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 Simplify when you Love Your Stuff

“It all depends on whether you have things, or they have you.” ~Robert A. Cook

This is an article by Barrie Davenport; as a guest post on Zen Habits.

Simplicity.  It is a lovely ancient spiritual tradition that has seen a recent resurgence in popularity.  As we try to make sense of our erratic economy and the accompanying financial anxiety, it is natural to leap to a less risky lifestyle extreme — stop spending, scale back, live lean.

If you are a regular reader of Zen Habits, you are probably intrigued by the idea of simplifying. In fact, you may have even given up many material things and actively live a very simple life. People who have adopted this level of  simplicity, especially in the land of consumerism, are incredibly inspiring and fascinating.

But let’s be real here. In spite of embracing the concept of simplicity, most people really love their stuff, and they love acquiring more stuff. Like our attitudes about a healthy diet, our feelings about material things are complicated. We know what’s good for us, but we just don’t want to give up what we like. Our stuff makes us feel good.

Is it possible to live a simple life and still love stuff? How much letting go of stuff really counts toward simplifying anyway?

Living simply and detaching from material things will make you happier. There is real research and lots of anecdotal evidence to support the truth of this. But is it possible that some material things can add to our happiness, sense of contentment and joy in life? If so, how do you go about deciding what’s good stuff and what’s bad?

Perhaps the deciding factor is motivation. Do the things that you own or wish to buy support your ego, or do they enliven your soul? Some material things can afford you a sense of warmth, coziness, beauty, fond memories, or comfort. There are other things that offer only that fleeting rush of acquisition.

If you infuse mindfulness into your ideas and actions around material things, you can create a gentle balance between loving stuff and living simply.

Here are some thoughts that might be useful.

1. Look around your house now.

Walk from room to room. Do you see things that you never use and don’t really care about? Why not give them away or sell them? Clear physical and psychic space by removing the “dead wood” in your environment. Someone else might really need these things.

2. Examine why you are hanging on to something.

Is it truly useful or meaningful, or does it feed your ego in some way? Are you holding on to it just to impress others or to make yourself feel better or more important?

3. Look at how you spend your time.

Do you have things you own for hobbies that you never pursue? Do you have a kitchen full of gadgets but you rarely cook? If you truly think you will come back to a hobby or activity, box things up and put them out of sight until you do. Be realistic about how much time you have to use your extraneous stuff.

4. Are you in a career that is thing-focused?

Decorators, car dealers, retailers and others involved in creating, buying, selling and marketing merchandise, can have a hard time detaching from material things because they are always surrounded by the newest and best. There is beauty and art in many things, but consider this: you don’t have to own them all to appreciate them. Eckhart Tolle once suggested to Oprah Winfrey that she not buy everything she likes or wants — just savor it for the moment in the store.

5. Consider experiences rather than things.

On the whole, experiential purchases provide far more pleasure than material purchases. The memory of experiences improves with time, but material purchases are harder to think about abstractly. Experiences also encourage social relationships which provide long-lasting happiness. If you are itching to spend, spend on a great experience with someone you enjoy.

6. When you think about your things or want to purchase something new, consider these parameters:

  • It brings beauty into your life and stirs your soul.
  • It supports a passion or hobby.
  • It helps bring family and friends together in a creative, meaningful way.
  • It educates and enlightens.
  • It makes life profoundly simpler so that you can pursue more meaningful things.
  • It helps someone who is sick or incapacitated.
  • It is useful and necessary for day-to-day life.
  • It’s part of a meaningful tradition or a reminder of a special event.

7. You will know you are buying mindlessly if you:

  • Buy on a whim.
  • Buy to impress others.
  • Buy because you feel you deserve it.
  • Buy when you can’t afford it.
  • Buy just to update something that still works or looks fine.
  • Buy because someone else has it and you want it too.
  • Buy because the advertisement seduced you.
  • Buy because you are bored.
  • It’s purchased because buying soothes you.

It is possible to balance a simpler life with owning and acquiring material things. You can enjoy stuff without living the life of an aesthetic. The exact balance you create is a matter of personal preference. But realize there is a diminishing point of return with accumulation and materialism that undermines authentic joy and fulfillment in life.

Apply mindful purging to your current lifestyle and belongings, as well as thoughtful consideration to your future purchases. Carefully examine your motivations for keeping possessions or buying new things. Once you allow things to serve your soul, rather than you being a slave to your things, your life will evolve into an artful harmony between what you have and who you are.

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…

Life is Like a Mountain

A Guide to Reaching Life’s Summits:

This bit of wisdom was found on Zen Habits: a guest post by Scott Dinsmore

Pack light. Every unnecessary piece of gear complicates things and detracts from the experience. Aside from the bare necessities, things do not make life better. They often cause more stress and keep you from what’s most important. The lighter your pack the better. Life is too short to be burdened with excessive possessions, emotional baggage or regrets. Positive thoughts, relationships and experiences weigh nothing at all. Pile them on and leave the rest behind. They’ll lift you to the top.

Take one step at a time. Any major accomplishment can be broken down into a series of single steps. If your summit is too intimidating, break it into smaller steps. Focus on those one by one. Eventually one step will be the one that puts you on top.

Don’t go at it alone. When climbing, a partner is a must. For safety, support, camaraderie, motivation and simply to share the journey. You’d be silly (and putting yourself in great danger) to go up alone. Life is meant to be experienced with others. It makes the valleys shallower and the peaks higher. Relationships magnify experiences and help you do things that prove impossible alone. Don’t leave home without your support team.

Listen to the experts. While we all ought to experience our own paths, it’s foolish not to learn from and observe the guidance of experts. Choose your life models wisely and keep them close by on your journey.

Slow down. As Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia says, “It’s about how you got there. Not what you’ve accomplished.” Despite what colleagues and competitors may tell you, there is no rush. Rushing on the mountain risks slipping, not acclimating to thinning air, exhaustion and possibly death. In life the biggest risk is that you miss the wonders of everyday experiences in your pursuit to the top. The top is secondary to the process.

Look back and take in the view. There’s never any guarantee that you’ll get to the top, but you always have the ability to stop, take in a deep breath, smile and enjoy the view-whether it’s miles of wilderness or two feet of fog. It’s all wonderful. Every moment of life is a new view to appreciate.

Save some energy for the trip down. Things will inevitably take longer than expected. Don’t be discouraged. Budget your capital, energy and drive appropriately. Rarely is anything in life an all out sprint. Treat it like a marathon. You may need your reserves when you least expect it.

Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory. These are Ed Viesturs’ famous words; the first U.S. man to summit all 14 peaks above 8,000 meters with no bottled oxygen. The summit will be there tomorrow and likely so will yours. If more planning, a stronger team or more support is required, then save the summit for a time when the payout is safer and more probable. If you are outmatched, know when to turn back, only to return stronger and more savvy tomorrow. Stay objective and don’t let short-term excitement get in the way of long-term fulfillment.

Failure is a part of the process. Be ok with not reaching the summit every time. Falling short is inevitable. You will never learn more than from your failures…at anything. Embrace them.

A daunting summit is nothing more than a challenge. A challenge is simply an opportunity in disguise. You won’t summit every one you come across, but you will become a better person with each attempt.

There will always be another mountain. You are not meant to conquer them all. Past summits are simply preparing you for the next. With the right strategy, you’ll put the top within reach. When your summit arrives, you will be ready.

*For the complete article – where the author reflects on a recent climb of Mt. Shasta – go to Zen Habits and search ‘How to Summit life’s everyday mountains by Scott Dinsmore.

*That’s me – with my hand touching the summit marker of Long’s Peak, Colorado just after reaching the top at 12:40pm on August 22, 2007; 14,259′.  That’s FOURTEEN THOUSAND, two hundred and fifty-nine feet. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and one of the best!


Clutter and Cat Gak

I was reading a post about clutter and why we rely on it so much (on Zen Habits) and, as always, it got me to thinking…

I’ve taken some of the topics from that post and elaborated on them here.

You may not have an issue with clutter – but I collect things (a lot of artists do) mostly for aesthetic reasons (its great inspiration for art making) so I find the topic interesting and am always looking for new ways to sort through stuff.  No pun intended.

So what does clutter mean to you? 

It can mean:

Security.  When we have lots of stuff around us, we feel more secure.  It gives us the feeling we could survive an apocalyptic winter, earthquake or economic recession.

So…what should we do about it?  Learn to combat these fears with information instead.  What’s the worst-case scenario?  What could you do in that case even without the items around you?  Could you call someone that you rely on for help instead?  Is there really a reason to keep all of that extra stuff? Or maybe learn a skill that would be helpful in the situation instead.

Self-image and Self-worth.  Clothes and jewelry and shoes and handbags (Oh, My!) make women feel pretty, feel attractive, feel good about themselves as women.  Men rely on clothes (somewhat), gadgets, hats, other accessories, tools, and/or sometimes weaponry to feel better about themselves.

So…Learn that you don’t need external objects to feel attractive or good enough.  Learn to accept the person you are now; get to know that person.  We seem to be obsessed with self-improvement; which means we aren’t satisfied with the way we are now.

Forget the idea that others are judging you (they have other things to do!).

Memories and Holding on to the Past.  Photo albums, mementos, gifts from loved ones, yearbooks, school memorabilia, souvenirs, trophies, old clothes…these objects hold emotions and memories from the past.  They represent good times, perhaps better times.  But this is living in the past.  While the past is important, it isn’t your life.  And besides, if these items are stored away, how are they really reminding you of pleasant memories?  Think about that.

So…Consider recycling these items or donating them to someone who could benefit from them now before they go to waste completely.  Or (here’s an idea) what about turning them into something useful?  An antique quilt that is threadbare could be turned into a throw pillow; the emotional reminder is still there – but now it is serving a useful purpose and getting the special treatment it deserves.

Possibilities for Improvement.

This one really hit the mark for me.

Self-improvement books or literature on our shelves we haven’t read, tools for building or making something (i.e. craft/artist supplies) – Lee, are you listening?, exercise equipment, Lee, you hearing this??, yoga clothes, gardening tools, baking equipment, bikes, running shoes…Lee?, you still there? … I could go on and on.

And here’s the clincher.

These are things we don’t actually use but INTEND to someday.  Holding on to them ‘represents’ the possibility, sometime in the future, that we will be better.  We will improve.  We hope, and as long as we hold on to those objects, that hope is alive.

How sad is that?!

Now, it’s not like I didn’t know this already.  I just needed to see it in print.  It brought it out from the shadowy recesses of my subconscious and put it right square in the middle of the table.

So…what are we gonna do about it? 

“We’re” going to live in the present, not in the future, do things RIGHT NOW that make us happy, and stop holding on to these objects as placeholders for some perfect future that WILL NEVER COME.

I know that sounds kinda harsh – but by ‘will never come’ I mean, we will NEVER think its the perfect time, we will NEVER think its the perfect place, we will NEVER think the perfect future is even possible – NEVER.  And how sad to hold on to something for a ‘better’ time – only to realize we’d let it get away waiting for it to show up!!

Am I making any sense??

And what better time than a new year to make a clean break! Pun intended!!


When we’re feeling lonely or depressed or stressed or frustrated, we often turn to shopping. (Uh, oh…this is starting to sound like one of those interventions!)

According to ‘the post’, we buy objects because (the objects) won’t judge us – they will comfort us like a security blanket; they don’t require wooing or coddling in order to be in our life – just a credit card.  But this doesn’t solve any of our problems, and in fact, can add to the clutter problem (among other problems!).  No need to explain that one!

How should we deal with this?  Deal with the problems.  If they seem tough, tackle the small problems first and gradually build your strength to overcome the larger ones.  Just like starting a weight training program – slowly you increase the weights until you’re a mean, lean fighting machine!

Loneliness means we need to connect with other humans not objects.    Stress can be relieved by simplifying your life, not cluttering it up. Frustration is best dealt with by eliminating things or working out better ways of doing things that haven’t worked for us so far.

Procrastination.  Sometimes we don’t need things but we leave them in huge piles because we don’t want to deal with them.  Clutter is procrastination, because it’s easier to leave it and let it pile up than to deal with it – just like it’s easier to avoid dealing with problems.  Deal with it later …I don’t have time right now.  You dread the clutter but putting it off only makes it worse and the stress of putting it off builds up inside of us, deteriorating the quality of our lives.

As a kid, I grew up in a house where the clutter was something out of my control. It affected every aspect of my life.  Sometimes I had the feeling of hopelessness and the frustration was overwhelming at times.  Things as simple as our living environment can play a huge role in our attitudes and behaviors.  And we don’t necessarily shake these feelings when we start our own lives.  They can follow us anywhere!

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to take ONE piece, one thing and deal with it NOW.  Not tomorrow.  NOW.  Open up a trash bag and fill it up.  Immediately proceed to the nearest Goodwill or donation center.  It will only take a few minutes of your time.  There’s one near you – I’m certain of it.  Or, if you can’t find a donation center near you, and you’re afraid you’ll lose your nerve by waiting until tomorrow or another day…take it to the dump and SLOWLY get it out of your car and SLOWLY proceed towards the dumpster with the said object in clear sight, so that the person next to you will see it and immediately ask if they can have it.  Don’t laugh.  It could happen.

It happened to us just the other day.

A perfectly good desk chair with cat gak stains all over it…YUK.  Who would want a chair with someone else’s cat gak all over it?!

Apparently the man in the car next to us.

He was going to remove the wheels, and put it in a deer stand (hunting is huge in this part of the world).  He didn’t care about the cat gak at all!

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

So, now you can feel good about donating your stuff (surely your stuff beats my cat gak!) and enjoy the fact that you’re making progress!  You’re on a roll!  Keep going!


Camping or mountain climbing or skiing or surfing or biking gear (remember my other post…) can represent excitement in the future.  Lots of other objects might also represent future excitement – computers, clothes, jewelry, tools, luggage, etc., etc., somehow just having these items in our lives means we might someday have more fun.  See also ‘Possibilities for Improvement’ above.

Realize you don’t need objects for excitement or fun.  You can have fun with nothing.  By yourself.  Or with a friend.  With new friends.  Right now, not in the future. One of the things I enjoy doing the most is sitting in a comfortable, quiet place and reading.  It’s the perfect thing when you need to re-charge or relax – it’s your choice!

Who would’ve thought clutter could mean so many different things and affect us in so many different ways?

The important thing to remember is – if it is affecting us in a negative way – we can do something about it!  It doesn’t have to control us! 

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.

Uncertainty…it’s what’s for breakfast.

More wisdom from Zen Habits…
This is a guest post from Jonathan Fields, author of “Uncertainty:Turning Fear and Doubt into fuel for brilliance –

Uncertainty. It’s a terrifying word.

Living with it, dangling over your head like the sword of Damacles, day in day out, is enough to send anyone spiraling into a state of anxiety, fear and paralysis.

Like it or not, though, uncertainty is the new normal. We live in a time where the world is in a state of constant, long-term flux. And, that’s not all. If you want to spend your time on the planet not just getting-by, but consistently creating art, experiences, businesses and lives that truly matter, you’ll need to proactively seek out, invite and even deliberately amplify uncertainty. Because the other side of uncertainty is opportunity.

Nothing great was ever created by waiting around for someone to tell you it’s all going to be okay or for perfect information to drop from the sky. Doesn’t happen that way. Great work requires you to act in the face of uncertainty, to live in the question long enough for your true potential to emerge. There is no alternative.

When you find the strength to act in the face of uncertainty, you till the soil of genius.

Problem is, that kills most people. It leads to unease, anxiety, fear and doubt on a level that snuffs out most genuinely meaningful and potentially revolutionary endeavors before they even see the light of day. Not because they wouldn’t have succeeded, but because you never equipped yourself to handle and even harness the emotional energy of the journey.

But, what if it didn’t have to be that way?

What if there was a way to turn the fear, anxiety and self-doubt that rides along with acting in the face of uncertainty–the head-to-toe butterflies–into fuel for brilliance?

Turns out, there is. Your ability to lean into the unknown isn’t so much about luck or genetics, rather it’s something entirely trainable. I’ve spent the past few years interviewing world-class creators across a wide range of fields and pouring over research that spans neuroscience, decision-theory, psychology, creativity and business.

Through this work, a collection of patterns, practices and strategies have emerged that not only turbocharge insight, creativity, innovation and problem-solving, but also help ameliorate so much of the suffering so often associated with the pursuit of any creative quest.

Here are 5 starter-strategies to help get you going:

1. Reframe.

We tell ourselves stories all day long. I’m skinny. I’m fat. I’m talented. I’m stupid. This is genius. This is awful. I will succeed. I will fail. I’m terrified and anxious. I’m confident and proactive. It turns out, the storylines we create around a particular circumstance are far more determinative of success than the circumstance itself. They affect not only our willingness to act, but the quality of our ideas and solutions.

If you create a story that empowers action and innovation, that’s great news. Unfortunately, our brains have a strong bias toward negativity, leading most of us to create stories around circumstances that require action in the face of uncertainty that are more likely to paralyze and stunt creativity than fuel action.

Reframing is a process that asks you to suspend negative storylines, explore if the story you’re telling is the only one and, if not (which is inevitably the case), construct or frame a new storyline that empowers you to experience an uncertain circumstance not as a prime for failure and inaction, but as a signpost for meaning and opportunity.

For example, if you’re disabling storyline is around the risk of failure, instead of just asking “what if I fail?” and creating a doomsday scenario, you also ask “how will I recover, what if I do nothing and what if I succeed?” Then build new stories around those questions.

2. Practice Mindfulness.

Reframing is an immensely powerful tool in the quest to lean into the unknown. But it also requires a certain equanimity; the ability to pull back and see what’s really going on, re-center, then breath into that uncomfortable place long enough for amazing things to bubble up. Over time, a daily mindfulness practice goes a long way toward equipping you to do just that.

Plus, it cultivates the sense of persistent grounding that makes living and acting in a world where there is no new normal far more enjoyable. And it trains you in the practice of dropping thoughts, among those, destructive, limiting-beliefs.

3. Exercise Your Brain.

We’ve all seen the research on exercise and health, weight loss and disease prevention. But, did you know that certain approaches to exercise also have a profound effect on your brain?

Daily cardiovascular exercise, for example, especially with high-intensity bursts mixed in can improve mood, executive function, decision-making and creativity and decrease anxiety and fear. The latest research even reveals the possibility that exercise can grow new brains cells, something that until only a few years ago, was thought to be impossible. It’s also strongly correlated with decreases in anxiety and increases in mood, which are directly connected to improved creativity and problem-solving.

4. Singletask.

Multitasking is out. Turns out this badge of honor from the ’90s is more fiction than fact. Our brains don’t multitask, they just rapidly switch between tasks, sometimes fast enough for us to believe we’re doing many things at once. Problem is, every time we switch, there is a “ramping cost” in your brain, it takes anywhere from a few second to 15 minutes for your brain to fully re-engage. This makes you feel insanely busy, but simultaneously craters productivity, creativity and increases feelings of anxiety and stress.

Multitasking also requires you to hold a lot of information in your working memory, which is controlled by a part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex (PFC). But the PFC is also responsible for will-power, and for keeping fear and anxiety in check. Multitasking increases the “cognitive load” on the PFC, overwhelming it and effectively killing it’s ability to keep fear, anxiety and the taunt of distraction at bay.

Simple solution–just say no. Do one thing at a time in intense, short bursts.

5. Get Lean.

Instead of creating in a vacuum, explore the possibility of bringing a “lean” or “agile” approach to your creative process. Focus on maximum learning, create the simplest version of your idea possible, then bring a select group of those who’d potentially enjoy it into the process earlier in name of soliciting and integrating input into the next iteration. This not only minimizes waste, it changes the psychology of creation by adding more certainty earlier in the game and encouraging consistent, incremental action.

These five strategies and practices can change the way you experience the creative process in a profound way. They’ll not only allow you to tap a reservoir of previously hidden creativity, they’ll also allow you to experience any creative endeavor with a far deeper sense of equanimity and joy.

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!