Kai-zen or the art of making it happen

We’ve all had those moments, every once in awhile. We sit down, we start thinking and we take stock of our lives. And the conclusion we get to, is that it’s not going so great. We haven’t accomplished any of our goals, our dreams seem as distant as the day we conjured them up, we never lost that holiday weight, changed our diet, quit smoking and on and on and on… We start to feel like a failure, we get depressed, and that of course, demotivates us even more. So now, having taken a harsh look at our reality, we have even less desire or energy to do anything about it. We surrender to doom and gloom, we tell ourselves that nothing matters, nothing is worth the effort, why make plans and have dreams if nothing ever comes to be. And we go back to living day in and day out, telling ourselves that there’s no point to it all anyway, so why bother.

This time of the year is particularly bad. We’ve started the new year just a couple of months ago, filled with hopes and dreams and lofty ideas of the better life we’re going to live and the better person we are going to become. The slate has been wiped clean, we have a fresh start, and this time we are going to make those New Year’s resolutions stick. Except that life continues to happen the way it’s always happened. We work, we pay the bills, we take care of mundane everyday chores, and before you know it, it’s already March. And we’ve done nothing. We’ve changed nothing. Said taking of stock takes place and we conclude that we have failed, miserably, yet once again. And doom and gloom and depression set in.

But is it really so? Is it really that hard to make positive changes happen, to make dreams come true, to achieve goals and to reach new levels of knowing, being, doing, having? The sad truth is that we are our own worst enemies. We aim so high, that when we fall, we hurt like hell. And it is emotional hell where we find ourselves. It’s a vicious cycle. We have a negative experience, this hurts our confidence, this in turn lowers our self-esteem feeding the belief that we are good for nothing, which in turns stops us from realizing our full potential. Which leads to even worse results…and the cycle starts all over again, a downward spiral. Until one day when, if we are lucky to get there, we realize that life is not doing this to us, the universe is not punishing us, our deity is not squashing us down. Our lack of faith and optimism and courage have turned our worst fears into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The less we get from life, the less we want, and the less we want, the less we get. So we dig deep into that well of light, which by the way never dried up in the first place, and we shake off the blues, we pull ourselves up and we say to ourselves “No more will I be a victim of my own worst fears. No more will I let myself think of or want for myself less than I deserve”. We do that, and we get up and we march forth. If we’re lucky. Others get stuck in this bottomless pit for years, some even for life. For that’s what it does to you. It takes away your life. You’ve given yourself a life sentence.

So how do we get out? How do we change what appears to be almost unchangeable? Do we make a list of all the things we want to accomplish and throw ourselves at it, changing everything at once, turning our lives upside down overnight? Personally, I think that’s the surest way to fail at everything. Putting yourself on a different diet while hitting the gym five times a week might seem like the right way to go, but your body needs time to adjust to such major changes. And physical changes are not the only ones this applies to. Developing productive habits, changing our way of thinking, letting go of fears and painful memories – all of this takes time. It took you years to get yourself to where you are. And you cannot change overnight. Your body will cry, but worse than that, your mind will rebel. Your ego wants to run the show and it is not happy when you take control in your own hands. So you miss the gym once and then you miss it again and before you know it you stop going at all. What the heck, you’re not getting any thinner, are you? After all those weeks sweating and working out, no results to speak of. You slip in a burger or a doughnut, and soon you’re back to living on junk, since, let’s face it, you’re so miserable eating healthy. You sneak in a cigarette or two, telling yourself that you just need one now, because you’re having a bad day. And soon you’re back to a pack a day, because, let’s be honest, you gotta die someday anyway. And that dream that you know will take you six months to accomplish, three weeks later you’re not any closer, so why bother, nothing good ever happens to you anyway.

But there’s another way of doing things, a better way, tested and proven over centuries. The Japanese call it Kai-zen. Translated elaborately, it means ‘Constant daily incremental improvement’. It means taking one small thing about your life and doing it just a little better every day. And after a week or two, when this new way of doing it has become part of your daily life, take something else. And change it just a tiny bit, every day. And then tweak another, and another. On a daily basis it will feel like you’re changing nothing or at least not much. There will be no shock to the system, no turning your life upside down. But slowly, as the weeks and months pass by, you will have changed yourself and your life for the better. Because quantitative accumulations lead to quality improvements. Reducing a bad habit by 1% a day will see you be rid of it in a few months. Changing one ingredient of your daily meals every week will turn into healthier eating habits over time. Increasing your meditation time by one minute every few days will turn you into a Zen master in no time. Ok, maybe not. But you get my point. 😉

And above all, most of all, practice gratitude. If you are alive, even moderately healthy, if you have food on the table and a warm bed to sleep in, you are already wealthier than millions of people out there. Every day, take few minutes to go outside. Touch a tree, pick a flower, stand on your balcony for few minutes in the morning and listen to the birds in the trees. Watch the dance of the clouds across the sky. Find one thing, each day, to be grateful for. Realize how blessed you are to have been given the opportunity to experience this magic called Life. Cheer someone up and it will make YOU feel better. Give something away and it will make YOU feel abundant. Whatever you want or crave, give it away. And give yourself a pat on the back. You have made it this far. You have overcome obstacles, solved problems, found solutions. You have surmounted challenges and defeated pain. You have fought, and you have won, many times. You can, and you will, do and be and have anything you want. The trick is to want. To want it badly. To quote Napoleon Hill, “you have to have a burning desire” for anything you want. And you have to believe. Little by little, one day at the time, step into the light and make constant daily incremental improvements.

Namaste.

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Commitment – is it a myth, or is it just rare?

We’ve all been part of, or witnesses to, this conversation. We are in a relationship and it’s going well, but we are contemplating putting an end to it, because the other person “just won’t commit”. We go on and on about everything we have invested in this endeavour, how we have spent time, energy, effort and emotions on this person, but at the end of the day “what’s the point of going on if we don’t know where it’s all going”. Why try and stay in there, if we don’t have any guarantees that they just won’t up and leave some day. And it’s not just relationships that face this spell of doubt from time to time. We apply this way of thinking to almost any aspect of our lives. Why go to gym every day, when it’s almost impossible to get into shape? Why save up, when the taxman or inflation will take it all away? Why work hard, when no one knows who that promotion will go to? Why commit to anything, when we know it can be lost in a blink of an eye? But on the other hand, we want commitment. We expect it. And it’s the job of those closest to us to deliver it.

The more I think about it though, the more I realize – we don’t control what others do or want or aspire to. We can’t demand something from another, if they are not willing to surrender it freely. We can’t expect or get attached to future outcomes. The future does not exist. What exists is the present. And the only thing we can control, is ourselves. Extracting a promise of ‘forever’ might sound appealing and comforting now, but ‘forever’ is a myth, a chimera for those who sit and wait for things to happen to them instead of making it happen for them. So we demand promises for the future, we expect the person next to us to bend at our will and construct their life upon the blueprint of ours, and inevitably, we set ourselves up for disappointment.

Commitment however, is not a myth. It’s just not something we can find out there. Because it can only exist within. It’s about having a clear vision of who we are, our values, principles, character, and acting out of them consistently and without compromise. It’s about having a vision for our future, and who and where we want to be. And committing to make improvements and take action every day to make that future happen. In love, it’s about being the best partner you can be and, without sacrificing your integrity or your own happiness, to bring light, peace and joy to the one you love. It’s about committing, every day, one day at the time, to give your best, to be your best, given what life you want to live and what kind of a person you aspire to be. Today. Relationships that last a lifetime were not built on a once-off promise or vow. They last a lifetime made up of one day at the time after the other. The commitment, made every morning, that today I will love you and no one else, that today I will be faithful, that today I’m by your side in sickness and in health… And that’s how days turn into months, and months turn into years, the years into a lifetime.

My partner and I have a little ritual. Every morning we say to each other “Happy so-many-months-and-days together, my love. Today I love you, today I’m yours”. We congratulate ourselves for having made it so far and we promise ourselves to each other, today. And for that day, we are as committed as two people can be.

So don’t wait for promises and assurances. Nothing is certain in life, everything changes. Decide what you are committed to and pursue it. Passionately, relentlessly and with burning desire not to get it all but to give it all. You might not always get what you wanted or hoped for, but at least, looking back at it one day, you will be able to say “I gave it all I had and I made the best of it”.

Of life and how we live it

From the moment we are born, we are subjected to endless and persistent ‘education’. Schools, families, media – all bombard us with tons of information. We are told…everything. And we are taught nothing. What this so called education does, is shape us and fit us into a mould, that defines for us what is and isn’t acceptable, what we should and shouldn’t do, say, eat, wear, what dreams to dream, what goals to chase. It defines for us success and failure, happiness and unhappiness. And we are brainwashed into thinking that there are things we have to do/have/possess, in order to feel the way we want to feel and see our lives the way we want to, so we can be who we should be. This way of thinking and living creates nothing but misery. We try our entire lives to obtain that which we are told we need, we strive to change or control our physical environment. And we foolishly believe, that if we can control everything around us, we will feel better about ourselves and we will become the person we are supposed to be. But we can’t control it all. We will never have it all figured out or put together as we want it. So we spend our lives fighting life itself, and then we wonder why we’re unhappy, unfulfilled and downright depressed. Something is missing.

Now here’s a thought, that some of you might find…well, ridiculous. What if life is supposed to be lived the other way around? What if we change who we are, so we think a different thought, so we can feel about life in a different way, and as a result experience life differently? Thoughts leading to feelings leading to actions leading to changes.

Nah, I hear you say. How am I supposed to think differently, when everything around me prompts a completely different response? The answer is simple, yet profound. And it’s not the first time you come across it. Do not react, rather create. Easier said than done? Think of it this way. Whenever exposed to or confronted by something, do you react instinctively, do you do or say the first thing that comes into your head? Most of us do exactly that. The response is formed without us even being aware of it. It is calculated and created by our subconscious mind based on everything it holds – memories, past experiences, hopes, doubts, fears, ‘education’. It takes shape, it comes to the surface et voilà, the reaction is unleashed upon the world. Sometimes followed by satisfaction, but quite often by regret. We’ve all been there – “I shouldn’t have done that, I could have reacted differently, Now why did I do or say that instead of something else….”.

What it really comes down to is choice. Choice to speak, act and choose differently. And that begins with deciding, first and foremost, who we are, and more importantly – who we want to be. To decide what kind of life we want to live, what kind of world we want to see around us. And then make the choice as if we already are that person. Decide to be kind and act out of kindness, decide you are generous and display generosity, decide you are at peace and shine that peace onto others. For we all carry within us a spark of divine light, a grain of the universal goodness. It is ingrained in us, in fact, it makes us us. Years and years of fear-based ‘education’ will make us think of us and them, dividing us from the world around us and closing us off to all the goodness we could experience. We choose to act out of fear, where we are here to express and experience nothing but unconditional love. It is within that duality, that contradiction, that all of life’s choices arise. Do you live your life from a place of fear, or do you live it from a place of love? All other thoughts and emotions are a byproduct of these two.

Fear makes us hate, control, envy, imprison. Love sets us free, inspires, motivates and expands our souls. To live out of love is to live the highest life of all. But how do we learn to live that way? It’s nearly impossible to consciously condition ourselves to do that. The solution, as always, lies within. We must make the expression of love – towards ourselves and towards others – our highest priority. And to do that, we have to open not just our minds but before all our hearts, to pure unconditional love. And the best way to do that is through meditation.

When we close our eyes and sit in silence, when we shut off the world and go within, we open ourselves up to the very source of love, and of life itself – our divine nature. We let in the light, energy and unconditional love of the universe and allow it to settle deep within us. The more we do that, the more of it we have to give. And the more of it we give, the more of it there is in our world.

So start your every day with a pat on the back, congratulate yourself for making it to another day. And looking at your reflection in the mirror, declare to yourself and to the world who you are today. Not tomorrow, not a year from now. Today. Smile at strangers, help an old lady cross the road, give small change to a homeless person. Say Thank you and Please. Do this and you will have a totally different experience of your world. And you will feel happier. Because you are not here to please anybody, to impress the crowd, to win it all. You are here to become, each day and one moment at the time, the best version of the highest vision you can possibly have of yourself. The most important thing you can give yourself and the world is that, which you have always had and what you always were – unconditional love and light.

Get up, go forth and shine…

Namaste.

If not now, when?

Here’s a little follow-on of my previous article on dreams and expectations. This time, it’s dedicated to waiting. Waiting as a rule.

For most of us, there’s some odd, yet familiar proclivity to always postpone things. When we want something, we often tend to delay actions in time instead of just doing what’s necessary to get it. In general, we prefer waiting to acting. Because it’s easier. And there’s this morbid “when” attitude in everything we do: “When” I get a better job, I will take the time to do what I want. “When” I retire, I will have the time for my hobby. “When” winter’s over, I’m hitting gym again. “When” I finish this urgent project and I’m calm again, I’ll stop smoking. “When” I have more money, I will travel more. Well, the last one obviously requires some financial resources, but you got my point. It’s always this “when I finish this, I’ll have that” structure. We spend all of our lives waiting. But waiting for what? Basically for this or that event, that particular milestone, which (as we expect) would change the course of our lives and set us free. But guess what? This might never happen. You’re waiting for a train, which might never come and you’re left waiting at the train station caught between yesterday and tomorrow, wondering why today seems wrong.

Maybe it’s out of fear that our plans might never see the light of day. Maybe it’s this uncertainty we hold on to for some reason, convincing us that now it’s not the time. Not the right time, not the right place, ever. And what we do is, cling to the memories of the past, hoping for a better future, forgetting that from we stand now, they both are irrelevant. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow might never come. All we have is now, that current moment we tend to constantly underestimate and neglect. We spend this moment, making plans for the future, but what if there’s no future? Who knows what happens next? And what makes you think everything will work out as you planned it? Why stick to that “one fine day” concept, when you’ll finally have the time and means to travel, grow vegetables, carve wood, or attend dance classes? Who could guarantee you that after that particular preset period you’ll be able to make all this happen? No one.

And as a matter of fact, constantly living in the illusion of tomorrow destroys our present. This vacillation between a long gone past and the non-existing future nourishes our indecisiveness and unwillingness to act. To act now. And we let ourselves believe that later on our time will come. But living in our world of obscure plans brings dissatisfaction on a deeper level. In times of privacy, when we are all alone, we feel that inner discontentment, often without even being aware of the reasons. It’s like something just doesn’t feel right. And it can’t be any other way – your soul’s unsatisfied. She wants more of you.

Technically speaking, we spend most of our days at work, dealing with our daily routine. So busy and running around the clock. But deep inside, we are unhappy. Unhappy to wait, unhappy to put up with all the things we dislike, just for the sake of a dream planned for some distant future moment. And yet, we manage to find all the excuses. We don’t have the time. We don’t have the money. We don’t have the opportunity. So we put all those wishes of the soul on the back burner for some better time. But is all this waiting any good? What if you were not meant to be an accountant, for example, but an artist or a musician, or a writer? What if this was your initial design, your genuine vocation? Your soul knows that and she’s speaking to you, but nobody would listen.

And tell me this, if not now, when? And if not you, who? Who else would make your dreams come true? Who else could give your soul what she needs? Who else could put that effort? Nobody. Because it’s all up to you. And it’s all now. So forget about the incessant plans for tomorrow, for Monday, next month, next year, 10 years from now. Change this disrupting attitude once and for all and act now. Do something nice for yourself. Forget about all that waiting and act now. Because, you know what? You’ll always be busy. You’ll always be too tired. You’ll always need more money to fulfill your plans. And that moment you were waiting for, it doesn’t even exist. So don’t look for excuses, because you’ll find them. Don’t let your reasoning mind stop you. Don’t listen. Now is the time. Today is the day. Do something. Meet new people. Laugh more. Read a book. Write a song. Draw something. Meditate. Go out. Take a walk. Feel the energy of nature recharging you. Do something nice for your health. Treat your body. Eat fruit and vegetables. Take the stairs. Hit the gym. Go see that movie. Ask that girl on a date. Live now. Live today. Not tomorrow, not next month. Today. Just take the time and do this. Take thirty minutes or an hour for yourself a day and soon enough you’ll feel the difference. You surely deserve it and your soul will be grateful.