Beyond Diet and Exercise!

Over the years I have learned a lot about diet and exercise. I am, for the most part, conscious about what I eat. For the past year I have stayed away from simple carbohydrates (especially sugars in its many forms,) and gluten. It’s meant I have to forego some wonderful desserts, breads and pastas. But I have also dropped almost 15 kilos, I feel better, I have little back pain and pain in my knees and hips has all but gone. I have been going to the gym regularly as well, following a balanced program that uses free weights, exercise machines and cardio equipment to tone up my muscles. Someone commented jokingly at the beginning of the pandemic that we would come out of it as, chunks, monks, drunks or hunks. I’ve opted for the final option. No, I’m not going to be competing in any challenges or looking to participate in an Ironman competition. Nor am I trying to look like I drank at the fountain of youth; it’s a personal challenge to look the best that I can for myself, to be in the best physical condition and the best health possible for myself.

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I am not alone. There are many who extol the benefits of avoiding things that are detrimental to our bodies and all others in moderation. And there is no end to excellent information on-line with respect to improving and maintaining our physical health.

We are not just our bodies: we are also our minds. I have to ask myself, am I doing the same to build up my mind, and my thinking as I have done for my body? Do I seek out positive ‘foods’ for my mind, moderate some and avoid others? Am I making sure that I am exercising my brain by what I read, watch and listen to?

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I work hard to keep a strong and healthy body. Can I say the same for my mind? Do I guard my serenity and happiness with the same fervor as I wear a seatbelt and follow driving rules? Do I guard against the negativity that abounds in my social media as well as the news media? Do I protect my mind as well as my body? Do I allow random thoughts access to my head and give them access to peace of mind?

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For many people, the answer is an unfortunate no. Regardless of where we go, we see people ‘connected’ via their phones to social media. We have a moment of spare time and we dive into Instagram and Facebook, only to realize that an hour has gone by and we’re still scrolling the feed. Or we have the 24 hour news channel on the television playing in the background. Everywhere we are being bombarded by mostly trivial information. As I heard one person share last month, we have a device in our pockets that gives us access to all of the knowledge that humans have gained in the whole of history and we use it to look at videos of kittens.

If your body is important to you, then I suggest that you be as vigilant with your mind. It’s up to us to look after our physical health. It’s also up to us to look after our mental and emotional health. Be as discriminating about what you read and watch as you would with how you eat and exercise. I’ve discovered that I can get along just fine knowing about some of the facts that happen in the world. I don’t need to know all of the details. As much as we would like to see and read about more ‘good’ news, it’s not going to suddenly appear. We all know that breaking any of the ten commandments sells newspapers and attracts viewers. I can’t control what happens ‘out there’.

I have little control over what happens outside of my small circle of influence, and within, it’s pretty much a full-time job keeping track of my mind. Regardless of what’s happening around me, I can control what I let into my mind and how it affects my emotional state. Just because a thought comes into your head doesn’t mean you have to act on it.

I believe that we are integrated beings. I can’t focus on only one aspect of who I am, my body, and ignore my mental state. I am committed to work both my body and my mind with a steady diet of what’s good and positive, and exercising them both to keep me at my best possible condition. It’s my responsibility.

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Discovering Happiness

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the highway to heaven is littered with suicide, addiction, anxiety and fear. Why is it so hard for us to find our heaven, nirvana, happiness, and serenity? Why do so many people fall by the wayside while trying so hard to find it?

“The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.”

Eric Hoffer

We don’t find heaven, we don’t find nirvana, we don’t find happiness or serenity. They are not places that we can travel to, nor destinations or goals. How many of us seek a goal with the idea that happiness will come at a certain moment in the future. When I graduate I will be happy.’ ‘When I find the love of my life, I will be happy.’ ‘When I get the promotion, I will be happy.’ We look forward to a magical, mystical moment when, I don’t know, we think that the sky will open up and the bluebird of happiness will land on our shoulder. But that doesn’t happen. We graduate, get married and get the promotion and we do feel momentary happiness but then, it’s fleeting pause is over and we work for the next moment of happiness.

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There is also, of course, the obverse. Not everyone graduates, finds their soul mate or ever gets more than an entry level job. Are we living in a society where people will never attain a true feeling of Heaven on Earth? Is the seeking of that feeling of happiness the source of our own despair? When we reach a goal, we do feel that momentary jolt of ‘Yes, I did it’, which fades quickly. Like the wonder of Christmas fading before the week is out, we push toward the next ephemeral moment.

Perhaps our challenge is not to seek happiness. Perhaps what we need to do is to define what actually causes us to feel the emotion of happiness? What would give you not a momentary but a continued sense of wellbeing, contentment and serenity? Few people can answer that question. Sure, they can tell us that a party makes them happy, or a wedding or a birth; events and goals. They can tell us that being with other people and making them happy leads to happiness, but even this is an interim fix; what if they can’t make others happy? I don’t think happiness is a temporary state of excited emotional bliss, a goal or destination. Then what is it?

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Happiness is not something that we can seek. It is not something that we can do. We can’t pursue it. We can’t buy it. We can’t attain it. Nothing ‘makes’ us happy.

Happiness comes from within. I think that discovering our own happiness is the true purpose in life and our true measure of success. The recipe for happiness varies from person to person. It results from our choice to live a life that is congruent with one’s principles and beliefs. People who are happy focus on the people that they care about, the things that they value, a conducive environment and activities they enjoy. It requires self-discipline and effort to create it and maintain it within oneself. I don’t find happiness when I get my diploma or promotion; I feel it as a result of doing what I need to do to achieve those goals. I don’t find happiness when I make a certain amount of money or win the lottery; I experience happiness knowing that I am being true to myself and my the things that are important to me. I don’t find happiness by trying to control all of the variable that have a part in my life; I find it by focusing only on those things I have control over, and those things are within me. My attitude, my judgement, my actions, my choices and my perspective are all within my circle of control.

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Happiness is within my control as well, it follows. If I feel happiness, perhaps I can analyze why at this particular moment I feel it. I can pay attention to those things that result in feeling unhappy and maintain my distance in the future. If I know that I feel happiness when I take a walk by the ocean or through the woods, then why not do that more often? If sharing a deep conversation with a friend invigorates me and brings a smile to my face, then I should seek out times to have those conversations. I have to do the work. My answers won’t magically appear. But with time and practice I can make the right choices for me and my happiness.

Finding Nirvana, Shangri-La, or Heaven, as well as their opposites is a very Earthly proposition. Despite of all I do, I will sometimes feel fear, anxiety and suffering. But I don’t have to stay in that misery any longer than I wish to. I have a choice. I choose to be happy.

The Facts

Acceptance is a theme that comes up over and over again for me. I know enough to realize that what I haven’t learned and incorporated into my life will repeat over and over until I do. In this morning’s reading from The Daily Stoic, I read how Marcus Aurelius told himself not to give circumstances the power to incite his anger because the circumstances really don’t care at all how he reacted. Acceptance of what is, regardless of whether I like the reality before me or not, is imperative if I am going to move forward in this life.

I can easily balk against what is going on around me. There is always someone, or something, to blame. I can always pin my emotions and feelings to the first scapegoat I see and rail against the injustice, the unfairness, the cruelty and the pain that this is causing me. But in the end. It is a fact; it happened. All of the expressed or unexpressed emotion in the world is not going to turn back history to change what has occurred. That ship has sailed. It happened and I have to accept it.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that you agree with what happened. It doesn’t mean that you wanted it to occur on some level. It doesn’t mean that you caused this to happen. It is a simple acknowledgement of the fact that something occurred.

I remember almost ten years ago now, as I was lying on the grass beside my motorcycle, me facing uptown and my foot facing downtown, knowing that things were about to change, a lot. Ignoring my broken leg, railing against the driver who had not signaled and cut me off, wishing I had left the house five minutes earlier or later would not have changed the situation. My leg was broken and I would have to allow this fact to carry me forward to the next set of circumstances: ambulance, hospital, cast and recovery. It also meant surrendering my obsessive control over my business to others who could run it in my stead. No denial, no anger, no deal with the devil was going to turn back time and change the present fact of my circumstances. I still carry a plate and ten screws in my leg to remind me of this lesson.

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Change is the inescapable part of being alive. The birth of a child, the death of a pet, a slip on the ice or new technologies can toss us into the sea of resistance. It doesn’t mean I sit idly by and watch a fire consume my home, it means I call the fire department. The sooner I can get to acceptance, the sooner I can respond and incorporate change into my life.

When I am in acceptance, I am in the present moment. I am not in the past of woe or regret. I am not in the future of fear and worry. I am present in this moment. And when I am here, I can make wiser, saner choices for the next steps that I need to take.

Meditation shows you again and again a very simple yet powerful reality –

whatever you resist disturbs you, and whatever you accept cannot disturb you.

Seeing this simple truth at work in an almost infinite variety of ways in your life

can evoke a deeper letting go. We cannot always, or even often, control events or what happens to us.

We can, however, choose whether or not we obsessively resist and react to them.

And therein lies our freedom.

Letting go of resistance is an act of heartfelt surrender.

It is devotion to WHAT IS.

~Sacred Inquiry by Adyashanti

In this life, change is inevitable. Suffering, however, is a choice. It all depends upon my attitude.

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