Two Weeks of Simplicity

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About a month ago, I decided I needed to find some clarity in my life. Having moved back to California a little over a month before, my life was on autopilot, with my days basically consisting of work and Netflix binges. Not the stuff fulfilling lives are made off.

In order to find the clarity I was searching for, I made the decision to cut out most of the distractions that normally filled my days. Those included social media, Netflix (TV and movies in general), the internet, and music. I even committed to only drinking black coffee for a little extra challenge – not that I need any more of a challenge. While I wasn’t perfect at cutting everything out, it ended up being the most austere two weeks I had experienced since being grounded as a child. Fortunately, I gained a lot more from the experience than I ever did from any punishment, no matter how much I deserved it at the time.

From Emptiness to Fulfillment to Action

It wasn’t until I didn’t have a screen to distract me that I realized how much I was dependent on TV and social media for my entertainment. I’d even go so far as to say that I depended on those things to give me a sense of fulfillment in my daily life. Still, that realization did little to make my new found austerity any easier, at least not at first. I was at a complete loss for how to spend all of the free time I had just reacquired.

For the first few days, I resigned myself to just sitting in silence with my thoughts while I wasn’t at work or around my family. Not exactly the most thrilling activity. However, that solitude turned out to be exactly what I needed. As the days went by, I started to feel a sense of peace that I had never really experienced before. My thoughts slowed down. My impulsive desires stopped controlling my every action. The feeling of emptiness that I had been trying to fill with digital distractions started to fade away. I started to realize that I could be just as happy sitting in silence as I could hanging out with friends or watching Parks and Rec.

Along with a greater sense of peace and fulfillment, I also started to feel a genuine desire to take action in my life. Glancing up at my bookshelf one night, I saw the dusty, unread copy of “The Lord of the Rings” that I always planned on reading but never started. Almost without thinking, I grabbed the book off the shelf and dived in (I’m currently about 250 pages in and loving it). The next day, feeling a desire to make something with my hands, I decided to pick up the age-old craft of wood carving. I went out that evening and bought a pocket knife and some blocks of wood and got to carving. Since then I’ve carved three pieces and thoroughly enjoyed the process.

A Life of Simplicity

The feeling of peace that came from living with fewer distractions was pretty eye opening. However, cutting out all of the distractions in my life was pretty extreme, and definitely not sustainable. What’s interesting to me is, in the time since those two weeks ended, how quickly I’ve fallen back into the trap of letting all of those distractions dictate my life. This is especially true for social media. I’m now more aware of how often I check my phone for updates, likes, and friend requests, usually to the detriment of my own sense of inner peace.

My goal now is to start cultivating a life of intention and simplicity, though in a much more organic way than my forced austerity. I suppose it’s all about finding the right balance. Not deleting my social media, but limiting how much time I spend on it. Indulging in Netflix, but not letting it become part of my daily routine. And most importantly, giving myself some time every day to disconnect from the constant stream of distractions and connect with my own genuine desires.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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?