A good article from Craig Ballantyne and Early to Rise…
Action Takers Rule the World
As Mark Ford correctly points out in his book, “The Reluctant Entrepreneur”, most business owners do not bet the farm. They take little bets. Little bets start with having the courage to take the first step. Today, Ryan Murdock shows you how. I did it, he did it, and you can do it too.Craig Ballantyne”If you’re always thinking about possibility, you’ll find it. You’ll always be creating your future.” – Sir Ken Robinson
How to Find the Courage to Take that First Step
by Ryan Murdock
It was 9:30am on a Wednesday. And I was sitting in a bathroom stall in an office building in Ottawa writing Communist slogans on the toilet paper.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a Communist by any possible stretch of the imagination. I was doing this in an effort to stay sane. Working as a temp in a government office where not a single person bothered to learn my name was starting to get me down, and drastic measures were called for.
And so each morning on my break I stuck a felt tipped marker in my back pocket and went to the toilet. I rolled down the paper and wrote things like “Power to the People!” or “The Party is Always Right”. And then I rolled it back up again.
I spent the rest of my mornings unfastening endless piles of research grant applications and putting them into a different order, because the applicants hadn’t followed the directions. I was grateful for the money, of course. But it was mind numbingly boring.
Whenever I began to feel my soul draining out of me, I pictured some guy in the bathroom peeling off a strip of toilet paper and finding one of those slogans. His first reaction was likely to be, “What the….?” quickly followed by, “Why…?” And then hopefully he’d start laughing like he hadn’t laughed in years. I wanted to bring a little sunshine into that otherwise grey world.
I hated that job. I hated every job I ever had. I woke up swearing every morning. I swore in the shower and I muttered profanity under my breath all the way to work. I felt useless because the work I was doing had no meaning. I wasn’t drawing on my talents. I wasn’t making the world a better place. And I felt trapped because the pay I earned was barely enough to live on, and I didn’t have any savings.
I wanted to write, and I knew my words would add value to other people’s lives. But I couldn’t see a way to make enough money to survive at it.
I finally reached a point where that didn’t matter anymore. I couldn’t imagine a more miserable life than the one I was already in. And so I vowed to make a living by doing what I loved — or starve to death trying. And I meant it in every fiber of my being.
When the contract ended, I asked the temp agency to remove my name from their list. And that was the last actual “job” I ever had.
Since then I’ve met an awful lot of people who feel trapped by the miserable circumstances of their lives. They’re completely unhappy. But when I ask them why they don’t change, they say they’re afraid to take the first step.
Well I’ll let you in on a secret…
You don’t need courage to take that first step. You just need to focus on two things: hate and desperation.
You already know that I hated my old job so much that even the worst failure was better than going back to that office. But where does “desperation” come in?
Fast forward to a couple years later. I was earning a little money from my writing, but we were still living on my wife’s salary as a translator in the automotive industry.
Payment for freelance work was irregular at best, and I needed money to pay some bills. Badly. By the middle of next week. And I had no idea how I was going to get it.
I had no one to borrow from. I didn’t have a job. And I wasn’t expecting checks from any magazine publishers either — not that you can ever count on “Check’s in the mail” from them!
What did I do? I drew on everything I learned in my 20+ years of martial arts training. It was the only other thing I could consider myself a legitimate “expert” in. I drove over to Future Shop and bought a mini-DV video camera and some editing software with my credit card. Then I sat down with a paper and pencil and wrote a list of every crazy push up variation I could think of. I got on the floor and made up a bunch of new ones too.
I filmed it all as a 25-minute tutorial, named it Beyond Pushups, uploaded it to a website called E-Junkie, and linked it to my PayPal account. And then I posted a teaser and description of my program on a fitness forum where I was a certified coach, and I emailed the link to everyone I knew.
I set the price at $10. My wife didn’t think I’d even be able to pay for the camera. She gave me a smug look and said, “And then what are you going to do?”
I plugged my ears and went to bed. And when I woke up the next morning, I had $1,000 in my PayPal account. I paid off the camera and software immediately, and still made a nice little profit.
I ended up filming several more of those downloadable tutorials in the following months. One on ab exercise variations, one on ankle strength, and one on mobility drills using a stick. My audience loved them. Each one sold better than the previous installment, and always for $10.
People would write to me and say, “Why are you giving this away for so little? You could easily make it into a full DVD!”
But I didn’t raise the price. I over delivered and built loyalty and trust with my audience instead. And six months later, I coauthored a larger online product with a friend. We called it Bodyweight Exercise Revolution and it made $10,000 in its first month.
Fast forward again — this time by 3 or 4 years. That coauthored program evolved into a business partnership. Adam Steer and I created and sold many more online fitness programs through a site called BodyweightCoach.com. And today we’ve got a seven figure business called Shapeshifter Media, where we help other new authors publish their work in the online fitness niche.
So yeah, that’s what I tell people when they ask me, “How do you get the courage to take that first step?”
In my experience you need two things:
1) Hate: you have to hate where you are right now so much that staying the same is far worse than the discomfort it’ll take you to change.
2) Desperation: sometimes you have to back yourself into a corner so you’re forced to come up with creative solutions.
I hated my job so much that staying there was worse than the risk of trying to live my dream and starving to death. And I needed that moment of desperation — having bills to pay but no money to pay them with — to free up my imagination so it could find a creative solution.
But thankfully you don’t have to do anything dumb to get that desperation. There’s no need to go into massive debt, or poke a lion with a stick. It can be something as simple as setting a really tight deadline. Or buying a one-way ticket to a place you’re scared to travel.
Try it today. Rig the game in your favor and commit to your goal in public. You’ll be amazed at the creative solutions you come up with.
And don’t sweat it too much if you hate your current circumstances with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I hated mine too. Transform that energy into positive momentum instead.
Category Archives: failure
Being rich is all about having the right habits. That’s the message from Tom Corley, who spent five years observing how rich and poor people lived, worked, and even slept. Then, Corley wrote about his research in a book called “Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals.”
Here’s what he found:
First: Be an early bird. Because among people making six-figures a year, about half wake up at least three hours before they have to be at work. Then, Corley says they use that extra morning time to focus on self-improvement like reading and exercising, because those things help them be more productive at work.
Another daily habit that can make you rich:Don’t gossip. According to Corley’s research, wealthy people are a whopping 14 times less likely to say they spread gossip, compared to people earning less than $30,000 a year.
Also: Spend less time using the Internet. Corley says most people who struggle with money spend at least an hour a day surfing the Web, or watching TV. But rich people are HALF as likely to go online every day. Instead, they spend that extra hour connecting with others in the “real world,” doing things like networking, socializing, and volunteering.
Another helpful habit: Make more “to-do” lists. Because wealthy people say they cross off 70% percent of the tasks on their to-do list every day – including short-term and long-term goals, meaning, rich people love getting stuff done.
Finally: According to the book, wealthy people are calorie counters. They generally limit alcoholic consumption, keep their junk food snacks to less than 300 calories per day, and weigh less. And it makes sense that successful people would weight less, 75% of executives in a recent survey said that being overweight is a “serious career impediment.” Overweight people are 3,000 times more likely to get passed over for a promotion. And fair or not, overweight applicants get turned down for jobs more than any other group.
You know, we’ve all been there in one way or another: we’ve been tense and focused on money, maybe stressed, maybe short with our spouse, maybe short with our kids….and in that moment when we’re stressing about money, we’re missing the world around us.
You know what I mean when I say “That awful feeling in the pit of your stomach because you feel like you have to worry about running out of money at the end of the month.”
I’ve been there, then back on “top”, then stressed again, a few times in my life.
I heard a funny thing the other day; someone was saying how they thought ‘rich people’ always think about money and ‘rich people’ are all shallow.
Maybe some are shallow, but in my experience and from what I read, when you had enough money to pay the bills and to live in a decent way, you’re NOT thinking about money much at all. When you have enough to cover the bills, you can think about fun things, about things that you WANT to do in your job and career, and things that you can do for or contribute to others – you can choose to enjoy life a little more.
When I was struggling with income and bills, and when I observe others that have the same struggle to pay bills and meet their obligations, they think about money all day long.
There is a great book that I highly recommend called “Bridges out of Poverty”. It helps explain how people struggling in poverty are constantly thinking about how they are paying the bills, food on the table, tires on the car, utility bills, etc.
Even if we aren’t at the poverty level, we can sometimes have some traits of the poverty mindset……we worry about money, about paying the mortgage, about our jobs, etc. This never creates a good feeling inside, does it?
Again, as someone that has been back and forth, here is some wisdom that I’ve learned from a few others and I believe that it really can help:
Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want – instead of focusing on the bills and lack of cash, focus on the things that you really want, the freedom, peace of mind, better health, better relationships, enjoying life, security for your family, etc.
Watch your self-talk- we all talk to ourselves and ask ourselves questions throughout the day. There is enough negativity in the world, don’t add to it by bringing yourself down. I was someone who beat myself up for many things and once in a while still do – if you do also, STOP. Reflect on accomplishments, look for references why you’re good at something, ask yourself questions like “Why do I deserve this?” and “Why am I so lucky?” instead of things like “Why can’t I earn more money” or ‘why is this such a struggle’ or ‘why don’t I ever win anything?”
Have a vision – ok maybe your life isn’t where you want it to be now and you want to improve – almost everyone does….create a vision. It doesn’t have to be a major complicated thing – something as simple as some bullet points or a paragraph or two is fine – create a simple story of you as you want to be – make the story in present tense as if you already have it – as if you are already “THERE” and you’re looking back on today, when you are struggling. Make sure that in the story you talk about how you’re proud of the steps you took, the hard work, the good attitude, and how you changed for the better. Remember, tell the ideal story of your life as if it is already done!
Enjoy the present, live in the moment – when we worry about the future or fret over the past, we miss moments and experiences right in front of us. I recall a time when my wife and I had time alone and I sat there worrrying about something that never even happened. Another time I recall worrying about something and basically ignoring my daughters when I had a free day with them. We all lost and nothing was gained. Take a moment to look around, be aware, and live today’s life. Things can happen in a moment. Look for miracles. You gotta celebrate life’s moments no matter what. There is no rehearsal.
Here’s something that can be the toughest for any of us – do the above each and everyday. We can all do things for a while or on occasion, or here and there. We have to ask the right questions, focus on the good stuff, reflect on our vision, and enjoy the present every day! We all must take action – even if they are just baby steps each day. Ask, ‘what thing, regardless how big or small, can I do today?” You don’t have to spend long on it – but at least 5 -10 minutes. Can you turn off the TV, put down the phone, or walk away from the computer or ipad for 10 minutes if it makes you better?
Remember, people with much less smarts, ability, education, opportunity have done great things, contributed, made money, helped others, and been successful , you have the ability, you have the power inside, you just need to take action.
Did you ever notice that when you’re at a family get together, or some other social event where you’re with friends or people that you know really well, you can sometimes notice others making excuses?
Sometimes we see others making excuses for not doing/trying/being/living, right?
Often times the excuses are based on FEAR.
I have some people in my life that are great people, and I love them a lot, but they are controlled by, and limited by their Fears.
It is easy to sit there and look at those people, almost in a judgmental way, and that’s not good, typically, nor is it what I want to point out or what I want you to do. We can always learn from watching others – but my point is this:
We ALL use Fear as an Excuse!
If you’re looking at your relatives or your friends and you see them making excuses and using Fear to hold them back in some way – If you’re really HONEST with yourself and aware, you can often see yourself in others.
I was at a nice picnic this weekend and a few of the ladies were there and just full of fear for so many things and they were talking about many things in their lives that they just didn’t want to do or “just couldn’t”.
At first I got a little judgmental and thought “Tsk!”, then I stopped myself. I tried to look at them and see what I didn’t like – and what it was in me.
I saw how I use Fear as an excuse. Recently I’ve had various opportunities in my career and with real estate. In the past I had a bad real estate experience, so I chose to pass on this opportunity. Looking back, it wasn’t a great decision to pass like I did – I at least needed to spend more time researching – but my fears about the past clouded my current-day decision.
How are you using Fear to hold you back, consciously or unconsciously?
What can you do to wipe out fear so you can make better decisions?
What can you do to wipe out fear so that you can live your life?
What kinds of questions can you ask yourself to change this habit?
What kinds of things can you do to interrupt the pattern of fear?
Look at all of the times, the opportunities, the ‘stuff of life’ that you may have missed.
Could you be better off if you were less fearful?
Live Life and Drop Fear.
….so that fall I returned to college a new person….really I felt like a man for the first time ever. As I mentioned, people treated me differently. I had a new confidence and self-respect. I can tell you that my relationships, grades, and life were affected.
I went to the fitness center 4 or 5 times a week. I ate better. I worked in the office and carried a 90% load of schoolwork. My grades improved greatly. My professors noticed my change. I began to think differently.
My parents now went to Florida from January to April. They bought a small place there and had a great time – they deserved it. My dad played volleyball 4 or 5 days a week and softball once or twice a week. My mother and father rode there bikes around the park most of the day and they socialized. They looked and acted years younger.
Besides some basic challenges, the year went on well. My father had a minor set back the next year but recovered quickly. I continued to run the business mostly on my own, using my dad as a valuable consultant. I would bounce ideas and situations off of him and we’d work together. My father and I did travel together to some larger clients, some tradeshows and other business. I got to spend time with him as a boss, partner and for the first time friend. It was a great time and I am forever grateful for that time. As time went on, I began to inject more of my own ideas and personality into the business. I had much to learn.
The next year of college came and I continued to maintain the balance of work, school, and social life. I began to enjoy the bit of extra money that I started to gather. Life was good.
I began to really taste independence. When I say that, I mean it in a few ways….I tasted what it was like to earn money, to save money, and to invest it. I saw my money grow in my investments, so I understood the passive nature of investing.
By the nature of our business, we set up dealers, home centers, and distributors. They sold our products. We earned commission. That was pretty cool. We earned money whether we were golfing, driving, sleeping or whatever. Sure we had to offer support, service and coordinate deliveries….and yes set up new dealers, but it was cool when I understood that there was a recurring revenue of sorts happening there.
The other part of independence was that we were living one about 30 acres – about 10 acres of fields in front of the home and office, and the balance behind us in beautiful woods. There was a small hillside on the on side of the property so that we were in a nice little valley. Not far in the woods, we had a creek. You could sit in the office in mid-summer and open the windows to a great cool breeze. You could hear birds sing, hear the bubbling creek, and look out and see deer.
If you wanted to take a walk, go fishing, it was all possible. There was an independence so that we were not tied to a city building, hampered by a commute and traffic. We weren’t tied to one employer. We had the freedom of recurring income. The independence that all people experience when they first reach a certain level of income was there. Life was good.
Later in my life I got away from many of these things. I worked in the city and had a very long commute. I worked for controlling employers. I would spend years longing to get back to that independence – the feeling that I controlled my own life. I lost the recurring revenue and the almost passive nature of the income. For many years, sometimes on purpose, sometimes because of circumstances around me, I lost independence. I can tell you this, it is much better, in so many ways, to be as independent as possible. I’ve had it and in some ways, I lost it.
As with any life event, I learned lessons. Among others, I learned the WORDS TO LIVE BY: Independence. Being free to act on your own, free to live where you want. I encourage you, define what independence means to you and what types of it are important to you.
I really grew over a few years. I learned a lot. I took some risks. I made some mistakes. I had successes.
One of the companies was about 90% of our income. We were independent but when you looked at the finances of our business, we were very dependent on one company. It wasn’t by design but because that company had such a diverse nature of products and because of how the territory simply developed, we were tied to them.
One spring we got news that this company hired a new set of sales managers. We got the call that one was coming to our area and we had to set up some visits. We approached it with a great attitude but he was pretty tough to deal with. Even though he knew nothing of the industry, he came across as egotistical, typically interrupted people, and was not a pleasant guy to spend the guy with…..
….he came into town a few times that summer and he’d typically tick off clients wherever he visited. We’d ask for help solving problems but he never solved one of them. He often was late for appointments and was disrespectful to me and my father. Then one day he asked us to meet him somewhere far. So we got up at 5am, drove to see this guy and we got fired.
That year, that company let go of any and every representative like us across the country and they went with some in-house salaried people. (Within 12 months that company also let go that sales manager!) Things change. You must adapt!.
So we drove all the way home on that beautiful summer day. I could tell that my dad was very upset that suddenly the business had lost 90% of its cashflow and the legacy he wanted to leave was not going to be the same. We tried to enjoy the day and we discussed the exit strategy….we also began to think about what the next step would be………
5 Common Words That Create Failure
Your level of success is predetermined by the words you use every day. Avoid these five “failure” words.
The words that people use every day determine whether they will achieve failure or success. There are five words that, in my observation, frequently show up in the conversation of losers, much more so than in that of winners. Here they are:
Although it’s true that unforeseen events can affect outcomes, it was not luck that made the difference. It was the events. Luck had nothing to do with it.
Believing in luck focuses your thoughts on an imaginary construct that neither you nor anybody else can change or affect.
What’s worse, luck is an excuse that explains away failure (“It was just bad luck”) and devalues your successes (“It was just good luck”).
It’s true that you have competitors, and that sometimes, for you to win, they have to lose (and vice versa). Even so, there are no enemies in business.
Enemies are opponents in warfare, when people are killing one another. Business is about making things better, not killing people.
The moment you demonize competitors by calling them enemies, you close off your business options. Today’s competitors are often tomorrow’s partners.
Wouldn’t it be nice if people always said yes to your ideas? Well, sometimes people aren’t going to like your ideas, or even you personally, for that matter.
You can pathologize such events by thinking of them as rejection, or you can understand that what really happened was that the other person’s desires didn’t match yours.
Rather than using a word that automatically makes you miserable, concentrate on changing your approach or approaching somebody else.
I cringe every time I hear somebody use this word in casual conversation. At work, it’s usually something like: “I hate my boss” or “I hate my job.”
Hate is a sick word, and it creates sickness in your body. Every time you use that word, you might as well be sticking a cancer cell in your body. Seriously.
I’m not saying that you’ve got to be sweetness and lovey-dovey about everything, but why pollute your brain by actually hating anything or anybody?
I’m sure you know somebody who can’t say anything about any idea, plan, or activity without crutching the sentence with the word but.
It’s always something like “Hey, that’s a great idea, but…” or “I agree that we need to take action, but…” It’s discouraging, and it kills momentum.
There’s a substitute for but that actually creates momentum: the word and. Try it next time a but is about to emerge from your mouth.
Tomorrow, I’ll give you the words that, in my observation, signal that a person is a winner rather than a loser. So stay tuned.
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Geoffrey James writes the Sales Source column on Inc.com, the world’s most visited sales-oriented blog. His newly published book is Business to Business Selling: Power Words and Strategies From the World’s Top Sales Experts. @Sales_Source
(This is one of a part of a series of WORDS TO LIVE BY. This series grew out of a workbook I first made for my young daughters and discussed at the dinner table. These Words include values, good ideas, and Words to aspire to….and learn from….enjoy!)
clar·i·ty- /ˈklærɪti/ Show Spelled [klar-i-tee] Show IPA
You just don’t feel right about it – often because you’re unclear about it, undecided, on the fence, etc.
- How many people do you want to reach today with your message?
- How do you want to contribute to the world/society/family/life?
- How much income do you want to earn this year/5 years/10 years?
- What kind of work do you want to do?
How many pages do you want to write?
- What things do you want to improve upon in _______?
- WHat does freedom/independence/the ideal life really mean to you?
What is the ideal day life for you?
- What do you want people to ‘feel’ when you talk to them?
- What is important to you – GET CLEAR!
Think about the recently famous Felix Baumgartner’s Supersonic Jump from the Stratoshpere (on October 14th, 2012). Have you seen it or heard about it? If not – it’s OK – I wrote a post about it here on this site.
The reason why thoughts of that jump filled my mind is because Felix Baumgartner accomplished a very clear goal he set for himself about 5 years ago… it took him that long to train for it… but his intentions were crystal clear even though that goal 5 years ago might have seemed a little unrealistic.
I know it took him 5 years to accomplish it but you’d be surprised what you can accomplish in 30 days.
Just as an example, when I got laser focused on my blogging almost 60 days ago now, my blog traffic went from daily visitors in the teens and twenties to hundreds .
I sometimes listen, watch, and read stuff from a marketing guy named David Wood. David Wood spends close to 2 hours on the subject of clarity in this one podcast (and much much more) and how to set goals in such a way that they become so crystal clear that you can actually feel them as being accomplished.
Also, here is a video by Tony Robbins where he emphasizes how important clarity is to accomplishing goals.
What Tony Robbins says in that video is right on the money…
“Life Will pay whatever price you ask of it.”
Without clarity, you cannot accomplish any goal that you set for yourself.
You too, can have clarity, implement these methods in your business and start making the income that you deserve.
Here is more from another website worth sharing.. http://thinksimplenow.com
Do you ever get so busy with the details of your life and the countless things you need to complete, that you end up feeling exhausted and disconnected?
The result: Your mind becomes clouded and unable to focus and you start to make poor decisions regarding your priorities. You end up working hard instead of working smart.
What do you do when this happens? Do you take the time to step out of the situation to regroup? Or do you continue with what you’re doing, all the while feeling that you’re running out of time, besides you still have a massive list of tasks to complete. In the past, my natural inclination was to do the latter and, in the end, I would be left feeling burnt out with my spirits down.
Lately I’ve been running around preparing for several major changes in my life. I’ve felt my mind becoming consumed by the problems revolving around these changes. My eating schedule became irregular and my decisions felt clouded. When my clarity started to fizzle, I found myself making decisions and judgments based on emotions rather than on logic or intuition arising out of clarity.
The following is a simple technique I’ve used to reconnect myself to what’s most important: my inner self. In doing so, Clarity came.
I’ve always been attracted to the idea of a Spiritual Day or a Clarity Day, in which you spend the whole day disconnected from the information world and the many distractions of modern life, and start to connect within yourself.
If this sounds too mystical, don’t get caught up with the words, they are just linguistic symbols to communicate ideas. When you really get into such a day, it can become a source of great bliss and understanding of one’s self. During these times, we can experience tremendous personal growth, peace, and satisfaction.
This is also the perfect chance to clear out the noise and mental clutter that collects in our inner space from the hectic demands of our life. Through better understanding of ourselves and our surroundings, we gain more than clarity, we gain self confidence.
Similar to Self Dates or Alone Time, on a Clarity Day your goal is to spend an enjoyable day on your own and away from everyday distractions. Aim for minimal planning, so that you spend the day following your heart and enjoying the spontaneous expressions of the present moment.
Here’s an example of how I spent this past Saturday, when I deeply needed clarity and to connect with myself:
- Basics – From 8am to 8pm. I was doing everything on my own, without friends or family. All distractions such as cell phones, home phones, computers, and TVs, were turned off.
- Salon – I’ve always enjoyed getting my hair done. My favorite salon straightens my hair at each appointment. I sat there with my eyes closed and enjoyed being there. The girls kept asking me if I needed a magazine, and I would say “No thanks. I’m happy just sitting here.”
- Walk – I walked out of the downtown Salon and drifted randomly uphill to the Capital Hill neighborhood. The day was so beautiful. I enjoyed looking up at the sky and passing by families of tourists and Saturday shoppers.
- Café – I found a comfortable corner seat by the large windows at a local café. I pulled out my book and my journal. Periodically, I would sit back with my book in my lap and enjoy watching people. People are so interesting, and if you try, you can sense what people are feeling. I had a fantastic seat for people watching and deeply enjoyed the experience.
- Meet a Stanger – I started talking with an interesting new friend who sat next to me. We talked about happiness, art, and creativity. It was very simulating and felt good to connect with another human being; they add meaning and dimension to your life.
- Read – I read Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle. A short but enlightening read. It is full of bite sized wisdom to help find the stillness within you.
- Meditation – 35 minute guided meditation. When I opened my eyes after the meditation, I felt like I was seeing the world with new eyes. I felt calm and happy. I followed this up by lying down on my yoga mat and visualizing all of the things I am grateful for. I got up feeling incredibly centered and present.
- Journaling – with my new found clarity, I wrote out my thoughts and feelings. In doing this, it gave me a chance to organize my thoughts (which were the source of my problems), along with options for dealing with them. I’ve learned that recording emotional events and personal realizations in a journal can be a fulfilling experience. Especially when you read the entries several years later.
I stepped out of the day in a peaceful state and had regained my clarity. I felt like my spirit had been recharged. It also became clear that my problems are only as big as I perceive them to be, in my mind.
MORE FROM THE CHANGEBLOG.COM below…..
Henry David Thoreau famously wrote that most people (‘the mass of men’) live lives of quiet desperation. Most of us probably wouldn’t describe our daily experience as ‘desperation,’ but there may be an uncomfortable feeling that we are drifting along, not having a clear aim, not having achieved what we dreamed about in the past and yet not knowing quite why.
Usually, this feeling is not painful enough to drive us into making any real changes, so the danger is that we can drift along like this indefinitely. Many people who have made significant advances in life have had periods of intense discomfort which have forced them to go inside, reflect and become more aware.
For most of us, there are things we can do to become clearer about where we are, what we want and how to get there. These practices may be less radical that sudden upheavals and painful experiences, but they can be uncomfortable – learning new things usually is – and a gentle persistence will be an important attitude to adopt if you attempt them seriously.
The kind of meditation the Buddha is said to have taught is most closely reflected in Vippassana or ‘insight’ meditation. The technique is extremely simple: no special apparatus or prior knowledge is needed, just a quiet place and a period of time. All you have to do it sit comfortably with a straight back and observe your breath. Nothing more. In time, the practice is intended to bring about clarity and insight into the nature of the self, and that of reality.
Some years ago, I attended one of S. N. Goenka’s famous ten day Vippassana retreats. The Goenka organization is a worldwide group dedicated to teaching the practice of insight meditation. The retreats are tough – many hours of meditation, only two small meals per day, basic communal facilities such as dorms, and a strict code of silence. Attendees are not allowed phones, books, journals or any other form of intellectual stimulation.
The Goenka courses are excellent in the sense that they force you to meditate – there are quite literally no distractions, and one is forced to face up to the many obvious – and subtle – ways in which we try to avoid a practice which is so alien to our restless mind and which forces us to face some uncomfortable realities. But for those not quite ready to take the plunge, there are plenty of online courses available, such as those offered by Wildmind. It is also usually possible to find a local meditation centre offering guided evening sessions.
Meditation is a way of focusing on the present moment in a very intense kind of way; the practice of mindfulness is a way of being present throughout the day. It just means watching yourself, being a silent witness to your own feelings, thoughts and reactions, in order to gain clarity about everything you do, feel or think. We usually move through life in a fairly unconscious state, responding to circumstances in a conditioned way, unconscious repetition of learned behaviors.
Becoming more mindful is not easy – it requires a great deal of practice but will, in time, lead to a great deal of clarity and insight into what drives us. With this knowledge, we can make better choices and exert more control over how we respond to situations and hence what we experience.
Two books I particularly recommended are Awareness by Anthony de Mello and Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana. De Mello’s book is full of anecdotes and stories which underline the importance and the (sometimes surprising) consequences of being more ‘awake .’
Our connection with the natural world
Although we might sometimes be tempted to see ‘nature’ as ‘something out there,’ separate from our experience, we are, of course, very much a part of the environment, and we naturally feel more centered and clear when we are close to our natural environment. We haven’t been living in houses and apartments for very long, and city living is a particularly new innovation which can be very stressful.
It is helpful to find time regularly to spend time in a more natural environment. This doesn’t have to mean trekking through the jungle – even walking through a park or a garden can bring great benefits. In Hong Kong, where I have lived for many years, it can be extremely difficult to find the time and the opportunity to get out into nature, but it is possible, and making a conscious effort to do so enables me to maintain more balance and perspective. If I can do it here in Hong Kong, I think almost anyone can!