A Guide to the Basic Anxiety of Life

By Leo Babauta

Underlying much of what we do is an uncertainty, an anxiety, a fear, doubts, dissatisfaction …

And we react to these anxieties, dissatisfaction and uncertainty in so many unhelpful ways: we seek distraction, we eat unhealthy food, we procrastinate, we get caught in a cycle of anxiety and unhappiness, we lash out at others, we dwell in our loneliness, and then we get in denial about it all.

If we could learn to deal with the basic anxiety of life, we would have much more ease and less struggle.

The Anxiety Underneath Our Problems

On Twitter, I asked people to share a problem they’d like me to write about … the problems were all very difficult, but the basic anxiety of life was the undercurrent to all of them.

Each one has an external problem, with the undercurrent of anxiety, fears or uncertainty underneath the external problem. Let’s take a look at a few:

  • Feeling of being left out, lack of belonging: We can all relate to this feeling of not belonging. Externally, the problem is not finding people you connect with, not having that connection in your daily life. But on top of that, we add the anxiety/dissatisfaction of feeling like we’re left out and don’t belong. This is normal, but it’s good to notice.
  • Finding your passion, optimizing potential: The external problem is that you are in a job you’re not passionate about. On top of that is the anxiety/dissatisfaction of not finding that passion, of feeling like we’re not optimizing our potential. We can all relate to this too!
  • Headaches cyclicly prevent me building a career and paying my way properly, affects my self worth hugely: The external problem (bad headaches, leading to career and financial problems) is very real, and not easy to deal with. But on top of that, we have anxiety about it all, and we add self-criticism (most of us do this, right?), self-doubt, and a downgrading of our self-image.
  • That phase of anxiety before big changes occur: The external issue is that we’re facing a big change, and then because it’s a situation filled with great uncertainty, we feel anxiety about it.
  • Beginning/purchasing self improvement books/classes/plans and not using them: The external problem is not finding the time or energy to use materials you’ve bought, but we add to that an anxiety about ourselves not living up to our potential, not taking advantage of opportunities, not doing what we hoped we’d do. I think we can all relate to this.
  • Addiction to social media, videos and cell phone: The external problem is the distractions that keep pulling our attention. But the anxiety is that we feel addicted and feel something is wrong with us for not being less distracted. In addition, the addiction is probably a coping mechanism for dissatisfaction with the moment in front of us, or anxieties in other parts of life.
  • PTSD — Post Trump Stress Disorder: A lot of people are coping from dissatisfaction with the political scene right now, no matter what your views on the president might be. There’s the external situation of what’s going on, and then we add our dissatisfaction, anxieties about uncertainty, frustration and anger.
  • Sometimes feel helpless & empty for a reason I can’t identify. Only time makes that go away but I feel that time was wasted: There’s probably an external situation that’s causing a feeling of uncertainty, anxiety, dissatisfaction and/or helplessness. But the real problem is the feelings about it all, the uncertainty and anxiety about it all, and the anxiety about wasting the time it takes to get over it.
  • Getting over breakups: The external problem (end of a relationship) is overshadowed by the pain, dissatisfaction, anxiety that follow the breakup. We might have frustration and anxiety about wanting it not to have ended, about not wanting to be alone, about how we feel about ourselves after being dumped, about how the other person acted.

I think we can all relate to these problems, to not only the external situation but the reactions that we have.

There’s a fundamental anxiety and dissatisfaction that runs through the human condition, about whatever we’re experiencing in life, about other people and about ourselves.

So how do we deal with it all?

Where Does Basic Anxiety Come From?

It’s good to start by recognizing why we have this basic anxiety. It’s caused by:

  • Uncertainty about life, about the current situation, about people
  • Wanting certainty, stability when life isn’t stable or certain
  • Dissatisfaction with the above facts — which is also dissatisfaction with our situation, ourselves, and others

If you sit right now for 5-10 minutes and just pay attention to your breath, you’ll likely notice the fundamental anxiety … it results in wanting to stop paying attention to the breath, wanting the meditation to be over, wanting to get on with the tasks of life, wanting distraction, thinking that the exercise is stupid, wanting to think about problems you have.

But instead of running from this anxiety, instead of getting away from it into thinking about problems or getting out of the meditation … what if we just stayed with it and paid attention to it?

If we can get in touch with this fundamental anxiety that we suffer through in life … we can start to work with it.

Learning to Deal with This Basic Anxiety

Instead of running from the anxiety, instead of trying to cope by using distractions, food, shopping, alcohol, drugs … we’re going to find the courage to face it, with a smile.

Here’s how to work with it:

  1. Face the physical feeling. Drop out of the story that’s spinning around in your head, that’s causing the anxiety. Instead, just be mindful of how your body feels. What does the anxiety feel like, and where in your body is it located?
  2. Stay with it & be curious about it. Don’t run, just stay with the physical feeling. Instead of rejecting it and wanting it to stop, just open up to it and see it with curiosity. What does it feel like? Does it change? What kind of reaction does your mind have to the feeling?
  3. Smile at it. Develop a feeling of friendliness towards the physical sensation of this anxiety. See it as one of the fundamental realities of your existence, and learn to be friends with it. See this as a chance to work with something that will be with you for your entire life, an opportunity to get comfortable with this discomfort. If you can do that, you’ll need your coping mechanisms a lot less.
  4. Open to a bigger space. Our normal way of relating to this feeling is wanting to reject it, because we’re stuck in a small-minded, self-centered way of seeing it (I say this without judgment, it’s just something we do). Instead, we can start to touch the wide-open space of our minds, like a big blue sky, not a small space but expansive. In this open space, we can hold the anxiety like a cloud against the backdrop of the blue sky, but not be lost in the cloud. We can see the anxiety but also see that like a cloud, it’s temporary, it’s not that solid, it’s not all-encompassing, and it’s just floating by. This wide-open space of our mind is always available to us.

It’s that simple, and yet it’s not always easy. Sometimes the anxiety we feel is small, just a bit of tightness in our chest once we investigate it. But sometimes it’s quite big, a looming depression or a manic energy that we just can’t tolerate. So face it in small doses, just for a minute, just for a moment. Then let yourself run. Continue to work with it in small, tolerable doses until you start to trust that you’ll be OK if you face it and smile at it.

Once we start to touch on this anxiety, face it with courage, stay with it like a good friend would … we start to realize it’s not so bad. It’s just something that comes up, like a ripple in a pond, like a breeze in a field, and it will go away. We don’t need to panic, we don’t need to run, we can relax, invite it to tea, and see that nothing else is required. Instead, we stay, we give it love, and see that this place of uncertainty we’re in is absolutely perfect as it is.

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How to Live a Happy Life: 10 Things to Say Yes to Starting Today

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”
Marcus Aurelius

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
Abraham Lincoln

“If you want happiness for an hour — take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day — go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year — inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime — help someone else.”
Chinese Proverb

Saying no is often the easier way out.

When you say no you can safely stay within your comfort zone. You don’t have to fear failing or being rejected. The scary unknown and sometimes difficult change can be avoided.

But if you say yes your life can expand and deepen. The yes allows you to open up your life to more happiness.

Today I would like to share 10 things that I have said yes to and that have helped me to become happier in my life.

Pick one of these that resonate the most with you and focus on making it a part of your life.

1. Being imperfect.

Trying to be perfect is setting the bar too high. It will be impossible to reach. And so you’ll lower your self-esteem. You may not feel very happy about how things are going in your life. Even though they might be going very well indeed.

Perfectionism is mindset that eats at you and your happiness. Saying yes to being imperfect can turn that around.

How to do it:

  • Realize the costs of buying into myths of perfection. By watching too many movies, listening to too many songs and just taking in what the world is telling you it is very easy to be lulled into dreams of perfection. It sounds so good and wonderful and you want it.
    But in real life it clashes with reality and it can harm or possibly lead you to end relationships, jobs, projects etc. just because your expectations are out of this world. I find it very helpful to remind myself of this simple fact.
  • Go for good enough. Aiming for perfection usually winds up in a project or something else very slowly or never being finished. So go for good enough instead. Don’t use it as an excuse to slack off. But simply realize that there is something called good enough and when you are there then you are finished with whatever you are doing.

2. Being you.

Not being able to be yourself, always trying to change for others or censoring yourself don’t feel good at all. It makes life feel so small and limited.

So how can you be yourself? Your environment plays a huge part.

How to do it:

  • Supportive people. Spend more time with the people who support your dreams, values and you. Or are at least neutral. And spend less time with people who always criticize you or you simply aren’t a good fit for.
  • Supportive and life-expanding influences outside of your everyday life. Change your environment not only close to you. Go further and spend more time with sources of information that supports your dreams and can give you information that expands and makes your life happier and more exciting. Find support from people you have never met via books, movies, blogs, forums and music. And spend less time with negative and limiting influences.

3. The things that make you come alive.

It is important to find some time and energy for the things that you feel makes you come alive.

How to do it:

  • Mix it up. Try something new, even if it is just something small each week. Eat the vegetarian dish at lunch if you always eat meat. Listen to some music that isn’t your normal cup of tea. Go out to a movie, café or pub with friends if you usually stay in at night. Or vice versa. Create variation and expand your comfort zone regularly in small ways to live a happier life.
  • Reconnect with what you used to love if it has fallen by the wayside. If you used to go fishing, paint or play the guitar and it really made you come alive then reconnect. Use an hour for it this week and see if it still brings you joy and makes you come alive.

4. Optimism.

Pessimism can really limit your life and bring it to a standstill. It can make it feel like there’s no point in trying because it won’t make a difference or you’ll just fail. It can create ceilings and walls made out of glass where there really are none.

Saying yes a more optimistic way of thinking can on the other hand open your life up.

How to do it:

  • Ask yourself optimistic questions. When you’re in what seems like a negative situation then make something better out of it by asking yourself questions that promote optimism and helps you to find solutions. Questions like: What is one thing that is positive or good about this situation? And what is the opportunity within this situation?
  • Start your day off on the right foot. As mentioned in tip #2, the influences in your life can make a huge difference. So choose to spend your breakfast time with an optimistic influence like for example a book, a blog or your mom. Or talk to someone early in the day that most often supports and cheers you up like a co-worker or a friend in school.

5. Turning negative self-talk around.

It is very important to keep your motivation and your self-esteem up to live a happier life.

Your inner critic may be one of biggest obstacles standing in your way of that. If you make a mistake or fail, if someone criticizes you or if you are just getting tired then that small inner voice can become louder and louder and drag and keep you down.

It can tell you that you are stupid or lazy. That you will not succeed. That you are worse or uglier than someone else.

Being able to turn the inner critic around or to shut it up as soon as it pops up is a very helpful skill.

How to do it:

  • Say stop. Simply create a stop word or stop-phrase that you say or shout in your mind whenever your critic pipes up with a distorted and self-esteem hurting thought. Say: Stop! Or: No, no, no, we are not going there again!
  • Explain to yourself what this will lead to over the next year or more. As I mentioned in tip #1, reminding yourself of the cost of buying into myths of perfection is a powerful way to replace those thought habits. This works very well for other self-esteem hurting thought patterns too. Remind yourself of how the inner critic has shaped your life so far. And in your mind see the cost of letting it roam free for another year or five.

6. Saying no when you feel it is the right thing for you to do.

To have the time and energy to say yes to the most important things you have to say no to some things too.

How to do it:

  • What do I truly want to focus my time and energy on? When you get an offer or an opportunity arises ask yourself this question. When you look over your schedule ask yourself this question. Think about and look at what your top priorities are and what you deep want before you say anything.
  • Disarm and then state your need. It becomes easier for people to accept your no if you disarm them first. You could for example do that by honestly saying that you are flattered or that you appreciate the kind offer. Then you, for instance, add that you do not have the time for accepting and doing what they want. Or say that you do not feel that this offer is a good fit for your life right now.

7. Forgiveness.

Not clinging to the past and to the hurt that is there but to let it go and look to the now and the future is an essential thing to find more happiness in your life.

Forgiving is not always easy and can take time but there are some things that can make it a little easier.

How to do it:

  • Remind yourself that you forgive for your own benefit. As long as you don’t forgive someone you are linked to that person. Your thoughts will return to the person who wronged you and what he or she did over and over again.
    The emotional link between the two of you is so strong and inflicts much suffering in you and – as a result of your inner turmoil – most often in other people around you too. When you forgive you do not only release the other person. You set yourself free from all of that agony too.
  • Make a habit of forgiving yourself. Do not just forgive others but also yourself. By forgiving yourself – instead of resenting yourself for something you did a week or 10 years ago – you make the habit of forgiveness more and more of a natural part of you. And so forgiving others becomes easier too.

8. Making someone else happy.

Making someone else happier has many benefits. The happiness spreads back to you as you see his or her face light up and as you know you did the right thing.

It spreads back to you as people have a strong tendency to want to give back when you have done something good for them. And it spreads out into the world as that now happier person may spread his or her happiness to other people.

How to do it:

  • Help out practically. Lend someone a hand when they are moving. Or give them a ride in your car. Or if they need information, try to find a solution by asking the people you know or via Google.
  • Just listen. Sometime a friend or someone close to you may just want to vent or for someone to listen as he or she figures things out. It may not seem like much but it can be an immense help for someone who needs it. So be there fully – don’t sit there thinking about something else – and listen.

9. Openness and growth.

Saying yes to being open to the good things in life and growing as a person plays a big role when it comes to happiness.

The other things in this article will help you with that. But here are two more tips that will make your journey a little easier and simpler.

How to do it:

  • Change one thing at a time. Changing many things or your whole life at once sure sounds good. But willpower is something we often overestimate and everyday life tends to come in the way. So to make sure you have a much better chance of changing a habit or area of your life change just one thing at a time.
  • Start small. Just say no to one small thing you don’t want to do this week. Or forgive one person for one thing. Or help and make someone happy in some small way. Take just one small step outside of your comfort zone.

10. To living your life fully despite setbacks.

When things have been standing still for while or you hit a bump in the road then it’s easy to back down. To shrink. To give in or give up.

But a better way to say yes to happiness in those situations is to say yes to living your life fully.

How to do it:

  • Keep going. When you fail or make a mistake don’t give up. Reconnect with optimism by using the questions further up in this article. Find inspiration from books and blogs and the people around you. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead nudge yourself back on track again.
  • Remember, it’s not too late to change your life. I didn’t really try to improve my life very much until I was 25. And many throughout the world and history have made positive changes far later in life than that. So if you want to make a change then start today. Work with what you have where you are right now. Start small and take the first step towards something new.

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Join Me: The Zen Habits Mindfulness Retreat in April

By Leo Babauta

I’m excited to announce my first retreat: the Zen Habits Mindfulness Retreat in San Francisco!

The urban retreat will be held over a weekend, on April 21-23, 2017. It’s aimed at teaching you key mindfulness skills that can help you transform your life.

There are limited spots (at 3 different levels), so I would get your spot soon if you’d like to attend.

What This Retreat is About

It’s a 2.5-day retreat that focuses on:

  • Mindfulness practices
  • Using mindfulness to deal with our struggles and old patterns
  • Finding joy and gratitude in life
  • Seeing the underlying goodness in ourselves & overcome dissatisfaction with ourselves
  • Dealing with uncertainty, developing trust in the process
  • Finding what happens when you have no escape

Through these practices, we’ll help you develop tools that can lead to the changes you’ve been hoping for.

We will learn different types of meditations and practice exercises that help us work with our struggles.

We will also explore San Francisco a bit:

  • Mindful tea tasting
  • Mindful chocolate tasting
  • Delicious vegan food will be provided
  • We’ll go on an easy hike
  • We’ll form connections with each other to support our life changes

I’m so excited to have you join me in one of my favorite cities in the world, working on things that have changed my life completely and that I hope will change yours as well.

Three Options for the Retreat

The basic retreat described above doesn’t include accommodations (you’ll have to book your own AirBnb or hotel) or transportation to San Francisco (book your own flights).

But it does include vegan meals, activities described above, and the talks and group exercises with Leo.

Basic option: The basic retreat comes at a price of $2,995:

Mindfulness Retreat (Basic)

But I’m also including two other options:

  1. “With a Bed” option (below) that gets you a bed and a room in an AirBnb apartment, and
  2. a Premium Package that includes an additional lunch with me, a 1-on-1 session at the retreat, and a follow-up coaching call with me a few weeks after the retreat (see “Premium Package” below).

The “With a Bed” Option

I’ll be renting a couple AirBnb apartments with about separate beds available (each in their own room), so if you’d like to stay in an apartment with other retreat participants, you can book at the “With a Bed” rate … you’ll get a bed in your own bedroom (unless you choose to share a Queen bed with a friend or your spouse/partner).

The “With a Bed” spots come at a price of $3,395:

Mindfulness Retreat (With a Bed)

The Premium Package

Finally, I’ve created a few bonuses if you’d like to purchase the “premium” package …

This package includes:

  1. A bed in one of the AirBnb apartments (same apartment where Leo is sleeping)
  2. An extra lunch with Leo on Friday April 21 before the retreat starts
  3. A 1-on-1 coaching session with Leo during the retreat
  4. A follow-up coaching call with Leo about 3-4 weeks after the retreat

There are 5 premium spots available, at a price of $4,395.

Mindfulness Retreat (Premium)

I am really excited about this retreat and I hope you’ll join me!

Questions & Answers

You might have some questions … here are a few answers:

Q: Who is this retreat for?

A: It’s for someone who is willing to take a weekend to change their life. Someone who has been struggling and is open to practicing mindfulness and changing mental patterns. Someone who is ready to let go of old patterns and embrace new ones. Someone who is willing to put in the work for better habits and a transformed life.

Q: Are airfare or accommodations included?

A: Airfare is not included, you’ll need to book tickets on your own. Accommodations for the two nights are only included if you choose either the “With a Bed” or “Premium” options, where you’ll be staying in an AirBnb apartment with other participants. If you choose the “Basic” option, you’ll need to find your own hotel or AirBnb apartment in San Francisco, and this is not included in the price.

Q: What if I don’t like vegan food?

A: I’d suggest bringing an open and flexible mind to the retreat, and the food we’ll be eating is pretty delicious, and it’s included in the cost … however, you are free to go off and explore on your own, and buy your own food. In that case, you’ll be missing out on group meals, unfortunately.

Q: Can I book two retreat spots with a shared bed with my partner or friend?

A: Sure! In this case, book one spot at the “With a Bed” or “Premium” level (to get a bed) and then a second spot at the Basic level. Then email us to let us know you want to share a Queen-sized bed with your partner or friend.

Q: What is your refund policy?

A: No refunds after March 1, 2017. If you buy a spot, you’re preventing others from buying them, as spots are limited. So if you don’t ask for a refund by March 1, you’ll lose your fee if you can’t make it. If you ask for a refund before March 1, we’ll refund 80% of your fee.

Q: I can’t pay right now, can I pay later?

A: No, the spots will only be reserved by those who pay. If you want to wait until you can pay, it will mean there might not be any spots left.

Q: I just bought a spot, now what?

A: There is a PDF download that came with your purchase, please download and read that for more info. We’ll also be sending you a few emails over the next month, please read these and reply with your info!

Q: What do I need for this retreat?

A: A notebook and pen for notes, layered clothing for San Francisco’s fluctuating weather, and an open and flexible mind. A willingness to change and practice. An open heart. Toiletries.

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A Powerful Life Principle from Abraham Lincoln

As you might know, I love quotes. They are concise but contain a lot of wisdom. Recently I found a great quote by Abraham Lincoln that contains a powerful life principle. Here is the quote:

I will prepare and someday my chance will come.

In my opinion, this quote is interesting. Why? Because you prepare first and then your chance will come. It might sound counterintuitive, but I believe that this is an important principle for living a successful life.

Here are some lessons I learned from the quote:

1. Always prepare yourself for the future.

You never know what will happen. That’s why it’s important that you always prepare yourself for the future. Keep building your knowledge. Keep building your network. Don’t just stay where you are, assuming that everything will stay the same. Instead, prepare yourself as if something will happen. Why? Because something will happen.

If you get complacent, the future might catch you off guard. That’s something you don’t want to happen to you.

2. Build it before you need it.

Many people only start building something when they need it, but by then it’s too late. You need to start building it long before you need it. This applies to every area of your life: personal finance, skills, relationships, spirituality, etc.

3. Have faith that your chance will come.

It may be difficult to make preparation because you might not know what it is for. For this, you need to have faith that your chance will come. You might not know how it looks like, but believe that something will come.

Steve Jobs put it well: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

4. Believe that the best is still ahead of you.

You won’t prepare yourself if you don’t think that there is more to life than what you now have. That’s why you need to believe that the best is still ahead of you.

That’s the attitude that Ray Kroc – the man who built MacDonald’s – had. He was in his 50s and already had a good business selling milkshake machine, but he believed that the best was still ahead of him. That belief made him open his eyes to new opportunities.

5. Recognize your chance when it comes.

The opportunity came to him when he heard good things about a hamburger restaurant far away. Intrigued, he decided to fly there to check it out himself. He was so impressed by what he saw that he decided to negotiate expanding the restaurant. Long story short, it eventually becomes the McDonald’s that we know today.

He could have missed his chance if he was too busy running his existing business. If that happened, we wouldn’t have the McDonald’s as we know it today. Fortunately, he recognized the opportunity when it came.

6. Make the most of the opportunity.

After you recognize the opportunity, make sure that you make the most of it. Again, that’s what Ray Kroc did. He jumped into it with both feet. He innovated, expanded, and invested. Thanks to his preparation, he had the fund, the connections, and the knowledge to make it happen. His preparation enabled him to make the most of the opportunity.

***

As you can see, the Lincoln’s quote above is simple but contains a powerful life principle. Applying it can take your life to the next level.

It all starts with your preparation, though. Have you been preparing yourself for a future opportunity?

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The Compassionate Way to Health & Fitness

By Leo Babauta

Lots of us would like a better body, an amazing workout habit, and a diet that celebrities would die for.

OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but most of us definitely have an ideal when it comes to fitness. We want to be super healthy, and we strive for it. Maybe we strive and then fail and feel bad about it, but we strive.

What would it be like to not strive for these fitness goals?

What would it be like if we removed the striving, and found compassion instead?

The Problem with Striving

When we strive for a fitness ideal (which is usually what we do), there are a few fundamental problems to be aware of:

  1. The ideal is one we will never meet. Even if we do great at our goal, it won’t be what we pictured. For example, I ran several marathons and an ultramarathon because of ideals I had in my head, and completed them … and they weren’t at all what I pictured. They were still worthwhile, but not at all what my fantasy was.
  2. You have a good likelihood of failing at some point, not meeting your ideal, and then feeling bad about yourself for failing.
  3. You don’t hit the ideal right away — most ideals are several months, if not years, in the future. So for the first few days, first few weeks … you will just do the activity but not hit any ideal. This is likely not fun. You might set ideals for each day (“go for a run today!”) but even then, you’ll go for the run and it won’t be what you fantasized it would be.
  4. Once you reach the goal you’re striving for, you’re not content. You just find another goal to strive for. And another. Until you’re dead, having never been satisfied.

What we don’t realize is that there’s nothing to strive for. We’re already in the perfect place: a moment that is filled with beauty and wonder, a life that is filled with untapped love and compassion, a goodness in ourselves underlying everything we do. We’re already in the ideal moment, but we take it for granted and fantasize about something else instead.

We can just stop striving. Just find joy in this present moment, without needing the crutch of our fantasies.

The Compassionate Way

So if we stop striving for health and fitness ideals, does that mean we just lie on the couch, stuffing our faces with potato chips and slurping soda all day? Umm, yuck. And no.

What we can do is 1) realize joy in who we are, where we are, and our intricate connection to the wonderful people all around us, and find contentment right now; and 2) in that moment of joy and contentment, we can act out of love.

What are some acts of love that we can do, in this moment of joy and appreciation for what is right here in front of us?

  1. Appreciating the gift of our bodies, we take care of them. The bodies we have are incredible, wonders of nature, and we take them for granted. We abuse them by being sedentary, taking drugs, eating junk food, not taking care of them. Instead, an act of appreciation for our bodies is to care for them. Exercise, walk, eat well, floss, meditate.
  2. Appreciating the gift of life, we explore the outdoors. There is so much to notice and explore, to behold with absolute wonder, that it’s a waste to be online or on our phones all day. Instead, it’s an act of love to get outside and move our beautiful bodies.
  3. Appreciating the gift of food, we nourish our bodies. Instead of abusing ourselves by putting junk in our bodies (just to satisfy cravings of comfort), we can find joy in the nourishment of our bodies with gorgeous, healthy, delicious food. And appreciate that the fresh food we’re feeding ourselves with is a gift, grown from the earth by people we don’t know who support our lives, a miracle not to be taken for granted.
  4. Appreciating this moment, we meditate. This moment is filled with brilliance, and yet we often ignore it. Instead, we can sit and meditate, to practice paying full and loving attention. We can do yoga, moving while we meditate. We can meditate as we go for a run, lift a barbell, ride a bike, swim in the ocean, walk in a sunny park.

There is no need for striving for fitness and health ideals. Instead, we can let go of those ideals and appreciate what’s right in front of us. And in gratitude, act with love and compassion to take care of ourselves and pay attention to the moment we’re in.

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How to Make Friends

By Leo Babauta

I’m writing this guide for my kids as they grow up and go out into the world — but it’s for anyone who wants to connect with others.

I’m writing it for my teenage self, who was shy and awkward and self-conscious. I’m writing it as a reminder to my current self, who is still those things.

But I’ve been lucky enough to make a handful of good friends, awesome people who are sucking the juice out of life, who wake up every day with gratitude and energy. I’m lucky to have them, and it makes me reflect on what I’ve done right, and what they do all the time when making connections with people.

Here’s what I’ve learned. It’s not a comprehensive guide, nor will it work for everyone. I still hope it’s useful.

Guidelines for Making Friends

In my experience, people (generally) want to be friends with other people who follow these general guidelines:

  • Be positive, not negative. While it’s OK to share your struggles with people (I recommend it), if you’re complaining all the time, and are generally negative about other people and life in general, then people get tired of the complaining and negativity. We have enough trouble in life without having friends who are negative all the time. That said, a good friend will always listen when you’re in need, so don’t take this as “never complain.” Instead, just generally try to be a positive person, and if you have struggles, also try to show how you’re tackling those struggles with a positive outlook.
  • Be interested & a good listener. Be interested in other people! Don’t make the mistake of only wanting to talk about your stuff, and being bored and unimpressed with what other people are doing. I try to find the interesting in everyone, even if they lead a relatively uneventful life, there’s something fascinating about them. When someone wants to talk, listen. If they only talk about themselves all day and don’t want to hear your stuff, then they probably aren’t going to be a great friend, but still give them a chance and be interested for as long as you can.
  • Be excited about life, have energy. We generally don’t want a friend who is bored all the time. Someone who is excited about life, interested in things, has good energy … that’s someone you’d by hyped to be around. Not super hyper, necessarily, but just containing a positive energy.
  • Do interesting things. If you’re excited about life, you manifest that by doing new things, learning, creating, exploring, trying out new experiences, meeting new people. If you are this kind of person, you’ll be interesting. If you shut out life, people might not be as interested.
  • Tell good stories. No one wants to listen to someone who tells long boring stories. After the first two such stories, people generally start tuning you out. So try to keep your stories shorter, unless you can tell people are interested. Find something interesting to hook their curiosity, and then draw them in with that curiosity until you satisfy it with a good ending. Practice your storytelling when you meet people, and try to get better at it. It’s not one of my strong points, to be honest, but I recognize that and am trying to be better.
  • Smile. I’m not saying you should have a fake smile, but a smile puts you in a friendly mood, versus frowning at someone. Don’t smile all the time, or at inappropriate times. Just generally have a smiling disposition, as it signals that you like the person (also try to genuinely like the person, moving away from tendencies to judge them or complain about them).
  • Put yourself out there, be willing to try things. Sing in public even if that scares you. Try new food, new experiences, new ideas. This open-mindedness attracts others who are looking to get the most out of life.
  • Be calm, not overly dramatic. While it’s great to have a lot of energy, people who are overly dramatic about little things can be a turn-off. So learn to react to most problems as if they’re not a big deal (because they usually aren’t), and handle them with calmness instead of overreacting.
  • Be authentic, don’t try to show off. All of the above recommendations might seem like I’m recommending that you be someone you’re not. I’m not recommending that at all. Instead, I want you to be an authentic version of yourself (there are lots of versions of ourselves) — but choose the version that is more in the directions recommended above, in general. If there is a positive and negative version of you, generally choose the positive version. But most importantly, don’t try to impress people all the time — if you’re confident in yourself, you don’t need to impress. Instead, be a genuine person, not just the “best you.” When this recommendation is in conflict with any of the above recommendations, choose this one.
  • Be happy with yourself & confident. This is just something that’s good to do for yourself. Be happy with who you are, even the flaws. If you are, you can be confident that you’re good enough when you meet someone else. People generally don’t respect someone who is constantly harsh on themselves. How can you learn to be happy with yourself? That’s a whole other post, but in general, become aware of any tendency to be harsh and critical of yourself, and don’t let yourself stew in those kinds of thoughts. Start to see the good in yourself, the genuine heart and caring nature, and let that be the story you tell yourself about yourself.

I don’t claim to be an expert at any of this (my friend Tynan is a much better expert, and wrote an excellent book you should check out), but this is what I believe to be true right now.

I hope this helps, and if you find yourself lacking in any of these areas, see it not as confirmation that you suck, but as an exciting new area for you to explore.

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A Loving Guide to Going Vegan

By Leo Babauta

A loved one has decided to go vegetarian and has struggled in a couple areas, so I thought I’d write this guide for her.

I’m writing it for those who want to go vegan, because that’s what I am, but the ideas apply to those going vegetarian as well.

This is for those who are considering it, or who are just getting started and have questions or struggles.

Let’s dive in!

Understand the Why

If you come across struggles while becoming vegan, it’s easy to give up if you’re not really motivated. So figure out why you’re doing this.

My top recommendation: do it for the animals.

Health: Yes, you can do it for your health, but in truth, being vegan is not a panacea. You can become healthier as a vegan if your previous diet was crap and you start eating vegetables and whole foods. But you can also eat crap as a vegan (French fries, fried vegan “chicken” and Coke, for example), or you could do your best but not get some nutrients and your health could suffer. Also, it’s completely possible to eat healthy as a non-vegan — my sister is a pescatarian who doesn’t eat grains or processed foods, and eats lots of veggies. So health isn’t always the best reason, though I personally transformed my health by going vegetarian and then vegan.

Environment: As a vegan, your carbon footprint will drop greatly — the carbon emissions of animal agriculture is greater than the transportation industry, and is probably the biggest sources of carbon emissions in most people’s lives. It’s said that you can’t be a meat-eating environmentalist, and on some level, I agree.

However, I’ve found that for most people, the environmental reason for veganism is just a bonus, not the main driving reason they stay vegan.

Don’t hurt animals (ethics): This is the top reason people stay vegan over the long run, in my experience. It’s emotional: most people love animals, and the idea of killing them for pleasure can be distressful for many of us. It’s logical: there’s no good reason to eat animals other than pleasure, as we can be perfectly healthy on a vegan diet (I am and many others are). And it’s consistent: why do we love and protect dogs and cats (we wouldn’t tolerate their abuse or horrible killings) and not pigs and cows?

For those wondering, milk and eggs actually do harm animals — for one thing, dairy cows and egg hens are often abused and live in horrible conditions their entire lives, but no matter what farm they’re on, they’re killed when they’re no longer productive. And the male chicks of egg hens are crushed alive, and the male calves of dairy cows are raised in heartbreaking conditions and killed for veal.

For me, I started down the path for health reasons, but the ethics of harming other sentient beings is what has remained meaningful to me, and is the reason I’ll never go back to eating animal products. It’s good to keep that motivation in mind as you take this journey.

Getting Started

There’s no need to become vegetarian or vegan overnight. Like many others, I started by cutting out red meat and only eating poultry. Then I cut out poultry and became vegetarian (I’m not a big fan of fish). My wife cut out red meat, then poultry, then was pescatarian (only fish, no meat or poultry) for awhile before going vegetarian. This is a common pattern, and it makes the transition easier.

For me, I slowly transitioned from vegetarian to veganism, first cutting out eggs and then drinking soymilk instead of milk (I actually love the taste of soymilk, and no, soy is not bad for you). But I held out on cheese for the longest time, as I didn’t think I could give it up. I finally did when my wife decided to go vegan in 2012, and surprisingly, it was not hard at all to give up cheese!

The point is, there’s no one right path, and it doesn’t have to be sudden at all. Some people go vegetarian or vegan all at once and do great, but others find a slow transition to be a great way to adjust your tastebuds, discover new recipes, and figure out the logistics of the new lifestyle.

Get started however you want, but just start somewhere!

Going Out to Eat

The loved one I mentioned has had a hard time going to lunch with friends and finding almost nothing vegetarian on the menu. This can be tough. Here are some recommendations:

  1. Do a few minutes of research before you go anywhere. Yelp or Happy Cow are your friends, as you can find veg-friendly restaurants that will cater to you and your non-veg friends. I like to look up the menus online of places I want to go to. Honestly, I probably spend about 5-10 minutes doing this research, so it’s not hard.
  2. If you’re too lazy to do research, some places that are delicious and typically have veg food: Thai, Indian, Italian, Mexican (Chipotle is great!), and lots of Asian places. In other words, almost any cuisine other than American steakhouses or barbecue joints.
  3. If you didn’t do research, then look for menu items that can either be vegan/vegetarian, or can be made vegan/vegetarian. For example, a big salad with lots of veggies, beans, nuts can be made vegetarian if you ask them to leave out the chicken (and cheese and egg if you’re vegan). Sometimes you’ll find a veggie burger on the menu of burger places. In a Thai restaurant, you can ask them to make tofu curry or pad thai without the fish sauce, and without egg.
  4. A good restaurant will often have a chef who likes to be challenged, so feel free to ask the server to ask the chef if they can make something vegan for you. Often they’ll be able to make something simple, and once in awhile they’ll delight you.

In the end, you’ll slowly develop a mental list of the places in your town where you can go to enjoy a good vegan dish or three, and also the mental habit of doing a few minutes’ research before agreeing to a lunch place with someone.

Cooking Delicious Food

Personally, I end up cooking my own food most of the time, and only eat out about once a week. It’s cheaper, healthier, and you get the food you love rather than whatever they have to offer.

It’s not hard either. You can usually find a vegan version of that meal online — I started with vegan versions of chili, spaghetti, curries, tacos, burgers, pizzas, other pastas (like pesto) and other things that my family and I already liked.

Eventually I branched out and tried new recipes, and explored a whole world of vegan cooking. It was a lot of fun.

These days, I have simplified. I go for simple bowls that I find delicious:

There are a thousand variations on these bowls. Basically combine a whole grain (like brown rice or quinoa, or potatoes if you like) with a protein (black beans, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, lentils), veggies (spinach, kale, mushrooms, broccoli, bok choy, edamame) and a sauce or spices. Healthy, easy to make, delicious. As a family, we’ve made versions of this bowl with a Mexican, Thai, Japanese or Indian theme, for example.

There are a lot of good vegan recipes online! Here are a couple: Vegan Richa, Post Punk Kitchen & Oh She Glows.

Eating at Other People’s Houses

It can be awkward at first when you go to someone else’s house to eat (for a party or family gathering, for example) and all they have is non-veg food. But you learn a couple good strategies for dealing with this:

  1. Offer to bring a dish or two. I pretty much always bring a vegan dish or two whenever I go to eat at someone’s house. I just say, “I’ll bring a vegan dish!” and they say, “Cool!” If I feel like a vegan dessert, I’ll make one and bring it too. No one objects — if they don’t want to eat it, they don’t have to. More for me. Bonus: when people taste my delicious vegan dishes and desserts, it shows them how wonderful being a vegan can be.
  2. Talk to the person. It was a bit awkward at first when I would get invited somewhere and I had to tell them that I was a vegetarian (and later vegan). Most people don’t know much about it, they can get offended by the very idea, and there can be lots of questions (and bad jokes). But I learned the best policy was just to tell people I’ve become vegan, and not make a big deal about it. If they have questions, I’m happy to answer, but I’m not here to preach. I’m just enjoying life as a vegan. And yes, there are the bad jokes that you get tired of … I just see it as their attempt to lighten their own tension, and laugh with them.

Now that people know I’m vegan, there aren’t any awkward conversations, and it’s not a big deal.

Adjusting Tastes

The strange thing is that if you are just starting out as a vegan, you might not like a bunch of vegan food. That’s normal. But here’s the interesting part: your tastebuds change!

For example, I didn’t like vegan ice cream or “fake meats” but now I’ll happy have ice cream made from coconut milk, cashew cream, almond milk, soymilk — as an occasional treat. And while I don’t eat vegan “meats” every day, I think some of them are quite good.

A couple more examples: I didn’t like soymilk before. And hated kale. Now I happily drink soymilk every day. And kale is one of my favorite foods evah (I even own a kale T-shirt).

In the beginning, I stuck with familiar tastes, and just altered them as little as necessary to make them vegetarian. But slowly I tried new recipes, new vegan ingredients, changing things just a little at a time. I found that my mind opened to the new tastes and soon they became normal.

I thought I would really miss meat, but I don’t, and haven’t ever. Now I can’t stand the thought of eating meat. I used to think I could never give up cheese, but it turned out to be the easiest thing ever, when I decided I really wanted to be vegan.

Tastebuds are wonderful things, in that they can change if you let them.

Understand the Nutrition

Vegans have a few things to understand if they want to be healthy on a vegan diet. It’s not hard at all, but you should educate yourself. One of the biggest problems when people go vegan and fail is that they don’t get proper nutrition because they didn’t care enough to read a few articles. Don’t make that mistake.

There are only a few nutrients you really need to know about — the biggest ones probably being B12, Vitamin D, Omega 3s. If you’re eating lots of veggies, lots of other whole foods, you’ll probably do better than most on the rest of the nutrients.

B12 is something every vegan should supplement — I take a simple B12 pill once or twice a week, and fortified soymilk is a good option. Don’t believe the myth that you can get it sufficiently from the dirt in vegetables.

Vitamin D is usually easy to get from sunlight, but if you don’t go outdoors much or it’s winter and there’s no sun outside, then take a Vitamin D supplement. I take this one made from mushrooms grown in sunlight.

Being low on Omega 3s isn’t something that will cause any noticeable problems, but it seems to be good for the heart and brain. Omnis can get it from fish oil. Vegans can get them from flaxseeds and walnuts and canola oil and other similar foods, but I additionally take a daily tablet called Ovega-3 that has a good blend of EPA and DHA.

There’s more you can learn — read all about it at VeganHealth.org.

Dealing with Family & Friends

Tell all your family and friends you’re going veg, so they can share in your joy! Actually, most likely they’ll tease you about it, debate you, and not understand. That’s OK, not everyone gets it.

I have a few recommendations:

  • Don’t be preachy. No one likes to be preached to, and in fact they’ll start to resent you and even be defensive about their way of eating.
  • Be patient. Not everyone gets it, but generally the people you love will come to accept this new part of you. Just not right away, perhaps. They need time to adjust.
  • Be loving. When you share your new lifestyle, do so out of love, not criticism. Do so with kindness in your heart and voice. Share what you think the person is ready to learn about, but don’t push.
  • Laugh at their jokes. Don’t take jokes about vegans in a personal way. People can feel a lot of tension about this stuff, so jokes are their way to overcome that.
  • Don’t debate. If someone wants to debate the ethics of veganism, it probably won’t be productive, because they have an entrenched stance and aren’t likely to change. Instead, offer to send them some links that address their concerns, but say a debate won’t be productive. If someone is genuinely interested and open-minded, then share what you think is appropriate.
  • Don’t talk about murder while people are eating. I’ve found that people don’t like you to talk about the incredibly inhumane way that animals are treated … while they’re eating the animals. It makes them feel pretty bad, defensive, even angry. That’s not a way to open people’s minds. If they ask while they’re eating, just give them the bare minimum, smile, and enjoy your vegan food.

In the end, love and patience and understanding are the way to go.

Getting Super Healthy

Veganism doesn’t just have to be for the beautiful animals. You can use it to become super bad-ass healthy too.

Here’s how:

  1. Eat a crapload of vegetables. Greens of all kinds are king. Then expand into reds, yellows and oranges. Whites and browns. Be the god or goddess of vegetables, and let amazing health be your dominion.
  2. Move to whole foods. There’s actually no good definition of “whole foods” (good!) or “processed foods” (baaad!), it’s just a “I know it when I see it” kind of thing. But try for foods that are closer to their natural state. For example, beans look like they could have just been picked from their pod. A bagel doesn’t. That said, no one has to be perfect about eating only whole foods — just eat in that direction.
  3. Cut down on junk. Pop Tarts, soda, too much beer, white breads and pastries, chips, sweets, most cereals, frozen prepared foods, fast food, most things you can get at chain restaurants. I’m not saying never eat this stuff again, but as you move away from it, you’ll get healthier.
  4. Exercise. Bodyweight exercises, yoga, biking, swimming, hiking, running, rowing, weights, climbing, sports.

It’s pretty much that simple. If you want to lose weight, I would do the above, and eat as many green vegetables with your meals as you can. If you want to gain weight, just eat more, and add nuts and nut butters and oils to your meals when you can.

A Few Myths to Debunk

It’s inevitable that you’ll run up against some common myths. It’s good to do a little research, because they simply aren’t true.

Here are a few:

  • Protein is hard to get (it’s easy)
  • Plants feel pain (no, they don’t have a central nervous system or brain)
  • We’re doing these animals a favor by giving them a life (their lives are short, brutish and filled with cruelty)
  • Our canine teeth mean we’re evolved to be carnivores (we can’t survive on a carnivorous diet; we can survive on a vegan or omnivorous diet)
  • It’s expensive to be vegan (beans and rice are cheaper than meat)
  • Vegan diets make you weak (I’m healthy & strong, and so are many other vegans)

I’m not going to dispel these (and other) myths here, but other sites have done it really well.

Enjoy, Not Sacrifice

Being vegan isn’t hard, it’s not a sacrifice, it’s not extreme, and it’s not boring. It can be, if that’s how you see it.

But I see it differently:

It’s delicious.

It’s a joy.

It’s healthy, humane, kind. Good for the Earth. Wonderful to share.

I wish you best on this journey, my friends, as you explore a world of compassion and love. Do it with your arms wide open and your hearts full.

A few additional resources
: No Meat Athlete, Plant Shift, Minimalist Vegan.

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Letting Go of Distractions

By Leo Babauta

Today I deleted several apps from my phone: Twitter, Reddit, Feedly, Snapchat, the N.Y. Times app, and more.

I’m letting go of distractions, or at least learning to.

In fact, I made a list of things I’m letting go of:

  • Twitter (except to post my latest articles)
  • Reddit
  • Favorite blogs & websites
  • News websites (most of the time)
  • YouTube (or other video sites, unless needed)
  • Shopping, buying crap
  • Reading more than one book at a time
  • Additional projects
  • Checking my phone often
  • Checking email/messages more than 3x per day
  • More than one or two tabs open (unless absolutely necessary)
  • Reading while eating
  • Extra clothes, books, equipment
  • Needing to do something all the time

That’s not to say I’m going to be able to let go of these all at once, or perfectly. I’m sure it’ll be messy, a journey. And these aren’t going to be strict restrictions, but guidelines to help me be mindful. But in general, I have the intention of learning to let go.

Why? Because distractions are a crutch, a mental habit, a refuge for the mind.

We procrastinate through distractions, of course, but we also use it to hide.

Distractions help us hide from:

  • Boredom
  • Difficult emotions
  • Being present
  • Things about ourselves we don’t like
  • Other people
  • Discomfort and fear
  • Resentment
  • Our mental patterns
  • The fear of not being busy
  • Our worry that we aren’t content, that we aren’t enough

You might be thinking, “Well, what’s wrong with having a place to rest from all of that? Who wants to face those horrible things?” I’ve found that hiding from these difficulties doesn’t make them go away, nor does it help the problem. The only thing that has helped me is to face difficulties with openness, courage, curiosity, and honesty. Giving a difficulty our loving attention actually helps the situation.

So hiding isn’t what I want to do anymore. I’m being honest with myself and admitting that I’ve been using distractions to run, to hide. I have the intention of not hiding, but facing.

You might be thinking, “What’s wrong with a little distraction, a little mental break?” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting our minds rest — I’m not trying to be productive all the time. I want to just notice why I’m trying to run to distractions, and get in touch with those fears instead. I plan to rest, to exercise, to get outside, to meditate, to be present — not to work all the time. Rest is important, but distractions aren’t the only way we can rest. Distractions aren’t the only way to have fun. Distractions are a crutch, if we’re honest with ourselves.

I have no prescription for life here, nor am I judging others for their distraction habits — obviously I have my own to deal with, and I’m not in a position to judge. I thought only that I’d share my current intention and practice with the people I love. And let you know that I’m doing it with love.

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Time Management Tips: How Not to Get Overwhelmed

When it comes to time management, there is a common misconception. The misconception is that time management is about getting more done. It’s about how to squeeze more things into your day. In this view, the more you get done, the better.

This view, however, will only lead you to become overwhelmed and even burnt out. Plus, it’s possible that the things you get done are not the important ones.

What is the right view then? How should we approach time management?

A while back I listened to a leadership podcast by Craig Groeschel. He made two statements that I think give us the answer:

  • “Wise time management is not about doing more. It’s about doing more of what matter most.”
  • “To be effective, you don’t do more. You do less better.”

In my opinion, these two statements give us the right view on time management. Time management is not about getting more done. Instead, it’s about getting the right things done in a better way.

If you apply this principle, you won’t get overwhelmed. Instead, you will live a balanced life while still getting the important things done. You will be productive in a balanced way.

Here are four things you need to do to put this principle into action:

1. Know your purpose.

To get the right things done, you need to know what the right things are. This requires you to know your purpose. What are the things that matter to you? How do you define long-term success? Only by knowing these can you decide whether something is right for you. Knowing your purpose can also help you avoid lifetime regrets.

2. Get rid of the wrong things.

To get the right things done, you need to get rid of the wrong things. This means you need to say no to them. The wrong thing here could be an activity, a responsibility, or even your job. In short, it’s anything that doesn’t serve your purpose.

You might not be able to get rid of it right away (e.g. your job), but at least you can plan to do it over time (e.g. by searching for a new job or starting your own business).

3. Have a margin.

This is related to the previous point. To not get overwhelmed, it’s important that you have a margin in your life. The margin acts as a buffer so that when something goes wrong, you have the capacity to handle it without being stressed out.

The margin here is in the form of emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves.

4. Improve yourself.

For the few things you decide to focus on, aim to do them better. Don’t just do what you have always been doing. Dream big, build your skills, and be persistent.

***

These four tips are simple, but if you do them, you will be productive in a balanced way. You will get the few important things done, and done well.

Recommended Book Summaries

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The Way of Openness: Moving Away from Comfort & Security

This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted and shaky – that’s called liberation. ~Pema Chodron

By Leo Babauta

It’s human nature to desire comfort and security. Unfortunately, that tendency is what causes most of our problems.

We humans tend not to like uncertainty, discomfort, fear, instability, drastic change or chaos. That’s natural and understandable, but our habit of running to the secure and comfortable leads to difficulties:

  • Procrastination is running from the uncertainty, discomfort and fear of a difficult task to the comfort of distractions.
  • We put off exercise, eating healthy, meditation, decluttering and other habits because they push into discomfort, and we go to comfortable things instead.
  • Addictions result from constantly using pleasurable (comfortable) things as a crutch when we’re facing discomfort.
  • We put off adventures, doing the work we love, learning new things, because they are full of uncertainty and fear, and instead we stay in our comfort zones.
  • We lash out at people when we’re angry because of fear (of being criticized, of losing our good self-image, etc.). Or we withdraw from them. This hurts our happiness and our relationships.
  • We put off connecting with other people because we’re afraid of opening our hearts to strangers, and instead stay in our comfort zones. This leads to loneliness and a craving for connection.

And so on: financial problems, health problems, work problems, relationship problems, happiness problems all stem from this running from discomfort, uncertainty, instability to comfort and security.

What if we were able to try a different way?

What if we explored the Way of Openness?

It could open up a world of change and possibilities for us, freedom from our addictions and procrastinations, our lashings out and our fears.

The Way of Openness

The opposite of running to comfort and security is … not running.

Instead, it is:

  • being open to uncertainty
  • being curious about discomfort
  • getting in touch with fears, staying with the physical feeling of fear
  • being present and facing the moment in front of us with openness
  • embracing the unknown, the unstable, as full of opportunity and learning
  • finding curiosity in every moment
  • welcoming all feelings with friendliness, not running from them
  • smiling at fear, at other people’s fears, with an open heart
  • stepping into uncertainty with courage

The Way of Openness is about embracing and welcoming and being curious about whatever is in front of us, staying in touch with our feelings, and being open to the constantly changing nature of what comes at us.

This Way is not easy, but neither is the life of running from discomfort and uncertainty, as we’ve seen.

This Way takes practice. It takes courage. It takes love.

But the result, I’ve been finding (and I’m still a beginner), is that you are capable of any kind of change, that you can open your heart to people in a way you never were able to before, and you realize you’re free from having to run, to constantly distract yourself and find something to keep you busy.

So how do we cultivate this Way of Openness?

Practices for Being Open

This is a lifelong practice, to be honest. But here are some things you can practice — pick one each day instead of trying to do them all at once, and constantly come back to practices you’ve tried before:

  1. Identify patterns: Recognize when you’re procrastinating, seeking distraction, going to addictions, lashing out, withdrawing, doing any kind of harmful action against yourself or others. Try to see the fear or discomfort that you’re running from. Notice what your go-to distractions or comforts are.
  2. Stay in touch: Once you understand your mental patterns, notice when they’re starting up, and instead of allowing yourself to run to comfort … stay with the discomfort. Locate the physical feeling in your body, and stay with it for as long as you can. Get in touch with the feeling of fear (not the mental story about fear) and keep the warm hand of your attention on it. See if it relaxes if you give it curiosity and loving attention. Welcome it as you would a friend.
  3. Be open to the present moment: As you go about your day, check in on the present moment in front of you, and notice if you’re rejecting it for any reason. Instead, see if you can embrace it. Be curious about it. Be friendly towards it. Give it your loving attention and welcome it as a friend. See the moment changing, and develop an open heart towards it.
  4. Step into uncertainty: Can you challenge yourself to move into uncertainty and discomfort each day? Staying in meditation, learning something new and difficult, facing difficult tasks or projects, putting yourself in a vulnerable place with others … these are all great practices. As you do them, use curiosity, an open heart, and a friendly smile as your tools for staying present with the uncertainty.
  5. Open your heart to others: For many, our habit is to reject things about other people, to lash out or withdraw from them when we reject things about them. Instead, practice not rejecting. Practice curiosity. Embrace the things about them you would normally reject, and find gratitude for them. Open your heart and be vulnerable, and see what happens. Be open to their rejection, their anger, their fears. Stay with the feelings of fear or anger that might arise in you.
  6. Find gratitude for everything: Instead of rejecting things about others, instead of rejecting things about the present moment … find a way to be grateful. This helps us to embrace and be open to everything.

I’d say that’s a good start. You could spend a year practicing with these ideas. Once you’re good at them, find other areas where you’re blocked or holding back, and practice opening up there too.

In the end, this is about whether we want to go through life running from what we find and seeking comfort, or whether we’re going to find the courage to be open to everything, to finally be free of the running.

In the end, we find that there was nothing to be afraid of after all. It’s a wonderful place to be, this changing, uncertain, uncomfortable and miraculous world.

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