Good morning and welcome to your fifty-seventh meditation. You are in a situation where you are confronted with a decision that you have to make. To avoid the decision altogether is a decision in itself that will be far more likely to yield undesired results than if you take initiative and decide for yourself. But how does one decide? How do we even identify a situation as one that requires us to make a decision? And what are some guidelines we can follow to help us make the right choice? 

Sometimes the fact that a decision must be made is obvious. Perhaps the world offers us two distinct options — do I want to go to the party tonight, or would I rather stay home and get some rest; should I take the job with higher work hours, or should I politely demur, take the pay cut, and spend that time with my family instead. These types of decisions can vary widely in how difficult they are to make and in how consequential they are — and there is not necessarily a logical correlation between these two factors. However, there is another type of decision that doesn’t announce itself quite so loudly and that can take a heightened level of awareness to recognize that it ought to be made. Perhaps you are in a job or a relationship that is just sort of fine, where there is no one clear, identifiable reason why you should be unhappy with your lot, and yet you slowly become increasingly miserable. A good way to help avoid this scenario to begin with, and to be more cognizant of when a decision must be made, is to regularly meditate. This doesn’t have to mean anything more than simply giving yourself the time to sit or lie down and observe your thoughts, feelings, and body. Watch yourself as though you were observing someone else. Don’t try to make decisions in these moments, or try to find decisions to be made. Just observe. A great time to do this is before bed when you are on the cusp of sleep where powerful subconscious processes can continue the work you have begun while awake. This exercise will start to allow some of our deepest feelings, feelings that are fundamental to who we are as individuals, to surface and become conscious thoughts. We will thus be more in tune with our own needs and desires in a way that is unmediated by the chatter of the different and sometimes opposing voices that occupy our brain and that often repress those same needs and desires. And as a result, we will be more aware of when we are called upon to make a decision.

This strategy of meditation also can certainly help with the actual process of deciding. Of course, there are always methods like weighing pros and cons, or cost/benefit analysis, and these can sometimes be helpful. Although more often than not, we already know what we want; we just have to be transparent enough with ourselves to be able to see it. Another great way to decide anything is to ask yourself, “what would make me proud of myself?”. This question tends to get at what you value most and so guides you to a decision that aligns well with those values and that you will ultimately feel good about. 

There are lots of ways to help you make decisions. So don’t just wait for them to be made for you. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.`

Good morning and welcome to your fifty-sixth meditation. There is a place that all of us go sometimes that is not located in the world outside of us, but within us. Indeed, it can make the external world feel alien to us or even hostile. It is a place of deep feeling, where inner sensations like anxiety, sadness, sorrow, reflectiveness, frustration, and sometimes anger are heightened. To go there is to be overwhelmed by these sensations, to be absorbed in them. Time works differently in this place, often stretching out so that notions of yesterday and tomorrow can seem distant and a little nonsensical. Days can feel like weeks. Weeks like months. And it can be difficult imagining yourself not in that place, whether it’s trying to remember just what it was like back in the world when you were there or anticipating ever going back. And yet, all the while you are living in the world with everyone else, going through the same motions, doing the same work, speaking the same words as you’ve always practised, pretending that you are not somewhere else.

There’s no doubt; going to that place is hard. It makes everything in normal life hard. A task as simple as getting groceries can feel Sisyphean. The need to get out of bed can feel like a punishment. But taking that trip, though we rarely elect to do it, is invaluable. First off, there is the cliche that the rough times can act as a kind of foil for the good times, providing us with a point of contrast to illuminate how truly good the good times are. This is absolutely true, if a little simplistic. If we let ourselves go to that place, which really can feel like an alien world that is totally separate from everyday life, we are allowed the gift of perspective. We can gaze upon the “swing, tramp, and trudge”, as Virginia Woolf put it, from a critical distance, temporarily free of the illusions that we all regularly, cooperatively uphold. The illusions of self-importance, of the meaning of status, wealth, markets, nations, etc. And to be in a place where the immense power of these illusions can’t reach you, if only for a moment, is to be in a position of empowerment. There is also beauty there. There is a richness and profundity in the feeling you are able to experience absent the regular controls of the ego. Finally, and somewhat counterintuitively, going to this place can actually bring you closer to others. To be there is a deeply personal and introspective experience, but because of this, to share it with someone is to invite them into that most intimate and vulnerable part of you. Your confidant will probably have visited this place themselves; and the empathy that they show you can act as a pathway back to the world. Because as much as there is to be gained from going to this place, you have to come back. And it is when you do return that the lessons you have learned from being away become most valuable. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your fifty-fifth meditation. Last week we discussed taking the time to make sure that what you are doing in your life aligns with what is fundamentally important to you. This week will act as a kind of sequel to that episode. Because sometimes, if you do give yourself that time, you may realize that what you are doing and what you care about do not in fact line up. Maybe you spend 50 hours a week working a job that is meaningless to you, and from which you derive no joy. Maybe you are in a relationship that has made you feel disconnected from yourself, and you have unwittingly changed your life around for the worse to suit the other person. Maybe you find that you can’t really relate to the friends or family with whom you spend the most time anymore. All this stuff happens all the time. That’s life. And it often happens without us really noticing it. But we have to notice it. And to do so we have to give ourselves the time and space from our everyday lives to have a little critical perspective. And once we’ve noticed it, then we have to change it. We have to get out of our relationship, we have to break with our friends, we have to find a new job, or even a new career. Otherwise we will just be swept along, and feel worse and worse, and more alienated from ourselves as a result. These kinds of groundswells in our lives are easy enough to talk about, but much more complicated to actually execute. It might feel awful; you might experience crippling doubt, or withdraw. It might be lonely. But remember, we are creatures of habit. It is so easy to accidentally condition ourselves to become dependent on behaving in certain ways. And the longer we do it, the more the habit seems impossible to break. We will even rationalize that if we were to leave these people and things now, that we will have wasted our lives until that point; so we might as well see it through.
But just think, these people, these things, make up everything that your life is. If you come home from a job that you hate to your partner to whom you no longer relate, and then go for drinks with friends that you don’t really want to hang out with, then that’s it. There isn’t time for anything else! That is your life in its totality. It’s not that you’ll have wasted your earlier years by leaving these people and things, it’s that you’ll have wasted your life by sticking with them. And in these days of reduced job security and a rapidly changing economy, being nimble is an asset. So reassess, reassess, reassess. Always take the time to make sure what you are doing aligns with what you value. Always be learning. And never be afraid to start from ground zero. If you do these things then you will always be in touch with who you are, you will be excited about what you’re doing, and you’ll never want to stop. Because if you did, you wouldn’t be doing it! Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Check out the podcast version here!

Good morning and welcome to your fifty-fourth meditation. Can you just sit and do nothing? Maybe some people will hear that question and think, “I wish I had time to do that! Sounds like a dream!”. Others might think “that sounds like a nightmare. Alone with my thoughts? No thanks. I’ll take keeping busy any day”. But, while these responses differ in why they prioritize busyness over nothing — one out of ostensible necessity, and the other out of ostensible choice — the outcome is the same for both: No time allotted to just sit and really be with your thoughts. And both answers fail to address one very important point: What is the purpose of your busyness? 

It’s easy to be busy. It’s harder to consider why it is that you’re doing what you’re doing. Asking yourself that fundamental question forces you to take a more existential approach to thinking about life than is required to simply complete tasks. It means that you run the risk of discovering that what you are doing is meaningless. This prospect is scary, so we tend to avoid it. But remember, if you follow any line of questioning far enough, it will inevitably lead to meaninglessness. That’s because meaning is simply something that we tiny humans invented to give us comfort in the face of the raging infinity of the cosmos. And yet, within the systems of meaning that humans have invented, you have your own little corner of people and things that matter to you. This is real. This is genuine. And it is upon this solid base that you should build the superstructure of your life. All of the decisions you make should be in reference to these people and these things. You will make decisions that contravene your base from time to time. Your base itself will shift and change throughout your life. That which was fundamentally important to you at one point, may seem frivolous later on. Your best friend may become a stranger. That’s all fine. What’s important is that you check in with yourself regularly to ensure that everything you are doing in your life, all the busyness that occupies your time, aligns with whatever your base is at that time. And if it doesn’t, you adjust. This is the benefit of taking the time to do nothing. It is taking yourself out of it all so that you can see the forest and not just the individual trees. The danger of failing to take this time is that your daily affairs take you further and further away from your base so that the entire superstructure of your life — your career, your hobbies, your social life, etc. — becomes disconnected with that which you value most. And, without a base, any structure will topple. But even at this critical point, the base is still there; you just have to take the time to relocate it; and you can always rebuild upon it. So take that time, give yourself that space. Do it regularly. Be with your thoughts. See what they reveal to you. And stay firmly affixed to your base. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

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.