Two Words of Wisdom

Photo: Guadalquivir River in Seville, Spain

“Just flow…”

That phrase has been stuck in my head for the past month or so. It all started on a Friday night when I began bombarding my roommate with questions about our plans for the evening. I wanted to know what we were doing, where we were going, and who were going with. I needed to have a plan. However, in the midst of my stream of questions, he turned to me and said those magic words.

While they may have been little more than an attempt to stop my inquiries,  his words of wisdom really struck a chord with me. They made me think of two of my favorite books, “The Power of Now” and the “Tao Te Ching.” Both books talk about the importance of accepting the present moment and not dwelling on the past or future. In other words, they talk about “going with the flow.”

Although this wasn’t a new concept for me, there was something about the way my roommate said, “just flow” that made the idea suddenly click in my head. In the days that followed, I started noticing how often I did the complete opposite. I was in an almost constant state of resistance, both mentally and physically. My shoulders were usually tight, my breathing shallow, and my mind full of anxiety and discontent. Rarely was I able to just relax and enjoy the moment.

So I began reminding myself of my roommate’s words. Whenever I felt tightness in my shoulders or noticed resistance in my thoughts, I’d take a deep breath and say to myself, “just flow.” From there I’d do my best to stay connected with my breath and fully relax into the present moment.

The effects were pretty small at first – I’d relax for just a moment and then find myself caught up in resistance once again – but I stuck with it. Well, I think it’s better to say that it stuck with me. The whole idea of “going with the flow” sounded more and more appealing each day. I realized that it’s something I want to truly embody, and the last month has mainly consisted of me exploring different ways of doing that. The most notable have been guided meditations, yoga, tai chi, and reading up on philosophies like Taoism.

I’m not really sure where this newfound interest in going with the flow will take me, but I think it will be somewhere good. At the very least it will encourage me to stay mindful of when I’m resisting the present moment, and that mindfulness is a tremendous source of peace in itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Dragon Ball Z and Conquering Negativity

zzzz4588685

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.