Good morning and welcome to your thirty-third meditation. You know that feeling when a mood descends over you like a thick, heavy blanket? And not a comfortable blanket, but more like one that you’re trapped under. Bad moods certainly are uncomfortable; they can be an inconvenience, and they can make for a really unpleasant day. But that’s all fine. We have to have these days and feel these feelings sometimes. It’s part of being human, totally natural, and it’s important that we accept these bad moods as such. Don’t punish yourself for feeling grumpy or irritable. Don’t even resist those feelings. You have to feel them from time to time; plus they provide an important contrast to those good-mood moments, making them more precious, and reassuring you that you are in possession of an in-tact and healthy range of human feeling. 

But simply letting yourself be in a bad mood is not enough. As unpleasant as these days can be, they also offer an opportunity – one that should not be ignored. This is an opportunity to observe yourself. Part of being in a bad mood is feeling a loss of control – if we could control our moods then we would likely just flick the switch on our bad mood. But we usually don’t get to decide what type of mood we find ourselves in and when, which means that bad moods are something we have to manage, more than control. This is an opportunity because we get the chance to see ourselves under pressure, and to observe how that pressure moves through us, how exactly it makes us feel, and how it manifests in our behaviour. We like to identify with our more desirable qualities, and those tend to come out when we are feeling good, confident, attractive, etc. But who are we when we feel irritable, insecure, worthless? Although we tend to not be so quick to identify with this unpleasant side of ourselves, it is us at least as much as our good-mood selves, and we can learn a lot about who we are by closely observing it in action. Ask yourself, what are the external stimuli that affect your mood the most? What can throw you into a bad mood on a dime? What are you feeling when you’re in a bad mood? Be as specific as possible. Are you angry? Frustrated? Impatient? Irritable? Insecure? Ineffectual? Weak? Sad? Afraid? To what degree do you feel any or all of these feelings? And finally, how do you behave when you feel this way? The idea with this exercise is not to control these feelings, but to know yourself better. To know what kinds of things and situations you want to learn to comfortably confront, and what you may be better off avoiding in the future. To know how best to respond to your bad mood once it descends on you – maybe you need to take a walk, maybe you need to be alone, maybe you need to talk to a friend, maybe you need to watch Friends. And finally, and this is important, to know how your mood can affect others. So don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about yourself. Meditate on your mood and make the bad ones more manageable. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your thirty-second meditation. You’re probably listening to this because you have a desire to improve yourself. None of us is perfect, nor can we be, but a healthy ambition to be better will get us closer and closer to the person we wish to be. It is not a straightforward journey. There will be times in all of our lives where we feel like we were a better version of ourselves at some point in the past despite our best efforts to constantly improve ourselves. But remember that, as we grow and change, it is only natural to feel some nostalgia for the self that we have left behind. As Joni Mitchell says in her classic song “Both Sides Now”, “Something’s lost, but something’s gained in living every day”. And that’s life. We are not simply a sum total of all our experiences, not a tower that is built from the ground up brick by brick. Rather, we are more like clouds, constantly changing shape, never fully formed, both accumulating and releasing memory and experience like moisture, seeing ourselves in ever-shifting light. Even the significance of that which we do hold onto changes as we change, so that, from one moment to the next, we are never building on the same foundation. Difficult though it may be sometimes to accept, this inability to ever achieve stasis is part of the beauty and pathos of living. 

However, this does not mean that self-improvement is impossible. Far from it! In fact, even just trying to be better inherently makes you better. It is in itself an affirmation: of the value of life, of the desire to make the most of our short time here, of our own potential. To say “I want to be better”, is to recognize that improvement is possible. And could we not say that, in a sense, this is the meaning of life? Life as the continuous act of recognizing the possibility of improvement. Indeed, if we were to suggest a meaning of life, bold as it may be, it could never be some fixed definition; some ready-made principle. No, it would have to be a verb; an action; something that was always moving and changing, as life itself does. It couldn’t be a state of being, like simply “being better”. But rather a constant and continuous act. Life as the continuous act of recognizing the possibility of improvement. You can always be better. And it is the very act of acknowledging this that gives you life; gives you purpose. The second you cease to recognize your potential for improvement, you cease to have a purpose, and, in a very real – if not biological – sense, you cease to be alive.

Yes, there are millions of different ways to improve yourself, and the goalposts will constantly be moving. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the legions of available material on personal development. But remember that the first step is always to acknowledge that you can do it. You can be better! And, no matter what your current situation is, recognizing this is an exciting, life-giving prospect. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your thirty-first meditation. Do you ever struggle with making decisions? Every day we are constantly making choices, however small, that will determine the course of our lives from that point forward. Most of these choices occur only semi-consciously – we stand up, we stretch, we look at our phone. The process of making these types of decisions is instantaneous, and typically doesn’t cause us any grief. Rather, it is the outcome of some of these decisions that can cause trouble. For example, the cumulative effect of mindlessly checking your phone all the time may add up to hours lost that could have been dedicated to doing something you find truly fulfilling. In this instance it is important to turn the unconscious decision into a conscious one. To do this you first need to observe your own behaviour in order to recognize that there is something about it you would like to alter. If checking your phone is the behaviour you’ve identified that you’d like to change then consider what you think would be a reasonable number of times a day to check your phone, maybe even make a schedule for times you allow yourself to check it, and then hold yourself to this resolution. This is an example of how we can make certain decisions more conscious and representative of what we actually want for ourselves, and so avoid allowing our whims to dictate how we live. 

However, sometimes our conscious mind doesn’t lead us to what we actually want. Sometimes we impede the decision-making process with too much consciousness in the form of over-thinking, or rationalization, when we would do best to rely more on our subconscious, or our intuition. We’ve all been in a situation with friends or family when we are trying to decide what to do, or eat, or watch, or where to go. These tend to be situations that benefit from simply listening to your first real impulse, and confidently going with it. Your friends and family will most often be grateful that someone made a confident choice for the group, allowing the evening to flow more smoothly. But this type of intuitive decision-making can also apply to important life decisions, like whether to stay in a relationship, whether to take that job you’ve been offered, or whether to move to a new place. Of course, these are huge decisions that require a certain degree of rational speculation. However, rationalizing, for all its good, can sometimes also mislead us, or make us feel more confused. If, on the other hand, we can reach inside and detect within us a conviction one way or another about an issue – one that isn’t based in rational thought, but rather in feeling and desire – this can be a powerful tool for helping us to proceed with confidence. You may think that this approach to decision-making is reckless or irresponsible. And indeed, only relying on intuition to make decisions would be a dangerous way to live, as we are all filled with unfair prejudices or misguided ideas that we aren’t aware of and that can certainly manifest in this kind of instinct-based decision-making process. However, in a situation where you are presented with two choices, both rationally justifiable, where rationality has reached its limit, this is exactly the time when intuition is most useful. In today’s hyper-rational, data-driven world, it is easy to accidentally dissociate from our own desires. Your subconscious can serve as your guide back to what you want. So listen out for your intuition. Pay attention to it. It has meaningful information to convey. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your thirtieth meditation. Have you ever lost someone close to you, or been close to someone who has? Odds are the answer is yes. And even if you haven’t experienced loss up close yet, you will in time. Perhaps you think this is a rather grim way to start a podcast, but gloominess is not the goal here. The goal is to acknowledge that loss and death are exactly equally as common occurrences as are love and life. The more we recognize this, the more we will notice the staggering imbalance in attention given to each discrete topic. And hopefully, the more we notice that the subjects of death and loss are relatively woefully underdiscussed, the more we will feel it necessary to add to the discourse. And the more we talk about these topics, the more we normalize them, bringing them out of the obscure regions of taboo into the light where we can turn them over, examine them, and thus better prepare ourselves for our inevitable experience of them.

That’s not to say that we should walk around indiscriminately and indiscreetly talking about death and loss, or that we should insist that others do the same. These are certainly subjects that are difficult and painful to discuss for many – sometimes even impossible. Everyone grieves differently, and it would be irresponsible to suggest that anyone should do so in a prescribed way. However, the more options a grieving person has, the better: the more resources available for them to consult if they so wish; the more emotional support that is offered (if not accepted); the more opportunity to engage in conversation on the topic in a space free of stigma or judgment, the better. Even if a person who has experienced loss is unwilling or unable to engage with any of the options made available to them, it may just help to know that they are there.

So if you are in a position to offer someone who is grieving support, in any form, however small, do it. It can feel horribly uncomfortable. You may even rationalize that it is presumptuous to do so. But there is nothing presumptuous about extending an offer of support to another person who is in pain. There are better and worse ways to do it, depending on the context, sure. And often no more is required or desired than expressing your willingness to be there for them if they need you. They may not accept your offer, and that’s fine. But, by offering, you have let them know that you are not judging them, that they don’t need to feel ashamed or awkward about being sad, and that you are there to help if and when you are needed. This can make all the difference for someone in pain. So don’t try to hide from grief if you are confronted with it. The more we’re open to talking about these ideas, the less uncomfortable they will be for us to talk about, and the more supported everyone will be and feel – both the grievers and those of us who want to help them. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your twenty-ninth meditation. When you hear the word vulnerability, what do you think? Does it have a negative connotation attached to it? Do you associate it with weakness? If so, you would not be alone. And it makes sense to think that, doesn’t it. To be vulnerable is to leave yourself exposed to potential harm – harm that can indeed compromise your strength. However, harm and weakness are merely possible outcomes of being vulnerable, not vulnerability itself. On the contrary, vulnerability is an expression of strength and courage, and can also lead to growth in those very faculties.To use an example borrowed from vulnerability expert and scholar Brene Brown, imagine you are telling the person you’re in love with that you love them for the first time. This can be a terrifying experience. You are revealing the sincerest, most feeling part of yourself and exposing it to the possibility of utter rejection. This is a huge risk for many people, and to take such a risk unquestionably requires massive amounts of courage and resolve. If you weren’t making yourself vulnerable then it wouldn’t be scary and so wouldn’t require courage. Thus, no vulnerability, no courage. Now you may be saying to yourself, “who cares about being courageous? Why would I take a risk and make myself uncomfortable and scared?” But scary as the risk you take by being vulnerable may be, the potential for reward usually far outweighs whatever you stand to lose. Let’s imagine a variety of scenarios using our earlier example. First, you say “I love you” and the other party is thrilled and professes their love in perfect reciprocity. Obviously the ecstasy of this moment is scarcely up for debate. Many would and have risked a lot to experience it. This prospect alone is perhaps a compelling enough argument for vulnerability. But let’s consider a couple others. Second, you say “I love you” and they say “that’s so sweet, but I think we should stop seeing each other”. This can be crushing, certainly. But you have to consider, would you prefer to be in a relationship with someone you loved who didn’t want to be with you, or would you rather risk the discomfort in order to find out the truth? Even through utter rejection, you will have gained something. Third, you say “I love you” and you are met with a “let’s not rush into anything”, or a “I’m not there yet. Give me time”. What have you lost? Perhaps your confidence is shaken; perhaps you feel embarrassed; but you’ve gained insight into the other person’s heart, and you’ve communicated to the person you care about most something that is extremely important to you. And by opening up like this you have let that person know that they can do the same. You have effectively invited them into a new stage of elevated intimacy and candour in your relationship. Even if they are not ready for it right away, you have let them know that it’s on the table, thus increasing the odds that they may meet you there eventually. And let’s face it, vulnerability is attractive. Not only is it an expression of courage, which in itself is attractive; being vulnerable shows people that you trust them and tells them that they can probably trust you. It makes them feel safe, and reassures them that it’s ok to be whoever they are. And creating this atmosphere of trust and acceptance naturally paves the way to closer, more mutually supportive relationships. So go ahead and be vulnerable! It’s terrifying, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s the key to a richer, happier emotional life. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your twenty-eighth meditation. What is the role of a partner in a relationship? We may have some ready-made answers to this question, such as to listen and to care, to offer emotional support, to love. We all require these things in our lives and so it’s only natural that we would expect to receive them all from our partner… Or is it? As Anthropologist Chris Ryan points out, hunter-gatherers in pre-agrarian societies were “fiercely egalitarian”. As a means to mitigate risk, everything was shared among the group, whether it was food, shelter, protection, or sex. As a result, there would be no certainty of the paternity of the children, and as with everything else in those societies, the raising of the child would be a group responsibility. So if our ancestors from the not so distant past, to whom we are anatomically identical, depended on a whole group of people to provide them with everything they required, it would seem anything but natural for us to now depend on just one person to fulfil that variety of roles for us. And yet that unreasonable expectation of relationships tends to be the generally accepted model nowadays. So why is this? Why are we all, to some extent, held in the sway of this illusory view of partnership. Ryan’s theory is that it is a byproduct of the agricultural revolution, when women were suddenly expected to tend to the home while the men worked. Thus specific roles were established. But, of course, in today’s society, we’ve refined these roles so that they are far more complex and subtle. And there is little doubt that Hollywood and popular music have done much to influence our understanding of the meaning of love and partnership. This would all be fine, there’s nothing inherently wrong with myth-making. It is an activity we engage in every day down to believing that we share some special bond with people who happen to have been born in the same country as us, or believing that the pieces of paper in our pockets have specific values. The problem arises when we develop expectations that can’t possibly be met – such as expecting our partners to fulfil a range of roles that only a group could fulfil – which can only lead to our partners feeling unduly burdened and to our own disappointment. So how do we counteract this malignant myth of the partner as the fulfiller of the roles of an entire society? Appreciate the people in our lives for who they are, don’t lament who they are not. Observe what function they serve vis-a-vis your own life, and how you can serve each other best. Rely on different people to fulfil different needs. There is such a wonderful variety of types of people in the world, and your needs are almost as varied. So match them up! Your bonds will be stronger for not putting undue strain on them, and you will be more fulfilled for the specialized help you will be receiving. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your twenty-seventh meditation. Few would dispute that we are in a technological age. Newer and faster and more effective technologies are introducing themselves into every nook and cranny of our lives, assisting us with every imaginable task ranging from the banal to the most specialized and professional. They afford us convenience, an improved quality of life, and, perhaps most importantly, time… right? There’s no doubt that most tasks are made easier with the help of an app, that information is exponentially more accessible, and communication is incomparably faster than ever. But it is important to ask ourselves: are our lives better? Are we happier? Do we truly feel as though we have more time? Perhaps for some the answer is “yes”, without hesitation. For many others, however, it might not be so obvious. And still others may have serious doubts. How can this be? Why, if all of the various technologies we incorporate into our everyday lives were expressly designed to help us, don’t we feel helped? How is it possible that, with such a variety of aides to our happiness, we can feel less happy; with so many time-saving tools we can feel we have less time? The first answer to these questions is a somewhat gloomy one, but very important to acknowledge: these technologies are not made expressly for our benefit. Rather they are made by companies with their own motives that are intended to serve them. Of course this does not preclude the possibility of those same technologies being helpful to us. However it is integral that we exercise our discretion and decide for ourselves to what extent is a technology useful to us, and to what extent are we being used by a technology. This is the second answer to the question of how it’s possible that technologies can actually negatively impact our lives: how we use them, and how we limit, or fail to limit, that use. For example, no one needs to be told that email and text message are much faster modes of communication than sending letters by post. It follows that using email instead of post should save us oceans of time. The trouble arises when the convenience of sending an email is so great that we feel we need to include information in our missives that we never would have thought necessary before. We send more of them. And we incessantly check to see if we’ve received them. Where letter-writing was a dedicated activity that we set aside a small portion of our day to carry out, emailing and text-messaging can easily creep into every single moment of our day. This can be seriously disruptive to our ability to concentrate on other tasks and make us feel that we have less time in general.

But do we have a choice? If we live in a technological age, is it even possible to cut back? …Yes and yes. To do this you simply need to set dedicated times for using specific technologies, just like we used to have dedicated times for writing letters. Do not let your use of a given technology creep into other parts of your day beyond the time that you have assigned to it. Perhaps you only check your email or text messages at 11am and 4pm, for example. Turn off all push-notifications. The messages will still be there in a few hours, and, unless you have a job that requires that you be on-call, the people on the other end can wait too. So try it! You’ll be amazed how much time was being eaten up by all your unnecessary text conversations and email correspondences. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your twenty-sixth meditation. Today we’re going to talk about expectations. One of the mixed blessings of being human is our ability to think abstractly. We can go beyond what is concretely before us to a world of imagination, of the theoretical and the hypothetical. This skill serves us remarkably well in countless respects. It allows us to conceptualize potential risks and so steer clear of harm’s way; it allows us to make plans and to conceive of elaborate projects that can be realized based on those plans; and it allows us to hold on to past experience, analyze it, and build upon it so that we are always growing. And of course, abstract thinking allows us to moralize, to say this is right and that’s wrong, and to imagine how we think the world should be. This is all fine and good. Constructing one’s own moral compass is an important part of being human. The trouble arises when we expect the world to be as we feel it should be. This is a recipe for disappointment, frustration, and even bitterness. And, as well-intentioned as those expectations may be, more often than not they don’t actually help anyone. On the contrary, they can easily lead to resentment on the part of others who feel as though you are imposing standards on them that don’t or shouldn’t apply to them. It is important to remember that there is no one moral conception of how the world should be. So whatever the moral tenets are that we have arrived at through our own life experience, we have to be careful about applying them to others who have cultivated a different moral system that has been informed by their unique experience.But how do we curb something as natural as having expectations? It may help here, rather than focussing your energy on not expecting, to focus on trying to be more present. Acknowledge how you feel in response to a person or a situation in that moment. Pay attention to, and focus on, what is happening, instead of what you think should or shouldn’t be happening. In this receptive state you will be much more able to derive joy from all the little things that we tend to take for granted when we are distracted by the hypothetical. Remember that how another person thinks, feels, or behaves is beyond your control, and the same is true of the outside world in general. Simply agonizing over all the things in the world that are not as you feel they should be will only come at great cost to you, and likely render you still less capable of realizing your vision of how they should be. Rather if you concentrate on what you can control – working toward your goals, being receptive to the world,  honing your own values, and responding to people and situations according to those values – you will make an example of yourself, influence those around you, and have the positive impact that before you were only wishing to see in the world. No longer will you only be theorizing about what the world ought to be, but you will be making your world what you want it to be. So try it out! The results will likely be better than you ever could have expected. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your twenty-fifth meditation. What do you want out of life? And when is the last time you really asked yourself this question in earnest? You probably have at least some vague notion of how you would answer it. Most of us could use more money; we want love; perhaps we want more autonomy, whether it be in our jobs or in our lives in general; we want respect and recognition. But these are all very broad desires that we can’t help but inherit from the outside world. As such, we have a tendency to take them for granted as a condition of living, believing that to carry them around with us is as natural as breathing, and so we forget that it is up to us to fulfil them.

To really ask yourself what you want in life, on the other hand, is to consider your unique circumstances: the place that you live, the people who surround you, the specific ideas and things that you value, your aptitudes and weaknesses, who you are now, and who you’d like to be. However it is not enough to simply know what you want out of life. It is also your responsibility to yourself and to the world to do everything you can to realize those dreams. And how exactly do you do that? …Lists. Take some time every so often to write down all your desires, no matter how extravagant or seemingly unrealistic. Organize them in order from most to least important to you. Now that you have determined what are, say, your three most important desires, consider what it would take for you to fulfil them. If money is required to achieve your goal, make a budget. You will likely find, after determining how much you need to set aside each month for how long, that your desire is surprisingly attainable. If you want to learn a new skill, set aside time on a regular basis, ideally daily, to practise. Set goals for specified time periods to motivate you and to give yourself something to work toward. For example, if you are learning to play a musical instrument, you could set a goal of performing one song publically after three months. If you are learning a language perhaps you could set the goal of having a five minute conversation with a native speaker to start. And if you want to start a new career, make a list of every resource on the topic you can find, organize that list into what is most and least relevant, and then make a schedule with time marks for yourself to, one by one, read, watch, listen to, or do everything on that list that applies to your new path. If you consider these steps, realizing your dreams not only becomes possible, it becomes far simpler and less daunting. So take the time every so often. Consider where you’re at and where you’d like to be. Make lists. And then simply follow your own guidelines. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your twenty-fourth meditation. Perhaps you’ve heard it said that good relationships are founded on good communication. Communicating is quite literally how we relate to one another, hence no communication, no relationship. The whole enterprise could just as easily be called a communicationship. This may all seem rather obvious to you, and yet we tend to struggle to effectively communicate in our relationships all the time. Sometimes it’s a problem of not being able to articulate what we would like to say, sometimes it’s a problem of using the wrong tone when saying it, sometimes it’s a matter of timing – saying the right thing, but at the wrong time, and sometimes what is being communicated hasn’t been thought through enough and it is simply an issue of saying the wrong thing. And just as often the blockage is on the receiving end of an instance of attempted communication. We tend to think of listening as a passive activity, however it takes a lot of work to be a good listener and so complete the communicative exchange. This work entails tempering our defensiveness and vanity; practising patience – patience to hear the other person out, and also patience to process what you are hearing before reacting to it; practising empathy or trying to understand why the other person might feel the way they feel, and doing your best to create an environment where the other person feels comfortable saying whatever it is they need to say.

So how do we apply all these principles in a relationship? A good place to start is this very idea of need. What do you need from your partner or family member or colleague? What do they require of you? What is most important to you in a relationship and what won’t you tolerate. Establish your own answers to these questions by yourself before even engaging in a discussion with the other person. This will help you state your needs clearly when it comes time to communicate them, and minimize the possibility of being misunderstood. Ask them what their needs are. Give them as much time as they require to answer this question. If they struggle to reply, try asking more specific prompting questions that might feel less abstract to them. If they become defensive or angry or uncomfortable, give them space. As necessary as communication may be in a relationship, forcing it will often backfire and so close certain pathways that may have previously been available to you.

With so many aspects to consider, it’s no surprise that successful communication in relationships can be difficult to achieve. However if you regularly take the time to try to understand your partner’s needs as well as your own; if you constantly remind yourself to be sensitive, empathic, and patient; and if you’re willing to be vulnerable, trusting the legitimacy of your own feelings while also trusting the other person to handle your confidences with care, then you will find that you are able to connect to people with a depth that you may not have known existed, and therein derive one of the richest joys available to us humans. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.