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By Leo Babauta
When we’re trying to change our habits and our lives, even if you have some success, you’ll notice two longer-term difficulties:
- Habit efforts get sidetracked, you are constantly in a state of transition, things are always in flux, and it can all feel completely out of control. What you really want is a sense of stability and consistency, but you can’t seem to find it. So the common question is: how do I develop discipline to be more consistent without all kinds of starts and stops and constant flux?
- Or maybe you’re doing relatively well, developing one habit after another, but then your life seems to be pretty full, and the question becomes: how do I fit all of these habits into my life? I want to exercise, meditate, cook healthy food, read every morning, declutter, focus on top of my important tasks, write every day, stay on top of email and messages, spend some time outdoors, sketch every day … there’s just not enough time when you factor in eating, chores, showering, etc!
So what do these two problems have in common? They might seem like two different problems: one person feels like everything is a mess, and the other just wants to find the right order for everything they’re trying to fit in their life.
The common factor is that things don’t feel like they’re in order, and there’s a sense of uncertainty and chaos/disorder that causes some anxiety/stress.
The solution to both problems is the same, then:
- Realize that this disorder and chaos is actually the normal for this process.
- Accept that uncertainty and disorder, and relax into them.
- Stay with your intention despite the chaos. Keep pushing into the discomfort with it, going forward, while being compassionate for any missteps or interruptions.
In the end, it’s like herding cats — things are going to be disorderly, and if you accept that and relax into it, you’ll have a lot less stress while still trying to get the cats to go in the right direction.
Let’s talk about the disorder and chaos, and how to accept the fact of them … and then talk about how to herd the cats (basically, herding our lives!).
Accepting & Relaxing Into the Disorder of Our Lives
When things are up in the air, it can feel like we’re in transition. “Once I get past this trip/project/illness/visit from my inlaws … then everything will settle down!”
But here’s the truth: our lives are always in transition. There’s always messiness. There’s always going to be something interrupting our set habits, schedule, routines. There is always disorder. We’ll always feel uncertainty because of all of that chaos.
This is the simple fact of our lives. And yet, we want order. We want simple answers. We want the perfect daily routine, the perfect set of habits, the smooth ride of a Japanese bullet train (shinkansen).
This desire for order, simplicity, consistency and perfection in the face of the reality of disorder, complications, interruptions and messiness is the cause of our anxiety, stress, disappointment with ourselves, struggle and frustrations.
Let’s be clear about that: we cause our own difficulties and stress simply by not accepting the way things are. We are the cause of the anxiety and frustration, not any external factors. This isn’t something to feel shame about, but rather a fact to rejoice: we have the power to remove that stress by simply accepting the true nature of our lives.
Things are always in transition. Things will always be messy and disordered.
And that’s not a problem.
It’s nothing to worry about.
It’s actually a thing of beauty. Think of nature: it’s not straight lines and smoothness, it’s chaos and random growth, it’s blooms and disruption, adaptation and flow. It is so beautiful, because of its disorder.
Once we see the beauty in the disorder of our lives, we can accept it and relax into it. Instead of struggling and holding tightly to our ideals, we can relax our grip, relax our bodies, and just breathe. Loosen our hold on how we wish things were, and just be in the middle of the chaos in a relaxed open awareness.
Relax into the disorder. It’s a warm jacuzzi of a bath.
How to Herd Cats (or Work with the Disorder of Our Lives)
So we’re accepting, we’re relaxing, we’re enjoying the beauty of it all. Wonderful! Now what?
How do we herd the disorder of our lives in some semblance of a direction? How do we herd the cats to go somewhere we’d like them to go?
If we accept that we’re herding cats and not trying to run a smooth bullet train ride, we can work with the chaotic nature of the cats. We know cats aren’t going to follow directions or go on a schedule. We know the nature of cats, and to expect them to be a bullet train is ridiculous.
With that in mind, let’s talk about a method of herding cats (the disorder of our lives):
- Set an intention. Think of this as a direction you’d like to head in. You want your life to go in the direction of better health … so you have an intention to take care of your health with exercise and a diet full of veggies.
- Start herding the cats in that direction. Intention is nothing without action. So start moving things in that direction — it might mean setting reminders, asking for support from family, putting notes to yourself around the house, having your running shoes next to your bed, finding a workout partner, finding some good healthy recipes, etc.
- Try to keep the cats going in the right direction. Continue to try to keep your intention, for as long as you can. Things will go astray (we’re herding cats here, c’mon), but for as long as you can, keep them going in the right direction. Keep adding more structure, reminders, accountability, rewards, etc.
- When things go astray (they will), don’t get bothered by it. It’s a part of the process. Relax into it, and just start again. Yep, you herd me (har!). Just start again, going back to Step 1.
There’s no Step 5. You just keep setting that intention, keep taking action to go in the right direction and stay on track, and when things go astray, relax and don’t be bothered, but continue the process. It’s not really “starting again” actually, but just continuing the herding.
It’s that simple. When things go astray, it’s not a problem. There’s never a problem, it’s all just beautiful chaos with a loving intention.
What about the 2nd person (from the beginning of this article), who wants to find the perfect order of habits and routines? They are herding the cats of their day — there isn’t a perfect order, it’s just continually experimenting, continually trying new habits, continually learning what works and what doesn’t (and what works this month might be different than last month).
Think of the habits and routines and tasks and chores of your day/week as the cats you’re herding, in this case. They don’t want to be put in order. You can try to organize, which is totally fine, but just don’t stress too much about getting things in the right order, organized properly. Just herd the chaos of your day, with loving intention. Learn to love the flow, instead of wanting things to be set.
The wild flow of our lives is a thing of heartbreaking beauty and joy.
Body like a mountain
Breath like the wind
Mind like the sky
~Tibetan Meditation Instruction
By Leo Babauta
A number of meditation traditions have practices that are a dropping of the ego into wide open awareness.
I’d like to share this kind of practice with you, because it is one of the most powerful experiences you can have.
What happens when you open your mind to seeing its vast open nature … is transformational. You are no longer stuck in the smallness of our usual self-centered world. You become free.
Imagine getting into a frustrated story about someone else, about how they’re behaving. If you can free yourself from the smallness of this worldview, drop the ego and let your mind open into the vastness of the open sky … you are all of a sudden much more open, much less constricted, much more relaxed. You can deal with the other person in a loving way, in an appropriate way that doesn’t come from pain or fear.
Just as important: you are all of a sudden fully immersed in this moment. You are experiencing the moment just as it is, without the added layer of your story about what’s going on. Without judgments or ideals, without getting caught in thoughts about the other person. Just pure experience. And it is absolutely gorgeous.
So let’s explore this practice.
Practice With Me: The Vast Open Sky
Start by sitting in a comfortable but upright position, with your eyes open, relaxing into an awareness of your body and breath. Just notice what it’s like to be alive right now.
After a minute or so of that, tune into the sounds all around you. Just receive them, without judgment, without labeling them. Just notice how you can have a wide open awareness of all sounds. You don’t need to do anything about them. You are just experiencing the sounds, arising and then fading away.
Next, open your awareness to all sight sensations around you, without labeling or judging them. Just notice light all around you. Just be aware of shapes and colors and textures. Let your awareness open to soak in all sight sensations, from all around you.
Let your awareness relax into an openness that takes in all sensations all around you. Open to the sensations of your body, the sensations outside of your body, and let them all become one big field of awareness, no separation between what’s inside you and what’s outside you, just one ocean of sensation.
You can sit in this vast open sky of awareness, and then the cloud of a thought might arise. Instead of getting caught up in the cloud, allow the sky of your mind to observe the thought cloud floating gently by.
Be the sky, observing everything without getting caught up in one thing.
Notice the vast open nature of your mind. This is the primordial state of your mind, what the Buddhists call your “Buddha nature” or your innate goodness. It is free, wide open, unconstricted, egoless.
It is pure awareness, pure love.
Using the Vast Open Sky Practice in Daily Life
If you didn’t quite get the above meditation, don’t worry. It can take a little practice, but what’s important is to just relax into it, don’t strain yourself, don’t strive to attain it. It’s already there, you just need to relax and get out of the way of it.
Practice it daily, every morning.
Then try it when you’re walking somewhere. Open your mind like a vast open sky. Walk as you practice this open awareness, letting your ego drop away and just being present with the experience of the moment.
Try it when you’re washing a dish. When you’re showering. When you’re drinking tea.
You can maintain this vast open mind even while talking to someone, doing a task, engaging with the world. With practice.
When you get better at this, it becomes freeing, in any moment. You might be caught up in your thoughts about someone or some situation, but then the thoughts become less heavy, and you suddenly have space to consider them, to let them float away or to consider a loving or appropriate response.
You can be with someone and connect with them in a deeper way, as you realize that they too have this vast open nature, this innate goodness. In fact, you are both a part of the same limitless blue sky.
By Leo Babauta
As I went through last month’s decluttering challenge, I realized I had a bunch of books I want to read, but that I don’t actually set aside time to read them.
A lot of aspirational clutter is like that: we have outdoor equipment, things for hobbies, clutter from different projects we hope to do, things for gardening and cooking and photography … but we don’t actually create the time to do these aspirations.
What if we decided to set aside time each day for one of these aspirations?
This month, I challenge you to set aside time to read all the books on your reading list, or on your shelves. You don’t have to read them all this month, but you do have to set aside time each day, so that eventually all (or most of) your books will get read.
The challenge: set aside a certain number of minutes each morning (you choose how many), and actually read a book during that session.
- I decided to set aside 30 minutes every morning.
- I set a daily reminder to do that.
- When the reminder goes off, I actually clear away distractions and read for 30 minutes. (Note: I can still read more at other times during the day.)
- Each week, I report to others whether I did it or not.
If I stick to this challenge, I will have read for 15 hours (at least). That’s probably enough for 4 books, for me. At the end of a year of doing this daily habit, I’ll have read nearly 50 books. I know many people read more than that, but that would completely clear off my reading list. (I also know some books are 2-3x as long as the average book, but I’m happy with getting 30-40 books read in a year.)
So are you up for the challenge?
Here’s how you do it:
- Commit to the challenge (#readingeveryday on Twitter, or wherever you’d like to publicly commit).
- Pick a number of minutes you want to read. If you don’t read right now, pick 15-20 minutes. If you read a lot, pick 45-60 minutes.
- Pick a time to do it in the morning (preferably). Set a reminder for that time.
- When the reminder goes off, clear everything away and read without distractions, without switching to something else, just reading. (It helps to let others nearby to know you’re in “non-interruptable reading time” if you can.)
- Report to someone each week, sharing your successes, obstacles, adjustments for the coming week. You can report on Twitter or Facebook with the #readingeveryday hashtag, or join my Sea Change Program to do the challenge with me.
Also pick what books you want to read this month (2-5 books)!
What would it change for you if you did this?
If you’re not willing to set aside this time, can you let go of all or most of the books on your reading list?
Join My Reading Challenge
I’d love it if you joined me in this challenge by signing up for my Sea Change Program, where I’ve issued the Daily Reading Challenge.
In Sea Change, we will:
- Commit to this challenge to each other, and report on it each Monday.
- Have a live video webinar on the Zen of Reading in Solitude (Sat. Aug. 18), where you can ask me questions.
- Give you 3-4 articles (written by me) to support your reading challenge.
- Celebrate our wins together!
By Leo Babauta
For the last dozen years, I’ve been living a (relatively) simple life. At times, the complexity of my life grows, and I renew my commitment to living simply.
Living a simple life is about paring back, so that you have space to breathe. It’s about doing with less, because you realize that having more and doing more doesn’t lead to happiness. It’s about finding joys in the simple things, and being content with solitude, quiet, contemplation and savoring the moment.
I’ve learned some key lessons for living a simple life, and I thought I’d share a few with you.
- We create our own struggles. All the stress, all the frustrations and disappointments, all the busyness and rushing … we create these with attachments in our heads. By letting go, we can relax and live more simply.
- Become mindful of attachments that lead to clutter and complexity. For example, if you are attached to sentimental items, you won’t be able to let go of clutter. If you are attached to living a certain way, you will not be able to let go of a lot of stuff. If you are attached to doing a lot of activities and messaging everyone, your life will be complex.
- Distraction, busyness and constant switching are mental habits. We don’t need any of these habits, but they build up over the years because they comfort us. We can live more simply by letting go of these mental habits. What would life be like without constant switching, distraction and busyness?
- Single-task by putting your life in full-screen mode. Imagine that everything you do — a work task, answering an email or message, washing a dish, reading an article — goes into full-screen mode, so that you don’t do or look at anything else. You just inhabit that task fully, and are fully present as you do it. What would your life be like? In my experience, it’s much less stressful when you work and live this way. Things get your full attention, and you do them much better. And you can even savor them.
- Create space between things. Add padding to everything. Do half of what you imagine you can do. We tend to cram as much as possible into our days. And this becomes stressful, because we always underestimate how long things will take, and we forget about maintenance tasks like putting on clothes and brushing teeth and preparing meals. We never feel like we have enough time because we try to do too much. But what would it be like if we did less? What would it be like if we padded how long things took, so that we have the space to actually do them well, with full attention? What would it be like if we took a few minutes’ pause between tasks, to savor the accomplishment of the last task, to savor the space between things, to savor being alive?
- Find joy in a few simple things. For me, those include writing, reading/learning, walking and doing other active things, eating simple food, meditating, spending quality time with people I care about. Most of that doesn’t cost anything or require any possessions (especially if you use the library for books!). I’m not saying I have zero possessions, nor that I only do these few things. But to the extent that I remember the simple things I love doing, my life suddenly becomes simpler. When I remember, I can let go of everything else my mind has fixated on, and just find the simple joy of doing simple activities.
- Get clear about what you want, and say no to more things. We are rarely very clear on what we want. When we see someone post a photo of something cool, we might all of a sudden get fixed on doing that too, and suddenly the course of our lives veer off in a new direction. Same thing if we read about something cool, or watch a video of a new destination or hobby. When someone invites us to something cool, we instantly want to say yes, because our minds love saying yes to everything, to all the shiny new toys. What if we became crystal clear on what we wanted in life? If we knew what we wanted to create, how we wanted to live … we could say yes to these things, and no to everything else. Saying no to more things would simplify our lives.
- Practice doing nothing, exquisitely. How often do we actually do nothing? OK, technically we’re always “doing something,” but you know what I mean — just sit there and do nothing. No need to plan, no need to read, no need to watch something, no need to do a chore or eat while you do nothing. Just don’t do anything. Don’t accomplish anything, don’t take care of anything. What happens is you will start to notice your brain’s habit of wanting to get something done — it will almost itch to do something. This exposes our mental habits, which is a good thing. However, keep doing nothing. Just sit for awhile, resisting the urge to do something. After some practice, you can get good at doing nothing. And this leads to the mental habit of contentment, gratitude without complaining.
Of course, these are not the only lessons you’ll need for living a simple life. But the best ones are the ones you discover yourself. Try these and see what happens — I think you’ll find out something beautiful about yourself, and about life.
The best kind of simplicity is that which exposes the raw beauty, joy and heartbreak of life as it is.
By Leo Babauta
We all have times when we’re not sticking to our plans, not feeling psyched about what we’re supposed to be doing, and when we know we just need to get some motivation to get moving.
The usual motivational tips aren’t always very helpful.
But there are three motivations that I’ve found to be truly powerful.
- Death meditation: remembering that your days are limited.
- Loved one meditation: remembering the hearts of who you’re doing this for.
- Play exploration: just being curious, having fun, finding adventure and exploration.
If you can bring in a combination of all three, you’ll be unstoppable. You’ll walk through walls.
Let’s dig into how to bring these tools to bear.
Remember That Your Days Are Limited
The Buddhists, the Stoics and the samurai all meditated on death, and it is a powerful thing to meditate on. It reminds you that time is fleeting, that ultimately we have a limited number of days, and that we must let go of the unimportant and get our butts moving!
“Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead.” ~ Hagakure: Book of the Samurai
Now, meditation on death might sound gruesome and depressing, but in truth, it’s liberating and incredibly motivating. If you knew that you only had a month to live, you’d cut out all the distractions and time-wasting crap, and get down to what’s truly important to you. What if you only had a year to live? What if you had five years? What would change for you?
It could also just be as simple as remembering that this night, our days are diminished by one. An evening Zen chant goes as follows:
Let me respectfully remind you Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken. Take heed. This night your days are diminished by one. Do not squander your life. – Zen evening gatha (chant)
Imagine reminding yourself of this every evening. Some Buddhists meditate on death, imagining what their death would be like and visualizing their decaying corpses, five times a day.
For me, it’s as simple as remembering:
- I will die, inevitably. This is just something to accept, and is a liberation once I’ve practiced that acceptance.
- My days are limited. What do I want to do with them?
- I could die right now. How do I want to live, how do I want to treat others, so that I can feel peace if I died in the next moment?
It helps me to be better to others, because that’s how I want to live. And it helps me to focus on the meaningful work I care most deeply about, because I know that’s more important than my own comfort and distractions.
Meditation on Loved Ones
There are lots of possible motivations for doing our work — from money to living the life you want to making yourself more comfortable or happy to serving the world in some bigger way. And many more possibilities. In fact, each act you do might have multiple motivations.
But I’ve found that doing it for people you care deeply about is incredibly powerful. And meditating on those people can really get you moving.
Why do I do any of the work I do? For money or praise? No, I do my work for a couple important reasons:
- My family: I want to be the man that my wife and kids look up to, a model in the world that they can use as they think about how to live. That doesn’t mean I have to be perfect, but it does mean I’m not going to shy away from fear or discomfort, or if I do, I can strive to learn from that experience. I don’t have to be superhuman, but I can strive to be loving toward myself, courageous, trustworthy. I think about my wife and kids and realize that I would do anything for them, and that they are more important to me than worrying about a little discomfort. They are worth pushing into uncertainty when I feel like procrastinating.
- My readers: You guys. I think about you all the time, about how you are struggling with motivation and changes and chaos and difficulty, just like me. When I meditate on your joys and heartbreaks, struggles and loving hearts … it makes me feel connected to you. We are in this together. And so I want nothing less than to do this work for you, out of love for you.
Meditate on those you care deeply about. Find a place in your heart where you feel a deep love for them. Find a devotion in your heart that is more powerful than your inertia, or feelings of being stuck, or not wanting to do anything right now. They deserve for you to rise up, and meditating on their hearts regularly will be an incredible motivator.
Play & Exploration
Meditating on death can sound incredibly serious. Meditating on the hearts of your loved ones can feel moving but still pretty serious.
It’s important to lighten it up with a little play and adventure!
I’ve found that most things are impossible to sustain for very long if they’re only serious, if they’re boring, if they feel like a chore. You might be stuck right now in a project that feels like a chore.
What transforms that activity is turning it into something filled with some mix of:
Now, not everything is going to be fun and exciting. But you can bring play and curiosity and exploration to most tasks.
- Email and messages: Make it a game to zap as many emails from your inbox as possible. For 20 minutes max! Then move on to some other game. You might also bring a sense of humor and playfulness to how your write your emails, when appropriate.
- Finances: Make it a game to get your debt as low as possible. Or your investments as big as possible. Or your expenses down below a certain threshold. Post the current number somewhere visible, and then get excited about trying to move the needle.
- Writing a book: See it as an exploration of the unknown, an adventure where you are taking yourself (and your reader) into new territory, discovering, finding deep curiosity, learning about yourself as you emerge in the writing process.
- Your todo list: Instead of looking at it as a list of chores, can you see each item on the list as a new challenge, an opportunity to grow and show up in a new way, a new adventure or exploration? Can you be curious and open-minded about each one?
As you can see, bringing a sense of playfulness and exploration, curiosity and adventure, to anything you do can transform that activity. It makes it into something more fun, more about learning and stomping around in the woods. That’s something you’re much more likely to want to wake up to do each day than boring chores.
Four Additional Powerful Tips
The three powerful motivations above are life-changing, in my experience. But there are a few additional tips that really help:
- Get rest. If you’re exhausted, it’s hard to get motivation. Stop staying up late on your computer or watching TV, and instead give yourself some loving rest. You will be much more motivated from this place of rest.
- Find stillness. If your life is busyness and constant motion, constant doing … you will have a hard time going deep with anything, or pushing into discomfort when your habit is running to distraction all the time. Instead, pull yourself away, and find a place of quietude. Or even just sit still in the middle of busy motion, like on a subway train or in the middle of your city or office space. I found stillness in the middle of a mall the other day. This stillness and inner quiet that you cultivate by being still … it helps you to refresh yourself and come to your tasks with an intention that you can’t bring if you’re always rushing.
- Start very small. If you want to walk up a mountain, don’t try to tackle the entire mountain at once. Just take the first step. It can feel very obvious to take a tiny first step, but don’t discount the power of this. Have a whole book to write? Try just writing one paragraph. You’ll see what shifts once you do that.
- Create powerful accountability. Can’t stick to your intention of creating this new project or business? Get a sacred board of directors to hold your intention, to keep you on track. Meet with them weekly. Be honest about what you’re afraid of, what’s been holding you back, what you did to move forward, what your intentions are for this coming week. Tell them to not let you fail. Tell them to hold your feet to the fire, lovingly.
If you implement these motivations and additional tips, I have no doubt in the world that you can move mountains and walk through walls. If it all feels like too much, just start small, and take the tiniest first step. It’s a beautiful one.
By Leo Babauta
Two people wrote to me recently (a stranger and a good friend) who are going through some pretty turbulent times in their lives.
The stranger is going through family chaos and health issues, just barely keeping their head above water, just trying to survive.
The good friend is going through a time of feeling down, tightness around their head, a feeling of overall sadness, despite making a lot of positive changes in their life.
It’s tough when you’re going through difficulty, struggle, turbulence … it can feel like your world is falling apart, or you can feel hopeless. My heart is with you if you’re feeling this way.
But I firmly believe two things:
- It will pass!
- It is also your path to spiritual transformation.
The second part is the key. If you see your turbulence as an opportunity for incredible growth, you are about to experience some amazing things.
Many of us just want to get out of the turbulence and pain, want to be free of it, want to find a place of peace. That’s natural, but that’s a rejection of your experience right now, and it’s a huge missed opportunity.
Let’s dive in and find out more.
Use Pain, Sadness, Chaos for Growth
In Zen, there’s a saying, “Let everything be your teacher.” It sounds trite, but if you practice it, it’s quite profound.
Imagine if every single person you met were your teacher — you could see each of them as an opportunity to practice, each as an opportunity to connect your open hearts, each as a way to see your interconnectedness. Each person becomes an opportunity to practice compassion, presence, consciousness.
Imagine if everything around you were teaching you about the preciousness and overwhelming beauty of life.
Imagine if every turbulent, painful time in your life were your teacher — showing you how to stay present in the midst of fear and pain, how to open your heart to the experience, how to be fearless in the midst of wanting to shut down.
In this way, pain and fear become your path to transformation — if you can find the courage to touch them, to feel them fully, to open to them with love.
Here’s a practice, if you want to use your turbulent time as a teacher and path to transformation:
- Notice what you’re experiencing right now. Not the story about it in your head, but the sensations in your body. Just be curious about what it feels like to be alive right now, inclusive of any pain, sadness, fear or groundlessness in you. Just explore, and stay with it.
- Allow yourself to fully feel it. Touch the pain or fear. That means allow your awareness to land gently on the sensation of pain or fear, to feel it. Now open your heart to feeling it fully, with its full power, letting go of fears that you can’t handle it. You can. This might be allowing yourself to yell in rage, to cry in anguish, to run around in a tizzy, to shake with fear. Fully feel it, instead of hiding from it.
- Let your tender heart feel the pain, joy, sadness … and let yourself feel the heartbreak of it all. This is what it’s like to be fully alive — you’re open to the heartbreak of the world, not afraid to feel the joy and sadness at the same time.
- Let yourself fall in love with this experience. This moment, filled with pain and sadness and beauty, is heartbreakingly gorgeous. It is filled with life, energy, light and joyful sweetness. Fall in love with it, opening your heart to the experience, no matter how much sadness or pain the moment contains. It’s all worthy of your love, just as it is, without needing to change.
Imagine practicing this throughout your time of chaos and sadness, turbulence and pain. Fully feeling, fully opening, fully falling in love with each moment.
It would change your life.
You would thrive.
I would love this for you.
Some Additional Practices
If you want more (and we all want more), here are a few other things you can do:
- Tell yourself it’s not a problem, it’s an experience (read more)
- Practice seeing your basic goodness, and resting in it (read more)
- Let go of what is keeping you from resting in peace (read more)
- Practice resting in stillness in the middle of chaos (read more)
- Practice seeing everything as sacred (read more)
And then come practice with me in my Fearless Training Program. We’re going to train in this together.
By Leo Babauta
When we begin to declutter our lives, often it’s because we long for some kind of peace, some space, some relief from the chaos … or perhaps it’s to start to lead a more intentional, beautiful life.
But something magical happens when we dive into the decluttering process.
We start to learn about ourselves.
And if we keep at it, decluttering can become a place of deep growth.
I’ve seen this in my own life and in the lives of people I’ve worked with, countless times.
Decluttering causes us to confront some key relationships we have to our stuff, and to the world around us:
- We learn that clutter often represents our procrastination and avoidance patterns, and if we are to address the clutter, we must shift those patterns.
- We realize that we place a lot of power in objects: the power to give us identity, a sense of value, a sense of who we are; the power to give use security, hopes for the future, memories, love, comfort.
- But then we realize that this power is within us all along, not outside of us. This takes work, to start to see this in an experiential (not just intellectual) way.
- We learn about our attachments to things, and how to let go. This takes a lot of mindfulness, and some realization that we have happiness within us, and letting go of objects is simply a practice of that realization.
- We start to pay attention to what is truly important to us, and that will shift over the course of this inquiry. When we ask this question of what’s important, we can start to live intentionally, and once we start living in line with those values, we evolve our understanding of what we really value. It changes as we take action.
- We start to deal with the shame and guilt that come up from our clutter, from our procrastination and avoidance, from our years of mindless shopping. The shame and guilt get in the way, but they can also spur us to reconsider our patterns, to start the process of shifting them. In the end, one of the most powerful shifts is to let go of the shame and guilt while also embracing the truth of not avoiding.
These are some of the things we might explore while we declutter — many more possibilities exists, and I think you’ll find your own realizations and growth that are unique to you.
Let’s talk about just a couple of these.
The Power We Give to Objects is Really Inside Us
As we declutter, it’s amazing to ask exactly why we acquired all this stuff, and why we hold on to it with attachment.
And then we realize how much power we give to all these objects.
Imagine what would happen if we could realize that the power isn’t outside of us, but is in us all along.
Some common cases:
- Security: Buying a lot of stuff makes a lot of people feel secure. If everything crashes, at least we have all this stuff, right? This is the idea that my grandparents’ generation, who were raised in the Great Depression, once had. But while I’m all for having an emergency fund savings account for security, possessions the best way to get security. Actually, security is within: being mindful of fear and meditating on it without being reactive to it, learning skills and developing options so that we can survive in many situations, staying lean so we aren’t deeply in debt or overburdened with bills, and in the end, developing the trust that we’ll be OK just as we are.
- Approval: Lots of us try to buy nice things to impress other people — we don’t usually admit that to ourselves, but in the end, we want the approval of others. Maybe you buy a nice house with beautiful furniture, maybe it’s a hip old-school record player or an impressive sound system, maybe it’s a huge TV or the latest gadgets, maybe it’s minimalism that is more minimal than anyone else. In the end, it’s all about wanting others to approve. What if we just approved ourselves? Easier said than done, but the power to approve us is within us, if we stop looking for outside approval. Declutter to take care of yourself, for your own personal growth, not to get the approval of others. Do good things for yourself, and start to love yourself exactly as you are.
- Comfort: Just the act of buying things can be a way of comforting ourselves, like eating comfort food when we’re stressed. But lots of times, we buy possessions to give ourselves comfort: a nicer mattress or sofa, a plush carpet or convenient kitchen gadgets. There is nothing wrong with these things, but it’s also useful to note that we’re giving these things the power to comfort us. What happens if they all get taken away, as my possessions once did in a typhoon on Guam? Instead, we might realize that we have the power to comfort ourselves from within: by meditating, by going for a walk in nature, by giving ourselves love, by resting when we’re tired or stressed, by creating and finding joy in living, by loving others and loving life.
- Identity & value: Possessions can often give us a sense of identity and value — a trophy makes us feel accomplished, having nice ski equipment or a surfboard makes us feel outdoorsy, having lots of books can make us feel smart or intellectually accomplished. But the truth is, the way we feel about ourselves doesn’t really come from the objects — it’s an internal process, all coming from within. Want to feel amazing? Appreciate the amazingness that’s already within you. Demonstrate it to yourself daily with 20 minutes of meditation and 100 pushups. Even just watching your mind, you can find an sense of awe about yourself!
- Memories and love: We can’t bear to get rid of things because they represent amazing memories, and the love of the people who gave them to us. But the memories aren’t in the objects! They’re in our heads, and a simple digital photo can remind us of the memories, especially if we remind ourselves to browse through the digital photo album regularly. And the love from these people aren’t in the objects! It’s in our hearts. We only need to feel that love from within, and no object can actually give us that.
- Hope and aspiration: We hold onto exercise or sports equipment we never use because we have hopes that we’ll do them in the future. We hold onto 100 books because we have aspirations to read them in the future. There are dozens of objects in our lives that represent our hopes and aspirations for ourselves (mine: magic tricks, juggling, chess, Go, hiking, camping, books for learning, literature). But what if we realized that we don’t need all of those hopes for our future selves? That we have greatness in us, right now, without needing to do any of that? We are exactly enough, right this moment, and while sure, it’s possible we’ll do some of that later, we don’t need it. We can let go of it. And just be content right now. Leaving open incredible possibilities for the future, but being realistic that we’ll only be able to focus on what’s truly important in the near future.
- Happiness: In the end, most of the objects are intended to give us happiness — a new smoothie blender will make us healthy and fit, a new outfit will make us feel gorgeous and confident, a new bag will make us feel cooler, a new book will give us joy or insight. Those things might happen. But the happiness that results doesn’t really come from the things. It comes from our own connection to our loving, open hearts. The stuff might facilitate that, but mostly it’s just getting in the way.
There is some great power in realizing the things we think our objects do for us. And there is even more incredible power in realizing that we have that power inside us, no objects required.
Knowing that, we can let go of anything not giving us true utility.
Living Life in Alignment with What’s Important, with Intention
One of the magical things about decluttering is that it forces you to ask a wonderful question:
What is important to me in my life?
As you tackle a pile of clothes, a cluttered countertop, a shelf overflowing with books, there’s no way to get rid of clutter without answering that question.
To toss anything out, you have to consider what you feel is essential, and what isn’t.
Simplicity is simply identifying what’s essential, and letting go of the rest.
When you start decluttering, you might not really know what’s important. You look at some clothes and decide that you have’t worn something in a couple years, so probably it’s not that important, right?
But as you peel back the first layer or two, you start hitting against a harder layer. Is this something I should keep or not? Does it really matter to me? What do I consider important in my life? What kind of life do I want to live? What do I truly value?
For me, this has started to boil down to a few key things. What I value the most:
- Meaningful work: helping people push into the uncertainty of their missions and their own meaningful work, shifting their habitual patterns using mindfulness techniques. This is what I care deeply about.
- Loved ones: my wife and kids, my mom and siblings, and other super important family members and friends who I love deeply. Spending quality time with them, loving them.
- Living a mindful, healthy, vegan life of compassion. This means eating delicious healthy vegan food, being active, meditating, playing with my kids. It means being compassionate as much as I’m able. It means growing, evolving, loving.
That’s all that matters to me. I like to travel, but it’s no longer one of my top priorities unless it’s in service of one of the above priorities. I like to read, but unless it serves something above, it’s taken a bit of a back seat (I still love it!). I love good films, television, music, art. I feel it’s important to understand the issues that affect us all, like politics and the environment and racism, sexism and the like. But for me, I have evolved my priorities into those items above. In short, my deepest priority is love.
But those are just my answers. You’ll find yours, as you continue this inquiry into what’s important.
When you start to figure that out, something awesome happens: you start to live in alignment with those priorities. You start to live your values. You start to live consciously, with intention.
When you start to uncover your priorities … then you can start to let go of everything that doesn’t serve those priorities. What’s clutter becomes clearer, and it becomes easier to let go of these.
You can start your days with intention. Who will you serve? What priorities will you hold in front of yourself? How will you show up? How fully can you love?
Join My Challenge
It’s not too late to join me in my Declutter Your Space Challenge this month by signing up for my Sea Change Program, where I’ve issued the challenge to my members.
In Sea Change, we will:
- Commit to this challenge to each other, and report on it each Monday.
- Have a live video webinar on my simple clutter method (Sat. July 7), where you can ask me questions.
- Give you 3-4 articles (written by me) to support your decluttering challenge.
- Celebrate our wins together!
Most of us have spent our lives caught up in plans, expectations, ambitions for the future; in regrets, guilt or shame about the past. To come into the present is to stop the war.” ~Jack Kornfield
By Leo Babauta
I get emails all the time from people who are struggling with very common difficulties:
- Wanting to overcome anger
- Wanting to deal more calmly with stress
- Hurt by other people’s inconsiderate actions
- Getting stuck in resentment and thinking about how others have wronged you
- Struggling with change because it’s hard
- Struggling with letting go of clutter because of various emotional attachments
- Finding all kinds of obstacles to taking on a project, side hustle, new business, writing a book/blog, etc.
And I completely understand these difficulties, because I struggle with them too. Here’s the thing — there are just two things stopping us from being present or taking the action we want to take:
- The stories we have in our heads about other people, what’s happening, and ourselves
- Our habitual pattern of staying in those stories instead of being present or taking action
It’s really one thing: our mental habit of staying stuck in the stories in our heads.
When I say “stories,” this isn’t a judgment about whether what we’re saying in our heads is true or not. It’s just what our minds do — they make up a narrative about the world, including other people and ourselves. Our minds are narrative machines. You could see the narrative as true or not, but that’s not the point — the narrative is getting in the way of being present and taking action.
What kind of stories do I mean? I mean things that we make up and spin around in our heads (true or not):
- They shouldn’t act that way
- If they loved me they wouldn’t be so inconsiderate
- This is too hard, I don’t want to do this
- I suck, I keep failing, I am inadequate
- They keep doing this, I don’t know why they keep doing that to me
- They hurt me, they are not a good person
- I can’t start my business/blog/project until I learn this, or get to this place in my life, or have perfect peace in my day and am in a good mood
- This shouldn’t be happening to me! This sucks!
These stories have some truth to them, which is why we cling to them so much. But these stories block us from being present. They are not helpful.
What would it be like if we didn’t cling to them so much? What if we could develop a mind that clings to nothing?
Dropping the Stories & Becoming Present
We can’t stop the mind from coming up with the stories, as it is a narrative machine. However, that doesn’t mean we have to cling to the stories and keep them spinning around in our heads.
Notice when you’re stuck in a story. Hint: if you’re angry, stressed, frustrated, disappointed, feeling shame or fear, dreaming about the future, thinking about something that happened … you’re stuck in a story.
Notice that the story is causing you to be stressed, angry, afraid, whatever. Notice that you are spinning it around in your head, and it is occupying your attention.
Now see if you can drop out of the story and into the present moment. Become curious: What is happening right now, in front of you? What sensations can you notice in your body? What is the light like? What sounds can you notice?
When you go back to your story (you will), try coming back to the present moment. Stay longer. Come back gently, without judgment.
What can you appreciate in this moment? A feeling of appreciating the sacredness of this moment can counteract the story, and change your way of being.
Dealing with Stress & Anger Without the Story
Stress and anger can be difficult things, because we have such a hard time letting them go.
But what if you could drop out of the stories that are causing the stress and anger (or frustration, resentment, complaining) and just be present with whatever you’re feeling?
Drop into your body and notice what sensations are there.
If you have difficult sensations in your body, see if you can be curious about them and stay with them, rather than spinning around a story about them. Stay with them longer (they might be located in your chest area), as you would try to stay with the sensations of your breath during a breath meditation.
Again, when your mind wanders back to the story, just come back gently. Stay with the sensations. Be present with them.
Touching the sensations in your body, of stress or anger, is a way to transform yourself. It doesn’t necessarily get rid of the feelings — but it changes your relationship to them. You no longer need to get rid of them, because you are fine just being with them. You develop a trust that you can stay present with them, without running or hiding or needing to do anything about them.
Each time you get stressed, each time you feel anger or frustration or resentment … this is an opportunity to practice and develop trust in yourself. Every spike of fear or stress is an opportunity to transform, to open, to stay and be present.
In this way, every stress is making you more mindful, less attached, and more open to life.
Taking Action Without the Story
The stories in our heads also stop us from taking the action we want to take in our lives — from changing habits to eating better to getting rid of clutter to tackling that difficult project.
- I don’t feel like exercising, I feel lazy, it’s too hard
- I don’t know how to tackle this big project, it’s too complicated
- I don’t know how to blog, there is so much I don’t know, I have to learn it all before I can start
- There’s too much clutter, and I don’t know what to do with it all, I can’t tackle all of that
- Maybe I should do something else, I don’t really like this kind of work, I think I would be better trying one of the other options I like
There is some truth to each of the stories, but the fact is, they are getting in the way of action. They aren’t helpful.
What would happen if we just dropped the stories and took action, staying in the present as we did so?
Imagine dropping into your body when you have a story about why you shouldn’t exercise … and getting present. Then putting on your workout clothes and shoes, staying present without the story. Then doing some pushups or starting to run.
You don’t need the story to take action. Drop into the present, and just act. Stay present as you act. Be curious about what it’s like, rather than thinking you know what it will be like ahead of time. Take a “don’t know” mindset, and find out!
Don’t have any clarity about a project? Start doing it, and clarity will come as you discover what it’s like.
Afraid you’re not good enough to do the project? Only one way to truly know — take action on it and see!
Feeling overwhelmed because there’s too much clutter to tackle? Declutter one thing. Take action on one spot on your counter. There’s no need for the story about it being too much.
The truth is, even if we can’t avoid generating these stories, we don’t have to get stuck in them, especially if they are unhelpful. Sometimes it’s good to have a narrative that helps us plan and figure things out, but often it’s better just to find out by being present and taking action.
And you can do that very simply: just drop into the sensations of your body and surroundings. Notice. Get curious. Stay. Come back gently. Appreciate the sacredness of this moment.
By Leo Babauta
Many of us are so often in a state of shame or fear that we often don’t realize they’re even there.
Shame and fear pervade most of our lives to an extent rarely understood, so that our days revolve around them.
Some examples of shame and fear that are fairly common:
- We are unhappy with ourselves or our bodies, and feel a sense of shame around how we look or how we are
- We procrastinate or get lost in distraction, and feel shame around that laziness or lack of focus
- We don’t exercise, meditate, write, journal, read or eat as well as we’d like, and feel shame around these failures
- We don’t call our loved ones as much as we’d like, and feel shame around that
- We fear the unknown, and so we stress out about the uncertainty in our lives
- We feel shaky if we have to give a presentation or speech, and so we do worse (and feel shame about it) or enjoy it less than we could
- We don’t speak the truth or have difficult conversations for fear of the fallout of such directness
- We shrink away from difficult tasks or projects because of fear of discomfort or being overwhelmed
- We stress out about upcoming trips, meetings, parties, projects because of fear of how it’ll go
So we allow fear to cause us to shrink from taking the action we want, or to make those actions less enjoyable. We allow shame to make us feel bad about ourselves and our lives, degrading our happiness and relationships.
What would it be like if you were free of shame?
How would you act if you were free of fear?
Those aren’t just idle questions: take a moment to reflect on them. They allow us to envision who we could be without shame and fear.
Imagine that you didn’t feel fear (I’m not saying that’s possible, but imagine it) … how would you act differently? For me, I might take bolder chances with my business, push into areas that usually scare the crap out of me. I might give public talks with a greater sense of ease and confidence. I’d openly and lovingly have difficult conversations instead of putting them off. I’d stress out about the future less, trusting more.
Imagine what your life would be like without shame. You could just be present with what’s happening right now, rather than feeling bad about what you’ve already done. You could be happy with who you are, instead of feeling shame about yourself or your body. You could talk to strangers more easily, rather than worrying about what they might think of you. You could miss a couple of workout sessions (or meditation, healthy eating, journaling, etc.) and just start again, without beating yourself up for messing up.
Life without shame and fear would be more easeful, more peaceful, more confident and trusting.
Now, I’m not saying you can live a life completely free of shame and fear — they will come up whether you like it or not. What I’m proposing is that we can let go of them when they come up, or at least not let them control us.
The Process of Letting Go
So fear and shame will arise, no matter how much meditation we do, no matter how much we work on ourselves. Emotions come up without our control … but what we do once they come up is, at least to some extent, up to us.
So fear comes up — that in and of itself isn’t a problem. It’s the holding on to the fear that becomes the problem. It’s the letting the fear hold us back from doing what we would otherwise do, or hurt our happiness, that becomes the real difficulty. The same is true of shame.
Step 1: When shame or fear comes up, we can notice. Then we can see them as “no big deal.” They’re not a problem, just a sensation in our body. So the first step is just noticing the sensation caused by fear or shame, without judgment, just observing. Just being mindful of sensation, not getting caught up in them. You’ll notice that neither shame nor fear is that bad, nothing to hate, they’re just sensations.
Step 2: From this place of noticing, we can become curious. What does this feel like? Where is it coming from? For example, we can feel shame and then be curious about how it feels in our body. Then notice that it’s coming from a sense of not liking something about ourselves. Why do we not like this thing about ourselves? Is there an ideal or expectation we’ve created that causes this dislike? Maybe I think I should be perfect at work or exercise, and I’m not living up to that. For fear … it often comes from a lack of trust, and a sense of uncertainty. Maybe we also have an ideal that there will be no uncertainty, only stability and control, and so fear comes up when this ideal isn’t met.
Step 3: Once we notice the ideal causing the shame or fear … we can begin to loosen our attachment to it. Is the ideal something that’s helpful? Is it harming us? Where did it come from? Who would we be without that ideal and the fear/shame that it causes? Imagine yourself without the ideal, and try it on like you would a new outfit. Imagine yourself completely trusting in an uncertain future, free of fear. Imagine yourself completely happy with yourself, free of any ideal of what you should be.
Step 4: With this new outfit — a lack of the ideal causing your shame/fear — see what it’s like to move around in the world without it. Who are you without the fear? Can you move around with a sense of trust in yourself and in the world? Can you move around with a sense of confidence, a sense of happiness in yourself, a sense of love for yourself? Try this on, and see what changes. See what actions you would take without the shame or fear. See how you show up differently.
This isn’t a simple or straightforward process, of course. It’s not as simple as snapping your fingers. But you can try it, and practice. Slowly, you might be able to let go of what ails you, and start to see the beauty in this moment that exists when we let go of what’s getting in the way.
Some Training with Me
If you’d like to retrain these patterns (and others), I’ve launched the Fearless Training Program on Patreon and would love for you to join me.
We’ll be working on:
- Pushing into our meaningful work with devotion, despite uncertainty
- Working mindfully with the emotions and habitual patterns that come up
- Courageously staying and working with fear and other difficulties, with an open heart
- Training in new patterns of openness, courage, gratitude and joy, in the midst of uncertainty
- Finding focus in the middle of all of that
It’ll be amazing. Let’s work on this together.
Join my Fearless Training Program on Patreon today.
By Leo Babauta
Our lives get filled with clutter not instantly but slowly, one gift or purchase at a time, so slowly that it’s difficult to even notice the clutter creep happening.
But it does happen, even to the most devoted of minimalists. If we’re not ever vigilant, clutter rises like a slow never-ebbing tide.
Stacks of paper, closets overflowing, floors slowly covered by things we’ve meant to get to, shelves spilling from books we haven’t gotten to, counters disappearing beneath piles.
It’s time to clear some space to breathe.
I’m issuing a challenge for this month: declutter your space.
Here’s how the challenge works:
- Commit to the challenge (#declutteredspace on Twitter, or wherever you’d like to publicly commit).
- Pick a space each week (your bedroom closet, the kitchen counter), and focus on clearing it out.
- Report to your peeps every Monday on how it went.
- Enjoy the hell out of your newly decluttered space. Breathe. Smile. Love.
I’d love it if you joined me in my Sea Change Program, where I’ve issued the Declutter Your Space Challenge and will be holding a live video webinar on my simple clutter method (Sat. July 7), and writing 3-4 articles to support your decluttering challenge.
The Joy of Decluttering
While taking on a declutter challenge can feel exciting at first, for some people, it can feel overwhelming. Another project to take on!
But actually, it can be a mindfulness practice, a time of reflection on your life and priorities, and quite a joy.
Imagine deciding to declutter your kitchen counter. Piled with crap, you look at it and feel overwhelmed. No worries! You take a deep breath, and start with one item. One thing to focus on. Narrowing your universe to one single thing: you look at it and fully consider it. Is this worthy of space in your life? Does it bring you joy or fill space needlessly?
Then you make a clear decision: this should stay. Or it should go. Then you take action: if it stays, find a permanent spot for it. If it goes, put it in a box to donate or recycle.
One thing at a time, you give an item your complete focus. This is a mindfulness practice of letting go of the world and just being with one item you’ve chosen to bring into your life. Breathing, noticing the texture of the object, giving full consideration of whether it belongs in your world, or whether you should practice letting go.
Letting go can be seen as difficult, as we notice our attachment to things. The things themselves aren’t the problem — it’s our attachment to them. So can we loosen that attachment by seeing the possibilities in openness and letting go? Can we explore a different path, with curiosity and gratitude?
Imagine you have a box full of items from your grandpa. So beautiful! But it’s taking space, and perhaps you can let go of attachment to these items you’ll never use, but hold the essence, the memories of your grandpa? Snap some pics, and create a ritual where you remember your grandpa every few months, looking at the photos, reminiscing about the influence he had on your life. And you explore that possibility, letting go and creating space for new memories.
The Space That Opens Up
When you start letting go of objects, your cluttered life starts to develop some space. Your desk becomes clear, your counters clear up, your bedroom floor is no longer littered with items, your living room becomes less crowded.
What good is this space? Doesn’t it start to feel empty and boring?
In my experience, the space creates openness. It feels freer and less stressful, because clutter brings with it the burden of ownership and maintenance, and the stress of unfinished business.
The space creates possibility: now that you’ve let go of 50 books and made a nice place in your living room to read, you can spend time each morning and evening in this clutter-free zone (even if your garage is still full!) and actually focus on reading the 10 books that remain on your shelf. By letting go of the clutter, we open space for what really matters.
By letting go, we are saying yes to freedom and joy.
Create space to make art. Create space to get active. Create space to reflect and journal. Create space to meditate, to contemplate, to be.
Join My Challenge
I’d love it if you joined me in this challenge by signing up for my Sea Change Program, where I’ve issued the Declutter Your Space Challenge.
In Sea Change, we will:
- Commit to this challenge to each other, and report on it each Monday.
- Have a live video webinar on my simple clutter method (Sat. July 7), where you can ask me questions.
- Give you 3-4 articles (written by me) to support your decluttering challenge.
- Celebrate our wins together!