Thinking about thinking

thinking-about-thinkingHappiness involves a kind of “meta-awareness” — a consciousness of consciousness. That is, being aware of what we’re thinking enables us to let go of negative thoughts that produce feelings of unhappiness within us. Through awareness of our thoughts, we can choose not to be governed by negative thinking.

By bringing our awareness back to the present moment, we don’t waste energies focusing on the unchangeable past or indeterminate future. Instead, we’re intimately connected to what’s happening right here, right now — the only place and time we actually have to think, feel and take action. The present moment is where we have the freedom to choose; it’s where we can experience peace and contentment.

Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” heightens our awareness of the present moment and all the opportunity it contains. When we’re aware of the possibilities that exist in the now, we can make choices that move us in a positive direction. Awareness of these opportunities (and our ability to act on them in this moment) leads to happiness.

So the next time you’re unhappy, simply bring your mind back to the present moment, where the gift of opportunity always presents itself, and where gratitude — the catalyst of happiness — fills your heart.

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You Can Feel Good Again is one of the most perspective-changing books I’ve ever read about the relationship between our thinking and our experience of happiness. It’s an insightful and profoundly helpful read, and I hope you can benefit from its wisdom, too.

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Happiness is…

I-want-happiness

Happiness is what’s left after we strip away cluttery thoughts of ego and attachment. Ironically, our own thinking is the stumbling block we must overcome to be content and happy.

Like anything that’s real and true, happiness is with us all along, “hidden in plain sight” — it’s always available to us, if only we can remove the obstructions that keep us from experiencing it.

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Don’t worry. Be happy.

A man who knows how to smile...Admittedly, I never really thought about the lyrical wisdom expressed in Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 hit song. Sure, the catchy, upbeat tune makes you want to smile and whistle along — which, funnily enough, takes your mind off worries and engenders happiness.

But is it really that easy? Is achieving happiness as simple as not worrying and choosing to be happy?

Turns out McFerrin’s four-word maxim nails it.

Worry (aka “anxiety”) is based on fear — fear of the unknown, fear of the future. But there’s little we can do to prepare for unforeseen or uncertain situations except live fully in the present moment. Through awareness of what’s going on here and now, we can direct our thoughts and actions toward the best possible outcome.

If it’s within our power to change what’s to come, there’s no need to worry. And if we can’t do anything about the situation, worrying is pointless. Either way, worry is a waste of time and energy.

Here’s a nifty diagram to illustrate:

No worries, mate!Bottom line: there’s never a reason to worry.
Worrying doesn’t solve problems or prevent mishaps. So don’t worry.

As for the other part of McFerrin’s mantra — “be happy” — fortunately we’re able to choose our thoughts, and therefore choose our feelings. Happiness is a choice because we have the power to let go of negativity and focus our minds on positive, life-affirming thinking.

We can let go of worry and fear; we’re free to choose happiness.

Don’t worry. Be happy.
Simple as that. :-)

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Becoming free

Becoming free means letting go - Thich Nhat HanhThat about says it all.  :-)

This post is dedicated to Krista Murphy, a longtime friend, compatriot and genuine seeker of wisdom and truth. She’s also someone who likes to share a good laugh — undoubtedly one of friendship’s greatest gifts.

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Purging emotional clutter

Forgiveness — letting things go — is the key to healing and inner peace.

Forgiveness is key to nonviolence, peace... and happinessExternal clutter often mirrors internal disarray — it’s usually a visible sign of inner turmoil or distress in our lives. Effectively purging external “crap” is only possible after removing the emotional blockages that hold us back.

Our thoughts create feelings and emotions, so thoughts of anger, hatred and resentment focus our attention on negativity and create unhappiness within us. But by changing our thinking — by letting go of negative thoughts and past hurt — we can change how we feel. Through forgiveness, we have the power to be happy and content.

Forgiveness leads to internal freedom, and it’s completely within our power to be free. It’s our choice to let go of thoughts (and the feelings/emotions they create) that are harmful and cause suffering to ourselves and others. Through forgiveness, we have the ability to move forward and stop obsessing about the unchangeable past.

Unlike the separation/division caused by negative thoughts and feelings, forgiveness is a free-willed choice toward wholeness and unity. In other words, forgiveness is healing. Forgiveness releases the emotional “baggage” that weighs us down; it’s an act of true liberation for both the “forgiver” and “forgiven.”

Forgiveness is a profound act of love toward self and others. To forgive is to overcome one’s ego when it’s most difficult to do so, and forgiveness shows a strong desire to be united with others. Ultimately, forgiveness is the path to liberation, oneness and peace.

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Stuff begets stuff

Cases, adapters, cables, chargers… it’s amazing how one item can involve numerous accessories.

Let me begin with a Zen reflection — a haiku that describes a perplexing and common dilemma:

We own to feel free
But possessed by possessions,
Ownership enslaves.

In short, the more we have, the more we need… because we need more stuff to take care of the stuff we already have!

Accessorize, accessorize…. Consumer culture constantly pushes us to acquire more. Our “things” need shelves, containers and replacement supplies. Rooms need furniture and decoration. Kitchens need appliances and cooking utensils. And don’t forget the various products and equipment needed to maintain our stuff and keep it clean!

You’ve heard that “nature abhors a vacuum”? Well, maybe nature doesn’t, but the human psyche does.

It’s funny how we think an empty space needs something to fill it. For example, we’ll put a table in an open area to “fill the void.” But we’re not content leaving the surface bare, so we then acquire a decorative piece, which in turn requires supplies for cleaning/upkeep… and this involves more accessories, gadgets, tools/parts and organizing containers… all of which necessitates additional storage space. So filling one empty space often has the effect of spilling into another, and having one thing can easily lead to acquiring something else.

It takes stuff to care for stuff — ownership can be a “slippery slope” where possessions are amassed at an exponential rate. Having less creates less, while having more creates more. In the vast ecosystem of consumerism, stuff begets stuff.

What we possess has, in its superfluous accumulation, the potential to possess us. So buyer beware — because if we allow it, what we own can become a demanding, insatiable master.

And isn’t our goal to be truly free?

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Motto for today… and always

Joyful Simplicity: both a goal and a spiritual discipline

Simplicity isn’t about deprivation; it’s about freedom from encumbrances.

By eliminating what we don’t need and focusing only on the essential, we reject distractions that keep us from living happy and purposeful lives.

In achieving this balance, we become our authentic selves. We learn to trust — we realize that we have everything we need, and that everything will be OK.

Trust brings a sense of true peace, the liberating awareness that there’s no reason to be afraid. And because fear and anxiety no longer govern us, love and joy fill our lives.

Simplicity is manifested in joyful, authentic living.

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Making connections

Are YOU a "connector"?

Life is all about relationships — and making connections that bridge gaps. This core principle has been on my mind a lot lately… an awareness of how we’re all interconnected and interrelated in profound ways. And given the intricacies of the modern world, our interdependency on each other has never been more apparent.

And so I recommit myself to the idea of being a “connector” — of being a better instrument for “linking” people and experiences. By reaching out to individuals I wouldn’t usually encounter, and by being open to ideas and experiences outside my “comfort zone,” I hope to help bridge gaps and promote harmonious coexistence.

This renewed effort toward connectivity and inclusiveness also extends to our relationship with the natural world around us. After all, we human beings are inextricably linked to the planet where we live. We’re all part of our environment — and we can only exist within this delicately balanced, global framework of interrelatedness. And, of course, our home planet connects us to a more universal web of existence.

By being more aware of our interconnectedness and how one thing always affects another, my hope is to live more deliberately as a “part-of-the-whole” that facilitates connection between seemingly different elements. Because in the end, what we call “differences” are really just expressions of our connectedness… ’cause being “different” is only possible in relation to something else.

We are all truly one. And being a “connector” is key to making the most of life’s many relationships.

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Just a visitor (or, “A Backpack/Death Manifesto”)

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about our mortality — not in a bad way, but as a healthy reminder that life is short, and it’s important to live our lives fully and authentically. This full-length post combines luggage with death in observations about what it means to truly live.

Meet Mr. Backpack: Achieving simplicity by focusing on the essential

Meet Mr. Backpack: Achieving simplicity by focusing on the essential

As many of you know, over the past year I’ve really tried to simplify and declutter my life. I’ve even made it my goal to reduce my belongings so that I keep only the most essential items — items that, ideally, would all fit in a backpack.

For me, this backpack “goal” is very helpful in achieving material simplicity and a minimalist lifestyle. In observing a self-imposed limit on possessions, I’ve become more aware of what I use on a daily basis, and I’m better able to detach from “cluttery” items I don’t need. Even if I don’t reach the point of being able to fit everything I own in a backpack (although that would be extremely cool!), the exercise and mental image are still enormously helpful in identifying and discarding the unnecessary “crap” in my life… and keeping only the essential.

In many ways, a backpack is the perfect vehicle for containing my material possessions: a backpack suggests travel and adventure… a journey filled with new places and experiences. Carrying a backpack means carrying only what you need for the trip — and leaving everything else behind.

A backpack is equipment for a life in motion. Every person experiences this dynamic state of being on the lifelong journey of discovery and growth. We’re continuously moving through life — and like a long wilderness trek, the less “stuff” we carry, the better. The less crap we have to worry about and weigh us down, the more we’re able to enjoy the scenery and engage the experience.

Life is change. Everything changes; in fact, the only constant is change. Our lives are permeated by countless cycles looping through every moment: breathing in and breathing out… waking and sleeping… sound and silence… light and darkness… beginning and ending. And all human experience, of course, is book-ended by the cycle of birth and death. Death is the inevitable, final trail-marker at the end of our lifelong journey. Although we’re ambling along the path now, the day will come when we, too, will be gone.

And that’s what’s been on my mind these last few days: I’m just a visitor here on this planet — we all are. We’re all just passing through. Our time here is extremely limited… and yet we often try to create an illusion of permanency in how we live our lives.

Not wanting to face our mortality, we often try to build personal “empires” that satisfy our need for permanency. We stockpile material goods and spend an enormous amount of time, energy and resources on our homes and possessions. We amass money and property, and we “put down roots” in an effort to convince ourselves of stability and grounding. But the reality is we’re all just passing through. We’ll all be gone soon.

This isn’t intended to sound morose; it’s just an honest reminder of the truth. Although we often fool ourselves into thinking otherwise, much of what we focus our time and energies on really doesn’t matter in the long-run. The possessions we accumulate and homes we tend will mean very little 50 years from now… if they’re remembered at all. And while spending one’s life acquiring and maintaining “things” doesn’t seem noble or worthwhile in a broader sense, we live in a materialistic culture that incessantly pushes these values.

Simplicity... nature... and living authenticallyFor me, life is simpler with just a backpack. Without burdens of property ownership, one is better able to experience the world — and live freely and authentically. It’s not about possessing “stuff”; it’s about having new experiences and cultivating relationships.

But few people are willing to go through life with nothing but a backpack. Being itinerant is a risky, uncertain way of living, with no security or stability. And a free-roaming lifestyle usually isn’t accepted by mainstream society: those who choose such an unconventional way of life — transients as they truly are — are generally not well-regarded by the larger population. Vagabonds and drifters get a bad rap in our culture.

It’s just ironic that we don’t recognize that we’re all vagabonds. We’re all drifters. We’re all transients in this brief life… here today, gone tomorrow. And like all things in the dynamic and ever-changing universe, we ourselves are constantly in flux; it’s silly to think we have greater permanence than anything else in creation. We’re on a journey just like everyone — and everything — else. We’re just visiting.

So for me, simplifying to the essential sharpens focus and increases awareness. Being reminded of the transitory nature of life, I’m better able to appreciate the experiences I have every day of this time-limited journey through life. Like any traveler on a trip, my goal is to immerse myself in the situation as fully as possible. I try to savor the moments and develop meaningful relationships. By not worrying about stuffing my luggage with chintzy souvenirs I don’t need, I’m better able to live in and enjoy the present moment.

And like any trip, this journey we call “life” will one day come to an end. I’m grateful for the time and experiences I’ve had thus far and will continue to have; and I know deep-down there’s no need for me to amass useless goods that have no lasting value. Present awareness and contentment are all I seek.

So I’m thankful to have been reminded recently of my own mortality, because it encourages me to be bold in my outlook and actions. There’s no reason to hold back… life is too short.

After all, I’m just a visitor on this amazing trip… and I definitely want to make the most of it.

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Remembering Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple and widely recognized tech-visionary, died today.

Steve Jobs: a visionary who lived life authenticallyHe will be missed; his creative genius and innovative spirit were at the heart of Apple’s rebirth and surge in growth. Perhaps more than any other human being, Jobs helped shape modern technology with one basic tenet always in mind: there’s great power in simplicity.

Jobs was also someone who followed his passions and, in doing so, experienced great success. By not conforming to the expectations of others, he lived a life of personal authenticity.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life,” he said in a 2005 commencement address to Stanford grads, “and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

“If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.”

Amen, Steve. And thank you for being a true example of passionate, authentic living.

Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

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