The Beautiful and Scary Practice of Moving Closer

Life is full of all kinds of stresses, and each of us has habitual ways of reacting to those stresses — we procrastinate, run to comforts, lash out or distance ourselves from others, try to exit from a stressful place, mentally complain about others.

The sad effect of these habitual reactions is that they move us further away from others, and from the direct experience of the moment.

Let’s take a quick example: If you are hurt by the way someone is acting, your habitual reaction might be complaining about them, taking offense, getting angry (all of these or a combo). Then you shut them out, closing your heart to them, moving away from them.

The effect of this is that you’ve now distanced yourself from the other person. And I submit that this is the cause of most of our relationship problems, work issues, violence, racism, political strife, and wars.

Closing our hearts to others and creating distance from them out of habitual reaction to stress is the heart of aggression, violence and pain.

We do the same thing when it comes to our direct experience of the moment — if we’re bored, unhappy with our situation, unhappy with ourselves, stressed or tired … we habitually try to find comfort in food, drink, drugs, online distractions, TV or videos, shopping, porn, drowning everything out with music, and so on. We are moving away from the present moment, shutting out the world around us.

Moving ourselves away from the direct experience of this moment, out of habitual reaction, is the heart of our unhappiness and disconnect from life.

These are all based on the same problem — we have habitual reactions to stress, and those habitual reactions move us further from other people. From life itself. From ourselves.

Today, I’d like to offer you a practice that I’ve been exploring myself: the beautiful practice of moving closer.

It is scary, shaky, and transformative.

It goes like this:

  1. Notice that you’re feeling some kind of stress — anxiety, pain, struggle, frustration, overwhelm, sadness.

  2. Notice your habitual reaction to that stress: you procrastinate, try to exit, shut someone out, complain, run to one of your comforts, hide, quit, run away, lash out, yell, hit, medicate, etc.

  3. Refrain from indulging in your habitual reaction. Instead, just remain still. Instead of complaining, do nothing. Instead of spinning around a narrative about the other person and shutting them out, do nothing. Just refrain.

  4. Breathe deeply into the sensations in your body. When you refrain from your habitual reaction, you are left with an energy in your body that still really wants to do the habitual thing. It will be a strong urge. You just sit still. You do nothing. But you breathe deeply and relax around the energy in your body. Notice how it feels, in your torso. Be curious about it. Stay with it. Be present with it. Welcome it. Give it compassion.

  5. Now, move closer. Someone else stressing you out? After refraining from complaining about them, move closer to them. Open your heart and be fully present with them. Be completely loving. Yes, sometimes you have to physically protect yourself — but that doesn’t mean you have to shut down your heart. You can love the person who has hurt you, without letting them continue to hurt you. Maybe it’s not a person but a situation (or yourself) that’s stressing you out. You are filled with discomfort and uncertainty. You refrain from your habitual reaction, and instead you move closer to the direct experience of this moment. You open your heart to the world, and love it as it is. You love yourself as you are.

Continue to move closer. Continue to reopen your heart. From this place, see what action you need to take. Not from the place of habitual reaction.

It’s an incredibly beautiful practice. And yes, it’s filled with shakiness. That makes it even more courageous.

-AG

A Guide to a Life of Purpose

You don’t have to be making a living off of your passion — as long as you feel you are doing something meaningful, and you care deeply about those who you’re serving.

The training has to be about something bigger than yourself. It’s not just about self-improvement, but growth to serve others.

Two big reasons it’s important to have some kind of purpose bigger than yourself:

  1. You need a deep reason: If you don’t have a deeper reason for doing the training, you’ll wuss out when things get hard. And when things get hard, that’s when things get really good. That’s when true change happens.

  2. You need to get out of your closed-in world: Much of the time, we’re very concerned about ourselves. About how we look, about what people think about us, about whether we’re being treated right, about why they have to be like that to us, whether we’ll get what we want, about whether we’re good enough. Our self-concern is natural, but it closes us in to a very small world of self-concern that makes us less happy, less content.

Let’s look at these a little closer. And then talk about how to find your deeper purpose, and beyond that, how to live a life of purpose.

A Deeper Reason to Push Into Discomfort

Imagine this: you decide to go into a weeklong meditation retreat, because it would be nice to be more mindful. Sounds really nice, right?

But then you get to the retreat, and after a brief intro, they have you sit and meditate. Then walk a bit, in silence, meditating as you walk. Then sitting in meditation. Repeat until you eat in silence. Go to bed early, because tomorrow you’re going to meditate all day, speaking to no one. As you get to your room, you realize this is way harder than you thought when you fantasized about it.

You get through the second day, but again in your room, you start to think about escaping. You don’t want to do this anymore. You don’t really care about this meditation enough to keep doing it when your hips are sore, your back is tired, your mind is tired.

This is a key juncture: do you quit or do you keep training?

The truth is that if you can push into the discomfort, with love, and keep going … it’ll be an amazing breakthrough for you, an opening up of your habitual patterns. It’ll be a place of growth, of learning, of tremendous change.

This is the kind of training that you need to put yourself in if you want to grow. Not a meditation retreat, necessarily, but any kind of practice that makes you want to retreat. It doesn’t have to be hardcore, just something that causes you to be uncomfortable, that causes your old habitual patterns to come up.

At this point, if you have something you care about — a group of people you really love, who you want to serve — you can stay in this place of discomfort and growth.

If you don’t, you’ll probably run. Because why put yourself through that?

You need the deeper reason.

A Way Out of Our Closed-In World

Besides giving you a deeper reason to push into discomfort … having a purpose expands your world.

Most of us live worried about ourselves most of the time, worried about whether or not:

  • We get what we want

  • We’re in discomfort, pain, illness

  • We have bodies we like

  • Other people are treating us nicely or fairly

  • People think highly of us or not

  • Things are difficult, stressful, overwhelming

  • Things go the way we like, things are orderly, things are pleasurable

And so forth. We want what we want, we want others to be nice to us and think highly of us, we want to be happy and good looking, etc.

But this is a narrow world. It’s small — focused only on ourselves and what we want or don’t want.

Having a bigger purpose, focused on helping others, broadens that world. It expands our view so that we’re thinking of others and ourselves, and how we are all interconnected.

It’s a much more fulfilling way to live.

How to Find the Purpose

That’s all great, but how do you find your purpose if you don’t have a clue where to start looking?

There are two guiding principles:

  1. Clear away all distractions, and

  2. Listen deeply

If you don’t have a clear purpose yet, if you haven’t found work or an activity that gives you fulfillment and meaning … it would help to make looking for that your main purpose. Your entire focus is on seeking a purpose.

So clear everything out, and have no distractions. Simplify things so that you can start looking. Clear your schedule as much as you can, drop your commitments to the extent that you can (as they’re not meaningful to you anyway).

Then do this:

  1. Make a list of everything you do right now. Which ones give you meaning and fulfillment? Which don’t?

  2. Make a list of things you’ve done in the past that have given you meaning. Are there any connections between them? Any connections to the ones on your current list?

  3. Open to suffering in your life. Things become more meaningful when you’ve been through suffering — it’s not something to be avoided, but something to work with, something to grow with, a path to deeper meaning. Think about the most meaningful experiences in your life — they probably involved other people, and they probably involved some kind of suffering.

  4. Take time in silence. Out in nature, on a couch meditating. Use the silence to listen — to your heart, to the infinite, to your deeper consciousness. Really listen. Open yourself to not knowing.

  5. Open to the not knowing even as you interact with others and read books and online articles. What are people saying that feels meaningful? What inspiration can you find?

  6. Open yourself to others: their challenges, their feedback.

  7. Listening, listening … then pick something and take action. You won’t really know until you get started, so pick anything that feels remotely right: volunteer, work at a non-profit, write a blog or a book, start recording something, find someone to help as best you can. Get started, take action, and see what happens.

You do not have to have the perfect answer to get started. That’s a need for perfection, a need for knowing. Instead, embrace not-knowing, and just start.

How to Live a Life of Purpose

Once you’ve found an approximation of your purpose, some kind of meaningful activity … now it’s time to live a life of deeper purpose.

There’s no one way to do that … but here are some ideas:

  1. Start to cultivate a list of guiding principles. Gather them from books, from things that speak to you, from things you’ve learned over the years. These are not things you need to be hardened around, but values and ideas that seem to guide you well. Keep the list somewhere visible. Live by these principles as much as you can, adjusting your behavior regularly if needed, tossing out or revising principles as you learn, not holding to them too tightly.

  2. Keep your purpose front of mind. Every day, reflect on your purpose. How are you living it? How can you go deeper or expand with it? What one or two things can you do today to serve that purpose?

  3. Set an intention with each task. If you’re going to write an article, record a video, clean a church floor, see a patient … start that activity by setting an intention to serve the people you care deeply about with love, mindfulness, devotion, or whatever you want to bring to that activity. It helps to set the intention, because the activity becomes filled with purpose, instead of something not very meaningful.

  4. Have regular reviews. I’ve found that it’s one thing to have an intention, but it’s another to actually live it. We forget, we get distracted, we fall into habitual patterns. To get us back on track, it really helps to have regular reviews. For example: have a 5-minute review at the end of the day — how did you do today? How can you get better? Maybe write 1-2 sentences in a journal. Or just reflect on it. Do the same each week: plan out your week on Sundays (for example), but also review your past week. How can you adjust for the upcoming week? And each month, and each year. Put these on your calendar and don’t skip it when the review date comes up!

  5. Have people hold your purpose in their hearts. Find at least 1-2 other people (and ideally more) who will hold your purpose in their hearts. That means: you tell them about it, they care about you and what you’re doing, and they’ll ask you about it, maybe support your mission in some way. They’ll challenge you if they feel you’re not doing everything you can or living your best life. They’ll share their mission with you. They’ll be on the journey with you, because no one fulfills their deepest purpose alone.

  6. Connect to your fulfillment. Reflect on the meaning you get from fulfilling your purpose. Don’t just go through the motions — feel it, deeply. Feel the love you’re offering (and receiving) as you push into this purpose. See the good you’re doing for others. Live your life as love.

It’s not something that happens overnight, and it’s not always simple to live a life of purpose. But putting these ideas into practice, you’ll feel a greater sense of meaning in your life.

-AG

Commit yourself to your own magnificence.

Commit yourself to your own magnificence. Every time you look into a mirror, remind yourself that what stares back at you is not an every-changing body, but an invisibleness that is truly your highest self. Affirm: I’am love, I’am love, I’am worthy, I’am infinite, silently and out loud. Do this frequently so that it eventually becomes your inner mantra. This will help you abandon old patterns you’ve carried that have injured your personal relationship to the universe and all of the inherent beauty and perfection it holds. You will awaken to the incredible miracle that you are.

-AG

New Year: The Beautiful Minimalism of a Blank Slate

We have a new year upon us, and while “January 1” is just an arbitrary date, for most of us, it feels like a new beginning.

And there’s something beautifully minimalist about this new beginning — it’s a blank slate, where we can do anything, imagine possibilities, become a new person.

In fact, this is available to us in any moment: each new second is a fresh beginning, a new opportunity, a chance to start over, a blank canvas to be filled with whatever art we are moved to create.

Let’s imagine this new year as a blank slate. It’s like an empty house: what would we like to put in it?

This is a kind of minimalism. We can start afresh, tossing out everything and only placing in this empty house what we find most important, and nothing more.

What would you like to do with the minimalist blank slate of this new year?

Ask yourself:

  • Do you want to fill it with distractions, or keep only the most important work, relationships, commitments?

  • Do you want to be constantly checking social media, or would you like to read long-form writing and books, perhaps create something new?

  • Do you want to be more mindful? More compassionate? More whole-hearted in your relationships?

  • Do you want to be more active, eat more healthy, nourishing food? Get outdoors more, find more solitude?

  • Do you want to have greater focus for your meaningful work? Be more organized?

  • Simplify your life? Get your finances in order?

Pick just a handful. Spread them out over the year. Don’t overfill the year with a list of 20 things you want to do — savor the space of your blank slate.

It’s a beautiful time to reimagine your life, and keep enjoying this journey.

-AG

Ego Dropping: The Magic of Breaking Free from Self-Concern

There’s a mindfulness technique I’ve been practicing for a number of years now, and when I can do it, it’s like magic.

The practice is dropping the ego — dropping my self-concern, my sense of being separate from everything else, and returning to wholeness with everything.

While that can sound a bit new age-y, what I’ve learned is that almost all of our problems are caused by our self-concern.

Consider these common problems:

  • Angry at someone else: We’re mad because they were inconsiderate to us, insulted or offended us, made us feel bad about ourselves. But that’s because we’re caught up in self-concern. We are thinking about ourselves and how they’ve hurt us. Dropping self-concern, we can see that this other person is hurt in some way, and reacting badly because of it (which we all do sometimes).

  • Worried about failing: We might not try to do a big project, start a business, write a book, found a non-profit organization, create art … because we’re worried we’ll be a failure. This is obviously self-concern. Without this focus on ourselves, we might focus on the people we’re serving, or focus on just getting started without worrying too much about the perfect outcome.

  • Procrastination: We all procrastinate in some way, and this is always caused by self-concern. We don’t want to face the discomfort of a difficult task, which is worrying about our comfort (self-concern). Dropping that self-concern, we can just get started without worrying about our comfort, without worrying about failing, without worrying that the task is too hard. Just get started, serving others through doing.

  • Anxious about a social situation: Going to an event, we worry about what other people will think of us, which is again, our focus on ourselves. Dropping that self-concern, we can think about how going to this even might serve others, we can go there with curiosity about other people, we can go and grow as we practice mindfulness at the event.

  • Eating too much junk: Like all comforts (games, porn, videos, shopping, etc.), food is a way to comfort ourselves, to give ourselves pleasure. Dropping self-concern, we can see that eating more junk food will lead to worse health, which is not only hurting us but those who we serve in the world. Instead, we can put delicious healthy foods into our bodies to nourish ourselves.

  • Not exercising enough: Again, this is usually a focus on our own comfort. It’s uncomfortable to exercise, it’s more comfortable to sit and look at a computer some more. Dropping self-concern, we can see that exercise is necessary to do the work we want to do, to live a healthy and happy life, to be a vibrant member of our community. And it can also be wonderful, if we let go of a need for constant comfort.

  • Too distracted: We’re constantly checking our phones, social media, messages, email, news sites, and much more. What’s going on here? We’re caught up in self-concern — what others think of us, our comfort and pleasure, fears of missing out on things, etc. All of it is self-concern. Dropping self-concern, we can let go of checking anything for a little while, and stay with the discomfort of focusing on one thing so we can get our meaningful work done, or have a meaningful connection with another person or with nature.

  • Addictions: Like comfort food, addictions are about the self-concern we have for our comfort. For example, alcohol addiction is often a way to comfort ourselves when we’re stressed, feeling bad about ourselves, feeling angry or depressed. These are all forms of self-concern. Dropping self-concern, we can go through the discomfort of not indulging in our addictions because we know that they’re damaging not only to ourselves but to everyone we love, and to the work we want to do in the world.

There are many other kinds of problems, of course, but you can see that self-concern lies at the root of almost all of them. Dropping self-concern means that we can serve others, push into discomfort for the benefit of those around us, and serve a bigger mission with meaningful work.

So how can we drop this self-concern, which could also be called “ego”?

The answer lies in mindfulness practices. I’m going to teach you one here, and encourage you to practice it.

The result is nothing short of magical. All of these problems become easier, and life changes.

The Mindfulness Practice of Ego Dropping

This practice can be done anywhere, no matter what you’re doing, but it’s best started sitting still, in a quiet place.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sit still and notice how your body feels. Find a comfortable, stable seated position, and just notice how your body feels. Scan your body and notice as many sensations as you can. Then just hold all of your bodily sensations in your awareness at once, or as many as you can.

  2. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the present. Your mind might get caught up in thoughts — that’s OK. Just notice that, and come back to the sensations of the present moment, whichever step you’re on.

  3. Open your awareness to sensations all around you. Next, keep your open awareness, but widen it to include sound sensations from all around you, then touch sensations from outside your body (the air on your skin, clothes on your body, ground beneath your feet), then open your eyes (if they were closed) and notice all sight sensation from all around you — light, colors, textures, shapes. Don’t focus on any one thing, just allow your awareness to open to all of these sensations around you.

  4. Keep a relaxed open awareness to just one field of sensation. Keeping this relaxed, gentle open awareness … just allow the sensations outside of your body and inside your body to become one field of sensation. There’s no outside or inside, it’s just all sensation, one big ocean of sensation.

  5. Drop your sense of separation. Let go of any sense that you are separate from everything around you — it’s just one field of sensation. Relax any boundaries and feel at one with everything, returning to wholeness with the universe. It’s just one big open experience, constantly changing as each moment changes.

  6. Notice that there’s no self — just sensation. There’s no “self” as we normally know it — which means we can’t have self-concern. We have dropped the ego, which is something our minds construct, a “self” that’s separate from everything around us and which we need to protect from the world. It just drops away as we practice this relaxed, open awareness, one field of sensation, one ocean of experience. We are whole with the world around us, just as we were in the womb.

  7. From this open awareness, open your heart. Keeping this sense of wide open awareness, dropping separateness, staying in this field of experience … notice your heart in the middle of it. It’s open, tender, loving. It loves everything in its awareness. In fact, your awareness islove, and it is all-encompassing. You send out a universal love equally to everything in your awareness, because none of it is separate from you. No one is separate from you — we’re all interconnected.

This takes practice, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it at first. Sit and practice daily. Try it when you’re on the bus or driving, washing the dishes or in a meeting. You can practice anywhere, doing anything.

What happens once you drop the ego and drop into a wide open, gentle, loving awareness? Magic. You don’t have to run to comfort and away from discomfort, you don’t have to protect your self-image from others, you don’t have to defend yourself or worry about failure or being judged. All of that self-concern drops away, and you are left with two things: peace, and an open heart.

-AG

Training in Uncertainty

“We are always in transition. If you can just relax with that, you’ll have no problem.” 

-Chogyam Trungpa

I’ve been training in uncertainty for a few years now.

I realized that the people I coach and teach are just like me: we feel shaky, scared, anxious, uncomfortable when we are faced with massive uncertainty, when the ground is pulled out from under our feet.

This shakiness is the cause of our procrastination, hiding from overwhelming projects, running from discomfort, and putting off exercise, healthy eating, meditation, writing, reading and all the other things we want in our lives.

And so, if we can train in uncertainty, we can get good at life. We no longer need to fear groundlessness.

What does it mean to train in uncertainty?

It means to constantly yank the rug out from under your feet.

When you get comfortable with something, you have to give it up. When you think you know something, you have to toss it out. When you walk through life with concepts, you have to let those concepts go and see things with fresh eyes.

Most of us walk around thinking we know things — think about how often we think we know how everyone else should act. Training in uncertainty is letting go of the certainty that we know how everyone else should behave, and having no concepts.

Most of us walk around thinking we know what things around us are. We barely glance at the things we pass. Training in uncertainty is tossing all that out, and seeing things for the first time, full of curiosity.

Training in uncertainty is pushing into discomfort when you want to run to comfort. It’s going to an event that scares the crap out of you. It’s setting aside time to write every day even when you want to run like crazy from the writing.

And then when you think you know something about training in uncertainty … you throw that out too. You keep throwing everything away, and know nothing.

What you’re left with is just impermanence — constant flux. Groundlessness. A deeply interconnected world, without separation.

THE BEAUTY OF UNCERTAINTY / LEARN HOW TO USE UNCERTAINTY TO FIND LASTING LOVE

We’ve figured out how to control most things in our lives — our bodies, our weight, our work. But relationships? That’s something different altogether. We can’t control someone else’s heart, and because of that, there’s always a certain amount of uncertainty in any relationship.

And, sadly, it is this uncertainty that causes many of us to put up walls and push others away. Rather than face living with uncertainty in relationships, many people shut down completely. Because at its core, our need for certainty is a survival mechanism, and in uncertain states, we do what is necessary to protect ourselves — or our hearts in this case. But the beauty of the uncertainty in relationships is that it is in this space that our ultimate spiritual growth evolves, and where we can find more joy and more happiness than anywhere.

So just how do we overcome the innate urge to self-protect during periods of uncertainty? How do we learn how to surrender control to trust and faith? What’s the best way for dealing with uncertainty in relationships?

Through understanding, practicing and mastering the skills that are critical to your success in finding, nurturing and creating an outstanding relationship. There is a lot to learn and appreciate about the needs, feelings and behaviors of yourself as well as your partner — and, most importantly, how to use these understandings to best support your partner and your relationship.

SHARE YOUR FEARS

How do you protect yourself from feeling pain? Do you give your partner the cold shoulder? Do you hold back love?

Becoming aware of your behavioral patterns makes it easier to recognize them when they arise, and helps you achieve more objective viewpoint when emotions take hold. Recognizing your triggers and patterns is just the first step — next, you must share this information with your partner.

Open up to your partner about what you need in order to release your inner withholding and connect. Let your partner play a supportive role in helping you work through your fears and finding a new approach to any destructive patterns. You may be surprised just how much more trust this can create. Communicating openly, and not just talking but really communicating with your partner, can erode much of the uncertainty in relationships.

GIVE WITHOUT GETTING

Learn to give without the promise of getting. As Tony Robbins says, “The secret to living is giving.” Learn to receive your greatest joy from seeing your partner fulfilled. Find out what drives your partner, what they are hungry for, what their goals are. Find out what their pains are. Don’t be in a relationship just asking what you can get from your partner. Open up and give this person your love and honesty.

For example, try looking your partner in the eyes and asking them to explain what makes them feel loved. Honor and accept their answer as the truth and not try to change their needs to match yours.

CHOOSE TRUST

Learn to choose trust and faith in your relationship, even when it doesn’t seem possible – stay, even when everything in you wants to run. No matter what, believe that your partner has only positive intent.

For example, when you feel yourself reacting to your partner as if they are doing something “to you,” observe your reaction and trust their intention. Rather than reacting, open up and see what they need at that moment to feel loved.

LIVE CONSCIOUSLY

Lastly, treat your partner as you yourself would like to be treated. Be the example of what you want in a partner. Step back and feel what your partner is feeling and be present for his or her pain. At the same time, recognize their unique needs.

For example, instead of demanding from your partner, decide to go first in giving what he or she needs. Discover what you need to do for them to feel vulnerable and loved in your relationship. And when your partner is in distress, commit to listening with absolute compassion, with the sole goal of helping alleviate their suffering.

Remember, the only thing we can control is ourselves: our actions, our reactions, the choices that we make in our relationships every day. Embrace the power you do have to shape the dynamic of your relationship, and you will get one step closer to creating true peace in your relationship

-AG

How to Become Whole in a Relationship

OK… So I know I don’t really write anything about “relationships” but this time it’s different. When I write these blog posts I have to be inspired or have to be experiencing it in real life. 

The reason why I’am writing this post, is because of a really beautiful lady I’ve met last Summer from work. Let’s just call her “Ms. Bundle of Joy.” We were speaking last week at work and I realized that something was wrong. It sounded and looked like she was going through some things, so I asked what’s wrong. She replied that she was going through some hardships with her current relationship and that they have broken up a couple of days after we spoke about it. And this is what ignited the fire within me to write this blog post.

This girl has been one of the most sweetest human being I’ve met in life and from work. She doesn’t deserve the toxic feelings she has inside of her at the moment, she deserves better than that. She’s also one of the most prettiest girl I’ve every met with an amazing smile and a star gazing dreamy eyes.

I dedicate this post to “Ms. Bundle of Joy.”

I HOPE YOU TAKE THIS IN, AND KEEP ENJOYING THIS BEAUTIFUL JOURNEY THAT WE CALL “LIFE.”

Alright! Let’s take an example of a woman I know who spends a lot of her day wondering what her boyfriend is doing, looking for clues that he loves her, wondering why he isn’t paying attention to her, worrying that he’s flirting with other girls on social media.

(Note that this applies to both men & women; I’ve just chosen a woman in this example.)

She’s not happy in this relationship — she’s dependent on him for her happiness, and unhappy when he’s not providing the validation she needs, when he doesn’t show how much he loves her. She’s insecure, jealous, needy. This doesn’t make for a good relationship, or a happy person.

What a Whole Person Looks Like

Before we can talk about relationships, we have to focus on one person, because when you have two people the equation gets a little more complicated. Let’s take the simplest part of the equation first — just you.

When you’re whole, you don’t need someone else’s validation to be happy — because you accept yourself. You don’t need someone else to love you in order to feel loved — because you love yourself. That’s not to say you don’t love to be loved by others, or want others in your life — but you already provide the foundation of what you need, all by yourself, by accepting and loving yourself.

When you’re whole, you are not insecure, because you aren’t worried so much about the other person leaving. Sure, it would be a great loss for your loved one to abandon you, but you’d be fine on your own. You wouldn’t be “alone” because you have the best company in the world — yourself. You know you’d survive, be happy, do great things, even without that person. That’s not to say you don’t want your lover to stay — but you aren’t always afraid of the possibility of that person leaving.

When you’re whole, you don’t need the other person to check in with you all the time, because you’re happy on your own. You’re OK if they go do their own thing, because you’re secure in your relationship and you’re perfectly fine doing your own thing too. You don’t need reassurance of that person’s love, because you’re secure.

See, in my opinion I believe that love is not an emotion, it’s a choice.

Two Whole People Coming Together

A solid relationship is two whole (or at least, fairly whole) people coming together because they love each other’s company. They’re not coming together because they need someone to love them all the time, because they need someone’s company all the time, because they need to be shown that they’re loved.

If one person is whole but the other person is needy, dependent, insecure … the whole person will do the best that he or she can to help the other, but over the long run will feel weary of all the neediness and insecurity, and will feel resentment. If both are needy and insecure, there will be constant fights about why you didn’t check in with me, why you’re so distant today, why you’re talking to that guy, what you’re doing when you go out with your friends, etc.

But if both people are whole, they can be apart and are secure enough not to worry about the other person, and are happy being alone. They can come together and be happy, enjoying each other’s company. They don’t need each other, but love each other and care for the other person’s happiness — not worrying so much about their own happiness, because they are secure that they’re already happy.

The respect each other, and themselves. They are compassionate for each other, and themselves.

This is a relationship with two whole people.

Becoming Whole

So what if you’re not this “whole” person, and want to be? Realize you already have everything you need to be whole — you just need to let go of the insecurities, and realize how awesome you already are. You don’t need improvement — you need to realize that the awesomeness is already there.

How do you let go of the insecurities? That’s not so easy, because it’s a slow healing process, but it starts by recognizing them when they appear, and then letting them go. Notice that you’re worried about what your significant other is doing, and then recognize that you’re worried they don’t love you as much as they should, and that means you are worried you’re not good enough … then let go of that worry. You don’t need it. You are good enough.

If you’re good enough, that means the other person will either recognize that and love you, or won’t recognize it (and therefore won’t be deserving of you) and will not love you, but you’ll be fine because you’re OK on your own. If you’re good enough, you’ll be good enough with or without this person. That’s not to say you want the person to leave, or don’t care about the person, but you know that you’d be OK if they did leave you.

Knowing that, you’re OK no matter what: whether that person is on a trip, out with friends, working late, even angry with you. You’re good, as you are, on your own, and you don’t need anything else.

When worries about whether you’re good enough crop up, recognize them, let them go. When worries about whether the other person loves you crop up, recognize them, let them go. When fears of the other person flirting with someone else crop up, recognize them, let them go (worst case scenario: the person cheats, you leave them, you’re OK on your own).

Recognize the fears and worries, and let them go. Relax into this new space of being OK with yourself, being happy on your own, knowing things will always be OK.

Once you’ve learned this wholeness, you can come together with someone else with confidence, love, compassion, security.

-AG

A More Deliberate Way of Living

Our lives are often spent in a rush, almost on autopilot, drifting from one wave of busyness and distraction to another, adrift in a sea of crisis and urges.

There’s noise and quick tasks, lots of tabs, messages and requests, demands on our attention, multitasking, mind scattered everywhere.

The nature of the world is chaos, but what if we could find a more deliberate way of moving through the chaos?

I’m going to share some ways I’ve been trying to move more deliberately — none of them new to me or you, but more of a coming back to what I know to be helpful. We’re always coming back.

  1. Set intentions at the start. When you start your day, or any meaningful activity, check in with yourself and ask what your intentions are for the day or that activity. Do you want to be more present? Do you want to move your mission forward? Do you want to be compassionate with your loved ones? Do you want to practice with discomfort and not run to comfort? Set an intention (or three) and try to hold that intention as you move through the day or that meaningful activity.

  2. Pick your important tasks & make them your focus. What tasks are meaningful to you today? Pick just three (or even just one) and focus on that first. Put aside everything else (you can come back to all that later) and create space for what’s meaningful in your life.

  3. One activity at a time. If you’re going to write, close all other tabs and just write. If you’re going to brush your teeth, just do that. If the activity is important enough to include in the limited container of your life, it’s important enough to give it your full focus.  Treat it as if it might be your last act on earth.

  4. Use any activity as a meditation. This is really the same as the item above, but every single act is an opportunity to be fully with the activity. Everything we do can be a practice in breath, in presence, in deep consciousness. Treat each act as sacred, and practice.

  5. Create more space. Instead of filling every minute of the day with space, what would it be like to have some time of rest, solitude, quietude and reflection? My tendency (like many people, I suspect) is to finish one task and then immediately launch into the next. When there’s nothing to do, I’ll reach for my phone or computer and find something to read, to learn about, to respond to — something useful. But space is also useful. What would it look like to include space in our lives? Giving each activity an importance, and when it’s done, giving some weight to the space between activities. Taking a pause, and taking a breath. Reflecting on how the activity went, how I held my intention, how I want to spend the next hour of my life. Moving deliberately in that space, not rushing through it.

  6. Be in silence more. Our days are filled with noise — talking, messaging, taking in the cacophony of the online world. What if we deliberately created a space or two each day for being in silence? That could look like a couple of meditation sessions, a walk out in nature, a bath where we don’t read but just experience the bath, a time for tea and nothing else but the tea, or just stopping to watch a sunset (without taking photos). Silence is healing to the soul.

  7. Simplify by limiting or banning. We don’t have to say yes to every French fry or cookie, or every Youtube video or beer. We can choose what we want in our lives deliberately, and what we don’t want (or want less of) … then set limits or ban that activity. For example, can you limit sugar to one treat every week? Or go a month without alcohol? Or only watch Youtube videos between 6-7 pm? These kinds of limits help us to simplify and be more deliberate.

  8. Listen to what life is calling you to do. As we sit in silence, as we move deliberately into spaces we’ve created, as we check in with our intentions … we can listen. Listen to life, God, the universe, whatever you want to listen to … and see what its calling you to do. Maybe it’s just your own heart. But you’re being called, and if you listen, you will hear it.

When you add these together — and you don’t have to be perfect at any of them — they flow into a beautiful way to move through life.

-AG

How to Get Good at Dealing With Massive Change

It can be stressful and anxiety-inducing to be in the middle of a bunch of life changes at once — so much so that it can turn a time of change into a time of misery.

We all go through times of massive change: death in the family, change of job (or loss of job), moving to a new home or city, turbulence in your relationships, political chaos, and all kinds of uncertainties and demands on your time and attention.

It can be overwhelming and distressing. But what if we could get good at dealing with all kinds of changes? It would open us up in times of change, so that these times can be times of deepening, growth, and even joy.

We can train to get good at dealing with times of massive change.

And here’s a secret: actually, we’re always in times of change.

If you’re waiting for things to settle down, it’s a beautiful shift to let go of that and just relax into the groundlessness of it all.

“We are always in transition. If you can just relax with that, you’ll have no problem.”

~ Chogyam Trungpa

How Our Mind Usually Reacts to Change

Imagine if your entire life were upended overnight — a storm came and destroyed your home and your job, and you couldn’t find everyone you know and love. You don’t have any possessions, no way to communicate.

How would your mind react? It would react out of habitual patterns that have been formed since childhood.

Some common ways of reacting to massive change like this:

  • Your mind complains — it doesn’t like change that it didn’t choose. Your mind will have a narrative that asks “why me?” and/or gets angry. It’s unhappy about the changes.

  • Your mind gets angry at others — it blames and might lash out at them. Your mind asks, “Why do they have to be like that??” And this creates distance between you and them.

  • Your mind looks for comfort — a return to what you’re used to, what you know, what you’ve always gone to for comfort. If you became homeless, you might drink a soda or eat French fries or something, just to comfort yourself. In fact, we comfort ourselves all the time as a way to deal with stress and change: eating junk food, shopping, TV or Youtube, getting on your phone, social media, porn, etc.

  • Your mind tries to get control. This isn’t always a bad thing (making a list can be helpful, for example), but constantly striving for control isn’t helpful. In fact, it can be stressful, trying to control the massively uncontrollable.

  • There are helpful ways of coping as well — talking to someone, exercising, meditating, drinking some tea, taking a bath, etc. These are usually habits that people create to cope in a healthier way. However, in the example I’ve given (a storm making you homeless), and lots of other situations, these options might not be available.

What we’re going to train in is a different way of dealing with change, that will help us in any situation, and reduce stress, open our minds to chaotic experiences, and help us find joy and gratitude in the midst of turbulence.

How to Shift the Mind

So other than talking about it and taking a bath, what can we do to shift the way we deal with change?

It starts with the idea that disliking change, stress about change, and resistance to change are all in our minds. Everything that’s stressful and sucky about any change, or a great amount of change, is in our minds.

The good news about that is that if it’s in our minds, we can work with it. We can let go of things, shift things, open up to things … because our minds are adaptable and trainable.

The bad news is that we often don’t see the things our mind does that causes our difficulties, and so we blame external circumstances. But with this training, we’ll learn to see it.

So here’s how we can shift how we respond to change and stress:

  1. Notice when you’re feeling stress or resistance about change. Usually you’ll be doing one of the reactions mentioned in the previous section, so it’ll become easy to tell with a bit of practice. Going to your favorite social media or news site? You might be resisting something.

  2. Drop into the pure experience of the moment. You’re stressing and resisting because of your thoughts about your situation (or others). The thoughts are the cause of your suffering, not the situation. The situation just exists, it is not bad. So instead of continuing to be caught up in your thoughts, drop into the pure experience of the present moment. To do this, shift your awareness to what’s happening in your body right now. What sensations are there? What does the sensation of stress or awareness feel like, in your body? Don’t judge or get caught up in a narrative about the stress, just notice. Notice the sensations of your surroundings as well — what sounds can you hear? Notice the light, colors, shapes, textures. The feeling of air on your skin, or clothes on your body. When your mind gets caught up in thought, just return to the sensation of something happening right now.

  3. Open to the wide-open nature of this moment, of reality. You’re in the present moment … now notice how wide this moment is. It’s boundless, not just the narrow world of your thoughts about your life (thoughts that confine you to a small space), but actually boundless in all directions. You can label each thing you notice (chair, table, myself, dog, tree) or you can notice that actually, it’s all just one big field of energy. One big ocean of sensation, an ocean of matter and movement, with no separation between any of it. Noticing this wide-open nature of reality, not bound by labels, ideas or thoughts … we can let our minds open as vast as the sky. Don’t worry if this part is difficult at first, it’s something you can train in (which we’ll talk about in a minute).

  4. Relax into the beauty of the changing moment. From this wide-open place, we can relax our resistant mind, and just relax into the everchanging moment. Notice the beauty of this change — everything is moving, changing, shifting into a new moment. Nothing stays the same, and nothing is really solid. It’s flux, it’s flow, it’s the swirling ocean current of the universe. This is incredibly beautiful, if we can relax and enjoy it.

  5. Practice compassion, gratitude and joyful appreciation. From this relaxed place, we can start to practice three things. First, see if you can find compassion for yourself and others, for the suffering and struggle you’re going through. Send out a loving wish to all beings, that they find peace. Second, practice gratitude — can you be grateful for this moment? Can you be grateful for the change? For me, even with a jolting change like the death of my father or one of my best friends, along with the pain of loss, I could also feel gratitude that I had them in my life, which was an incredible gift. This doesn’t mean you have to ignore the pain and stress — it just means noticing that both pain andgratitude can co-exist in the same moment. Third, can you appreciate this moment for what it is? Appreciate its beauty, its swirling change, its wide openness, its heartbreaking gorgeousness. I often find joy in this appreciation for the universe as it is.

  6. Practice loving things exactly as they are. And along those lines, take a moment to love the everchanging moment exactly as it is. It includes suffering, wounded beings lashing out at others, loss and pain, but also constant shifting, constant growth and degradation, constant moving into something new. You are one with the wholeness of the universe, co-creating it with all other beings and matter and energy, and it is something to be loved fiercely.

This is the process I suggest you try.

What happens here is that we open up to change instead of resisting it. We learn to love things as they are, including the change, rather than complaining about them. We learn to find appreciation and joy in the change, rather than wishing things wouldn’t change and being attached to our comfortable ways.

Of course, we can’t go through the whole process all the time, but it’s worth going through step by step a few times, maybe one or two dozen times, until you feel like you have a physical understanding of it. With daily training, I can guarantee that something will shift in you.

Daily Training is the Key

Going through the steps above once or twice will help you learn it, but it won’t really matter on a day-to-day basis in your life until you train in it.

Daily training is the best method.

Here’s the training plan I recommend:

  1. Sit for 5 minutes in the morning. Feel free to start with just 2 minutes, and work your way to 5. When 5 minutes is too short, extend to 10. Practice the steps above. Don’t let yourself move for those 5 minutes — sit still and practice.

  2. Practice during the day. After a week, in addition to the morning training, try to notice when you are stressed or resisting change. When that happens, think of it as a mindfulness bell that is calling on you to practice. Pause, if you can, and practice, even for a few moments. You don’t have to go through the whole process, just the parts that you have time for, that are most helpful to you in the moment. Journal how these two trainings go, and share with someone else.

  3. Intermediate: Give yourself some discomfort training. After you do the first two trainings for at least a month (and two months is even better), set aside 5-10 minutes each day for discomfort training. For example, difficult exercise or a cold shower, or a writing session every morning. This session is supposed to be more than mildly uncomfortable, but not crazy uncomfortable. Somewhere in the middle. As you put yourself in this discomfort, practice the steps above. It’s more challenging than morning meditation, but doable.

  4. Advanced: Do a weeklong meditation retreat, or a week of purposeful change. After you practice for 6 months to a year, go on a weeklong meditation retreat. It will deepen your practice. Or go through a week of drastic change, that you put yourself into on purpose. For example, purposely travel around the world with very little (less than 8 lbs. in a small backpack), or go on a weeklong hike using the ultralight approach. The point of this kind of training is to give yourself an extended period of practicing with the method above. Not to see how tough you are, or anything like that. Note: It’s possible life will give you an unexpected month or more of incredible change — losing a loved one while changing jobs, or getting an illness while dealing with financial problems. If that happens, think of it as a gift of advanced training.

That’s the training. I recommend just the first two steps for most people — I think it’ll make a world of difference. The next two steps are if you want to master the method, which isn’t necessary to see some benefits.

This is a form of self care. In addition, other forms of self care are also recommended: going for a walk, exercise, taking a bath, doing yoga, eating well, getting sleep, having a support network to talk things out with, getting out in nature, creating space for solitude and silence. These are all important.

If you go deep into this practice, you’ll see some profound shifts. I know I have.

-AG

“If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be eliminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path.” ~Pema Chodron

You are more than enough!

It doesn’t matter who you used to be; what matters is who you decide to be today. You are not your mistakes. You are not your mishaps. You are not your past. You can decide differently today and at every moment. Remember that. You are offered a new opportunity with each breath you take, decide and act differently  in a way that supports you in being all that you are capable of being. Remember, you are not less than. You are more than enough. 

-AG

Paring Down Your Life

Our lives are overfull.

There’s not a single one of us who is free of that trap, in my experience. We say yes to invitations and commitments, we answer as many emails and messages as we can, we join courses and groups, buy books and take on new hobbies, get involved in new relationships and buy more stuff.

The result of this tendency to overfill is predictable:

  • We spend too much money and get into too much debt, and then have too much clutter.

  • We are always busy and always feel like we’re behind on everything.

  • We don’t have time for what’s really important — relationships, meaningful work, solitude and silence, taking care of ourselves.

  • We can’t really fulfill all of our commitments because we have too much going on.

  • We use full lives to distract ourselves from being fully present.

It’s understandable that we overfill our lives — we are usually acting on desires, and not giving full contemplation to what we want in our lives and what we don’t want.


‘You can’t act on your desires alone. You have to contemplate the details of what needs to be removed and what needs to be cultivated.’ - Chogyam Trungpa

So how do we change that? I’d like to propose paring down your life.

What It Means to Pare Down Your Life

Paring down means to cut back on what you have in your life:

  • Cut back on possessions — get rid of the extraneous clutter that is just weighing you down, and find joy in owning little.

  • Pare down your commitments — take a look at everything you’ve committed to doing, from being on committees and boards to coaching and teaching to volunteering and being a part of various projects, and more.

  • Pare down your activity online — we spend a lot of time online, usually switching constantly between tabs, cultivating a “switching” and busy mentality. Is this how we want to spend our lives? Can we let go of some of it, and let ourselves be more focused on fewer online activities?

  • Pare down how much you do in a day — we pack our days with lots of things, but what would it be like to do less?

  • Pare down hobbies, travel and other aspirational activities — we are filled with random desires to live a life of travel, activity, beauty, interestingness. But fulfilling these desires doesn’t often lead to a meaningful life, and instead leads to an overfull life. It’s not that we should never do any of these things (I travel and have hobbies), but that we should contemplate what matters most, and pare down to that.

At its core, paring down is about contemplating what you want to cultivate in your life, and what you’d like to remove.


How to Pare Down

So how do we go about doing this? Isn’t decluttering our lives just another thing to add to an overfull list?

Start with a nearly bare canvas.

Imagine for a moment that your life had only a few essentials:

  • A room with a mattress, a few changes of clothes, a sweater or jacket, a few books, a computer and a phone. A backpack for carrying things. Maybe a couch and computer desk if needed.

  • A bathroom with toilet paper and a shower with soap. Three or four toiletries.

  • Simple food of beans, rice, vegetables, fruit, nuts. A few dishes. Maybe a refrigerator, stove and dining table.

  • No workout equipment, just walking, hiking, bodyweight strength training. No hobby equipment. Maybe a bike if you need to commute, but walk most places.

These are the bare essentials for most people — there are a few other things you’d need, depending on your circumstances, but let’s not get caught up in details.

Now imagine that you could only choose a few things to do each day. For me, that might be:

  1. Meaningful work (mostly writing, with some admin tasks needed).

  2. Spending time with my family and other meaningful relationships.

  3. Reading.

  4. Meditating.

  5. Exercise.

  6. Eating simple foods.

I’d be very happy with just those things in my life! What would your six things be?

Is there anything else you’d like to cultivate? What other things would you add? Imagine a stripped-down, bare life, pared down to your essentials.

Now contemplate what could be removed to make room for just these. Leave space in your life for doing nothing. For contemplation. For being present. For silence and stillness. For the unexpected.

I realize that life won’t always be this simple, and that we have to be willing to flow with things we can’t control. We can’t always pare down commitments that we need to fulfill. We can’t always have a job with meaningful work. Relationships can complicate things. I get it.

But sometimes, we’re just making excuses not to let go. Rationalizing the status quo. Holding on to our attachments.

Paring down asks you to let go of attachments, let go of rationalizing, let go of fixed beliefs. And see what’s possible once you do let go.

-AG