The Magic of Seeing Everything as Sacred

When we wake up in the morning, many of us automatically go on our phones or computers and start reading, checking messages, responding to things, and moving through our online world on autopilot.

We go through our day like this as well, managing as best we can, dealing with stress and being overwhelmed, moving through the physical world forgetting to be mindful.

For the most part, everything is normal. We’re managing. On good days, things go pretty well. On bad days, frustration and stress get to us.

But what if we could shift everything in a magical way?

What would happen if we changed the way we saw every single thing around us, including other people, including ourselves, including every little thing we see?

Try this: view every single thing you see as sacred.

See what happens.

Now, I’ll admit that “sacred” is a loaded word for many people who are not religious. It literally means “connected with God (or the gods),” and so if you’re not religious, it might seem a bit dumb. But I don’t believe in God, and still find value in the idea that things might be sacred. Hear me out.

“Sacred” is simply elevating something to the level of divine. That might be God, if you believe in God, but it could be the divinity in the universe, the miracle of existence and every moment. If you think of how crazy it is that we exist, and think of how wonderful and miraculous this universe is … I would argue that it’s divine, no matter what you believe in.

Look outside: the trees and flowers and birds you can see are filled with divinity. They are absolutely sacred. So is the wind, the stars, the sunlight falling upon the faces of strangers, the ability to see colors and to have a conversation and connection with a fellow human being.

Think of all that changes:

  • If you start to see something as sacred, it no longer becomes “ho hum,” no longer becomes something you’re taking for granted. You fully appreciate the beauty of that sacred object or being.
  • If you see another person as sacred, then you treat them with respect and even love, you look deep into the loveliness of their soul and broken heart, you are grateful for your connection to them.
  • If you see your possessions as sacred, you don’t toss them in the trash or put them any old place — you put it away with care.
  • If you see your work as sacred, you no longer feel it’s a burden, but a gift. You do it out of devotion, with love, instead of just trying to get through it.
  • If you see yourself as sacred, all of a sudden you start to see the goodness within yourself. You treat yourself better, putting healthy food inside of yourself instead of junk.
  • If you see the world around you as sacred, you move through it with awe. With a sense of wanting to applaud the universe for its magical creation. With a sense of purpose, being the audience of this miracle, wanting to fully appreciate it.

Look at everything around you with awe and appreciation. Treat it with respect and care. Put things away with reverence. Treat others as if you are connecting with the divine. And treat yourself with as a manifestation of the universe that has somehow been given the gift of realizing its own sacredness.

That is true magic, and it is always available.

The Magic of Seeing Everything as Sacred was first published on Zen Habits on 6/27/18.

Mental Resiliency: Letting Go of the Guilt of Not Getting Things Done

It happens to all of us: we don’t get done what we hoped to get done, then we feel stressed or guilty about it.

It’s time to let that go, because it’s not helping us.

We can build resiliency around this, with a little mental training. And it will help us in magical ways.

Think about whether you’ve done any of these things:

  • Set out to do a certain habit (exercise, eating, meditation, writing) and then didn’t do it as planned. You feel guilty, disappointed in yourself, or just stressed.
  • Had a list of things you need to get done, and then didn’t get most of them done. This just added to your stress.
  • Planned to work on a project, or do some writing … and then procrastinated. Again, you felt guilty, disappointed or stressed.
  • Hoped to change your patterns, like eating or how you talk to others or how you practice mindfulness. Then everything goes to crap and you feel disappointed.

There are thousands of variations on these, but the main theme is that things didn’t go as you’d hoped, and that causes disappointment, guilt, stress.

Here’s the thing: there’s no problem with the failure to meet our expectations. The real problem problem is the expectations. And the stress that it causes when we don’t meet the expectations.

In all the examples above, we have this ideal in our heads about how things should be, how we want to be. There’s nothing wrong with that — we all do it, all the time — but the problem comes when we hold too tightly to the ideals/expectations. It causes difficulties: we feel let down, we feel anxiety, we feel anger or resentment at ourselves, we become unhappy.

This process of expectations and then not meeting them and then less happiness … it happens over and over, throughout the day. We are constantly doing this to ourselves.

This leads to stress, unhappiness, feeling overwhelmed, feeling like we can’t change, a lack of trust in ourselves. This is the real damage. It hurts everything we want to do, making it more likely that we just give up, because we don’t trust ourselves.

This is the problem.

The answer is to hold less tightly to our ideals. Become aware of our expectations (of ourselves, but also of others), and cling to them less. Toss them out, if possible, and just see what happens.

And love what actually happens. Love yourself as you are, not as you wish you’d be. Sure, endeavor to do good, out of love for yourself and others … but when you don’t meet those expectations, toss them out and love who you are, what you’ve actually done. Love reality.

Here’s the prescription, if you want one:

  1. Set an intention to love yourself by exercising, eating better, meditating, being kind to others, doing your work in the world. Set the intention out of love, then do the best you can.
  2. Whatever you do, notice your expectations, toss them into the ocean. Love what you actually do, love the moment and yourself no matter what. Let go of the useless guilt and stress and self-criticism.
  3. See what held you back from meeting your intention. Make an intentional change in your environment so that it won’t keep holding you back. Set another intention, out of love, but don’t cling to it. Repeat, over and over.

By letting go of these expectations, by tossing them into the ocean, we can let go of our difficulties and actually be at peace. Actually find contentment. Actually love ourselves. And this leads to a happiness with the world and ourselves that is incredible and that fills the heart up.

Mental Resiliency: Letting Go of the Guilt of Not Getting Things Done was first published on Zen Habits on 4/18/18.

Why I’m Always in a Hurry, & What I’m Doing About It

I’ve come to realize, more and more, that I’m always rushing.

I rush from one task to the next, rush through eating my food, impatient for meditation to be over, rushing through reading something, rushing to get somewhere, anxious to get a task or project finished.

What’s the deal? This coming from a guy who has written a lot about slowing down and savoring, about being present, about single-tasking?

As always, when I write these articles, they’re as much a reminder to myself about what I’ve found to work as they are a reminder to all of you. I’ve found them to work, but that doesn’t mean I always remember to practice them. It doesn’t mean I’m perfect, by any means.

So what is going on? Why do I hurry so much?

I’ve been reflecting on this, and the answer seems to be that my mind has a tendency towards greed. This isn’t greed in the sense that I want a lot of wealth … but my mind finds something it likes and it wants more. Always more.

Some examples of greed:

  • I like chocolate (or wine, or coffee, or cookies) and I crave it, and want more even if I just had a bite of it.
  • I am doing a task but also want to do 20 more tasks, because I want to do as much as possible. Wanting to do more and more, to do everything, is a good example of the mind’s tendency to greed.
  • When I learn, I want to learn everything about a topic. I’ll look up every book I can find, every blog post or article, every podcast or video, every forum post, and want to read all of it. Of course, I can’t possibly read all of it now, but I want to. I’ll buy 10 books but jump around from one to the next, not finishing any of them.
  • When I travel to a new city, I want to see it all — all the best sights, all the best vegan restaurants, all the best bookstores and museums and experiences. I can’t possibly, but I’ll do my best to fit all the best stuff into the small container of my trip, and research it for weeks.
  • When I’m going about my day, I try to fit as much as possible into it: not only all my tasks, but spending time with the wife, reading with the kids, working out and meditating and doing yoga and going for a walk and reading and learning online and answering all my emails, watching all the best TV shows and films, and checking all the forums and news and blogs and more and more.

I rush around, trying to fit all of that in. I’m trying to maximize every day, every trip, every event, every moment. I’m trying to get everything possible out of life.

This comes from a good heart — I appreciate the briefness of life, and I appreciate its brilliance, and I want all of it in the short time I have left here. That’s not a bad thing, wanting more of life.

But what is the result of always wanting more, always wanting to maximize? It’s rushing, grabbing onto everything, never having enough, never being satisfied, never actually stopping to enjoy, not really appreciating each moment because I’m greedy for more great moments.

Indulging in this greediness for more, this maximizing everything, doesn’t satisfy it. It just creates more wanting for more.

Indulging isn’t helpful. Staying with the feeling of wanting more, wanting to maximize, wanting to rush, wanting to do it all … that’s more helpful. Stay with the feeling, Leo, don’t indulge it.

Don’t try to do it all, but instead be here now.

Don’t rush, but appreciate the moments in between things as just as important as the next thing.

Don’t try to maximize, but instead practice letting go. Let go of greedy tendencies, let go of whatever you’re clinging to (having it all, doing it all), let go of the urge to rush.

Whenever there’s a tendency towards greed, counter it with generosity.

The Practice of Generosity

What does generosity have to do with hurrying and trying to maximize every day? In one sense, generosity might be giving money or possessions to people who need it, or giving help wherever needed, when possible. But that’s just one sense of generosity.

Generosity is any way that we turn away from our self-centered view and start turning towards others. It could be as simple as turning towards another person in our life and trying to see what they need, rather than focusing on what we want to get out of life.

Or it could be turning towards that person and giving them the gift of our full attention. Really try to be present, with an open heart, trying to understand and hear the person. This is the spirit of generosity.

When doing something alone, the spirit of generosity can be turned to each moment — giving that moment the full gift of our attention, seeing it fully and opening our heart to it. This is a salve to the usual spirit of needing more, more, more, of wanting to satisfy me, me, me.

I’m trying to practice the spirit of generosity, whenever I notice my greedy mind wanting everything, wanting more, wanting to get the most out of every day. Instead, I turn to this moment, each person, each activity, and give it the loving gift of my wholehearted attention.

Why I’m Always in a Hurry, & What I’m Doing About It was first published on Zen Habits on 3/16/17.