A beautiful thing

How to Master the Art of Living
Posted: 30 Jul 2014 12:09 PM PDT
By Leo Babauta

Imagine you had a gorgeous blueberry sitting on the otherwise empty plate in front of you. You pick it up gently, place it on your tongue, and begin to taste it.
You already know how a blueberry tastes, and so when this one is a bit riper than you’d like, you make a face, feel the disappointment, swallow it with displeasure.
Or perhaps it tastes exactly as you’d expected: no big deal. You swallow, and move on with your day.
In the first case, the blueberry was disappointing because it didn’t meet expectations. In the second, it was boring because it met expectations.
Now try this: have no expectations of how the blueberry will taste. You don’t know because you haven’t tried it yet. You’re curious, open to a variety of tastes.
You taste it, and really pay attention. You notice the tanginess, the firmness of the skin, the sweet mushiness of the center, the complex flavors that emerge as you eat it. You didn’t know how it would taste, but this is brilliant! It’s new, because you’ve never tasted anything quite like it.
This is sometimes called the Beginner’s Mind, but I think of it as a mind free of expectations.
The blueberry, of course, can be anything in life: any experience, any person you meet, any cup of tea, any task before you, any interaction with a loved one, any thought that enters your head, any moment of the day.
If you approach any of these with expectations, they will often disappoint or frustrate you … or be bland, blah, usual. And you move on to the next disappointing or frustration or usual experience, and so on, so that life is nothing but a series of things you barely like and barely notice.
If you approach each moment, each task, each person, without expectations … and just see that moment or person as they are … then you will really see that moment. Really appreciate it. Experience it like you’ve never experienced anything before, because you haven’t.
This is the Art of Living.

The Worlds That Open Up
When you learn to approach each person and moment and task without expectations, it transforms everything. New worlds open up to you.

A handful of examples:
• Procrastination: Let’s say you have been putting off a big task at work because you’re dreading doing it. Maybe it’s a big project, and you have this feeling of overwhelm. It’s a lot of work! You are expecting to have to do hard work you’re perhaps not good at, expecting failure or difficulty. But letting go of the expectations means you don’t know how this task will go … you go into it with an open mind. You try it and see how it goes. You learn from the experience no matter how it goes.
• Habits: You enter a new habit with the expectation that it will be amazing, change your life, and you’ll do great. And when it is inevitably harder than you thought it would be, and you’re less successful at it, you’re disappointed, discouraged, frustrated. So you lose motivation, and give up. If instead, you let go of the fantasy of how this habit will go, and just be open to what emerges … you can just do the habit. Just be in the moment with it. Then, no matter how it turns out, you’ll learn something.
• Frustrating person: This guy at work is frustrating you because he’s not doing the work the way he should, or maybe he’s being inconsiderate somehow. Your frustration stems from an expectation of how this person should act. They don’t act according to this ideal, and so you suffer. Instead, you can put aside this expectation that people will live up to your ideals … and just be open to them. They will behave imperfectly, just as you will. Accepting the person as they are doesn’t mean you do nothing … you can let go of the frustration, and see how they’re having difficulty, and it as a teaching opportunity or an opportunity to help them … with no expectation that they’ll love your lesson or follow it, but just with the intention of helping someone.
• Kids don’t behave: When your kids behave badly, it’s the same problem — they aren’t acting according to your ideal. But of course they’re not! No kid behaves ideally, just as no adult behaves ideally. Do you behave ideally? I certainly don’t. I’m rude when I’m in a bad mood or tired. I’m not proud of that, but I struggle to be considerate or cheerful sometimes. Everyone does. Your kids are struggling, and you can be compassionate and help them. Kindly. That is, if you can let go of your expectations that they’ll behave perfectly, and accept them as struggling, beautiful people who just want to be happy, just like you.
• Your body: You aren’t happy with your body, because it’s not perfect. It doesn’t meet your ideal, your expectation, and so you dislike it. That’s not good, because this self-discontent means that you’re less likely to do healthy things. Often we think that dissatisfaction with ourselves motivates us to change, but in my experience this discontent means that you don’t really trust yourself to stick to changes and so you make excuses when things get hard, and quit. I’ve done that a lot. When I am content with myself, I trust myself more, and I stick to things more. So let go of expectations that your body will be perfect, and just see your body as it is, for the beautiful thing it is, independent of society’s ideals of perfection. You’re great!
• Each moment: As we enter each new moment, we expect things from it. We want it to be fun, amazing, productive, according to plan. And of course each moment has its own plan, and will be its own thing. So we are not happy with it. Instead, we can drop the expectations and just see the moment as it is. Just experience it, noticing, appreciating, being grateful. This is mastery.
This is just the start. We can learn that plans, goals, ideals … these are all fantasies of what we’d like life to be like, and they’re not real. We can learn to let go of the fantasies that inevitably occur, and just experience life as it is, as it happens.

This is the Art of Living.

How to Master the Art
Mastering the Art of Living is not as easy as you’d expect, as you’d fantasize. It takes practice. It means learning to be mindful of when you have these ideals, expectations, fantasies. It means learning to see the frustrations, anger, sadness, loneliness, and irritations as signals of the expectations you have and didn’t notice.
It means practicing that, and then practicing letting them go.
That means a lot of practice, and a lot of remembering to practice.
But that’s the fun of it. You drop the expectation that you’ll be perfect at this practice, and just try it. You learn from the trying. You get better. You learn some more. And each moment, along the way, is a miracle to be appreciated and enjoyed, so the process of mastery is a succession of miracle moments.

That’s a beautiful thing.

Words of wisdom from Zen Habits.
Photo by me.

How to be Unprepared

Post written by Leo Babauta (of Zen Habits)

We often load ourselves up when we travel, because we want to be prepared for various situations. This burden of being prepared leaves us with our arms full, unable to receive whatever is there when we arrive.

It leaves us tired from carrying, so that we are not happy when we meet someone new on our travels.

What if we traveled with empty hands, ready to embrace new experiences, receive new foods, touch new people?

We might feel less prepared when we leave, but the preparedness is an illusion. Stuff doesn’t make us prepared. Having empty hands but a heart that is full of love leaves us prepared for anything.

This doesn’t just apply to taking a trip, but to living each day. Each day is a journey, and we load ourselves up with material possessions, with tasks and projects, with things to read and write, with meetings and calls and texts. Our hands are full, not ready for anything new.

Drop everything, be open to everything.

Enter each day empty-handed, and full-hearted.


Rising to the Surface

Living the Prolific Life:

The prolific life has been characterized by abundant inventiveness and limitless creativity. Prolificacy has also been unnecessarily enshrouded in a veil of mystery and the sources of artistic inventiveness are too often viewed as out-of-reach for the average person. Perhaps it’s for this reason that artistic inspiration has frequently been attributed to muses, the channeling of spirits, etc.

In spite of perceptions surrounding prolific creativity, there are several documented commonalities that consistently appear in the lives of prolific people. Indeed, psychological literature has some definite insights into commonalities of the prolific and has yielded these . . .

7 Common Characteristics of Prolific People

Highly prolific people tend to:

  1. Be firmly settled in their creative identities. Prolific artists don’t question their artistic identities. They own the title of artist, writer, musician, etc. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important. Prolific people aren’t shy about what they do, or about their love of art. When they have corporate jobs they tend to view themselves as writers with desk jobs rather than a corporate employees who also write.
  2. Operate from a bedrock of stability. Despite the stereotypical image of the mercurial and whimsical artist, most highly prolific people have managed to pin down a lot of variables in their life; they aren’t constantly rearranging the logistics of life and reconfiguring their life situations. As a result, they can bring their full attention to bear upon the creation process.
  3. Get “adopted” early by mentors or sponsors. Prolific artists tend to have received significant artistic mentorships at the beginning of their creative careers.
  4. Get an early start: Prolific artists tend to have developed the rapid production habit early in their careers. They tend to have developed the production habit very shortly after beginning their artistic endeavors.
  5. Be well adjusted. Prolific people tend to be sensitive, confident, open-minded, curious, intellectually flexible, willing to work very hard, and have a sense of humor.
  6. Have a habit of writing. Highly prolific people tend to work even when they’re not inspired. They’ve developed the production habit.
  7. Intrinsic interest. Prolific people are intrinsically motivated, almost without exception. They love their work and, in general, would do it (in some form or another) even if it paid much less or not at all.

The above article was a guest post on Zen Habits by Clay Collins (of The Growing Life).

The above image, “Rising to the Surface”, is a recent encaustic piece by me.

Defining Moments

(Another post by Leo Babauta)

There is a tendency among productive people to try to make the best use of every single minute, from the minute they wake. I know because not too long ago I was one of these folks.

Got time on the train or plane? If you’re not doing work, maybe you can be enriching yourself by learning something.

Got time before a meeting starts? Organize your to-do list, send off some emails, write some notes on a project you’re working on.

Driving? Why not make some phone calls or tell Siri to add a bunch of stuff to your calendar? Why not listen to a self-help audiobook?

Watching TV with the family? You can also be answering emails, doing situps, stretching.

Having lunch with a friend? Maybe you can talk business to make it a productive meeting.

This is the mindset that we’re supposed to have. Every minute counts, because time’s a-wasting. The clock is ticking. The sands of the hourglass are spilling.

I used to feel this way, but now I see things a bit differently.

Is This What Life Is To Be?

It might seem smart and productive to not let a single minute go to waste (they’re precious, after all), but let’s take a step back to look at the big picture.

Is this what our lives are to be? A non-stop stream of productive tasks? A life-long work day? A computer program optimized for productivity and efficiency? A cog in a machine?

What about joy?

What about the sensory pleasure of lying in the grass with the sun shining on our closed eyes?

What about the beauty of a nap while on the train?

How about reading a novel for the sheer exhilaration of it, not to better yourself?

What about spending time with someone for the love of being with someone, of making a genuine human connection that is unencumbered by productive purpose, unburdened by goals.

What about freedom? Freedom from being tied to a job, from having to improve yourself every single minute, from the dreariness of never-ending work?

An Alternative

Killing time isn’t a sin — it’s a misnomer. We’ve framed the question entirely wrong. It’s not a matter of “killing” time, but of enjoying it.

If we ask ourselves instead, “How can I best enjoy this moment?”, then the entire proposition is re-framed.

Now we might spend this moment working if that work brings us joy.

But we might also spend it relaxing,

doing nothing,

feeling the breeze on the nape of our neck,

losing ourselves in conversation with a cherished friend,

snuggling under the covers with a lover.

This is life.

A life of joy, of wonderfulness.

*Another good read from Zenhabits – if you’re not a subscriber – you might want to check out what Leo has to say…

The Antidote. Just Sit.

Sitting and Watching
Post written by Leo Babauta (of Zen Habits)

Have you ever felt that we are rushing through life, that we get so caught up in busy-ness that life is passing us almost without notice?

I get this feeling all the time.

The antidote is simple: sitting and watching.

Take a minute out of your busy day to sit with me, and talk. Take a moment to imagine being in the middle of traffic — you’re driving, stressed out by the high amount of traffic, trying to get somewhere before you’re late, angry at other drivers who are rude or idiotic, completely focused on making your way through this jungle of metal on a ribbon of asphalt. Now you’ve gotten to the end, phew, you made it, wonderful, and you’re only a few minutes late … but did you notice the scenery you passed along the way? Did you talk to any of the other people along your path? Did you enjoy the ride?

No, probably not. You were so caught up in getting there, in the details of navigating, in the stress of driving, that you didn’t have time to notice your surroundings, the people nearby, or the wonderful journey. This is how we are in life.

Now imagine that you pulled over, and got out of the car, and found a grassy spot to sit. And you watched the other cars zoom by. And you watched the grass blown gently by the wind, and the birds making a flocking pattern overhead, and the clouds lazily watching you back.

Sit and watch.

We don’t do this, because it’s useless to do something that isn’t productive, that doesn’t improve our lives. But as Alan Watts wrote in ‘The Way of Zen‘:

“As muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone, it could be argued that those who sit quietly and do nothing are making one of the best possible contributions to a world in turmoil.”

It’s interesting, too, what we see when we sit and watch. We will notice others rushing, and worried, and angry, and in them see a mirror of ourselves. We will notice children laughing (or crying) with their parents, and remember what we’re missing when we rush to improve our lives.

More interesting is what you see when you sit and watch yourself. You learn to step outside yourself, and act as an observer. You see your thoughts, and learn more about yourself than you ever could if you were rushing to take action. You see your self-doubts, and self-criticism, and wonder where they came from (a bad incident in childhood, perhaps?) and wonder if you are smart enough to let them go. You see your rationalizations, and realize that they are bullshit, and learn to let those go too. You see your fears, and realize what hold they have over you, and realize that you can make them powerless, by just sitting and watching them, not taking action on them.

By sitting and watching, you come to know yourself.

You learn the most valuable lessons about life, by sitting and watching.

And as we know from the observer effect in physics, by watching, we change what we watch.

Take a few minutes today, to sit and watch. It might change your life.

Are you a relative expert? You just might be!

I subscribe to Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog (along with 230,000 other people) and here is part of a guest post (by Corbett Barr) that I found interesting.  The title is, 5 Simple Principles for Becoming an Expert.  I read it, not because I had any intentions of trying to become an expert, but because just about every thing I’ve ever read from this site offers something of value.  And this post was no exception.

I’m not including the entire post but check out the site using the link I’ve included above…

For the past month, I’ve been studying people who have become skilled and knowledgeable enough to be called “experts” in preparation for the launch of a new blog.

There are certainly ways to become an expert faster than traditional teaching might dictate, but there’s no getting around putting your time in.

The good news is, becoming an expert is much like changing a habit. The fact that secrets don’t exist is a good thing in my book, because we can stop wasting time searching for secrets and start making direct progress towards our goals.

Instead of looking for secrets, rely simply on these best practices for becoming an expert:

1. Realize ‘expert’ is a relative term.

I’m a big believer in relative expertise. For most purposes, you don’t need to be the world’s foremost expert on something to benefit from what you know. Being expert enough means knowing enough or being good enough to accomplish your goals, however modest or grand they may be.

Someone once told me to think about expertise as a scale from one to ten, not as an absolute. If you’re a two or three on the scale, you’re expert enough to help people who are ones and twos. In fact, you might be better suited to helping beginners than a ten on the expert scale, because you’re closer to their level and better understand where they’re coming from.

2. Learn from books and experience.

There’s a time for learning and a time for practicing. A true expert needs to have both expertise (book learning) and experience (real-world practice).

For example, if you want to become a bodybuilder, all the reading you can possibly do won’t help you actually build muscle (unless they’re really heavy books). On the other hand, would-be bodybuilders who just jump into lifting weights without learning about best practices won’t know time-saving techniques and principles for optimum rep counts, resting time between sets, nutrition, supplements and more.

There’s a balance between learning and doing. Most people spend far too much time doing one or the other. If you’ve been mostly learning, it’s probably time to start doing. If you’ve long been practicing without the results you’re looking for, it’s time to learn more and time to focus, which brings us to point #3.

3. Focus.

Just as Leo advocates for changing habits, focus is a powerful ally for gaining expertise (especially in the beginning).

When you start learning something new, it’s easy to become daunted by everything you have to master to reach your final goal. Instead of just focusing on the very next step you need to take, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the bigger picture.

Focus is critical for two reasons. First, it helps you pay attention to the task at hand so you don’t become paralyzed by the thought of everything to follow. Second, you have to focus so you can ignore all the possible distractions that are always waiting to pull you off your path.

4. Get outside help.

When I asked productivity coach Charlie Gilkey about whether shortcuts exist to becoming an expert, he pointed out another critical aspect of gaining expertise:

When you look at peak-performing experts, you’ll often see that they have either coaches, involved mentors, or a pack of growth-oriented friends that help them excel. You simply can’t gauge your performance as well as someone external can, and, past the “competent” stage of skill acquisition, it gets increasingly harder to both observe what you’re doing and find quick and easy answers as to how to improve.

At some point, learning and practicing will only get you so far. You need feedback from outsiders to uncover more opportunities for improvement.

5. Make mistakes.

Fear of failure might be the biggest opponent you’ll face on your road to learning new things.

You have to be willing to make mistakes in order to learn and grow. That’s what practice is. The sooner you get comfortable with making mistakes, the quicker you’ll learn your new skill.

What’s on your wish list to learn and do?

Maybe there’s a skill you’re actively trying to get better at, or maybe you’ve been afraid to get started. In either case, try these five simple principles and see if you can make a breakthrough.

Try becoming a (relative) expert in something you’ve always wanted to learn or do. There are few things as rewarding and fun as acquiring new skills and knowledge that enrich your life.

Life is Poetry

Life is Poetry

(another great post from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits)

‘My life is my message.’ – Gandhi

Each of us lives a life that expresses who we are, reacts to the world around us, shows our passions, reflects our deep river of feeling and being.

We might sing out in joy, through our words and actions and expressions, we might hide in fear and pain, we might lash out in anger. Every thing we do, everything we are, expresses.

Gandhi’s message was his life, and yours is your life. What message are you giving the world, through your actions, how you live, how you treat others, what you accomplish, how you choose to be, every moment of every day?

Are you an angry rant? A ballad? An epic poem?

Perhaps a sonnet, a limerick, a haiku?

If your life is a poem, what do you want it to say? What would you rather leave out? What will the essence be?

Enjoy each moment as the perfect syllable, recognize the lyrical in the everyday, and sink your teeth softly into that cold delicious fruit.

Beside loving all of the posts on Zen Habits…I find this note from his site (below) speaks the loudest (and is most appreciated)…

Permission to reprint: If you’d like permission to reprint any article on Zen Habits, you don’t need it. This entire blog and all my work is uncopyrighted.

Thanks Leo!