PURSUIT OF CALM #25
Physical training for mental well-being
Mind training for physical well-being
“What I have to say has all been said before, and I am destitute of learning and of skill with words.
I therefore have no thought that this might be of benefit to others;
I write it only to sustain my own understanding.”
(c. 685 – c. 763)
This past week I’ve been gently debating with myself what will be the content of my last post before Christmas.
Initially I was going to discuss festive over-consumption and title it “Crapulent & Crambazzled”. Two fabulous words I came across after reading an interview with English lexicographer & etymologist Suzy Dent. “Crapulent” meaning decidedly hungover, & “Crambazzled”, an old Yorkshire term meaning prematurely aged from too much drink, food, partying…undoubtably a relevant subject matter for this time of the year…or possibly anytime of the year.
This time however, I’ve decided to tack in a slightly different direction and ‘pitch’ some thoughts that have been percolating away in my small mind now for a couple of months.
The reason why I’ve decided to take this approach is that it might prove just as pertinent as “Crapulent & Crambazzled”.Given that in a few days time, and after a stressful, taxing year – most of us will find ourselves thrust into Christmas celebratory ‘commitments’ with our nearest and dearest.
A time spent with those we love, an opportunity to ‘gift & share’ and a time to celebrate more and cerebrate less.
Being an avid and novice student of the Socratic method, I’ve been asking people questions about their Christmas ‘commitments’.
So, and if I’ve read the pulse of the maddening crowd correctly – many not only find the lead-up to Christmas incredibly fatiguing, but feedback received of the actual day itself tend to illustrate a somewhat laborious exercise of galavanting from one relatives generous offering to another.
Not only that, but many comment about the excessiveness of Christmas – not just the expense in time and money, shopping and gifting, but the ‘expectations’, and the over-consumption of food and alcohol. With many predicting, well in advance, that Christmas with the family has the potential to end-up being a proverbial ‘fight-club’ – with heated arguments, grumpy relatives, tears, and earlier than expected departures – all primarily triggered by fatigue and lashings of pre-lunch Prosecco.
Hence why this post may prove both pertinent, and maybe a little helpful. Helpful not because it’s me, once again,pontificating the joys of sobriety, and how to celebrate Christmas-soberly (call me if you want some tips).
No, this post is about the dialogue we share with those who we are spending our time with over the festive season, and thereafter…and why it matters…or possibly why it doesn’t matter.
Back in March 2020 when COVID reared its protein-spiked head (I’m a virologist) I wrote a post with mind-in-the-sky aspirations that the challenging time we now face could in fact be a perfect opportunity to ‘recalibrate’ our lives for the better.
We could view the challenges of this ‘new normal’ as a means to take some much needed time to stop, reflect and identifywhere we could make betterment changes when in comes to the choices we make that determine the quality of life.
And to be honest, in the first couple of months I did sense a positive swing for change. In the privileged affluent city and country I live, there seemed to be more people having more time. Outside of lockdowns there was increased family time & exercise activity in the local parks & beaches.
Push bike sales went through the roof. More people were working from home, which meant little of no commuting, more sensible hours meant more time at home / with family.
Home DIY escalated, white goods, electronics, furniture sales skyrocketed – people were nesting (possibly because they couldn’t travel?)
Many adopted and adapted seamlessly to connecting, communicating and meeting for both work and leisure via apps like zoom. It seemed, on the surface, to me, a pretty seamless and corroborative transition.
Having said that, I am also very, very mindful that many suffered, and continue to – not only in terms of physical and mental health, but also financially & socially. Alcohol consumption and drinking at home skyrocketed. Time fixated on devices & streaming content soared, online gaming and porn usage saw an dramatic upward turn (pun intended), and tragically, domestic abuse surged.
Fast forward 12 months or so and, in my opinion, that initial community corroborative transition seems to have vaporised and been replaced with ever-increasing polarisation.
Not ‘just’ on a global & political level, but domestically, and right through to our local community & our intimate friendships and family groups.
I see and hear the impact of this polarisation nearly every day. The amount of times I’ve heard people not wanting to talk to so and so because he or she is pro this or anti that, or hedoesn’t believe this, or she believes that…Decades long friendships, close family ties and even marriages being sacrificed on the alter of polar-beliefs and opinion.
Is polarisation the new normal we want?
We need to end any sense of separation of oneself
from the rest of humanity
Overcoming Polarisation – we do have a choice
The challenging times we now live in is fertile ground to either allow polarisation, anger, fear & ignorance to continue to escalate, or it’s the perfect opportunity to use these challenging times as the raw materials we need to practice training to be more open-minded and open-hearted.
Most, if not all the problems of the world, including the way we’re unkind to ourselves, has to do with polarisation.
Humans habitually divide people, things and ideas into sharply contrasting categories – categories that we tend to pigeon-hole with our beliefs, that support our narratives. Both of which do nothing but feed our neurosis’s.
We allocate concepts, ideas, people, situations as “right” or “wrong”, “us” or “them”, “worthy” or “unworthy”, “good” or “bad” …and when this happens there little or no room for the middle ground: everything ends up at one pole or another.
We all have a tendency to polarise, so I think it’s worthwhile when we’re invariably faced with challenging life-realities,that can cause us potential inertia and anxiety, is to find effective ways to work with these tendencies, rather than allowing them to escalate.
This may mean creating time and space to soberly self-reflect so we’re better enabled to notice the quality of our thoughts – thoughts, words and actions that stimulate being overly “for”or “against”
It’s in our ability to witness ourselves – via practicing quietude, meditation, breath-work, exercise & strength training – throughout the day to see if and when we are perpetuating a constant sense of opposition.
Ask yourself: Am I increasing my sense of separateness from others, and from myself?
Another very effective strategy to ‘notice and quell’ ones ability to self-perpetuate polarisation is simply ask yourself: Does It Matter?
How much suffering do we self-perpetuate by taking things too seriously, or by believing what we think it right?
How absurd…we have to remind ourselves that just because we’ve read it, watched it, gossiped about it, that it doesn’t mean it’s true or right.
Even if it is true, why is it so important to assert your ‘rightness’.
Take into consideration the billions and billions who have lived before you, and the billions and billions who will live after you – why are you so important?
The same could be said for this nonsense that I’m writing here…
The big fella Buddha’s main concern was always to help people become free of suffering. With the understanding that our suffering originates from our confusion in our mind, his objective was to help us wake up out of that confused state.
How much confusion and turmoil do we create for ourselvessimply by taking in and stewing on things that don’t matter?
How often have we (over) reacted to a situation, or to what someone has said, even before we’ve asked ourselves does this actually matter?
When we ask ourselves, “does it matter?” our focus initially will be on the outer, more obvious results of our actions…such as diluting or de-escalating a potential confrontation / misunderstanding, in situ.
But if we can consistently remind ourselves to practice asking this question then the real rewards will begin to manifest…we begin to see how it’s affecting our thinking, and then begin to ask more juicy questions, such as:
Am I making an old habit more habitual?
Am I strengthening propensities that I’d like to weaken?
Am I moving myself in a direction of me becoming a kinder, gentler person, or am I self-perpetuating guilt, self-pity, self-denigration?
Am I causing harm to myself or others?
What drama (karma) am I setting in motion?
Am I being responsible for the consequences of my behaviour?
Will my words and actions have a larger wider impact of my family, my friends, my community, my country, my planet?
Do I prefer vanilla or chocolate ice cream?
In short, asking yourself questions like this is an opportunity for you to practice becoming more and more aware of what you are thinking and what you are doing, and more and more aware that your thinking and doing actions have consequences – on you, and those around you.
“We need to be observant of what is actually taking place in our daily life – inwardly and outwardly. Crucially important too is seeing what in our lives we are really interested in – being totally honest about what we put our energy into and give total attention to.”
There’s a Buddhist slogan that says “don’t malign others” or don’t disparage others. And to quote Chögyam Trungpa “disparaging people is based on showing off your own virtue. You think that your virtues can only show because other people’s are lessened. This other person knows less than I do. Fundamentally your implying that this other person is stupid, and I am better than he/she is.”
What’s more important being kind and loving or being right?
Asking ourselves ‘does it matter’ isn’t a strategy to disengage and care-less, but an opportunity to wholly identify what is, and what is not important.
The less we’re preoccupied and distracted with the unessential, the more time we have to focus and harvest our innate goodness and align our actions to the things that we truly value…definitely chocolate ice cream.
Asking ourselves questions, reflecting and demanding better, kinder thinking from ourselves is meditation in action, action (karma) that makes us calmer, kinder & stronger…all pretty handy values to ensure that the time we have left, spent with the people we care about, isn’t jeopardised by errant thinking, especially when we’re feeling crapulent and crambazzled.
10 More Effective Methods To Overcome Polarisation
- Read Dr Seuss or Calvin and Hobbs…everyday!
- Watch Carl Sagan’s Little Blue Dot – remind yourself how insignificant you really are.
- Momento Mori – remind yourself everyday that you’re going to die soon. Death is the inspiration we all need
- Find a philosophy source that resonates with you – fill your mind with the questions that it triggers. Practice the theory in the real world…practice living it…see if it works.
- Develop critical thinking skills: become an advocate for greater scepticism and increase focus on deliberation – taking the time to consider matters fully. Saying “I don’t know” is often a perfect answer. Arguing with a fool only proves that there are two.
- Turn off the news more – be mindful of the quality of content you’re filling your head with.
- Reduce social media- be mindful of the quality of content you’re filling your head with.
- Increase periods of sobriety – unlike gin and tonic, inebriation and self-refection don’t mix very well.
- Master your sleep – being fatigued kills exertion
- Breathe, meditate and journal
Reference and inspired by Chögyam Trungpa’s book Training the Mind & Cultivating Loving Kindness, Pema Chödrön’s book Welcoming the Unwelcome, Jidda Krishnamurti’s book Freedom from the Known and Dr Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go
Feedback is welcomed:
I’d love to hear from you, so don’t be shy in sharing your thoughts and feedback and even the ‘test’ results from above.
If you need to any help, suggestions, strategies to improving your test scores, or general fitness, strength, mindfulness etc do not hesitate to drop me a line.
Peace & Health
In my next article:
Coming Up: Reminding Ourselves to Remember
- Your not overweight because you don’t exercise or go to the gym
- 4-Minute Bursts of Intense Exercise – The Secret to Longevity?
- The 4 ’S’s: Stress, Sleep, Sobriety & [P]Sychology
- Is Blaming Your ‘Job’ Really An Excuse?
- Reflection, Reading & Journalling
- Strength Training
- The 4 “C”s: Calm, Courage, Curiosity & Consistency
- Habit Strategies
Training The Mind & Cultivating Loving Kindness by Chögyam Trungpa
Dopamine Nation by Dr Anna Lembke
Welcoming the Unwelcome by Pema Chödrön
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
The Wisdom of Frugality by Emrys Westacott
4000 Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy
Mindsight: Change your brain and your life by Daniel J Siegel MD
Aristotle’s Way by Edith Hall
Wherever You Go, There You Are. John Kabat-Zinn
“Start Where You Are” by Pema Chödrön
“Breathe” by James Nestor
“The Places That Scare You” by Pema Chödrön
“In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Gabor Maté
The Shortness Of Life by Seneca
“Lost Connections” by Johann Hari
How To Meditate – Pema Chödrön
The Wisdom of No Escape – Pema Chödrön
‘Breaking Down the Wall of Silence’ – Alice Miller
Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
Atomic Habits – James Clear
The New Rules For Lifting For Life – Lou Shuler
Why We Sleep – Matthew Walker PhD
Essentialism: The Discipline Pursuit Of Less – Greg McKeown
Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahnemen
Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The Resilience Project: Finding Happiness Through Gratitude Empathy & Mindfulness – Hugh Van Cuylenburg
Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Foods – Catherine Shanahan MD
The School of Life – An Emotional Education
The School of Life – How To Think More Effectively
The Consolations Of Philosophy – Alain De Botton
Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief – Jordan B Peterson
The Owners Manual for the Brain: The Ultimate Guide to Peak Mental Performance – Pierce J. Howard
The Daily Stoic / Stillness Is The Key / Ego Is The Enemy / The Obstacle is The Way– Ryan Halliday
Indistractable – How To Control Your Attention & Choose Your Life – Nir Eyal
Mindset – Dr Carol Dweck
The Holy Shit Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen in A Minute – James Fell
Stop Playing Safe – Margie Warrell
The Worlds Fittest Book – Ross Edgley
The Art Of Resilience – Ross Edgley
The Oxygen Advantage: Scientific Proven Breathing Techniques To Revolutionise Your Health – Patrick McKeown
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking – Malcolm Gladwell
The Practicing Mind – Develop Focus & Discipline Your Life – Thomas M. Sterner
Mistakes Were Made – Carol Travis & Elliot Aronson
Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor Frankl
Life: A Users Manual – Julian Baggini & Antonia Macaro
Good Habits Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick – Wendy Wood
The Madness of Crowds – Douglas Murray
The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
Wired To Eat – Robb Wolf
Philosophy For Life, and other dangerous situations – Jules Evans
Peak – Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool
The Body, A guide For Occupants – Bill Bryson
The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz
The written word can easily be mis-interpreted, especially my own god-awful writing ability.
I try to emphasis, as awkwardly as I do, that I have no skills, training nor studies under my belt to advise or diagnose when it comes to medical or psychological conditions.
If you need professional help or advice then please seek it.
My own advocacy is shot primarily through the prism of my own life-experience. I only promote lifestyle and the related choices and habits that optimise sleep, mindset, nutrition and physical strength. All incredibly powerful and profound methods to improve all aspects of one’s own health-wealth, but potentially not the remedy ‘proper’ for those individuals that may require professional clinical diagnosis, medical intervention and/or treatment.