It’s Time to Change the Status Quo

This is a painful time for so many of us. There is anger, outrage, pain, fear, racism, injustice, sadness, exhaustion — and it’s not just a recent thing, it goes back generations, as far as our country has existed.

It’s heartbreaking.

We need to let our hearts be broken by how minorities, but especially black people, are treated in this country. Let our hearts be broken by the fear they have to live through, the injustice they’ve suffered, the way they’re perceived by everyone else, the way they’re put down, incarcerated, stomped on, segregated, outcast, spit on, villainized, criminalized, demonized, slurred, patronized, marginalized, rejected, and put into poverty … and then blamed for all of that. Let our hearts be broken by how long this has been allowed to go on, how exhausted they must feel from all of it.

We start with the heartbreak, and then let this move us to finally take action.

Let’s end this now. Change is possible faster than we usually believe, if there’s a will. Gay marriage, decriminalization of marijuana, and a black president have proven that, just to start with. Change is possible now, if we decide it needs to happen.

It needs to happen.

We’ve allowed this to go on for too long. And let’s not be mistaken: we’re all culpable in this. All of us. For pretending it’s not real, for ignoring it, for allowing our own biases and racism to go unchecked, for not calling out racism and oppression in our institutions and society, for not talking about it, for not marching on it, for not demanding that change happen now. We all share responsibility.

But let’s not get into finger pointing and blame. Point the finger at ourselves, own our own part, and then let’s make it right. Own our impact, and clean up our mess.

Let’s change the status quo. Not allow police brutality, to start with. Not allow racism or sexism in our institutions. Not criminalize being black, or being an immigrant. Not allow voices to be oppressed. Not allow segregation and oceans of minority poverty. Not allow our political, economic, social, educational systems to be systems of oppression, but to become systems of positive change.

We have the power to do that. Let’s claim it.

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A Guide to Dealing with the Growing Tiredness & Boredom of the New Normal

This pandemic is no longer an exciting (but scary) novelty. We’re a couple months into this lockdown and crisis, and it’s starting to wear on many of us.

We experience it as boredom, tiredness, exhaustion. We experience it as ongoing burden, and can’t wait for it to be over. We lose patience, and want to do anything else but this.

That all makes sense. It’s also exactly why we have difficulty sticking to habit changes, to long-term deep commitments, to ongoing projects and long-running challenges.

It’s one thing when things are new, novel, exciting, fresh. It’s a completely different thing when things are boring, dull, tiring, burdensome.

What would it be like to work with this difficulty inside ourselves, and shift it?

What would it change for us if we didn’t have to get tired of long-term challenges, or feel them as boring difficult burdens? What would it shift if we could develop the joy of patience?

Just a few possible benefits of shifting this:

  • We can endure long challenges, for months and even years.
  • We can shift habits long term, instead of dropping new habits after a couple of weeks.
  • We’ll have more patience for people who usually tire us out or get on our nerves.
  • We’ll be less drained by things that weigh on us or bother us over the long term.
  • We’ll have a greater capacity for endurance, fortitude and patience overall.

I’d say those are benefits worth working toward!

And the good news is, with the boredom and tiredness we’re feeling from the lockdown and pandemic, we have the perfect practice ground. This is the time to practice, right when we’re feeling like not facing this difficulty.

So how do we do that?

Let’s first look at why these kinds of situations try our patience, and then how to work with them during the current situation.

Why These Things Try Our Patience

If we think about it, there’s nothing in most situations that we face that makes them inherently difficult or annoying. We create the difficulty.

For example, let’s say you had to sit in a room with no devices, nothing to read, nothing to do … for two weeks. Most people would find this tedious, boring, tiresome. (Not everyone, but most.) Why though? There’s nothing wrong with an empty room. It’s not worse than any other situation — except that we make it worse, by deciding that it’s not fun, not exciting, not interesting.

That’s our decision. We create the experience of boredom, burden, difficulty.

The good news is that if we create the experience, we can change it. We have the power to not be bored, impatient, burdened, annoyed, frustrated.

The shift comes from letting go of the thoughts we have about the situation, which are creating the difficult experience.

“But it really is boring/frustrating! It’s not just my thoughts about it!”

No, it’s not. In reality, it’s just life. The world, and life on earth. It’s just molecules and energy. We create the narrative that it’s bad or good. We can let go of the narrative.

If we let go of the beliefs and narrative and thoughts about the situation … it’s not good or bad. It’s just life. And in fact, we can create a new view: that it’s a miracle to be alive, to witness the universe like this, to be interconnected to other living beings in so many ways; that it’s something to be grateful for. Or just experience the experience, without thoughts and narratives.

It’s up to us. We can practice with these thoughts and experiences.

Using the Crisis to Practice Patience

So with this in mind, let’s use this current crisis to practice patience.

Whenever you’re feeling restless, bored, tired of the situation, frustrated, unhappy, exhausted by it all … delight in the opportunity to practice!

Let yourself find the beauty in the practice.

Look at the situation around you, and ask, “Why is this frustrating or tiresome? Why don’t I like it?”

See what thoughts come up. “I just want it to be over. I just want some human contact. I just want to go to my favorite restaurant. I don’t like having to stay home.”

Notice that a lot of those thoughts are about what you want or don’t want. What you like or don’t like. This is about us getting our way — and we always want our way.

What would it be like to not need to get our way, but to love things just as they are?

Look around, and see the beauty in this moment. See the incredible miracle of life and the world around us. Feel the connection to all other human beings, to all living beings, in everything you see.

Or just experience the moment without the thoughts. Just the sensations of this moment.

When you’re feeling frustration, it’s also an opportunity to experience the sensations of frustration, without judging them. What does it feel like in your body to feel frustration? Can you just experience that?

Over and over, the feelings will come up. We can just experience them, without judging. We can just experience this moment. We can see the beauty in this moment.

These are practices of patience. And with practice, we can increase our capacity.

Or we can practice frustration with not getting what we want.

What will you practice today?

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The New Normal

It’s time for us to accept that this pandemic, and social isolation, are here for awhile.

But in addition to that, our reality has changed, possibly for good.

We’re in a new normal.

Some things that have changed for many of us:

  1. A sense of restriction: We’re not able to do our usual things — not only work and school, but things like haircuts, dentists, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, shops and more. That can feel very restricted.
  2. Heightened uncertainty & anxiety: Things are incredibly uncertain right now, for all of us — for our health, the health of loved ones, the state of the world, the shaky economy, our individual financial situations. And that’s just the start of it. All of this uncertainty is triggering feelings of stress, fear and anxiety in most people, in different ways.
  3. A feeling of isolation but also (possibly) togetherness: For many people, social distancing has created a feeling of isolation that can be very hard to handle. But for many, there can also be a feeling of togetherness – we’re all in this together, no one is excluded. Some are creating that feeling of togetherness by doing video calls, by connecting others online, or by taking part in community or group efforts to help.
  4. Contraction when we’re feeling overwhelmed: It can all be too much. And when we feel that sense of overwhelm, we can want to shut down, exit, turn away, avoid. We avoid hard tasks, we go to distraction, we avoid our healthy habits. This is all completely normal!
  5. A sense of disruption: Our old habits have been disrupted — we can’t do all the things we’re used to doing, and that gives us a feeling of being upended. It’s frustrating to have things disrupted, and can make us feel afloat.
  6. Irritation with others: Being isolated with the same people every day can cause friction. And that brings up all of our issues, all the ways we respond (and they respond) when we get triggered.
  7. Wanting it all to be over: Impatience! We just want to go back to normal. It’s hard to accept the way things are.
  8. Wanting to feel something meaningful: This can all feel very unanchored. And in this feeling of groundlessness and instability, we can yearn for some kind of meaning. Some sense of purpose.

You might not be experiencing all of these, because every person is experiencing the new normal differently.

But it is a new normal.

So the question is: will we resist it, or can we use it as an opportunity?

We can complain about the new normal. Hate it. Stew in frustration about it. That’s one possibility.

Another possibility is to use it as a growth opportunity.

The Opportunity That Life is Giving Us

Life is always opening doors for us, giving us a gift. We just don’t often recognize it.

For example, this morning, life gave you an amazing gift of a new day. Many people who are on their last breath would give anything for such a miraculous gift — and yet, we often will take this gift for granted. Fritter it away. Complain about much of it.

We waste the opportunity that life has given us!

So being aware of this … how can we use this new normal as an opportunity and a gift?

The first idea I’d like to offer is that the new normal is just highlighting the difficulties we often felt before, but could more easily ignore.

We could pretend that we weren’t constantly being disrupted, that we weren’t very restricted, that we didn’t have massive uncertainty in our lives. We could pretend that we weren’t craving connection and meaning, that we weren’t irritated by others.

We’re very good at fooling ourselves.

But now, we can’t pretend (as much). We are faced with these realities, and we can either resist and complain … or we can look them squarely in the face, and accept them.

The second idea is that these are opportunities to grow — to train, to become more resilient.

So for example, we could train in each area I mentioned above:

  • If you’re feeling restricted, let yourself feel the feeling of restriction. It’s probably something you’ve felt many times before but didn’t face it. Can you shift this feeling, after you’ve felt it, to see the sense of openness and freedom and gift in each moment?
  • If you’re feeling isolated, can you use this to connect to yourself more, as if you were a monk in a monastery? Can you let yourself feel the feeling of isolation, and give yourself some compassion?
  • Let yourself feel the craving for connection and meaning. And then see how you can create that for yourself, each day, without any certainty about whether you’re doing it right.
  • If you’re irritated at others, can you rise above your narrative about the other person, and see that you’re both feeling fear and pain? That you both are dealing with this with anger, irritation, frustration? That both of you are resorting to old (unhelpful) patterns? Can you practice compassion for them (and yourself) instead?
  • If you’re impatient and wanting it all to be over … can you practice patience instead? Let yourself be with the pain and frustration you’re feeling, and be willing to face it and sit in the middle of it? This is an incredibly powerful practice that will strengthen us for whatever we face in the future.
  • Can you practice this patience with everything you’re feeling: overwhelmed, irritated, frustrated, anxious, uncertain, fearful? And bring self-compassion to that as well?

So you can get a sense that we’re practicing a few things with whatever we’re facing:

  • A willingness to feel what we’re feeling
  • A willingness to face and sit in the middle of difficulty (patience)
  • Compassion for ourselves and others
  • The ability to create connection and meaning

What would it be like to use the gift of this new normal to get stronger during this crisis? To practice these incredibly transformative practices?

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4 Mindfulness Practices That We Need Right Now

In the middle of the chaos of the world right now, what can we do to take care of ourselves?

Let’s talk about a handful of simple mindfulness practices that can be helpful.

  1. Breathe deeply into the belly. This is one to start with, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. We get caught up in our heads, stuck in a cycle of thoughts that are rarely very helpful. So to get out of our heads and into our bodies, we can do deep breathes, into the deepest part of our bellies. Do several breaths like this, maybe for 30-60 seconds if you have time. This not only calms you down, but helps you to be more present with your body and surroundings.
  2. Check on your feelings, give yourself compassion. Turn your attention to the sensations in your body, and notice how uncertainty and fear/anxiety might feel for you right now, as a bodily experience. This, again, helps get you out of your thoughts, but also it’s important to notice how you’re feeling. Practice giving these feelings some space, letting them be (it’s OK to feel anxiety!). Then see if you can give them some compassion, to take care of yourself when you’re feeling uncertainty or frustration.
  3. Find calm in the middle of a storm. When the world is full of chaos, can we find calm? Find your breath. Let the swirl of thoughts calm down. Notice the light around you, notice sound. Notice the beauty of the moment. Widen your awareness beyond yourself, and feel the peace of a moment of stillness. You can still take action, but from a place of calmness.
  4. Send compassion out to others. Once you’ve practiced compassion for your own uncertainty and fears … once you’ve found a moment of calm and centeredness … you can open your heart to others right now. They’re afraid, they’re feeling anxious. Open your awareness beyond your home, to the others in your neighborhood and city, to others around the world, to your loved ones and strangers. Feel the worry they’re feeling. Send them compassion, from the deepest place in your heart. Let it flow out as a healing salve to everyone. Notice how this feels. Notice how it might change how you interact with others.

Let these practices help you through this troubled time, my friends.

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Dealing with the Immense Uncertainty of the World

The world is in a state of fear and uncertainty right now, and it’s stressful and overwhelming for most of us.

This kind of fear, stress, uncertain and overwhelm can have some really strong effects on our lives:

  • Constant fear and stress can cause anxiety problems, worsening sleep and health, depression and anxiety
  • In a place of fear, we can often make bad decisions
  • People can panic, overreact because of fear, and cause widespread confusion and disruptions
  • Our relationships can deteriorate when we’re operating from a place of fear
  • We become less productive, less focused, when we’re stressed
  • It has an obvious impact on our happiness, including the impacts from all of the above

These are just some of the strong effects from a constant sense of fear, uncertainty, stress and overwhelm.

So how do we cope with this?

Obviously, there’s no easy answer. Let’s talk about what I’ve found to work, and what I recommend right now.

Dealing with the Uncertainty & Fear

The first thing is just to acknowledge that we’re feeling a lot of uncertainty and stress about the world situation. Bring awareness to the feelings you’re experiencing, and acknowledge their presence.

Often we want to ignore the feelings, or we’re just operating on autopilot and not really aware of it. But then we’re operating from that place of fear and stress, and these emotions are driving us without us being aware of it.

Next, see if you can give the fear and uncertainty some space. That means to turn your attention toward it, and let it be in your awareness … but with a sense of spaciousness, as if you’re giving it a wide open room to just be. You don’t need the feelings to go away or change, they are just going to be in your awareness with a feeling of having space around them, letting them exist as if you could even welcome them.

This is a way of taking care of yourself. When we’re feeling fear, it’s important to nurture ourselves, take care of the feeling. Give it space, and allow it to be in your awareness.

Third, see this as an opportunity to practice. We often close ourselves off to fear and uncertainty, but they can be really powerful things to practice with. They are incredible teachers! Let yourself pause for a few moments to practice with this, because uncertainty and fear and stress will always be a part of your life – you won’t ever be free of them! They show up whether you want them or not, so why not get good at being with them?

This is an opportunity to practice mindfulness with your fear and uncertainty. Open to the opportunity, instead of turning away to distraction and busyness.

Fourth, practice welcoming it and giving it unconditional friendliness. This might sound strange when it comes to fear, because for so long we’ve had an adversarial relationship to fear and uncertainty. We don’t like them, because they feel like stress and pain. But we don’t have to relate to fear this way. We can be more open toward it, even friendly.

So start by trying to welcome it. Allow it into your experience. Even be warm towards it, as you might welcome a good friend.

Then try to give it some unconditional friendliness. It’s an amazing practice. See if you’re able to bring the kind of warmth and friendliness towards it that you do with a loved one. You don’t need the feeling to be any certain way, you can be friendly with it no matter what.

Fifth, let yourself feel the openness of the moment. This one is a little harder to explain, but bear with me. If you can relax and open your awareness wider than the narrowness of your thought patterns or narrative … you can experience the openness of this moment.

Let your awareness open wider than your body. Let it take in the room all around you — light, colors, shapes, sound, textures, sensations on your skin. Feel the relaxed, open nature of the moment — fluid, changing, not fixed, unknowable, dynamic, spacious. This is the nature of our world, the root of uncertainty. It’s actually beautiful to behold. Let yourself relax into this openness.

That can take practice, don’t worry if you don’t feel it right away. Keep practicing with it!

Sixth, open to feeling connected to others through your uncertainty and fear. As you sit in stillness, as you feel the sensations in your body, as you welcome the feelings and practice friendliness with them, as you experience the openness of the moment … you can also feel a connection to others.

Think about everyone else in the world who is experiencing similar feelings of discomfort and uncertainty. Similar levels of stress, fear, overwhelm, anxiety. You are not alone — so many others feel it right now! In this way, you are all connected. Let your heart feel this connection to others going through similar experiences. Send them compassion and love, wishing them well.

In this way, our fear and uncertainty, in these very uncertain times … become an opening for connection and compassion. This is transformative. Try it right now.

The world is in a state of intense mass uncertainty. Don’t shut yourself off to it, ignore it or try to control, distract or exit.

Open yourself to this, because it is a powerful time to practice.

Learn More with Me

If you’d like to practice with me, there are two offerings this Saturday (March 14) and one ongoing program where you can join me:

  1. Zen Dharma talk on Fearlessness with Susan O’Connell (and Leo) on Saturday: I’m joining my Zen teacher Susan in giving a free dharma talk on the idea of fear and practicing fearlessness. It’ll be my first dharma talk ever! It’s tomorrow — Saturday (March 14) at 10am Pacific / 1pm Eastern. Watch online here.
  2. Fearless Purpose Online Workshop (Saturday): A couple hours later, Susan and I will be conducting a 3-hour workshop called Fearless Purpose. The in-person event has been canceled, but you can still participate online. We’re still holding this workshop because we believe it’s so important right now. It will be from 1-4 pm Pacific / 4-7 pm Eastern. You can still sign up for online participation here.
  3. Fearless Training Program: I also offer an ongoing program called Fearless Training, where we train with uncertainty in the mindfulness methods I talk about in this article. I invite you to join us and train together! Check out Fearless Training here.
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The Power of Getting Clarity

Before I started Zen Habits, I was in a place in my life where I had a beautiful family, but I was stuck and dissatisfied with myself.

I knew I wanted to change things — my health, finances, job, way that I was approaching life — but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do about any of it. Most of the time, I just ignored all of this, and distracted myself.

I didn’t have any clarity on what I wanted or what I needed to do. This lack of clarity is felt in all of us very deeply, so that it shows up in how we talk, how we hold ourselves, how other people feel us. It affects our relationships, our jobs, our health.

Then I got very clear that I needed to change. And clear that I wanted to quit smoking, start running, become vegetarian, start waking earlier, and start writing more. I went on to do all those and more.

Clarity helps us to focus, to take action, to feel energized.

A lack of clarity causes stress, inaction, a scattered focus, relationship difficulties, confusion on teams.

Some examples of areas to find clarity in:

  • Your mission in life
  • Your morning routine
  • Your financial plan
  • What you need to do to improve your relationship
  • How you’ll get healthier
  • What others expect of you; what you expect of them
  • How a meeting will be run
  • What your boundaries are in each relationship

As you can see, this is a pretty broad topic — it can apply to every part of our lives. And we don’t have to be perfect, and we don’t have to get clarity on everything this week. It’s something to bring awareness to, that we can improve over time.

But the more we find clarity, the more we’ll have focus, calm, motivation.

How to Get Clarity

OK, great … we want to get clarity in our lives … how do we do that?

I’ll share some things I’ve learned for finding clarity:

  1. Create some space. When we’re unclear on something (how we should reach a goal, for example) … most often we put it off instead of getting any clarity. Instead, try creating some space to get clarity. Carve out an hour. Half a day. A weekend. (Depending on how big the thing is that you need clarity on.) Then do the things below. But carve out the space.
  2. Journal, iterate. Write about what you need clarity on — it doesn’t have to be any solid answers, or any kind of coherent writing. Just let your thoughts pour out. Stream of consciousness. Just give yourself space to reflect.
  3. Meditate & contemplate. Similarly, you can go out in nature and spend some time in solitude. Go for a walk. Sit on a rock. Meditate. See what comes up for you. Hold one question in your mind: “What do I want here?” Or something like that. See if anything emerges as you hold the question.
  4. Talk to others. Share your thoughts with others. Share what you’re not sure about. What you’re afraid of. Hear their thoughts. Just the act of talking it out is valuable — you’re giving space for your thoughts and feelings, and having them heard. Often you can get clarity from a good conversation.
  5. When you have a little clarity, write it down. If you have some kind of answer, any kind of clarity at all, write it down as simply as you can. Two sentences. Putting it down simply helps it become more clear. And then you can start to take action on it.
  6. Take action to get clarity. Many people think they need to have clarity before they take action, but it often happens the other way around. Have the slightest bit of direction? Go in that direction, take the first steps, see what it’s like. You’ll learn more from doing than going back and forth on things. For example, as I started working on my mission, I got clearer and clearer that this is what was meaningful for me, but I also got clearer on how I’d go about doing it. Maybe in a couple years, I’ll have even more clarity, but I’m not going to wait for that in order to take action. Start moving, and learn from that.
  7. Reflect after you take action & get clearer. As you set things in motion, it’s useful to step back every month or two to see how things are going. What have you learned? What’s getting in the way? Use what you’ve learned to get even more clarity. Write it down simply. Take action again.

And repeat.

What areas of your life need clarity? How is the lack of clarity affecting you and those around you?

Are you ready to create the space to get the clarity?

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