It might come as a surprise to you considering I'm posting these very words on a very public blog, but I'm not always so good at expressing myself, especially not in-person. I tend to be thoughtful in what I say, overly-thoughtful at times, because when I say something I want to really mean it.
Not only does it take me a while to figure out what I want to say and how I want to say it, but even after I've said it, I often immediately think of how I could have said it better.
This blog is easy, because I can edit something for days, weeks, and sometimes months (seriously, there are a few screeds I've been editing since last July and they're still not ready to be posted), I can even edit my posts after they've been published, which is good (I enjoyed rethinking my post about Boyhood last week) and bad (I edit my posts after they've been published ad nauseam).
Real life doesn't give you an edit button. Once you say something, it's out there. That permanence bothers me. All permanence bothers me. I'm fluid, I live on change, or at least I live on the hope that things will always change, eventually.
The digital age makes it worse--it encourages us to self-edit and filter our lives to present a certain image.
But putting your thoughts out there, telling people how you feel, and being your honest self are all extremely important aspects of mindfulness. It's the difference between being present and speaking your mind, or worrying about the future so you throttle your voice.
Honesty doesn't mean you have to be an asshole either, spouting off the first thought that comes to mind no matter how hurtful. I'm certainly not advocating against tact. There are plenty wonderfully caring people who are present and true to themselves and honest in what they say. I'd like to think I'm someone who is kind. but a little more reserved. We all fall somewhere in the spectrum.
More and more, I've learned the importance of expressing myself, openly, fully, outwardly. It can be uncomfortable, but it's oh so important.
This blog is an exercise in expressing myself. I've been writing my thoughts down for a while now in private, and that's another way I express myself. In the last few years I've made more of an effort to foster open dialogs with the people I love, from my family to my partner to my friends. At times I've specifically made an effort to stop and think, "why do I enjoy spending time with this person?" I write down the answer and then I tell that friend in-person so they know how much they mean to me.
I've found that the more open I am with others—the more I express myself—the more true and honest expressions I get back. This might be the biggest benefit of it all, because when I'm honest and tell someone about my anger, joy, anxiety, or contentment, they're more likely to be honest to me, tell me how they feel, and we start a dialog. It brings us closer together as friends, as family, as partners in life.
This is my March monthly challenge to you: EXPRESS YOURSELF
Every morning this month, pause and remind yourself to be more honest—let people into your life, think about how you filter yourself on social media, be honest with yourself, and write down how you feel.
That expression, that acknowledgment of who you are, that's how you grow. It helps you process your emotions and become more mindful.
Write something down that's true about yourself. Right now. Pick up the phone, send an email, or punch out a text to a friend to tell them why you love them. Right now. Notice how good it feels to get that off your chest.
The time for mindfulness is now.
Or next Monday, next month, next Memorial day.
Not in a New Years resolution.
Or after you birthday, a baby, a big vacation.
Not in an hour.
Or after one more Facebook scroll, another soapbox rant, a clickbait binge.
Not when you finish that big project.
Or when you find that new job, get out of debt, meet your dream man.
You can always find an excuse.
There's always a way to delay another day.
The time for mindfulness is now.
Mindfulness isn't navel gazing...
It's observing ourselves and the phenomenal world around us to in order to wake up.
Mindfulness isn't a retreat inside your head...
It’s a communion with every single thing that's around you, right now.
Mindfulness isn't selfishly worrying about yourself while the world burns...
It's selflessly learning how to be your best self so you can help put out the fire.
Mindfulness isn't about looking for isn'ts...
It's about rediscovering just how much there is.
Relationships are complicated and beautiful. Whether it's a buddy, a bestie, a boo, or a bride, relationships are like two magnets--there's a mutual interest that's pulling you together and an eagerness to find out just how close you'll end up. If you're lucky, the act of coming together will lead to love... you know, the strongest binding force we've developed as a species.
Relationships are also a work in progress. They're constantly developing, shifting, evolving. There's no sense in worrying about that unknown future, but it's noble to put in an extra effort to foster those relationships so they have their best chance. It's always ok to strive for love.
I do a lot of reading about mindfulness (I know, I'm obsessed) and it's pretty common for the things I read to cross over into Buddhist philosophy. Now, I'm no Buddhist, I'm not a lot of things, but I'm of the mindset that no matter what you believe there's a lot of wisdom to be gained from all faiths, all philosophies, all people.
Here's a Buddhist philosophy that's particularly on point about relationships: to give is to gain.
I think a lot of us go out there looking for a connection, searching for a friendship, waiting for that perfect man to come along. We want people to love us, and of course we do, it feels all warm and fuzzy.
But there's a big difference between wanting love and actually being loved. Buddhists believe that in order to truly be loved, you shouldn't waste all your energy looking for it, asking for it, demanding it--you should just show it.
It's kind of like karma. It's kind of like that Beatles lyric, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." It's kind of like being a good person, a loving person, a thoughtful and giving person, and then watching as those same qualities find their way back to you in unexpected ways.
The more you demand love from those around you the more you look like an asshole, and assholes don't get a whole lot of love (unless you're Kanye West I guess).
So this is my advice to all of you this Valentine's... show your love.
*Freely give out your compassion, your appreciation, your smile.
*Connect with with the people you want to get to know better.
*Be honest and open with those you care about.
*Help a friend when they need it.
*Laugh with a friend when they need that too.
*Tell your significant other that you love them, as often as you possibly can.
*Hug, long and hard, like you mean it.
Basically, spread love without any expectations of receiving it back.
It's then, and only then, that you'll feel real love from those around you. Because real love is infectious and it'll come back to you in spades.
We live in a world of a million options. At any given moment, there are a tons of different things we could be doing. On Facebook alone (at least on my newsfeed) I could spend all day following links, watching youtube videos, exploring photo albums, listening to music, commenting, liking, posting, ad nauseum. It truly is a clickhole.
But what am I really accomplishing by spending my time this way?
The answer is... nothing, I'm accomplishing mostly nothing at all. Sure, it keeps me up to date on the latest news from my friends and family. It fills me in on current events and Hollywood gossip, giving me something to talk about when I'm out in the real world. So there is some value to it.
But as far as my personal growth, my forward progress, I'm lost. Any benefit from it is easily negated by the damage done to all the other parts of my life that I'm neglecting.
As with most things, there's both a good and bad side to this. I wrote this blog post some weeks ago while I was on a plane, and as I typed away I was repeatedly distracted by the gorgeous view outside my window of California's bright green, rolling hills and epic, snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains. This was a good distraction. Taking a moment marvel in the beauty of nature is never a waste.
But then what about those times when you spend a few hours trolling around Facebook instead of getting on that writing project you've been meaning to tackle. Or when you play a video game all day instead of going on that hike with your friends. Or you when you stay home night after night watching mindless "reality" TV shows instead of engaging in the actual reality that's all around you.
I believe in balance, so there's absolutely nothing wrong with distractions up to a certain point. Life shouldn't be all serious all the time--ugh, that would totally suck--but life isn't just a bunch of fun and games either.
The serious parts of life are the lessons, the growing pains, all the conversations and questions that are a central part of who we are as humans. The fun times are there too for a much needed mental break, to lighten the load so we can recharge before going back to this meaningful business we call life.
Figure out a way to engage in both sides. Do it even when real world stuff hurts a little bit. Push yourself to get away from the comfort of distractions and out into the life-affirming waters of the present. It may be difficult at first, but I swear, in the end, you'll be happy with the results.
"You have to wait until tomorrow to find out what tomorrow will bring."
Our basic animal instinct is to survive. After that, I'd say our basic human instinct is to live. That's not the mere act of being alive, but the much more powerful act of actually living--creating love, exploring our earth, finding a fulfilling path, meeting some amazing souls along the way, and maybe passing down your experience to others who will carry your torch.
Or to say all that in a word: happiness.
But there are a lot of obstacles in the way of our path to happiness. There are the obstacles our society has created through social and economic constructs and those we create in our own mind. The problems of society are big picture, and we should all do our part to right those wrongs. But that's not what this blog is really about--this blog is about each of us, individually, doing all we can do make our personal world a better one.
One of the biggest obstacles we create for ourselves comes from the world of the unknown. If you think about it, this problem runs deep: fear of what the future might entail leads to worry and anxiety, fear of how our decisions are perceived by others leads to indecisiveness and regret, fear of the how those same decisions will play out in the long-term leads to doubt and second-guessing.
I think a lot about the unknown. Sometimes this is good thing--pondering our universe and it's endless possibilities almost hurts your brain, but it's a good hurt. Visualizing yourself in a successful and happy place can give you the positive affirmation you need to help get you there.
But spending too much time in the realm of the unknown is a slippery slope. There are only a few precious hours of life we get every day, and spending them lost in a sea of contemplation about what tomorrow may bring--how a particular scenario will play out, or how someone will feel about you in a week, where your relationship will be a year from now--that'll just drive you insane.
Worrying about the unknown is a fool's errand where we squander our time attempting to predict the future instead of mindfully focusing on the present. It's a wild goose chase as the mind of today scrambles to try and capture some insight into the mind of tomorrow. And just when we think we've captured the goose--that we've somehow figured it all out--reality comes and plucks the goose away, proving to us once again that all our predictions were totally misguided.
We all struggle with the unknown. Those of us whose lives seem stable--relationships, jobs, cars, dogs, white picket fences, 2.5 kids--worry about all that falling apart come tomorrow morning. Those of us whose lives seem to be in flux--breakups, fights, unemployment, financial woes, shared custody--worry how to ever find the relative peace of stability again. And no matter how our lives are perceived by others, most of us don't fall into either camp but rather find ourselves somewhere in between.
It's only natural, because in each of our individual pursuits of happiness, there will always be bumps along the way--there will be good times and bad. We can use our time and energy worrying and wallowing in the bad times, or we can take a deep breath and be here now instead.
It’s time to think about what we can control in the present and start controlling it. The only way to create a better tomorrow is to use your energy working on a better today.
The unknown is a powerful force that can pull us in many unforeseen and unmindful directions, if we let it. So don't let it. Starting right now, make a conscious commitment to set the unknown aside. Let it stay in the darkness until that one day in the future when it's finally real, when it's finally known.
And in the meantime, live your best life, be your best self, love all that you can, and understand that being happy here and now does way more to forecast your future than all your best predictions combined.