I often hear people say, “I just need to do more.” Doing more seems to have become one of the more popular themes in our day and age. People need to meditate more, exercise more, eat healthy more, have fun more, work more, have sex more, socialize more, make more money, behave more, love more, post on social media more, spend more time with loved ones and on and on and on. How much more can we really do before we spontaneously combust? I think we are already doing enough.
When I have this conversation with people I normally say that I do not think it is about doing more as much as it is about learning how to spend time more mindfully. This is often referred to as time management but I am not a big fan of this term since it sounds so rigid and strict. Instead, I prefer to think of it as learning to spend the time that we do have in more mindful ways.
Most people already do way too much and to compensate for the burn out and stress that doing too much creates, we spend much of our time in various states of withdrawal and distraction. Whether we are on our phones, on social media, drinking at the bar, surfing the internet, watching television or YouTube, playing video games, creating unnecessary drama for ourselves and others, over sleeping or just spending too much time doing nothing- these (and many others) are ways that we tend to deal with the stress in our lives. The problem with these distractions is not the distractions themselves but the amount of time we spend immersed in them. These distractions often take up a good chunk of our time and we end up spending the rest of our time just trying to catch up. This is why habitual distractions are often referred to as negative coping strategies.
What I ask other people (and myself) to do is to ask themselves, “What is really important to you? How do you want to spend your time while you are still healthy and alive?” Then I recommend to write it down and post it where you can see it and then try and do more of whatever the answers are. This is the beginning of spending our time more mindfully.
Another important part of spending time more mindfully is to be aware of when we are not doing the things that are important to us because we are caught back up in the habit of distraction and then to stop doing whatever it is that we are distracting ourselves with. To get back on track as soon as we become aware that we are just killing time.
We only have a certain amount of time a day when we have the energy and attention to be able to do the things that are important to us. This is why it is so important to spend our time wisely. Habitual distractions take up larger chucks of time than a person is normally aware of. Just the simple act of checking your phone or the internet for ten minutes here and there can take up hours a day if a person is not mindful. Then what often happens is that we spend the rest of our time just trying to catch up and the cycle of stress and distraction from stress continues.
In spending your time more mindfully you are making a daily effort to really do the things that are important to you and not spend as much time doing the things that are not of much importance to you. Being mindful can help us be aware of when we are getting caught up in things that are just a habitual distraction and then return to doing what really matters most to us. We all only have so much healthy time allotted to us, this is why it is so important to learn to live our lives more mindfully.
When I told my mother that I am dealing with intense depression she said, “Well son, depression is a choice.” Then she quickly escaped any further conversation about it by making up a story that she was in a meeting and had to go. What meeting? My mom has not worked in over twenty years.
Even though I felt deeply wounded by her quick dismissal of my pain, I thought about what she said. “Depression is a choice.” Am I choosing to be depressed?
A fellow psychotherapist whom I sometimes have lunch with deals with serious depression. But he is one of the happier people I know. He often says, “I choose joy. I choose to be joyful because I have to.” Really? You have to? I find it odd that someone who is very depressed could appear so happy. Something seems very forced and inauthentic about it to me, but who am I to judge? Don’t most people do this?
Deep down, depression is a choice. It is true that I have little interest in happiness. I find positivity and happiness to be incredibly banal and superficial states to be in. If I am happy, great- I will enjoy it. But it is the pursuit of happiness and positivity that I think is responsible for so much misery.
As a psychotherapist, the one thing I hear all the time is, “I just want to be happy.” This I feel is the root of most people’s unhappiness (and empty bank accounts).
I choose not to be happy. If happiness shows up, as it sometimes does, I don’t turn it away. I enjoy it. But I choose to not strive to be happy and positive. I don’t think I should be happy. In fact, I think the desire to be happy is just as dangerous as driving a motorcycle at high speeds.
Depression is a logical emotional reflection of the world we are living in today. Just like a pool of water reflects the sky and trees that hang over it, depression is a reflection of the world the soul is living in today. The soul is lonely and in a state of terror and despair. The soul is sad about all the sensless violence all around. The soul feels under threat from the absence of creativity and authentic community in our working and private lives. The soul feels stuck by political and economic conditions outside our control. The soul feels empty because the more it tries to find fulfillment in external things, the more alone and empty it feels. The soul is quite frustrated in the Capitalistic world of today.
And then there is the simple fact of our own mortality. The fact that everything we love, everything we hold close to ourselves, everything we have earned, even ourselves, will disappear. When a person really looks closely at the image being reflecting by the pool of water- depression is what they will see.
Most chose not to look at all. Just keep looking away. Say you have a metting to get to.
My mom is right though. I do chose depression because depression is what I see reflected back at me, especially in my work as a psychotherapist. I mean how could I hear about the worst things that happen to people in life, day after day, without feeling depressed? How could I be a psychotherapist and be happy? Happy Psychotherapist is just another term for Sociopath Psychotherapist, Psycho Psychotherapist or plain old Shitty Psychotherapist. If a therapist is able to be happy while hearing about the worst things that happen to people, stop seeing them. They do not care about you, even though they may act like they do.
The best psychotherapist I ever knew, who was given all kinds of awards and wrote several books and was a prestigous mentor to many including myself, jumped off a bridge.
If I am going to provide guidance to those going through the various difficult aspects of life, I want to be one of them. I want to get real with myself and stop pursuing fake dreams of Hollywood induced happiness. How else can I really help? This is what I learned from him.
In middle-age, my life has become more about learning how to live with, learn about, accept and get better at describing the image being reflected back at me, rather than trying to change it, run from it, fix it, deny it, worry about it, complain about it and/or ignore it (common stratageies in the America of today).
Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone. This is my strategy. I leave my depression alone. I see it and accept that it is there. I lean into it and learn from it. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I just notice that it is there and smile at it. Sometimes I notice that it goes away.
Because of depression I am pushed further inside of myself. I am forced to let go of any kind of belief in the attainment of any real Hollywood fulfillment through economic and material gain (consumerism) and instead work towards transmuting my loneliness into real solitude.
I meditate. I contemplate. I sit alone.
Loneliness is a terrible feeling of disappearing even when we have so much and are around so many. When lonely, we can never get enough and are continually in pursuit of more. We even feel separated from ourselves when alone so we turn on the TV for company. Solitude means to be at home in ourselves. A person who is in real solitude is a person who is comfortable within themselves. A person in solitude is a person who is no longer disappearing. They have arrived. They are two people in one. Friends with themself. A person who is dealing with lonliness (which is the majority of people in American society) is no one in one. They have no friend within to sit with.
The person who is striving for happiness is often no one in one. This feeling of being no one within is the fuel that keeps us searching for more. Some of the greatest empires and fortunes have been built by these kinds of people. But this striving is an endless pursuit because it is the pursuit which is creating the loneliness.
Depression pushes us down into solitude. The person with depression is given the opportunity to become more at home within themselves by being pushed further within. The person who survives and successfully manages depression is the person who has been able to move from loneliness into solitude. Those who do not survive depression or who end up having depression destroy their lives, have not been able to move through loneliness. They get stuck in continually feeling as if they are disappearing inside because they are pursuing happiness on the outside.
So yes, I do chose to be depressed. Why not? Depression helps me to relate to the world in a way that feels more logical and sane. The happiness and positivity craze that the vast majority of people are suffering from at this moment in history, only leads a person away from themselves and towards more lonliness. Just do a Google search on the amount of people taking psychiatric medications and buying self help books in this country. The pursuit of happiness and positivity creates a superficial existence that lacks substance because it is always in pursuit of something. Depression is deepening. It pushes a person further within themselves because there is the realization that the loneliness in the outside world can never bring them the happiness they were looking for.
Fuck happiness. Stop buying their books and going to their workshops. Stop ingesting their pills. By now don’t you see that it does not work? Instead, get better at being depressed.
It is only through going further within, through the deepening of one’s relationship with oneself that real solitude can be attained. And it is when we discover solitude within ourselves, that we really start to live free.
Why can’t you take care of yourself?
What the hell is that supposed to mean?
You don’t know how to take care of yourself!
Why do you say that?
Because you don’t! You sit around. You let things go. You withdraw into books. You are struggling in your work. You struggle to exercise and get outside in the sun. You are unfulfilled and feel stuck in your life but still you do nothing!
I think you are being a bit critical. I do things.
You do the bare minimum just to get by.
Yes, and then you expect others to pick up the slack. To take care of the things you don’t want to take care of. To take care of you.
I don’t know about this. I have a business where I help others every day.
Yes, but you are a fraud. You are no better than your clients. You are trying to get well or to manage, just as they are. I do not think you are fit to serve. Just like you need to be fit to run a marathon you need to be fit to serve. Maybe the reason why your job does not make you happy is because you are running in a marathon without being in good shape?
I have not thought of it like that. I think I am fit to serve because I am trying to be a better person every day. I am trying to more effectively deal with the crap I have inherited from my parents- my past conditioning. I am trying to manage it more effectively so it does not make me a miserable person. This continual effort I think makes me fit to serve.
Maybe. You have part of the equation correct but you are still unwilling to do things that would make you happier and healthier in life.
What do you mean?
What do you mean?
You don’t want to take charge. You don’t want to cut the bullshit. You don’t want to stop staying stuck. You don’t want to do the hard work that it would take to change things for the better. You don’t want to push yourself.
Maybe. But I do what I can. I try.
Yes, but this is not enough. You are just staying stuck in the convenience of habit. You are not willing to change and so you make do with what is. This is bullshit! Push yourself man. Do not be so fearful of hard work!
Maybe it is about accepting what is. Maybe it is about not trying to change anything but instead just making peace with what is? Maybe the reason why humans are so fucked up is because we are not able to just make peace with things as they are? We are very critical of ourselves and others and think things should be how we think they should be. Maybe when we become really critical it does not actually motivate change but instead creates more depression and unhappiness. I think you may be going about it the wrong way.
You are saying that it is about accepting things as they are? Accepting your lack of motivation. Accepting that you do what you can (which, by the way is never enough), accepting that you can’t really get things done, accepting that you have a hard time taking care of yourself? You are basically saying just accept that the garden is not being taken care of and let it stay in its disheveled and dried out state?
I suppose I am saying do what you can and accept that. Maybe a person is not meant to have a beautiful garden because they, for whatever reason, are not able to devote the time and energy needed. In this case the person needs to be able to accept that they have a garden that is not perfect. That is partially dried out. That it is not much tended to. Such is life. What I am saying is that in just accepting things as they are, even though they may not be desirable, it releases a person from all the stress and unhappiness that comes up as a result of trying to fix and change things and thinking things are not good enough. Maybe change happens through accepting what is.
I don’t know man. I think this is the greatest act of rationalizing one’s own illogical bullshit that I have ever heard. I think you are just perpetuating the status quo. You are just trying to accept the status quo. Anyone who is great never got anywhere with the perspective you are articulating. No one has ever mastered anything or become really skilled and successful thinking like that. That train of thought will get you nowhere besides right where you are which is struggling to take care of yourself.
I understand this. But maybe my work is in accepting that I will not be that person who is great, masterful and successful and super productive. That that is not who I am. This is just not in the deck of cards for me. Perhaps happiness for me is in accepting that this is just not who I am.
But you have talent. You have potential. You could do whatever you want. You could be great. You could have a beautiful garden if you pushed yourself more.
Maybe so, but maybe I am just not that kind of person. Maybe I am more fated to live an imperfect life. A life of slowness or no great achievements. Maybe I am just going to be average. Maybe I am going to need help along the way. Maybe I am just that kind of person.
And you are ok with this? You really want to accept this?
I see no other way if I don’t want to be miserable for the rest of my life.
Bullshit man. You know this is bullshit. You just don’t want to do the hard work.
Maybe so. I don’t remember ever being a fan of hard work.
Ok. There is no making sense with you. You are not getting it. You want to keep sitting on your ass and just let all the potential in your life go- go ahead. You want others to take care of you. You don’t want to deal with the hard stuff. Ok. Fuck it. I am not getting anywhere with you.
You know, what? I don’t like how you are talking to me. I think this conversation is done.
This seems to be the most difficult concept for humans to grasp- that none of this is as real as you think.
Sooner than later the life you are living right now and everything going on in it will be the distant past.
Will not exist anymore.
Your life will eventually be a life that was once lived a long time ago.
You are not immortal.
Trying to forget about this does not help anyone.
It especially does not help you.
I was made very aware of this while reading Jack Kerouac’s book “Desolation Angels” this morning.
In it he describes an entire world, so full of life.
All these people.
All these lives living in 1950’s San Francisco.
Kerouac masterfully portrays this vibrant and thriving world that was so alive at one time but does not exist anymore.
All these characters that he describes.
All these families, friends, problems and achievements- all of it gone now.
And I am reminded that the same thing will happen to you and I.
Our lives, which feel so important and real right now, will be the distant past soon enough.
And then there will be people in some future time reading about this time in which we lived, thinking that it all seemed so alive at one time but now it too is gone.
It is so important to not get too caught up in things.
Our lives depend on it.
We get so stuck on various day-to-day problems and worries.
We treat our lives as if it were something that will last forever.
We treat life as if it were continual tasks to be accomplished.
How misguided we are.
We forget that we too (and everyone else) are mortal.
All of this will disappear.
All the more reason to try and be present with it while it is still here.
I too get caught up sometimes and forget.
I treat my life as if it was this thing that will be around forever.
Sometimes it makes me sad that I do this.
I sometimes do not appreciate the passing moment and I create problems that would not exist if I could stay aware of the transitory nature of everything.
The mind often tricks us into thinking that everything is so real.
But if everything is just going to be a distant memory before we know it, how important are we really?
Why get so caught up in our preoccupations?
Why take ourselves so seriously?
What happens when we stop forgetting that we and everyone we know are quickly passing lived lives, is that we appreciate the moments we do have much more.
We stop trying to make life something that it is not and appreciate what is here now.
A feeling of gratitude and release from pressure and stress arises.
We can settle down and appreciate our time and the people and things around us before it is all gone.
We can do the things we want to do more.
Knowing that it is all just going to pass, gives us the freedom and courage to live the kind of lives we want to live right now.
Without this realization we are just wasting something very valuable.
Valuable only because it can never be gotten back.
“Life moves fast enough. Do we really have to hurry it along?” -An anonymous person who lived over 4,000 years ago.
Maybe Monday’s should be renamed Hurry Day? Maybe once a year Mondays could be celebrated as National Hurry Day to bring attention to just how much in a hurry most people are?
It is interesting that Mondays (otherwise known as the first day of the Hurry Week) are proceeded by Sundays. Sundays are a day where most people take it slow. The great thing about Sundays is people seem to be able to just be themselves. They can live in a more relaxed and authentic way, as long as they are not in a hurry.
Mondays involve not only the beginning of The Hurry Week but also is the beginning of the compartmentalization week. All week people embrace a different personality when they are at work than when they are at home. There is a distinct division between who one is at work and who one is at home. This compartmentalized or fractured sense of self not only creates more anxiety and internal discord but can cause us to be in a hurry.
I could be wrong but when we are really being our authentic selves we don’t hurry around much. At least I don’t. The reason is because I am fully content right were I am. Therefore why hurry? It is only when we have to be someone else (compartmentalize) and become unfulfilled in the moment that we end up in a hurry. It is easy for hurrying to become a habit in a society which demands compartmentalization and unfulfillment in the moment. We are continually in a hurry to often catch up with the person we need to be.
Mindfulness is a continual practice of seeing life in terms of moments to be lived rather than tasks to be accomplished. When we live more in the moment the result is that there is less of a fractured sense of self (less of a self that is being pulled towards some future self). When practicing mindfulness we are fully grounded in this moment. This groundedness helps prevent too strong of a pulling towards some future self.
When we are pulled towards a future self all the time (meaning somewhere else that we are in a hurry to get to) we are pulled away from the person we are in the present moment. We are not grounded within ourselves. As long as we are in a hurry, we are like half selves running wild through the hurried world. Our full self is not present and this is often why we feel so stressed out, ungrounded, anxious, reactive, unfulfilled and worn down. When our full self is not present in each moment, stress and exhaustion is what often fills in the empty space.
In order to break the hurry habit it is crucial to be aware of when you are being pulled away from yourself, fractured from yourself because of a need to get to some future self fast (the self that needs to be at an appointment or work). If we are continually hurrying through the day, we are continually sending ourselves a message that right now is not good enough. How do we ever expect to feel good enough if we are continually sending ourselves this message from moment to moment? It is like continually trying to grow a flower out of cement. If anything you might reach a place where you feel so worn out that then you kind of feel good enough. But this is short lived. If you want to break the hurry habit, be willing to know when you are being pulled towards the future and then pull back.
Everyone gets to where they need to be. Sometimes we are late, sometimes we are not but in the larger scheme of things does it really matter that much? Is it really worth hurrying through your life so much that you end up at an older age feeling like you squandered much time because you were always in a hurry to get someplace else?
Trust that you will get to wherever you need to be next when you get there. Everything will work out. And if it doesn’t, that is ok also. Such is life. It is not worth squandering this moment of your life for the next. No way. Be here now even if you have someplace to be next. Notice that you are breathing. Notice that you are hearing sounds. Notice that you are alive now and this realization of being alive in this moment is really as good as it gets.
Mindfulness is a way of pulling back against the habit of hurrying away from yourself towards some future self. Being a fractured self is not a fun way to live. Trust me, I know. Hurrying does become a habit when we are regularly living like fractured people. If you want to live your life with more ease and presence, if you want to be more grounded within your authentic and full self, I recommend pulling back when you notice you are in a hurry. Even if it is Monday.
I sit down in my chair. I set my meditation timer for thirty minutes and then place the palms of my hands on my knees. I feel the material of my sweat pants. I straighten my spine, place both feet flat on the ground. I notice my shoulders are constricted so I loosen them down towards the ground. I move my chin slightly in towards my chest. I then close my eyes.
Here I am, sitting in a chair. I am aware of myself as I am in this moment. I can feel the back of the chair pressing against my spine. I notice the bottom part of my body pressing into the seat of the chair. There is the sound of a distant train. Birds are singing their songs.
I follow my breathing as oxygen moves in and out through my nose. I notice my chest expanding and contracting with each inhalation and exhalation. There are a plethora of sensations in my body. Tingling sensations. Pulsations. Pressure. Tightness. A pleasant feeling of relaxation and space.
I am just sitting here doing nothing except being present with life. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. Just sitting.
I pay attention to my breathing as if I were on a walk with a friend. Breathing in and out. I notice that my brain is generating a lot of thoughts. It’s busy upstairs, I think to myself. I notice how I am thinking about many different things. Thoughts that come out of nowhere and go back in to nowhere. I continually let thoughts go by returning my attention to this moment.
There are so many chirping birds out there. Why are they making so much noise? What are they so happy about? Thinking, I tell myself and then bring my attention back to the present moment. In the distance I can hear cars speeding by. There goes a siren. Hope someone is getting the help they need. An airplane moves across the sky. I follow the sound of the airplane until it disappears.
Is that an owl that I hear? Maybe not. what could it be? There is a fly buzzing around the room. I can’t stand the sound that a fly makes as it flies around the room. So much nervous energy! Chill out man! Should I get up and swat it? No just learn to live with it. Let it be there and respect all life. I realize that I am lost in thought again and no longer paying attention to my breathing. I return my attention to following my breathing. Breathe in, breathe out, I repeat to myself. I notice the sensations of my feet touching the ground.
My head has tilted backwards, causing my chin to point slightly up towards the sky. I slowly bring my chin back down towards my chest. Feels more comfortable this way, I think to myself.
A bird flies past my window.
It’s a bit cold in this room. Should I get up and turn on the heat? Just be present with the cold. Just let the cold be there. Ok. Follow your breathing. I notice that I am telling myself this. Thinking again, I say to myself.
There is the sound of a barking dog. What kind of dog is it? Another airplane moves across the sky. I hear a high pitched beeping sound. Maybe it is a truck in reverse? There is a tingling sensation all over my body. I smile as I realize that I am fully aware of the experience that I am having in this moment. Fully present and aware. How pleasant it feels to just be fully here in this moment. It comes on quick and then goes away just as fast.
I notice a painful sensation in my back. Maybe I should move a bit just to lessen the pain? No, just let the pain be there. Accept the pain as it is and just continue to follow your breathing. I notice that I am thinking and I return my attention to following my breathing, hearing various sounds, feeling my feet on the ground, noticing my chest expanding and contracting with each breath. I let the pain be there as it is. The pain becomes tolerable. I can live with it.
Another airplane is moving across the sky. So many airplanes. Humans are so busy, always coming and going and moving at such high speeds. It’s a kind of collective madness. The world needs to slow down! I notice that I am thinking again and return my attention to my breathing.
I follow my breathing as it moves in and out through my nose. Breathing in, breathing out. My dog barks. My head falls back without me even noticing. I bring my chin back down towards my chest. I am aware of my chest expanding and contracting with each breath. How much longer this is going to last? I notice that I am thinking again.
So many other thoughts that keep coming and going. Thoughts about this, thoughts about that- mostly nonsense. It seems as if my brain is moving as quickly as the cars and airplanes out there in the world. I notice all different kinds of thoughts. There is a judgmental thought. There is a worried thought. There is an angry thought. There is a thought about the future. There is another judgmental thought. Thought after thought, like a stream with no end.
I get caught up in certain thoughts. The fearful and judgmental thoughts are particularly sticky. Just being aware that I am thinking allows me to return my attention to the present moment. I let the thought go. Again and again.
This is the only thing I need to be doing right now, I tell myself. I am present with my life as it is right now.
And then there are more thoughts. When is the dam timer going to go off? Hasn’t it been thirty minutes already? I notice that I am thinking again and then return my attention to my breathing. The singing birds are now quiet. An airplane moves across the sky. Busy air travel day, I think. I feel my digestion. I notice a pain in my gut. It could be cancer. It could be an ulcer. You are getting older. There you go again, I tell myself. Just by being aware of the fearful thoughts I notice that the thoughts disappear. I return my attention to my breathing. I feel calm.
There is the sensation of pain in my back. There is a openness in my chest that was not there before. Bird sounds and a ringing sensation in my ears. I am breathing. I am just sitting here in a chair. I notice how good it feels to be present with my life as it is. I am just being. I smile.
Maybe I should meditate again later? I want to keep feeling this way. There is an absence of all anxiety. Thinking again, I tell myself. I notice the sound of truck. There is that fly again. Just let it be.
I sit there. Fly sounds. Cars sounds. Bird sounds. Airplane sounds. My life.
The palms of my hands are still resting on my knees. My chin is pointing up at the sky again. My hands feel cold. There are various pulsations in my fingertips. Is that an owl that I hear or some other kind of bird?
The timer goes off. I open my eyes. I smile.