Can You Have Too Much Zen?

Not for the first time, there’s a moment in which Dan Harris almost loses control of his life. In his book, 10% Happier, the TV news anchor describes how after a long journey with PTSD, drugs, therapy, and now meditation, he almost loses control of this life for the second time. Before, his drug abuse almost cost him everything. This time, it’s his zen.

In the story, Dan describes how he watches his grasp on his career slip. Over the course of several months, he sees all this colleagues getting the best assignments. He keeps practicing his new mediation habits, but nothing changes at work. Finally, he has a heart to heart with his boss. The big man tells Dan the he still thinks Dan is a top player. Only, Dan needs to stop being too zen.

In other words, Dan lost his ambition, his drive, and he must find it again.

This is something I struggle with as well. How do I practice contentment/gratitude/etc in the present, while still practicing ambition and goal achievement for the future?

In my observation, people usually operate in three ways.

First, many people lose themselves in their past. This is how I used to be. We analyze everything and anything that happened. We relive every experience. We don’t have some specific goal to reflect and learn. Rather, we are obsessed with not being wrong. We tend to also daydream a lot.

Second, many people just enjoy the present moment yet make no effort to secure a more enjoyable future. After dealing with the above, I been acting this way for the last few years. It’s a nice place to be, even if you aren’t a complete hedonist.

Third, many people push and drive themselves into the future. They endure all sort of hardship and unpleasantness now, to achieve their goals/dreams later. I’ve always admired these people because I’m not naturally like this. I’m just starting to learn to act this way.

How do I combine the last two? I want to enjoy right now, be present, but I also want to work hard for a better future. I struggle to do both of these in my one life.

Perhaps the answer is only to allow myself to switch between the two modes when required. To let go of expectations for certain emotional states and do what is required to grow and thrive as a human.

When Playing A Video Games Reveals Your Deepest Secrets

I love when a some small aspect of me life becomes a microcosm through which I can observe my whole self.

I recently finished playing a video game that I’ve been enjoying for the last few months. I started it a year ago on Medium difficulty. A single mission took too long to play, and so I stopped playing. I picked it up again this summer and finished the game earlier this week, except on the Easy difficultly.

Easy difficultly was great. I didn’t really have I think to win. I just memorized the gameplay and went on autopilot. Medium required some small effort, plus was an hour minimum investment of my time per mission.

Now that I won on Easy, part of me wants to step it up and play on Hard. And Hard is hard. It’s less about having breezing through the story and more about winning. Part of me likes the idea of a challenge. Part of me though, doesn’t want to deal with the details.

Here’s where I see my larger issue come into play. I hate the feeling of having to struggle to understand something. A lot of things just intuitively make sense to me- abstract concepts, most math, some art, visual thinking, kinetic thinking. Those are strengths of mine. However, I struggle to muster the patience and motivation to learn anything that takes any extra effort.

As a child, I somehow learned that not intuitively grasping something is the same as failure. Maybe some well-meaning teacher put little introvert me on the spot in front of my peers, and I didn’t know the answer. However it happened, the lesson I learned was to avoid topics that are hard for me.

I didn’t learn to work hard. I didn’t learn to plan and prepare ahead of time. I learned to avoid and fake it.

Now, in a video game of all things, I feel the tension, the fear, the belief and identity deep inside me that wants to avoid the hardship of deeper learning. The more complicated math and dynamics of the game can’t be avoided on Hard.

It’s the same feeling I had in college when I avoided STEM majors and instead choose something that would take little to no effort.

I refuse to live my whole life with this block. I will work through it. Over the next few months, on this blog, you will see me document learning new things. I want to start with getting a basic grasp on writing for a personal blog. Later, I want to move into other writing and marketing related skills. Let’s get to it.

Ask Yourself a Question (or, 1 Simple Trick to Deal with Uncertainity and Stress)

Sometimes it’s as simple as asking yourself a question.

We spend a lot of time stressing, agonizing, daydreaming, and imagining unpleasant scenarios. The future is uncertain and thus scary.

I want to pay off my car loan. It’s the only debt I have- the only debt I’ve ever had (except credit card, which I always pay off monthly).

I hate it.

I hate being the burden. I hate being beholden to my bank (actually, credit union, but bank had alliteration). I hate how I love my car itself, but I know now that it would have been smarter to spend less than I did. I hate how I feel like the loan leeches off my freedom.

But I just accepted the fact that I had to pay the monthly minimum, and keep on chugging in the rest of life.

But yesterday I got fed up, and I asked myself, “When can I be debt free?” I’m about to move into my parent’s house because of timing and leases. It was supposed to only be for a month or two. But what if I stay longer? How quickly could I pay off my car?

If I put an extra $700 towards the loan principle every month (after the loan payment), then I’ll pay off the car in 7 months. And I’ll still have more than enough money for various discretionary spending (car repairs, new shoes, occasional going out to dinner, and etc).

All it took was a few minutes to add up my income, recurring payments, and various required expenses (gas, metro, and groceries). Then a little playing with the numbers to get everything to work out. Bam.

All I did was run the numbers, dispel the uncertainty, and face the facts and future. Now my heart feels light and free as I write these words.

Learning to Love and Accept Myself

Self-love and acceptance. I deeply struggle with these. And I doubt I’m the only one.

I wrote something in my journal recently while falling asleep. And when I awoke the next morning, I felt that weeks worth of stress had melted off of me.

Here’s what I wrote:

Why deny it?
Deep down, I’m just a little kid who wants to play video games, read fantasy novels, and watch anime.
That’s who I am.
I (also) have a dream. I imagine a world where anyone can pick up their chosen tool- whether a pen, a paintbrush, a microphone, a keyboard, or whatever- and go wherever they want, be whoever they want, create whatever they want, and contribute to the world however they want.
That’s how I feel whenever I pick up a (video game) controller. I feel like the master of my own fate. I want that feeling to be true in real life as well.

In my job doing marketing and fundraising for a human services nonprofit, I learn a lot about addiction recovery.

Just earlier on the same day I wrote the above journal entry, we talked about how desire acted out in harmful ways leads to addiction. And ultimately, our harmful path leads to self-punishment.

It’s the same whether we’re talking about an alcohol addiction, a video game compulsion, or a tendency to procrastinate.

We have a desire, but for whatever reason we pursue that desire in harmful ways. Eventually, down a long road, we continue to give into the harmful behavior while beating ourselves up for it. A catch-22 of stagnancy and suffering.

The cure is love.

Like so many other situations of brokenness, we must learn to love. In this case, we must learn to love ourselves. We must learn to love the person we were, the person we are, and the person we will be.

We must begin to accept our desires. Accept them, and not judge. What we do with our desires is what matters. We are only responsible for our response to the world as it is given to us. For myself, I feel that many of my desires aren’t something I can change. At least not easily and quickly.

I know that’s why I woke up feeling healthier, happier, and stronger than the last several days. Because I simply accepted myself. And that acceptance lead to love and forgiveness.

Why deny who I am? Why spend emotional energy hating my past self? Instead, I can choose how I act now and in the future. My life has brought me to this place and given me dozens of potential paths.

So, I choose the path of love. I choose the path of acceptance. I choose the path of honestly and openness. I choose the path growth. I choose to contribute to and impact the world.

Responsibility- Love It, Hate It

Responsibility.

I hate that word, but I also love it.

Responsibility is one of those annoying truths about life. I think the Stoics put it best. We have no control over external events. However, we control our response.

If we have control over our response to the universe, then don’t we have control over our entire lives?

And that’s the rub. We want control but we don’t the responsibility that follows it.

We don’t want to admit that we ourselves are responsible for our current global climate change. We don’t want to admit that we are responsible for the recent headline-making school shooting.

I don’t want to admit that I am responsible for creating the future I actually want to live in. Instead, I procrastinate. I tell myself that I don’t have the power. I tell myself that I don’t believe in my own dreams. I tell myself that it’s not worth it.

I tell myself that I can’t, when the truth is that I won’t.

Unfortunately, parents, teachers, and other authority figures toss this word around like a murderous medicine ball. First of all, children don’t understand the concept of responsibility. They are still discovering the various powers they have.

Second of all, responsibility is intensely personal. We can never judge what others are responsible for. We can only know our own responsibility. When you judge someone else for a perceived lack of responsibility, all you’ve done is put your failures on them. Your failure to love. Your failure to teach. Your failure to create. Your failure to influence.

Stop expecting others to be responsible for anything. The only exception is if they explicitly define and broadcast that responsibility. Then you may chose to trust them or not.

Otherwise, as far as you know, you are the only person on the planet with responsibility for anything.

What are you responsible for? Yourself, your dreams, and your response to the world as you experience it.

Is Leisure Ever Good?

Humans always seem to drift towards a life of leisure. It must be a tendency that is built into all of us.

I wonder what drives that tendency. Is it our fear? Is it our brain’s desire for comfort, safety, and equilibrium?

Well, whatever the reason, leisure is our default goal. We all want to relax, to breathe deeply. We want to lay on the beach, hike in the woods, sit at the lakeside, eat yummy food, and all of those experiences.

But leisure is a double-edged sword. It is everything we think we want, but leisure is a spiritual wasteland.

If spiritual health is defined as knowing and living by our deepest values and purpose, than leisure is the opposite of that. Leisure is a trap set by our ancient brains. We think we have everything we want, only to realize that we didn’t even know what we wanted in the first place.

All of us require rest. All of us require time and certain activities to reset and re-energize. But those activities must always be in service of our spiritual health, not a hindrance to it.

There’s a famous inspirational quote. Most of you have probably seen it:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.

We are all drawn to this description because we have a desire for oneness. To be one with ourselves. To have the feeling that our entire mind and body and spirit is unified into one purpose.

Now, maybe that is an unreachable ideal. But, I think pursuing leisure for leisure’s sake will always disappoint (ignoring that it may never be a strong enough motivation to endure the necessary hardship).

Maybe it would be helpful to simply banish the word leisure from our personal vocabulary. While were at it, let’s stop using the word relax as well. As we commit to living our deepest purpose (or even just finding it), we don’t want leisure or relaxation. We want rest and recovery from our labor. So we can get back to work as quickly as possible.

An Accidental Experiment

I left my laptop at my parent’s house earlier this week. I want to be dramatic and say that I’m computer-less, but considering I have a desktop at work and an iPhone, that would be pushing it.

But those devices are not the same. My personal laptop is the machine I use for listen to music, to watch TED talks, and to procrastinate like it’s my job.

My brother offered to drive the hour round trip to bring it to me, but I declined. I didn’t want to inconvenience him. Besides, I realized this could be fun.

If I don’t have my laptop, what would I do? How would I spend my time? Would I read more? Would I journal more? Would I spend more time and effort on long-term goals?

And so an experiment was born.

The first night without my laptop, I did a bunch of cooking. I would have done that either way. I did some cleaning, which probably wouldn’t have happened. And I continued writing through some questions in my journal. I probably would have skipped that as well. So far, this is going well.

Can Your Favorite Stories Be Harmful to You?

Do the stories that inspire us ever hold us back?

The best stories are more than stories. They are living narratives. We take them and give them a home inside us. They inspire us. They teach us. They mold us. The best of stories become part of our stories. Fused with our spirits.

Allowing a story to mold you is similar to learning by analogy. Learning by analogy is great. We would all benefit from digging deeper into that practice.

But learning from analogy has a cost. Analogy doesn’t provide direction. It’s easy to be swept up in the emotion and philosophy of other’s ideas.

No matter how much we love the stories that captivate us, we mustn’t let those stories completely define us.

Our lives will always be filled with anxiety and depression, if we let others decided that course of our lives.

This is something I’m working on. I written about my tendency to daydream and a simple way I found to stop that. But daydreaming is only the most obvious symptom of this problem.

I have the sense that so many people, myself included, don’t have a clear set of tools for where they are going in life. Who they want to be, how they want to live, what they want to do.

In ancient times, navigators used a complicated set of instruments, maps, and reference guides. These tools got them where they wanted to be.

Our favorites stories are one tool in our toolbox.

33 Things I’m Afraid Of

I’ve been super stressed out for the last several days. Last night, I noticed that nothing in particular was wrong with my life. The stress must be coming from a more spiritual place. So, I decided to write a list of everything I was feeling afraid of. This is what came out.

  1. I’m afraid I’ll be stuck in this job for another 2.5 years
  2. I’m afraid I’ll never break free of the 9-5 grind
  3. I’m afraid I’ll again succumb into watching TV, playing games, and dreaming
  4. I’m afraid I’ll never master anything
  5. I’m afraid I’ll always feel a little short on money
  6. I’m afraid I’ll never be free
  7. I’m afraid my skill set won’t protect give me any safety net
  8. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to grow my social network
  9. I’m afraid people won’t like me
  10. I’m afraid people won’t value me
  11. I’m afraid I’ll always be single
  12. I’m afraid I’ll never learn to be honest, open, and vulnerable
  13. I’m afraid I’ll never learn to deeply connect with others
  14. I’m afraid I’ll be stuck in this cycle of never committing and sticking to anything long enough
  15. I’m afraid of being alone
  16. I’m afraid of being broke
  17. I’m afraid of meaninglessness
  18. I’m afraid that my life will never amount to anything
  19. I’m afraid of being a “nice, good person” and never affecting change
  20. I’m afraid that humanity is destroying itself
  21. I’m afraid that my country is in unstoppable decline
  22. I’m afraid that I’ll never leave Maryland
  23. I’m afraid I’ll never travel
  24. I’m afraid I’ll screw up every single social interaction I ever have
  25. I’m afraid people will laugh at me for my mistakes
  26. I’m afraid people only keep me around because I’m there
  27. I’m afraid that no one really wants me
  28. I’m afraid I’ll collapse from the weight of my own expectations for myself
  29. I’m afraid I’ll stay the same
  30. I’m afraid of death
  31. I’m afraid of dying with all this emptiness inside me
  32. I’m afraid of losing the war to my inner demons
  33. I’m afraid.

After writing this in my journal, I felt better. After publishing this publicly, I feel even better.

Fear is like shadows. They never completely go away, but more light there is, the less they exist.

Weird Idea about Depression

Could depression be caused by following the rules?

I finished a book recently that is ostensibly about interpersonal communication. It’s a bit of a strange book. Somehow, it confuses spirituality with practical skills.

Anyway. We know that depression is a biological state in which a person’s chemical balance is upset. But what causes the upset in the first place?

This book claims that depression is caused by following the rules. Doing what society expects of us. Being a “good girl/boy.”

That’s a bold claim.

I’ve struggled and continue to struggle with depression. After college, my life became almost unmanageable. Luckily, I had moved back in my with family and was only working part-time jobs for a few years. Eventually, I discovered some serious food intolerances. After adjusting my diet, I got a handle on my life again. The uncontrollable malaise faded away. My biochemistry returned to a functioning range.

But, I still live with depressive tendencies. Most mornings, I struggle to get out of bed. I struggle to see the point of it all. And I wonder, if I could do anything I wanted, then would I still struggle?

If there were no artificial constraints on my life, then would it even be a question?

I think the answer is both yes and no. As part of childhood development, we internalize certain beliefs, values, and expectations. If we were on our own, we may not have chosen those. Perhaps, the answer is to more intentionally establish our beliefs and values. Follow our internal compass. Learn to deal with fear and anxiety. Live more courageously.

Perhaps it’s not about just artificial constraints, but specifically the artificial constraints we place on ourselves. Take them off, make bold decisions, grow, and live.