You can’t protect everything perfectly all the time – even if you curl up into a tight ball, a skilled opponent will find ways through your defences. Similarly, the things we value in life – our job, self image, health, relationships, so on are vulnerable, especially if we intend to keep moving and exploring.
The possibility of finding yourself in a tricky situation is only scary if you lack belief in your ability to defend and escape. And there is no better way to learn than to be willing to end up in bad positions. And if we are unsuccessful in getting out, there is always another roll, another project, another opportunity. Failure in one instance does not mean failure over all unless we stop turning up and trying.
The more you relax, the more clearly you will be able to spot opportunities in the midst of danger. Being relaxed but fast and attentive is where we are at our most effective.
Perhaps to relax, you have to trust life, as you would trust a training partner. Some people view life like an attacker on the street – cruel and without our best intentions at heart. I can’t say which is the right view but I like viewing life as something largely helpful to us. Like a training partner in Jiu Jitsu, the challenges it throws at us are intended to make us more skilled.
Whether a Jiu Jitsu roll or any other challenge, situations can be viewed in a neutral manner when we recognize that they do not exist only for us. A balance has to be struck between achieving our desires and sharing time, resources and opportunities with others. Me not getting a job is perhaps someone else landing their perfect role. Me unsuccessfully defending a submission is my training partner successfully practicing their technique.
My cousin and I work in office blocks across town from each other. Funnily, our houses are located in such a way and our timing is such that every single morning, without exception, our paths cross on our drives to work. And we always manage to roll our windows down and have a quick chat before the business of the day ensues. My office is by all descriptions modest and my work is nothing to brag about either. Regardless, I love my work day. Its an interesting place with interesting things. I even enjoy experiencing the traffic jams on the way to work, the unsettling phone calls with clients and all the other downs that come with the ups.
This is not a description of an actual day at the office for me but a game my cousin and I used to play as kids. We very creatively called it ‘Office Office.’ I don’t know where child me got an image of office work from because neither of my parents worked in an office growing up, probably from television or books! Either way, it was this interesting and slightly odd thing that adults did that was fun to imitate! It was fun to pretend that we had important places to rush off to in the morning, phone calls to answers, letters to write and that we had use for adult things like staplers and hole punches.
Sometimes in the real world, when the stars align, I get transported back to the games room of my childhood home where my fake office was located and become a 5-year-old again.
In that mode, I really enjoy my work and appreciate and investigate all the interesting information and tools -digital and physical – that I have access to. I enjoy interacting with all sorts of people and my commute to work and lunch time walks become wonderful and amusing experiences.
During COVID-19-free times, Central London, where my actual office is, is a great place for a lunchtime walk. The footpaths look like they really should have two lanes – one for the super-slow picture-taking tourists and another for the super-busy speed-walking office workers! You can’t blame the tourists for being so irritatingly slow when there are a million things to look at – the old buildings, the new buildings, the red buses, the telephone boxes, the sometimes large and sometime tiny groups of protestors outside important buildings and everything else! The tourists with their poses in front of the red telephone boxes make me laugh! Sometimes I make myself laugh when I catch myself huffing and puffing to my next meeting with an important look on my face or engaging in corporate speak that doesn’t fully make sense.
With the central London lunch time visualisation over, I really want to make two points with this article.
Firstly, that we should all seek out work that brings out the child in us! This can be both through emphasising certain parts of our current job or through seeking to find a new line of work! For me, for example, reading non-fiction, writing, planning projects, and finding solutions to interesting or technical problems is where I lose all track of time!
Secondly, that whether we enjoy our job in its entirety or not, people and things are inherently interesting. How could they not be? If we are consistently bored during a day, we should ask ourselves if we are prejudging things or failing to pay close attention.
This idea of child-like enjoyment and simplicity extends to almost everything else in our world. Another example, besides work, that comes to mind is social media. For a while, I really suffered my use of social media – it became something serious and how I presented my life to my small number of followers became important to me! More recently, I’ve started looking at it as an opportunity to play around. E.g. Instagram is this little world of blank squares that I can fill with whatever images, words, and videos I like for others to see! That’s quite something!
It seems to me that somewhere along the way we got sold on the idea that beyond a certain age, we must look at things seriously. That if we are to be serious and competent adults, we can no longer look at things with child-like fascination!
My hope for myself and for you, person reading this, is that while we strive to get to the places that promise us more fulfilment, we find child-like joy in the ordinary everyday things and events and that we refuse to look at this colourful beautiful intricate world like its anything less than marvellous!!
Note: The heading is by Alan Watts! If you’ve known me long enough, you are probably tired of me quoting him or are soon to be but what can I do, the man was full of brilliant wisdom!
Alan Watts is one of my favourite philosophers. What I love about his work is the humour and playfulness with which he views life. His words are alchemical – turning anxiety into laughter and serious problems into nothings. I have found antidotes to many a situation by delving into his books or listening to his lectures! In hope that you too may find value in them, here are 30 pearls of wisdom gathered from his work!
On the Present Moment
1. Don’t hurry anything. Don’t worry about the future. Don’t worry about what progress you’re making. Just be entirely content to be aware of what is.
2. After all, the future is quite meaningless and unimportant unless, sooner or later, it is going to become the present. Thus to plan for a future which is not going to become present is hardly more absurd than to plan for a future which, when it comes to me, will find me “absent,” looking fixedly over its shoulder instead of into its face.
3. The art of living … is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive
4. It’s a kind of digging the present, it’s a kind of grooving with the eternal now, and brings us into a state of peace where we can understand that the point of life — the place where it’s at — is simply here and now.
5. Therefore, the important thing is simply to begin—anywhere, wherever you are. If you happen to be sitting, just sit. If you are smoking a pipe, just smoke it. If you are thinking out a problem, just think. But don’t think and reflect unnecessarily, compulsively, from sheer force of nervous habit.
6. The only zen you’ll find on mountain tops is the zen you bring up there with you.
On Work and Play
7. If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing thing you don’t like doing, which is stupid.
8. All this might have been wonderful if, at every stage, you had been able to play it as a game, finding your work as fascinating as poker, chess, or fishing. But for most of us the day is divided into work-time and play-time, the work consisting largely of tasks which others pay us to do because they are abysmally uninteresting. We therefore work, not for the work’s sake, but for money—and money is supposed to get us what we really want in our hours of leisure and play.
9. This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.
10. Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the Gods made for fun.
11. People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.
12. The real problem does not come from any momentary sensitivity to pain, but from our marvelous powers of memory and foresight—in short from our consciousness of time . For the animal to be happy it is enough that this moment be enjoyable. But man is hardly satisfied with this at all. He is much more concerned to have enjoyable memories and expectations — especially the latter. With these assured, he can put up with an extremely miserable present. Without this assurance, he can be extremely miserable in the midst of immediate physical pleasure.
On facing change and making decisions
13. The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
14. Regard yourself as a cloud. Clouds never make mistakes. Did you ever see a cloud that was misshapen? Did you ever see a badly designed wave? No, they always do the right thing. And if you will treat yourself for a while as a cloud or wave, you’ll realize that you can’t make a mistake whatever you do. Because even if you do something that appears totally bizarre, it will all come out in the wash somehow or another. Then through this capacity you will develop a kind of confidence. And through confidence you will be able to trust your own intuition.
15. Taking this ghastly risk is the condition of there being life. You see, for all life is an act of faith and an act of gamble. The moment you take a step, you do so on an act of faith because you don’t really know that the floor’s not going to give under your feet … so, actually, therefore, the course of wisdom, what is really sensible, is to let go, is to commit oneself, to give oneself up and that’s quite mad. So we come to the strange conclusion that in madness lies sanity.
On Achievement and Improvement
17. Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.
18. What I am really saying is that you don’t need to do anything, because if you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomenon of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that, and there is nothing wrong with you at all.
19. If we are unduly absorbed in improving our lives we may forget altogether to live them.
20. If we begin to think about our goals in life as destinations, as points to which we must arrive, this thinking begins to cut out all that makes a point worth having. It is as if instead of giving you a full banana to eat, I have you just two tiny ends of the banana – and that would not be, in any sense, a satisfactory meal.
On Good and Bad
21. Detachment means to have neither regrets for the past nor fears for the future; to let life take its course without attempting to interfere with its movement and change, neither trying to prolong the stay of things pleasant nor to hasten the departure of things unpleasant. To do this is to move in time with life, to be in perfect accord with its changing music.
22. But just as the hour-hand of the watch goes up to twelve and down to six, so, too, there is day and night, waking and sleeping, living and dying, summer and winter. You can’t have any one of these without the other, because you wouldn’t be able to know what black is unless you had seen it side-by-side with white, or white unless side-by-side with black
On the existence of a separate self
23. Your heart beats “self-so,” and, if you would give it half a chance, your mind can function “self-so”—though most of us are much too afraid of ourselves to try the experiment.
25. It’s like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it
26. We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms. Most of us have the sensation that “I myself” is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body — a center which “confronts” an “external” world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. “I came into this world.” “You must face reality.” “The conquest of nature.”
This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.
27. Most of the wisdom which we employ in everyday life never came to us as verbal information. It was not through statements that we learned how to breathe, swallow, see, circulate the blood, digest food, or resist diseases. Yet these things are performed by the most complex and marvelous processes which no amount of book-learning and technical skill can reproduce. This is real wisdom—but our brains have little to do with it. This is the kind of wisdom which we need in solving the real, practical problems of human life. It has done wonders for us already, and there is no reason why it should not do much more
28. The timid mind shuts this window with a bang, and is silent and thoughtless about what it does not know in order to chatter the more about what it thinks it knows. It fills up the uncharted spaces with mere repetition of what has already been explored.
The following passages aren’t by Alan Watts as such but words quoted in his work.
29. Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind.
From The Tempest, Act 4 Scene 1
30. A centipede was happy – quite! Until a toad in fun Said, “Pray, which leg goes after which?” This worked his mind to such a pitch, He lay distracted in a ditch, Considering how to run.
Books Used in this Article
The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
Become What You Are
The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety
The Way of Zen
Some quotes are from lectures, recordings of which can be found online including on youtube!
Mindfulness and its benefits in exercise is a microcosm for the benefits of mindfulness in life. Just as life becomes more fulfilling, and rich in nature when lived moment by moment, breath by breath, exercise becomes more manageable and productive when you focus on each movement as you go along.
The present moment is almost always bearable.
Observing our minds during the last moments of a tough set or the last mile of a long run is likely to reveal common repetitive thoughts – ‘I need to stop.’ ‘ I can’t do this’. ‘I still have another 10 minutes to go’.
”Some of the biggest and most insidious distractions come to us not from the outside, but from inside – the inside of our own heads, that is. All of our mental chatter and negative self-talk gets in the way of our focus.”
George Mumford in The Mindful Athlete
When things get tough or even at the first signs of discomfort, instead of focusing on the task at hand, our minds can begin judging the situation – how much we have left to do, our lack of ability to keep going, and verbalising the need to stop and rest.
Being mindful of our breathing and observing the sensations in our body helps us to silence the mind and keep going or identify the rare situations where we do truly need to stop or adjust something. We can recognise discomfort e.g. aching or burning muscles (as opposed to an injury) as simple sensations and stay with them without unnecessarily reacting to, naming or labeling them.
”Boredom, anger, sadness or fear are not ‘you’ or personal. They are conditions of the mind. They come and go. Nothing that comes and goes is you.”
Eckhart Tolle, in Stillness Speaks
Being mindful and focusing on our breath also helps us keep our breathing steady, consistent and under control. This prevents our body from going into stress-mode and increases muscular and cardiovascular endurance as well as our ability to recover quicker between bouts of hard effort.
”We have become a generation of shallow breathers. We rush through life and our breathing rushes along with us”
George Mumford in The Mindful Athlete
Being mindful includes being aware of the totality of the moment and not zeroing in on one negative sensation or problem. In the example of running, our awareness may include the soreness in our legs but also the rest of our body, our breathing, the wind on our face, the sky and the rest of our surroundings.
Something I do when running, which slightly moves away from mindfulness perhaps, is giving myself a reality check. I remind myself momentarily that I’m just one person doing one run on one particular day of my life and despite the run feeling like it could go on forever, it is going to be over in a blink of an eye.
The added bonus of tough workouts!
Whilst we can be mindful during any exercise or activity, a tough workout brings out a greater need for mindfulness as it requires us to dig a bit deeper to complete it. Athletes who undertake extreme endurance challenges such as Ultra-Marathons sometimes report entering into deep meditative state and feelings of bliss, in the midst of intense fatigue and pain or less dramatically and more commonly, catching a second wind, after they’ve pushed through feeling too tired to continue.
Additionally, practicing mindfulness outside the gym or off the mats (reference to mindfulness and jiu jitsu here which is an article for another time!) can help us access mindfulness more easily when we need it during a workout. I enjoy both seated meditation (i.e. what someone would traditionally imagine meditation to be) and meditating while I go about my daily activities. At the end of the day, mindfulness is a way of life; something that makes every conceivable activity better because we are truly present during it.
The Mindful Athlete – George Mumford
The Nike Run Club app – Guided runs by Headspace and Andy Puddicombe
We are naturally drawn to shiny new things that offer new solutions to our problems. Reminding me of fast fashion, fast self-help involves not utilising everything that you already have and getting distracted by everything that is advertised around you. This is a real problem because results, by definition, require us to stick with things and follow through to completion.
To begin building a habit of following through, we can start by taking inventory
1. What information do you have that you aren’t utilising?
This could be good advice that you read or received but never took any actions off the back of. It could be the habits you know are great for you but don’t implement.
2. What projects have you started and not completed?
This could include projects, big and small, that you are behind schedule on or have completed forgotten.
3. What are some products that you’ve bought but haven’t used as you intended?
This could include objects, services or memberships. Do you already have what you need to achieve your desired results? Are there free materials available to you that you could use?These are questions to come back to every time you want to buy something.
It has never been easier for us to buy something new with a click. What differentiates someone and produces results is their ability to consistently utilise what is available to them. Results aside, this is also great for your bank balance and the earth.
” May all beings be at ease. Whatever living beings there may be; Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none, The great or the mighty, medium, short or small, The seen and the unseen, Those living near and far away, Those born and to-be-born — May all beings be at ease! ‘
Metta Meditation is the practice of cultivating good will towards all beings – wishing them happiness and freedom from suffering. This can include our family and friends, ourselves and even complete strangers. It is a way of looking beyond surface level negative emotions that we may experience in our relationships with others e.g. jealousy and comparison and realising that at a deeper level, we wish others to be truly happy; that their happiness in reality gives us as much joy as our own. We realise that wishing anything but happiness on someone is usually a symptom of having perpetually misdirected our attention towards our own mind-made problems and stories.
” For the mind must be interested or absorbed in something, just as a mirror must always be reflecting something. When it is not trying to be interested in itself—as if a mirror would reflect itself—it must be interested, or absorbed, in other people and things. There is no problem of how to love. We love. We are love, and the only problem is the direction of love, whether it is to go straight out like sunlight, or to try to turn back on itself like a “candle under a bushel.” Released from the circle of attempted self-love, the mind of man draws the whole universe into its own unity as a single dewdrop seems to contain the entire sky. This, rather than any mere emotion, is the power and principle of free action and creative morality.” – Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity
In a way then, all meditation is metta meditation because it enables us to quieten down our thoughts, concern about ourselves and the stories we tell ourselves and appreciate the world as it. It blurs the conceptual lines of separation between ourselves and the world, leading to not only a feeling goodwill for others but a deep sense of well-being and being at home in our surroundings.
If you are practicing metta meditation or meditation for the first time and plan to use books, articles or videos as guides, I would urge you to put time in to research and find aids that feel right to you. If something feels off, insincere or pretentious to you, try to find something that doesn’t, instead of being put off from practicing meditation entirely!
It is a uniquely human quality to modify ourselves according to our environment and one that is exceptionally useful. However, it feels to me that in some ways, we have split ourselves into different characters to the detriment of our own quality of life.
The average person today is one person at work and quite another when their work day ends. If we enjoy our work, we are enthusiastic and hardworking but if we don’t, we are bored shadows of our normal selves at work, reserving our enthusiasm and hard work for elsewhere. We are one person with colleagues and a completely different one with friends and family. We are full of love for our friends and family, yet have awkwardly formal relationships with colleagues who become means to achieving objectives in our eyes, rather than living breathing people. Work and play are one example; we expertly play roles in many other scenarios in life.
But what if it isn’t possible to compromise on ourselves in one part of our lives without compromising on ourselves entirely? What if being truthful, being hardworking, being kind are not switches we can flip but things we either are or are not?
I believe each moment is a matter of practice and whatever we practice doing in one part of our lives inadvertently seeps into the rest.
Hi. I am Eela and I am very excited to be writing my first blogpost!
I can’t say it’s my first EVER blogpost. I’ve had short lived experiments with my fair share of blogs throughout my life but getting a domain and all, this is serious business ? and I am super excited!
So what am I going to be writing about and why?
I am a learner of many things. I am in LOVE with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and I have been obssessed with philosophy and spirituality for years! Before we master anything, we go through eureka moments, daily battles, little joys and victories. And I believe there may be inherent value in capturing all of that and sharing our unique journey and experience with the world!
People aren’t neat! At least I am not. So this probably, at least to start off with, won’t be a neat one-topic website!
You can expect a bit of everything – from posts about my interests to books I am reading to random recommendations! I used to write stories when I was younger so who knows, those might make a come back! At least I hope so!
I will be posting at least every month so visit back in mid-July for my first post!