There is no better time to be alive than right now, if what you thrive on is outrage.
You barely have to look for it.
In terms of the current election cycle, you almost don’t have to do more than turn on your computer or TV to find something infuriating these days. The news cycle is non-stop, and the stories get more outrageous every day.
But it goes beyond that.
You can find outrage easily on social media, as well. Twitter is the most obvious culprit; if you’re on Twitter, you know. For others, it’s Facebook: checking the posts of that person who always writes about having a perfect life, when your own is so far from imperfect. Or maybe it’s the Instagram page of the person who you just know is a complete fraud, pretending everything’s amazing.
There’s even a term for it: hate-stalking. Following someone because their posts annoy you so much.
We say we want to be happy. But too often, we spend our time seeking out the very things that will put us in bad moods.
Why do we do these things? If outrage is so … well, enraging, then why do we do it?
In my opinion it’s because we want to feel something, and what we’re really feeling is too hard:
The sinking feeling that everyone else’s lives are so much better than ours.
The fear we will never be enough or have enough or do enough.
We hate feeling those things. We will do anything to not feel those!
Including seeking out those things that make us unhappy—just so we can feel something. So we can mask the deeper, more painful feelings, or maybe so we can get proof that no matter how bad our own lives are, someone else has failed at life, too.
But it just ends up making us feel worse.
So here’s a challenge: For today, you and me, let’s consciously avoid those things that enrage us. Let’s not click on that Facebook page or Twitter account of the person who drives us crazy. Let’s not go to the news site that we know will have a story (or ten) that will send our blood pressure to the moon.
Instead, let’s think about what makes us happy, what brings us joy, and purposely seek out those stories, images, places, experiences.
For me, one thing that works—and which I’ve been turning to a lot lately—is timelapse videos.
Side note on a couple of great sources for timelapse videos: Vimeo has dozens, if not hundreds, of spectacular videos. Simply search on “timelapse” and you’ll instantly find some great ones. The above video is on Vimeo, but I actually found it at timelapse.org, which also has a ton of great videos. Click on the “Videos and Tutorials” tab, then scroll down to “Subjects,” then pick your favorite and start watching. If you find a spectacular timelapse video somewhere, let me know in the comments!
An interesting thing happens when I watch timelapse videos. For the first minute or so I’m fidgety, not focusing, thinking about other things, like, “Is this good enough to share?” I don’t get into the videos. I’m impatient, waiting to move on.
But then, after a short while, I settle into the peace. Cares float away as I sink into the soothing music, the sublime images. I want it to never end.
We’ve become so used to instant gratification that we may now have to work to get to that point, to get past the first part, where we’re just doing it because we know we should, and give ourselves enough time to really start to feel the gratitude and the appreciation and the joy.
For you maybe it’s not timelapse videos. Maybe it’s cat videos. Maybe it’s old episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyway. Pictures of national parks. Trip reports from people who have traveled to places you want to visit one day. Inspirational podcasts (right now, I’m soaking up Marie Forleo podcasts!).
Or maybe it’s something that gets you completely away from your computer and out the door into this gorgeous world: a walk in a neighborhood park. A trip to find the nearest waterfall. A quest to discover a local labyrinth. A visit to a garden nursery.
Don’t you feel calmer already, just thinking about it?
If we’re going to seek things out, we may as well start seeking out things that are life-affirming rather than soul-destroying.
P.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!
Like so many of us, I’m an overthinker. My mind whirrs mercilessly, day and night. Therefore, for years I’ve been saying, “I really should start meditating.” I “knew” it would benefit me, but the thought of trying to get rid of my thoughts for 20 minutes a day was far too daunting. So I never really made much of an effort.
Then, a couple of months ago, I was reading Kelly McGonigal’s excellent book, The Willpower Instinct. In it, she states: “Just three hours of meditation practice led to improved attention and self-control. After eleven hours, researchers could see those changes in the brain.” And: “Another study found that eight weeks of daily meditation practice led to increased self-awareness in everyday life, as well as increased gray matter in corresponding areas of the brain.” Improved attention and self control? Increased self-awareness and gray matter? Who wouldn’t want these results?
At the same time, I’d recently become reacquainted with the Calm meditation app I’d downloaded a year or more ago. With mind whirring, I decided to give meditation another try.
I meditated sporadically for a while before attempting a long meditation streak. Having finally committed to trying something longer, I’ve just reached the 50-day mark, meditating every day for the last 50 days. One thing I know for sure is that every day is different. Some days I feel like I’m becoming a meditation professional; other days, I’m lucky if I have 10 “good” seconds in a 10-minute meditation.
But it’s not about perfection, and that’s one of the most important things I’ve learned so far on this meditation journey. Here are five more lessons I’ve learned along the way.
1. Five minutes is enough.
This is not the first time I’ve tried meditation, but it’s definitely the first time I’ve had much success. I’d say quite possibly the number one reason I never succeeded before is because I always thought I had to do at least 20 minutes a day for it to “work” (whatever that might mean).
But then one day I was looking through the timed options on the Calm app, and there they were: options not just for 20 minutes, an hour, eight hours, but also … 10 minutes. Five minutes. One minute.
Wait, I thought. If those are options included in the app, does that mean a five-minute meditation is … acceptable?
So I started with five minutes. And that, I believe, has made all the difference.
Would I have had greater or quicker “results” (whatever that might mean) from doing longer meditations? Highly possible. Would I have stayed with it for 50 days if I’d started out trying to do 20 minutes a day? I wouldn’t have lasted a week.
No, five minutes was enough. I wasn’t meditating so much as I was building a practice, a habit. I needed to start with something I simply could not justify not doing.
After maybe a month, I finally had formed enough of a habit that I decided to change it up: three 5-minute sessions a day, morning, noonish, and night. One benefit of this schedule is that it refocuses me throughout the day. Another benefit is that if I miss a session, I still have at least one or two short sessions completed.
I’ve continued to play around with how many sessions I do each day, and for how long. It’s ever-changing, and I expect it will continue to be. This flexibility has been key to my success. Which leads me to:
2. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to do it.
Oh, I’m sure some hard-core meditators might disagree with me here, but one thing I told myself when I started this effort was that the effort, in and of itself, was the goal. I don’t worry about “right” or “wrong.”
When people find out I’m meditating, they always ask how I do it. Sometimes, if I’m feeling worried or anxious or upset about an interaction, for example, I’ll focus on whatever positive affirmation will provide a counterbalance to the day. Other times, if my brain is whirring along at a million miles an hour, I’ll spend my time letting thoughts float by, working to clear my mind and focusing on the app’s nature sounds. (I’m partial to the Calm app’s “Foggy Stream” scene, which has enough birds chirping and water running to help keep my mind on the meditation rather than all my other thoughts.) When I meditate three times in a day, I try to have at least one session be a “clear mind” session (focusing on letting go of thoughts), but I have firmly told myself there is no wrong way.
This “no judgment” mindset is especially important when the specter of comparison appears. The Calm Twitter account will often retweet people’s posts on which they share their streaks. Once, I saw a guy who had a 100-day streak. His total number of hours meditated for a 100-day streak was several times what mine will be when I get there. For a moment I thought, “I could just set the app to run for two hours while I do something else…” But that would be pointless. It’s not a competition. It’s life, it’s a habit. There’s no judgment. Do what works for you.
3. Small rewards matter.
Each day when I finish the first meditation of the day, the Calm app puts a lovely bright green dot on my calendar. It may seem silly, but when I began, just knowing I would get a new dot on my meditation streak calendar was enough incentive to get me started each new day (especially since I knew I only had to do five minutes).
My 50-day streak started on February 5, but that’s not the day I started meditating. In fact, I tried the Calm app long ago, but didn’t stick with it. Last December I started using it again, on and off, but I didn’t log in to the app, and so it didn’t record my progress. It wasn’t until late January that I finally logged in and started getting the little green reward dots. I did pretty well at the end of January, but I skipped February 4 before picking it up again. As I went on, day after day, seeing that naked little 4 on the calendar, no green reward dot surrounding it, made me realize that if I’d just done five minutes that day I could have had a “perfect” month. Did “perfection” matter? Not really. On the other hand, it made me happy, those little green dots.
Even more motivating is the fact that the app keeps track of how many days in a row I’ve meditated—e.g. a 50-day streak. (I assume most meditation apps have a similar feature. If you’re using another meditation app, please feel free to let us know in the comments how it works.) Every day, the number climbs, and all I have to do is sit still for five minutes, letting go of thoughts. As accomplishments go, it’s a pretty easy one to earn!
Now, you might ask, did the desire for a reward lead to the temptation to cheat? I’ll admit it: Yes, on occasion, yes it did. Somewhere around the 10- to 20-day-streak range, I probably was tempted two or three times to just turn on the app and let it run without my actually meditating. It’s at that point that the importance of setting a smaller, manageable five-minute goal became clear. “Come on, Pam,” I’d tell myself. “Five minutes. It is ridiculous to cheat to get a reward when all it takes is five minutes.” And that worked. Every time, I just gave in and did the five minutes. I didn’t cheat once, and now I no longer even want to.
4. There’s hope.
As is the case with so many people, my brain feels sometimes like it’s going non-stop. The moments in meditation where I actually manage to get my brain clear are most often followed by, “Oh look! My brain is clear! I’m doing such a great job! …” and then off I’ll go, drafting an email or an article or thinking about who I need to call before realizing that moment of clarity was quite brief and is now long gone. It’s okay. I just bring my brain back (the sensation is almost physical, the halting of thoughts), and try again.
The proof in the pudding: about five weeks into my 50-day streak I was sitting in my living room, not meditating. As happens all the time, a worrying thought started to seep into my head. And do you know what happened? I let the thought go. Just like I practice all the time in meditation! I let the worrying thought go!
I’d love to say I’ve managed to do that every time since, but I haven’t. But the thing is, there is hope.
5. “Showing up” is a core value.
I’ve done enough of this self-work that if you’d asked me any time over the the last few years to list my core values, I could have easily rattled them off: courage, connection, compassion. Quite unexpectedly, though, through meditation, and more specifically through thinking about what I’ve learned from meditation, I’ve recognized another core value: showing up.
I say all the time that people worry too much about “doing it right” and not enough about whether they’re doing it at all. Turns out the same is true with meditation. Just as in life, it’s not about “getting it right.” No, it’s about showing up and putting in the time, making the effort, day in and day out.
Recognizing showing up as a core value was a truly powerful realization, and it is providing me with another guiding star. I’m not concerned with perfection, either in meditation or in life. What I want to know, whether at the end of my life of the end of my day, is, did I show up? In my life and in my relationships, for myself and for others? Was I there, in the game, in the arena, on the field? I may not come in first. I may fall; I may be bruised and battered. I may play to an empty house. I may say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, look like a fool, feel like an idiot. I may have 10 seconds of clarity in a 10-minute meditation. But was I there, making the effort?
The seeds of this core value can be seen in the Personal Manifesto I created for myself a few years ago, which includes the phrases, “There’s no such thing as bad dancing, so long as you’re dancing,” and “You don’t have to know the exact path to or location of your dream. You just have to start walking.” I’d never worded it as simply as “show up,” but that’s pretty much what it comes down to.
Having crystalized the core value of showing up reminds me to look at everyday life through the same lens. “Did I win a Pulitzer, write the best book ever written, sell billions of copies? No. Did I write some good books that many people have enjoyed? Yes. And did I have fun, and learn, and grow from it? Absolutely yes.”
So. Do I have it all figured out now? Definitely not, and I doubt you’ll ever hear me claim that I do. But I’m getting the hang of meditation, and I’m starting to even crave it. I’m seeing other emerging trends, as well, positive and exciting potential trends and benefits. It’s too soon now to talk about them, but come back in 50 more days for my 100-day report!
Some notes on apps: I use the free version of the Calm app, but there are several apps out there for both phone and desktop. A lot of people use Headspace or other apps. Most apps have free trials, as well as free versions post-trial. I recommend trying out several to see what works for you!
When I was in college — probably sometime around the second semester of my freshman year — I made a rule for myself: every semester, every class, I had to raise my hand and make some comment sometime in the first week. My comment didn’t have to be brilliant. It didn’t have to be profound. But I did have to do it.
As an introvert (or, more precisely, introvert/ambivert/learned extrovert), I never particularly enjoyed speaking up in class. I’ve always hated the feeling of having all eyes on me. Therefore, prior to making my rule, I often wouldn’t speak in class for weeks, then months — at which point it felt like my raising my hand to say something would be a Major Event. Whatever I was going to say must be monumental and erudite and important, if I was going break the silence of months! As a result, if the professor would allow it, I could go a whole semester without ever talking at all.
The new rule worked. For the rest of my years in college, I spoke up in every class in the first week. I no longer had to worry about whether what I said was important enough or intelligent enough. People perceived me as someone who spoke up in class, so my comments didn’t come with added weight. They didn’t have to be perfect or even sensible. The rule I made for myself took all that daunting pressure off me. It may not work for everyone, but it worked for me.
Still, it wasn’t until recently — many, many years after college — that I realized I’d been approaching life the same way I’d approached my classes — before the new rule. I’d mastered the art of raising my hand in the classroom in college, but somehow the “hold back until I’m sure” mentality pervaded throughout my life.
I’d been living my life waiting for the right moment to get in the game. Thinking that somehow, some day, I’d magically know how to do things the right way and avoid all possible embarrassment or failure.
Of course, I was wrong.
To sum up my past in a nutshell and without going into any psychoanalysis of the causes, for the first four decades of my life, I tried to be as invisible as possible. Not consciously, of course, but looking back, I can see that’s what I was doing. Letting everyone else shine, helping them shine (I am quite good at that “giving” thing, less good at letting others give to me), but never claiming my right to my own time and space in the world.
Then, six years ago [long story] events transpired, and I realized life as I knew it was far from satisfying. I worked with a lot of good people, but I hated my job. I wasn’t going anywhere, I wasn’t doing anything. I was a spectator to the world, not a participant even in my own life.
Realizing this, and recognizing how short life can be, I finally challenged myself to live.
At that point, I left my job to pursue a writing career — or at the very least, to try. I gave myself full permission to fail; I just didn’t want to end life wondering, “What if?” I’ve often said if I’d known how much courage this new path would take I wouldn’t have done it; but I’m glad I didn’t know, because it’s the best thing I ever did.
And really, looking back, this was the beginning of my own journey toward thriving.
I’ve read a lot since then, taken courses and listened to audio books and gone to lectures and participated in workshops, all in the effort to learn to live a better life. From Brené Brown to Shawn Achor to Carol Dweck to Seth Godin to Martha Beck, and so many others, to, most recently Arianna Huffington’s online Thrive course, I’ve been walking the path from being invisible to Being Seen. Arianna’s Thrive course re-affirmed many of the things I am working toward — in particular the idea of “no judgment”; the idea that we do the best we can, then we let our work out into the world, and then we let it go.
It has not been an easy road, but it has most definitely been worth it.
I’m still constantly working to find my way. It is a never-ending struggle to convert the old habits to new ones, but I know I’m making progress and I feel so much stronger now than ever before. My constant challenge to myself now is to live a brave life, to live and lead with “shields down” (a phrase I use in my mind all the time; I’m working on a blog post about this, so stay tuned). To be seen. Not to be fearless, but to be courageous, to be compassionate, and to connect.
My Huffington Post blog is a perfect example of this. Every time I hit “submit,” a wave of nausea hits me over the fear of being seen — or rather, the risks that come along with being seen: rejection, judgment, possible failure. Over at the blog on my own website, I have countless posts still sitting in the drafts folder, waiting for me to decide they are “good enough” — which often, in my mind, they never are. They sit, unfinished, incomplete thoughts that seemed worthy of sharing at one time, but which I could never articulate quite well enough to my liking to share with the greater world.
And therefore, every time I hit “submit” on this blog, it’s a new triumph. A new reminder that I am, in fact, living both the length and width of my life, that I am doing what is most important to me — simply trying. That I am “in the arena,” as Teddy Roosevelt might say. I am not sitting on the sidelines. Win or lose, succeed or fail, I am participating in the world, and to me, that’s what it’s all about. Am I the perfect writer? The best blogger? Of course not. But does it matter? At the end of the day, it really doesn’t. I can’t get better if I’m not trying, whether it’s writing or anything else. So I try.
We too often hold ourselves back. We think we need to write the perfect blog post or novel, finish the marathon in our best time, paint the most beautiful painting, throw the consummate dinner party, be the perfect partner, live the perfect life. And if we can’t be perfect, we shouldn’t try.
Our society doesn’t help in this regard. Mess up, and someone posts a video of your mistake on YouTube in no time. Put out a creative work, and the comment section jumps with criticisms. It’s no wonder we shy away from being seen.
But here’s the thing: We are all going to die. I don’t mean to ruin the surprise. This is not a spoiler. I am going to die, and you are going to die, and all of us are going to die.
What, then, are we going to do while we’re alive?
The blog post that is posted is better than an empty page.
The walk around the block is better than no walk at all.
The game played and lost is more fun than the game never played.
The evening spent with friends in an uncleaned house with a recipe that failed is better than wishing we’d spent more time connecting.
The messy, scary, imperfect life lived richly and fully is better than a life spent on the sidelines, waiting to be good enough before jumping in and giving things a try.
We need to worry less about whether we’re doing things right, and worry more about whether we’re doing them at all.
And we need to be kind with ourselves, and with each other, and with all our imperfections, as we travel this road together, as we step into the arena and into our lives.
Over the past several years, with all these courses and classes and books, I’ve accumulated an abundance of wisdom, ideas, and knowledge. My greatest challenge now, as Arianna said in the Thrive course, is to move from knowing that this is how I want to live, to actually living the ideas and wisdom I’ve learned.
So for now, I keep jumping. I’m jumping all the time, eyes closed tight and wide open at the same time, heart thumping, scared to death, but jumping. Falling a lot. Learning a lot.
Learning that the more I jump, the easier it is to jump, and to get back up when I fall.
That the more I jump, the closer I get to flying.
It’s a never-ending journey, but I’m here. Living. Working toward thriving, toward flourishing.
Speaking up. Getting in the game. Embracing imperfection and the risks of being seen.
Woke up with this song in my head. I’ve always thought it’s odd how our brains do that, have songs in them when we wake up. Regardless, it’s a good song to wake up to. Give it a listen and see if it doesn’t lift your spirits!
Also, I’ve changed WordPress themes, and the new one wants to put a static image (as opposed to a video) with every post on the home page. So from now on, I guess I’ll be posting an image with every post, whether I want to or not! Thus and therefore, here’s Michael Bublé!