There are a lot of ups and downs when you’re trying to remake yourself…and much of what you end up working with are emotions and patterns surrounding the areas where you want to see a change. This work can seem unsatisfying at times because it is frustratingly hard to hold onto in any real way. Sometimes, what you think is a clear path is actually a moving target and, unfortunately, there aren’t “ten easy steps” you can take to change your life when you’re dealing with very personal, and sometimes, very large issues.
What I found for myself is that, while all that mental/emotional work is going on, it’s very helpful to find some concrete things to put in place that support all of the other work I am doing. Things that “clear the deck”, simplify, and minimize distractions so I can stay focused on the task at hand…which is transformation. Here are five things that absolutely have done that for me and, while none of them have proven to be a panacea, they have all played a life-changing supportive role to the mental/emotional/ego work that lies at the center of my path.
Reclaiming My Time
I started this phase by practicing saying “no” a lot. I minimized my commitments and cut my responsibilities as close to the bone as I was able. I took stock of what was absolutely necessary, and was totally ruthless with what wasn’t. This took some work because, even though my “fear of missing out” reflex was never that strong, I still had to work on really committing to not committing. If doing something felt even slightly wrong or meant that I was going to have to run, rush, or squeeze in the time between other responsibilities, I gave it a pass. And since I’ve started adhering to this principle, lo and behold, I have a lot more time.
Through this experience, I came to realize that my unnecessary busyness, at its heart, was an exercise in pointless bullshit motivated by my fear of having to face my own pain if I slowed down enough to actually take stock of my life. Busyness isn’t living. It’s just exhausting. I went ahead and killed it. It deserved to die. Leaning into my pain isn’t pleasant, but change usually isn’t, and it beats the hell out of continuing to run on the hamster wheel of denial.
Speaking of jettisoning unnecessary bullshit, the very first thing I did, post-awakening, was to get rid of most of my belongings. Now, as I’ve already mentioned, none of these steps is a cure all. I mention it again here because minimalism is the hot new thing and it is being pedaled by some folks as the answer to everything from depression to psoriasis. It’s not. Also, it’s not for everybody. But what it did for me was to open my eyes to how deeply I had adopted consumer culture, how much time I spent thinking about the acquisition of things, how many times I had bought something unnecessary out of pure boredom…and the depth of the affliction that I wasn’t even aware that I had.
Once my stuff and I had parted ways, I began to question what else might be unnecessary in my life, which is where I found the real value in this exercise. Yes, I had more space and more peace, but more importantly, it opened the door to a deeper questioning about what was actually valuable and what was just my ego fighting against the idea of its own impermanence by surrounding itself with useless garbage. Spoiler alert: Most everything falls into the latter category.
Watching the Input
Obviously, we live on screens now. This means we are bombarded by things we didn’t ask to see and that are designed to keep our eyeballs glued to whatever is coming up next on our newsfeeds. Our attention is currency and we spend it like a drunk on payday because human nature is dumb and predictable and our digital overlords know exactly what buttons to push to keep us spending.
And while it is impractical and perhaps impossible to eliminate all of this kind of input from our lives, I have been able to cut it back to a manageable size. As far as social media goes, I post on facebook, but stay away from the newsfeed (where the fear lives). This has made the biggest impact out of anything I have done, media-wise. Wading endlessly through the polluted stream of outrage was bumming me out, and cutting off that flow was like waking up from a nightmare. After spending some time away, I realized that allowing all that fear and anger in through the doors of my senses was like letting the enemy live, rent free, in my head. So I evicted that bastard…and then I started to clean up the rest of the building.
In addition to curtailing my addiction to scrolling, I also cut out all violence from my media diet which, as you can imagine, eliminates 90% of media produced in this country. The effect of this new rule was twofold. First, left with the other 10%, I dove deep into meditation/personal development/educational videos…and comedy. Instead of watching people punch, shoot, or threaten each other, I was either learning or laughing…and that felt a lot better than watching another momentarily satisfying, but ultimately empty show or movie. Secondly, it resensitized me to violence. When I was watching violent content regularly, I got scarily used to the idea of violence as a routine way to solve conflicts. Then I stopped, and the next time I saw a movie trailer for some superhero thing, I was genuinely shocked…and the content wasn’t even that violent! This was a big wake up call in terms of just how easy it was for me to accept something through repeated exposure. Violence was only part of it. When you think about how many things we just accept as true due to the simple repetition of a message, things get pretty scary. Again, this practice gave me more peace, but the real value in it was the deeper questions it inspired about exactly how free my freedom of thought was.
Treating Everyone as My Teacher
People are annoying. Beautiful, yes…but also difficult if I view them as the rude, short tempered, entitled brats that their behavior seems to confirm that they are. But, if I choose to view each person I come into contact with as my teacher, the game changes. No longer is the guy on his phone in a restaurant just a careless lout. He is now my instructor in Letting Go of My Need for Everyone to Conform to My Standards 101…and that’s a big shift. As I’ve said when I mentioned this before, the teachers and the lessons aren’t always pleasant, but neither is viewing everyone who doesn’t act according to my worldview as a clueless moron. In the former scenario, at least I’m learning something that will serve me well in the future. In the latter, I just end up angry and with a dim view of my fellow planet dwellers.
I love reading inspirational stuff. In particular, I love poems and quotes because their truth is so naked and direct; little jewels of wisdom I can put in my pocket and carry around with me like the marbles I used to have when I was a kid.
A few months ago, I started doing just that. I made a deck of inspirational trading cards, each one containing a picture and a quote that I could pull out of my backpack whenever I needed a little boost during the day. Right now, I have Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, Fred Hampton, Jane Goodall, and Mister Rogers in my bag, and whenever I see a new poem or quote that I really want to hang onto, I make a new card.
I adopted this practice from one of my teachers who uses it to keep up her Bodhicitta (compassionate energy) when it starts flagging, and it really works. It’s like having little cheerleaders with you at all times. I also wear some pieces of jewelry that give me the same feeling and touch them when I need to recharge. I have found this kind of creative self-inspiration to be invaluable, especially when I feel like just throwing in the towel. There’s something about the making of the cards and the time spent that makes it that much more meaningful as well. So, if you’re going to adopt this practice, I would highly recommend making it a fun art project to ramp up the meaning and importance of your inspirational materials.
I have a lot more practices I’ve adopted or made up since I began on this path, but these five are the ones that gave me the space to work on all the others and, in practice, they are the easiest to implement. You can do any or all of these practices today and see an almost immediate difference in yourself. Of course, there’s no rush here. Don’t be afraid to take it slow. I tend to dive into things and when I make changes, I do it rapidly and without hesitation. It works for me, but is not a great method for everyone to adopt. You’re probably better off going slow, being kind to yourself when you fail (you will fail), and gradually making adjustments in these areas until they become habits. Fast or slow, change will happen. Run at your own pace.
Good Luck and, as usual, feel free to leave questions or comments below.