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Removing Ourselves From the Center of Everything

When we go about our day, we tell ourselves a story about what’s happening … and at the center of that narrative is a single person.

Ourselves.

When I talk to myself about how so-and-so is inconsiderate or treated me badly, when I tell myself that it’s OK to procrastinate because I’m tired and not in the mood … I’m at the center of this movie. It’s an ongoing story about my life and everything around me, with me at the center.

I’m sure you can relate — you’re at the center of your movie as well. It’s natural, and there’s nothing wrong with doing this.

But some difficulties can arise from this self-centered view of the world:

  • We interpret other people’s actions as it relates to us, so that they are helping or harming us … giving us what we want or getting in the way of what we want. But their actions aren’t really about us — their actions are about them, because they are at the center of their own stories. When we interpret their self-centered actions through the lens of our self-centered view, the actions often make no sense, and frustrate, hurt or infuriate us.
  • When someone makes a comment that we take as an attack on something about ourselves … we then feel the need to defend ourselves. “I’m a good person,” we think, “and they shouldn’t imply that I’m not.” But this interpretation is just a self-centered way of looking at it … we could also see it as saying something about the other person. And if we try to understand where they’re coming from, instead of seeing what it says about us, then we’ll be less defensive or offended.
  • We interpret everything else around us — from bad traffic to Internet comments to terrorist attacks — by thinking about how it affects us. “This sucks (for me),” we think. But we could also remove ourselves from this story and just see that there are things happening in the world, and be curious about them, try to understand them, and see that they are not about us.

Again, it’s natural and normal to interpret everything this way … but you can see that it can cause problems, inhibit understanding and empathy, and make us unhappy at times.

So what can we do?

First, become aware of the stories we tell ourselves.

Next, see that we are putting ourselves at the center.

Then see if we can remove ourselves from the center of the story.

What would the story be without us in it? For me, that story becomes something like:

  • Things are happening — how interesting! What can be learned from them? What can be understood?
  • Someone else is doing something or talking, and it’s probably about them. How can I understand them better?
  • There is difficulty and unhappiness in what other people are saying and doing. How can I feel compassion for them and offer them love?

When I remember to do this — and I very, very often don’t — it lifts the difficulty that I’ve been facing internally and shift my focus to understanding and empathizing with other people, seeing how I can give them compassion.

Of course, I’m not really removed from the story. I’m still there, but just not necessarily at the center of it. Instead, I focus more on my interconnectedness with everyone else, everything else, and see that they have supported me in becoming the person I am, and that I can support them as well.

Removing Ourselves From the Center of Everything was first published on Zen Habits on 8/10/16.

Your Internet Habits Create Your Reality

Each of us has a different reality. And we’re creating that reality, and can shape it in many ways.

We tend to think of reality as something external and absolute, like the sun shining down on us on a hot, lazy afternoon. That sun is really there, whether we believe it or not, right?

But as humans, our reality is shaped by what we perceive. So one person will see the sun has overwhelmingly hot and oppressive, the other sees it as an opportunity for a great tan. Another will see it as a huge cancer machine. And still another will think the sun is an angry god to be feared and served.

Those people all have very different realities, even if the sun is objectively the same for all of them.

In that light, whatever you think about and do on a regular basis shapes your reality.

And that’s mostly the Internet (and phone apps), for a lot of people.

If you’re on websites that talk about how horrible the world is, and how gays and Muslims and feminists are causing everything to go to hell … then that will be your reality.

If you’re on Facebook looking at your friends’ food pictures or vacation photos, that will shape your reality. If you’re on porn sites, that’s what your reality is. If you follow people on Twitter who complain all the time, that affects your life in a major way.

What Internet habits shape your reality? Is that the reality you want? Can you shape it?

I don’t have any answers here. Just wanted to influence your reality a tad.

Your Internet Habits Create Your Reality was first published on Zen Habits on 4/6/15.

How to Want Very Little

There’s a part of today’s consumerist world that drives us to want more, buy more, act on our impulses, hoard, spend to solve our problems, create comfort through shopping, seek thrills through travel, do more, be more.

What would happen if we broke from our addiction to wanting and buying more?

What would life be like if we didn’t need all that?

Imagine a life where we could enjoy simple, free pleasures like going for a walk in nature, meditating, reading a book, writing. By buying less we’d have less debt, less clutter, less to take care of. We’d need smaller houses, less storage. Perhaps we could even work less to support all this buying, unless the work were something we loved to do.

Now, I’m not saying we can free ourselves of all desire. I’ve certainly not learned to do that yet. But what if we could recognize our wants, and not be driven by them? What if we could let go of them when they are not helpful, and instead be happy with what we have?

I’m exploring this myself. I’ll share some things that work for me, with the acknowledgement that I’m still learning, I still fail at this all the time. I have a lot to learn, but here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Recognize when you have an impulse to buy, a desire to do what other people are doing, a need to solve problems or create a certain life by buying things. Learn to see this impulse, and say, “Ah, I have an urge to buy!” Just see it.
  • Recognize that the impulse isn’t a command, just a feeling that arises like any other, just temporary, like a passing cloud. Watch it, feel it, stay with it, but know that it will pass.
  • Set a limit to your stuff. I am experimenting with a limit of only having clothes that fit in one bag, but you might set an temporary limit of 33 personal things, one drawerful of clothes, etc. This limit isn’t to feel restricted, but to give you pause before you buy something, to remind you that you already have enough.
  • See this moment as enough. A desire to buy, to experience what others are experiencing, to do more … these all stem from the idea that the present isn’t enough somehow. We aren’t satisfied with what we are, what we have, what is in front of us … we want more. But I’ve been practicing with the idea that the current moment is already enough. I’m already good enough. There doesn’t need to be more. When I have an impulse to buy or do more, I think about what’s in front of me, and I try to understand that it’s enough as it is.
  • Enjoy simple things. There is already enough in front of us, right now, that we don’t need more. We can go for a walk, sit and read a book, do some pushups or yoga, sketch or write or play some music, have a conversation with someone, or do nothing and see what that’s like. We can walk barefoot on grass, drink a cup of tea, create something new, learn about something new, be curious about the life that’s in front of us. This is delightful, without needing to buy more or get more.

Finally, recognize that it’s an ongoing practice. In my experience, you don’t just get rid of desires and then you’re done. You let go of one, turn to the present moment, appreciate it, find satisfaction in what there already is … and then a little while later, another desire arises. It comes from advertising, websites, magazines, seeing what other people are doing on social media, watching the news, talking to people, walking past a cool store, seeing a new bag that your friend just bought, etc.

The desires will keep coming back, but we can develop the skill of recognizing them, letting them go, being happy with the enough-ness of now.

How to Want Very Little was first published on Zen Habits on 11/17/15.

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