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Meditation and Exercise: Life Routines You Should Follow

Meditation and Exercise: Life Routines You Should Follow

We live in an increasingly frantic world where life has become a non-stop bombardment of the senses. Younger readers have never really known any other reality, but most people born before the 90s will remember what life was like without the now ubiquitous internet and the dawn of social media. These changes to the culture within which we live in have undoubtedly had more benefits to the global population than they have negative repercussions, but it can all get a little bit overwhelming sometimes.

Many people thrive on the hustle and bustle of modern life, but a lot of us also feel a little bit spun out by it all. In what I see as a direct response to this, practices that were traditionally associated with the East have gained more and more popularity in the West. Yoga and meditation, with their roots in Buddhism and Hinduism, have been popular in some circles for decades, but their rise into the mainstream continues at a pace today.

Stepping out of Samsara

For those that don’t know, Samsara is the Buddhist notion of the material world in which we live as being nothing more than a illusion which we should all be seeking to escape through enlightenment. Or by becoming the Buddha.  This may sound quite like a dramatic goal to set oneself, but it is the basic aim of all Buddhist traditions.

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Becoming the Buddha may be too much hard work for most of us to take on in this cycle of life, but the practice of mediation is an excellent one for those people out there who want to take a step back each day and simply observe.

This may in itself not seem like much of a challenge, but the practice of sitting in meditation is actually a lot more difficult than it sounds.  It’s only when you come to try it for yourself that you will appreciate just how difficult it is to just let go of things and empty your mind, but at the same time you will also get an immediate grasp of its benefits.

Meditation is Not Enough

If you can settle into the habit of doing meditation each day that is awesome. Getting into the practice of meditation will almost certainly have a positive impact on your life and allow you to feel a little bit more in control of the world around you, but in my experience that is still not enough.

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I believe this is particularly true as you get older and fall into the bad habit of doing little or no exercise. In my experience I also realised that one of the biggest difficulties of feeling comfortable with meditation was that I had too much nervous energy in my body when I came to sit down. A great way to counter this was by implementing my meditation into a daily work out.

I have to admit that this ideal combination of meditation and exercise that I found was actually one that was given to me through my interest in the work of the American philosopher Ken Wilber and his Integral theory. The regime I found there is a 35 minute work-out that can easily be done in the privacy of a medium sized room and needs nothing more than a towel or yoga mat.

The beauty of this simple work is that it gives my body a solid daily work out, and after 35 minutes I’m feeling focussed and able to concentrate much more when it comes to my meditation.

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Maintaining the Practice

As with all things, the novelty of doing exercise and meditation does wear off after a not very long time. At least it did for me. There are just so many things that can get in the way. One night you may go out with friends and have one drink too many and not feel like getting up earlier to maintain your practice the following morning. Or you may go on holiday, or a business trip, and have your routine broken that way.

There are a whole host of other reasons why you might let go of your meditation and exercise practices, but I think the most important thing is that you don’t allow a break to ever become a definitive one. Genuine habits take a long time to form. Just because you stop once does not mean that you have to stop for good.

When you do find yourself in a position where you have fallen out of your practice, you should just take the time out to think about how you and your perspectives on life were different when you were sticking to your regime. I’m almost certain that you’ll look back on that period as one where you were feeling more in control and had a greater sense of overall satisfaction with the way things were going.

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Be Flexible. Be Kind

There are not all that many ways in which you can approach meditation. All you need to do is sit down and concentrate on your breathing, or a mantra, or on completely emptying your mind. Exercise on the other hand can take up so many forms. And one of the great benefits of living in this digital age is that we can never complain of not having access to lots of interesting and inspirational resources to help us get back on track.

One other key thing is to make sure you never get frustrated at yourself for not sticking to your routine. If you take your failure to stick to your meditation and exercise regime as a sign that you were just wasting your time anyway, you’ll probably find yourself getting pretty down.

The reality is probably more likely to be that the routine you had found just wasn’t the perfect one for you. Be patient, be kind, and you’ll be getting back into those good habits in no time at all.

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Published on November 23, 2020

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

Your neighbors downstairs are playing loud music. Again. How do they not get tired of partying? And why do they choose songs with such a heavy downbeat that the glass in your cupboard is vibrating every two seconds? What can you do to get some peace that you deserve? What should you?

Human mind tends to go in circles whenever faced with a problem without a clear solution. It becomes easy to forget the big picture and get lost in anger and self-pity, wasting our precious time, energy and enthusiasm.

Would it not be nice if we always remembered to put things in perspective?

Would it not be more efficient to face all kinds of problems, from tiny annoyances to life-changing emergencies, with a calm demeanor, sharp focus and fearless determination to promptly take the most efficient action possible?

Alas, humans are not like that. All too often we let anxiety or greed get the best of us and make a rushed or shortsighted decision that we quickly come to regret. Other times, we spend weeks or months at an impasse, rehashing the exact same arguments, unable to accept the compromise required to move forward with any of the available options.

Buddhists talk about getting lost in the “small self.” In this state of mind, we literally forget the big picture and focus on the small one. We start taking our daily problems too personally and, paradoxically, becomes less capable of solving them in an efficient manner. And this is the opposite of big picture thinking.

Let me share with you a story related to big picture thinking…

In 1812, the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia.[1] After a decisive Battle of Borodino, the capture of Moscow and therefore Napoleon’s victory in the war seemed inevitable.

Unexpectedly, the Russian Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov made a highly controversial decision of retreating and allowing the French to capture Moscow. Much of the population had been evacuated taking supplies with them. The city itself was set on fire and large parts of it burned into the ground.

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After waiting in vain for Russia to capitulate, Napoleon had to retreat in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. He won the battle but lost the war. The campaign ended in a disaster and the near destruction of the French army.

What can we learn from this historical lesson?

1. Focus on the Consequences

Napoleon focused on the important part: capturing Moscow. Nobody could accuse him of thinking small. Yet he overlooked that the Russian army could still fight even after giving up the country’s most important city.

So was Moscow not an important target after all?

Success expert Brian Tracy has a litmus test: things are important to the extent that they have important consequences. Things are unimportant to the extent that they have no important consequences.[2]

When faced with a choice, ask yourself, what would be the consequences of each option?

  • Want to spend an hour studying or watching the new series on Netflix? What would be the consequences of each option? Netflix can sometimes be a better choice, but it helps to put things in perspective.
  • Want to maintain your apartment by yourself or to pay a cleaning service? Would would be the consequences of each option?
  • Want to meet up for coffee with this acquaintance of yours or catch up on your work instead? What would be the consequences of each option?

The choice can be different for different people. An aspiring filmmaker may have a legitimate reason for choosing Netflix. Personally, cleaning your own apartment can be relaxing and nourishing even if the economics of hiring a cleaner looks compelling because you are earning a high hourly rate.

This is where you will need a basic idea of who you are — what are your goals, values and aspirations.

2. Flip Defeat Into Victory

Kutuzov managed to turn Russia’s defeat into a historic victory by recasting the problem in a wider context: losing Moscow need not mean losing the war.

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Despite the symbolic meaning attached to the Kremlin, the churches, the priceless treasures that had been stored in the city for centuries, the outcome of the campaign was ultimately determined by the strength of the remaining armies.

If you can adopt this result-oriented perspective, many of your personal defeats may be flipped into victories as well. Few events in a human life are absolutely good or absolutely bad, and it usually takes many years to recognize in retrospect, what role a particular encounter did play in your story.

Therefore we have every reason to look for the good in the things that happen to us.

This is a very practical attitude, far from baseless “positive thinking.” After all, if something unfortunate has happened to you and you find good sides in this circumstance, you will then be better positioned to take advantage of those good sides.

Say your noisy neighbors are affecting your productivity. What if it is a blessing in disguise? How can you turn this defeat into a victory?

  • Perhaps you are too serious about life and could learn how to have more fun. Join your neighbors or go out for a walk instead of working;
  • Perhaps you only wanted to be productive while instead procrastinated on social media. Now that your procrastination has been interrupted, stop and acknowledge this much greater obstacle to your productivity;
  • Perhaps you are too sensitive to interference. Take this opportunity to practice ignoring the noise and doing your best anyway;
  • Perhaps you have a victim mentality and the feeling of unfairness drains you more than any actual nuisance your neighbors might have caused. Try accepting this lapse in your productivity the way you would accept bad weather.

Get used to finding opportunities in your problems. This is the quintessential big picture thinking.

3. Ask for Advice

Both Napoleon and Kutuzov had trusted advisers to discuss their affairs with. In general, getting a different perspective — or several — can only help inform your understanding and lead to better decisions. Just ensure that the people giving you advice are competent in the particular area where experience is needed.

Paying money for advice can also be a wise investment. Lawyers, tax accountants, medical doctors spend years learning how to assist people like yourself in living more successful, more fulfilling lives.

A quick legal consultation can save you a fortune down the line or even keep you out of big trouble. A medical check-up can uncover potential issues and help keep you healthy and active for years to come.

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Even big, complex dilemmas at your job or in your romantic relationship can be tackled more effectively by partnering up with a coach or a therapist or, of course, with the help of a wise friend.

4. Beware of Biased Advice

Many imperfect decisions occur in response to an imperfect piece of advice that you choose to act on. This advice often comes from a biased party.

For example, we are often encouraged to buy something that we supposedly need:

  • Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by using a special lotion.
  • Fortify your health by taking multivitamins.
  • Connect with your friends by sending them elaborate gifts.
  • Brighten your weekend by consuming a delicious pastry.
  • Become more productive by getting a faster computer.

However, most purchases are unnecessary.

Some, such as the sunscreen, do have legitimate benefits when used properly.[3] Others, such as multivitamins, only make a difference for a small group of people.[4]

Advertisers of those benefits inevitably want to narrow your focus in order to overstate the importance of their product. They frequently present it as the only solution to your problem, whether real or imaginary.

After all,

  • Skin can also be protected from the sun by wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Health can be better fortified by consuming a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
  • Spending time or talking on the phone with your friends is the foremost way of connecting with them, and it is virtually free.
  • Your weekend can be brightened by doing something that you love.
  • You can become more productive by focusing on the tasks that have the most important consequences. A faster computer can, in fact, decrease productivity by making it easier to multitask and by enabling your favorite distractions.

There are other sources of imperfect advice. Politicians also frequently want us to focus on a particular “big picture,” to the exclusion of the alternatives.

Even loving parents can be guilty of the same. They can advise their children to pick a career path that is safe and respectable, based on their “big picture” that in life one has to make a living. A child may disagree, however, based on another “big picture” that one’s life has to have meaning and fulfillment.

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Bottom Line

It is human nature to make rushed, emotional decisions based on incomplete information, then regret those decisions later on.

You can protect yourself from poor judgment by striving to attain the big picture when careful consideration is called for.

Focus on the consequences of your decision before considering how you feel about it.

Play with the cards you’ve been dealt, but look for opportunities in each situation and you will find them.

Ask knowledgeable mentors for advice, but beware of biased people who have an opinion, but do not necessarily have your best interest in mind.

Yet remember, true big picture thinking comes from hard-won experience. Legendary military commanders Napoleon Bonaparte and Mikhail Kutuzov were both injured on the battlefield.

Clear thinking comes from putting your big picture to the test of reality.

More Tips on Thinking Clearly

Featured photo credit: Haneen Krimly via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wikipedia: French invasion of Russia
[2] Brian Tracy: No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
[3] American Academy of Dermatology: Say Yes to Sun Protection
[4] Harvard Medical School: Do multivitamins make you healthier?

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