How Do We Reconcile Change with Remaining Authentic

I suppose it’s the modern day, Self-Help paradox: to change or to remain authentic? There seem to be certain platitudes bandied about amongst self-help aficionados.

“Be yourself!”

“Growth is change, and change is life!”

“Be AUTHENTIC!”

Details aside, how do we reconcile this seemingly antagonistic pair? The very phrase, “Be yourself!” implies that there is one “self” to be. And if that is so, how can we know if we are being authentic to this self, or growing?

People spend an enormous amount of time thinking about who they are, and more often than not, who other people think they are. Yet, this leads us down a self-destructing path. It is doubtful that it can be said that there is even one self. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman brings up the idea of the memory self, and the experiencing self. What is more true, the self who remembers, or the self experiencing the now? How we remember things is often more true to us than what we actually experienced—even Kahneman thinks of himself as a man made up of memories. Therefore, even when we look to how our mind operates, there are multiple selves.

So is it much of a stretch to say that throughout the passage of time, we have multiple selves? Looking back on their lives, most people would say that they’ve changed in unimaginable ways, whether it be from outlook, personality, interests, or goals. This does not mean a departure from the authentic self occurred, but it does mean that there was growth.

Perhaps the saving grace for reconciling these two is to drop the idea of the “self.” Ideas of the self lead to stunting the growth of the self, for in order to grow, one must change. If someone thinks that they are funny, they will be encouraged to act funny. Soon, something that was a complement given from another, becomes the prison of expectation from which one acts. To put a label on the self is to limit the self, taking away the one thing that will always be a part of the self: Change.

To be authentic, without limits, is to act in the Tao—each moment calling to action that is the most natural. It is the constant awareness and mindfulness of the self that allows one to observe changes, while inhabiting the self of the moment.

How To: Not Regret Regret

“No Regerts,” reads a famous tattoo that is a favorite of mine. I never get board of irony (or puns, for that matter). It’s natural when looking over the past to feel regret, or thinking that you might have done something differently. This feeling in itself is not productive at all!

However,  I believe that there is a use for every emotion. Often, emotions can reveal our inner thoughts and how we live our lives. For example, one should experience grief when it strikes. However, it is not healthy to wallow in this after a certain point. It’s not as though you keep feeling it until you’ve used it all up and it goes away–in this case, you emotions are controlling you, rather than you being a master of your emotions. Once you have given yourself time to grieve, for example, you can start to ask yourself why you feel these things and what they mean in the grander scheme of things. Perhaps besides the obvious loss of a presence in your life, it also shows how humans all to often are resistant to change, although we know it comes.

So when we feel regret, what does it mean? It means that we felt we had unfulfilled potential. We feel as though we wanted something, not gotten it, and it is no longer in our grasp because it is in the past.

Regret is one of those emotions that you really don’t need to spend time on, though, because once you know what it indicates, the best course of action is simply to change your current behavior to reduce the likelihood of experiencing that particular regret again the in the future.

To constructively deal with regret, here are a few simple steps:

  1. Name the regret. Name the specific actions, or events that you regret. Only then can you put them into similar, more general groups. This makes it much more accurate.
  2. Why did you regret that? Did you feel like you didn’t live up to your potential, did an action have a detrimental effect, did you do something, or not do something? Write that down.
  3. Distill a lesson out of this. I personally think that it’s useful to have a little snippet of what you learned that is catchy, just so that it’s easy to remember and on the forefront of your mind. Changing behaviors is not easy, and in the beginning, it will take more effort than is probably comfortable for you to change a behavior that led to the regret. This can be made easier by an easy to digest sentence or phrase.
  4. Think of something concrete that you can change right this second. Yes, right this second! And then do it—right now! This will ‘break the seal’ so to speak and get you over that hump of procrastination of change, and catapult you into a whole series of actions you can subsequently take to alter your behavior.

You see, regret is not something that is just a feeling that you need to get rid of. It’s one of the most useful emotions in telling us where we need to make changes in our lives to continue growing into the people that we are!

Good luck, and hoping that you embody “No Regerts!”

Reverse Engineering “The Meaning of Life” Question

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At some point, most people today have been confronted with the elusive question of the meaning of life. Recently, this has been bothering more so because I couldn’t understand the meaning of my life–or rather what to do with my life–and wanted some sense of direction that I couldn’t seem to find. So when I was browsing around my local bookstore and spotted Terry Eagleton’s The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction, I snapped it up despite the tiny size that didn’t seem to justify the $11.95 price tag. But this is the secret to the universe here, people, so I relented.

Well now I’m done with it, and surprisingly I wasn’t bestowed with the secret knowledge of time and the cosmos. However, I was presented with the next best thing: a different way of thinking about it. Eagleton compiled information from so many great thinkers on this subject throughout history in a neat little package. What I talk about here is just what I found the most interesting, and my thoughts on that. I highly suggest this book to anyone who has struggled with “the meaning of life.”

Before anything, it is useful to provide the context surrounding this entire inquiry: the meaning of life is not some sort of question that has plagued all peoples in all societies for all of time. For example, most ancient Hebrews would not ask this question because the answer is given through their religious beliefs, and the matter of meaning is woven into the society just as much as the religion is. Now that most of us live in a world where one religion is not a given, even those who do follow a certain faith are not immune to feeling adrift when it comes to meaning. The idea that we ourselves can determine the meaning of our lives can at once be empowering, but also lessen that very same sense of meaning. I also know that even my parents, who are only one generation ahead of me, are not harassed by this question as much as my peers are. They give little thought to it if any, as even asking this question seems foreign to them. Although there are always people who have this question in whatever time, the finding meaning or finding your “passion” are like epidemics nowadays, where once there was barely a whisper of it. One might think of the question presently more as a litmus test for the society that we live in today, rather than something that can objectively be “solved”.

The problem with trying to find an answer to the meaning of life is that there is no answer. At least, not one that we can possibly know of. Someone once said (as vague as this all is) that if you can’t find the solution to a problem, change the question. On one level, this seems like a blatant avoidance of the question and moving on to something else more easily solved. However, in many cases, the problem is not the problem–the real problem is a poorly framed question!

When people ask the meaning of life, they are rarely asking the same thing. Sometimes you could be asking about what is the meaning or direction of your life, other times you could be asking if the progression of the universe is moving towards something, and other times you are asking about the meaning of the suffering in your life if there is one at all. What are you really wondering about when you ponder about the meaning of life? Simply rewording the question could lead to an answer.

Beyond that, the question of the meaning of life could be a question of semantics. Eagleton sources many, most prominent to me Ludwig Wittgenstein, that ask what is actually meant by “meaning” and “life” and comes to various conclusions. When it comes to meaning, it could mean (ha) intention, significance, and “the act of intending to signify something” (35). Even these categories are not mutually exclusive and the edges of their definition are blurry. So then comes the question of if life is in a sense predestined and moving towards something and that is the “meaning”, or if it’s all accidental, but there can still be “meaning” attached to that.

Then we have the nebulous word, “life”. This may lead to questions like, “What is the good life?” But even then, the good life may not be a good life, objectively. What is the meaning attached to the actions we take? Is there an overall narrative to our lives that “makes sense”? Many people like me would tell you, no, our lives are just a series of unfortunate events. I’m just kidding. Sort of.

This only begins to scratch the surface. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case one word is worth ten thousand words and then some. Eagleton covers far more than this and I would venture to say that there is no superfluous words in his 101 page book. Each page packs new ideas and findings into every free space. 

The question of life must be juxtaposed against the fact of death, something which we all face. The fact that our time in this life that we know of is limited, yet all we know of is this, urges us to find the significance of anything. The question of the meaning of life would not exist if we were one of the immortals and had a cycle of events continuing on for all of eternity. Our limits are what cause this question to become pressing or of any interest. It could be said that this question is just asking what our lives are adding up to. Of course, another nebulous statement.

With proper framing “The Meaning of Life” question however, the necessity for some sort of one answer fades away, as Terry Eagleton is able to do. To me, I don’t want to spend my time turning over ideas in my mind that I know will lead to nothing. Therefore, the most important thought I can take away from this conversation to bring to action in my life, as the act of living life is arguably closer to the meaning of life than thinking of the meaning of life, is that any sense of meaning (or whatever it is that allows us to live our lives with a sense of contentment or fulfillment) lives in between people. The meaning of our lives are not singular to us, it cannot exist only within ourselves. Rather, the meaning we can take from life is from the relationships that we have, and how we impact those around us and how they impact us. It is about the collective efforts of people and finding your place in society.

When you look at nature, everything has a purpose or a reason. However, it could also be said that they do not exist to move something towards something else. It is all happening in time, in this moment. There is a reason a mountain looks purple from a distance or stars twinkle at night. However, they are not doing this to fulfill some sort of role. They are doing that because that is just what they do. You do not question if it is necessary, it is just something that you enjoy.The trees have their role to fulfill in the ecosystem, but they are not doing it for any reason, they just grow. The reason trees are what they are is because of time and the surrounding ecosystem, but also the surrounding ecosystem is there because of the trees. That’s why I think children rarely ask themselves the “meaning of life,” or rather the meaning of their own life–because they are having too much fun! And they don’t question it too much because they are too busy enjoying it.

Therefore, although it seems trite, it seems to be that the best thing to do is to live a life in which you don’t reach for answers from some outside meaning. Rather, in living a life with and for others, the feeling of meaninglessness disappears. And the best way to live a life with and for others is to delight in the world around you and what others bring to it, while using the best parts of yourself to contribute to that delight.

Transmuting Negative Energy Into Love

I know that from this title you are probably thinking, “Wow, this must be some hippy post.” And I would say, “Yes, you are right about that.” Because sometimes, you have to get a little bit hippy if you want to survive in this world.

We’ve all faced moments where we have felt attacked from some source of negative energy. This could be coming from a person or some even happening in your life. I don’t have to explain to you that this does not feel good. It debases you–makes you feel like you are now unsafe in this world of what, at is core, is order, harmony, and love. How do you get back to this calm place of inner strength?

The first thing to do is to look inward–this is where the discord is coming from. Without a pre-existing source of internal discord, a negative emotional response could not have been triggered from the external source. Because we have less control over the people and conditions around us than we do over ourselves, the best thing to do is go straight to the source, and look within.

In the intense emotion of the moment, I find it comforting to think of universal order personified. This may be through a God, or an energy–whatever works for you. It’s that feeling of nurturing; that everything is safe and going to be okay. From that assurance of protection, a sense of calmness floods you. You can imagine a safe place in your mind that you can go to for a short meditation of sorts. It will be different and deeply personal for everyone. It could be a forest that you have imagined, it could be your grandparent’s living room you were always at when younger, it could even be some random cave in the middle of the Himalayas. None of it matters. But this is your sacred place: your place of peace. Sit here for a while, feeling the universal energy pulse around you like a river and remember–we are all connected.

In these moments, I have found inspiration hit me as if coming from nowhere. I have found solace, and divine energy. A renewed faith in the universe and life. Every moment is an opportunity for us to move from anger, bitterness, and confusion to a state of love and compassion. You wouldn’t expect it, but our open wounds can be the most fruitful ways to open our hearts.

Perhaps our eyes need to be washed by our tears once in a while, so that we can see Life with a clearer view again.”

–Alex Tan

Have faith that every moment happens for your benefit, and go forward with renewed strength.

What I Wish I’d Known

“What am I supposed to do?!” is the main undercurrent thought in my life–and that probably will not change until I make up some relatively satisfactory answer.

Ergo, I spend much of my time looking for this answer. One of my methods is to browse random sites on StumbleUpon. I wasn’t expecting to find anything that useful, but I did: Paul Graham’s would-have-been high school commencement speech, “What You’ll Wish You’d Known”. On one hand, the material was a little too apt not to sting, since I did indeed wish I had known this in high school. On the other, it isn’t too late for me to utilize this (she said unconvincingly).

I’ve distilled the main points that I found to be useful to a college student, and encourage you to read the short speech for yourself.

“The best protection is alway to be working on hard problems. Writing novels is hard. Reading novels isn’t. Hard means worry: if you’re not worrying that something you’re making will come out badly, or that you won’t be able to understand something you’re studying, then it isn’t hard enough. there has to be suspense. 

Well, this seems a grim view of the world, you may think. What I’m telling you is that you should worry? Yes, but it’s not as bad as it sounds.It’s exhilarating to overcome worries. You don’t see faces much happier than people winning gold medals. And you know why they’re so happy? Relief.

I’m not saying this is the only way to be happy. Just that some kinds of worry are not as bad as they sound.” 

George Sheehan wrote something similar in his book, Running and Being. That we find pleasure in stretching ourselves over and over again no matter the strain–or because of the strain. I read a lot, but what do I create? I consume without offering my gains back to the world–and that is the problem. We will not be able to consume and learn more if we are not going to offer something back and complete the cycle. One may think that I would be satisfied with contemplating life and just traveling around the world my whole life. But I doubt this. I would like to do that, but will I not miss the pleasure of the chase, of the risk of putting yourself into something and possibly failing? I can’t say that I fully understand the reason for the necessity of this cycle, but I do sense that it is there. I don’t like to fail–that’s for sure–but I would rather fail than have my soul withering away inside of my seemingly young body from the disuse of my potential. It is in the overcoming that I may remain alive in this life.

“When a friend of mine used to grumble because he had to write a paper for school, his mother would tell him: find a way to make it interesting. that’s what you need to do: find a question that makes the world interesting. People who do great things look at the same world everyone else does, but notice some odd detail that’s compellingly mysterious…

If it takes years to articulate great questions, what do you do now, at sixteen? Work toward finding one. Great questions don’t appear suddenly. They gradually congeal in your head. And what makes them congeal is experience. So the way to find great questions is not to search for them–not to wander about thinking, what great discovery shall I make? You can’t answer that; if you could, you’d have made it.

The way to get a big idea to appear in your head is not to hunt for big ideas, but to put in a lot of time on work that interests you, and in the process keep your mind open enough that a big idea can take roost…

Put in time how and on what? Just pick a project that seems interesting: to master some chunk of material, or to make something, or to answer some question… Do something hard enough to stretch you, but only just, especially at first. If you’re deciding between two projects, choose whichever seems most fun. If one blows up in your face, start another. Repeat till, like an internal combustion engine, the process becomes self-sustaining, and each project generates the next one. (This could take years.)”

Sometimes we try to put the cart before the horse and think of what we want, and do what we think is necessary to get there. However, in my experience and studies, this is rarely to case. We need to do what we want, and this will lead us to the things that we want–whether we knew it or not. That is the only sustainable model. If you like running a business, it will lead you run more of that business and you will be happy and wealthy. If you want to be wealthy and think that running a business is the only way to get there, then you will do that, but perhaps you don’t like running a business. You will not be able to sustain this action for long and the wealth will have been short-term.

So before you start plotting and scheming ways to get what you think you want, why don’t you take a look at what interests you? Before giving up on the world, try to remember when you were young and interested in everything. This curiosity is the reason people get up in the morning and have any sense of meaning in life.

Experience as much as you can each day–something new–if you can’t find or remember an area of interest. It is effort, but not in vain. This question and thirst is what will sustain you throughout this life and lead you to your greatness.

I find that university wants me to already have this question when I have not even had experience yet. I know absolutely nothing of the world and my interaction with it is limited–how am I to know which questions I would like to ask? Sometimes we might have to break away from the system even if it pains us so that we may reenter later with the sense and conviction necessary to make that system grow our potential.

“Your life doesn’t have to be shaped by admissions officers. It could be shaped by your own curiosity. It is for all ambitious adults. And you don’t have to wait to start. In fact, you don’t have to wait to be an adult. There’s no switch inside you that magically flips when you turn a certain age or graduate from some institution. You start being an adult when you decide to take responsibility for your life. You can do that at any age.” 

You can do it at any age, or never at all. I do wish that I had realized the full immensity of these words while in high school, yet it is better late than never. Some people live their lives already dead, with self-imposed restrictions or restrictions that they could easily cast off. Being an adult is not just the actions that you take, but the internal conversation that you have with your life. Are you making decisions for yourself? Are you doing what is necessary to live the life that you want to live? We have control of our lives, but it takes some effort and breaking away from the normalcy of the rut of despair that we have put ourselves in. Be conscious of whatever situation you are in, and take responsibility for the actions that you need to take to live this adult life. Do this, or forever live with the shackles of your own making.

I implore you to read his would-have-been-speech (the link to which I have provided below) no matter your age. There is something about the unpleasantness of life being put into words that makes our fears a little less pressing and change a little less daunting.

 

Paul Graham’s “What You’ll Wish You’d Known”: http://www.paulgraham.com/hs.html

So, You Have to Make a Decision…

Being a college student, there are naturally multiple high-stake decisions that I have to make. For example: What college to go to, to stay or to go, what major to pursue. All of these decisions deal with setting up the rest of my life basically, or so it seems. Even if things go a different way in the future, a smart decision still has to be made now.

These sorts of decisions continue the plague us throughout out lives: Should I change careers? Should I marry? Have a family? When? Should I move? And the list goes on. One thing stays the same in this life and it is that everything changes. Stress introduces itself to us when we have more options and are aware of our responsibility to instigate the changes in our own lives.

Therefore, I have spent hours trying to find answers and trying to figure out how to make these decisions, so I’ve decided to compile a nice little list of decision-making tactics:

1. Be psychic. My best case scenario is that I encounter someone who can tell me these answers or somehow become endowed with these powers myself.

2. Use my subconscious. By now, we all know that the subconscious is the part of ourselves that actually wears the pants in the relationship. Reading through The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, I came across a chapter regarding having your subconscious aid in your decision making process. One way is to think about the question and the options before sleep and to affirm that you know the answer. Hopefully after a week or two you wake up with the answer through your dreams or clear knowing.

Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/68984.The_Power_of_Your_Subconscious_Mind

3. Change perspective on decision-making. I recently watched Ruth Chang’s talk on TED, How to Make Hard Choices, and it provided a completely new look at making decisions. I have found that when making decisions that carry quite a bit of weight and consequence, I become filled with anxiety. I try to analyze myself, include lessons from the past, integrate all components that affect the decision, and also try to predict to the best of my ability what will happen. However, there are sometimes so many options and factors that it would be impossibly to weigh everything out and come to a sensible conclusion in that manner. And as mentioned, I can’t predict the future. Her video asks us to change our perspective from one of trying to make the choice that will yield the best outcome with a bucketload of anxiety. To her, making decisions should be one in which you GET TO construct your future. You make the decision not with a fear of making a misstep because as we all know, things go wrong. You make a decision with the excitement of being able to shape who you are. After looking at my choices this way, the useless feeling of anxiety that hindered my decision-making process left me.

Link: http://www.ted.com/talks/ruth_chang_how_to_make_hard_choices

4. Pretend you are in a video game. Some people say that our experience of reality is actually simulated in a sense, and I agree with this because I think that there is a bigger picture than this. However, you do not have to believe this to use this technique. Playing a video game or board game is very similar to the game of life, or so its called by some people. In the game, we are removed yet also engrossed. The main point is to use strategy. Sometimes we get so emotionally invested in our issues that we don’t focus on utilizing logical process to make decisions. Take a break out of your day and pretend this is a video game, just more complex. Look at your objectives and then look at the problems. Breaking it down in this manner can actually make it much easier for you to make better long-term decisions– then you can go back to living your life as life.

5. Pretend you are giving advice to a random person. I find that when we are confused and ask for advice, we actually know what we want to do and are just looking for an outside opinion to confirm our thoughts. Nobody knows you or your life better than you. In many cases, you are fully equipped to make a better decision for yourself than anyone else. So here is the process: write down your questions, answer it objectively as if it was someone else’s problem, and lastly integrate this advice into your own life.

And it cannot be said enough, no decision IS a decision! As my dad says, “Make a decision, whether it’s right or it’s wrong. You can change it later.” If you find yourself paralyzed by decision-making, use some of these tips and remember to MAKE THAT DECISION and don’t be scared of making a wrong turn. If you do, you can weather it and get back on track, because that is what we do!

Freeing Yourself From People’s POSITIVE Opinions of You

People often talk and write about freeing yourself from others’ opinions of you–usually referring to opinions inhabiting the negative part of the spectrum. However, that is not where this piece of advice ends. Recently, I have been going through some works by Anthony de Mello, S.J.–and unlike many of the spiritual and self-improvement books out there nowadays, his work was actually worth stopping and taking the time to think about. These kinds of books are too often too long-winded and fluffy so that you spend so much time reading book after book without getting the necessary impact. With de Mello’s book, Call to Love, I found myself meditating on his meditations! A topic in one of them was letting go of opinions and judgments on yourself–especially the positive ones.

When a judgment is placed on something, it puts that thing into a box and cuts off all its curves and all its edges (tribute to John Legend there–couldn’t help it). As mentioned in the Liposuction post, these judgments could never compare to the full reality of things. Let’s say you are a child going about your business and having fun with the things around you. You start talking to this other kid. After a while, this kid says, “You’re funny!” You are immensely pleased that you have gained the acceptance of your peer and have even impressed them with just being you. By allowing that to make you pleased, you have also subconsciously allowed yourself to gain a fear along with that. That fear is the fear we all naturally have of not being accepted or liked. From there, you fear that you may lose this person’s good opinion of you. And so, you do things that will keep the good opinion that was bestowed upon you. You become the funny one and everything you do is guided by being funny to keep other’s approval. You have trapped yourself and put yourself in a position where you are not free to be not funny, not free to not be entertaining others.

Unbeknownst to you, you fashioned your own bars of imprisonment. This is not meant to tell you not to feel pleased when you are complimented; rather, the goal is to be aware of this. In this awareness, you can make better judgments and live more authentically. You can realize that– yes, that person said you were funny. That is their opinion of you that is really just all about their own judgments and themselves. It really has nothing to do with you. You can feel that pride, but remind yourself that whatever they say about you or what you say about yourself could never fully describe who you were, are, and who you are becoming. Once you have realized that their opinion of you has nothing to do with you, you will be free.

Liposuction Your Outlook

I’ve recently been reading some work by Anthony de Mello, S.J. One of the meditations in his book, Call to Love, caught my eye. In it, de Mello says that in our daily lives, there is a “layer of fat” that clouds how we see and experience things. He emphasizes how important it is for us to remove this fat so that we can see the world for how it really is– hence the “liposuction”.

What is this layer of fat that he is talking about, really? When you are a small child, you just interact with the things around you;  kids ‘soak things up like a sponge’. There is just a massive download during this time of pure experience. After we get more and more experiences though, we start relating these experiences to other things. It is the experiences that we have had and the judgments that we make on things that constitutes this “layer of fat”. If we are unaware of this, these experiences and judgments naturally cloud how we see things and what is going on. For example, you may see a person one way due to how they have acted in the past. Although this is natural and can be helpful, it is not accurate. If we want to see the world for what it is, we have to remove that judgment that we have made and experience things for how they are now, as that is the only thing that is real in the moment.

Removing this layer of fat is not easy since using past experience to inform current events is one of the most natural things for humans to do, as well as one of the most helpful in our evolution. Therefore, it cannot and should not be discarded completely. However, it is essential to keep in mind the “layer of fat” that this creates. As long as we are aware of this, we can take the necessary steps to attempt to see things clearly and make the best decision possible for the situation.

It is not so much that we need to change ourselves and go against our nature. Going against nature is futile and will hinder your progress. Just by bringing the awareness into your days, you can begin to see the world more clearly, live in the now, and fully experience your life. After all, this life is meant to be experienced NOW in all of its beauty!

Good Morning Starshine, the Earth Says “Hello!”

This is a quote from Johnny Depp Willy Wonka.  Although this may be regarded as utter blasphemy to some of the theatre or movie people out there, I actually prefer the newer version. Johnny Depp! Explosions! Eating bugs! But even better than that is a crazy character that is actually wiser than everyone else. This quote became one of my signature quotes to say circa 2005.

Each day can get quite monotonous if we let it. I admit, I have often felt like an octogenarian in the past– skip the golden years and straight to the sun set. Sometimes, life throws you some shit-cakes and if enough smacks you or if a big enough one does, it can be hard to get out of the funk you are in. Everything seems to be a bit duller and life doesn’t hold any promise or excitement. You look at the years ahead of you as a chore to drag your feet through instead of a challenge to enjoy, or at least something to hold your interest.

Each day, you have to greet the world with the same excitement and enthusiasm that you did as a child. Logically, the world is a large place with much to offer. So why is it so hard to realize that and live it? Sometimes you have to give yourself a good kick in your pants, and this is the time to do it. There is an infinite amount of potential in life and it is our part to wake up and feel uncomfortable and realize this! Wake up and say, “Hello World! Give me what you’ve got and I’ll give you what I got!”