Archive for the ‘Personal Transformation’ Category

January 30th, 2012 No Comments

Breaking Free from the Status Quo

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Tristan Montoya of Student of Life.

Do you believe that what you do for a living is who you are?

Seriously, do you identify most with your job, your house, your car, the school you went to, or the city you live in?

Because these are some of the things we, as humans, identify with. Our ego selves would have us believe that we are our physical bodies, our past, our conditioning, our social standing in life, and even the material things that we possess. It creates its sense of value this way.

But the higher self knows better.

It knows that we are, in truth, spiritual beings.

If you’re concerned that you haven’t found your path or have strayed from it, I would tell you that where you are at this point in your life is not who you are — it is simply the situation you find yourself in, and have created, perhaps on an unconscious level. The situation is designed to teach you — as all of life is intended to do — and if you heed the lesson and understand its implications then you can begin anew at any time to recreate yourself. You are only pigeonholed if you believe yourself to be.

Your circumstances do not define you. Neither do your friends or your religion, for that matter.

You are a spiritual being and you are more powerful than you know — but you must re-member this truth.

You’re more than just another citizen, employee, social security number, and human being that shares space and oxygen with others on this earth.

You came into this world for a reason. And you brought with you a reason for being, a gift to give to this world.

You brought with you an intention.

And what that intention is, only you know.

Maybe you’ve already heard the call from within to pursue it. Perhaps you’ve ignored it, or sought means to distract yourself. But still it persists.

The call may have been present in our childhood years when we could actually remember our soul’s purpose. At this tender age we had no reason to believe that our dreams would not come true. We had faith in a certain magical quality of life kept alive by our childlike innocence — only to have adults and the people that ‘love us’ tell us not to get caught up in wishful or fanciful thinking. They told us it’s not practical or feasible and that it is best not to set our hopes high because we’ll only become disappointed later in life. ‘Do like everyone else,’ they tell us. ‘Play it safe and you’ll be alright.’ Already we’ve been instilled with a false sense of security — hence we seek to control our circumstances, rather than be guided by intuition and mysterious synchronicities, which would indicate a kind of surrender to a power greater than our understanding. The ego is not willing to give up this control. The paradox, however, is that while it seeks to stand out and proclaim itself special and different, it also craves acceptance and approval, making its power totally dependent on others.

And as it pertains to those well meaning adults in our lives, it’s often times them who gave up on their dreams early in life only to unconsciously try to keep others from breaking free. This pattern must now be broken. But first you must become conscious of how this is pattern repeats itself — and then consciously break the cycle. We must be vigilant that underneath the ‘care and concern’ that the adults in our lives exhibit toward us, what is actually occurring is that  their fears are becoming our fears through mental programming.  God forbid we should face a bit of hardship and even failure on our path — but adults do not see clearly through their fear-based perception of the world — and only want what’s best for us. We have to develop compassion for them, and understand they’re only doing the best they know how to do.

Most of us have been exposed to conditioning both at home and in school through repetition and rote memorization, combined with negative reinforcement. Those labeled “dreamers” are said to be unrealistic and impractical. The artists, dancers, writers, and musicians are often times told that they won’t make a living following their passions. Those disillusioned by this effect may then trudge through life (having been conditioned) forgoing their own natural sense of intuition or inner guidance, in favor of socially acceptable pursuits. Following the mainstream will get us things like the coveted college admission, potential for long-term employment, bonuses, 401k’s, a mortgage, and social status. This is “security” adults tell us. This is what we should want.

But with our child-like fascination and instinct we can feel something wrong with this — we see that that same adult educating us about ‘the way of the world’ is at the mercy of their employer and the economy to uphold their illusion. We also see clearly the economic trap that awaits us, essentially ensuring our enslavement as we strive toward the attainment of material things. And if our instincts aren’t clear enough, we only have to perceive how these old ideals are now evolving in these changing times. Indeed, old economic and social paradigms are now falling apart around us as a new reality takes shape.

All progress comes from those who do not take the accepted view, nor accept the world as it is.”
-Neville

Many have given up their personal power and put it in the system. They’ve long since quieted their wise inner voice, instead tuning into a group consciousness, whether they’re conscious of it or not.

If you’re lost, then just look for some of the many clues alerting you to your natural inclinations, talents and interests. Children reveal this to us all the time. They naturally gravitate towards that which ‘calls’ to them and lay down the things that don’t pique their interest in the slightest. The problem is that there’s another voice — that of conditioning, fear, and limiting belief in oneself — that denies you of your rightful inheritance to learn your soul’s purpose, experience your greatness, and discover your reason for being.

David Deida offers a very astute analogy in his book, ‘The Way of the Superior Man.’ He describes one’s life purpose as a “concentric circle,” and that by working from the outside in, layer by layer, you will soon discover the core of who you are and why you’re here. This is a life-long process, and it’s never too late to begin peeling back the layers — but there’s also no reason to hesitate!

I say you should “try on” different jobs, areas of study, life paths, activities, countries, friends, partners, and even personalities, until you find one that fits. That’s what makes life fun — variety! And it is this very process of self discovery that will bring back the joy into your life that following the herd can never deliver.

Reinvent yourself until you arrive at the person you want to be, the life you want to have, doing what you love with the people that allow you to be YOU!

Be a creator, not a competitor.

Take back your life and live it how you see fit, not how others have envisioned it for you — or worse, expected of you.

Whenever I fall into a pattern of thinking that I’d rather just stop going against the grain and be like everyone else — that I’d rather just fit in, seek outside approval, and rejoin group consciousness (or herd mentality), thereby turning off my intuition and inner intelligence — I stop myself and repeat something I heard Wayne Dyer, one of my favorite spiritual teachers, once say:

I would rather be loathed for who I am, than loved for who I am not.”

Yes, it sounds absolute — but it’s powerful! Staying the course takes courage. It requires you to break away from the herd and asks that you learn to be comfortable spending time alone, sometimes without distraction, to uncover your mission, your purpose, your passion.

Don’t settle for anything less than you know yourself to be. The dream contained within you as a seed must take shape and grow to its full potential. You know if the life you’re living is your truth or a lie. And if you find it is the latter, then chances are the unrest in the seat of your soul will only persist and get louder if you seek to silence it, or distract yourself from hearing its voice.

So, it is up to you to either break free from the status quo that contains you, or settle for a mediocre life.

The choice is yours.

You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.”
-Abraham Maslow

Tristan Montoya
Tristan Montoya writes for his website Student of Life, which deals largely with spiritual awareness, self-growth, and conscious evolution. He considers himself an open-minded student who is actively and continually learning from life’s many lessons. He is constantly amazed at the surprises found on the spiritual path and at the mysterious workings of the universe. He hopes to share his experiences and insights in a way that will assist others in finding their own truth and path in life.

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January 22nd, 2012 No Comments

Socialization and How to Break Free From Rat Racer Values

Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.

-Aristotle, Politics

DSC_7134To be part of a society, you need to be socialized. Random House Dictionary defines socialization as “a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.” Your family members, school teachers, and peer groups were all part of the socialization process. They let you know exactly what your “social position” was and taught you a set of values which helped you fit in with society. The process you went through is not unique to humans: all mammals are social creatures. For example, meerkat young learn by watching and mimicking adult behavior. Adult meerkats also actively teach their pups.

Unfortunately, human socialization has some unintended consequences. One of these is the seeking of external approval and applying of external goals to your life. When submit to completely, external approval and external goals start running your life. If you are to take control of your consciousness and pursue your own goals, you must first learn to break free from your rat racer values.

The Problem: Rat Racer Values

Here are the rat racer values you may want to break free from:

Money– “I want to be rich”: Falsely believing that you will be happy when you make more money. Becoming a workaholic to make more money.

Things– “I want to accumulate more things”: Falsely believing that accumulating more possessions will make you happy. Valuing things over people and experiences.

Status / Approval– “I want to be liked and fit in”: Pursuing a career path that Mom or Dad told you to go after. Working at a job you hate to pay for your family’s high consumption. Not speaking up at work when you have a good idea, for fear of getting shot down. Falsely believing that once you obtain status, people will like and respect you. Trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” Becoming popular with lots of people, but not building close relationships with individuals.

Power– “I want to dominate”: Using others only as a means to achieve your goals. Trying to one-up others, dominate conversations. Constantly pinpointing other people’s weaknesses and failures.

Each individual has their own unique set of rat racer values. Some may accentuate the value of Money, others may accentuate Approval. Some individuals may not have all of these values.

People who submit completely to these social values, and mistakenly believe that their happiness is obtained only by achieving external goals, are rat racers who never enjoy the present moments of life:

Schools, churches, and banks try to turn us into responsible citizens willing to work hard and save . . . merchants, manufacturers, and advertisers to spend our earnings on products that will produce the most profits for them . . . gamblers, pimps, and drug dealers promise rewards for easy dissipation- provided we pay. The messages are very different, but their outcome is essentially the same: they make us dependent on a social system that exploits our energies for its own purposes.

-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

The Solution: Take Control of Your Consciousness

Evolve Your Life Happiness HandbookTo break free from rat racer values, you must seek personally-selected goals built from your personal values. Going back to Aristotle’s quote, “Society is something that precedes the individual”, isn’t seeking your own goals selfish? No. Society will actually benefit more from you pursuing your own intrinsic goals. A study done by the University of Rochester’s Human Motivation Research Group found that people whose motivation was “self-authored” exhibited more interest, excitement, and confidence, as well as greater persistence, creativity and performance than a control group who were motivated by external demands and rewards.

Read my free happiness handbook for the full solution:

Evolve Your Life Happiness Handbook
You’ve heard the advice, “Go to school, get a good job, get promoted, climb the corporate ladder, and you will eventually find happiness.” All too often, people follow this society-prescribed path to success, falsely believing that it will lead them to happiness. This mini-book teaches an alternative blueprint for happiness, based on research from numerous books and scientific studies, along with Derek’s personal experience.

Creative Commons License photo credit: lucyb_22

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January 19th, 2012 No Comments

Launched Evolve Your Life: Mini-Books For Finding Happiness

Evolve Your Life: Mini-Books For Finding HappinessThis week, I launched a series of mini-books titled Evolve Your Life: Mini-Books For Finding Happiness at EvolveHappiness.Com.

Here are details for each mini-book:

Evolve Your Life Happiness Handbook
You’ve heard the advice, “Go to school, get a good job, get promoted, climb the corporate ladder, and you will eventually find happiness.” All too often, people follow this society-prescribed path to success, falsely believing that it will lead them to happiness. This mini-book teaches an alternative blueprint for happiness, based on research from numerous books and scientific studies, along with Derek’s personal experience. This mini-book is free, just enter your e-mail address at the top of this page.

Money and Happiness: Why Winning the Lottery Is Not the Answer
Are you happier when you have more money? According to happiness research, no. This mini-book teaches you how to let go of your false beliefs about money and learn research-proven ways to become happier.

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.

Your Comfort Zone: Step Outside It, Face Your Fears and Grow
How can you face your fears, take risks, and change your daily routines to grow? This mini-book teaches you how to become knowledgeable about your fears and overcome them by taking small steps outside of your comfort zone.

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.

Quit Your Job: Decide When to Leave and What to Do After
How do you decide if you should quit your job or take a sabbatical? This mini-book guides you through making the decision to quit, and what to research before quitting.

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October 7th, 2011 No Comments

How To Stop Your Suffering in the Next 5 Minutes

HappinessBirth 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.
-The First Noble Truth, Buddhist Studies

Are you suffering right now? Have you suffered today? The original teachings of Buddhism state that suffering arises from attachments to desires, and suffering ceases when this attachment ceases.

Step 1: Make a list of your negative emotions

Make a list of any negative emotion you have experienced today. For example:

  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Frustration
  • Impatience
  • Boredom
  • Anxiety

Step 2: Make a list of your attachments to desires

Now make another list of all your attachments to desires. These are all the things that you will suffer without. For example:

  • Money
  • Relationship
  • Sex
  • Job
  • Acceptance by others / need to be liked
  • Happiness / need to be happy all the time
  • Staying busy / freedom from boredom
  • Alcohol / cigarettes / drugs
  • Staying young

Step 3: Connect your negative emotions to your list of attachments to desires

Now combine your two lists. Connect each of your negative emotions to your list of attachments to desires. For example:

  • Sadness: Relationship
  • Frustration and Impatience: Happiness / need to be happy all the time
  • Boredom: Staying busy / freedom from boredom
  • Anxiety: Money, Acceptance by others / need to be liked, Staying young

Step 4: Realize that nothing lasts

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

Now, using the theme that “Nothing Lasts”, write down each of your attachments to desires. Template- “I’ll never have ____ permanently.” For example:

  • I’ll never have a job permanently, or have 100% job security
  • I’ll never be happy all the time
  • I won’t always fit in or be accepted by other people
  • I’ll never have a relationship that will last forever
  • I can’t stay young and I won’t live forever

Step 5: Contemplate getting all of your desires

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

Take your list of attachments, and contemplate if you would be  forever happy once you had them all. After this exercise, you will start to understand that getting the object of your desire is not the same as contentment:
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

Bonus Step: Practice Meditation

To gain more control of your emotions and live in the present more often, try practicing meditation:

How to Start Meditating in the Next 5 Minutes

Suffering’s Origin = Cravings and Attachments

By now you should be feeling better. Here are some more words of wisdom to contemplate:

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.
—Udanavarga

He whose mind is subdued and perfectly controlled is happy.
—Udanavarga

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

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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.
-Buddha

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.
—Udanavarga

He whose mind is subdued and perfectly controlled is happy.
—Udanavarga

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.
-Prasnottaramalika

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.
-Bstanhgyur

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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July 7th, 2011 No Comments

How to Prepare For Long Term Travel and Living Abroad

33/365 Atlas
How to Prepare for Long Term Travel and Living Abroad
For me, my native country is the country I love, meaning the one that makes me dream, that makes me feel well. I am as much Chinese as I am French . . .  the idea of a native country – that is to say, the imperative to live on one bit of ground marked red and blue on the map and to hate the others’ bits in green and black – has always seemed to me narrow-minded, blinkered and profoundly stupid.”
– Gustave Flaubert quote in Alaine de Bottom’s The Art of Travel

Why Travel Abroad?

Traveling gives you the freedom to leave the familiar behind. You are no longer immersed in your home country’s language, culture and way of life. You are instead immersed in something completely new, providing significant opportunities for learning and personal growth.

There was an Indian tribe that would move its village every 25 to thirty years as a new challenge. When life became predictable and their was no challenge in their life, they moved to bring new meaning to their lives. Traveling or living abroad accomplishes something similar.

After visiting Japan and Thailand (for two weeks each), I had a glimpse of this. In each country, I felt like a five year old re-learning how to speak and do the most basic activities. I knew I needed to get out of my home country and explore the world for more than two-week increments.

Common Misconceptions / Excuses Not To Travel Abroad

  • This may work if you’re young and single, but I have a family and responsibilities Look into Location Independence. It is possible to work and travel simultaneously. There are many families with children out there living a life of location independence. Check out the Location Independent blog, scroll down to the “Location Independent with Babies and Children” section for guidance.
  • I don’t have anyone to travel with and don’t want to go alone Traveling alone is far, far better than traveling not at all. Check out Independent Travel’s info on traveling solo. You will end up meeting a lot more locals and travelers when traveling alone. Also, technology makes it easy to share your experiences with those back home.
  • It’s too dangerous Traveling can be very foreign and different without being dangerous. Often times, you will be safer than you would’ve been in your home country. You just need to research where you are going beforehand. Check out Wikipedia’s list of countries by intentional homicide rate. This list may not be completely accurate, but it is something worthwhile to check out. You will probably see that there are lots of countries safer than your home country on that list. Also check out the U.S. Department of State Travel Warnings and UK FCO Travel Advice for a breakdown of country-specific travel warnings.
  • It’s too expensive It can be cheaper to live or travel abroad if you choose the right destinations (less than $500 a month). If you travel slowly, it can be very cheap (ex. one month rent in NYC is one year’s rent in Thailand). If you are from a first world country, traveling overseas allows you to get a lot more experiences for your money than your home country can offer.
  • I’ll miss my friends and family This depends on how long you choose to be abroad. Also, technology like e-mail, Facebook, Google Voice and Skype make it incredible easy and cheap to stay in communication over phone and video (see details further down).
  • I’ll get sick of doing touristy things Just because you are traveling and living abroad does not mean you have to be a perpetual tourist. You can stay in one place for as long as you like, study the language and culture, volunteer, try a new sport and get to know the locals and other travelers.

My Favorite Books on Traveling / Vagabonding / Backpacking / Expat Life

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel: This is the go-to book if you are considering long-term cheap travel. Travel writer Rolf Potts gives tons of useful tips for would-be long-term travelers and backpackers here.

The Art of Travel: An intelligent, philosophical take on the motivations behind travel. Not as much of a page turner as the other books I’m recommending, but still a required reading. It leaves you with a much deeper perspective on travel.

Planet Backpacker: Across Europe on a Mountain Bike & Backpacking on Through Egypt, India & Southeast Asia – Around the World: A funny, very interesting book by an American documenting his around-the-world backpacking trip. Each chapter covers his experiences in a particular country. He only ends up meeting 1-2 Americans on his entire trip around the world, most in Western Europe!

Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer: This hilarious book tells travel stories that you won’t hear of in other publications. These are the travel and expat stories of a travel writer and editor who was fed-up with his stories being censored by the travel publication industry. This is his way of getting back at them. Very interesting read.

Expatriate Insights – Dissertations on International Living and Deep Comparative Culture Analyses: A very thorough analysis on living abroad, and how to get the best out of each country you live in.

How to Fund Your Trip (Savings / Online Business / Work / Volunteer)

Most people rely on savings or working abroad (ex. Teaching English, Organic Farming) to fund their travels. Others get an international experience by volunteering. Transitions Abroad is a good resource if you are planning on working or volunteering abroad.

I combine savings, eBook income, work and volunteering. I’m also using frequent flyer / hotel points that I accumulated in my consulting career and various offers (ex. credit cards ) to pay for some of my flights and gear. Check out the Art of Non-Conformity Frequent Flyer Master eBook for a how-to on getting free frequent flyer miles to use on long-term travel.

Where to Go

Check out Where to Go at Travel Independent. You will want to start with a list of places you have always wanted to go. Then determine what places you can afford. I decided on a $30 / day budget, and narrowed down my options to Central America, South America, China, India and Southeast Asia. Check out Travel Budgets For Around The World to determine where you can afford to go on your budget.

What to Do

This really depends on where you will be traveling to and how long you are staying in each area. Some people prefer to travel slowly, as it is more affordable and you get a deeper experience in each country. Others opt for moving around often, sometimes doing an around-the-world trip to see as many countries as they can in a shorter period of time. The fast travel option will be a more-touristy, less-deep experience, but if you are time-constrained or get bored easily, that is the way to go.

I prefer traveling slowly. I like to study the language and culture of the country I’m visiting. Right now I’m in South America. I started in Argentina and am making my way north. I don’t plan very much out ahead, as I don’t have a time constraint, so my travel schedule is very flexible.

Before You Leave

Check out Before You Go at Travel Independent.

Get your immunizations: Don’t wait too long, as some of these require a series of shots over a period of 1-6 months. If you are in a hurry, some can be accelerated to 21 days, such as Hep. A / Hep. B, if needed. Here are the ones I got before leaving. These are all recommended for most parts of the world on the Center for Disease Control website:

  • Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) vaccine
  • Diphtheria/Pertussis/Tetanus (DPT) vaccine
  • Poliovirus vaccine
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Typhoid
  • Yellow Fever

These shots were not very painful. My arms were just a little sore for a few days. Typhoid can even be taken in pill form now. Yellow Fever is the only vaccine that some countries require. I opted out of Rabies vaccine as it is $600 and is only recommended if you are a veterinarian or going to be in bat caves a lot. I also opted out of Japanese Encephalitis, as it is expensive as well and very rare (mostly in Southeast Asia, only 1 reported case of it by a U.S. citizen abroad last year). Additionally, I opted out of Malaria medication, as it has some pretty bad side effects, and I am going to be traveling for such a long time. I will be relying on bug spray instead. I might also pick up some Malaria medication if I decide to go to a region where it is more common, such as the Amazon.

Forward your snail mail to a friend or family member: Most services now offer to send your bills electronically, but for everything else, have them sent to a trusted friend or family member.

Backup Important Documents: E-mail yourself or use a service like LastPass to store important documents and copies of your passport, credit cards (make sure to get the back copied too with the international lost & stolen number), and immunization records. LastPass is more secure than e-mail and you can store all your online login/passwords as well.

Figure out your banking strategy abroad: I recommend you keep most of your money in separate “safe” bank account or an investment account, and don’t take the safe account debit card with you abroad. Make online transfers from that account to a separate bank account as needed. This way, if your debit card is stolen, there is no way you will be completely wiped out.

Get an international-friendly debit card and credit card: Check out Which credit and debit cards are best overseas article for details. I went with a Capital One no hassle cash rewards credit card. There is no international surcharge with this credit card, and you get cash back with every purchase. I chose a Schwab Bank Account debit card. This debit card has not ATM fee for any bank in the world (they will even refund any ATM fees charged), and has great exchange rates. Plus, their bank accounts have no low balance fee.

Dentist / eye doctor: You may want to go to the dentist before leaving if you haven’t had a recent cleaning. Also, if you wear contacts, make sure you bring enough to last you through the trip. Bring your eye glasses/contact prescriptions just in case.

Staying in touch while you’re abroad: E-mail and Facebook will let you send messages and share pictures. Google Voice and Skype make it easier than ever to stay in touch with friends and family. Check out Staying Connected Overseas with Google Voice and Skype for more details. You can even port your current cell phone number to Google Voice, and use that number for free calls and text messages in the U.S. and Canada. Or have your Google Voice number forwarded to your Skype number (Skype works with Wifi, so you can use an Ipod Touch to make calls). If you get a cell phone in the country you are visiting, you can even have your Skype number forward to your number in that country (Google Voice -> Skype -> International Cell Phone).

Travel Insurance: At the very minimum, you should have some kind of medical and evacuation insurance. This is pretty cheap. I went with World Nomads, which is recommended a lot of places including Lonely Planet guidebooks.

After You Leave

Making friends with travelers: The best way to make friends with other travelers is to stay in hostels or join a language school. In both cases, you will instantly have a new group of friends from all over the world. You may even end up traveling with them for a week weeks or longer.

Making friends with locals: The best way to make friends with locals is to find a homestay with a family. Do a Google search for “homestay” to see websites which can help you arrange this. If you join a language school, most will offer a homestay option to you. Also, sometimes you can ask the people that work at your hostel about this. For example, when I was in Salta, Argentina, I stayed at the aunt of my hostel manager’s house for one month.

Getting Burnt Out: It happens to all long-term travelers. The remedy is to change your routine. Join a volunteer program. Travel slower or faster than you normally do. If you normally stay in a hostel dorm room, try a private room for a few days.

Getting Homesick: If you are homesick, realize that it is only temporary. Adopt the mantra “this too shall pass”, and accept your feelings for what they are. Give your family a call or e-mail to let them know you miss them. Then try to keep a busier schedule for a few days so you don’t have time to dwell on your homesickness.

Disclosure: I only recommend products/services that I personally have tried and found useful. I make a small commission on some of the links above. The commission helps support this blog, so if you are interested in any of these products / services, and supporting the blog, please use the links in this blog post.

Creative Commons License photo credit:byJoeLodge

Part of the South of the Border Series

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July 6th, 2011 No Comments

How to Fit Everything You Own Into a Carry-On Bag

I have been traveling for three months now, and everything I own fits inside a carry on bag. Here is a view of my Manhattan (NYC) apartment before I sold or donated everything:

NYC Apartment- Before

After living in the apartment for only one year, I accumulated quite a bit of stuff. While this stuff made my apartment more comfortable during my time there, it (along with my cost of rent) hindered my ability to travel for an extended time. So I sold or donated almost everything:

NYC Apartment- After

I started selling the larger items (couch, bed, TV, TV stand, air conditioner, desk, book shelf) on Craigslist. This got very addictive and I ended up selling even more stuff on Craigslist (books, Blue Ray Player, sound system). Then I stuck a bunch of smaller electronic items on eBay (old digital camera, old PDA, bluetooth headset, iPods, etc). eBay made more money on the small electronics than I could have gotten from Craigslist. But it also has a listing and selling fee, so it made more sense to put the larger/local stuff on Craiglist (completely free). I  donated a lot of stuff (furniture, books, shoes, clothes, kitchenware) that I no longer needed to Goodwill and local thrift stores. A NYC donation service even came by my apartment to pick up some of the larger items.

Everything I Own Now Fits In A Carry-On Bag

Carry-On Backpack with Everything I Own Inside (Deuter Futura 32)

After selling or donating all of the stuff in my NYC apartment, and shipping some remaining clothes to my parents’ house, I was ready to travel. My only three rules for packing:

1) Everything needs to fit in a carry-on bag. I want to travel internationally with one carry-on bag.

2) Use technology to travel as green as possible. No bottled water or paper books. Do my own laundry.

3) When I want to, be able to write and work on my online businesses from wherever I’m at.

Useful Blog Posts and Websites for Ultralight Long-Term Travel Packing

I did a lot of research and the following blog posts / websites were the most helpful:

What To Pack (Travel Independent- very thorough, feedback from multiple backpackers)

Travel Light, Travel Anywhere: The Ultimate Light Packing List (Ridiculously Extraordinary)

How to Travel Long Term With Only Carry-On Luggage (Never Ending Voyage)

How to Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less (The Blog Of Tim Ferriss / 4 Hour Workweek)

3 Days to Go – RTW Packing List (Living The Dream -> not minimalist like the others, but still a great resource)

After doing my research on blogs, websites and local hiking/outdoors stores, here is what I packed. I purchased some of the items specifically for traveling, and already had some of them. Yes, it looks like a lot, but everything fits in my 32 liter carry-on backpack, and I don´t buy souvenirs.

Backpacks

Guidelines: If you are traveling for an extended period of time, it’s best to pack light and use a smaller (28 – 35 liter) backpack. This will make you more mobile, and you will thank yourself for packing lighter after you’ve been traveling for a few weeks and see other backpackers struggling with their larger backpacks. You will also want to bring a smaller day pack which can fit inside the larger backpack.

Carry-On Backpack with Everything I Own Inside (Deuter Futura 32)

Deuter Futura 32: This carry-on hiking backpack fits all my gear inside. It´s very comforable and sturdy. I originally read about this backpack on Ridiculously Extraordinary (Karol Gajda). Karol has been using it for quite a while during his light international backpacking without problems. Then I read another traveling post that recommended it at Globe Troopers. I tested the Deuter Futura 32 out, along with the comparable Osprey Kestrel 32 at a local hiking store. I ended up buying the Deuter Futura 32. At the time of this post, the Deuter Futura 32 2010 model sells for $90, and the 2011 model sells for $135. The only difference I can tell between the two is that the 2011 model has different colors available. I went with the 2010 model and saved $45. Karol secures this bag with the Pacsafe 85 Anti-Theft Backpack And Bag Protector, but I opted to secure it using the PacSafe WrapSafe Adjustable Cable Lock.

Daypack- Pacsafe VentureSafe 300

Day Pack: Pacsafe VentureSafe 300: After reading about PacSafe on Karol Gajda’s blog, I became very interested in their products. They sell slashproof anti-theft bags and gear. This small day pack fits inside my larger backpack, and holds all my electronics (EEE netbook, Canon digital camera, Kindle, iPod touch). It is slashproof, the zippers can be padlocked easily, and the bag can be locked to a secure fixture easily.

Clothing

Guidelines: To keep your backpack light, pack 3 pairs max of each clothing item. Consider washing your own clothes, as it’s better for the environment and easy if you buy quick-dry clothing. Look for high-quality, fast-drying, light material. Pack for the weather you will be traveling in, and use layers to pack lighter.

Thermals, Underwear x 3, Socks x 3, Pants x 2, Long Sleeves x 2, Short Sleeves x 2, Rain Jacket

Marmot Precip Rain Jacket: Very compact rain jacket / windbreaker, can be used with layers in colder weather. It has zippers under the armits to provide some ventilation. I haven’t been in a heavy rain storm yet to test out the waterproof functionality, but as a windbreaker, I like it.

exOfficio Boxer Briefs: Their motto: “17 Countries. 6 Weeks. And one pair of underwear.” I went with three pairs since I will be traveling for a while. These are very comfortable!

Smartwool PhD Outdoor Ultra Light Mini Hiking Socks: Quick-dry socks with merino wool. I have three pairs of these. They don´t dry as fast as I thought they would… Probably the slowest drying of all my clothes.

ExOfficio Men’s Nomad Pant (Regular): Quick-dry pants. Water-resistant. Very comfortable.

ExOfficio Men’s Flexcord Pant: Quick-dry pants, a good alternative to jeans. These are a lot more compact than jeans, and look nicer than the Nomad pants. But not as many pockets. I wear these most of the days since they look better than the Nomad pants, but they get a bit warm when it´s hot outside.

Columbia Men’s Silver Ridge II Long Sleeve Shirt: I originally tried the Columbia Men’s Tamiami II Long Sleeve Shirt quick dry shirt after reading rave reviews of it on Amazon. Unfortunately,  it was way too big (I wear a medium), so I tried the Silver Ridge style instead. It is still quick-dry and sun proof, but is a much more fitted look, and I like it a lot better. I have two of these. They are very versatile as there are straps to roll up the sleeves, making it a short-sleeve for warmer weather.

ExOfficio Men’s Exo Dri Tee Shirt: Short-sleeve quick-dry shirt with sun protection.

ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go V-neck t shirt: I got a V-neck so I can use this as an undershirt or regular shirt.

Thermal Base Layer Top and Bottom: I have BVD brand but this brand (Duofold) looks about the same. Synthetic thermals are great for colder weather, easy to hand wash, and take up almost no room. Before leaving, I tested this base layer with a long-sleeve shirt, Marmot jacket, hat and gloves in 28 degrees fahrenheit. It was surprisingly warm and breathable.

Not pictured: I bought a second light jacket as I got too cold when I was in northern Argentina. It´s made of material similar to the North Face jackets. Very compact.

Shoes

Guidelines: You should not need more than one pair of shoes and one pair of sandals. Make sure they are high-quality. When looking for shoes, try to find a gore-tex (waterproof) hiking shoe. Do not go with a boot unless you plan on doing a lot of hiking, as it will be more bulky. When looking for sandals, try to find the kind that are made for walking longer distances, with good foot support. The sandals should also be waterproof, so you can use them instead of flip flops.

New Balance Gore-tex shoes, Keen Sandals

New Balance Men’s MW955 Walking Shoe: These a very comfortable, sturdy gore-tex waterproof hiking shoes. The best part about them is they come in 1/2 sizes and wide, so you can get a perfect fit. They worst part is they aren´t very breathable. In warm weather, my feet start to sweat with these. I really wanted to wear the Lowa Men’s Renegade II GTX Lo Hiking Shoe after hearing so many good things about them. Unfortunately, after trying two different sizes from Zappos, the Lowa shoes just didn’t seem very comfortable with my feet (I needed a half size and they didn’t have it). But even though they aren´t very breathable, overall I am very happy with the New Balance shoes. Unless you are doing a lot of intense hiking, it’s better to go with hiking shoes versus hiking boots.

Mens Keen Newport H2 Shoes: I’m very picky about my sandals, most that I have bought in the past ended up hurting my feet after a long walk. These are the best sandals I have ever owned. They are waterproof, breathable, have toe protection, and comfortable after walking in them the whole day.

Toiletry

Guidelines: Try to find multi-use items, such as soap that you can use for shampoo / body wash / washing clothes. Also, most of these items can be found anywhere you travel to, so don’t overpack.

Toiletries

Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Hemp Pure-Castile Soap, Peppermint 16 fl oz (472 ml): This all-natural soap can be used for everything (body wash, shampoo, laundry, even mouthwash). It is very powerful and lasts a long time. I bought a big bottle and transferred to smaller carry-on size bottles.

Gripit Floss Holder: This is the same idea as the disposable floss “plackers”, only it holds a whole roll of floss. Using the Gripit  saves a lot of floss, and makes it easier to reach between your back teeth.

Gillette, Mach3 Turbo Shaving System, 1 system: I’ve been using this shaver for a few years now. I am also testing out the Razor Gator to use less razors. Beware of buying your razors online, apparently there are a lot of fakes being sold that don’t work as well.

All Natural Shaving Oil – Three Pack: A very smooth shave, good alternative to shaving cream. Takes up a lot less space, one small bottle provides 100 shaves!

MSR Packtowl UltraLite: Compact towel with super-absorption and fast-drying. I bought a large. The towel can also be used to dry clothes before hanging on a clothesline by rolling them around it.

MSR Packtowl Nano Lite: This towel is more compact than the UltraLite. I got a small to use as a handkerchief that I can wash out daily. It dries very fast.

Rick Steves Clothesline, White: I do my own laundry. This clothesline will be used for drying clothes. It is elastic like a bungee cord, so it could become multi-use.

I also packed 6 months of contact lenses, contact lense solution, sunglasses, small first aid kit (band-aids, neosporin, anti-diarrheal, pain relief), deodorant, nail clippers, tweezers, tooth brush, and tooth paste. I also ended up buying a different brand of Shampoo since the Dr. Bronners doesn´t work very well for that. I only use Dr. Bronners for body wash and washing my clothes.

Electronics

Guidelines: If you want to work on the road, you may need to bring a few more electronics than the average traveler. Think about how often you will be using each item and try to get by with the bare minimum. I brought an EEE Netbook, Kindle, iPod Touch, portable hard drive, and Digital Camera. While these items are not bulky (and fit inside my day pack), they do add some weight to my backpack. Also, bringing electronics  means you have to worry about securing them while traveling and storing them securely in your hostel.

Netbook, Kindle, Ipod Touch, Hard Drive, Power Travel Adaptor, Extension Cord w/USB

ASUS Eee PC 1000HE 10.1-Inch Black Netbook: I bought this netbook a year and a half ago and have no complaints. It has a 10 inch screen, 9.5 hour battery life and weights 3.2 pounds. I checked the newer model out (ASUS Eee PC 1015PED-PU17-BK 10.1-Inch Netbook) and it didn’t seem like that much of an upgrade… So I opted to upgrade the RAM on my 1000HE to 2GB, and will use it for longer before getting a new netbook. I use this carry case for my netbook, it works great and fits snug: Case Logic LNEO-10 Ultraportable Neoprene Notebook/iPad Sleeve (Black)

Western Digital My Passport Essential 500 GB USB 3.0/2.0 Portable External Hard Drive (Midnight Black): This is the smallest hard drive I could find. It will upgrade to USB 3.0, so I can keep it after I decide to upgrade my netbook. I keep travel pictures and important documents on this drive. I use TrueCrypt to encrypt any sensitive documents stored here. This way, if the hard drive is stolen, I  only have to worry about items I didn’t backup to an online service like DropBox.

Apple iPod touch 64 GB (4th Generation): I sold my iPod Classic and iPod Nano when I upgraded to this. I was interested in getting an Ipod Touch  for the Skype app and music player. World traveler blog posts at Living The Dream and AhTim provided more reasons for me to have one. I like the World Nomads Free Language Guides apps for a starter in learning a new language. I use this case for my iPod touch and really like it: Speck Rubberized PixelSkin Case for iPod touch 4G (Black)

Kindle 3G Wireless Reading Device, Free 3G + Wi-Fi, 3G Works Globally, Graphite, 6: Most of the hardcore traveling bloggers that I read about decided to ditch their paper books (including travel guides) and opted for the Kindle instead. With free 3G access in 81 countries, who could blame them? It’s so lightweight, and the screen looks just like a regular book. I sold most of my books on Craigslist and Cash4Books before upgrading to this. I’m a prolific reader, and the Kindle will allow me to continue my reading while traveling. I love it!

Canon Digital Elph Camera
Canon PowerShot SD1400IS 14.1 MP Digital Camera with 4x Wide Angle Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 2.7-Inch LCD (Black): I had one of the older model digital elphs and loved it, so decided to upgrade to this new model. It is very small, takes great pictures on automatic, and also records HD quality video. I bought a 32 GB SD card as I plan on using it for both pictures and video: Transcend 32 GB SDHC Class 6 Flash Memory Card TS32GSDHC6

Kensington 33117 International All-in-One Travel Plug Adapter: Power plug adaptor that can be used in more than 150 countries. Includes a fuse in case of a power surge.

Outlets To Go Power Strip with USB – Black: Very compact power strip with USB charger, and quite a bargain for $3. I had to crimp the ground plug a little bit to fit the Kensington Travel Plug Adaptor.

Comfort

Guidelines: These are the items that you don’t really need, but they don’t take up much space and make the trip more comfortable.

Cocoon Ripstop Travelsheet (Silk), Eye Mask, Earplugs

Cocoon RipStop Silk TravelSheet: This is a 100% silk travel sheet that you can use if no sheets are provided at a hostel, or the sheets don’t look clean. I got this brand because it is supposed to be made of stronger silk, and has a velcro side entry. It can also be used if you think there might be bed bugs. I use mine mostly for comfort… It’s so tiny that it makes sense to bring along. And if you are worried about infesting bed bugs in your bag after you use it, you can pack it inside a sealed bag.

Lewis N. Clark Comfort Eye Mask: Comes in handy as you can take a nap anywhere with these. I’ve also packed ear plugs.

Security

Guidelines: There is no stopping someone with a wire cutter, but it makes sense to take the basic precautions so your gear doesn’t get stolen.

Pacsafe Chain Lock and Wallet

Pacsafe VentureSafe 300: Slashproof day pack (picture up above with backpack).

PacSafe WrapSafe Adjustable Cable Lock: I use this cable lock to secure my backpack to a fixture in my hostel room, to make it more difficult for someone to steal it. Someone could still take it if they had wire cutters, but this makes things more difficult.

Pacsafe WalletSafe 100 Tri-Fold Travel Wallet: Slashproof travel wallet with zipper and chain to attach to belt.

I also carry an extra lock for my day pack.

Other Gear

Guidelines: I highly recommend bringing your own water bottle and water filtration system. This is better for the environment, your health, more convenient, and saves money. Also, if you are directionally-challenged, bring some sort of compass. Don’t skimp out and buy one of those cheap carabiner compasses (I tried that and they don’t work!). Get a good standalone compass, or digital compass that is built in to a watch.

Lifesaver Botle, Klean Kanteen

Lifesaver Bottle 4000 Ultra Filtration Water Bottle: The best personal water filter system on the market, launched after the Thailand tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. Gets rid of all nasty viruses / bacteria in the water. I am using this filter instead of buying bottled water. It is a little bulky (about the size of a 1 liter bottle), but was worth it for me… If I had chosen something more compact, I would’ve gotten the SteriPEN Adventurer Opti Handheld UV Water Purifier. The SteriPen is a UV purifier that is a lot smaller than the Life Saver, but requires rechargeable batteries and a charger (or solar panel). Also, the UV system is not as powerful, and requires a pre-filter. If you buy a Life Saver, you will also need to buy pre-filter replacements (to replace every 6-12 months) and optional carbon inserts (to be replaced every 250 liters of filtration).

Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottle: If you are using a water bottle every day, stainless steel is the way to go. It’s the best water bottle choice for you (hygienic, no nasty chemicals) and the environment. The screw top on these creates a very strong seal, so you don’t have to worry about it leaking into your bag.

Timex Men’s T42761 Expedition Adventure Tech Digital Compass Watch: This is a standard watch / compass / alarm with a leather strap. It’s not flashly like some other watches, so it won’t attract unneeded attention. Simple to use versus a competing Casio model.

Alok Multi Pak: I got the larger (12 x 12) pack and a set of smaller bags. These are great for carrying anything that needs to stay waterproof. You can also use them to do laundry in and carry dirty laundry. Very handy, so many uses!

Moleskine Pocket Notebook with Travel Pen
MoleSkine Extra Small Notebooks: I brought a couple of these pocket-sized notebooks along. They come in very handy.

Disclosure: I only recommend products/services that I personally have tried and found useful. I make a small commission on some of the links above. The commission helps support this blog, so if you are interested in any of these products / services, and supporting the blog, please use the links in this blog post.

Part of the South of the Border Series

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