What’s the Most Loving Thing You Can Do?

The question I’ve been asking myself lately, before I do anything, is a deceptively simple one: “What’s the most loving thing you can do in this situation?

Now, that might sound corny to some of you, might seem irrelevant to most of you. But give me one minute of your time to explain.

I’ve been experimenting for awhile with letting go. Not running when I have uncertainty, fear, discomfort. Not acting on my fears or frustrations. Not letting these things drive me, but sitting still with them instead, and facing them with courage.

That’s wonderful, but what if you actually need to act? You could sit still all day, but then you’d never help anyone, never create anything, never do anything.

So there’s a need to not act, to sit still … and there’s a need to act. How do we determine which is which?

By asking that question. “What’s the most loving thing you can do in this situation?”

When you’re about to take an action (including running away, going away from uncertainty to comfort, procrastinating, going to distractions or comfort food) … stop and sit still.

Turn inward and see if fear or stress is coming up, see if you’re feeling uncertainty and wanting to cope by getting control. See if you’re trying to comfort yourself, or to lash out, to close down.

In this case, the most loving thing you can do is nothing.

The most loving thing you can do, for yourself and others, is to sit still. Face the fear and uncertainty. Not act out wanting to control these emotions, wanting to comfort yourself.

But in other cases, you want to take action. Doing your work, for example, could be something that helps you or your team or the world. Taking care of someone, talking to them, being there for them, serving them … those can be very helpful things to do.

In these cases, acting to help yourself or someone else is the most loving thing you can do.

If I’m going to read with my kid, take a walk with my wife, clean the kitchen for my family, write a book for my readers … these are loving acts.

If I’m running to check email or social media because I want something easy to do instead of writing that book for my readers … the loving act is to sit still and face this discomfort, fear and uncertainty.

When I’m talking to someone out of frustration, the most loving thing I can do is to refrain from trying to criticize or control them or be defensive. Instead, I can face this frustration. When I calm myself down, I can talk to them in a loving way and try to help them, try to empathize with them, try to be there for them.

Each time I’m about to act, the best thing I can do is ask that question: What’s the most loving thing you can do in this situation? I might not always remember, but when I do, it is always a helpful question.

What’s the Most Loving Thing You Can Do? was first published on Zen Habits on 9/23/16.

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.