It doesn’t have to be so stressful

Do you get a sense that our world is just go, go and go all the time? That there’s always a rush to the next thing? Do you see people driving up on pedestrians and bicyclists cursing at cars? It seems that a delay of a couple of seconds is enough to trigger people into anger. Just a couple of seconds.

The other day as I drove the carpool to school, we all watched a car attempting to park. It could have been someone who was parking a friend’s car or someone who just is a very slow and cautious driver. It’s pretty common to run into slow drivers in the city. It was easily a 30 second delay for about 6 cars. It was mildly irritating.

We watched a man get out of his car, walk over to the driver and punch the window. He tried to smash the driver side window with his fist. He really hit it hard. Given how muscular he was, it was a very good thing that the window held and that the parker wasn’t assaulted. He was so angry at this driving offense that he actually felt the need to destroy property and be physically aggressive with another human being.

On a bike commute through the city, I watched a bicyclist pull into the crosswalk at a busy intersection on Market at about 3rd in SF. He was blocking about 60 pedestrians and a couple of them told him he was blocking the way. He went immediately to cursing at the pedestrians and an argument ensued.

Have you seen people getting frustrated with strangers? If you commute to work or otherwise go out in the morning, you probably see it everyday.

I would venture that these minds have something very common and very human repeating and looping in a mental swirling current. These people are not getting their needs met. These people are going to something they are not happy about going to and just want to get the commute over with. They may want to just get the day over with. If they were thrilled and happy to be going, they might be looking forward to their destination. It’s not so monumental to say that people don’t like commutes and/or the jobs they have.

What is monumental is that when you are focused on getting something over with, you are not really there. You are not experiencing life. If you have an entire string of events that you just want to get over with in a day like…

  • get the kids to school
  • get through the commute
  • get through the morning meeting (how to dial in? where’s the number?)
  • get through the presentation
  • avoid some people in the office or site
  • get through project status meetings
  • get through another meeting
  • get through a chat with the boss
  • get through the commute home
  • get through walking the dog
  • get through making dinner for the kids
  • get through unloading the dishwasher
  • get through getting the kids to just get the damn room cleaned
  • and finally get to your own time (which you may be to tired to get to)

If you approach a day like this…just to get it over with, then frustration will grow and grow over time.

A common theme to handle this problem is to dream of riches or dream of starting a business to free yourself from living a life you don’t want. Or, moving somewhere else where life feels less stressed. However, I should let you know, I used to move every couple of years. I found that where ever I was, I brought myself and my habits with me.

There’s a song performed by Johnny Cash called “A Satisfied Mind“. The lyrics are telling.

How many times have
You heard someone say
If I had his money
I could do things my way

But little they know
That it’s so hard to find
One rich man in ten
With a satisfied mind

No matter where you are, your thinking habits will prevail. Thus, a powerful way to deal with your thinking habits is to learn to meditate. Meditation will help you find what you are resisting. Resistance ultimately causes stress and mental suffering. That ultimately leads to physical ailments. Resistance often causes inaction through avoidance which drives guilt and erodes self-confidence.

When you learn what you resist, you can accept whatever that is. When you accept that, you are acknowledging that there is something you need to work on. From there, you will likely find your true inner feelings about it. That then leads to an authentic action that enlivens and strengthens you.

Acceptance applies to very big things in life and very small things. Apply it to all. In one example, I was asked to work a long way away from where I live. At first, I thought I must do it to provide for my family, but I felt really sad about it. I meditated on it and discovered why it made me sad.  I don’t want to be away from my home and family for 16 hours a day. At a deep level, I’m a protector of my family. There’s crazy stuff that happens in cities. I need to be relatively close by. Also, I want to have an interesting life filled with friends, music and movement. So, I said no. It was hard to say no to. Very hard. It was scary. It was a difficult conversation for me to do. However, I knew not being available for my family and not having a bit of time to be me was a worse risk.

In a small case, I used to hate unloading the dishwasher. I just wanted to get it over with. If I found it already unloaded, I was relieved. If I found it full, I was angry at the kids or my wife for not unloading it. When I realized how much I was resisting a necessary daily task, I accepted it. Then, I began to just unload each piece like a meditation. It became an opportunity to be completely present and aware. I moved from resentment to thankfulness that I could afford a dishwashing machine. I became really appreciative that we have good plates and bowls and cutlery. I was grateful I could pay for them and eat from clean surfaces. This may seem absurd, but it’s very powerful. This kind of appreciation carries over to walking down the street and noticing the flowers someone has planted or the feel of a sweet breeze. It carries over to looking at your children and how thankful that we have made it this far without calamity. It makes the world feel wonderful.

On that list above, there is a lot to resist. You have your own list of resistance. You might resist and want to avoid a meeting coming up. You might think it won’t go well because of this or that. If you step back and accept that you must do the meeting, you may see that you really feel that there wasn’t enough time to prepare or you need to do more work. Accept that and then you’ll think of what parts you need to research more. Acceptance opens to the door to your truths that are blocked by the blinders that resistance puts over your mind.

That presentation is an opportunity to be alive and think on your feet and listen and learn and try to reach an agreement or to know that you tried. If you think about this, it’s really an opportunity to live with others and experience life even though you might think it mundane. If you think it mundane, look into that. You might be in the wrong field of work. It is easier to ignore that but I guarantee you that life really becomes much more interesting when you start moving in directions you want to go.

Ultimately, we all have more than enough time. You will see this if you can catch the resistance and accept it. This is when you can step into something and experience it. It leads to flow. It is living in the moment with an awareness of what you are thinking and feeling. Multi-tasking makes us think we don’t have enough time. I’ve got to do this and I’ve go to do that. It numbs us and ties us up in the little tiny to-dos that make us feel productive but not really see what we did. Accept what is happening and instead uni-task, we have all the time we need.

If you are interested to learn more about meditation, try the Headspace or Calm apps. I’ve used Headspace for over a year. The meditations are guided and short…10-15 minutes. So you don’t have to do anything except listen and follow along. I have found more powerful effects come from longer sessions. For those, I’d recommend finding a Mind Body Stress Reduction (MBSR) course near you. This course has led to many professing that their lives are forever changed and that they feel like they are really living. Doesn’t that sound interesting?

Detach to observe

Recently, I listened to a podcast by Mr. Tim Ferriss interviewing Jocko Willink. In that, Jocko described, and I paraphrase, stepping outside of himself and assessing the situation in order to gain a better understanding of the hostile situation he and his Seal team were in. With a greater perspective of the situation, he was able to take command and understand what actions to take. This reminded me of many passages in “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius. The essence of observation, reflection, and perspective guided the hand that wrote those words. An example…

Remember that your higher self becomes invincible when it withdraws into itself and calmly refuses to act against its will even though such resistance may be wholly irrational. How much more, then, when its decision is based on reason and circumspection! Thus a mind free from passion is a very citadel… – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

We have incredible power and focus when we can hold our mental ground from the emotional torrents that sweep us in all directions without our even realizing we have been swept, all day long. Clearly, an everyday citizen has a softer and less intense existence than a soldier in war time. Regardless, the key step is to look at yourself from above as an external observer. To be clear, I mean to mentally construct an image of yourself and the situation from above and outside of yourself. When you do this, you see the situation more clearly and you know your thoughts. This powerful combination tempers your emotional view of the situation with a greater perspective.

With practice, you can see that extent of the situation and what the best options are. You will also see a person going through things that humans have been going through since our time began. This creates a distance from the situation and inserts a perspective that is broader. Here is an example of detaching and observing across humans over time. .

Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future too. Its pattern will be the same, down to the last detail; for it cannot break step with the steady march of creation… – Marcus Aurelius

In the beginning reference to Jocko, he is a Navy Seal in a war training exercise or an actual war situation. In this example, he is likely pulling out far enough to gain a vantage large enough to see himself, his team, civilians to avoid, and the enemy in an area of battle. The ability to detach and observe is critical in most any situation wether hostile or tranquil. However, how far or how high you create your image will give you a different perspective. You can imagine viewing from a 300 foot tower, from space as Nietzsche did, or across history. You can imagine viewing across society as Krishnamurti often does. That same power of detaching to observe is referenced throughout his teachings.

Now, can we as individuals be aware of our conditioning, and is it possible for the mind to break down all this limitation so that it is free to discover what is truth? Because it seems to me that unless we do free the mind from its condition, all our social problems, our conflicts in relationship, our wars and other miseries, are bound to increase and multiply, which is exactly what is happening in the world, not only in our private lives, but in the relationship between individuals and groups of individuals, which we call society. – J. Krishnamurti, Can We Create a New Culture?, Total Freedom

This is a very leading question. It’s begging for an answer of being aware of how we think in any situation. When you can see how your thinking is constrained by some conditioning or a torrent of emotions, you can see other options. To do this is to become almost another person who is observing you. Isn’t it very easy to judge the mistakings of others because you are not in their situation? Of course it is. You must become an observer of yourself to do this. It is not hard. You just have to know how to do it and to practice it. Try it now.

  1. Visualize yourself doing what you are doing right now.
  2. Imagine being a different person watching yourself.
  3. State what see yourself doing and also state the intentions behind the action in the second person.
  4. Didn’t that create a shift in perspective that opened the door for alternate choices?

Some recent observations I’ve had for example:

  • I’m hard on myself, but what I am doing makes sense or is admirable in some way because I’m doing it for my family or to better my situation. This leads to relief and calmness in relation to my goals. I’m doing what I should be doing.
  • I’m acting out some pattern and being careless of another. Time to pause and check in with said person and course correct. This leads to empathy from me and trust in the other person.

It may seem odd to combine a Navy Seal that is a soldier for a nation, a leader of an empire, and Krishnamurti who is clearly the antithesis of a soldier for a nation. It is not. They are using the same principle of detachment and observation, but clearly they are applying it at different levels. Granted, Marcus Aurelius and Krishnamurti are more similar.

Live out your days in untroubled serenity…

Live out your days in untroubled serenity. Refuse to be coerced though the whole world deafens you with it’s demands and wild beasts rend piecemeal this poor envelope of clay. In all of that, nothing can prevent the mind from possessing itself in peace, correctly assessing the events around it and making prompt use of the material thus offered. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

This has to be the most powerful advice I have ever encountered. I have committed it and the lines that follow it to memory. I’ve racked my nerves racing to meetings, scrambling for deadlines, worrying about what to make for dinner, paying property taxes on time, and preparing for presentations for investment. The list of morning chores can be exhausting before even getting on my commute to work at a start up that’s still starting up. It feels overwhelming very often.

When I worry about my life’s candle being burned at both ends, I turn to meditation. I meditate on the words above.

When the team is worried about making the next milestone and the emotions are evident, I refuse to be coerced with those demands. In the middle of making a company, I know it’s just like all the other companies that have come before and will come again. They come out of the ground like a seed, sprout…hope for water and sun. If it’s lucky, it grows tall and strong. If not, it’s material can be used again to feed other seeds. Of course, I do what needs to be done, but do I need to let it wreck me? I refuse to be coerced.

When the children have their concerns, I listen. I know them. I’ve had them, too. But, I know it is like all the other problems that young people have. It can feel overwhelming. I remember. But in this tumult, I know it passes. I help them with what I know and we go on. The emotions are felt and they pass. Just like all the other emotions that have been felt before.

When I think of my goals and realize I haven’t achieved them, I can become impatient, frustrated, angry, depressed, etc. I meditate to get clear. I often realize it’s useless to think of it this way. When I meditate, I can see that some goals take time, or that I may not even want the goal I’m aiming towards. Most often, I get clear on the next action to take. I may fret about taking that action, but I take it and then chuckle that I fretted about taking it. Refusing to be coerced into the storm, or going into the storm but as an observer, yields so much clarity and value. You truly see the wild beasts rending piecemeal our poor envelope of clay. The futility of it is monstrous.

Understanding this, practicing this…it helps. Tremendously. It may be the secret to living fully. Maybe.