Archive for the ‘Positive Habits’ Category

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.

Sources:

  • 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.

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October 7th, 2011 No Comments

How to Start Meditating in the Next 5 Minutes

Ethan Nichtern Banner IllustrationWhatever method you use, meditation is simply getting to know your mind. It’s not about meditating “on” something or getting into a zone where you’re blissfully removed from your mind’s contents. Instead, the actual meaning of meditation is more like getting used to being with your own mind.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Why Meditate?

Meditation helps us increase our mindfulness and awareness, strengthen our sense of inner peace, and improve our ability to deal with our emotions. After practicing meditation over a period of time, the mind naturally falls into a resting state, allowing us to be fully present in our life. When we are not constantly pulled into the past or future, we are able to begin experiencing the present moment.

Sitting Meditation

Calm abiding meditation, or shamatha, is a practice that helps us to develop a peaceful state of mind, along with the ability to remain in a peaceful state for increasing periods of time. Normally our mind is a whirlwind of thought, so “peace” is the calming down of the mental agitation and stress caused by this whirlwind.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

This is the easiest type of meditation to start practicing. I’ve adapted these steps from Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind.

Step 1: Find a Comfortable Seat or Cushion

Find a comfortable seat in a chair or cushion. Have a relaxed but erect posture, keeping your spine straight. If you are sitting on a cushion, cross your legs. If you are sitting on a chair, place your feet evenly, flat on the ground. Your hands can rest in your lap or on your thighs. Why? Your body’s position has a powerful effect on your mind. A natural and upright position allows your mind to rest naturally in a calm state. A slouched position will make it difficult to rest your mind.

Step 2: Watch Your Breathing

Sitting relaxed but erect position, watch your breathing. You should be breathing natural, even and relaxed. Focus your attention on your breathing, specifically the coming and going of the breath at the tip of the nose and mouth.

Step 3: Become One With Your Breath

As you do this practice for some time, you start to become your breath. You feel the inhale and exhale and become one with the breath.

Step 4: Allow a Gap

At the end of your exhalation, let your mind and breath dissolve. Allow a gap and let it go. There’s no rush to take the next breath. Keep your mind on the breath as you inhale, feel it, and relax.

Bonus Step: Wandering Thoughts and Counting Your Breath

When you are meditating, you will experience all kinds of thoughts, some of which may seem extremely important. Instead of getting up and stopping meditation, simply recognize the thoughts and continue. Acknowledge each thought and then let it go.

If your mind becomes distracted with thoughts, or the sense of nowness is gone, you can practice counting your breathing. Simply observe your breathing and count each inhale/exhale cycle as one breath. If you find your mind wandering off into a thought, start over at one. Keep this up until you can count from one to ten without becoming distracted. Afterwards, you can start setting new goals for yourself, such as counting to one hundred without your mind wandering off.

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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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December 20th, 2010 No Comments

5 Great Ideas for New Year’s Resolutions

New Year's Eve 2010 - Valzer
New Year’s Eve is a great time to reflect on your past year, and changes you would like to make for the coming year. As New Year’s resolutions are highly personal, I won’t be providing specific resolutions. Instead, here are five ideas for you to come up with your own New Year’s resolutions.

1. Focus More on Something You Love

Is there a hobby that you love to do and are passionate about, but have been neglecting? This year, make the change. When you’re doing what you love, you are in a more passionate state of mind, and always doing your best because you enjoy what you do. You’ll often find yourself in “the flow”, a state where you lose track of time as your focus is solely on your passion. You’ll be better able to handle obstacles that come into your path because you enjoy the day-to-day activity of doing what you love.

2. Quit Something That Isn’t Working

Remember the old advice, “Winners never quit, quitters never win”? It’s wrong. In fact, winners quit often- as entrepreneur and marketing guru Seth Godin explains, “to stick with something in an absence of further progress is a waste.” Reflect on your past year. Is there something that you have put a lot of time and energy into, but still don’t end up anywhere (ex. Dead-end job)? This upcoming year, consider creating a New Year’s resolution to quit something that isn’t working.

3. Spend More Time Living in the Present

Reflect on the most enjoyable moment of your past year. Did this moment involve thinking, or were you completely focused on an activity? Chances are, you were completely focused on an activity. When you become intensely conscious of the present moment, you create a gap in thinking, in which you are highly alert and aware. Make a resolution to spend more time in the present for this upcoming year.

4. Break a Bad Habit

Do you have bad habits and behaviors that have become an automatic part of your daily routine? Over the past year, maybe some of these have even become automatic. For example, you may often wake up in the morning thinking negative thoughts, which puts you in a bad mood each morning. Or maybe you’ve created a habit or smoking on all of your work breaks. For this upcoming year, make a resolution to break a bad habit.

5. Become Happier and Stay That Way

How can you be happier and sustain it next year? Hint: Getting a raise at work or winning the lottery won’t make you happier for the long-term, as you will adapt quickly to your new circumstances. Studies have found that recent lottery winners are temporarily happier, but soon after, they adjust and are no happier than others. If we are constantly adapting to positive change in our lives, then how can we sustain an increased level of happiness over the long-term? This upcoming year, make a New Year’s resolution to become happier and stay that way.

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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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December 1st, 2010 No Comments

Are You Sleepwalking Through Life? How Lucid Dreaming Can Lead to Living in the Present

Anon

If you spend the day spaced out and caught up in the elaborations of the conceptual mind, you are likely to do the same in dream. And if you are more present when awake, you will also find that presence in dream.

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

A lucid dream is a dream in which you are aware that you are dreaming. There are many reasons people decide to try lucid dreaming. Here are a few of the more popular reasons:

  • Fun (ex. flying, superhero abilities)
  • Treatment for nightmares
  • Rehearsing an activity for your waking life (ex. sport, musical performance)
  • Self knowledge and personal growth

These are all great reasons, but most dreamers have not considered another positive side effect to lucid dreaming. When you become lucid within a dream, you practice living in the moment and maintaining awareness of your dream state. If you let your thought patterns slip into autopilot mode in a lucid dream, you will likely forget that you are dreaming and lose lucidity. Early lucid dreamers often lose lucidity or get excited and wake up from the dream. But experienced lucid dreamers learn to maintain awareness in the dream.

Taking Advantage of Your Senses in Waking Life

Somewhere along my lucid dreaming journey, I started to notice a lot more around me than before in my waking life. Before lucid dreaming, my waking life thoughts and tasks would be leave me in autopilot mode more frequently. I would be stuck deep in thought, not taking advantage of my senses, not enjoying the moment and my external environment.

As it is, I would say about 80 to 90 percent of most people’s thinking is not only repetitive and useless, but because of its dysfunctional and often negative nature, much of it is also harmful. Observe your mind and you will find this to be true. It causes a serious leakage of vital energy.

-Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

What I Learned about Lucid Dreaming and Living in the Present

The lucid dreaming habit of maintaining awareness in the dream state seems to flow into waking life. Lucid dreaming foundational practices helped me become more conscious in waking life initially. For example, performing reality checks (asking myself “Am I dreaming?”) throughout the day initially led to more consciousness of the present. Also, practicing dream yoga techniques such as “recognizing the dream-like nature of life” helped. But overall, experiencing lucid dreams and prolonging the dreams by maintaining awareness has made the biggest impact.

Just as your habits you have in waking life are reflected in your dream world, the reverse is also true. The habits you develop in your dream world are reflected in your waking life.

Learn More About Lucid Dreaming

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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