The perfect night:
Darkness was quickly falling down from the top of the trees. Consuming everything in its path. Coming towards where our camp was situated. We unwrapped our tents near a lake, more than 1800 meters height. Even though it was in the middle of the summer, the temperatures were quickly decreasing. Once the sun was fully set behind the closest peak, the only source of light was coming from our campfire and our smartphones. After a while, there was another one – the light from the stars in the sky reflecting in the lake.
Do you often feel overwhelmed, swarmed by thousands of stuff? I do. Some days are like a never-ending to-do list. They pass in one breath. Even though these days seem extremely busy, they are often not as productive as I thought they should be. When I look back, to examine why I felt that way, I notice a pattern. Something I regularly do. Something, that’s draining all of my energy. The worst thing about it all – I don’t see it only in me, but also in the people around me.
We all know that the stars in the sky are more clearly visible when we’re somewhere out of town. Somewhere, distant from artificial lights, buildings, restaurants, shops, traffic, commercials. Peaceful, wild, uncorrupted place far from humans. Beyond the noise of the city. There, we can enjoy things much better, simply because, we are not surrounded by thousands of things that are fighting for our attention. Add low mobile signal and no connection to the Internet for maximum pleasure. That’s how you find peace and you can truly enjoy life and all of its beauties.
Layers of Stuff
One of the reasons we can’t really see where we are heading in life, it’s because we are suffocating. Our daily interactions with all kinds of objects, people, messages, notification are keeping us away from what truly matters. It’s like we are the smallest piece of the Matryoshka (Russian nesting doll). We feel really small, insignificant, suffocated from all the stuff around us, which is blocking our every move.
At first, you are surrounded by the emotions of your partner, kids, pets, if you happen to love these furry friends. Secondly, we have our neighbors, friends, family members, colleagues, the guy who we bumped into the street, the person sitting right next to us on the bus, the guy driving our Uber, packaging our food, helping us pick a bigger TV. We are surrounded. Thirdly, here comes all the notifications, messages, TV commercials, street commercials, flyers, billboards, flashing lights, newspapers, magazines, books, basically, all the freaking media and products mankind proudly produced it’s there, waiting to be purchased. If you are not sure you need the new gadget 3000, turn on your TV or smartphone. You will immediately get a couple of messages about why it will make your life better.
Bombarded by the Media
We live in a wealthy society and this abundance is not only of material things but also includes various incentives. We are bombarded by the mass media. Bombed with sexual motives. Our desks, homes, bags are full of books, magazines, gadgets, notes. Our smartphones are sheltering dozens of apps. Desktop computers or laptops are stuffed with bookmarks and articles for “to read later”.
If we do not want to drown in this sea of stuff, we must make choices. Prioritize. Choose between the important and the insignificant, the meaningful and the pointless. We have to separate the things that matter from the things that only waste our time. You don’t have time for all of it dude. Realize that. Just throw, close, delete all the shitty things that are asking for your attention in the nearest garbage can and move on.
Next time, you go to the store or turn on your laptop, think twice about what you really need.
- Do you really need a new pair of jeans?
- Do you really need a bigger TV?
- Do you really need the new iPhone?
- Do you really need a couple of social media channels?
- Do you really need to be constantly online, refreshing your thread?
- Do you really need to upload pictures daily?
The answer – No. We don’t need 1000 friends on FaceBook when you only see 5 of them. Same goes with material stuff.
We don’t need half of the stuff we currently possess. Still, we are constantly on a lookout for something new to buy. We want them, the new things, either because we don’t have them, obviously, or someone from the people we know own the stuff we want. Yeah, that’s what happens when you constantly go online to see “if anybody shared something interesting”. You end up wanting more stuff.
I’ve purchased my first laptop when I was 24 years old. Before that, I was using a desktop computer. I was so thrilled. I was wiping the screen daily. Of course, after a few years, my Lenovo laptop was no longer so shiny and attractive. I wanted something new. I thought, that if I get a new laptop, I will be so much more productive. Yes, I know. What was I thinking? I spend an awful amount of time searching for a new machine.
Finally, I decided that I should get a Mac Pro for Christmas. But shortly before hitting that order button, the company I work for decided that they will give us all personal laptops. Guess what kind of model? Exactly, a Mac Pro. “Jackpot” was my first thought when I heard the good news. “I saved more than 2000$ and I will be getting the laptop I wanted”. Even though the machine wasn’t completely mine, I had to leave it if I decide to quit my job, it was still something at my full disposal even outside of work – I bring my Mac with me in my apartment. It was super cool to write articles on my new laptop. I felt like the words are typing themselves. Of course, I was delusional. I realized how stupid I was a week after I got the new laptop. Yes, Mac Pro is a great machine – light, slick design, amazing display – but it’s still just a laptop. It won’t do the work for you; write the emails, articles or the books you think about writing. It’s all up to you.
There is a resemblance between how we see the stars in the sky and how we see our goals in life. We see things clearer when there are fewer distractions. Fewer things that can blur our mind.
And if I haven’t already clearly stated that, there are thousands of distractions. They form a thick fog around our minds. Add new layers, new obstacles to our lives, thus, preventing us from completing what really matters.
Let’s look at the following example:
Let’s say you have a task to write 1000 words essay. You have two active social media profiles, one colleague sitting right next to you and full access to the Internet. How many distractions are you facing? Three? Five? Ten? Nope, there are thousands of distractions that will potentially stop you from completing the assignment. Simply because there are thousands of stuff you can do with simple internet access.
Imagine the same situation. However, this time you are alone, no internet access and no one to talk to. How many distractions are you facing? Only one major distraction – yourself. You are at the same time the tool that has to complete the task and the tool that can compromise it. You can start daydreaming and procrastination for the whole day. Even though you have greater chances of finishing the work in time, you can still fail miserably.
As this quote states:
Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.” Neil Gaiman
Often, we ourselves, are the ones who shatter our own desires and dreams. It surely hard to block certain distractions, like your smartphone, email, doorbell, the questions you get from the people around you. Hard, but not impossible. You can turn off your phone, throw away the laptop (not literally), work alone from home and still, don’t find peace. The real problem is our mind and the thoughts that constantly emerge from it.
Finding a clearer path must come from the inside.
Caging the Monkey Mind
One way to find peace and concentrate on the present moment is to cage your monkey mind.
Monkey mind is a metaphor that refers to your thoughts as restless, uncontrollable, confused. It’s what Buddha called the constant monolog that is happening inside our heads, even know.
Our mind jumps from one thought to another and then to another, more often than we want. This never-ending circle results to unfinished tasks, constantly checking social media channels, your phone, going to the store, to the fridge, visit XXX sites, taking a nap. Studies show, that we humans have around fifty thousand separate thoughts each day. Yes, that’s a lot. How many of those were directed to the legs of your sexy co-worker? Admit it. You nasty prick.
Our minds are a mess and the only way to put things in order is to be friends with our monkey mind. Make this part of our brains obey our commands. Of course, this is extremely hard, at least for me.
If you are still not sure what I am talking about, please check the video below. In less than two minutes you will have one simple, but very powerful, strategy to quiet your monkey mind:
The Buddhist from the video teaches us how to keep our monkey mind busy and focus on what truly matters.
Another great exercise I know is from the book – The monk who sold his Ferrari – one of the best books on inner peace. The exercise shared in the book is simple as the one in the video above: once per day, visualize a rose. Focus on the leaves, thorns, stem. Do not think of anything else. It might sound easy and stupid, but it’s actually quite a struggle. Different things will pop up in your mind. Things you don’t want to appear.
Your goal is to keep your mind focused on a rose for as long as possible. Initially, it will be quite hard. You will immediately see other things. Still, keep exercising. Day after day till you can block everything else for, let say 10 minutes. It’s a great workout for the brain. If you train your mind to focus on one particular object for at least 10 minutes, your life will change. Allowing you to do other things better and faster.
Is it night? Go outside. Look above. No, really. Get up from the fucking chair, sofa, bed and go to your window, terrace. Take a look at the sky. Do you see the stars? Focus. Look again if needed. If you still don’t see them, look around. What is blocking your view? Buildings, noise, people, artificial light, a bird? I bet there are other things as well. How far you need to walk to see the stars in the sky clearly? Far, right?
Same is with our goals. There are a lot of things that are blocking our view. Some of these things are all the people around us, the government, the media, ourselves. Now, think about what you can do to block things you don’t actually help you and focus on the other, more important stuff.
Yes, if you really thought about it you will understand that it won’t be easy, but at the end, is worth it.
Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.” Paulo Coelho