May 27, 2016

Why Thinking Doesn't Serve Us Most of the Time

During meditation, we can experience and practice peace and serenity. When we sit down to do so, it's not that hard, especially if we're not new to meditation. The tricky part is remaining in that state of calm all throughout the day.

I noticed that a well phrased sentence, a little reminder, can help me immensely in a time of need. A sentence that I understand and feel fully, so much so that it can instantly shift my perspective. 

Oftentimes, I write a sentence like this down, so I can bring it to mind throughout the day when I need to find my way back to that peaceful place.

A sentence that has helped me a lot during these past couple of weeks is the following:

Think less, live more.

I often find myself thinking about future events, debating what I should do. I know it doesn't serve me at all to think this much. Honestly, I'm pretty sure we spend more of our time thinking than actually living our lives.

And that's where this little reminder comes in. We can easily feel lost without thought. After all, we are taught that it is dangerous not to think. But mindless is not the same as mindful. Most of our thoughts do more harm than good. They don't let us live.

The Illusory Land of Thought

We live in the age of technology, and so many people are saddened by the fact that many of us stare at our phones instead of looking at the world around us. Even though they are not visible to the eye, our thoughts can do the same.

When someone's deep in thought, their eyes change. You can see that they are not really there. They are not present--they are lost in thought. It's not much better than staring at a telephone screen. Yet, we barely even notice it.

No Experience Can Ever Be Worse Than Fearing the Future

When I notice myself thinking about the future, and worry starts to rise in me, I just stop the thinking process and do something instead--smile at someone, go for a walk, sit in meditation, concentrate on my work, or anything that gets me out of my mind and into my life. If I fear to do something in particular, I go and do it. I refuse to let fear control what I do.

I don't want to spend my life thinking, I want to spend my life living. Even if an experience ends up being unpleasant in some way, it's still an experience. And I choose to live rather than hide in fear.

You Are Who You Choose to Be

It's not so easy to be in charge of our minds. But the great thing is that we don't have to be. Just because we have certain thoughts in our heads doesn't mean we have to be controlled by them. We are free to act in any way we please.

Thoughts are not as serious as we make them out to be. So let's think less and live more.

A guided meditation on this topic can be listened to here.

“Not to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don't realize this because almost everyone is suffering from it, so it is considered normal. This incessant mental noise prevents you from finding that realm of inner stillness that is inseparable from Being.” - Eckhart Tolle

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May 20, 2016

The Skill of Mindfulness: 6 Ways It Changes Your Life

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

Clinical psychology and psychiatry since the 1970s have developed a number of therapeutic applications based on mindfulness for helping people who are experiencing a variety of psychological conditions.

I also have a personal experience with mindfulness. All my life, I was an anxious person. I don't remember a time when I wasn't familiar with anxiety and the crippling choke of panic that comes with it.

As a child. no one taught me how to handle my thoughts and feelings, so I was a slave to them for a long time. Only in my twenties, after a particularity dark period, did I discover mindfulness.

Mindfulness was not like all the other non-senses I had read in self-help books before. It actually made sense. So I sat. I sat in meditation every day and tried practicing mindfulness every time those pesky thoughts made my stomach feel so uneasy--which was basically all the time.

Immediately, I felt more in control than ever--for the first time in my life, I could do something for my own well-being. It felt great. Even if an anxious episode was coming, it was not that terrifying anymore, because I was no longer helpless against it. I was slowly taking back the throne of my domain.

And slowly but surely, behind all the chaos, I developed a peaceful self and a skill that I still use every single day. The skill of mindfulness.

I can honestly say that mindfulness changed my life and made me into a better person. It also made life a whole lot easier altogether.

Here are 6 ways mindfulness changes our lives:

1. Compassion

When we spend time with our thoughts, we understand ourselves better. And when we understand ourselves better, we realize that other human beings work the exact same way we do. Compassion becomes natural, because we know that what goes on inside other people is not so different from what goes on inside us.

2. Peace of mind

Once we realize that our thoughts are just thoughts, and they only have power over us if we believe them, life becomes a whole lot easier. Because where there are no thoughts, there are no problems--most of the time. 

3. Control

Understanding our minds brings with it countless advantages. By knowing how our minds work, we understand how we work, and we can claim back control over ourselves. We no longer run on autopilot, we are conscious operators of our machines. 

4. Self-esteem

Once we know that our thoughts are not facts, we also realize that all that negative self-talk we always hear in our minds, that little voice that always likes to tell us we are not good enough--we don't have to listen to that! Because, oh yes, it is talking gibberish. And under all that noise, we are actually pretty cool. When we don't listen to it, we're capable of anything. Once we don't believe it, there's nothing left to hold us back.

5. Relationships

When we have compassion and understanding, relationships become a whole lot easier. We no longer smear our own insecurities on others, because we now see them and deal with them ourselves. We no longer blame others, we understand them. We no longer wait for others to live up to our expectations, because we have dropped those expectations already. Just like we accept ourselves, we accept everybody else as well.

6. Emotional and mental well-being

Feelings no longer control us, because we know that they cannot control who we are, and that they will pass. Sitting with anxiety or anger or sadness with a smile is possible. And it doesn't take long for the stormy waters inside of us to settle into calm waves. The mind is no longer controlling us. Before, we were its slaves, but now, we are its masters. We are wise and calm rulers of our domains. 

Nothing seems hard when we know that behind all the chaos--may that chaos be inside or outside of us--we can sit in peace. And sit in peace we shall.

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

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May 13, 2016

How to Find Peace When You Want to Run and Hide

There's one particular feeling when we get anxious: the one that makes us want to run away and hide somewhere where nobody can see us. It might be because we fear that something might happen to us that we don't want others to witness, or we simply fear that we will do something that will embarrass us.

People who suffer from anxiety know this feeling very well. Wherever we are, whatever we're doing, it makes us want to run away and hide.

The Mind, The Terrorist

As with most things concerning anxiety, that is the only thing you shouldn't do--running away. If you run away, you allow anxiety to control you, to terrorize you.

All those things that it tells you to fear--they are not real. So you can stand your ground, continuing with your life unaffected, knowing that its threats are empty.

You Are Home

But there is also another very important aspect of this whole issue--other people. We fear that we'll be judged, we'll disturb the peace, get ridiculed even. But that couldn't be farther from the truth.

Anxiety has a nasty habit of making us feel like we don't have a place in this world. That we are just annoyances, and it would be better for us to just hide where no one could see us.

But let me tell you something--you have a valid place in this world. Just like everybody else. This Earth is your home, and you can feel however you want to feel, at any place you please. You are not a burden or an annoyance. You don't need to hide. None of us do. And no one wants you to, except for the terrorist in your mind.

Sit Back and Allow

We can fall into the trap of trying to control everything about our lives. We might even think that we can control them. But honestly, we can't. Things like how other people see us or what will happen--we cannot have any effect on them whatsoever. And that's okay. Everything's as it should be.

The best part is that we cannot lose what we are. Whatever you do, you will still remain you, always. And that you is always accepted, always loved. You cannot lose that, whatever you do, whatever happens.

You don't need to do anything to be acceptable. That's a given, always. You don't need to run and hide.

So sit back and allow life to happen. Because it doesn't matter what will happen, you will always have a place in this world. You are always accepted. Always loved. Because you can never lose something that you are.

So smile proudly, and let people see you. Even the most unfriendly person will never judge you as much as your own mind does. No one will ever even come close, that I can promise you.

A guided meditation on this topic can be listened to here.

“Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded.” - Gautama Buddha

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May 6, 2016

A New Way to Look at Problems: The Gift of Struggles

Today, I've been thinking about what makes a person inspiring. Who are the people who we look up to? Who we admire? And how can we be like them?

The first thing I realized was that the people we look up to are the ones who face challenges. People who go through darkness and still come out smiling. People who are spat on but are still capable of compassion.

People who rise above their challenges, the world, and even themselves.

It made me want to embrace my own struggles. Because they are what make us strong. They are what make us inspiring. To be able to go through them with our heads held high and our hearts never left behind.

A life without struggle is empty--there is nowhere to grow.

I know that sometimes we wish for our troubles to just disappear. We don't want to deal with some of them, and we think our lives would be so much better without them--that we would be so much better without them. But that's not true.

Struggles are misunderstood. They are the ones who make us strong, beautiful, inspiring. Without fear, there is no courage. Without trials, there is no strength.

It's so easy to hate our struggles. To wish our lives were different, that we were different. But think of all the people who inspire you--what makes them strong is not that nothing has ever happened to them, but that they didn't let whatever happened to them influence who they are.

I have to remind myself as well to have perspective when it comes to my struggles. To know that going through them is what life is about, in a way. And I have to remind myself of the person I want to be.

The woman I want to be doesn't hide. She is not perfect, and sometimes, she is afraid. But she doesn't whine, she's not sorry for herself, and she never lets fear control her. She is peaceful and kind, even to her own fear. And despite being afraid, she walks on. Because she is much more than her fear.

Struggles create stepping stones for us. They are trials during which we can become better people. That's what life is, I suppose, a series of trials. And like in a game, after every trial, we either level up or have to replay the same level until we clear the stage.

I know it's hard not to want to will our struggles away. But what we can't see is that they are not simply problems to solve, they are opportunities. Opportunities to grow, to level up.

We are not broken or faulty. We just have different challenges to face.

If we look at our problems this way, they might just cease being burdens that we don't want to deal with and become exciting opportunities to grow, to level up. And life suddenly became a lot less taxing and a lot more exciting. 

All of us are inspiring in our own ways. And all of us can be people we ourselves look up to. It all depends on how we reach toward that darkness that wants to surround us.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.” - Ana├»s Nin

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