Trickles

We all have free time but it’s becoming mechanical to exhaust it on whatever glows in our screen. Not that it is entirely wrong — it can be valuable if spent deliberately.

The trouble is that free time occupies intervals of our day, however busy we declare ourselves at times. If we spend these trickles in autopilot mode, of careening from point A to infinity, they just add up. How would it feel later when all our time has been gobbled up?

What wonders await us, instead, if we spend the bulk of our time on things that can make us more?

During these waiting times, we have a choice to just sit still, savor the peace, then fill our days with small activities — bursts of any creation, errand or habit. A poem, perhaps? Reviewing? Jumping jacks? Cleaning?

While it’s easy to ignore these time trickles as they seem so short, we can still stretch these minutes for things we think we don’t have time for.

While waiting on a queue, instead of whining, we can catch up with a friend. On a long haul, we can learn a new language. On a lazy Sunday, we can get back on a special project.

I actually started a draft of this blog while on a queue for a dentist appointment. I thought, ‘Ha! Downtimes! I can write an essay about this.’

Downtimes, when combined, give an ample room to rest our minds, think nothing about, gather our thoughts, sort them, or maybe solve a problem. We can even unravel something important or a funny memory can resurface during these in-betweens.

They have deadlines, too. And that’s a good thing. May it be short or long, expiration can nudge us to make the most of it. Okay, I only have half an hour to write, so get the time capsule running while I ruminate and pin down some thoughts.

We can even tie a habit to a particular downtime. While on a drive to work, I can listen to a podcast. Walking home, I can take pictures. On a break from class, I can take a long walk. On lunch times, I’ll do a quick research for a new recipe. Early in the morning while seeping coffee, I can get back on some reading. The day welcomes variety.

We only have so much energy to spend in a day. Downtimes, for this reason, can be used not to procrastinate or overwhelm us, but to lighten our loads and whittle the things worth accomplishing.

Imagine how much satisfaction we can derive if we begin using these trickles wisely to prepare, connect, learn, grow, rest and slow down.

Not Yet

It’s hardwired in us. We exit when suddenly things become uncomfortable. In school, I remember how we bow our heads in unison when suddenly the teacher asks us to solve something on the board. I was guilty of it.

Now, exercise.

Planking for 30 seconds with 3 replications has been my norm. I love it and believe that level is acceptable for toning for a small woman like me with a small physique.

One afternoon, however, something in me shifted.

Push ups appealed to me because I thought it was a good overall exercise, plus it appeared easy. So I tried it.

Though after doing it for days now with no success in sight, it was that moment of arduous battle against gravity that I heard my mind say: Not yet.

Positioning myself back to planking, I slowly counted to 30. Now breathing hard while waiting for the celebratory threshold, I allowed my body to react. How hard can it be?  Unpleasant comes in; I started to shake. I waited and sat with the pain in my arms, torso and legs. Aside from a possible injury, I realized, pain was a good indicator of stretching yourself to a new limit.   

We can think of pushing something to a higher level by not ignoring the discomfort but adapting an attitude of “That seems interesting!” For all we know, it can lead us to more possibilities.

Recalling the not-so stellar record of planking, I know now that two words can cheer me on: When it is not yet, it is bring it on.

Another curiosity was running. I’ve been at it for 2 years. Though that seems to be astounding for a habit, I haven’t been consistent because I like experimenting with other simple exercise routines.  Nonetheless, I’ve always liked the rush and so to keep it interesting, I had to do some tweaking.

Reading that intensity was a key to get the most benefits from exercise, I increased my pace and incline. Things are getting interesting.

My default for months was an incline of 2.5 and a speed of 9. While it took months of endurance to improve, I only had to be curious to try 4 and 11.5. I ran for a minute, took a rest for the next minute and did the cycle 4 times. I had to catch my breath and gallop as fast as I could. It was a different feeling. Escalating friction, pounding chest, lactic acid build-up, tension, and redeeming sweat took over my body.

I had to experience the unpleasant first before I knew that it was worth it, that I had to do it again. 

Existential

We’ve rehashed it so many times in our heads. What on Earth are we here for?

Having existential thoughts can be really silly and annoying. We’d rather think of the mundane and go on with our undramatic lives. 

I was alone and I looked out of the window as it bathed in the morning radiance. It felt palpably light for no reason. Cheesy but cellular deep down.

Because it’s easy to forget why we’re even here, I thought it was good, if not critical, to pause, converse with our thoughts, and dig some meaning. 

What’s notable in today’s age is how easy it is to get lost scrolling, waste time and be swallowed whole in discontent. Somehow, unknowingly, we wound up lost in the bandwagon. And suddenly it’s the norm to catch up.

There’s also a lot brewing in the background – in our glowing phones reside fake news, conspiracies, chauvinists, climate change and just the fad for excess faces.

It can be a mindless battle.

And maybe, when we leave the scene of madness, when we take a moment to see what’s really happening in our bodies, our thoughts, our actions, then maybe it’s going to make a little sense.

At the end of the day, I know well how I’m going to spend it: walk, cook, eat, watch, read and rest. It’s the same everyday with specks of difference. As an introvert, I like it. 

What probably makes a particular day count is when I care to be mindful. It’s when I take seconds to pause and sit with my emotions and have a conversation with it.

It’s during those moments when I smiled, noticed something interesting, did something differently, opened up, initiated, calmed down, helped someone, and got out of my way. These were moments when I was most in touch with myself. Aware and attempting to connect.

The practice could get arduous so maybe I’m better off with my pacifiers. If I slip back, however, I knew it was going to be easy, comfortable, but painful.

I realized that, unless I leave the autopilot, I’d never really know what it feels to be truly alive. 

 

You Think You’re Crazy

Do you get that sudden warm, radiating enthusiasm for life? Was it just a good day? Or did some spirit possess you?

My body has been so used to the fast lane, always chasing a hypothetical finish line.

When we’re in a hurry we tend to ignore the seemingly mundane moments that could potentially light us up. That bird in its full majestic span. That stranger who passed by and smiled at you. An old couple holding hands. Your loved one who stared long enough to breathe your presence. A boy enjoying his bike ride. The sensation when water hits your body. Or a mere speck of light that warms your skin.

It feels so primal.

Perhaps the fuzzy sensation began when I learned to let go of my worries, my tendency to punish my mind when things haven’t even happened yet. That’s wired in us and have kept us alive today, but most days, I realized, aren’t deadly or even problematic as we often as we think. 

I learned that when we start to be mindful, loosen up, slow down, capture the moment for its raw beauty, we can feel, deep in our nerve endings, that we’re humans. And even if that’s crazy, you can try for yourself and wonder, too. 

The Not So Minimalist Takeaways

We’ve got it all covered. We are enough. The only way to go is up and forward.

Minimalism has spread like a good plague, Leo Baubata smiles from the film Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. And it’s amazing to share how much the message is transforming people. I’m grateful for the tons of value that seeped into my life since then.

Here are my takeaways:

  • Minimalism opens the gates to freedom. It’s not only about curating our stuff, it’s getting disentangled from how we’re told we’re supposed to live.
  • The most important things aren’t stuff.
  • Discontent replaced with stuff cannot make the gnawing go away. Neither our pacifiers will.
  • Minimalism is a tool we can use in all areas of our lives. When we pause and ruminate on what’s truly important, we can become a better version of ourselves, doing only the things that bring us joy and growth.
  • Life is too short to be collecting things instead of experiences.
  • Spending less is the best way to have more.
  • The way to convince people is to not convince them. If we change, others may see the benefits and follow along. And even if they don’t, it’s okay. We are allowed to thread our own pace.
  • Digital minimalism is a sound choice. Curating our digital experience gives us the space to maximize communication and learning and take the rest of our time living in the real world. I’m not saying social media is pure evil but it’s worth the try to consume only what adds value to our lives.
  • Life is so much brighter and saner with intentional muscle — with mindfulness.
  • It doesn’t have to be Paris or Greece. We can be at any place and feel happy. Happiness resides in us.
  • Minimalism is simple but not always easy. But it helps when we constantly ask why we’re doing it.
  • Know our whys and we change our lives. Digging intimately to why we’re sticking to a habit, for instance, is often the key to make it worth doing over and over.
  • Minimalism made a lot of people ‘more’. It was a domino effect. You figure out for yourself what’s important to you, you experiment, and you’ll be surprised by how you’re better off with a simple, meaningful life.

 

Specks of Difference

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We are malleable beings — free to tweak, experiment, shift. Sometimes, though, we forget that small things can become game-changers. 

What if it’s simple to make specks of difference?

Who knows what surprise these subtractions or additions can bring into our lives?

These changes don’t have to be grand like losing X amount of weight, switching to ketogenic diet, reading X amount of books, checking 10 or more things off our to-do lists. We only have so much energy to spend in a day.

Instead, we can set our minds free by working on one change at a time.

Look into your daily routine — the small details that make up your empire. What needs a little tweaking? What can be added to amplify your day? What needs to be given up and replaced? These changes, when they add up, can greatly improve our well-being.

Here’s for a start:

  • Wake 10 minutes earlier than usual
  • Bask in the morning light
  • Take a short burst of walk
  • Take a detour to work
  • Smile to a stranger
  • Decline a piece of bread
  • Add a new spice to an old dish
  • Try squats or planking
  • Say thank you more often

Our willpower is surprisingly weak so to make it easier to shift into a habit is to make it convenient. When it’s easier to jump-start the change, it encourages consistency. Wear your gym clothes ahead, do it the same time at the same day, tie the habit with another habit, create an accountability partner, make good calories available so it’s easier to grab. Change your surroundings little by little and you change yourself.

We are ingrained to our habits — more than we realize — so taking comfort in doing the same things is easier, more preferable. As someone who breaks even a good habit, I can say there isn’t a foolproof recipe to stick to the changes we seek for ourselves. The key to make things stick, I realized, is to know intimately what works for us. The only way to figure it out is to experiment ourselves.

To forge a habit is to scrutinize our values. What truly matters to you? If you’re seriously seeking to improve your health, you shoot long term, right? Sure there will be loopholes along the way but it sure helps when we sit with the discomfort and converse with it. Re-examining our reasons for keeping a habit will either break or spear us forward. So we might as well cultivate a great reason. 

Whatever changes we aspire to make, we are only to progress if we work on minute changes at a time and revisit our values often. By doing so, we can take pride on the improvement and novelty we deliberately bring into our lives.

We are lucky to be sentient, luckier even to be malleable! Let’s not forget that small can be big, specks can be fireworks.

 

Changing Your Mind

Disgusting – that’s the impression we get from someone who is challenged to eat a slimy vegetable and swore she’ll never eat it again.

I’ve felt this many times with different people. If my ideals, the standards in my head, aren’t met, then to grow a relationship is pointless. They don’t get me anyway.

I struggle to accept people for who they are – their quirks, excuses, complaints, shortcomings. That doesn’t of course excuse my mistakes. Rather, projecting my ideals and intentions on others has been the problem. I spin justifications in my head of how people should be rather than who they actually are.

I’m confined by how people should act, how they should validate my opinions, and how they should treat me. This notion, I realized, has been shrinking my experience of the world.

To move past my preconceived notions, I realized I have to slowly break my ideals by starting anew – lay fresh eyes on the small details of my life. It’s like tasting bell pepper the third time then coming back surprised for having grown a palette.

Since adopting a beginner’s mind, I never thought that vegetables and spices would anchor the changes that is yet to happen. Ignorance turned into inclination. Ultimately, unless we change our minds – retaste that terrible vegetable, get to know that stranger, or give it another chance to know the people we already met, then interesting discoveries would only come to pass.

If we dare make sense of moments, the fleeting in-betweens of our lives, then we might reveal something magical. We can either let these moments annoy us, bug us down or let the simple inconveniences, irritations, or quirkiness be as they are. 

Growing a palette is about contouring our mental walls, allowing space to shift our mind without a need for a sound reason, and coming back astonished.