Sunday, November 30, 2014

Life is but a game

If you compare what I wrote about the meaning of work to yesterday's post, it appears to be contradictory at first. On the one hand I preach meaningful work and dedication to a life's purpose, one the other hand I tell you not to take it too seriously and calm down instead of being overambitious.

We can look at this paradox from different angles. In a psychological sense the underlying cause for being torn between one's own professional aspirations and enjoying free time is that different parts of your personality come into play. When you are procrastinating, the subconscious does not quite agree with the plans you put on "consciously".

I am not advocating choosing the easy path and submitting to tendencies of laziness at all times. In fact I find it very helpful to use techniques such as visualization to influence the subconscious mind. It helps achieving goals by going with the flow instead of tilting at windmills. Watch this great video (and resign from possible petitions against real social dynamics).

But sometimes we do not see the wood in the trees when we aim towards goals that we have unknowingly already achieved. As an example you betray yourself when working long hours in order get wealthy, hoping that you will have to work less then and be able to spend more time with your loved ones. You can do that today.

So what I am saying is that when the subconscious mind "gets in your way" you need to carefully consider who is right. You might need to motivate yourself more or on the contrary accept that your goals are not what you actually want to go for.

That being said to the psychological aspects, here is a philosophical one: Unless you haven't discovered the purpose of human life, how can you pretend to know what you ought to do? What if the purpose was to find out that there is no purpose?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

True value

When you do not want to work, but rather spend time with your friends, it is not because you are lazy. It is because your soul knows the value of friendship.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Generosity needs initiative

The fear of demanding too much from others can become a hindrance to sharing. This includes both lending gear and lending a hand. Most people would not refuse to help a friend in need, but they seldom get asked to. It feels better to rely on possessions than on relationships.

One way to overcome this barrier is to be proactively generous. First of all you may uncover in how many situations your assistance wouldn't go amiss. Moreover, having done a lot to support somebody else makes it easier to ask for help as well. But you will find that you don't even have to say something.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The art of waiting

When you are waiting for the bus, are you looking forward to it with pleasant anticipation? Is its arrival such a relief that you wish it would happen as soon as possible? Or is it just that you can't stand to do nothing and just be?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

For free

Lucid Dreaming
This blog
Working out
Xhosa (representing the earth's richness in culture)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Everything is meant to be broken

This morning I looked around my room. All my belongings are gathered there, and I suddenly realized that this is what belongings are in the first place: a gathering of stuff.

To own things can be beautiful. It frees you up to choose what you like to have around you, gives you the possibility to shape your environment. Belongings are what makes your home a home to you.

But of course you can't be surrounded by all the things you like at the same time, can you? Supposingly it is just to much stuff. So you spread it over several rooms. Maybe you have a book shelf in the bed room and a TV in the living room. A good solution since watching TV and reading at the same time might turn out to be difficult.

But a question comes to my mind: What if somebody else would like to watch TV while you are reading? In a family or shared apartment, sure, but I mean in general. Why do we only share things with people we know well? Back in the day it was a matter of trust. In times of scarcity you would not want to lend important things to someone who might steal it.

But times have changed. First of all, we now live in a world of abundance. And when I say world, I mean the whole world. There is enough for everybody, poverty is just a result of distribution problems (food) or greed. Secondly, trust is nothing that you gain by directly interacting with another person over a long period of time anymore. Nor is it bound to that fact that the person you trust somehow depends on you. With the internet, trust is a currency and being trusted (or not) visible to the public. Sharing has become easier than ever.

In the example of watching TV it is rather superfluous, as most households own one (and the Internet is probably going to take over in the future anyway). But when it comes to special gadgets that you only need twice a year - do you really have to buy them? And if you have already bought them, why not share?

There are loads of apps and online communities for it. But what holds people back might be, that sharing something of value is risky. With trust as a a currency, the risk is not that the item gets stolen, but that it brakes or wears down much faster.

But isn't that what it is made for, to serve its purpose until it falls apart? With technological progress most things do not even come close to that. After a few years, there is a better, faster, and cheaper version of it available. The only way to keep abreast of the times and not throw away intact stuff on a regular basis is to share. It is the sustainable answer to an ever faster changing world.

Monday, November 24, 2014

When the barkeeper does the doorman's job

For some reason I always come up with party analogies to minimalist living. Today I want to point out how being very selective concerning the kind of information you let into your awareness helps staying focused. If you fail to reject bad influences, you have to deal with them later on. This takes up much more time and energy than the rejection in the first place.

Imagine your brain to be a night club. If the doorman carefully selects the people to get in, the barkeeper does not have to worry about riot. It is much more difficult to throw someone out than to not let him in. But first and foremost it is less disturbing to the guests inside.

Yesterday I got really caught up in the debate about self-appointed pick up artist Julien Blanc. Because there is a huge shitstorm going on around this topic I will quickly outline the facts instead of referring to a link. Blanc is an instructor at RSD (real social dynamics), where he teaches men success with women. He is known for making jokes that border on sexism, but the content of his seminars is about building self-confidence and letting go of social fears (which everybody has to a certain degree). Now he is accused of advocating violence and sexual assault against women. Blanc states that he just went over the top with his bad attempt on humor. Nevertheless, as a result he has been banned from several countries.

My opinion is this. But since I am writing about avoiding distraction, please do not get involved in the related videos. I did yesterday and now I find myself thinking about it lot, although I do not want to waste my energy on a discussion that is led by mostly uninformed people.

Anyway I am glad, as I learned an important lesson: It is better to recognize unwanted issues before the make their way into the mind entirely.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Of mayflies and men

The truth is hard to grasp. We build models to interpret reality, but they are merely abstractions and do not come close to what they display.

One model I came up with this morning is that our body creates us everyday anew because we are needed. Like it creates pain at the sensation of heat, it creates consciousness to maneuver through a world of complex social networks. It creates a mind that is able to predict the future based on assumptions and make thoughtful decisions.

Now imagine this self is established every morning when we wake up and vanishes when we fall asleep. How can you tell, if it is the same self on another day? It is legitimate to assume we experience every single day like a mayfly. And that we are a human being with a personal history is just an illusion which occurs because we have access to memories.

Have you ever heard of "chunking"? It is term that helps describe how the human mind works. What might be seen as a continuous stream of  perception is actually a series of "chunks" that last for about three seconds and overlap each other. You can watch it happen, just close your eyes and observe what is going on.

It is getting pretty deep into the realm of philosophy and psychology here, but from a practical standpoint:
Is lamenting all day long the reason why your body brought you into being?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How would you describe being alive to artificial intelligence?

I often get asked what I do when I meditate. The honest answer is: nothing. But what does that mean?

Meditation is just "being" without doing anything else. It means to be highly alert while the mind is completely still. No thoughts disturb the awareness of what it is like to simply exist.

If this sounds like an unachievable state to you, consider the following question: How would you describe being alive to artificial intelligence? What does living feel like?

Asking these questions helps understanding meditation. Although there is no answer - at least no verbal one - you can spend a lifetime pursuing them. What you do then is to examine the present moment, to watch time pass without your hand in the matter. And you find infinite peace within.

Friday, November 21, 2014

You are an iceberg

...and what you consciously experience is just the tip of it. Underneath lies a fascinating biological system run by a subtle intelligence of unimaginable wisdom. So whenever you feel overwhelmed by urgent tasks that you need to accomplish, don't even think about skipping what you intended to do for your physical health. That would simply be saving at the wrong end.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Who do you think you are?

I almost died before I was even born. Somehow I managed to wrap the umbilical cord around my neck and the midwifes had to pull me out with a vacuum extractor as it was too late for a cesarean section. My head was blue and heavily deformed, they put me into a heated thermal bed with additional oxygen supply and my mom was not allowed to touch me for several hours.

Of course I don't remember any of this consciously.

But it surely had and still has an enormous impact on my life. My mother told me how after the period of isolation I demanded her affection with an unusual assertiveness. I was screaming and not giving in to being left alone. There is no doubt that the beginning of my life on earth shaped my destiny and changed it forever.

If you have ever heard of implicit and prenatal memory, you probably know that everything that happens to us is stored in our brains. Whether we can recall it is just a matter of access to certain capacities.

These days I've been thinking a lot about who we are apart from entities of consciousness. We have all gone through a period of non-being to this effect, yet existing and being influenced by the events. And it still happens every night when we're asleep.

One question arises: Who am I?

Or is personal identity rather an illusion?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A growing monster

"Sustainable growth is possible" I read in a magazine yesterday. It was an article about climate change and how the human race destroys the earth. To me this sounds like "sleeping in the cinema is possible".

We need to know our priorities better.

If you want to sleep no matter what, you should consider doing it in bed, not at the movies.

If we want the earth to be a home for future generations, we should consider taking a step back on our economical aspirations.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The meaning of work

It is funny how much time we spend earning money, yet most people do not think a lot about what money actually is. One exercise I got from Napoleon Hill's "Think and grow rich" is to finish the sentence "money is ..." in 10 different ways everyday and write it down. There are endless possibilities. For most people it is a mean to survive. They need to pay their bills, buy food and save money for the future.

If this is all that money is about, and you work only to earn money, and you spend the majority of your life working, then you just life to survive.

This is beautiful in a way, as it shows how life is for living (and living is free). But it is also a little sad, because a lot of people do not enjoy their job. A paradigm shift happens eventually when you do not have to work anymore. Either you got really wealthy or you simply retire. In either case you will find that life without work is not very meaningful. While you enjoy the freedom at first, after a while you start to feel an urge to contribute. To do something that makes the world a better place.

To me, this is what work is about. And money simply is a representation of the value you created through it.

Living minimalist helps you reach a point where you don't need to work anymore much earlier. You can actually live with little income and hence not much work is needed to make sure you can pay the bills. If you have a family to support it is more difficult, but if you are young and just about to start a career I highly recommend to take some time working just as much as you need to and enjoy the freedom that comes with it. This helps you to experience what I described above: We all need a mission. There is a reason why we are who we are and it is a basic need to give our best building something of value. Something that matters.

If you are still stuck in working exclusively to support your consumption orientated lifestyle, you will end up disappointed once you retire. Many people become depressive then as they feel useless. The truth is, they can still do something, be it writing a book, painting or simply keeping the streets in the neighborhood clean. But they can't make the past undone. Having spent their whole life not to create value, but to satisfy superficial needs. And as every material thing becomes meaningless in the face of death, they are left with regret.

Work is always a taking and giving. Minimalism puts a spotlight on the latter.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Avoiding interaction is not minimalist

Some people say that they don't need a gym to work out. You can do bodyweight exercises anywhere at any time.

Some people say that they need a gym to work out. At home they lack discipline and it is much harder for them to get started.

The thing is that you need a commitment. By going to the gym you pledge yourself to actually lift some weights. If you'd like to be more independent and do bodyweight training, but you struggle to do it on your own, go find some peers. There is a tremendous power in group dynamics and you can use that to your favor.

Today we have so many possibilities to connect via the internet, but instead of using it to expend our social life, it seems to be replacing it. Meeting like-minded people is not only for free and immaterial - that is to say minimalist. I am convinced that it satisfies basic emotional needs that get lost in a world dominated by reason.

It is a common tendency to use tools instead of dealing with other human beings. Think about whether this truly brings freedom or it just disconnects us from the real world.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Veganism and minimalism

There are two types of vegans: the ones that will tell you why you should become vegan too, and the ones that don't want to explain why they are. The second kind just behaves like that to differentiate from their militant peers. Even if you are interested you probably won't get too much information. So here it is.

One of the most striking arguments in favor of a vegan lifestyle is its sustainability. It is highly inefficient to feed chicken with tons of corn that we might eat as well. For this reason animal products require more than ten times the resources (water, energy, arable land) of vegan food. The exact factor depends, of course, on what kind of plant/animal you consider, whether it's organic or not, and so on. So for the future of our planet it is beneficial to restrict from animal products at least once in a while.

Minimalism and eating vegan go hand in hand. Get more out of less. Cherish what you have. Be lean. Smile.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Super Slow Food

Being gentle on resources sometimes doesn't even require resources. At least not additional ones to those you take for granted anyway. Take food as an example. While most people will say they love eating and enjoy it - especially when trying to justify being a little overweight - yet the majority is literally unable to eat a whole plate while obeying the following rule: after every bit take three deep breaths.

First of all you can't imagine how long it then takes in total and furthermore you will finds that you really will nervous after a while. One might argue that it is hunger that makes you feel uncomfortable eating slowly, but to me it seems that this is an illusion. We are trained to always keep going. We feel terrible when we shall truly rest for a while and not do anything. Funny enough almost everybody knows procrastination. So how come we can't even enjoy food without feeling restless? If you don't  believe me, try it.

It is because we think being lazy is bad. While there is certainly something to this in terms of how laziness affects self esteem - when it comes to sustainability, our constant hustling makes things much worse. For the solution of environmental problems it would be much more contributive to lean back from time to time. It is not only the sheer mass of humans on this planet, that causes global warming etc., but our need for consumption that got totally out of control.

Looking at it that way, eating slowly is not only gentle on resources as it makes you happy without having to spend additional money, but it helps saving the planet as well. Try the "three breath dinner" tonight and you'll be shocked how much you usually eat in a fraction of the time and amazed by the peace you feel afterwards. If you notice (as I did) the permanent urge to "do" something, be assured that whatever you do can't give you more that the present moment which you already have.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Boredom is a gift

We speak of boredom when arousal outweighs the challenges of a situation. You feel capable of doing more than your current surroundings demand from you. To overcome this imbalance you can either search for new stimuli or lower your level of arousal. Since being aroused is associated with the release of adrenalin and it is known fact that constant low doses of the stress hormone cause serious health problems, a minimalist approach to boredom seems a wise option.

There are various ways of dealing with boring situations that do not rely on external sources to draw your attention towards them. When you are occupied with a certain activity, it helps to entirely focus on that task, even if it seems trivial. If it is meaningful to you then so much the better, just reaffirm yourself with why you do it and what the benefits are.

Another reason why trying to escape boredom immediately is a bad idea is that over time you adapt to a certain level of stimulus and begin to feel bored a fortiori. The only way to get out of this spiral is to do something that you find meaningful, not just arousing. Thus, minimalism does not only help you to avoid sensory overload, but leads to solutions for more profound shortcomings.

You will find that by consciously exposing yourself to boredom you will not only be able to determine much more accurately what to do about it, but also have more energy in non-boring situations. Randomly completing tasks is like burning fuel with one foot on the brakes. In contrast, mindfully dealing with such situations empowers you to not just act out of psychological strain. Then your endeavors become an expression of true motivation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rural vs. urban

Today I meditated on the hotel balcony at sunrise. Listening to the sound of cars on the street I was reminded of this year's summer holiday in the mountains where all was quiet and I could only hear leaves of trees rustle and birds sing in the distance. How different it felt. Yet I consider myself a city person.

As the writer of a blog about minimalist living I started wondering why I chose to live in a place full of hectic rushing and constant noise. It is much easier to live a simple life on the countryside and although I plan to move to a smaller town when I have children - right now I would not want to trade off all the opportunities that city life offers.

I can meet people who share my interests, I can engage in any kind of activity. I have freedom of choice. These are huge advantages, the problem is that people tend to be overwhelmed by them. They can have anything and it makes them think they can have everything. Big city life makes minimalist thinking necessary and at the same time only here it is possible to explore it fully. In rural areas all people live rather simple, but there it is not a matter of decision. A minimalist mindset only makes a difference when it is theoretically possible to overstrain.

Minimalist living may mean being a little picky, but it is not about constriction. You don't have to take the veil. No matter the circumstances, what I am referring to is the inner attitude that enables you to have both: freedom of choice and a lifestyle of less.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fancy some poison? what I asked myself, when I discovered a chocolate bar in my hotel room fridge.

Check out the most powerful mindset for eating healthy.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Living lean

Recently I've been thinking a lot on why being lean is an ideal nowadays. Some time ago it was a sign of poverty. That's why former rulers let themselves be painted in expensive clothes and with a huge belly. Although pomposity was fashionable back then, I think that someone with a lean and modest appearance would have gained at least equal respect. The underlying cause for my assumption is that living lean is not just trendy, but based on virtue.

The first principle that leads to a lean life is pure pragmatism. The less you have (fat on your body, items in your household, appointments to keep in mind, ...), the more flexible you are. Additional stuff simply is a burden that you need to deal with. You need to carry it around as weight or take care of it in some other sense. In any case it loads you with responsibilities.

As a second reason living lean shows that you know what you need and what you don't. This non-neediness is a goal to strive for and comes along with great freedom. Only when you know yourself well it is possible to refuse a second helping. And it takes the same amount of awareness to not buy that ice crusher for cocktail parties you are never going to throw.

Being lean is not just to look the way society suggests you to in the 21st century. It is an essential part of minimalist philosophy and its foundations are sound.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

My life's a party

Minimalism is often misinterpreted as plain reduction. Instead it means to focus on the good - cutting out the bad is just a byproduct. Like the pareto principle stands for identifying the most profitable 20 percent of a whole and putting aside the other 80 percent follows naturally, the root of a minimalist lifestyle is not simply to decrease the number of activities/belongings/etc, but to increase quality.

What is the difference between a good party and a bad one? It is the people. I agree that cheering crowds of drunkards got something to it, but so does sitting together with a few of your closest friend. In reverse having your house full of guests you actually can't stand is no better than too few people on the dance floor.

In our lifes we often act as if more content would lead to fulfillment. Then our party is crowded, yet we don't see familiar faces. We are strangers in our own world. Living a minimalist lifestyle may mean that you invited 500 guests and still they come together as friends in a jovial atmosphere. But most likely it means that you'll find less people than average there. The point is not to mistake this for the actual purpose.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Change comes in small steps

Recently I made a list of lifestyle changes I've been trying to apply over the last while. Be it simple shifts like eating more raw vegetables instead of bread or other wheat-based food on the one hand, implementing new routines like doing Yoga regularly on the other hand, or just dropping bad habits like watching videos that I not actually visited Youtube for in the first place - I wrote them down on paper and marked the ones I successfully realized.

What I found out perfectly matched what's to be read everywhere: Permanent change only occurs after a clear decision and step by step. As I looked over the list I picked one of the items (practice piano sight reading every morning) and resolved to focus exclusively on that one until it becomes second nature. When no more effort is required to maintain it I'm going to move on and chose another item.

This procedure has two major benefits. Firstly it brings the quantity of wanted changes to consciousness and secondly it forces you to prioritize and choose which step to take first.

Evenings are great for reflection and my advice is to make such a list tonight instead of watching TV (if you do). It's not a big deal and it's not a thing to do on a regular basis. You just do it once and gain a lot of insight on why previous attempts to change may have failed, and most likely succeed in the future.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Defining minimalist living #1

Minimalist living is to accept the limited capacities of time and energy in life and accordingly set value on quality rather than quantity.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A high-end lifestyle

Sometimes absurd word combinations can lead to understanding their components. Think about this article's title for a moment. Isn't it peculiar that today millions of people carry technical devices in their pockets, that a few decades ago would have been worth a fortune? And still we find ourselves complaining about them when they don't reliably work as expected? Your new smartphone really rocks, but will it still do three years from now?

The attribute "high-end" only makes sense in comparison. Compared to human life some hundred years ago our modern lifestyle is quite luxurious. Most of the readers will lead an objectively more pleasant life than the greater part of the world's population. So what makes us feel uncomfortable with it? Is it what we "make out of it"? The chances we take and our endeavors' results in relation to the circumstances we grew up in? Whatever angle you look at it from - there still is a duality. There is only a good, when we can distinguish it from the bad.

If we manage to accept competitiveness as human nature and do not deny it, we are free to focus on other things. We don't chase after status symbols as if our life depended upon them. We may still strive for success, but we just don't see it as the most important thing.

View the situation as a soccer game. Whether you play in a world cup finale or with friends in your free time - two teams are involved. If there is no opponent, the game doesn't make any sense. You can have fun, although you compete. But you don't need to cry when you lose. Or feel bad about winning, as long as you play fairly. With this kind of attitude it is much easier to shake each other's hands after the match and smile.

When you feel a desire for wealth and having an outstanding lifestyle, don't worry about it. Being minimalist can't take away the natural urge for rivalry in us. But it can let us laugh about our doggedness and help settling for less.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Roots to grow and wings to fly

Habits are fascinating. They shape us. They are cornerstones of the lifes we lead. They give us structure and continuity.

Too much structure and you end up like in Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day" (which I haven't seen, to be honest). Then you long for room to breathe. You dream of escaping the routine and just being free.

Not enough structure and you end up like Johnny Depp in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (I've seen this one but don't remember the story, to be honest). Then you long for a mission. You dream of systematically creating something big and just following through with it.

To find the sweet spot in between is where the art lies. Minimalist living frees up time for sufficient input and generates focus to produce output - a balance of inspiration and transpiration.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Of owls and other birds

As I said I am an early bird as opposed to night owls, who get productive in the evenings. These are two types or rather two poles that researchers use to classify people's sleep behavior. This post is going to cover the benefits of rising early, though, and I encourage night owls to read it as well.

What's the difference between going to bed and rising early on the one hand, and on the other hand staying up until late and sleeping in? From a scientific point of view, it is our biological clock that either runs a little fast and gets adjusted by the setting of the sun, or it drags behind and adapts at dawn. It is good advice for people on the outer ends of the spectrum to expose themselves to sunlight as soon as possible (for night owls) or to stay outside as long as the sun is out (early birds). Light is a key factor by which our body regulates sleepiness.

That being said about the facts, here's my opinion: When you go to sleep early, it means you do it on purpose (especially as a night owl). It means you do not just wait until there's no point in staying up any longer. The same goes for rising with the intention to do something, which gives you an instant boost of productivity. Sleeping in - or worse: hitting the snooze button - let's you start your day with a feeling of aimlessness. While sleeping in is certainly appropriate for recovering, the snooze button is the most futile invention that I ever came across. It diminishes not only the time you are awake, but also the time you sleep properly. As if this wasn't enough, hitting the snooze button becomes a symbol for your reluctance towards the day and furthermore gives you the impression of having failed to comply with undertaking. Stop it! Never do it again!

If you are a night owl, rising early may mean something different to you than for me. I love to get up a 6 a.m. and next summer I will probably experiment with 5 a.m. or even earlier. In winter it is hard, though, because waiting 4 hours until sunrise seems unnatural to me. For night owls 8 a.m. may do the job. The point is not to get up at a specific time, but to go to bed deliberately some time before your body tells you to. As an inspiration define a most important task for each day and view the night before as a preparation.

Finally, what has this got to do with living a minimalist lifestyle? A lot. Firstly, sleeping too little is just a sign of doing too much during the day. And secondly, minimalism is about reducing clutter (in your place as in your mind) and living a life of integrity and fulfillment. I hope my thoughts on sleeping habits inspire you to take action and follow your purpose.

Monday, November 3, 2014

How to set an alarm clock

Did you wake up today with a sudden fear caused by the realization danger? No? That's the definition of the word "alarm".

Your body can't tell the difference between serious threat and your clock. Otherwise you wouldn't wake up every morning. Understand: While you sleep the brain is not twirling its thumbs. It does essential work - and it takes a lot to interrupt it. If you have to, please don't do so while the brain is in the midst of a task. Learn about natural sleep cycles and set your alarm accordingly.

Let's say it takes 15 minutes to fall asleep, your first sleep cycle lasts 60 minutes and all following ones are 90 minutes long. A good time to wake up would then be 5h45min, 7h15min or 8h45min after you turned out the lights. This is just a guide value. Try it and see what works best for you. Since I first heard about this I abandoned the recommended eight hours. Instead I switch between 7h15min and 8h45min depending on how tired I feel.

I strongly recommend reading more on this topic although I'm going to share my knowledge with you here, of course. But not now. I'm tired. Good Night.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The importance of sleep

Some say if you want to be successful, you need to sacrifice sleep to a certain extend. I have always questioned that, but it seems to be common practice among ambitioned young people. The reason why I doubt its necessity is that I don't believe that (waking) time is the limiting factor for prevailing in a competitive situation. And that is because the hours you try to reduce your sleep by are not much in relation to 24 hours.

Furthermore, most people don't work from sunrise to sunset. What it comes down to is knowing your priorities. The career guys probably work most of their time, but pay too little attention to their loved ones. Instead, they spend their evenings at the gym since they know how physical shape affects their motivation and work capacity. Or they just work until late, but get up very early to workout. The priorities are set: "I am more important than us".

This is a stereotype, of course. The situation may differ from case to case, but what all high achievers seem to have in common is their attitude towards sleep. Even if they take care of personal relationships, that is most likely made possible by sleeping less.

I wonder if this really is a smart approach. For me, achieving certain goals is not to be ranked higher than happiness. And having a good night's rest is essential for being in a pleasant mood. Just because you can't measure the difference in your life's quality when sleeping 9 hours instead of 6, it doesn't mean their is none. And of course you can measure it: The health benefits are scientifically proven. What I mean is that as long as you measurably achieve more during the day, it is difficult to trade that off against the risks of sleep deprivation.

This is where minimalist living comes into play. Creating a lifestyle of less enables you to pursue goals without suppressing primal needs of the body.

The zen of taking a walk

In summer I used to take a walk every morning. I'm an early bird and usually wake up at sunrise. So in the warm months I'm up when most of the people still sleep. Then I enjoy strolling through empty streets with the mist slowly fading as sunrays fall upon them. Sometimes I listened to audio books while walking. Sometimes I just walked. Now that I think back, the same feeling of freedom and confidence rises up in me. Like a urge to do it again. Like my soul longing for slowness and tranquility.

If you are familiar to Zen practice, you may have noticed its commonalities with taking a walk. Walking meditation is an element of applied Buddhism, but I want to consider the ordinary western Sunday afternoon walk. Even in its simplicity and purposelessness it has a spiritual component to it - although it is never intended that way. Taking a walk just for the sake of walking is the perfect example of suchness.

This word is a merely a construction to describe the buddhistic concept of Tathatā. What it means or rather what meaning it points to is the nameless and characterless reality in its ultimate nature. While understanding it intellectually is probably impossible, we can experience suchness in every moment: When taking a sip of water. When looking at a flower. When shaking someone's hand. When walking just to walk.

I feel a tremendous relief when for a while I can forget about my mind's compulsion for purpose. There is a sense of liberation from endless judging and striving to achieve something. Walking without aim is an act of acceptance of what is - the present moment does not care about the future or the past. And the ordinary Sunday afternoon walk lets you tap into its essence.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Be here now

Yoga means unity - a thing I never quite understood. Today my teacher explained the meaning of the word. Unity refers to the mind body connection and thus Yoga is about directing one's awareness to the body (here) and the present moment (now). What you do ought not be in the center of attention, but who you are (be).

After a lot of thinking about how I deal with time and scheduling, this was an inspiring insight. While planning, your mind is in the future and out of the body. Walking home from the gym I resolved to not decide what to do in advance this evening. Promptly I met a friend at the bus station and found myself taking way more time than usual to talk to her. I was also able to listen closely and with an enormous interest. This is the power of now (referring to Eckhart Tolle's great book of the same name).

For the first time I had a glimpse of understanding why spiritual teachers attribute the absence of decisions to the state of enlightenment. A friend had told me about it, but I didn't know where he knew that from. So I just did a bit of research and found this article which names four sentences to be repeated daily:

“Today I will make no decisions by myself”
“I will make no decisions today because it is no longer intelligent to do so.”
“I will make decisions in silent counsel with the Infinite.”
“I will do what You have me do.”

If that sounds somewhat esoteric and unapproachable to you, regard it as an attitude of total trust in your intuition. And that just means that you know what you want and have no doubt that you are on the right track with whatever you engage in.

It seems as if the idea that came to me on my way home has been around for some time and had a huge impact on a lot of people's lifes. From eastern philosphers to (yet another) friend of mine, whose tattoo on his wrist reads:

Be here now.