“I took care of all the little things I’d been putting off because I’d been focused on more important tasks.”
Thoreau said it already. 'Our lives are frittered away with details. Simplify, simplify, simplify.' If Thoreau would have lived in our day and age, he would be baffled by the increase of details and complexity in our daily lives. We have electronic devices yelling and beeping at us all day round.
We have a hard time focusing on one thing at a time. Writing and good quality conversations have been become increasingly rare. In worst case, some people can only relate to each other in small text messages and emoticons.
Next to our dwindling powers of communication, we have become obsessed by status, consumerism and greed. Most people around me - including myself - complain about anxiety, stress and the feeling to be 'lived' by life, instead of living it true to our own terms. Many of us are in search of some serenity in our lives.
This is an article with 5 little pieces of advice to start you off in order to improve the quality of your life and to cope with the 'details' and distractions that surround our daily lives.
1. Tune down: find silence
The starting point of the mess we call our everyday lives, is our focus, or better said, our lack thereof. Most of us lack focus because we are constantly over flooded by messages from media, friends, our cellphone and social media. We need to disconnect to find some silent time in order to reflect on our own lives, to find out what we want and what we don't need in life.
You can meditate if you want, but a stroll through the forest, a walk in nature, or simply just sitting by yourself for half an hour or simply enjoying a cup of tea, can already help to remove the static in your brain. In many religions and philosophies, and also modern psychology, time for rest and introspection are highly valued and even viewed as being essential to our well being.
Silence also gives us an opportunity to contemplate death, to look at our daily drama's from a distance and notice what is truly important and which things seem futile to pursue.
Contemplating death might sound a bit grim to your ears, but it is actually quite freeing. It makes you care less about the drama's and rubbish in your head and raise the understanding that your life is precious and fragile and meant to be lived now at this moment and not when you are 60 years of age and retired, while praying you will be still in good health (and around!) by then.
Becomingminimalist gives 10 tips on how to bring more peace into your daily lives here.
2. Simplify your life
Just as our digital lives are a continuous distraction, our material and social lives are also 'frittered away by details' - in Thoreau's words. For the one's unfamiliar with him, Henry David Thoreau was an American author (1817 - 1862), poet, philosopher and cultural rebel. He despised all the needs and desires of his fellow humans for gold, status and wealth and recommended the living of a simple, easy life.
His views can be read in his essay 'Civil Disobedience' and his book 'Walden' about his 'humble abode in the woods' where he loved spending his time in natural surroundings. Thoreau urges us to enjoy birdsong, the simple pleasures of a cup of tea and a simple meal. With him, Wordsworth, Emerson and others also have urged us, through the centuries, to enjoy a simple and good life.
Also in many of the great faiths, a simple and humble live was preached as pleasing to God, understanding that fulfilling all our own desires where a) not the most important and b) in the end not ensuring us happiness. More of the contrary.
It's for this particular reason that Buddhist monks own virtually nothing, and I've never seen happier people in my life. Clutter takes away your energy, it requires constant guarding, fixing, storing and using, and makes our life more complicated in the end. In Buddhism, it is said that our clinging, our detachment to both material things as people - and ultimately, our own existence - is keeping us from happiness.
Trying to detach from all this is a (sometimes painful) process, but I can assure you, you will feel more free and happy as you go along parting with stuff you no longer need.
Some people, like me, are choosing for a minimalist lifestyle in order to live a simple live, and we try to cut things out of our lives that cost us too much energy. If you want an idea about what simplicity can offer you, please read this post 'Why buying stuff won't make you happy' by Joshua Becker and 'How I Cleaned House & Simplified My Work Life' by Leo Babauta.
3. Be generous
This point is a follow up of inviting silence and simplicity into your life. When you get less attached to status, wealth and material things, it becomes easier to share. The things you own are only temporary, because at the moment of death, there won't be a you anymore to own anything. Share stuff you don't use with others, share your time and set your loved ones free. Don't sit on them and view them as your property.
In relationships, remember the dislike when a friend or relative tries to claim you? Kids on the schoolyard playing, saying 'you cannot play with any other child but me!' and holding on to your hand. Sounds quite childish, but most of us continue this behavior as adults, afraid that we are not worthy of love and that people will leave us if we do not cling to them (or even bribe them into staying friends with us!). We all know that being clung on to is a suffocating and unloving feeling.
Sting sings 'If you love someone, set them free' and he's right. True love, friendship and contact can only be established if there is no set boundary, no trade-off.. Of course you can make appointments and create rituals with your dear ones and tell each other what you would like to achieve in your personal contact, but both you and the other can only grow in freedom, by choice of contact. You will see that people would much rather be with you, if you let them be themselves and do not try to claim or change anyone.
In the beginning it might feel like you are 'loosing' people and/or material goods. Maybe you'll loose some friends who do not understand the new you. Some people might still believe in the whole 'claiming' business, and feel you've abandoned them. But, in most cases, when you share your love, time, friends, family and material objects, you will notice that the same courtesy will be extended to you as well.
4. Find like-minded people (and media) and travel
When I state you should let people be free, it also means that you have to choose carefully which people you would like to spend your time with. Letting people live their own life, in their own way, is considered tolerance, but the people you interact with at daily basis influence you even more than adds and marketing efforts do. So try and find some friends who you can relate to, who also want to grow and be better people, because they can and they will affect you.
This is not only true for real life contact, but also in the digital realm. I follow blogs and Facebook pages/groups that provide me with inspiration on a daily basis. I read books that inspire me to be a better, kinder human being.
It's about developing a keen insight for new, usefull and inspiring information. You are confronted with negativity on a daily basis anyway (just put on the 8 o'clock news), so don't over invite it in your life by other people and media that you can choose to abandon.
You can also form like minded groups, where you meet up with regulary, enjoy good food and wine (or soda :)) and talk about the important things in life. Talk about what makes you tick and what doesn't. And why. Make sure that these people, places and media give you renewed energies and insights.
I don't mean all these people have to agree with you, on the contrary, it's good to have debates and discussion, but these people should accept the same goal you have: to understand your lives and your motives, and be open enough to accept other views and ideas.
Even your enemies will prove to give you valuable insights on yourself and human nature. Try to be honest and authentic. It will be a little uneasy to do this at first, but the more authentic you learn to be, the more people you will meet that will truly like you because of who you are, not who you try to be.
Traveling is a great way to meet new people and cultures and give you insight in the nature of both humans and their cultures. It doesn't always mean to fly half-way around the world. Even a city, town or landscape near you, or even a new coffee place, where you'd never been, can hold new exciting insights and experiences.
5. Blog, write and evaluate
Alain de Botton says rightly in his book 'Religion for Atheists' , that we humans tend to forget. We are rather prone to forget the things we learned in primary school, and nowadays, in our busy adult lives, even tend to forget the events of last week. This has a lot to do with trying to bring more focus in our lives.
Our forgetfulness is the reason why we tend to make the same mistakes and same excuses time and time again. So, we need to remind ourselves. Point 4 (Find liked-minded people and media) will certainly help with this as will silence (Point 1) to make sense of it all. A diary, or notebook can help us evaluating our time, our actions and remind us of the ideals and goals we cherish.
A diary is very private, and safe, whilst a blog is out for the world to see. The latter can be a scary thing, so maybe you'd like to start with the former, but blogging has - in my opinion - one big advantage: it gives people that don't even know you the opportunity to share feedback, which can help you to grow. Also, blogs can be great reminders of the goals and ideals we say we cherish, but are so bad at achieving ourselves. It makes us very much accountable for or own process.
These are a couple ideas that can help bring the bonus of religious and philosophical practice into your daily life without the need of actually believing in a secular worldview.
There is of course, much more that you can do: form your own tradition, study the works of religions and philosophers to learn from them, all the while daring to shift your worldview as you go along.
Just remember that you will be learning your whole life, and life will get new meaning if you keep your curiosity and an open mind, and minimalize the - unwanted & unimportant - distractions in your life.