Finally rained

It has been a very dry summer in Ancaster, Ontario, where I live.

This morning I was awakened by loud claps of thunder and the sound of rain pattering on the windows and roof. I realised that it has been a long time since I heard this sound. It even felt a little strange to hear it.

This got me thinking about how quickly we adapt to our circumstances. Normally, in Ancaster, Ontario, where I live, summer rain is a part of life. This summer, however, we’ve had a drought. So rain stopped being part of what I expected to see.

I was happy to be surprised by refreshing rain this morning. I could almost feel the plants’ relief.

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The quantified self makes us more human

I have been thinking a lot about the concept of the quantified self. Since Ash Wednesday 2016, I started a fast that meant that I went pescetarian.  While I thought that I would miss beef, chicken, pork and duck, the reality has been that I do not.  It helps that my favourite foods have always been fish and seafood.

Being a researcher by nature and by profession, I started reading about the benefits of not eating meat and found them to be legion: farming meat animals is a terribly energy-intensive process that generates a lot of waste water and pollution.

This led to a greater reflection on my life and its impact on others and on the environment. I decided to track what I ate to be able to quantify my diminished impact on the environment and so doing realised that I had been over-consuming calories on a regular basis. Logging the food and drink that I consumed made me aware of the reality of what I put into my body. That was illuminating and brought me some peace, strangely.

I started to add fitness to this regimen and tracked its impact on my net calories per day. I enjoyed the feeling of self-knowledge and personal calibration that I could achieve by tweaking what I ate and the calories I burned through different types of exercise. A side benefit was that I started feeling a lot calmer on the days I ran or swam or rowed and more alert and clear on the days I practised intermittent fasting or was under my calorie goal for the day. It was a good feeling.

It was at this point that I realised what I was doing was an exercise in mindfulness. I was finding that the data and quantification – in my case it was a simple excel spreadsheet and myfitnesspal – gave me a feeling of knowing myself  and being present in my life. That was a very good feeling.

I also started to realise that gently introducing and then tracking new habits wasn’t so hard. I realised that it’s mostly a factor of letting a habit that makes me feel better (like exercise) sink in so that it feels natural and I miss it if I haven’t done it that day.

I realised that my main motivation for keeping a good habit was if it made my life easier, happier or better (after the initial period of adjustment, of course). For me, that meant that the habit involved finding peace. Since then I have added other habits that are generally good for the environment and for my personal peace: I stopped swearing, committed to always obeying the speed limit when driving and to very brief daily morning and evening meditation.

I found that after an initial period of frustration, each of these habits brought me greater calm and a greater feeling of being present in my life and in my surroundings.

My greatest surprise on this journey has been that: tracking these habits became an exercise in mindful living instead of a burden.

I will post on this from time to time during the coming year.

It’s been a good journey thus far.

 

On the simple life: find your peaceful thing.

Every new year, I hear many of the people I know express that they want to “return to a simpler life” or eliminate clutter. I often have this noble ambition myself. This year, I asked myself what this really means. I came up with a couple of ideas.

Eliminating clutter doesn’t mean stripping back all things you do. Rather, I think it means looking at why you do the things you do and asking yourself if there is a reason for each. When I went through this exercise, I found that of the things that caused me stress were inherently stressful. No, rather, it was that I simply didn’t really want to do them.

So how do you determine if you really want to do something? It’s a tougher question than it seems. First, you have to ask yourself what it is that organizes your life: is it religion? is your family relationships? is it friendships? is it work? Then, you ask yourself whether that organizing factor brings you peace or whether it sends a jolt of stress or anxiety when you think of it.

If it sends a jolt of stress or anxiety then you have your answer: the thing around which you have organized your life is wrong for you. If it brings you peace, then it is probably that many of the things you do are in sync with the thing that your life is organized around. That means that you are doing things that, in the end, are meaningless to your life.

So, find the thing that your life centers on or is organized by. Ask yourself if it brings you peace. If not, change it. If it brings you peace, then evaluate the other things you fill your life with: do they jive with your organizing center? If not, jettison them.

I am in the process of doing this. It feels good.

Mindful of small pleasures: drinks

I sometimes take a moment to think about the things that make me happy or comfortable. I was having a conversation with a friend recently who asked me to blog about stuff that I brings me comfort. I thought that I might write about a few. As you may remember, I wrote a series of 100 posts about my “Life-Loves”. Today I will focus on drinks.

A good flat white. My favourite coffee concoction is the flat white. It’s like a cappuccino, but much velvetier and with a sweeter, more intense coffee flavour. I was happy to see that Starbucks has started offering the flat white in Canada and that the barista who works the mornings in the Starbucks drive through that I frequent can make a great one.

An ounce or two of Amaro Averna after dinner. When served on the rocks and garnished with a sprig of muddled rosemary, Amaro Averna is a fragrant reminder of sunny summer afternoons. It was first recommended to me by a waiter at Soho House Toronto – it was a lovely gift.

I am not a very big tea drinker, but I must say that in winter, I often will have a ginger tea with lemon, or a lemon tea with ginger. I brew this myself, if I can, with filtered water, thinly sliced ginger and lemon. It makes a lovely warming, stomach-settling drink.

Finally, there is nothing like a cool, clear glass of filtered water. Or, my favourite – filtered water (I use a Zero Water filter) carbonated through my sodastream machine. There is nothing more refreshing to me than a glass of freshly made, sparkling filtered water.

I think it is important to think about the things that bring you comfort. You might take a moment to think about what your list would contain.

I won’t get into wines for that requires its own post.

Define your motivations to defeat fear and bring happiness

Many of spend much of our time dashing about, feeling busy. We cycle through feelings of relief for having “caught up” and then are plunged back into the anxiety of feeling “behind.” The question to ask is the following: why are we in this negative cycle driven by fear?

Fear is a terrible motivator. It is uncreative and stressful. It pushes us relentlessly toward making bad choices. It makes us submissive and willing to cede control to someone else, just for the relief that having “someone else in charge” brings.

To break this cycle of fear and anxiety in your life one needs to take a moment to know one’s self. By knowing oneself, one can then manage oneself more effectively and start leading a life of creativity, peace and calm.

How does one come to oneself? The answer simple, but the implementation is difficult. A good place to start is to make a list of the things which worry us, versus the things which bring us peace. Here is a table with some of mine

 

 Fear-Makers  Happiness-Makers  Why?
 Meeting expectations of others  Achieving my own goals.  I never really know what others want or are thinking about me.
 Looking busy and important  Working on projects that are meaningful to me I take on too many things which are visible to other and don’t tend to the things which are invisible, but which I love.

Etc.

Honestly going through this exercise will be difficult. It will take many tries. Sometimes you’ll feel as though a thing you’ve put in one box also fits in another box – so you have to refine.

For example, for me, “meeting the expectations of others” also brings me happiness sometimes – when I make someone smile, or when I bring someone reassurance because I did something that that I had promised them. So, in my case, I would change the chart after reflecting:

 Fear-Makers  Happiness-Makers  Why?
 Meeting expectations of others  Keeping my promises.  I never really know what others want or are thinking about me, but keeping my promises means that I am beyond reproach.
 Looking busy and important  Working on projects that are meaningful to me I take on too many things which are visible to other and don’t tend to the things which are invisible, but which I love.

This is a more accurate representation of what really motivates me.

You should try making a fear-happiness chart for yourself. You may be surprised at what you come up with.

Replacing fear with mindfulness

In our interactive era, you spend a lot of time with yourself and the internet. You ask yourself a lot of questions.

I think it is important to listen to the questions that you are asking yourself and be mindful of why you are asking them. If you find yourself asking whether you spend enough time working, then you probably ought to work more. If you find yourself asking whether you should be developing more of a homelife, then you should focus on people.

This is a question of managing fear.  We fear that there is a line that will be blurred and that we will not meet expectations, whether our own or those of others. But that line is ill-defined – the only thing that you will be judged on by others is your level of confidence and mindfulness.

Being mindful and confident means living without fear, because it means that you are present in your life and in the lives of others. We live in a world where our selves are shared out so much, that we often fall into the trap of not really being in the moment. Not really being in our relationships: friendship, family, intimate, work.

When you’re not really there, you tend objectify things, because you have to manage them as objects in your mind, rather than as holistic human experiences that occupy your soul and mind. Call this a concept of “nowness” if you will. People hate to be objectified because it is reductive, and it signals to them that you are not present in your life, so they do not really exist to you fully.

Try practicing “nowness” in your life. Be present in your work, your relationships, your spirituality. Don’t just go through the motions or skitter through your days. Many will achieve this through prayer, contemplation or even just through breathing.

In doing this, you will help others feel welcome and all aspects of your life will improve.  This will mean transformation – certain relationships or activities may fall away because they are actually not meant to be part of your life, your now.

When you are mindful and present, you will naturally ask the questions I mentioned earlier as you need to. The answers will be obvious. The only that will stop you from answering them will be fear.

Don’t be afraid. Be mindful.