Mindfulness & The Practice Of Non-Judgement

In his book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zim defines mindfulness as the “art of conscious living”. The book dives further into the practical application of mindfulness, how to cultivate it, and the different practices and exercises.

Fundamentally, mindfulness is a simple concept. Its power lies in its practice and its applications. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. If we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives but also fail to realize the richness and the depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation.

Instead of allowing the unconscious, automatic behaviours and habits to direct your energy or your fears and insecurities to move you, mindfulness can help you control your actions and make decisions based on reason and logic. This is achieved through attention.

When we commit ourselves to paying attention in an open way, without falling prey to our own likes and dislikes, opinions and prejudices, projections and expectations, new possibilities open up and we have a chance to free ourselves from the straitjacket of unconsciousness.

When you aren’t bound by past thought processes and narratives, you can then act upon present needs. 

The spirit of mindfulness is to practice for its own sake, and just to take each moment as it comes—pleasant or unpleasant, good, bad, or ugly—and then work with that because it is what is present now.

Judgement is one aspect of our consciousness that derails the present experience and disrupts our ability to be still.

When you dwell in stillness, the judging mind can come through like a foghorn. I don’t like the pain in my knee…. This is boring…. I like this feeling of stillness; I had a good meditation yesterday, but today I’m having a bad meditation…. It’s not working for me. I’m no good at this. I’m no good, period. This type of thinking dominates the mind and weighs it down. It’s like carrying around a suitcase full of rocks on your head. It feels good to put it down. Imagine how it might feel to suspend all your judging and instead to let each moment be just as it is, without attempting to evaluate it as “good” or “bad.” This would be a true stillness, a true liberation.

Each moment doesn’t have to be good or comfortable or exciting. If you are constantly chasing those “higher” moments, then you are not living in the present because much of the present is mundane. So, the goal is to appreciate the unexciting events of your life as much as the exciting ones.

When you label every experience, the negative can outshine the positive because it is in our nature to dwell on something that didn’t meet our expectations. In doing so, you set yourself up to be emotionally distraught. Instead, when the judgemental thoughts arise, steer clear of them and focus on the task at hand. Nothing more, nothing less.

The good or the bad don’t matter. What matter is alertness and stillness in the present.“Knowing that our judgments are unavoidable and necessarily limiting thoughts about experience. What we are interested in in meditation is direct contact with the experience itself—whether it is of an inbreath, an outbreath, a sensation or feeling, a sound, an impulse, a thought, a perception, or a judgment. And we remain attentive to the possibility of getting caught up in judging the judging itself, or in labeling some judgments good and others bad.

So the simple exercise of focusing on your breath can be grounding. When you feel yourself becoming judgemental, take a break and focus on the inhale and exhale. That will bring you back to the present moment, the moment where you are fully engaged. And then go back to your work with that stillness. With practice, the ability to be non-judgemental and to be still becomes easier.

We get caught up in thinking we know what we are seeing and feeling, and in projecting our judgments out onto everything we see off a hairline trigger. Just being familiar with this deeply entrenched pattern and watching it as it happens can lead to greater non-judgmental receptivity and acceptance.

This detachment exercise is another way to separate yourself from your judgemental thoughts. Once you are aware of this concept, then when the judgemental thoughts bud, you can pick them off before they really grow and dominate your present situation.

It simply means that we can act with much greater clarity in our own lives, and be more balanced, more effective, and more ethical in our activities, if we know that we are immersed in a stream of unconscious liking and disliking which screens us from the world and from the basic purity of our own being. The mind states of liking and disliking can take up permanent residency in us, unconsciously feeding addictive behaviors in all domains of life. When we are able to recognize and name the seeds of greediness or craving, however subtle, in the mind’s constant wanting and pursuing of the things or results that we like, and the seeds of aversion or hatred in our rejecting or maneuvering to avoid the things we don’t like, that stops us for a moment and reminds us that such forces really are at work in our own minds to one extent or another almost all the time. It’s no exaggeration to say that they have a chronic, viral-like toxicity that prevents us from seeing things as they actually are and mobilizing our true potential.

Lessons From Books: Awaken The Giant Within

The self-help genre can fall into this pseudo-intellect space where the writers make false promises with some half-truths hoping to sell a bunch of books. They will promise to fix every issue you have and turn your life around completely. If you read that on a book cover it’s best to avoid it. Awaken The Giant Within by Tony Robbins isn’t about turning your life around completely through some magical words. Robbins promises changes, but the change is more gradual and realistic, much of which falls upon the shoulders of the reader. The book is about the small practical changes, shifts in focus, new habits, and mindset that can help different aspects of your life. The goal is to slightly change the trajectory of your life towards a more positive direction. 

Lessons

How To Create Lasting Changing

  1. Raise your standards. Demand more from yourself. More than what you think you are capable of at the moment. When you set a higher standard, it causes you to focus on what you can potentially achieve and your actions guide you towards that standard. Thinking big plays an important role not just in the goals but in the individual you want to become.
  2. Change your limiting beliefs. Often, we don’t achieve our goals or become the person we wish to be because we don’t believe it’s possible for us. So, right away we start on the back foot and never gain enough momentum to meet what seems to be an impossible standard. Along with the new standard, you need a new self belief. You have to believe that you can achieve your new standard. That you can implement the change that you are seeking.
  3. Change your system. Your previous mode of operation resulted in your previous failures. So, repeating the same system but with lofter goals isn’t sufficient enough. What you need is to change your behaviours and routines which will give you the best chance for lasting change. One way to do this is to study the people who have accomplished what you wish to accomplish or have the characteristics and habits that you want. Simply adopt their routines, systems, and mindset and act accordingly.

Areas Of Your Life That Require Mastery

  1. Emotional Mastery – How you feel can determine how you act. So if you have limited control over your emotions and allow them to dictate your actions, your life will be erratic and out of control.
  2. Physical Mastery – One of the few things you have control over is yourself. If you allow your physical health to suffer, then you curb the potential experiences of life. Additionally, being disciplined with your workout and diet can act as a foundational piece to developing good habits and mindset.
  3. Relationship Mastery – Life revolves around relationships. If you don’t have good relationships with your family and friends, then you will have a hard time feeling fulfilled.
  4. Financial Mastery – Often you spend money to satisfy your immediate craving or want but in the long term, it can leave you with more problems. Understand when you are simply pleasure seeking The disciplined choice supersedes the undisciplined one.
  5. Time Mastery – You have limited time in this life. No one knows exactly how much time they have. There is a possibility you have used up most of your time so, it is best to guard your time and use it towards things that will improve your life and give you experiences that you don’t forget about.

The Power of Decisions

I believe that it’s in your moment of decision that your destiny is shaped.

Decide the structure of your life. The ruleset and principles that you want to abide by which will allow you to maximize your experiences and give you the best chance at becoming the individual you wish to be and to achieve your goals.

If you don’t set a baseline standard for what you’ll accept in your life, you’ll find it’s easy to slip into behaviors and attitudes or a quality of life that’s far below what you deserve.

The decision to commit rather than to just wish and hope is scary. Wishing and hoping give a false sense of comfort in some ways because you can live in that daydream without exposing yourself to failure. The daydream is fun but in reality, you are hurting yourself. You are wasting your time.

Commitment comes with fear. Fear of failure. Fear of humiliation. Fear of disappointment. These are true feelings that cause us pain. But commitment is the only way to achieve your dreams. Be open to failure because in doing so, you give yourself a shot a success. 

Making a trust decision means committing to achieving a result, and then cutting yourself off from any other possibility.

Like most things in life, your ability to make better decisions increases the more decisions you make.

Don’t waste time thinking over and over, procrastinating your life away. Just decide and move and once you have acted, then reflect on the outcome and act again after. Rinse and repeat that cycle.

Your life changes the moment you make a new congruent, and committed decision.

Important of Self-Affirmation 

Self-affirmation practices help to cultivate the right attitude.

This is who I am. This is what my life is about. And this is what I’m going to do. Nothing will stop me from achieving my destiny. I will not be denied!

Although it sounds cheesy to read and think about, the major benefit of the practice is the thoughts you have afterward. Your thoughts will be about fulfilling those affirmations which then charge you to act. The day then begins with positive momentum. The affirmations, in themselves, are not life changing, but they can act as a trigger that leads towards positive actions which can be life changing.

Have a Skill Mindset

You can fall into the trap of thinking that either you have a certain quality or you don’t. Either you are disciplined or you aren’t. Or that you are born with work ethic or time management skills. But, in reality, these things are a skill. You can improve your skills. You can get better with more practice and repetition.

Repetition is the mother of all skills.

Making decisions is a skill.

Discipline is a skill.

Hard work is a skill.

The more you do, the better you get. This is true for the negative and the positive, so you have to be careful what you choose to repeat over and over again. 

Decisions That Shape Your Life

  1. Your decision about what to focus on. Ability to prioritize.
  2. Your decision about what things mean to you. Figuring out the ‘why’ behind your actions. This requires self-reflection.
  3. Your decision about what to do to create the result you desire. Can’t act blindly. Create a logical plan that will give you a chance at achieving your goal and then act and adjust along the way.

The ‘Why’ Behind Your Behaviour

In order to change behaviour you have to deal with the cause of it and not just the effect of it. Typically, we focus on the effect of our actions and get the urge to change our behaviour. But this type of change rarely lasts long term because we never addressed the cause of the behaviour in the first place. For example, procrastination is something many people struggle with. One cause of why you procrastinate is that somewhere in your mind, you truly believe that present action will cause you pain and discomfort and you don’t want that. You can’t see the future benefit. So you avoid action through procrastination which will cause a failure to achieve your goal. So, just saying that you will work harder next time won’t solve the issue.

All too often, the security of a mediocre present is more comfortable than the adventure of trying to be more in the future.

What you need to do is change your mindset and how you view present action. That although you may have discomfort in the present, your future will be much better because of it. Additionally, you can change your attitude and practice to not view the present action in a negative light but in a positive one. This may require something like keep reminders nearby of what you wish to accomplish and who you want to be. Both things can override the voice in your head that wishes to avoid discomfort in the present.

How To Rewire Pain and Pleasure

  1. Write down actions you need to take that you have been putting off.
  2. Write down the answers to this question under each action: Why haven’t I taken action? In the past what pain have I linked to taking action?
  3. Write down all the pleasure you’ve had in the past by indulging in this negative pattern.
  4. Write down what it’ll cost you if you don’t change now.
  5. Write down the pleasure you’ll receive by taking each action now.

Ask The Right Question Of Yourself

Our questions determine our thoughts.

Questions lead to thinking. If you constantly question your behaviors, actions, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, future plans, and so on, you move from a surface level of understanding to a deeper one. Once you truly know the why behind your wants and needs, it is then easier to plan for them.

Ask questions that will empower you.

An example can be something like asking yourself why did your previous attempt at achieving X/Y/Z failed? Instead of asking why you are a failure? The latter is negative and results in negative, self-loathing thoughts. The former can cause actionable changes when answered. 

When faced with a problem you need to be objective by asking yourself:

How have others solved a similar problem?

What are you doing to add to the problem?

What can you stop doing?

What can you start doing?

Answering questions like these give you actionable results. 

Choose Your Words Carefully

Be aware of the words you’re using. See how negative and positive they are, how emotionally charged they are, how empowering or disempowering they are. One person you can never escape is yourself. Your thoughts are always with you and with it, are your words directed towards yourself. The last thing you want is someone who is negative towards you living in your head.

Something that didn’t go your way, you can either label that humiliating or illuminating. By focusing on the label we give the experience, that experience then becomes the label. 

Study Your Emotions

If you are feeling happy and fulfilled, note why and act on that. If you are feeling sad and depressed, note why, and act on how you can change those emotions. So, if the feeling of sadness comes from a lack of success, make a list of things you can act upon right now that will bring you closer to what you want. 

What do you feel when you act out a bad habit? What do you feel when you act out a good habit? Note them so you can remind yourself of the feeling you are potentially about to have before you act. 

Emotions are then signals. Signals of you doing good or bad. Don’t avoid them. Learn from them. 

Ask yourself:

What do I really want to feel?

What do I have to do to feel the way I am feeling?

What am I willing to do to create a solution?

What can I learn from this about myself?

Have Giant Goals

Giant goals produce giant motivations. Big goals create pressure and resistance. When these two things are present then you know that you really want the goal you have set for yourself. However, goal setting must be followed by a developmental plan and massive and consistent action. 

Goals are dreams with a deadline.

Two practices that can inch you towards what you want are visualization and prioritization. Visualize achieving your goal daily. How you will achieve it. How your day should go to give you a chance at achieving it. How you’ll feel when you achieve it. Along with this, making the right sacrifices is important. Prioritizing your day, your week, your weekends so that you are using your time effectively and not wasting it.

A new level of thinking is now required in order to experience a new level of personal and professional success.

The actions, mindset, and habits of yesterday have brought you to your present. If you are unsatisfied then you have to make the right sacrifices to change your actions, time management, mindset, and habits so that your future can be different.

10 Day Mental Challenge

You will not indulge in or dwell on any unresourceful thoughts or emotions.

This may include things like daydreaming, pleasure seeking and/or pessimistic thoughts.

Instead, focus on improvement: What do I need to do right now to make my present better?

Great Quotes:

Virtually everything we do is to change the way we feel.

Information is power when it’s acted upon.

Success truly is the result of good judgment. Good judgment is the result of experience, and experience is often the result of bad judgment.

It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.

The way to expand our lives is to model the lives of those people who are already succeeding.

Nothing in life has any meaning except the meaning you give it.

The greatest leverage you can create for yourself is the pain that comes from inside, not outside. Knowing that you have failed to live up to your own standards for your life is the ultimate pain.

In life, never spend more than 10 percent of your time on the problem, and spend at least 90 percent of your time on the solution.

Lessons from Books: The Magic Of Thinking Big

The Magic of Thinking Big by Dr. David J. Schwartz tackles many fundamental qualities needed to excel in life. Qualities such as belief systems, positive thinking, discipline, taking action, overcoming fear, making relationships, setting goals, creating value systems, and much more are not only defined in a way to show their significance, but Dr. Schwartz also gives practical guidelines and practices to follow which will embolden these qualities in the reader.

The following are some of the main takeaways from the book.

Lessons:

The Importance of Belief

Belief works this way. Belief, the “I’m positive-I-can” attitude, generates the power, skill, and energy needed to do. When you believe I-can-do-it, the how-to-do-it develops.

Belief is the initial step to taking action and is often the step many people lack because they cannot see themselves achieving their goal. If you lack the belief then you will never try to figure out how you can accomplish your goal. However, once you believe you can accomplish ‘X’, then you can ask:

How will you make this belief come true?

When you answer this question, you may realize that you are lacking in certain skill sets, or understandings, or developments, or relationships that you will need in order to turn your belief into reality. This is a good thing. It means there is a path towards achieving your goal. So, what was once just hopeful wishing can become a reality through your actions.

But if you lacked the belief in the first place, then you would not have been able to formulate a plan of action. You would not have objectively seen what is required to get to your goal.

Belief releases creative powers. Disbelief puts the brakes on.

Similar to the chain reaction that occurs when you believe, disbelieving also leads you to a path. But unlike the path believing creates, disbelieving shows you a path away from what you hope to achieve by giving you excuses and reasons not to work for your potential future.

By disbelieving, you narrow your worldview, and with it, you narrow your potential. The easiest thing in the world is to find reasons not to work and sacrifice your present comfort.

Thinking does make it so. The fellow who thinks he is inferior, regardless of what his real qualifications may be, is inferior. For thinking regulates actions. If a man feels inferior, he acts that way, and no veneer of cover-up or bluff will hide for long this basic feeling. The person who feels he isn’t important, isn’t. On the other side, a fellow who really things he is equal to the task, is.

How To Overcome Fear

The old “it’s-only-in-your-mind treatment” presumes fear doesn’t really exist. But it does. Fear is real. Fear is success enemy No. 1. Fear stops people from capitalizing on opportunity; fear wears down physical vitality; fear actually makes people sick, causes organic difficulties, shortens life; fear closes your mouth when you want to speak.

You can find reasons to avoid your fears. One way to do that is by thinking it’s all in your head. This type of thinking avoids fear because you never confront it. What you need to do is take what causes you fear and give it life. Take it from the abstract and write it down on a piece of paper. This way you know exactly what is causing you to fear and once you know that you can make an actionable plan to overcome it. 

An exercise such as Fear Setting can help you practice how to confront and overcome fear.

Two interconnected ways to overcome fear are confidence and action. Often your fears arise from a feeling of inadequacy. Thinking that you aren’t up to the task or don’t have the ability to achieve your goal. This goes hand in hand with action because typically, the lack of action creates self-confidence issues which results in second guessing your capabilities and giving power to your fears.

All confidence is acquired, developed.

Action is vital to living a good life. Through action, you can build confidence because as you achieve things, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem, the achievement creates positive momentum which can lead you to overcome bigger fears. It can work the other way around too. You can almost delude yourself into believing that you can overcome fear and then create a plan that does so. When you act, then what seems like this big scary monster comes undone and you can pick it apart slowly. 

Action cures fear.

Ask yourself: “What kind of action can I take to conquer my fears?”

By asking this question, you can then isolate your fear and make it easier to build a plan around it. 

Growth Through Self Reflection

Practice adding value to yourself. Conduct a daily interview with yourself. Ask, “What can I do to make myself more valuable today?” Visualize yourself not as you are but as you can be. Then specific ways for attaining your potential value all suggest themselves.

This is where keeping a personal journal can be helpful. You can use the journal as a daily interview, almost as if it is the journal pages ask you questions such as:

How can you improve from yesterday? What did you do yesterday (or the past week/month) that you disliked? What is one habit you want to change? What is one habit you want to implement? How can you make progress in your work? How can you improve your relationships? What is one dietary change you want to make? What are your workout goals? What can I do to make myself more deserving of the next opportunity? And so on.

In reality, answering any one of these questions one time won’t result in a grand change. But the process is important. Repeatedly thinking about these questions and answering them. Most of the time you require hundreds of repeatable actions before you see change. So, consistently answering self-reflective questions will slowly change your trajectory towards the potential individual you wish to be. 

Journals can also help with self-criticism. However, there is a proper method to being self critical. You don’t want to be overly negative and belittling towards yourself. That will damage your confidence and momentum, but at the same time you want to hold yourself accountable.

Don’t, of course, try to find your faults so you can say to yourself, “here’s another reason I’m a loser.” Instead view your mistakes as “Here’s another way to make me a bigger winner.

Practice positivity even when you are dissecting your mistakes and actions. After all, any improvement you make will move you towards a better version of yourself so the outcome is positive, hence, the view should be positive as well. 

Comparison can also be a good way to reflect and be critical. Once again, you don’t want to compare yourself to others in a way that damages your psyche. But if you pick four or five individuals who are successful in parts of life where you’d like to be successful as well, and this doesn’t have to be work, it can be health, relationships, hobbies, you can then compare your attitude, beliefs, habits, actions, mindsets to these individuals and see how you differ and what changes you can bring about that will align you more towards these individuals. 

Take Care of Your Mental Diet

The body is what the body is fed. By the same token, the mind is what the mind is fed. Mind food, of course, doesn’t come in packages and you can’t buy it at the store. Mind food is your environment—all the countless things which influence your consciousness and subconscious thought. The kind of mind food we consume determines our habits, attitudes, personality. Each of us inherited a certain capacity to develop. But how much of that capacity we have developed and the way we have developed that capacity depends on the kind of mind food you feed it.

In order to be physically healthy, you need a well-balanced diet. Keep your fats, carbs, and sugar in check. Make sure you’re getting plenty of protein and vegetables. Exercise regularly. Fasting has important benefits to the body and as do well-timed cheat meals.

The same principles apply to your mental diet. Make sure you’re not consuming too much junk, such as mindless forms of entertainment or web browsing. Have a well-balanced mental diet which can include fiction and non-fiction books, documentaries, varied forms of news intake, and even taking classes on subjects you find interesting. Similar to how you would lower your sugar intake to a specific level, you can lower your social media consumption to perhaps two ten-minute breaks a day. View fasting breaks as disconnecting from the internet or television. But don’t forget to give yourself a break and cheat by watching your favorites shows or reality television in a structured manner. 

Effort Before The Reward

You don’t get a raise on the promise of better performance; you get a raise only by demonstrating better performance. You can’t harvest money unless you plant the seeds that grow money. And the seed of money is service. Put service first and more takes care of itself.

Your work comes with a degree of faith. Faith that someday your efforts will produce the fruits that you desire. But you cannot expect the fruits of your labour before you put in the effort. In today’s climate, where it seems as if people can become rich and successful overnight, especially because of social media, you can get this false sense of obligation. As if you are obligated to the reward right away. That if you put in a few hours, you should see an uptick in your bank account or likes and follows. But that mindset is not correct because it puts the rewards before the effort. Work for the sake of the work.

Reminder: The work is the dream.

Always give people more than they expect to get.

Be About The Action

Being active is a mindset that can be built, and for there, the habit of acting comes. When you create a resolution to be active, your mind gets ignited to think of ways to accomplish goals and to take action. 

A lot of times your inactivity stems from fear. You are afraid to fail, get embarrassed, be disappointed so you choose the option that will avoid that potential outcome, which is inactivity. However, passivity only avoids short-term suffering but compounds long term suffering as you come to live with regret and think about the “what ifs” all your life. And evidently, the thing that can cure your fear is the very thing you are avoiding: Action.

Use action to cure fear and gain confidence. Here’s something to remember. Action feeds and strengthens confidence; inaction in all forms feeds fear. To fight fear, act. to increase fear—wait, put off, postpone.

Verbalizing and/or writing the worst-case outcome can help you make better decisions. Write what’s the worse thing that can happen if you choose to act, and if you do not act. Often when you write it down and accept the worst case, you realize it was more frightening in your mind. And that in reality, you can handle that potential outcome or at the very least you can prepare yourself to dull the impact of it.

Another way to make sure that you are focusing on acting is by creating routines and habits that lead towards action. You can rely too much on your mood or feelings. Everyone has said at least once in their life “I don’t feel like it,” or “when I’m in the right mood I’ll do it”. Having to rely on something that can change at the whim of the moment isn’t exactly the smartest thing. Instead, have to remind yourself that you’re ready to go right now, that you can work now. 

Action must precede action. That’s is a law of nature.

Routines that lead you towards your primary task are actions that will create actions. Think of them as warm-ups or stretches before your principal work. Let’s say you want to be more active in the morning, then a simple action that can lead to more productivity is having your alarm clock away from your bed so that you have to physically get up to turn it off. This makes it easier to start your day because you are already up, rather than lying around in bed for twenty-thirty minutes after your alarm has gone off and now you have to rush through the morning. So the routine changes from hitting the snooze button to throwing your blanket off and leaving your bed right away.

Importance of Having Goals

Goals are as essential to success as air is to life. No one ever stumbles into success without a goal. No one ever lives without air. Get a clear fix on where you want to go.

View yourself as a business. Every corporation has things like a ten-year plan. What is yours? Not just for future goals but the future you. What characteristics, habits, routines do you see your future self having?

The person determined to achieve maximum success learns the principle that progresses made one step at a time. A house is built a brick at a time. Football games are won a play at a time. A department store grows bigger one new customer at a time. Every big accomplishment is a series of little accomplishments.

This is why it’s important for you to figure out your personal, career, and health goals. Once you have the end goal or at least a future mark, you can then work on the little steps you need to take in order to get there. 

Do this: Start marching toward your ultimate goal by making the next task you perform, regardless of how unimportant it may seem, a step in the right direction. Commit this question to memory and use it to evaluate everything you do. “Will this help take me where I want to go? If the answer is no, back off; if yes, press ahead.

Great Quotes:

You must feel important to succeed.

Practice uplifting self-praise. Don’t practice belting self-punishment.

The success combination is do what you do better (improve the quality of your output) and do more of what you do (increase the quantity of your output).

But you can wager every cent you have the bricklayer who visualized himself as building a great cathedral did not remain a bricklayer.

Success depends on the support of other people.

We can try and try, and try and try and try again, and still fail unless we combine persistence with experimentation.

Lessons From Books: How To Live

How to Live, or a life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer, by Sarah Bakewell maps out the life of the french philosopher, Montaigne, and the life lessons he accumulated and expounded upon in his famous work, The Essays. In doing so, she provides the reader with a vivid experience of who Montaigne was, how he thought and behaved, and why it is worthwhile to listen to and examine his ideas.

How to Live? This is the central question that plagued Montaigne’s life. The question concerns all human beings to varying degrees, and this is why Montaigne’s work is still relevant centuries after it was written. When you read his essays, you feel as if you are talking to an old friend.

Stefan Zweig summed up what it is like to read Montaigne in this one quote:

Here is a “you” in which my “I” is reflected; here is where all distance is abolished.

Certain aspects of being human are universal. You may not relate to Montaigne because he’s a well-to-do philosopher, however, you can find common ground because Montaigne was trying to figure out the best way to live while he dealt human universals like anxiety, death, love, friendship, anger, and aging, all the while living in a complex and ever-changing political and societal situations.

 

The Lessons:

 

Don’t Worry About Death

Concerning death, the Stoic philosophers recommend contemplation. They believe that meditating on death lessens its anxiety. Montaigne also trusted this notion and believed it to be true.

Let us have nothing on our minds as often as death.

However, the more he thought about and contemplated it, the more anxious he became. After almost dying when he fell from his horse, he had a perspective shift because as he was on the brink of death; he felt at ease.

It seemed to me that my life was hanging only by the tip of my lips; I closed my eyes in order, it seemed to me, to help push it out, and took pleasure in growing languid and letting myself go. It was an idea that was only floating on the surface of my soul, as delicate and feeble as all the rest, but in truth not only free from distress but mingled with that sweet feeling that people have who let themselves slide into sleep.

After this experience, he had the following to say on the topic:

Death is only a few bad moments at the end of life[…] it is not worth wasting any anxiety over.

Don’t over-complicate the simple aspects of life. By thinking too much about the inevitable, we cause needless stress. Instead of trying to control what is outside of our influence, we need to learn how to let go.

For Montaigne, death became a thing that didn’t concern him anymore because all the time he spent worrying about it didn’t matter when that random, absurd accident happened and he almost lost his life. None of the self-inflicted stress came into play at that moment. So, by not caring or worrying about death, we just have one less stress in our life and we can instead spend that time concentrating on the living.

If you don’t know how to die, don’t worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately. She will do this job perfectly for you; don’t bother your head about it.

Learn To Live With Yourself

We should have wife, children, goods, and above all health, if we can; but we must not bind ourselves to them so strongly that our happiness depends on them. We must reserve a back shop all our own, entirely free, in which to establish our real liberty and our principal retreat and solitude. Here our ordinary conversation must be between us and ourselves, and so private that no outside association or communication can find a place; here we must talk and laugh as if without wife, without children, without possessions, without retinue and servants, so that, when the time comes to lose them, it will be nothing new to us to do without them.

Let us cut loose from all ties that bind us to others; let us win from ourselves the power to live really alone and to live that way at our ease.

We will know no one as well as we know ourselves. We will never spend more time with anyone as we will with ourselves. We don’t have the luxury to not be with ourselves. So, it’s best to make friends with who we are as we’re stuck with that person.

I turn my gaze inward, I fix it there and keep it busy. Everyone looks in front of him; as for me, I look inside of me; I have no business but with myself; I continually observe myself, I take stock of myself, I taste myself…I roll about in myself.

One benefit that arises when we listen to ourself is clarity. Our mind is constantly working and trying to figure out things that bother us. Often, the answer to many of our stresses lies within ourselves. This is what Montaigne noted. He began watching and questioning his own experiences and writing what he observed. In doing so, he could simplify his life and figure out exactly what he needed.

Solitude is where the answers can lie. But too many of us avoid such a place because we aren’t comfortable with ourselves.

One Way To Practice Living in the Moment

The trick is to maintain a kind of naive amazement at each instant of experience – but, as Montaigne learned, one of the best techniques for doing this is to write about everything. Simply describing an object on your table, or the view from your window, opens your eyes to how marvelous such ordinary things are.

When I walk alone in the beautiful orchard, if my thoughts have been dwelling on extraneous incidents for some part of the time, for some other part I bring them back to the walk, to the orchard, to the sweetness of this solitude, and to me. (Montaigne)

What we need to live in the moment is the skill to focus. It doesn’t come naturally to most people. Even someone like Montaigne needed to remind himself and create practices to hone this ability to live in the present.

This notion is both good and bad. Good in the sense that we can improve and get better at living in the moment. But also bad because this skill deteriorates if we don’t use it, as all skills do. So, we must practice often to sharpen this skill.

Accept That You Are Human

If others examined themselves attentively, as I do, they would find themselves, as I do, full of inanity and nonsense. Get rid of it I cannot without getting rid of myself. We are all steeped in it, one as much as another; but those who are aware of it are a little better off — though I don’t know. (Montaigne)

That final coda — ‘thought I don’t know’ — is pure Montaigne. One must imagine it appended, in spirit, to almost everything he ever wrote. His whole philosophy is captured in this one paragraph. Yes, he says, we are foolish, but we cannot be any other way so we may as well relax and live with it.

Humans are rational and irrational. Logical and illogical. They are lead by reason but also by feelings and emotions. There will be times when we behave well and other times when we behave poorly. Mistakes and correct judgment go hand in hand. This is the human condition and as Montaigne put it to ‘get rid of it I cannot without getting rid of myself.’

Our being is cemented with sickly qualities…Whoever should remove the seeds of these qualities from man would destroy the fundamental conditions of our life.

What we need is to show kindness and sympathy not just towards others but also towards ourself as we are bound to mess up often but life moves on and we can too.

I have seen no more evident monstrosity and miracle in the world than myself. We become habituated to anything strange by use and time; but the more I frequent myself and know myself, the more my deformity astonishes me, and the less I understand myself.

Be Slow-Witted

‘Forget much of what you learn’ and ‘Be slow-witted’ became two of Montaigne’s best answers to the question of how to live. They freed him to think wisely rather than glibly; they allowed him to avoid the fanatical notions and foolish deceptions that ensnared other people; and they let him follow his own thoughts wherever they led — which was all he really wanted to do.

This notion helped Montaigne to disassociate himself from all ideas and beliefs. He wasn’t married to one way of thinking or to one ideology. He could flow and change as life changed. His thoughts were boundless. They took shape of whatever he was feeling at that moment. This is why he has essay’s which contradict his other works. But that’s fine. But the freedom to be who we are at this moment in life can’t be experienced if we are bound by our past self.

Avoid Arguments

Pyrrhonians (skeptics) accordingly deal with all the problems life can throw at them by means of a single word which acts as shorthand for this manoeuvre: in Greek, epokhe. It means ‘I suspend judgement’. Or, in a different rendition give in French by Montaigne himself, je soutiens: ‘I hold back.’ This phrase conquers all enemies.

One person has an opinion they believe to be true, and another has their own opinion which they believe to be true, and when they clash, there is an argument. People cannot suspend their belief and entertain the possibility that the other person could be right.

This is more evident than ever before because of social media. All platforms are riddled with people arguing with each other for hours on end. People will go out of their way to start an argument with someone. When in reality, most of it just nonsense and it doesn’t really matter.

This is where the Pyrrohnian words ‘I suspend judgement’ comes into play. Three simple words that can allow us to navigate the useless clatter of life and keep on moving.

Montaigne took this practice a step further:

(He could) slip out from behind his eyes so as to gaze back upon himself with Pyrrhonian suspension of judgement.

In doing so, he could detach from his own beliefs and opinions and allow himself to be flexible.

Be Moderate

Moderation see itself as beautiful; it is unware that in the eye of the immoderate it appears black and sober, and consequently ugly-looking.

Montaigne even went as far as to claim that true greatness of the soul is to be found ‘in mediocrity’.

This can be a hard concept to understand, especially in our goal-centered culture. People have grand ambitions and crave a passionate living, but Montaigne advised against such a thing.

Montaigne distrusts godlike ambitions: for him, people who try to rise above the human manage only to sink to the subhuman.

Mediocrity, for Montaigne, does not mean the dullness that comes from not bothering to think things through, or from lacking the imagination to see beyond one’s own viewpoint. It means accepting that one is like everyone else, and that one carries the entire form of the human condition.

We need direction in life, and goals often provide us with a path to move forward. However, we shouldn’t get lost in chasing these goals. There is a possibility that we won’t accomplish everything we aim for, which is why a passion-driven life can cause suffering because our highs are really high and our lows are really low when passion is leading.

Montaigne and many other philosophers believed moderation was key to life. You can control your actions, but not the results. Perhaps then the balance lies in having moderate expectations while we work passionately.

How To Travel

What he loved above all about his travels was the feeling of going with the flow. He avoided all fixed plans. ‘If it looks ugly on the right, I take the left; if I find myself unfit to ride my horse, I stop’ […] It was an extension of his everyday pleasure in letting himself ‘roll relaxedly with the rolling of the heavens’, as he luxuriously put it, but with the added delight that came from seeing everything afresh and with full attention, like a child.

But Montaigne would say it was impossible to stray from the path: there was no path.

Similar to life, Montaigne went with the flow when it came to travelling. There is a sense of freedom in this viewpoint. That no matter where we go, we are going the right way. This also allowed him to view each path as unique and important.

Stefan Zweig’s Lessons From Montaigne:

Be free from vanity and pride.

Be free from belief, disbelief, convictions and parties.

Be free from habit.

Be free from ambition and greed.

Be free from family and surroundings.

Be free from fanaticism.

Be free from fate: be master of your own life.

Be free from death: life depends on the will of others, but death on our own will.

 

Great Lines/Quotes:

From now on, Montaigne would live for himself rather than for duty.

 

How can you think yourself a great man, when the first accident that comes along can wipe you out completely? (Euripides)

 

Salvation lies in paying full attention to nature.

 

Each man is a good education to himself, provided he has the capacity to spy on himself from up close. (Pliny the Elder)

 

To look inside yourself is to open up an even more fantastical realm.

 

At times we are as different from ourselves as we are from others. (Montaigne)

 

For not only inconvenient things, but anything at all, however ugly and vicious and repulsive, can become acceptable through some condition or circumstance. (Montaigne)

 

Who does not see that I have taken a road along which I shall go, without stopping and without effort, as long as there is ink and paper in the world? (Montaigne)

 

Habit makes everything look bland; it is sleep inducing. Jumping to a different perspective us a way of waking oneself up again.

 

Life should be an aim unto itself, a purpose unto itself. (Montaigne)

 

 

Lessons From Stories: Zorba The Greek

Zorba The Greek is a novel written by Nikos Kazantzakis. It was first published in 1946 and it is essentially an interaction between the narrator, who has learned about life through books, and Alexis Zorba, who has learned about life through actual experience. In the course of the story, which centers around the re-opening of a mine in Crete, practical philosophical questions such as how to live life, what is happiness, what it means to be free, how to reduce anxiety, how to be yourself and many more are discussed.

Lessons:

Live in the moment:

“Look, one day I had gone to a little village. An old grandfather of ninety was busy planting an almond tree. ‘What, grandad!’ I exclaimed. ‘Planting an almond tree?’ And he, bent as he was, turned round and said: ‘My son, I carry on as if I should never die.’ I replied: ‘And I carry on as if I was going to die any minute.’ Which of us was right, boss?”

[…]

I kept silent. Two equally steep and bold paths may lead to the same peak. To act as if death did not exist, or to act thinking every minute of death, is perhaps the same thing. But when Zorba asked me the question, I did not know.

[…]

“Everything in good time. In front of us now is the pilaff; let our minds become pilaff. Tomorrow the lignite will be in front of us; our minds must become lignite! No half-measures, you know.”

Two paths that lead to the same peak, meaning either way what is being taught is to live in the moment. Whether you achieve this clarity by reminding yourself of death every day or you reach it by forgetting that death even exists, it is the same.

Pilaff now. Lignite tomorrow. Whatever you have to focus on in the present moment is life. In this manner, life is also simplified.

“A fresh road, and fresh plans!” he cried. “I’ve’ stopped thinking all the time of what happened yesterday. And stopped asking myself what’s going to happen tomorrow. What’s happening today, this minute, that’s what I care about. I say: ‘What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?’ ‘I’m sleeping.’ ‘Well, sleep well.’ ‘What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?’ ‘I’m working.’ ‘Well, work well.’ ‘What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?’ ‘I’m kissing a woman.’ ‘Well, kiss her well, Zorba! And forget all the rest while you’re doing it; there’s nothing else on earth, only you and her! Get on with it!'”

How To Find Happiness:

“This is true happiness: to have no ambition and to work like a horse as if you had every ambition. To live far from men, not to need them and yet to love them. To take part in the Christmas festivities and, after eating and drinking well, to escape on your own far from all the snares, to have the stars above, the land to your left and the sea to your right: and to realize of a sudden that, in your heart, life has accomplished its final miracle: it has become a fairy tale.”

To leave the rat race behind. To get off the track of materialistic pleasure, which forever seeks the new thing that will bring short term gratification. Instead, lose yourself in what you are tasked with, enjoy the company of your neighbor, and build a refuge within yourself that you can always go to.

We stayed silent by the brazier until far into the night. I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else. And all that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple, frugal heart.

Happiness is a constant search. You have to seek the small, minute, frugal things like eating roasted chestnuts and find happiness in that fleeting moment. If you tie your happiness to grand moments like a promotion or buying something expensive or achieving a long-term goal, then in your entire life you will only have a handful of happy moments because those grand experiences are few and far between. While searching for happiness in the everyday occasions can result in a handful of happy moments daily.

Be Passionate:

“You can’t understand, boss!” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “I told you I had been in every trade. Once I was a potter. I was made about that craft. D’you realize what it means to take a lump of mud and make what you will out of it? Ffrr! You turn the wheel and the mud whirls round, as if it were possessed while you stand over it and say: I’m going to make a jug, I’m going to make a plate, I’m going to make a lamp and the devils knows what more! That’s what you might call being a man: freedom!”

Live with passion. Whatever you are presently doing, you should do it with your entire existence. The aim is to achieve a flow-like state where an entire day passes, but to you, it feels like it has only been a few minutes. That’s when you know that time was spent wisely.

“Throwing yourself headlong into your work, into wine, and love, and never being afraid of either God or devil…That’s what youth is!”

Be Yourself:

“As for you boss,” he said, “I think you do your level best to turn what you eat into God. But you can’t quite manage it, and that torments you. the same thing’s happening to you as happened to the crow.”

“What happened to the crow, Zorba?”

“Well, you see, he used to walk respectably, properly–well, like a crow. But one day he got it into his head to try and strut about like a pigeon. And from that time on the poor fellow couldn’t for the life of him recall his own way of walking. He was all mixed up, don’t you see? He just hobbled about.”

Much of life can be uncertain which causes us to seek other people to follow and be like them. Although this isn’t inherently a bad thing, you still have to be careful not to abandon your own individuality in order to gain comfort. It’s easy to do and mimic what other people say. It’s much more difficult to trust your own way of walking. You don’t want to spend so much time being like someone else that you forget who you are.

How To Live And How Not To:

“Life is trouble,” Zorba continued. “Death, no. To live—do you know what that means? To undo your belt and look for trouble.”

I still said nothing. I knew Zorba was right, I knew it, but I did not dare. My life had got on the wrong track, and my contact with men had become now a mere soliloquy. I had fallen so low that, if I had to choose between falling in love with a woman and reading a book about love, I should have chosen the book.

The truth is that by being active you open yourself up to trouble. By acting you have to face the possibility of failure, disappointment, and even humiliation. However, the passive way of life is no way to live. You are merely an observer when you live passively. And passivity isn’t a habit you want to master, for like all habits, it will be difficult to break.

What It Means To Be Free:

That’s what liberty is, I thought. To have a passion, to amass pieces of gold and suddenly to conquer one’s passion and throw the treasure to the four winds.

Free yourself from one passion to be dominated by another and nobler one. But is not that, too, a form of slavery? To sacrifice oneself to an idea, to a race, to God? Or does it mean that the higher the model the longer the tether of our slavery? Then we can enjoy ourselves and frolic in a more spacious arena and die without having come to the end of the tether. Is that, then, what we call liberty?

To be better than who you were yesterday is the beacon of light that we need to move towards. We have to overcome ourselves, constantly, to overcome lowly passions which pleasure drives in order to achieve higher passions which enrich our souls and our lives. These high passions have to be tethered to our souls rather than to a concept or idea made up by others. That can allow us to escape slavery.

Simplify Life and Thus Reduce Anxiety:

That man has not been to school, I thought, and his brain has not been perverted. He has had all manner of experience; his mind is open and his heart has grown bigger, without his losing one ounce of his primitive boldness. All the problems which we find so complicated or insoluble he cuts through as if with a sword, like Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian knot. It is difficult for him to miss his aim, because his two feet are held firmly planted on the ground but the weight of his whole body. African savages worship the serpent because its whole body touches the ground and it must, therefore, know all the earth’s secrets. It knows them with its belly, with its tail, with its head. It is always in contact or mingled with the Mother. The same is true of Zorba. We educated people are just empty-headed birds of the air.

The universe for Zorba, as for the first men on earth, was a weight, intense vision; the stars glided over him, the sea broke against his temples. He lived the earth, water, the animals and God, without the distorting intervention of reason.

Often stress and anxieties are man-made. We overthink and over-complicate our lives. We give in too much to the mind and don’t use our bodies to feel.

“Boss, everything’s simple in this world. How many times must I tell you? So don’t go and complicate things!”

Our mind gets overwhelmed easily, especially in our current information age. In reality, what we need is simple, the basics, and if you listen to your body and feel life it’s easy to realize this.

Many are the joys of this world—women, fruit, ideas. But to cleave that sea (Aegean Sea) in the gentle autumnal season, murmuring the name of each islet, is to my mind the joy most apt to transport the heart of man into paradise.

You Only Have One Life:

Once more there sounded within me, together with the cranes’ cry, the terrible warning that there is only one life for all men, that there is no other, and that all that can be enjoyed must be enjoyed here. In eternity no other chance will be given to us.

A mind hearing this pitiless warning–a warning which, at the same time, is so compassionate–would decide to conquer its weakness and meanness, its laziness and vain hopes and cling with all its power to every second which flies away forever.

Great examples come to your mind and you see clearly that you are a lost soul, your life is being frittered away on petty pleasures and pains and trifling talk.

Simply put, you have one life and it can go quickly so don’t waste it chasing petty pleasures and pains and trifling talk.

I was a long time getting to sleep. My life is wasted, I thought. If only I could take a cloth and wipe out all I have learnt, all I have seen and heard, and go to Zorba’s school and start the great, the real alphabet! What a different road I would choose. I should keep my five senses perfectly trained, and my whole body, too, so that it would enjoy and understand. I should learn to run, to wrestle, to swim, to ride horses, to row, to drive a car, to fire a rifle. I should fill my soul with flesh. I should fill my flesh with soul. In fact, I should reconcile at last within me the two eternal antagonists.

Great Lines/Quotes:

“As far as I can see, your lordship’s never been hungry, never killed, never stolen, never committed adultery. What ever can you know of the world? You’ve go an innocent’s brain and you skins never even felt the sun.”

 

Zorba sees everything every day as if for the first time.

 

At the far end of the room a ladder or a few wooden steps lead up to the raised platform, where there is a trestle bed and, above it, the holy icons with their lamps. The house appears empty, but it contains everything needful, so few in reality are the true necessities of man.

 

“Ha! Man is a wild beast,” Zorba said suddenly, overexcited with his singing. “Leave your books alone. Aren’t you ashamed? Man is a wild beast, and wild beasts don’t read.”

 

“All those who actually live the mysteries of life haven’t the time to write, and all those who have the time don’t live them! D’you see?”

 

When everything goes wrong, what a joy to test your soul and see if it has endurance and courage! An invisible and all powerful enemy—some call him God, others the Devil, seems to rush upon us to destroy us; but we are not destroyed.

 

I walked rapidly along the beach, talking with the invisible enemy. I cried: “You won’t get into my soul! I shan’t open the door to you! You won’t put my fire out; you won’t tup me over!”