Quote of the Week #44

We can’t change anything in our lives unless we bring awareness to the areas we want to change. However, change doesn’t happen by resisting what that awareness shows us. It’s paradoxical, but only by accepting where we are in the moment can we begin to move forward in a positive way.

Traveling Mindfully

Today marks the start of my Spring Break, also known as Semana Santa (Holy Week) here in Seville. I’ll fly to Prague tonight, spend five days there, then head over to Bucharest for a couple of days. Then I’ll come back to Seville and hopefully catch the tail end of the festivities here.

While I always enjoy traveling to new places, I have a tendency to get a little flustered during my trips. Sometimes I worry too much about my travel budget or whether I packed enough clothes. Other times I find myself rushing from sight to sight, not taking the time to appreciate everything I’m seeing. So one thing I want to focus on during this trip is living each day intentionally and mindfully.

That means not abandoning some of my morning routines like meditation and journaling. Those simple habits help keep me grounded throughout my day, and I think being grounded is extremely beneficial while traveling. It allows me to slow down, make better decisions during potentially stressful situations, and enjoy each new experience more fully.

That last part is what traveling is all about, right? It’s so easy to get caught up in a kind of tourism-induced frenzy, rushing from monument to monument, focused more on snapping the perfect selfie than actually enjoying the beautiful sights and sounds around you. But what’s the point of visiting somewhere new if you don’t take the time to really appreciate the experience?

 

Dragon Ball Z and Conquering Negativity

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Last month my roommates reintroduced me to Dragon Ball Z, a show I enjoyed as a kid but hadn’t watched in more than a decade. Feeling nostalgic, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and watch the series from the beginning. I’m already 75 episodes in (please don’t judge) and it’s clear that 24-year old me is an even bigger fan of the show than 10-year-old me was.

One of the main things I love about it is its core theme of good vs. evil. I know that’s a theme in most stories, but there’s something about the way Dragon Ball Z portrays it that really resonates with me.

Goku, the protagonist of the show, is one of the most pure-hearted characters I’ve ever seen. He faces every treacherous villain with an underlying attitude of compassion, mercy, and optimism. And despite being one of the strongest people on the planet and a natural born warrior, he always seems reluctant to fight.

Watching Goku in action got me thinking about the battle between good and evil that goes on inside all of us. I don’t mean good and evil in the moralistic sense, but more in terms of our happiness. There are certain thoughts that encourage well-being and those that promote the opposite. In each moment we have to choose which ones we will let control our emotions and actions.

It’s fear, anger, hatred, selfishness, narcissism, insecurity, envy, and jealousy versus….love, empathy, compassion, gratitude, altruism, genuine confidence, patience, peace, and joy. You could say it’s the battle between our egos and our higher-selves. The worst of us against the best of us.

For most of my early life, my ego won those internal battles decisively. Honestly, they were hardly even battles most of the time. My ego was in complete control and negativity seemed to be my natural state. I had no idea there was any other way to live.

Things have changed in the last few years. Through mindfulness and meditation, I’ve become more aware of my ego and its negative tendencies. It no longer automatically controls my every action like it once did. But that increased awareness hasn’t eliminated my ego and its negative effects from my life. If anything, it has made the “good vs. evil” metaphor all the more accurate for me.

Every day my ego struggles to take back control. It wants to find fault in every situation. It wants to indulge in anger and fear. It wants to win arguments at the cost of relationships. My ego hardly ever wins when I’m at my best. I can observe those negative thoughts inside my head and simply push them aside. But when I’m at my worst, well, it often gets the upper hand.

Some might say that viewing the ego as an enemy to be defeated isn’t very healthy, and there’s definitely some truth to that. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that awareness and compassion are the best antidotes for the ego’s negativity. “Attacking” the ego in an aggressive way can only serve to strengthen it.

However, there is something inspirational in the concept of good battling evil, the light overpowering the darkness. That kind of imagery reminds me that we have a choice to make in every moment: we can let our egos run the show or give the power to our higher selves. But making the right choice requires discipline. The ego will fight back like the most ferocious enemy we’ve ever encountered. That’s why it can seem like a battle at times.

I think this applies to our external lives as well. All around the world we are seeing a rise in ego-driven behaviors. There is so much fear and hatred getting thrown around that it can often feel like a hopeless situation. But it doesn’t have to be. We can view ourselves almost as warriors, choosing daily to fight back against all the negativity. This doesn’t necessarily mean fighting in a physical sense, but fighting back with our attitudes. It means looking at all the fear and hatred and rising above it, showing compassion for others, and, as Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, making positivity louder.

Of course, it all starts with the battle within ourselves.

I know personally it seems unwinnable at times. The ego is an incredibly persistent foe. But I won’t give up. I won’t let myself slide back into a world of negativity. I’ll keep fighting, and letting even silly things like a cartoon character inspire me to try even harder. I know my efforts will eventually pay off.

 

 

Mindfulness: A Month in Review

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“Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.”

-Sharon Salzberg

At the start of January, I committed to practicing a single mindfulness method: abdominal breathing. I thought that sticking to one method would help make my mindfulness practice more consistent. It turns out I was wrong…but also kind of right.

Yeah, I know I just contradicted myself. Let me explain.

The Wrong

I did a pretty terrible job of practicing mindfulness last month. Outside of my daily sitting meditations, staying mindful took a backseat to some of my other priorities. I even noticed this lack of focus halfway through the month, but unfortunately didn’t do much to change it afterward.

Having a mindfulness method did not make it significantly easier to practice mindfulness. Or at least it didn’t help me remember to be mindful.

The Right

I mentioned this in my mid-month reflection, but having a mindfulness method DID prove useful when I actually remembered to be mindful. It was a great way to not only bring my attention back to the present moment but calm my nerves as well.

The only disadvantage I found in using abdominal breathing was when I was sick. Not being able to breathe properly made those abdominal breaths quite challenging, if not impossible at times.

Renewing My Focus

Last month taught me that the only way to be consistently mindful is to maintain a strong commitment to mindfulness throughout the day. I did exactly the opposite. I made a verbal commitment to mindfulness, but in reality placed my work and other concerns above my practice.

Even though January was not a very mindful month for me, I’m still not discouraged. The fact that I’m aware of my lack of mindfulness actually shows that my practice has progressed over the years. I also recognize that January was an exceptionally hectic month for me. Expecting to all of a sudden master mindfulness while drastically increasing my workload wasn’t very reasonable. My mindfulness practice is sure to be a lifelong journey that will require me to be very patient with myself.

Instead of choosing a new mindfulness method for February, I’m going to stick with abdominal breathing. I want to see how beneficial it can be if I actually do it consistently.