Walking in the world with ease.

Is that really possible? I don’t know. Being you has to be a pleasant experience, not a stressful one. The sensation of being a person, comfortable in your own skin seems to be very rare. At least for me, the ability to be completely calm and collected, living in the present and simply walking around without being inundated with thought is an ideal that I strive for, but never actually achieve. At least not in a stretch of time that is practical for everyday living.

I sometimes catch myself being stressed about doing well, being successful, achieving something with my day. I think I spend most of my time in this fashion, always looking for ways to be productive, making sure that I am doing good in the world. The issue is that I don’t know how to balance this way of being, with a mode of living that is more wholesome, more about enjoying my time rather than spending it for some greater arbitrary success.

I have a hope that one day, when it’s all said and done, when I have taken care of every perceived problem, when my world is completely perfect, then I will walk around the street, without any thought, any worry. I would be looking at people passing me by, children playing with their pets, birds flying above and clouds moving, without concern or anxiety, a complete sense of calm and joy. Living in the world would be easy, life itself would unfold in its own time, not being rushed or hurried, where every moment is completely appreciated.

That itself is only a thought, something that I imagine for fun, or maybe to keep hope alive. Like I said, I don’t know. What I do understand is that perfection is not possible or necessarily desirable. My world will never be perfect, every problem will never be solved, and hence finding a way to live in the world with ease requires the acceptance of the facts at hand.

Intellectually I know how to get to this mode of being. I know that it’s all in the mind. Whatever issues that I face, whatever the reasons making me uncomfortable in my own skin, they are all created and contained in the mind. I, like many other people, find ourselves in our own way. If I can get out of my own way, then I known I could simply live a life that is more wonderful, one that I spend appreciating more than I do analyzing and cataloging.

Life is presenting itself to us as an experience, not as a task, or a problem to be solved. It is not there to be dissected and served as a list of accomplishments. To experience life fully, one must actually live it, and to live it one needs to stop projecting problems from the past and the future into the present.

Life becomes much ado about nothing if we don’t have the wisdom to appreciate it. That means appreciating all of it. All the bad, all the good and all that is in between. It is no use trying to control it, or being scared of it. Having an appreciation for life means that you have an understanding of its value, that you act in such a way as to allow yourself to enjoy it.

Taking the time to stare out of the window, to see clouds form, move and change will enable you to feel connected again, with life itself, with your own being. This is important, it is about you and how you fit in this world. You’re not simply staring out of the window, you’re not merely looking at people walk by, or the birds flying or the trees moving. What you are doing is appreciating life itself.

After all, it is in the appreciation of everyday moments that allow you to cherish all that is, and all that ever will be.

Finding Beauty In the Mundane.

The sensation of waking up is a weird one. You see the ceiling. More likely though, your phone screen. I try not to do that. I fail, but I do try. I want to experience life as it actually is. As it really, truly, is. In all its mundane, ordinary nature. I don’t want to constantly be distracted by thoughts about the future or the past. I don’t want to ruminate or plan constantly.

Sometimes I find myself relieved that my phone has died. That way, I know I’m forced to confront life as it is. Life is not fast. There are no cut scenes, there is no fast-forward button. It takes its time. Things unfold in the most boring way. On the face of it there seems to be nothing special about everyday living. Many people over millennia tell us that there is something there though, something in the Now. I can’t always see it. But sometimes I do. Sometimes I see it.

There is beauty in the mundane. Sitting on the train, you can see people around you. All living their own little lives, all existing in their own world, their own universe. I suppose I find myself in my own universe a lot too. Mulling over smart thoughts, stupid thoughts, weird thoughts. Mostly though, I rehash thoughts that have crossed my mind a thousand times before. Thoughts that I have analyzed from every angle. I have inspected these thoughts to the point that I know their every crevice. Yet, there they are, moving through my mind.

I know it’s alright though, these days I don’t think they bother me too much. It’s just how the mind works, it likes to go through familiar moments or events. It likes to investigate situations or conversations many times to make sure that you didn’t miss anything important.

When I do manage to disengage, things appear much clearer. I find life to be more amusing than anything else. I start laughing at the absurdity of it all, as though I finally got what Terence McKenna calls ‘The cosmic giggle’. Who knows, maybe I’m just being silly. But isn’t that the point?

I mean, we’re a silly animal after all. We’re a  big, walking, talking monkey with a brain that is far too big for its body. We don’t have any real predators to worry about, so instead, we appear to find ways to make ourselves worried and scared. Because of this comical existence, I find myself taking it all much less seriously.

The fact of the matter is, life has offered herself to us. We are given a chance to engage with each other. We’re alive and are able to experience problems and solutions, we are able to experience both sadness and joy. When I sit back and stop for a second, I’m able to wake up and look around at what seems to be so utterly normal, I’m able to see how wonderful normality really is.

It’s all so wonderful because it’s going to end. Whatever the issue is, whatever you see, whatever you do, whoever you are now or will be, you will one day vanish. You will cease to be. It has been said many times before, by people from across all cultures, times and places.

That our mortality is an epiphany we are presented with, in order to fully appreciate all that is.

In order to appreciate life, we need to appreciate the simple, the common, all the things that are taken for granted. Just remember,  It will all go away. Problems and concerns are not really problems or concerns that will last forever. Whatever impact that I think I might have, will inevitably die out over time.

This isn’t something that I’m sad about though, I think it liberates me to truly enjoy life. I am set free from worry because I understand that it’s all temporary, it’s very much an evanescent experience. My existence is like a small wave that formed, moved some distance and will someday die away.

I think the mundane becomes interesting when you actually take the time to look at it, and to carefully, slowly, enjoy it. It’s in the things that are considered mundane that happiness is found and a life truly appreciated.

 

Immersed in Guilt.

It’s always there. In every moment, lingering around. The guilt that we have seems to be almost ingrained in our nature. What is it about this sensation of wrongfulness that make us feel it so deeply?

It is a weird sort of pain. The sort of pain that you can ignore for a while, but notice more clearly when things are silent or when you have a moment to yourself. Its source is not always clear or sensical. Sometimes you feel guilty for no reason at all. I suppose it comes from an underlying fear of making the wrong decision. You feel like you might be disappointing your loved ones and consequently second guess your choices very frequently. This becomes problematic because the world is hardly black and white, and most decisions that we make are not clearly the right ones.

This means that you could be wrong all the time, and if you want to live your life without guilt, then you’ll have to simply follow whatever someone else says. That way you can blame them for making the decision for you.

Almost everything in life will present us with a reason to feel guilty. Whether you are a struggling working mother, feeling guilty about leaving your child at home, or a student who feels guilty about disappointing your parents with bad grades, or maybe you’re guilty because you feel like you’re not living up to your own expectations.

I think we can grow accustomed to feeling guilty. It could become a normal part of our lives, whereby we can just passively feel the pain of guilt, but become adept at ignoring it. This isn’t healthy of course. Just like most problems swept under the rug, it’ll find a way to come out. It might manifest itself in a way that is not immediately obvious, maybe you get annoyed more quickly than usual or feel down for no reason at all. You might feel sad, even when things on the face of it appear to be going well.

Guilt is a weird creature, it’s able to poison you very slowly and the pain is just minor enough for you to ignore. However, over a long enough period of time you’ll get sick, and by then the damage has already been done. You might have lost years of your life, always feeling slightly down, your sense of joy a bit reduced. Precious moments of life taken away by something that you have created.

That’s in some way the worst part of guilt. It’s a self created problem. It does not exist outside your mind. It serves very little purpose. Even when it seems benign, when it makes us do things for those that we care about, it is still causing damage. Most people we care about don’t want us to feel guilty, they want us to be happy and fulfilled. Ironically, if those that we serve understood the guilt we felt, they probably wouldn’t want us to be doing whatever made us guilty in the first place.

It is not all bad news though. By understanding the nature of guilt, we can work to detach its hold over us. Since it’s a self created problem, we have the ability to remove its power. In reality, guilt is a thought, a perspective about our life situation that is negative. By writing down what it is exactly that makes us guilty and focusing on it rationally, we can dispel its power over us. There is no reason to feel guilty about say, a situation that you cannot change, or a mistake that you made. By focusing objectively on whatever makes us feel guilty we can internalise the absurdity of our emotional reaction and set ourselves free.

Understanding our own limitations and imperfections can provide much needed relief from the idea of perfection that guilt feeds on. In the end, you’re only human and you’re bound to make mistakes. OK so you fucked up and hurt someone, thats OK. As long as your intentions were good and you did your best to patch things up, then that’s all that is expected of you. Furthermore, you’re allowed to be selfish at times, taking risks and trying new things out. C’est la vie.

This is what life is all about. Just make sure that you are considerate of other people, to the extent that you cause them the least amount of harm. Then, look forward and live life.

Your life, no one else’s.

 

Living life through Nostalgia.

Nostalgia is a peculiar experience. It has a warmth to it, a hint of innocence. I think most of us have this longing for the past, but the accuracy of our memories is not very good. We tend to paint a picture in our minds of the past in such a selective way that we remove most of the negative parts that display the realities of that time. The past is comfortable because we already went through that experience. We know the outcome and hence there is no ambiguity about the future. Looking retrospectively at our lives is akin to watching a movie that we have already watched. We know what the ending is going to be like, and therefore don’t feel the emotional strain of all the trials and tribulations that came with it.

It is especially interesting for me to explore the nostalgia that I feel when thinking about various people that I cross paths with. I notice how my mind will drift seamlessly to their face, or something they said, the way they looked at the world. Upon reflection, it is those ordinary moments that appear to have had the most impact on me. Those small indiscriminate seconds, changed my view ever so slightly. Some everyday moments, driving on the highway or walking to the store, maybe talking about the most mundane things seem appear in my mind as the most important. These little moments pop up at random times during the day. They appear and disappear like an evanescent wave in my consciousness.

Maybe it is precisely because they are so simple and ordinary that makes them important. It is in those moments that we are just being ourselves and others being themselves. In times of great stress or even great pleasure, we might not be our complete selves. I suppose we are being a version of ourselves, but not our most basic, present self. The self that we are when we’re just sitting on a chair, getting lost in a book and forgetting about every other facet of our lives.

Nostalgia also appears to be an addictive experience. We really like being in the past. Some people might even live there. The problem arises however, when we forget that it is not reality. Reality is not something to escape from, but rather something to fully immerse ourselves in. Nostalgia is the past, wrapped with our hopes and dreams.

It shows a skewed view of our history and the history of those that we are spending our scarce time with. We create an illusion of who we were and what happened to us. We either demonize those that we spent our time with, or we will idealize them. We create stories out of events that we can’t quite remember and fill in the blanks with what we want to be true. It is very important to remember that our minds are story creating machines. We love to tell a story about our life in order to form a coherent picture of the events we lived through and why we are who we are today.

This being said, nostalgia is part of the human experience. We should allow ourselves to indulge in it from time to time. Revisiting old moments that we shared with those that we love is a privilege, and plays a part in making life a wonderful experience. It is a gift from our mind. However, once we are given the joy of the past, we must move on to the present.

Nostalgia will only present joy to those that do not spend too much time there. After we are done with that tiny moment of nostalgic experience, we need to come back to the now. We must stay in the present, because reality is only here now, and we’ll never truly be alive unless we are alive in the present. Not the future, nor the past.

It is only in the present that we can truly connect with those that are here with us, enjoying this journey, one small beautiful moment at a time.

   

You’re wrong.

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Photo by Mikko Lagerst

When you look at the world from an objective point of view, it is trivial to see that most of what you believe is in all likelihood wrong. To truly appreciate the world for what it is, you need to look at it carefully. You need to realize that you were born in a particular time and place, inside a specific culture, with its own limitations and sets of beliefs. These beliefs are derived from a complicated history, whereby people, random events, non-random events all collectively merged together to form the world that you live in right now.

If the thought about you being completely and utterly wrong about your most cherished beliefs does not really change the way you behave, then I don’t think you quite grasp the severity of the situation. It’s not about me and my thoughts or my opinion. I don’t particularly care for my own opinion. Indeed, I don’t care about anyones opinion. Opinions are just words that people like to say in order to feel significant.

Facts are what really matter. Those are the words that appear to describe the world as it ‘really’ is. What I mean by all this might be clarified by observing the world around you, and then applying that information to yourself. Notice how you differ from other people.

For example, if you happen to be a young jewish girl, living in New York city, in an upper-middle class family, then your world is vastly different than a muslim mother of two, living in Jeddah with her husband.

What you believe to be right and wrong will in likelihood be completely different. Your beliefs about money, love, religion, politics and sex could be at opposite ends. Other topics might be surprisingly similar. Like you both adore your family, and believe that mustard is the most disgusting thing ever created. You might have the same taste when it comes to fashion as you would both stare in awe at a particular red dress in a magazine.

How can you know which world is the better one to live in? Maybe they are both wrong, and there is a third alternative. There are an innumerable number of ways to live and you have to decide which way is the best one for you.

The questions to ask yourself is: Why am I the way I am? Do I really behave and think the way I do because it’s the way I naturally am? To what extent have I been conditioned to think in this specific way?

These questions are hard to answer because they relate to your very being. They form a mirror that shows you how arbitrary your understanding of yourself and the world is. Analyzing ourselves objectively is very difficult because we might find out that we’re not this special little snowflake that we think we are. But it’s very important.

If you want to know the truth. The real, no-bullshit, no-excuses, plain truth about yourself and (by extension) the world. Then take a moment. Sit down. And start from scratch. Take something you hold dear, like your belief about how good you are as a person,  and look at the facts. Are you a good person? How do you know? Or better yet, can you find reasons that you’re not a good person? Maybe when push comes to shove, you are a bit too selfish? Could it be that you care more about your own convenience then someone else’s happiness?

OK, how about your belief about religion? Or the opposite sex? Maybe your culture has brainwashed you to completely misunderstand those areas of your life. You can’t judge yourself by asking your friends and family. You can’t expect those that you normally engage with to give you a balanced perspective. They form part of your individual bubble. Hence,  you need to go outside your bubble and seek those that believe something completely different. Listen to them from a neutral point of view and then see if what they say makes sense from your direct experience.

This journey of trying to find out who you are and what life is really about is not for those that want to be comfortable.  It’s not for the lazy. It’s not going to be given to you on a plate. What you’re essentially trying to do is sculpt yourself in such a way that you transform who you are and become someone different. Because unless you’ve reached perfection, then you’ve got to work on yourself. You need to read a lot and digest information from a lot of different sources. You need to improve your critical thinking skills. Right now, you have to accept the fact that you’re very uninformed about almost everything.

You need to look at your own opinion and think of it as a boring, probably unsupported assumption about a complex world that you don’t understand. Don’t be attached to your sense of ego. Be a kid. Be a student who just asks questions and works hard to understand the answers given.

That way, when you do start to build a picture of the world that is more accurate, when you start to transform your understanding of yourself and the world, you’ll find that life becomes this amazing, wonderful puzzle. You might not solve it, but simply trying to gives you pleasure. You won’t carry around an ego about being right or wrong. You’ll just accept the facts. In some way, you’ll be a more humble and authentic person.

You will know that you’re still almost always wrong, but this time, you accept the fact that there is nothing wrong with being wrong.

 

 

 

Alive in San Francisco.

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Castro Street, San Francisco. Source: www.tomtomhb.wordpress.com

It’s difficult to describe what it is that makes a city entrance a person. For me, San Francisco truly is a special place. I can never quite put my finger on what it is that makes me so utterly and unconditionally in love with it. Whatever I am about to say regarding this little place in space and time can never be enough. Words simply fail to capture the beauty that naturally arises in almost every street in this part of northern California.

There is so much to mention that I feel guilty for leaving anything out. I could talk about the vistas that can be enjoyed by walking up to one of the countless hills and looking at the colourful houses. I can speak about the odors that makes you somehow feel relaxed, or the calmness of the pace of life that makes you enjoy this exact moment. I can’t even begin to talk about the people.

Oh my, the people of this place. All weird, all likable. It is not simply that they are polite or fashionable.  It isn’t that they are ‘cultured’ that makes me like them.  It is that they have an air of genuineness about them. It is the little things that they do which makes them so endearing. When they say ‘Have a nice day’, they seem to really, truly,  want you to indeed have a nice day. When talking to someone in San Francisco, you can rest assured that this person will accept you. It’s OK if you are a so called failure. For them, being out of place or confused is perfectly acceptable. If you happen to like wearing a pink wig with colourful striped trousers, then that is exactly what you should wear. A true San Franciscan doesn’t even bat an eyelid. To them you are just another person, another human being. Just like them.

The thing is, I don’t even feel like I am romanticizing this place. I understand that this is a subjective experience and that there are always exceptions to the rule. It’s not like San Francisco is a utopia. Real issues exist here too. It is extremely expensive, social justice warriors are all over the place, they have a massive homeless population (for complicated reasons – they apparently help them out more than any other city).  Gentrification is a real problem here. However, this takes nothing away from the beauty of this place. It is home to those that are creative, different, hopeful. Those people that dare to dream big and want to add colour to the world. These people make life a wonderful experience, they make the world a much brighter place.

I have never truly felt at home anywhere in the world. It isn’t easy to feel at home, because home to me means a place where you relate to the culture. It should be a place where you feel safe, where you imagine being old. Where simply walking around brings you joy. That is what I feel like this magical place offers. Home.

One of the most distinct features of this city is the simple happiness that people around here appear to have. Like dancing on the street for no apparent reason. If you ask why? The response (after a confused look) would be ‘why not?’. Life here is to be enjoyed. Why not make all houses colourful, or have free parking on the weekend, or have a random festival called ‘How Weird’, where they celebrate the strange, the diverse and the different. Seeing a naked old guy with his penis hanging out is so normal here that it simply just adds to the whole atmosphere. You’ll think ‘Yep, that’s exactly right. That guy should do exactly what he is doing’.

It is not that the naked old guy is appealing to people, but it’s the fact that he’s doing something that hurts no one. He isn’t stopping anyone else from doing their ‘weird’ thing.  And that’s the only rule. Do whatever you want, just don’t stop anyone else from doing what they want to do.

In my young adult life, I have never felt more affection for a city than I have for San Francisco. I would say I even feel protective over it. I want to protect this crucible of creativity, where innovation and human progress is generated.  Unfortunately, my time in this place of sleepless wonder is coming to an end. I am not sure when I will come back. But that’s OK. Home is a place you always return to, and my life is still unfolding. There are other earthly places that I want to explore.

I am so grateful for the opportunity granted to me by the universe. To have been given a chance to add San Francisco to my repertoire of experiences, because that’s what San Francisco is, an experience. It is a  weird, wonderful, exciting and marvelously colourful experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accepting Life’s Ambiguity.

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“Arcane” Banks Peninsula, New Zealand: Source: http://www.facebook.com/paulwilsonimages

 

That’s a difficult thing to do. Mainly because we like to know what’s up ahead.  Humans like to predict what is going to happen in the future in order to prepare for any mishaps or unfortunate events. It’s probably one of the reasons we developed a relatively large brain compared to other animals.

The problem with constantly trying to predict the future is that you start to live there. Not only that, you will obsessively and compulsively revisit your prediction in order to take into account new information.  Sometimes (maybe most of the time…) you don’t even have new information to take into account. Yet, you’ll still try to revisit your idea about what might happen in the future. Just in case you missed something the first thousand times you went through all the possible scenarios. This is of course completely futile.

The world is mostly an unpredictable place. Luck plays a large role in how things will turn out, and in most cases you will have no control over the outcome. That is not to say that you’re completely powerless. It’s just that whatever power you do have is spent pretty quickly. The rest of the time you’re simply carrying out the pointless exercise of trying to come up with all the possible combinations of events that may or may not be realized.

Is it possible to look at your life situation, assess it carefully a few times, take the required action (s) and simply let it go? I don’t know. I can’t do it. I’m not sure many people can. The question then is how can we live fulfilling lives when ambiguity about our future seems to always linger in the background?

Maybe the answer comes with age. It could be that “wisdom” is the ability to simply accept our limitations and move on without much regard to the future. Not in the sense that we stop caring about what happens, but accepting that whatever does happen will inevitably happen.

This is a hard pill to swallow when you’re young. It seems like accepting the future, whatever it may be is an act of treason to your future self. It looks like treason because the act of acceptance looks similar to that of surrender to the world. As though you’ve decided to stop fighting for a better future.

Or, it could be that accepting the future will grant you the right to simply be happy with the present. Acceptance of the ambiguous future could enable you to become less fearful. More connected with life and its constant flux of events. It’s a cliché, but letting go might actually give you the power to see the future more clearly. When you let go of trying to predict reality, you might give yourself a chance to see reality.

I think letting go of the future and accepting life’s ambiguity is difficult because it requires courage. And courage is something that elusive. It’s not easy to cultivate something that is so rare. I feel like being courageous requires some sort of confidence. Not the kind where the person can be sure of what is going to happen, but rather the kind that goes deep inside a person’s being. A confidence about who you are and what you are here for. If you know who you are and what your life calling is, then externalities will not affect you. Whatever the future may hold is then not really relevant to you.

The outcome of events do not bother you because you have already discovered who you are and accepted yourself fully. Once you reach this level of self-understanding then life becomes simply a fascinating journey. You’re not worried about the future because whatever it might be, it will simply be interesting to you. Failing at becoming successful in the world seizes to be a problem because you have nothing to prove. You already know you’re “good enough”.

The future in some sense becomes a non-existent concept. You simply live to see what life is all about. Life to you becomes an adventure to be enjoyed, with many challenges, twists and turns. And while you’re enjoying the ride, you know it’ll end. And you’re fine with that.

Because after all, it’s just a ride.