Good morning and welcome to your fifty-third meditation. Do you like to be scared? Some people would scoff and say “of course not! Why would anyone want to be scared”. Well, this is precisely the question that today’s podcast will set out to answer, and in doing so, lay out a defense for the incorporation of a little fright in our lives.

First off, being frightened activates the imagination. When we think of things that scare us our minds become remarkably creative. When we hear a ghost story, for example, and really allow ourselves to suspend our disbelief and open our minds to the possibility of the supernatural, our way of perceiving the world changes. Reality is no longer such a fixed concept as we usually understand it to be, and this is fertile ground for inventiveness. How many times have you heard a ghost story or watched a horror movie and then been unable to sleep because you are busy imagining countless ghoulish scenarios? It may not be the most comfortable you’ve ever felt, but it might be the most imaginative you’ve ever been.

And as regards comfort, the discomfort caused by fright can be one of its most beneficial aspects. The point is that it is not relaxing. It’s exciting. It makes you feel alive by reminding you of your vulnerability, your mortality. Granted, to sustain that wound-up state for long periods of time would be undesirable; but then, long spells of too much comfort can also lead to boredom and depression. There’s nothing like thoughts of the un-dead to undeaden yourself!

Finally, and not unrelated to the last point, getting scared is fun. Especially getting scared with others. To watch a horror movie with a group of friends or in a movie theatre is to go through a kind of controlled, collectively harrowing experience. Feeling, and openly expressing, our own vulnerability publicly, as we do while watching horror, is not something we always have the opportunity to do. Where else is it socially acceptable to get in a room with strangers and scream? The truth is, there aren’t many venues in our society where we, ironically, feel so safe to feel and express these very real human emotions. In this way, fright is a form of catharsis – it lets us get out those deeply human emotions that otherwise might stay bottled up in us and cause us very real harm. And to experience all this amongst others is a great way to bring us closer together and strengthen social ties. 

So, fine. You might not like to be scared. But perhaps it’s time you reconsider. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your fifty-second meditation. And fifty-two weekly meditations is cause for celebration because it marks one year of being together; one year of doing our best to learn to love ourselves and each other as much as possible; one year of actively aspiring to be better. How great is that! No need to be stingy with our self-congratulation. If there’s one message you take from the past year of podcasts, it should be this. There is no success too small to celebrate, no pride in an achievement too silly to let yourself feel. No. To narrow the definition of success is to deprive ourselves of so much room to grow. We are creatures subject to behavioral conditioning, so that if we allow ourselves to feel good about whatever it is that we deem to be a success, this feeling will positively reinforce the behaviour that led to that success, and thus, breed more outcomes like it. And then a positive feedback loop of success and happy, celebratory feelings ensues. If, on the other hand, you view yourself as undeserving of celebration, then the whole mechanism that motivates the positive action gets stifled. This can quickly turn into a dangerous reversal of the aforementioned pattern of reinforcement, where you don’t let yourself view your achievements as successes and so come to regard yourself as someone who never succeeds. Who is unable to succeed.

But of course you can. Because there is no limit to how you can define success. Did you get out of bed this morning? It’s a cliché, but this can be a serious challenge for some people sometimes. And it’s not so hard to understand why. Life can be overwhelming at the best of times, and getting out of bed in the morning represents your choice to live it; to confront the pressures, the anxieties, the hardship; to affirm your existence in the face of all the forces that seem to want to deny it. But maybe your feeling of success is derived from something less fundamentally existential. Maybe it’s just that you managed to instal that shelf all by yourself. Maybe it’s that you finished your crossword in record time. Maybe it’s that you had a great day on the golf course. It doesn’t matter. The world can feel like a thankless place at times; and if you’re not going to appreciate your achievements, however frivolous, who will? So if you do something that feels like an accomplishment, just leave aside the tendency to judge the importance or significance of that act. Relish in the feeling of success. Celebrate and freely flourish. Happy birthday meditators! Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your fifty-first meditation. Mayo Clinic tells us it reduces stress, improves our immune system, and it can be an effective pain-killer. It enhances our mood, raises our self-esteem, improves our ability to cope with difficult situations, and contributes to our overall happiness and satisfaction with life. Oh, and it’s free, readily available, and has no negative side-effects. What could this miracle drug be? The answer is the same as it is for a surprising number of life’s problems: laughter. 

Of course, we all laugh. No one needs a podcast to teach them how to do it. It’s just that sometimes we forget to laugh. We become too occupied with all the seriousness of life and lose sight of the vital role that laughter plays in our well-being and happiness. You may be saying, ‘but isn’t laughter involuntary? I can’t choose when I laugh and when I don’t’. 

But this isn’t entirely true. There are some very effective ways that can help you ensure that you laugh more. The first is to actively seek out funny stuff. The function of comedy is not only to make us laugh in the moment, it is also to give us a humorous lens through which we can view life. This means that watching or hearing good comedy pays dividends. It gives you real-time laughter, but also gives you a vocabulary for laughter. You learn how to see things as funny, that might otherwise have seemed mundane. 

Second, you have to laugh at yourself. That doesn’t mean that you don’t take yourself seriously. You should do that too. But you should have a healthy sense of the cosmic absurdity of you doing so. We get so invested in ourselves, our lives, our ideas, our problems, that we can forget how hilariously grandiose we are being. We are, after all, cosmically negligible grains of dust, being stirred up by a slight breeze, getting exercised about our insignificant dust dramas. It’s as it should be, but it’s also funny!

Finally, each one of us has the power to choose the attitude with which we face the world. We can choose a kind of paranoid vigilance, where we are constantly lying in ambush, ready to pounce on whoever might say or do something that doesn’t perfectly align with our own values. Or we can choose to have a good belly-laugh at how incredibly arrogant it would be to think that the world should reflect our own values back at us. We should all care about social justice, and do our best to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy equal rights and feel safe. But we must also remember that comedy and satire are excellent tools for challenging and deconstructing the status quo. And so we should be careful that before denouncing humour as unjust, or unfair, or harmful, we make sure that we are not stomping down the rich, fertile soil out of which social change can grow that good comedy so often provides. We had also better make sure that we are not unnecessarily depriving ourselves or anyone else of laughter, as this would be deleterious to everyone’s health as we’ve seen. And assuming an attitude of paranoid vigilance is doubtless a stressful way to live; those of us who do live that way could likely use the health benefits of this miracle drug the most. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful and hilarious day.

Good morning and welcome to your fiftieth meditation. Do you ever put off cleaning the house for so long that it’s actually more work to navigate your cluttered space on a daily basis than it would be to clean it on a weekly one? Do you ever do your laundry, but then stop short of folding it, so that your clean clothes end up wrinkled on a now-unusable surface? Or do you tell yourself you’ll exercise and then keep coming up with excuses not to? Odds are, if you can’t identify with any of these examples, you probably have your very own equivalent. We all have certain activities we enjoy doing, and others we don’t. And that’s fine. No one likes everything. Of course you’re going to prefer certain activities to others. Unfortunately, sometimes those activities we don’t enjoy also happen to be integral to a clean, healthy, comfortable, and ultimately happier life.

So what can we do? One option is to go on avoiding the tasks you hate, accumulating clutter and anxiety along the way. This, perhaps unsurprisingly, is not the approach that this podcast will endorse. Another option, for those with the means to do so, is to hire someone to take care of it for you. That’s fine, however the majority of us don’t have that luxury. No, we in the majority will have to work a little harder to change our habits and our attitudes toward tasks that we view as chores. 

Let’s start with habits. Like anything where you experience resistance to getting started, it is a good idea to have a designated time in your schedule set aside to get it done. Don’t think that simply knowing it has to get done is enough to motivate you to do it promptly. There will always be some other activity that seems more important or pressing until you actively carve out time in your schedule for that undesirable task that needs doing. This is just how our brains work. There are always things to be done, and, without a schedule, we will tend to pick the task that appears to cause the least friction, i.e. not the thing you don’t want to do. Added to this, having a schedule means that you can rest assured that it will get done at the assigned time, meaning that you don’t have to think about it until that time, and so you won’t have to deal with the mounting anxiety that tends to accompany the knowledge that you still haven’t done that thing that you need to do.

Next is the attitude we take toward these bothersome tasks. Do they have to be bothersome? Do they have to be chores? Often our problem with these tasks is that they require time, physical energy, and very little mental energy – in other words, boooorrrring. But this lack of a need for any mental engagement can also be the saving grace of chores. It means that we can fill that space with something that is interesting to us such as podcasts, audiobooks, TV, or just our own private musings. And for those of us who work too hard and think too much, these mindless activities can be a welcome excuse to shut our brains off and go on autopilot for a while. In this case, these activities become more like a break than chores. A simple respite from what can be the serious and cumbersome demands of real-life. So although you may never love doing the dishes per se, if you pair the chore with something that you really enjoy, you may even find that you get excited about that particular activity because you have established a pleasant association with it. And poof, it’s no longer a chore. 

Try it. Schedule specific times for your chores, and pair them with something that you enjoy. And don’t be surprised to find that your anxiety levels drop, that you enjoy a sense of pride in your responsibility, and that you actually come to enjoy the time spent doing these ostensibly unenjoyable activities. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your forty-ninth meditation. What is the importance of dreams? Do you believe that they are just nonsensical jumbles of impressions, incoherent syntheses of all of your thoughts and sense memory from your waking life? Or do you believe they hold a depth of meaning that we are incapable of grasping while awake, that, when correctly interpreted, can reveal something to us about ourselves, or about reality, that we otherwise never would have known? Wherever you stand on this issue of the nature of dreams, their meaning or lack thereof, it would seem an awful waste to ignore them outright. This is because, as you know, we spend approximately one third of our life asleep. That means most of us sleep for around 25 years throughout our lives! And much of this time is spent dreaming. That is a lot of life to simply disregard. And while the objective measure of time we spend dreaming is great, dreams are case-in-point evidence of the theory of psychological time. In other words, the time-scale of a dream can be a lot larger than the objective duration of time in which the dream takes place. We all have had the experience of waking up to our alarms in the morning, hitting snooze, falling back asleep, and living what feels like a lifetime in the five minutes between alarms. And however unintelligible dreams may be on their face, they amount to real experiences to which we have real physical and emotional responses. This is obvious when we wake up shaken from a nightmare, or soothed by a pleasant dream. We carry this energy with us throughout our day, and it thus inflects our waking lives, however consciously. This is one reason why it is so important to make sure your pre-bed routine is filled with positivity. This could mean thinking of things that excite you, or imagining yourself realizing your desires. On the other hand, if you are occupied by painful thoughts, you can imagine the healing of the wound that is the source of those thoughts. This could mean thinking of a loved one who is suffering from an illness and imagining them in a state of convalescence; or, if you don’t have enough money, picturing yourself with plenty; or if you are experiencing anxiety with no discernible source, imagine it draining out of you with each exhale as you drift off to sleep. This bedtime practise will set the stage for the work that your dreams do while your conscious mind is taking a load off. 

And much good work has been done in this state. Indeed, many of the world’s most important discoveries have been thanks to skilled dreamers. Paul McCartney wrote his timeless melody “Yesterday” in a dream; Mary Shelley conceived of Frankenstein, one of the most influential novels of all time; Dmitri Mendeleev settled on the final arrangement of the periodic table while asleep; and Einstein famously dreamed up the Theory of Relativity. 

Whether or not you believe that dreams have meaning, positive bedtime routines will mean that the experiences your body and mind undeniably undergo while you sleep will be more likely to reflect that positivity, and so leave you better rested, happier, and better prepared to take on the following day. And, who knows, maybe your dreaming subconscious will guide you to a brilliant discovery that will change your life and the world. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your forty-eighth meditation. Your job. In the capitalist world in which we live this concept can be about as fundamental to your social identity as your name. Surely you’ve enjoyed the experience of being at a party and meeting people you don’t know. Typically, if they do you the courtesy of first asking your name, the question of what you do for a living tends to follow closely behind. Even if that person is merely meaning to be polite, they are subconsciously placing you in a social hierarchy where high-paying, important-sounding jobs garner respect, and low-paying jobs are held in contempt. We internalize these judgments so that our jobs can be a point of pride, or the subject of shame, for all the wrong reasons. 

You may argue that one takes pride in their job because they are proud of the hard work they do, or because they are proud of the meaningful contribution to society they make, not because of the social status that their job confers on them. And while this may be the case, it would be difficult to argue that a garbage truck driver, who may work just as hard as a high-profile litigator, and who renders a service no less useful to society, would share a bracket on the social hierarchy with the lawyer. We may despise these categories, or the very notion that humans can be grouped in such a crude way; we may be very intentional about treating everyone equally. But to do so is to subvert the socially ingrained tendency within us to reserve a special kind of reverence for people with important-sounding titles, and, conversely, to reserve a certain disdain for those who work in menial labour, or who don’t have jobs at all. And to be subversive, one must be deliberate. We need to first be conscious of the hierarchy, and then make our minds up that it is unjust in order to dismantle it. This process of dismantlement could certainly involve deciding to treat everyone equally, regardless of their social position. But be sure to include yourself in that “everyone”. Perhaps your dream job didn’t work out; perhaps you had to take on other work to make ends meet, or to support your family; perhaps you just don’t have a very flashy job-title. None of that has anything to do with how much respect you deserve. And the same is true if you’ve had all the career success in the world. Maybe you had the good fortune to “make it”; maybe you worked tirelessly every day for your whole life to achieve what you have achieved. That’s wonderful! But it has no bearing on how much respect you deserve. We all deserve respect. By virtue of simply being, we deserve respect. And we need to start with ourselves. We need to look beyond our jobs, or our social positions; we need to cease comparing ourselves to others and feeling pride or shame as a result. We need to establish a respect so basic within ourselves, that it is impervious to these external threats. So close your eyes, take a deep breath, and say it: “I respect myself. I deserve respect. I respect myself. I deserve respect. I respect myself. I deserve respect”. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your forty-seventh meditation. How much do you read? Don’t worry, this isn’t a test. There’s no judgment in the question. If your answer is hardly at all, that would make you completely normal on this particular score. A recent survey conducted by Pew Research showed that more than a quarter of Americans said they hadn’t read a book in over a year. The New Yorker said that as of 2016 the amount of time  the average American spent reading was down to .29 hours, or just 17 minutes, per day. By 2018 that number was down to 6 minutes per day among adults aged 20-34, according to Statista. 

It’s easy to think this is some kind of a sign of the decadence of the modern world. The dumbing down of civilization. But this attitude is unnecessarily judgmental, and wrongheaded. Consider for a moment how many more ways we have to access information nowadays than did the reader of yore. They depended on the written word in order to learn anything that was beyond the scope of the people within their immediate vicinity. How horribly unfair history was to those of us who learn better from listening, or from watching, or from doing, as so many of us do. Thank goodness that now there is TV, movies, radio, podcasts, apps, video games, and the internet, each medium offering access to information in its own unique way. To regard people who don’t read as stupid or uneducated, then, is not only an unfair judgment, it is also inaccurate. So if you number yourself among the legions who don’t read, or don’t read much, be careful not to judge yourself. You have no reason to feel guilty. There are lots of other ways you can educate yourself that may be better suited to your learning style.

But… 

there are also some arguments to be made for picking up a book if you aren’t in the habit of it already. Firstly, since none of those other mediums mentioned above existed before around the twentieth century, we can access most of the wisdom of the many centuries before that only through books. It would be unnecessarily limiting to consume only media produced after, say, 1950, when there is over a millennium of thought that precedes that date, documented for our education and enjoyment. Of course, there are always audiobooks. And if these work better for you than words on a page, great. But there is also something special about the silence involved in actually reading. To say nothing of the benefits of quiet time to our minds and bodies, to read a novel or a poem is to enter a world of the mind. A world that is all your own. Sure, the author supplies you with the words and the images, but it’s your imagination that decides what those images really look like. It’s your own creativity that allows you to hear the timbre of the characters’ voices, and the varied sounds of the landscape. In this way, reading is a highly interactive form of media because you are called upon to create along with the author, so that any book you read becomes your own, in a sense. So if you don’t read now, no worries. There are lots of other ways to receive information that surely have their own unique advantages. But without doubt reading has its singular benefits too, and perhaps those are enough to persuade you to have another crack at it. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your forty-sixth meditation. Do you struggle to stay in touch with old friends? Does it cause you undue stress? Does it feel like just one more thing you have to do? This meditation will suggest some ways of dealing with that feeling on an emotional level, as well as offer some practical tips of what you can do (and avoid doing) to make it easier for you to stay in touch, and maintain and nurture those relationships that enrich your life.

First thing’s first, don’t punish yourself for being a bad friend because you haven’t called in a while. Don’t think that you are failing to fulfil an obligation that is required by friendship. Back in the days before air travel and rapid communication, people mostly stuck with whatever communities they found themselves in. This meant that your group of friends and family was generally pretty small, contained, and close by so that staying in touch wasn’t an issue. These days, people are able to travel all over the world easily and quickly, live in massive cities and contact friends, no matter how far-flung, with a flourish of their fingers. As a result, it’s now possible to literally have thousands of friends. With so many people in your life, you could spend all your living hours staying in touch with friends. This, of course, isn’t realistic, nor is it recommended. And it is definitely not an obligation. So don’t sweat it. 

Although travelling around and making lots of friends is all fine and well, in order to avoid the stress of maintaining so many friendships we need to make some cuts. This is not to say that we excommunicate anyone, only that we actively decide which relationships are most important to us, and then confidently allot the proportional amount of time and energy to maintaining each respective relationship. To do this, make a list. Prioritize your friends and family in terms of those who enrich your life, numbering them from the most to the least. Assign percentages representing how much friend-time you want to dedicate to each one. It may seem a little callous at first, but think about it, you are effectively making these same decisions in a less controlled way whenever you give some of your time to someone else. Remember that your time is finite and precious. To offer it to someone is to offer them a gift. So it’s only right that you give that gift to someone that you would like to receive it. That means you don’t need to say “yes” to everyone. Practise saying “no”. You don’t need an excuse. However, if pressed, “I just feel like hanging out alone tonight” is a perfectly legitimate reason.For those relationships that you value most, set aside specific times to nurture them. If you are busy focussed on work, and a thought of an old friend pops into your head, make a note of it, and continue working. Later, say, after dinner, if you decide that you would be enriched by communicating with that person, go for it. If, on the other hand, your being reminded of them was just a pleasant memory, then just enjoy that feeling, and then move on. Relationships grow and fade. They are under no obligation to remain meaningful, and we are under no obligation to try to force them to do so. Forget about which bonds you used to value the most. The question is, which do you value now? Focus on those. Make time for them. Stay in touch. And let them know how much you value them. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your forty-fifth meditation. Imagine that you are engaged in a heated argument. You feel yourself becoming frustrated and angry. You can observe yourself being swept up in this powerful and acute emotional energy, and yet are unable to stop it. You even know that these emotions can give you an inflated sense of conviction of your own rectitude and of the utter injustice of the other party’s argument. And yet, in that moment, those convictions are the realest things you know. And you let the other party know it too. You may be the type to lay out all the reasons they are wrong and you are right in a torrent of words. Or perhaps you incline toward silence in these situations, shutting down and blocking the other person out. Of course, neither of these methods is an overly effective means of persuading them of your argument. Rather, this approach is more likely to hurt or offend, than help. 

But don’t worry. We all lose our cool sometimes. That’s just part of being human. The important thing is that we then take responsibility for it. To do this, saying sorry is a good place to start. But “sorry” is only the very beginning of a true apology. A true apology means that you genuinely understand that you got carried away, that you exaggerated, that you weren’t completely fair, or that you made a mistake, whatever the case may be. A true apology means acknowledging these missteps openly to the other party. A true apology may contain some explanation, but does not contain excuses. Ask yourself, who is benefitting from your explanation? Does it offer the other party some valuable insight that helps to clarify the reason for the dispute, and helps to avoid such disputes in the future? Or does it offer you some kind of defense or immunity? If it’s the latter, nix it. You will only be undermining your apology by simultaneously trying to defend the very thing you are apologizing for.

Beware if you are the type that shies away from confrontation. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we were wrong just to get out of being in a fight. Although this little manoeuvre may spare us discomfort in the moment, to do so is a betrayal of oneself. It is inauthentic, and will likely lead to some problematic relationship dynamics in the future.

Instead, give yourself space and time to settle down. Consider what was said and how it made you feel. Consider how you imagine the other person feels. Ask yourself if you went too far, or if you didn’t go far enough. Be fair. To the other person, and to yourself. If your interlocutor is worth your time, not only will your sensitivity and candour be a balm to cool the heat of the conflict, it will also set a precedent to inspire regular openness of this kind in your relationship. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your forty-fourth meditation. When’s the last time you dedicated yourself to learning something new? Has it been a while? Do you feel a little intimidated by learning in a way that you never did when you were young? Like perhaps your mind has been gradually getting duller and duller, and your inevitably failed attempts at learning will only be a testament to that suspicion? Don’t worry! So many adults feel this way. Having been out of school for so long; having focussed for an extended period of time on the set of skills and intelligence that you depend on to take care of your regular, daily responsibilities; struggling to find the time even to take care of these, let alone finding the time to learn new skills. This is simply adult life for most of us. Don’t feel bad about it. 

The misconception is that this relative absence of learning in your current life will somehow render new learning impossible. That is just wrong. Although for a long time scientists believed that the brain stopped making new connections in adult life, recent neuroscience has shown that the brain can preserve its plasticity and can continue to generate new brain cells well into old-age. And what helps to maintain and enhance the function of brain plasticity? …that’s right, learning. Studies have shown that learning multiple languages, playing a sport, doing theatre, and other activities contribute to what is called experience dependent structural plasticity.

You may argue, “but if learning helps with neuroplasticity, and I haven’t learned in a long time, my brain may no longer be adaptable, and so I’ll still likely fail, or at least do poorly, at whatever I try to learn now”. But to say this would be missing the point, wouldn’t it. The point is not to succeed or fail at what you’re attempting to learn. The point is just to be engaged in the process of learning. It wasn’t through being good at music or language or sports that participants enhanced their brain function. It was through the simple act of learning it. Working on it regularly in a dedicated fashion.

So think of it this way: you could either try taking up that new skill that has always interested you, enjoying the process, unworried about results, all the while contributing to the heightened functioning of your brain; OR you could NOT do the thing you always wanted to do, NOT ever know the joy of doing it, and accept a generally lower functionality of your brain. The choice is obvious. Make the time, learn the thing. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.