can accept it and work with it. Accepting whatever is happening isn’t being fatalistic; it’s being realistic. Having accepted the reality of the situation for what it presently is, we can still try to improve it in the future while remaining realistic about what is possible.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

When we’re stopped at a light or stuck in traffic, we can look around and think, “All these people around me want to be happy and to avoid problems just as I do. Because we live in an interdependent society, I receive benefit from the different jobs these people do, even though I don’t know them personally.” It’s also very helpful to think like this when someone cuts us off!
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

I once saw Vietnamese monkihich Nhat Hanh, at a lecture, offer a helpful metaphor for handling difficult people. When you plant lettuce, he said, you don’t blame the lettuce if it doesn’t grow well. Instead, you look for reasons why it is not doing well. The plant may need more sun, or fertilizer, or water, or whatever. It would be odd to blame the lettuce. So, too, when people are hostile to you, you should try to understand what circumstances have led them to this unfortunate state.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

Living in the Present (Noble Truth 4)

When we don’t pay attention, the conceptual world takes over our whole being. That’s a pretty sad thing. We can’t even enjoy a beautiful sunny day, watching leaves blowing in the wind. We have to label it all so that we live in a concept of sun, a concept of wind, and a concept of moving leaves. If we could leave it there, it wouldn’t be too bad, but that never happens. Then it’s “Oh yeah, it’s good to be here. It’s beautiful, but it would be better if the sun were shining from another angle.”
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

As the external world is reduced to a conceptual world, we not only lose a wholesome part of our being, we lose all the beautiful things in the natural world: forests, flowers, birds, lakes. Nothing can bring us any genuine experience. Then our emotions come into play, supercharging our thoughts with their energy; we find there are “good” things that bring “good” emotions, and there are “bad” things that bring “bad” emotions. When we live our life like this every day, it becomes very tiresome; we begin to feel a sense of exhaustion and heaviness. We may think that our exhaustion comes from our job or our family, but in many cases, it’s not the job or family itself—it’s our mind. What’s exhausting us is how we relate to our life conceptually and emotionally. We risk becoming so stuck in the realm of concepts that nothing we do feels fresh, inspired, or natural.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

For many of us, work is the time we spend waiting to live. But if you can sink down and be more present in your activity, then you will discover the subtle joys of quality labor and the oblique happiness that comes from accomplishing something with excellence.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

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December 11th, 2010 No Comments

Review of Discover Your Dharma Book by Shivani Singh

Through a systematic, concrete, and powerful process, Discover Your Dharma reveals the Secrets to know your dharma- what is the right action to take now.
-Shivani Singh, Discover Your Dharma

Discover Your Dharma

As Shivani explains, dharma is taking the right action as it presents itself. In her book Discover Your Dharma: 10 Secrets to Redefine Your Life Purpose Through Effective Journaling, she shares journaling techniques which help you discover your life purpose in the moment.

My Review

Journaling can be a highly effective self-discovery technique. Discover Your Dharma takes journaling to the extreme, using it to help you discover your “life purpose” in the moment, or dharma. Dharma is a more-realistic version of your “life purpose” or “life calling”, as it encompasses your present situation. Knowing your dharma means breaking free from social programming, letting go of external approval, and discovering yourself. Singh’s book is a hybrid of self-help and journaling technique workbook.

The meat of Singh’s book is the journaling exercises at the end of each chapter. These range from stream-of-consciousness journaling to non-dominant hand journaling. Some of the exercises, such as slamming your journal shut and yelling, seemed a little over the top. But overall, I found the exercises very useful. They encouraged left and right brain thinking, helped me get past my habitual journaling style, and helped me to think outside of the box. By following Sing’s exercises, I was able to look at a particular problem in my life with a new perspective.

While the journaling exercises were useful, Discover Your Dharma pre-exercise readings had a bit too much New Age fluff for my taste. For example, one chapter tells you that “everything you are, everything your life is, and everything you have, you have created.” These Law of Attraction-type affirmations are irresponsible and I don’t agree with them (see my post on How Does the Law of Attraction Explain The Holocaust?).

Additionally, a portion of the chapter introductions start by discussing a famous leader from the past (ex. Mother Theresa), and connecting their accomplishments with the chapter exercise. This is interesting early on, but after a few chapters of these, I found myself wanting to jump straight to the exercise at the end of the chapter, versus reading the introduction. Maybe I’ve just read too many self help books!

Compared to other self help and “life purpose” books, the thing I like most about this book is the fact that you are actually taking action after each chapter, and figuring things out for yourself. The book’s focus on journaling provides a lot more opportunity for self-discovery than other books. I would recommend Discover Your Dharma to anyone that is looking for direction in their life and wanting to learn new their journaling techniques at the same time.

Note: The book recommends following the journaling exercises to the Discover Your Dharma CD, but I did not have this, so instead I journaled to my own music selection.

About Shivani Singh

From working with NASA to founding The Journaling Institute, Shivani Singh is a journaling expert and innovator of the Dharma Discovery System. Spiritually grounded, she combines a unique blend of “smarts and hearts”, with ancient wisdom and modern thinking. Pioneering affordable and innovative technologies to improve health and well-being, Singh has developed experiential programs that have transformed thousands globally.

Where to Buy the Book

Discover Your Dharma is available at Amazon.Com.

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November 23rd, 2010 No Comments

How to Turn Inception-Style False Awakenings (Dreams within dreams) into Lucid Dreams

A false awakening is a vivid dream about awakening from sleep. It usually occurs after a normal dream. The dreamer believes they have woken up, when in reality, they are still dreaming. This is the same as the concept of a “dream within a dream” in the movie Inception (2010).

During my experiences, false awakenings have been extremely realistic. Often, I will wake up in my realistic-looking apartment, with all the details I would see when waking up. My bed, dream journal, apartment furniture, television, and all of my books are situated where they are in reality.

How to Turn A False Awakening into a Lucid Dream: Maintain a Dream Journal When You Wake Up

I maintain a daily dream journal to help me remember my dreams. Every time I wake up from a dream, I grab my dream journal and write about it. I usually remember 3-4 dreams per night. So how has this habit helped me to initiate lucid dreams?

Often, when I have a false awakening dream, I will remember my last normal dream, and reach for my dream journal to record it. This gets my attention focused on dreaming, and helps me notice a glitch in the dream reality. Here is an example from my dream journal:

I wake up in my bed in my apartment. Everything looks as it does in reality. I take a sip of water and remember to write about my last dream in my dream journal. As I pick up the journal and open it, I notice some strange pen ink scribblings and realize I am dreaming! At this point I become lucid.

How to Turn A False Awakening into a Lucid Dream: Perform a Reality Check When you Wake Up

Every time I wake up and look at my alarm clock, I try to remember to ask myself “Am I dreaming?” Again, this helps me reveal a glitch in the dream reality. The numbers on my digital clock (this works with a traditional clock as well) will appear blurry, change rapidly, or wiggle if I am in a dream.

When I wake up, I also have a note on the bathroom mirror to ask “Am I Dreaming?” This reminds me to perform a reality check when looking at my reflection. If the reflection is normal, I am not in a dream. Here is an example from my dream journal where it was not normal:

Woke up, walked to bathroom. Things didn’t seem exactly right. I looked closely at myself in the mirror… And I didn’t have any eyes, just empty sockets! This really freaked me out for a few seconds, then I realized I was dreaming. I became lucid at this point and decided to fly out of my apartment.

Other tips for Turning False Awakenings into Lucid Dreams

  • Leave a note for yourself in your bathroom, asking “Am I dreaming?” This reminds you to perform a reality check.
  • Perform a reality check when you eat breakfast. False awakenings sometimes involve eating breakfast, so this is a good time for a reality check.

To learn more about lucid dreaming, sign up for your Free Lucid Dreaming Starter Handbook.

This post is part of the Dream Evolver Series

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November 21st, 2010 No Comments

The Most Common Mistake Made by Lucid Dreaming Beginners

It is better for the lucid and aware dreamer to control the dream than for the dreamer to be dreamed. The same is true with thoughts: it is better for the thinker to control the thoughts than for the thoughts to control the thinker.

-Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep

Lucid dreaming is being aware you are dreaming while dreaming. For first-time lucid dreamers, this usually happens due to a strange occurrence in the dream, such as flying or seeing a strange creature appear. Some first-time lucid dreamers are able to stay in this dream for a while, but many become disturbed and wake up from the dream.

If you are in a lucid dream, you will usually have some power over your dream- anything from being able to fly or making an object or room appear behind a door or inside a pocket, right up to being able to change into animals and manipulate your dream world. It is like being a director of your own movie. Through dream research, lucid dreams have been scientifically proven to exist.

Here is the most common mistake I see being made by lucid dreaming beginners:

BedtimeTrying to induce lucid dreams at bedtime, during N-REM stages of sleep (Non-REM sleep)

Many lucid dreaming beginners attempt lucid dreaming techniques while going to sleep. But research has shown that dreams (both lucid and non-lucid) are much more common during your REM cycle, which first occurs 1-2 hours into your sleep. Dream-initiated and wake-initiated lucid dreams are much more common in the early morning, during your longer REM stages. During the early morning sleep cycles, the REM stage gets progressively longer (up to 45 minutes).

The Basics: Your Sleep Cycle

Your sleep moves in cycles, starting with wakefulness, moving to deep sleep, then back to wakefulness. You move through four to six of these cycles per night. Each cycle is comprised of five stages of sleep. Within the five stages of sleep: four stages of NREM (Non-REM) sleep, and one stage of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Sleep specialists consider NREM sleep “an idling brain in a movable body”, and REM sleep “an active brain in a paralyzed body.” The most vivid dreams, and therefore the ones you remember the most, occur during REM sleep (though you dream in other stages too).

Attempting Lucid Dreaming at Bedtime Is Like Fishing In An Empty Pond

You spend more than two hours dreaming each night. You dream about once every 90 minutes of sleep. But the numbers are not your for favor when you attempt lucid dreaming at bedtime. Why? Your earliest dreams are much shorter than those in later sleep cycles. The time you spend in dreams becomes longer throughout the night, from about 10 minutes to around 45 minutes or slightly longer.

The Best Times To Attempt Lucid Dreaming

As you have most of your dreams during REM sleep in your later sleep cycles, and REM occurs in ninety-minute intervals, you should consider scheduling an alarm or naturally waking up during the later sleep cycles. Experiment with these times to see what works best for you:

  • After four and a half hours of sleep
  • After six hours of sleep
  • After seven and a half hours of sleep

To get The Top Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by Lucid Dreaming Beginners, sign up for your Free Lucid Dreaming Starter Handbook.

This post is part of the Dream Evolver Series

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October 20th, 2010 No Comments

Dream Interpretation, and The #1 Reason People Fail to Interpret Their Dreams Correctly

Dream Intrepretation
Interpreting your dreams can be fun and provide you with valuable insight. As dreams are an extension of how you perceive yourself, dream interpretation may help you uncover self-knowledge that you are not aware of. Before attempting to interpret your dreams, please ensure you are practicing the Three Easy Steps For Remembering Your Dreams and Improving Dream Recall.

How to Interpret Your Dreams: The “I Am and I Need” Technique

Interpreting your dreams is not something you can become an expert at overnight. It will take time and practice.

To start, open your dream journal, and take out a scrap sheet of paper (or use an Excel sheet). On the scrap paper, create two columns, one for “I am” and one for “I need”. Go through your dream journal, and write all negative words or phrases under the “I am” column. Write all positive words or phrases under the “I Need” column.

Next, pay attention to the subject matter (ex. location) in the dream. For each keyword, create a sentence “When it comes to (subject matter), I need / I am (negative/positive keyword).”

Example Dream Interpretation

Dream Title: On vacation near the ocean

Dream Details: I am on vacation with my wife near the ocean. It is very beautiful scenery, but another tourist sitting near us keeps talking on their cell phone. The tourist is a workaholic, trying to close a business deal. We are very annoyed and want to get away from him.

I am

  • Very annoyed: When it comes to my workaholic personality
  • Workaholic: When it comes to my job

I need

  • Vacation: When it comes to work
  • Beautiful scenery: When it comes to a vacation

You could interpret this dream as “When it comes to work, I need a vacation with beautiful scenery”, or “When it comes to my workaholic personality, I need to change/get away from this.”

Type of Dreams

As you interpret your dreams, you will want to pay special attention to types of dreams and recurring dream themes. Below are the main types of dreams you may experience.

Physical dreams: Dreams about food/eating, sex, negative habits, confrontation, stress, realization, and performance/rehearsal.

Spiritual dreams: Visitations from deceased loved ones, premonition/prophetic, message dreams.

Nightmares: Cause you to wake up feeling anxious and frightened. May be a response to real life trauma and situations, or occur when you ignore or refuse to accept a particular life situation.

Recurring Dreams: Can repeat over a short period of time or years, with little variation in story or theme. May be connected to a deep message, and will repeat until that message is recognized.

Lucid Dreams: These occur when you realize you are dreaming, and become an active participant in your dreams. Many dreamers wake themselves up when they realize they are dreaming.


The #1 Reason People Fail to Interpret Their Dreams Correctly

The #1 reason people fail at dream interpretation: They use the one-size-fits-all approach of a Dream Dictionary to understanding a very personal subject- their dreams.

Dream Dictionary: A tool used for interpreting images in a dream.

Only you can interpret your dreams, and you will not be an expert right away. But if you rely on a Dream Dictionary to describe what each part of your dream symbolizes, you are setting yourself up for failure. Dreams are highly personal, and the same dream could have infinite meanings, depending on who dreams it. Dream dictionaries are generally not considered scientifically viable by those within the psychology community.

To interpret your own dreams, you must discover your personal Dream Symbols. How does the dream make you feel? What real life situations does the dream remind you of? What is the dream telling you that you might not already know? Think metaphorically about your dreams, and then test your interpretations.

Additional Tips For Interpreting Your Dreams

  • Dreams are a reaction to daytime activity, and often show a way out of a dilemma. Relate your dreams to a current activity. Dreams may be directed to your past activities as well as your future activities.
  • Recurring dreams often illustrate progress or failure. If the dream remains unchanged throughout several year, it may indicate your resistance to change.
  • Do not let the people and places in your dream obscure its meaning. Instead, think about them metaphorically, and ask yourself what emotions you felt during the dream.

This post is part of the Dream Evolver Series

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