Letting Go of the Past

One of the greatest benefits I’ve gained from practicing mindfulness is a better understanding of how my mind works. After years of being held hostage by my thoughts and emotions, I’m finally able to take a step back and look at my mind from a (somewhat) objective point of view.

What I’ve noticed recently is that my mind typically functions like a broken record, but instead of replaying the same song over and over, it likes to keep me trapped in thoughts of the past. I constantly find myself replaying old memories in my head, ruminating on failed relationships, and wishing for days of old.

This has become especially clear to me since my breakup two months ago. While the initial sting of it has long since passed, my mind still loves to remind me of everything I used to have. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. Sitting on a bus. Writing a blog post. Trying to help students with their English pronunciation. All it takes is a single thought, or even just a feeling, to send me spiraling down the rabbit hole of past memories.

As destructive as I’ve found worrying about the future to be, I think this habit of living in the past hurts me even more. Not only does it distract me from whatever I’m doing in the present moment, it also prevents me from putting all my energy towards creating a better future for myself.

I’m starting to wonder if my constant focus on the past is just a form of self-protection, because even if it hurts to think about the past – and it usually does – there’s a certainty in it that I can’t find in the future. I don’t know what’s going to happen, who I’m going to become, and if I’ll ever be as happy in the future as I was in the past. The past has basically become my comfort zone, and it’s easier to sit and dwell on old memories than take action towards something better. It’s easier to stagnate than to move on.

Solutions?

Noticing my fixation on the past hasn’t done much to stop it, but it has made me ask myself two important questions. The first is, “Does thinking about the past serve me in any way? Of course not! It may give me a hollow sense of pleasure at first (similar to the high I get from indulging in negativity or gossiping), but it never brings me more happiness in the long term.

That answer leads me to question number two: How can I stop living in the past? The obvious answer is to focus on the present moment. It’s impossible to live in the past when you’re fully present to the moment. However, being present to the moment is something I struggle to do with any consistency. It may be simple but it definitely isn’t easy.

The obvious answer is to focus on the present moment. It’s impossible to live in the past when you’re fully present to the moment. However, being present to the moment is something I struggle to do with any consistency. It may be simple but it definitely isn’t easy.

Another answer that comes to mind is using a combination of awareness (mindfulness) and patience, while also having strong boundaries when it comes to my thoughts. The first two are simple. It’s only through being mindful that I can catch myself dwelling on the past. And an integral part of mindfulness is showing patience and compassion towards myself. I’m only human after all, and the nature of the human mind is to focus on the past and future. Being mad at myself for having those thoughts only makes things worse.

But what about this whole “strong boundaries” thing? What I mean by that is having the discipline to look at the thoughts I’m indulging in and simply cutting out the ones that won’t bring me true happiness. That may sound a little forced, even harsh, but I think it’s the ultimate sign of self-respect and self-love. If I truly loved myself, would I dwell on the past? Nope. Instead, I would put all my mental energy towards enjoying the present moment and creating an awesome future for myself.

More importantly, though, having those strong boundaries requires a commitment to my own happiness. Thinking about the past is as addictive as any drug, and the only way to beat an addiction is to decide once and for all that it has no place in my life.

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To end this post, I’d like to share a Wayne Dyer quote that I recently stumbled upon. I think it perfectly sums up the mindset I’m trying to develop.

“Your past history and all of your hurts are no longer here in your physical reality. Don’t allow them to be here in your mind, muddying your present moments. Your life is like a play with several acts. Some of the characters who enter have short roles to play, others, much longer. But all are necessary, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the play. Embrace them all, and move on to the next act.”

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?

 

Constant Recovery

I recently wrote about how “The Alabaster Girl” by Zan Perrion helped me discover my desire for a life filled with beauty. Now I want to share another great insight I gained from that book.

“Doubt creeps in for all of us and we must recover. Constant recovery. Recovery every moment of every day. To stand back and say to ourselves, “No, that sliver of doubt does not serve me in any way whatsoever.” And phew! now we relax, for we have recovered. Three seconds later, doubt creeps right back in. The solution? Recover again. That’s just the way it goes. It never ends. We will never be rid of our reigning-in, play-it-safe, you-don’t-want-to-get-hurt self-talk. All we can do is shake hands with that cautioning voice, acknowledge it, and recover, recover, recover.”

I love the way Perrion describes recovery in this little excerpt. We usually think of recovery as something we have to go through after an addiction or illness, but it can also mean finding our center, mentally and spiritually, while dealing the stresses of daily life. For me, being centered means being present to the moment and connected with my core desires. It means finding the place within myself that can’t be affected by the external world, where a sense of calmness pervades all of my actions.

I think anchors are the perfect representation of being centered. They keep ships from drifting away, no matter how stormy the seas. 

Of course, staying centered is much easier said than done. Life provides us with countless obstacles every day. Doubts and anxieties. Stressful situations. Painful memories and expectations of future difficulties. All of these things cause us to lose our balance in life, and each time we have to pause and regain it. We have to recover.

My normal tendency is to let life’s obstacles push me off balance. But that’s not really the problem. We are all susceptible to life’s stormy weather. That’s just part of being human. The problem is that we view those off-balance moments as failures. We dwell on them and wonder why we can’t stay centered all the time. Why can’t we just be perfect?

That’s why I find that quote so empowering. The mindset it offers is like a more grounded version of “do your best.” Instead of trying to be perfect all of the time, we can simply commit to finding our center over and over again. Accept and recover. Accept and recover.

And if you really think about it, that’s all we can do. Perfection is impossible. Getting knocked on our asses – mentally and physically – is inevitable. But we always have the choice to pause and recover.

To Be Seduced by Life…

It may sound weird, but I believe certain influences – people, books, ideas – come into our lives exactly when we need them. These influences can change us in ways we never imagined.

My first experience with this was when I read “The Power of Now” in the summer of 2013. That book helped lift me up from a sea of misery and unconsciousness. My next experience was barely six months later when I came across “The Alabaster Girl” by Zan Perrion. It’s this experience that I want to talk about here.

A Very Important Year

My senior year of college was a very interesting one for me. When I returned home from studying in Madrid three months earlier, I was consumed by wanderlust. But the reality of my last year as a student quickly pushed thoughts of travel and adventure to the back of my mind. Being a senior meant it was time convert those years of academic stress into a high-paying job, and most of my friends and peers seemed dedicated to that cause. Days into the first semester I was already hearing talk of job applications and potential interviews. The pressure was on.

That pressure did little to motivate me, though. Despite the urgent and practical nature of getting a good job, I felt absolutely zero passion for that goal. Actually, I felt the opposite of passion. Getting a typical job sounded like a straight bore.

At the time, I was convinced that my lack of enthusiasm for finding a job was just a sign of laziness, and there might have been some truth to that. The thought of sitting in an office and trying to focus for eight hours a day gave me the chills. However, my core problem was one of passion. Looking at all the jobs I could apply to, there wasn’t a single one that inspired the slightest bit of excitement in me. And in the back of my mind, I could feel the desire to see the world nagging at me.

The Spark that Lit the Fire

I read “The Alabaster Girl” about halfway through my senior year. Ironically, my motivations for reading it were not at all related to finding passion in my life. The author, Zan Perrion, was a well-known dating coach, and all I was expecting were some tips on how to meet women. What I found was something entirely different.

It’s hard to say what the book’s main theme is. It centers around the author’s profound love for women and seduction, but themes of beauty, passion, and the spirit of adventure are interwoven throughout. I guess you could describe it as a wise man’s musings on what it means to live a truly magical life. Women just happen to be the primary source of magic for the author.

While I did resonate with Perrion’s talk of romance and seduction, it was his views on beauty that really struck a chord with me. “Beauty needs a witness,” he repeats throughout the book, and in describing his worldview he paints a picture of a man entirely in love with life and all the beauty it has to offer.

I had never given beauty a second thought before reading that book. I could recognize it when I saw it (at least I thought so) but it wasn’t something I ever sought out. Maybe it was his flowery style of writing or just the conviction behind his words, but as I read I felt something awakening inside of me. It was what I felt during my time in Madrid, but hadn’t been able to identify. It was the desire for a life filled with beauty, passion, and adventure. The desire to be utterly seduced by life.

From there, I knew that going the typical job route was no longer an option. I wanted something out of life that a 9-5 could never give me, and I would do whatever it took to find it. Why not find a way to move back to Spain? Yeah, that seemed like a good enough plan.

Three years have passed since that decision, and I’m living in Spain like I wanted to. But I’d be lying if I said the desire for a life filled with beauty and passion was my prime motivator for the past couple of years. Somewhere along the way, that romantic vision got pushed to the back of my mind. I started, once again, to view life as a race to be won instead of a journey to be enjoyed. Achievement and success became my primary focuses. All this time abroad, surrounded by so much beauty, and I’ failed to truly appreciate it.

Adjusting My Sails

I want to reconnect with my desire to be seduced by life and all the beauty it has to offer.

How do I do this? Well, just like I mentioned in my post on true north principles, the most important thing I can do is commit to the vision that drove me abroad in the first place. That means slowing down and looking deep within, not letting my surface level desires for achievement and success distract me from my core desire for a life filled with beauty and passion.

I also want to start using this blog as a place to develop and share my vision. It’s time for “An Appetite for Beauty” to live up to its name.

 

 

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.

 

 

Lessons from a Common Cold

“There is one consolation in being sick; and that is the possibility that you may recover to a better state than you were ever in before.”

Henry David Thoreau

After going full speed for the first three weeks of January, a nasty cold forced me to step on the brakes this weekend. This might have been a blessing in disguise.

I was more productive in the past few weeks than any period I can remember. However, my frantic pace left a lot to be desired in terms of rest and conscious reflection. Getting sick forced me to take it easy for a few days. It also made me take a step back and examine why I got sick in the first place. Am I getting enough sleep? Is my diet conducive to good health? Am I pushing myself too hard, too suddenly?

The answers to those questions: No. No. And…probably.

Sleep is Key

A common cliché about success is that it should often come at the cost of sleep. Whenever I read about the great entrepreneurs of past and present, it seems they were all willing to endure weeks or months or even years of low sleep in order to achieve their goals. Then there are motivational speakers such as Eric Thomas, who give quotes like:

“You can’t sleep. Broke people sleep. You got to be willing to sacrifice sleep, if you sleep you may miss the opportunity to be successful.”

Everyone is different. I’m sure there are plenty of people who can operate on four to five hours of sleep per night and be ok. I’m just not one of them. Anytime I go more than a week with less than seven hours of sleep per night, I seem to get sick.

Does this mean I should take on less in order to get more sleep? Not necessarily. I just need to be more proactive in managing my time.

The past few weeks were somewhat of a scheduling experiment. I knew that fitting in all of my obligations would be a process of trial and error. One of the major errors I made was failing to sufficiently plan out my weeks.

Things were easy when I was only teaching 12 hours per week and posting on here once or twice per week. I had a lot of flexibility in my schedule, and my to-do list was often just as flexible. That flexibility has all but disappeared now, and if I want to have a decent sleep schedule I need to manage my time more carefully.

Eat Your Veggies

Along with a busier work schedule this year, I also committed to putting on some muscle in the gym. This means eating a lot more than what I’m used to. In order to accomplish this, I’ve been pounding calorie-rich carbohydrates (cereal, pasta, rice, etc.) but basically ignoring fruits and vegetables. Combined with low sleep, that kind of diet is a recipe for disaster (pun intended).

I need to find a way to be more disciplined with my diet. More fruits, more greens, and more water as well.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

The best time management book I’ve ever read is Stephen Covey’s “First Things First.” One of its core ideas is deciding on and prioritizing the “first things” in your life. He uses the analogy of filling a bucket with a combination of big and small rocks. The only way to fit them all is to put the big rocks in first and then fill the gaps with the smaller rocks. This means that certain tasks will take a backseat to others depending on what your “big rocks” are.

In taking on so much so fast, I never chose my big rocks.

This was mainly due to impatience. I came into this year with a ton of ambitions and my initial instinct was to try to accomplish them all at once. I treated all of my ambitions like big rocks. But just like my poor diet and lack of sleep, this won’t be sustainable. In fact, not prioritizing my ambitions will probably lead to me accomplishing less in every area.

I’m going to have to sit down and really think about what my top priorities are for this year, and not feel guilty if I can’t devote equal time to everything I want to accomplish. Off the top of my head, developing this blog and my youtube channel are my two biggest rocks. Teaching, traveling, and personal growth (reading, meditating, etc.) are integral parts of those goals so they would be big rocks as well.

What smaller rocks does that leave?  Goals such as gaining muscle and having an active social life.

That doesn’t mean I can’t pursue these goals, but maybe I should be a little less eager with them at the moment. Instead of trying to gain muscle right away, I can simply make going to the gym a habit. Instead of being the most social person ever, I can make sure I go out and socialize at least one night per week.

Starting small in some areas is better than trying to do too much and getting overwhelmed.