Expand your RAS

Recently I got invited to join two very different, in fact opposite in nature, Facebook groups. The one has an objective of sharing with its members uplifting and inspiring stories, good news and motivating experiences. The other is an outlet for people to moan and complain, a place to share all the ugliness we come into contact with in everyday life. Naturally, all day long I am bombarded with notifications from both sides – sometimes funny, occasionally heartwarming, and in many instances outright ridiculous. Turns out if you give people an outlet for a particular emotion, they will always somehow find what to pour out of it.

As hilarious at times it is, to scan through the posts, I am struck every day how few the posts in the ‘good news’ group are, and how numerous and elaborate the complaints and the bitching on the other side. For some reason, perhaps influenced by the general negativity of our corner of the world, we find it easier to notice and comment on the ugly, offensive and unpleasant happenings in our daily lives. It’s as if we go out there deliberately looking for something to gossip about or be offended by, having made it our daily mission to expose stupidity, rudeness and total lack of manners of some members of our society.

I think however, it is our own negativity that makes the dark and ugly around us stand out. We can only notice in others that which we already recognise in ourselves. And looking at the world around us is nothing but looking into a mirror, where our own ideas and emotions are reflected and shown back at us. That is, if that’s what we are determined to see.

Because, you see, there is another way. There’s this phenomenon, a rather complex function of our brains call Reticular Activating System. I won’t go into the details of its medical complexity since I don’t understand exactly how it works anatomically anyway. A lookup in Wikipedia will tell us that “The reticular activating system helps mediate transitions from relaxed wakefulness to periods of high attention”. Or as it’s most commonly know as ‘the red car phenomenon’. Like, when you buy a red car, and suddenly there are red cars everywhere, so many more than you even noticed before. And that’s something that, I’m sure, we have all experienced, more often that we’re actually aware of.

Say, for instance, you take up a new hobby. Like fly-fishing. It’s totally new to you, you’ve never thought about it or paid any attention to the fact that it’s practiced by millions of people. Before, in your world, fly-fishing didn’t even exist. But for one reason or another, perhaps encouraged or persuaded by a friend, you decide to give it a go. And suddenly something strange, yet wonderful starts to happen. You walk into a bookstore or go to a magazine kiosk, and for the first time ever you notice the dozens of books and magazines on fishing. You open your daily paper, the one you’ve been reading for years, or go to your favourite news site and there are articles on the subject everywhere. Turn on the TV? Yup, apparently there’s an entire channel dedicated to your new pastime. What happened? Did the world suddenly discover fly-fishing? Did everyone just like that decide to engage in the same activity as you?

No. The answer is much simpler. There is no world-wide conspiracy to flood every media outlet with news and information about it. You simply expanded your awareness to include something that was always there, you just never noticed it before. You ”transitioned from relaxed wakefulness to a state of high attention”. Or as my meditation teacher used to put it, so simply and elegantly, “where your attention goes, your energy flows”.

Whatever you choose to focus your attention on, it leads to an expansion of your awareness and growth of your consciousness. Whether you choose to expand your knowledge on a subject, engage in a new activity, search for something in life or simply buy a red car – where your attention goes, your energy flows. You will start noticing it everywhere around you.  

Which takes me back to my Facebook group – the optimists and the pessimists, as I call them.

Whatever we are intent on finding in life, it’s already out there. The question here really is – what do we want to fill our days, and our minds and hearts with. Should we go out in the morning, taking notice of all the ugliness around us? If we did, we would find it. But how about we start our days, firmly intended to look for beauty and light? No, not live in denial of that which is less than perfect or desired, but simply make a small effort to find something to smile about, something which, when shared with others, would brighten their day. And when we find something to smile about, let’s share it with our little world.

It’s up to us to choose what we focus on. And whatever we bring our attention to, the more we seek it, the more we would find it. For the Universe is kind and generous in this way. We each create our reality with every thought, word and action we put forth. And at the end of the day, the question that matters is, what kind of a world do we want to live in.

So start tomorrow. Take one good, positive thing, and make sure you find it, again and again. And the next day find two. Then three. Do not let a day go by without this. And soon you will notice a shift deep within. And your world will be better. All it took was for you to expand your RAS.



Addicted to life

Human beings are surely inclined to various types of addictions. Among others, they could easily get addicted to food, drugs, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, Internet, gaming, shopping, or work. Not to mention chaos, order, drama, other people, or sex. We get so easily attached to substances, devices and certain behavior that I’m pretty sure some alien species somewhere is laughing so hard right now at our mere idea of fun. Self-destructive fun. Yes, we do get attached. And not just attached, over-attached. Our human nature makes us overly vulnerable, but it certainly takes a human to make an addiction out of an attachment. In any case, quantitative changes usually lead to qualitative changes and most addictions have irreversible effects. Nevertheless, getting rid of a bad habit is never that easy. Quitting smoking or drinking, for example, sometimes seems like the torments of Tantalus. But why is it so hard? Paradox is, that we are given a strong free will. It’s actually strong enough to make miracles happen and yet, we often fail to deal with our own little flaws even though it’s us who have created them in the first place and we are fully aware that our little habits are slowly killing the bodies we dwell in. It doesn’t matter what type the addiction is, we are absolutely conscious of the adverse effects. But why are we slaves to our own habits and is it possible for us to regain control over our minds?

It is for a fact that some people are more susceptible to addictions than others and that for some it’s much more easier to fall into that trap. Whether it’s smoking, drinking, gambling, or else, addiction is the only prison where the locks are on the inside. Normally, there’s no one around to force us do this or that, it’s that little voice in our heads telling us that we want it. And that we want it now with an exclamation mark. This is very typical for instance when you try to quit smoking and one of the main reasons to fail. The typical pattern of behavior implies an emotional trigger. Something annoys us or makes us angry and we crave a smoke. We do believe that having that smoke will comfort us and will bring us emotional calm. So if we’re not determined enough, we have it and then we feel guilty about it, blaming ourselves for our weakness.

But let me tell you this, you are not weak. Even if you succumb to the temptation of a bad habit you’re fighting, you are not weak. But to be able to deal with it, first you need to understand how your mind works. This is crucial to avoid possible failure and that feeling of guilt that makes everything harder and even worse. So start by understanding that you have an obsession and you have that obsession because your subconscious mind thinks that certain activity that you try so hard to avoid is rewarding or pleasurable. Let’s take smoking, for example. You try to quit. But then the craving comes and you just can’t help it. You want that cigarette and it’s very likely you break down and eventually have it. Why? Because while your conscious mind knows that smoking is a deadly habit, your subconscious mind considers it a pleasure. You actually perceive having a smoke as enjoyable. You love your first coffee in the morning with a smoke, you reward yourself with a cigarette to relax after hard and stressful situations, most probably you have it after meals and sex as a part of the ritual. In fact, deep inside you think smoking is something good. And this very contradiction could be the reason for your failure to quit time and time again. What to do? Reprogram your mind.

There are different ways to do that. One, you could use recordings with subliminal messages. There’s a variety of them available online for various addictions, problems, and issues. You could use them even to feel positive or sleep better. Just look around. Two, you could use particular meditation techniques to avoid or provoke certain behavior, to choose how you react to particular situations. This could really help you get to the source of your problem and counteract. Remember, there’s no such thing as unbeatable addiction and you can regain control over your life whenever you want to. You just need the proper motivation and you have to believe that you can. And if you do, you’re half way there. And why not get addicted to life instead? Get addicted to happiness, smiles, and love. Now that’s what I call a beneficial addiction.

Métro, boulot, dodo

Another long day is coming to an end and in times of work fatigue as right now, I often ask myself: “Why? Why work is that important?” To pay the bills, you’d say. Well, yes, more or less that is the goal of work. Along with feeling useful, of course. Working hard allegedly means getting more money. Getting more money, in turn, means having a better life. But is it really so? Who determines what “better life” actually is? Who says if having one or two houses is deemed “prosperity”? Who says if two cars would make you happy or only one would do? Who sets the standard? Society, I hear you prompt again. The truth, though, is somewhere in between. Sure enough, we are greatly influenced by society and by our own particular environment, but we still have the capacity to set the standard ourselves. We have been given the gift of choice and free will by birth.

There’s a sweet little colloquial French expression – métro, boulot, dodo – which casts a light on the general concept of life as we see it. It literally translates as “subway, work, sleep”. It also means to do nothing but work. That arid phrase, however, poses some fundamental questions to thinking minds. Is there any particular reason we allow society to dictate us the rules as regards our well-being? To tell us what we want, when, and how much of it?

The voice of society, whose majesty is being disputed once in a blue moon, shapes our mindset from a very young age and guides it ever since. The outer world affects and forces our decisions into the right direction day after day, year after year, until we come around with imposed and/or inherited concepts and we start perceiving them as our own. Rule says, graduate. Rule says, start working. Rule says, make money. Get married, have children, and for heaven’s sake, don’t stop making money! You’ll need more of it. Every day. To buy more, to have more. The more you have, the more you want. A vicious circle with no option of exit. Greed is good, competition is good, more is good.

But what if you play by different rules? Your rules. What if you don’t crave money or property? You’re held up to ridicule, brought down, and forced by society to change your mind one way or another. “You have to work hard, you have to make money, you have to play by the rules, so go back to the machine, damn it!” (Pink Floyd’s The Wall machine referenced). Two options here – you go back to the machine or you starve to death. Most people have an issue with starving, so the machine goes on, in full capacity. And if for some reason you chose to challenge the established authority, you are labeled an “outsider” and expelled from the social tribe. Why? Because society wants a herd of sheep. Feather-brained and following the rules. The rules of consumption. Rules made by corporations and big players. Take smoking, for example. There is hardly a smoker, who is not aware of the damaging consequences of this habit. Smokers know it, tobacco producers know it. And yet, smoking is widely advertised and promoted. Why? Because tobacco industry is a money-making machine. Same goes for pharmaceutical industry. Society wants consumers. Society wants more. By all means. You’re born, you work, you die, passing on the torch to the next poor soul doomed to a life of consumption. But is this all? Is this the way it has to be? There must be something more to life than this.

Dalai Lama once said:

“Man surprised me most about humanity. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

I could not possibly summarize it any better, even if I tried to.

But let’s get back to mere survival and the true meaning of financial prosperity. Alright, you have bills to pay, we all do. And surely we need food, clothes, and a shelter. But why spending your life in misery putting up with a job you hate just to gain money you’d spend in the blink of an eye for something you don’t really need? Why not discard that consumption-oriented approach? Towards life and anything else. Why not try getting out of the box for once and evaluate assets at their real value?

Hereinabove, I talked about society. But society starts with family. It all starts with family. To children, parents are naturally the first dominant role models and they act not by how you tell them to act, but how they see you acting. (That being said, I’m going to dedicate one of the next articles to children and their upbringing.) Therefore, among others, teach children to honor quality, and not quantity. Teach them that they don’t need much to be happy. Teach them to always give more than they get, for the more they give, the more they have. Oddly enough, that’s one of the universal laws.

Having more is not success. Gaining more is not success. Neither is amassing wealth. True success is finding the right balance of all your needs in the physical and spiritual aspect. Too often, little can be enough. And too often, little could mean everything. There are miserable people living in mansions, as there are happy people living in hovels. Happiness is rarely quantified in money. The enlightened soul is a succeeding soul. That kind of success is just off-scale, since it happens to be in the domain that matters the most. Living a life of awareness. Life led not by the rules that constantly change depending on the age group, community, and even country, but by the strong beliefs of the heart, proven in time by experience.