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Friday, April 29, 2016

Mindfulness - What if nobody cared?

Markus Spiske, Flickr


"Oh, you purchased a brand new Lexus? You’re a published author? 
Your job title is X and you earn six-figures? So what!" 
(The Minimalists)


In my quest toward authenticity, I have been pondering whether some decisions I make, and some actions I take, have more to do with what others expect of me than with what I, myself, want out of this life.

I can think of a few examples in my past:


  • Hanging out with the "cool crowd" even if they are shallow, mean, or both (ah! the joys of Middle School);
  • Trying to behave like a full-force extrovert when in fact I am more of a - friendly - introvert: I love to chat and make connections, but I prefer one on one or structured interactions (such as when I teach or give a talk) to big parties, and I need a lot of alone time;
  • Trying to look "feminine" when in fact I have a slightly androgynous disposition: I feel like a clown in frills, dresses, heels, busy jewelry, heavy makeup, or complicated hairdos;
  • Trying to go for a scientific career path when in fact I thrive in languages and humanities; in the same vein, making career choices based on prestige + earning potential when in fact my true calling (and a balanced lifestyle) resides somewhere else;
  • Refraining from expressing certain opinions or feelings for fear that people would disagree or disapprove;
  • Showing off my accomplishments or possessions;
  • Generally trying to get people's approval and "impress" them, instead of just going for what feels good and feels right.


Indeed, my mindset used to be along the lines of "your accomplishments (and your looks) = your worth as a person". Not just any accomplishments, either. Mostly the ones that have to do with wealth and prestige. I had never questioned it until I met the future father of my children, who, despite earning the right to put Dr before his name and a string of letters after, never made any fuss about it, and barely ever mentioned his accomplishments. I was impressed, not so much by his credentials, but by his sincere humbleness.

Nowadays I strive to nurture my authentic self, even if that means less overall approval or admiration. I still value good manners, kindness, and personal hygiene, but other than that, I avoid worrying about "what will people think". When I do "show and tell", I do it to inspire, not to impress - which means I approach it in a very different manner, and for very different reasons.

So my question, today, is the following: 

If nobody's opinion ever mattered whatsoever, what would your life look like right now? What, about it, would be different?

Would you have the same job?
Would you live in the same place?
Would you hang out with the same people?
Would you date the same person?
Would you have the same hobbies?
Would you own the same objects?
Would you dress/talk/behave the same way?


Mindfulness this Week

What are you ready to change for the sake of authenticity?


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Friday, April 15, 2016

Mindfulness - Consumerism

Adriano Makoto Suzuki, Flickr


Throughout my minimalist (Less is More) project in 2015, I gradually increased my awareness of my relationship with "stuff". At first the project was simply about not acquiring new things (other than the necessities, such as food, gas, new shoes for the kids, etc.) Instead of bringing new objects into the house, I focused on getting "old" objects out of the house, in an effort to declutter and share with those in need.

I wasn't sure of how easy or difficult this would be, and I had no way to predict the outcome. After a year, reflecting on it, I could say without hesitation that minimalism had completely changed my outlook on "stuff", and on life in general.


Simplicity made me mindful.


1) Mindful of the way I use my time, my money, and my space

When shopping (a common pastime in a consumerist society) is not an option, you find yourself with an extra amount of free time, as well as an extra amount of money. After decluttering, you also find yourself with an extra amount of space. What to do with all this time, money and space? 

Space: In that case, the answer was easy: I did nothing at all. I was certainly not going to refill the space I had freed. I simply enjoyed it, and its effect on my mental states; less physical clutter often means less mental clutter. I also got rid of some bins and shelves that were no longer needed. I started wondering if the house wasn't too big (a reflection that's still in progress). What would you do with extra space?

Money: I have been rather reasonable, investing most savings toward mortgage and retirement. However, enjoying life is still in the cards, and I have been treating myself and my loved ones also. The difference is that instead of buying things, I buy experiences, which are shown to create more happiness than any material belonging. In general, I find that I don't have to spend as much money as I used to in order to achieve the same level of contentment. What would you do with extra money?

Time: Minimalism is a time savior in at least three different ways: First, eliminating shopping as a pastime frees time for other pursuits. Second, by owning less, you spend less time looking after your stuff, less time choosing your outfit, etc. Third, you regain some time, indirectly, by needing less money: Once you significantly reduce your consumption, it becomes possible to actually work less - since you don't need all the money anymore. For me, reducing my workload means more time for creative endeavours (such as writing), for sharing my talents and resources, for social interactions with friends and family, for health-related activities (exercise, cooking, gardening, etc.), and - let's be honest - for rest. What would you do with extra time? 


2) Mindful of how brainwashed we are by advertising

I cannot even begin to explain how brainwashed we are. Our whole lives revolve around consuming. We consume houses, vehicles, clothes, accessories, personal products, home products, decorative items, electronics, toys and games, processed food and drinks, books, music, ... the list is endless. We are brainwashed enough that we are willing to slave away at jobs we don't particularly enjoy (to afford all the stuff) AND to slave away at home (to tend to our belongings). Our system of values is completely skewed by consumerism - do we even know what was truly important to us in the first place? We are so brainwashed that we rarely question any aspect of that system. Avoiding exposure to advertising is virtually impossible, but I look at it with new eyes. Advertising will not succeed at convincing me I have needs that can be fulfilled with such and such product, and that I have to make as much money as I possibly can to afford it all. 


3) Mindful of my true needs

Acquiring new things, being surrounded by clutter, working long hours doing something you don't enjoy, and generally chasing your tail does not fulfill your deepest needs. What does, then? For me, I am happiest in a simple environment, with a slower pace of life, making a living doing something meaningful, enjoying healthy food, physical activity, nature, music, and sharing and connecting with others.


4) Mindful of my health - and that of the planet

Apart from generalized over-consumption (which can be fought by buying less, and/or buying secondhand, and/or bartering), a lot of the "stuff" we consume has the potential to harm our health and our planet: personal products, home products, food and drink items, etc. I was already using a lot of the simpler, "cleaner" versions. I gradually got rid of many remaining "mainstream products": things that contain bleach (not only in cleaners, but also in feminine hygiene products), paraben, fragrance, coloring, refined sugar, etc. In general, anything that comes with a long list of ingredients elicits my suspicion. In my bathroom nowadays, you will find baking soda, vinegar (white and apple cider), coconut oil and its derivatives, Epsom salt, etc. In my kitchen, you will find less packaged products and more of the fresh stuff (looking the same way it did when found in nature). Of course, this is a work in progress, but every step is worth it.


5) Mindful of my relationships

My - wise - father-in-law once pointed out that some people talk about "stuff" almost exclusively, and that he was veering away from those relationships, focusing instead of those were one discusses ideas and values. "Impressing others" with possessions has an appeal, otherwise no one would do it, but there are better ways to feel good about oneself. I choose my friends based not on the way they (or their house, or their car) looks, but on how much fun we have together!



Mindfulness this Week

What are you willing to do to regain your space, time, money, and freedom?


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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Mindfulness - The over thinking trap

markheybo, Flickr


“I swear to you, sirs, that excessive consciousness is a disease - a genuine, absolute disease.” (Fyodor Dostoevsky)


Have you ever been accused of "thinking too much?" Many years ago, I was (it might have happened more than once). I found it insulting. To me, thinking a lot has always been the sign of a healthy, active intellect. Thinking a lot means that you are developing important skills such as problem solving and critical thinking, and that you are - hopefully - becoming clear-sighted.

Is it the same as mindfulness?

Mindfulness invites us to be actively attentive, present, conscious, aware. In addition, mindfulness implies the absence of judgment: our feelings and our thoughts are to be observed, not judged, as they are neither good nor bad - they simply are. But even without judging what goes through our mind (instead accepting it "as is"), we can feel tempted to dissect, examine, scrutinize. It can be useful, too. So how do we know when to stop?

This is something I have been struggling with, as I do not quite know where to draw the line between paying attention and actually over analyzing things. Being aware is great; thinking until exhaustion, not so much. Meditation, in particular, is described as the tool we use to overcome discursive thinking. But what about focused, logical thinking? Is it to be avoided?

What I have come to realize (with the help of mindful meditation) is that thinking is like working out: doing it regularly is a good idea, but taking regular breaks is just as critical. Just like over training is bad for the body, over thinking is bad for the mind. As Herbert Benson would say: you need to "give your mind a rest from [...] mental onslaughts or loops of thinking".

Indeed, after a bout of thinking, our mind needs a rest. That is particularly true for reflections that address profound, disturbing, or potentially life-changing issues. Thinking about those is draining. Do analyze the situation, but also let it simmer. A thought won't get lost if it is an important one. You might not have found all the answers yet, you still need a break from thinking. Know when you've had too much. Recognize the thoughts that are swirling, becoming obsessive, turning into anxiety. Give your thinking a rest.

For more on the practice of not-thinking, click here.



Mindfulness this Week

Do you ever find yourself over thinking? 
How does it feel? 
How do you deal with it?


Be part of the process: 

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