The modern world will completely wear you down if you let it.
There are distractions, annoyances, threats, pointless power-struggles, myths about “achievement” and “success” and a whole lot of other inconsequential garbage.
I remember having to defend the strength of my happiness whenever people would imply that I couldn’t possibly be happy doing the job that I was doing.
They couldn’t see that sitting at a hospital security desk, drinking coffee, and reading books for 12 hours was precisely among my favorite uses of my time. One year, I read 170 books, and completely changed the trajectory of my life, and I owe it ALL to the job that I had at the time. The security job that no one else wanted.
But there’s a deeper reason why I was so happy and fulfilled, and gratefully, still am.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn explains in his extraordinary little book, “Wherever You Go, There You Are”, happiness is found wherever you are. Tranquility never leaves you. And mindfulness is the direct opposite of taking life for granted.
First, Some Background Information
Jon Kabat-Zinn is Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Probably barely fits on a business card.
He’s studied with Thich Nhat Hanh, and other incredible personalities within the zen discipline, and has brought their teachings to an even wider audience.
He’s more than a popularizer; he helps bring about real mental breakthroughs for real people, eliminates stress from our world on a grand scale, and has improved the lives of a considerable number of people.
Anyways, I confer upon him “real deal” status, and the two books of his that I’ve read so far, “Mindfulness for Beginners” and “Wherever You Go, There You Are”, have become personal favorites.
He has a gift for cutting through the whole sham of things.
He explains how what lies behind us and what lies in front of us are small matters compared to what dwells within us.
There’s way more to this than just vaguely “being happier”, or “connecting with yourself”, and I’ve shared a few of my notes from the book below in order to elucidate some of his key ideas.
READ THIS BEFORE CONTINUING!!!
If you read something here that could change your life for the better, please, write it down. Keep notes on what’s important to you, and keep them in a place where you can review them often. Don’t trust your memory. Write it down.
Do not try to become anything that you are not already
I believe that one of the most fascinating questions that you can ever ask is, “Who am I?”. It seems like we should try and figure that out before we try to change ourselves and become someone else. If you’re really honest with yourself, the pursuit of this elusive question can occupy an entire lifetime. It also frees up an immense amount of mental energy, and lets you really get down to the business of living.
As soon as you stop, here you are
You can live your whole life in a state of busyness, and then only stop when your doctor tells you that you have some sort of heart condition caused by stress. It happens thousands of times every single day, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As soon as you stop, you realize that you haven’t moved. You’ve always been here, living in the present moment that never changes. It’s one of the first steps towards taking your life back.
All your responsibilities would somehow get worked out in the event of your death
As shocking to the system as it might be, the above statement is true. It’s another one of life’s contradictions that we need to do as much as possible to help those we care about, to set them up for success and happiness, to make arrangements for when we can no longer be there, but that all of this will somehow find a resolution when we eventually cease to be. Letting go is a necessary and painful step towards your liberation.
Take a few moments to “die on purpose”
Once you accept death as an inevitability, you discover that you have nothing to lose. Eckhart Tolle says that death is a stripping away of everything that is not you, until you realize that there is no death. You’ll just return to the universe from which you came. The same universe which is eternal and can never cease to exist, because it IS existence. Conquer the fear of death and you’ll be unstoppable.
Let go of trying to get anywhere at all
Over “there” is really just another “here”. In actually, you can’t really get anywhere at all. Rather than being a depressing fact about our world, it can be extremely liberating. There is nothing to strive for, nothing to achieve, nothing to “get”. All you “have to” do is live. So you can stop turning life and death into some sort of problem to be solved, and get back to what you really consider important in your own life.
Mindfulness is all about not trying to change anything that is happening to you, or that you are feeling. It’s really quite simple, yet most people find it extremely difficult to do. Sit with your feelings, watch and feel them come into awareness, and resist all urges to fight them or change them. You’re simply an observer, and you’re learning to live within the present moment. The moment where all the action is.
Look at other people and ask if you’re really seeing them or just your thoughts about them
A lot of times, we project our thoughts and feelings on to others. We’re not actually experiencing THEM, but only our thoughts ABOUT them. You can see how this can lead to needless strife and hurt feelings. Challenge your assumptions, ask questions about what other people are saying to you, and don’t just accept what you see on the face of things. We can, and do, deceive ourselves about some of the things that matter most to us.
Nothing else has to happen for this moment to be complete
Whatever you do, feel, think, or say, nothing will change the fact that this very moment is the most perfect moment that could ever exist. Nothing else needs to be “added” to this moment in order for it to be finished. Even painful and uncomfortable moments are perfect. Awareness will let you observe what is going on and remain detached from it. Total immersion in the present moment leads to tranquility and peace.
It’s possible to hurry patiently, to move fast because you have chosen to
No one has to push you around. You’ve been taking orders from people your whole life, but you retain the power to slow down and speed up as you see fit. Slowing down your life doesn’t mean being slow in all areas at all times. The flow state is achieved by total immersion in whatever it is that you’re doing, and sometimes, you’ll be doing some fast. For me, it’s boxing. If I fought slow, I’d get my nose broken again! But when you choose to move fast, stillness and speed are no longer mutually exclusive.
Give more than you think you can, trusting that you are richer than you think
This has just become how I approach life. I live in Canada, and we have it pretty great. Whenever someone complains to me, I might counter by asking them how many people they have known personally who have starved to death. And when I reach for money from my pocket and pull out a $20 by mistake, I’ll donate it to whoever was asking for it, instead of the $5 that I might have planned to give. And somehow, I always have enough!
At its core, there is no giver, no gift, and no recipient; just the universe rearranging itself
This quote from the book made me stop everything. I put down the book, completely relaxed all the muscles in my body, and really tried to absorb the message. I still think it’s one of the most powerful statements made in the entire book. If you are part of the physical environment, there is nothing “external” to you, and therefore everyone you meet is literally a part of you. No one doing the giving or taking; just the entire universe as a single entity rearranging itself. Damn.
Whatever has come to shake us will inevitably and of itself change
Nature doesn’t create storms that last forever, and none of our problems are permanent. An understanding of this is critical to peace of mind. Everything changes, even those events that beat us down to the very bottom. They will pass; new problems and new pleasures will arrive in their place. Another contradiction: take action to solve your problems, but they will inevitably solve themselves.
You are here now, and when you get there, you’ll be there
Why is everybody in such a big hurry all the time? What’s with all the panic and striving? Don’t they know that “there” is just another “here”? You have to deal with the world the way that it is, and not the way that you’d like it to be. That means total acceptance of the present moment as the only fundamental reality. Slow down. You’ll get there when you get there.
Keep at it past your first or second impulse to stop
It’s easy to want to give up. We feel it most acutely when faced with something that we’re not quite sure that we’re up to doing. You can use awareness to recognize your feelings of wanting to give up, acknowledging that you feel that way, and then continuing on. Stay with the feeling of wanting to stop, and then keep going.
Feel your breath moving in your entire body
This is the last time that you’ll ever be able to feel everything that there is to feel. Death means the end of sensation, or at least the end of sensation for the person that you identify with as “you”. To really feel something worth feeling, a simple way is to follow your own breath as it moves around your body. Don’t try to force it or control it; just be aware of it as it does what it does naturally and effortlessly.
It is right here that the real work needs to happen. Running away from your problems won’t work because there is nothing to run TO. There is no “there”, separate from “here” to which you can escape. So stand and fight.
What you do is the totality of the universe expressing itself
As Alan Watts has noted before, what you do, is something that the universe is “doing”, in the same way that a wave is something that whole ocean is doing. What you are basically, deep, deep down, far, far in, is basically…the fabric and structure of existence itself. This is an earth-shattering idea that has the potential to really wake you up to what’s really going on.
Thoughts and impulses are just thinking, and you do not have to be ruled by them
Your thoughts don’t have to be your reality. They are just thoughts. They don’t actually have the power to define you or to limit your capabilities. They can be accepted or rejected, and it’s your responsibility to do the accepting or rejecting. Or simply be aware of them as they are happening.
You are already perfect
Just as nothing has to be added to or subtracted from this moment in order to make it perfect, nothing has to be added to or subtracted from you either. We all object to ourselves in various ways, but that’s ok. And we all want to be free from the condition of objecting to ourselves in various ways, and that’s ok too. Change, don’t change, it’s all the same, and perfection need not be improved upon.
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I read the entire book on my phone while working out of my car. Another security gig that I wouldn’t have given up for the world.
I have to say that it was one of the best books that I had read that year (2015), and these notes are some that I review often.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is a modern day miracle worker, and he doesn’t even do anything special. He’s just calling attention to our present realities, and shining the light on a new path that we all can take.
A path out of fear, and worry, and frustration, into everlasting peace and tranquility. It’s a choice that’s available to us all, but no one can make it for you.
Matt Karamazov is a human rights activist, boxer, and writer who reads at least 100 books every year and throws 300 punches per minute. His website, Godlike Discipline, is dedicated to raising money for causes like Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It’s also dedicated to helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates. Here he is on a horse.