She lost her husband, her father and a pregnancy at 31.

Now she’s helping others explore grief.

Nora McInerny, a young widow, is host of the “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” podcast.

By Marjorie Brimley

Tears spill down Nora McInerny’s face as she stares at the recording studio’s ceiling.

“That was when the doctors told her the cancer was going to kill her,” the interviewee is saying.

“Wow,” McInerny says, letting the word rest in the air. The pause stretches far beyond a comfortable one. McInerny has a pained look on her face, yet she appears every bit the polished modern woman: her blond hair is curled, her red lipstick is still in place and there is a scarf tied in a perfect knot around her neck. In another studio, she could be working on a show about the latest fashion trends or young women in the workplace.

Instead, she’s hosting a podcast about the horrors that face humanity: cancer, suicide, sexual abuse, mass shootings.

Welcome to “Terrible, Thanks for Asking,” the podcast about “the complicated nature of difficult experiences,” as McInerny says.

Each week, the podcast digs deep. It allows listeners to think about the pain we live through, how we face it, tackle it, collapse under its weight. It gives permission to grieve, to go on living, to be happy and sad simultaneously. It’s about everything that life can throw at us and the myriad ways in which we must reimagine our lives. As McInerny writes in her newest book, “No Happy Endings: A Memoir,” “death is not the only time we start over

And McInerny is an expert in the subject.

“Terrible, Thanks for Asking” and all that has come after was born out of McInerny’s own grief. She launched it in 2016, as a 33-year-old single mom, just two years after losing her first husband, Aaron Purmort, to brain cancer. Weeks before Aaron died, she also suffered a miscarriage and watched her father die.Aaron’s obituary, which they wrote together, went viral, and people began contacting McInerny. “So many people . . . were reaching out to me, a complete stranger, in the middle of the night to talk about the worst thing that ever happened to them, and it wasn’t because they were all friendless or familyless,” she remembers. “It was just because the people around them were afraid to talk to them or didn’t want to remind them of their tragedy.”

Episodes include guests such as a young man with cerebral palsy; a woman who almost died in a fire that killed her boyfriend; an emergency-room doctor who watched her husband die in the hospital where she works.

Each story is filled with almost-unspeakable pain. And yet, the podcast has been listened to more than 14 million times.

Sitting on her couch recently in Minneapolis, McInerny recalls those early days after losing Aaron. As she talks, she looks at a wall-size photograph of the two of them holding their young son, Aaron’s adoring gaze forever watching over the bustling living room, so full of life.

Just then, McInerny’s husband, Matthew Hart, walks in holding their youngest child, who they affectionately call “baby.” Her 6-year-old, the one who calls Aaron “Dad” and Matthew “Matty-daddy,” runs in dressed like a shark, and she laughs. Two teenagers, Matthew’s kids from his first marriage, coordinate pickup from soccer practice that afternoon. McInerny’s mother shows up and begins chatting with Matthew and playing with the younger kids. And, of course, there’s a family dog.

The chaos and love surrounding McInerny is a perfect representation of her life.

“I do think most families are complicated and built from all of these fragmented other places, but we’d rather not think of it that way,” she says. Her family, in fact, isn’t just her new husband and their kids. It also includes Aaron’s family, especially his mother, whom she communicates with often. McInerny admits in her new book that she and Aaron’s mom initially “couldn’t do the grief together,” but now her family of six spends part of every winter break visiting her. “Aaron’s mother buys all the kids Christmas presents,” she says, “and they all call her May-May.”

The life that surrounds her is full of many positive things. Yet when she cries about Aaron with people outside her inner circle, she says, it can be a bit disconcerting to them. She understands that society believes she should be either happy or sad, but not necessarily both. “I think that most families hold both sad and happy feelings, and I don’t think I would have known that or assumed that before. In fact, I know I wouldn’t have.”

Nora McInerny hosts a podcast about “the complicated nature of difficult experiences.”

When Aaron was dying, the couple formed a nonprofit organization, Still Kickin, that gives no-strings-attached grants to people who are struggling. One recipient, a domestic violence survivor named Andi, recalls how the grant helped her move and support her family “during a very dark time.” This grant was “a bright light to me amidst so much darkness.”

After Aaron died, she started the Hot Young Widow’s Club, an online group, where thousands of young widows and widowers voice their struggles and triumphs. In those first months after Aaron’s death, she wrote the book “It’s Okay to Laugh: (Crying Is Cool Too)” and started the podcast. “No Happy Endings” came out in late March. This spring, she is touring with “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” (The show comes to D.C.’s Sixth and I on May 30.) McInerny is also launching “Nora Knows What to Say,” an advice series from The Lily, a publication of The Washington Post.

Even with such demands on her time, McInerny tries not to compromise her home life, going to the gym with her teenagers or snuggling on the couch with her little ones. Her work with grieving people lives alongside an otherwise normal life.

McInerny’s goal is not to sensationalize death and tragedy. “I know how it feels to just be somebody’s sad story. Nobody wants to be a sad story,” McInerny says. Instead, she aims to make a show that is about understanding the complex mix of joy and pain experienced by one person.

This means that if she’s doing a story, for example, about two law enforcement officers whose baby died of SIDS, she doesn’t spend weeks researching the various causes of infant death. Instead, she tries to understand an individual story. So McInerny lets the bereaved family talk with little interruption. The mother speaks through tears as she recalls seeing her husband the moment after tragedy hit. “All I could think of was hold it together,” she says, “because your husband just watched our son die.”

In these interviews, McInerny provides narration and a frame from which to view the story. In another episode, she interviews a Hmong woman named Yer Vu who was widowed, became a refugee and fled to the United States with three young children. “I carried [my youngest son] on my back,” the woman recalls as part of her harrowing tale of escape which also involved fording a river in a war zone. “If there was no God, maybe we would have died,” Yer Vu says.

There is a slight pause, and then the listener hears the voice of McInerny. “Yer Vu credits God,” she narrates, “and I credit Yer Vu. Because that is more motherhood than I have or will ever do in my entire life.”

Her authenticity has brought some unexpected voices to her podcast, such as Nation Hahn, who was drawn to the podcast because he felt she could tell his story in a way that other media had not. His episode, which focuses on how he processed the murder of his wife while being simultaneously thrust into a media spotlight, gave him a platform to tell his whole story. “I admire [McInerny] for her tenacity and willingness to explore tough issues while building community,” Hahn says. “As someone who is still very much experiencing grief years later, ‘Terrible, Thanks for Asking’ offers a path forward, helpful advice, and reminds me that I am not alone in the face of this terrible loss.”

McInerny says her goal is to promote empathy instead of pity. So even though the topics she covers can be quite grim, the show itself is not. She laughs often while talking to guests and usually gets them to laugh, too.

“I don’t want the show to be a relentless bummer,” she says. Still, she believes in the importance of facing difficult subjects head-on. “We do a really good job, especially the U.S., of making sure we avoid everything uncomfortable,” McInerny says. But running from pain is impossible, because “it will catch you eventually. So you might as well be open to the experience and open to witnessing those experiences in other people because someday something terrible is going to happen to you or to someone you love. Actually, that’s a guarantee.”

But why continue to immerse herself in tragedy when she’s already been through so much loss?

“Sometimes, I don’t want to do it,” McInerny concedes, but then there are times when she feels inspired by the stories she hears. Moreover, she wants these conversations about death and loss and hardship to become more commonplace. Notes from listeners explain how she may have an even wider impact than she initially imagined.

“I think you saved my life tonight,” wrote a man named Jim who told her he had been struggling with depression. “You kept me awake tonight, and now I know tomorrow will be better.”

McInerny recognizes that letting in all of this pain is difficult for most people. In fact, she found it really hard to engage in such discussions before she had to face her husband’s cancer and death. She knows that it might be impossible for her to ever really understand what grief feels like for someone who has experienced a different tragedy. “But at the same time,” she says, “very untimely and tragic death does give you some sort of access to each other.”

Maybe this is what makes her so effective at getting people to open up about their lives. Or maybe it’s just that McInerny has that certain touch — the one that helps people tell the entirety of their stories, rather than be reduced to a simple anecdote.

The topics she tackles may be difficult, but, she says, “These are things that everybody has always been trying to connect over since the dawn of time, right? The few things that we all have in common are love and want and death.”

Complete Article HERE!

‘Swedish death cleaning’ is the new decluttering trend

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It’s not what it sounds like.

My mother used to be addicted to the thrift store. She went every week for no purpose other than to browse for deals. Of course she found deals, being the shrewd and careful shopper that she is — gold earrings, fine china sets, silverware, high-quality linens, kitchen appliances, to name a few. The problem was that these deals came home. They filled the house, packing shelves and occupying counter space, to the point of feeling cramped.

Several years ago, I said to my mother in frustration, “It would be a nightmare to have to deal with all this stuff if you died tomorrow.” She looked at me, stunned. Up until then, I suspect she’d assumed that everyone appreciated her junk-treasures as much as she did. What ensued, mercifully, was a house purge. Mom removed much of her stuff and ceased her weekly pilgrimages to the thrift store, avoiding temptation.

That conversation revealed to me the importance of discussing the long-term intentions for one’s belongings. If I hadn’t said anything, I suspect it would have been decades before my 50-something-year-old mother realized what a burden her stuff would be on the family someday — and just think of all the additional things she could’ve accumulated in that time. It makes me shiver.

Enter “Swedish Death Cleaning.” (I’m not joking. This is for real.)

The first time I heard the term, I thought it meant some kind of hardcore Scandinavian house-cleaning routine (they take a lot of things seriously there), where you scour your home from top to bottom to the point of physical collapse, as in “working yourself to the bone.” Well, I was wrong.

The first time I heard the term, I thought it meant some kind of hardcore Scandinavian house-cleaning routine (they take a lot of things seriously there), where you scour your home from top to bottom to the point of physical collapse, as in “working yourself to the bone.” Well, I was wrong.

In Swedish, the word is “dostadning” and it refers to the act of slowly and steadily decluttering as the years go by, ideally beginning in your fifties (or at any point in life) and going until the day you kick the bucket. The ultimate purpose of death cleaning is to minimize the amount of stuff, especially meaningless clutter, that you leave behind for others to deal with.

A woman by the name of Margareta Magnusson, who says she’s between 80 and 100, has written a book titled “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to free yourself and your family from a lifetime of clutter.” She says she has moved house 17 times over the course of her lifetime, which is why “I should know what I am talking about when it comes to deciding what to keep and what to throw away”. Reviewer Hannah-Rose Yee, who practiced some Swedish death cleaning herself, describes it as being “like Marie Kondo, but with an added sense of the transience and futility of this mortal existence.”

Magnusson says that the first secret to effective death cleaning is to speak about it always. Tell others what you’re doing so they can hold you accountable. Yee writes: “If you vocalise it, it will come. Or something like that.” Pass on your belongings in order to spread the happy memories.

The second key point is not to fear death cleaning:

“Death cleaning isn’t the story of death and its slow, ungainly inevitability. But rather the story of life, your life, the good memories and the bad. ‘The good ones you keep,’ Magnusson says. ‘The bad you expunge.'”

Finally, Magnusson encourages those engaging in Swedish death cleaning to reward their efforts with life-enhancing pleasures and activities, such as going to watch a movie, spending time in the garden, or eating an enjoyable meal. (Need I say no shopping?)

Who can possibly resist a decluttering philosophy with the name of ‘Swedish death cleaning’? Watch your friends’ eyebrows skyrocket when you pull this one out as an excuse for not wanting to go out next weekend. “Sorry, but I must engage in my Swedish death cleaning routine…”

Complete Article HERE!

After 73 Years of Marriage, This Canadian Couple Chose to Die on Their Own Terms

This is a truly beautiful story about two people dying.

By Hemant Mehta

George and Shirley Brickenden, who are 95 and 94, respectively, decided they didn’t want to wait any longer for death to arrive. They’d been married for 73 years and their bodies weren’t faring so well. Shirley had a heart attack in 2016 and nearly died; she now had rheumatoid arthritis and was in constant pain. George was found passed out, unconscious, on his birthday and his heart was also failing.

Under Canadian law, both of them qualify for what’s known as physician-assisted death. They’re older than 18, Canadian citizens, mentally competent, suffering from a “serious and incurable disease, illness or disability,” and in an “‘advanced state of irreversible decline,’ with enduring and intolerable suffering.” Furthermore, there was no coercion involved. They checked off all the boxes.

And both of them decided to end their lives together, in peace, at the same time last week.

Shortly before 7 p.m., Mrs. Brickenden turned to her husband. “Are you ready?

“Ready when you are,” he replied.

They walked into their bedroom and lay down together, holding hands. The two doctors, one for each patient, inserted intravenous lines into their arms.

Angela rubbed her mom’s feet. [Pamela] rubbed her dad’s. “They smiled, they looked at each other,” Pamela said. Then Mr. Brickenden looked at his children, standing at the end of the bed.

“I love you all,” he said.

This is exactly why the law was passed. Forcing people to live in pain is a form of torture. The Brickendens were able to get their lives in order, say goodbye one last time to their children, and end life hand in hand with the person they love most. If you were to imagine your own perfect death, it would probably look something like that.

And yet there are many religious groups that oppose letting people make that decision because it’s thwarting God’s plan for their lives. They’re so “pro-life,” they would rather see people suffer than die on their own terms. In some cases, like when a dying patient ends up at a Catholic hospital that doesn’t allow the procedure, the result is even more cruelty.

In Canada, however, this is now a legal procedure with sensible hurdles in place to prevent people from abusing it. It was made for situations like these. There may be certain situations where the moral thing to do isn’t always obvious, but this isn’t one of them.

Their mutual obituary is really incredible:

As age and overwhelming infirmities overtook them, on a beautiful spring day, after 73 years of marriage, they toasted each other with family and good champagne, held hands and left this life gently and together, on their own terms. This was their final act of love, hoping their act will pave the way for others who are suffering. They were fully at peace with this decision and had the support of their four devoted children who have always known this was how they wanted it to be when the time came. We are all forever grateful for the compassionate assistance of Dying with Dignity. They have blessed this earth together for 73 years and it’s time for them to bless the stars.

Instead of flowers, they asked for supporters to make donations to Dying with Dignity.

In the United States, death with dignity is only legal in six states and Washington, D.C. That leaves a lot of places where people who are ready to end life are forced to prolong it against their will. That needs to change.

Complete Article HERE!

The funeral as we know it is becoming a relic

— just in time for a death boom

By Karen Heller

Dayna West knows how to throw a fabulous memorial shindig. She hired Los Angeles celebration-of-life planner Alison Bossert — yes, those now exist — to create what West dubbed “Memorialpalooza” for her father, Howard, in 2016 a few months after his death.

“None of us is going to get out of this alive,” says Bossert, who helms Final Bow Productions. “We can’t control how or when we die, but we can say how we want to be remembered.”

And how Howard was remembered! There was a crowd of more than 300 on the Sony Pictures Studios. A hot-dog cart from the famed L.A. stand Pink’s. Gift bags, the hit being a baseball cap inscribed with “Life’s not fair, get over it” (a beloved Howardism). A constellation of speakers, with Jerry Seinfeld as the closer (Howard was his personal manager). And babka (a tribute to a favorite “Seinfeld” episode).

“My dad never followed rules,” says West, 56, a Bay Area clinical psychologist. So why would his memorial service

Death is a given, but not the time-honored rituals. An increasingly secular, nomadic and casual America is shredding the rules about how to commemorate death, and it’s not just among the wealthy and famous. Somber, embalmed-body funerals, with their $9,000 industry average price tag, are, for many families, a relic. Instead, end-of-life ceremonies are being personalized: golf-course cocktail send-offs, backyard potluck memorials, more Sinatra and Clapton, less “Ave Maria,” more Hawaiian shirts, fewer dark suits. Families want to put the “fun” in funerals

The movement will only accelerate as the nation approaches a historic spike in deaths. Baby boomers, despite strenuous efforts to stall the aging process, are not getting any younger. In 2030, people over 65 will outnumber children, and by 2037, 3.6 million people are projected to die in the United States, according to the Census Bureau, 1 million more than in 2015, which is projected to outpace the growth of the overall population

Just as nuptials have been transformed — who held destination weddings in the ’90s? — and gender-reveal celebrations have become theatrical productions, the death industry has experienced seismic changes over the past couple of decades. Practices began to shift during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, when many funeral homes were unable to meet the needs of so many young men dying, and friends often hosted events that resembled parties.

Now, many families are replacing funerals (where the body is present) with memorial services (where the body is not). Religious burial requirements are less a consideration in a country where only 36 percent of Americans say they regularly attend religious services, nearly a third never or rarely attend, and almost a quarter identify as agnostic or atheist, according to the Pew Research Center.

Funeral homes adapt
More than half of all American deaths lead to cremations, compared to 28 percent in 2002, due to expense (they can cost a third the price of a burial), the environment, and family members living far apart with less ability to visit cemetery plots, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. By 2035, the cremation rate is projected to be a staggering 80 percent, the association says. And cremation frees loved ones to stage a memorial anywhere, at any time, and to store or scatter ashes as they please. (Maintenance of cemeteries, if families stop using them, may become a preservation and financial problem

Past funeral association president Mark Musgrove, who runs a network of funeral homes and chapels in Eugene, Ore., says his industry, already marked by consolidation, is adapting to changing demands.

“Services are more life-centered, around the person’s personality, likes and dislikes. They’re unique and not standardized,” he says. “The only way we can survive is to provide the services that families find meaningful.”

Funeral homes have hired event planners, remodeled drab parlors to include dance floors and lounge areas, acquired liquor licenses to replace the traditional vat of industrial-strength coffee. In Oregon, where cremation rates are near 80 percent, Musgrove has organized memorial celebrations at golf courses and Autzen Stadium, home of the Ducks. He sells urns that resemble giant golf balls and styles adorned with the University of Oregon logo. In a cemetery, his firm installed a “Peace Columbarium,” a retrofitted 1970s VW van, brightly painted with “Peace” and “Love,” to house urns.

Change has sparked nascent death-related industries in a culture long besotted with youth. There are death doulas (caring for the terminally ill), death cafes (to discuss life’s last chapter over cake and tea), death celebrants (officiants who lead end-of-life events), living funerals (attended by the honored while still breathing), and end-of-life workshops (for the healthy who think ahead). The Internet allows lives to continue indefinitely in memorial Facebook pages, tribute vlogs on YouTube and instamemorials on Instagram.

Memorials are no longer strictly local events. As with weddings and birthdays, families are choosing favorite vacation idylls as final resting spots. Captain Ken Middleton’s Hawaii Ash Scatterings performs 600 cremains dispersals a year for as many as 80 passengers on cruises that may feature a ukulele player, a conch-shell blower and releases of white doves or monarch butterflies.

“It makes it a celebration of life and not such a morbid affair,” says Middleton. His service is experiencing annual growth of 15 to 20 percent.

From coffins to compost
With increased concern for the environment, people are opting for green funerals, where the body is placed in a biodegradable coffin or shroud.

The industry is literally thinking outside the box.

“My work is letting people connect with the natural cycle as they die,” says Katrina Spade of Recompose in Seattle, who considers herself part of the “alternative death-care movement.” If its legislature grants approval this month, Washington will become the first state in the nation to approve legalized human composting. Her company plans to use wood chips, alfalfa and straw to turn bodies into a cubic yard of top soil in 30 days. That soil could be used to fertilize a garden, or a grove of trees, the body literally returned to the earth.

Spade questions why death should be a one-event moment, rather than an opportunity to create an enduring tradition, a deathday, to honor the deceased: “I want to force my family to choose a ritual that they do every year.”

Death has inspired Etsy-like enterprises that transform a loved one’s ashes into vinyl, “diamonds,” jewelry and tattoos. Ashes to ashes, dust to art.

After Seattle artist Briar Bates died in 2017 at age 42, four dozen friends performed her joyous water ballet in a public wading pool, “a fantastic incarnation of Briar’s spirit,” says friend Carey Christie. “Anything other than denial that you’re going to die is a healthy step in our culture.”

Funeral consultant Elizabeth Meyer wrote the memoir “Good Mourning” and named her website Funeral Guru Liz. Her motto: “Bringing Death to Life.” She notes, “Most people do not plan. What’s changing is more people are talking about it, and the openness of the conversation. Our world will be a better place when people let their wishes be known.”

In 2012, Amy Pickard’s mother “died out of the blue.” She was unprepared but also transformed. Now, she’s “the death girl,” an advocate for the “death-positive movement,” sporting a “Life is a near-death experience” T-shirt, teaching people how to plan by hosting monthly Good to Go parties in Los Angeles and offering a $60 “Departure File,” 50 pages to address almost every need.

“We’re still in the really early days of super-creative funerals. There’s this censorship of death and grief,” Pickard says. “You have the rest of your life to be sad over the person who died. The hope is to celebrate their time on Earth and who they were.”

Overshadowing grief?
Some practitioners worry that death has taken a holiday, and grief is too frequently banished in end-of-life celebrations that seem like birthday blowouts.

“Do you think we’re getting too happy with this?” asks Amy Cunningham, director of the Inspired Funeral in Brooklyn. “You can’t pay tribute to someone who has died without acknowledging the death and sadness around it. You still have to dip into reality and not ignore the fact that they’re absent now

But even sadness is being treated differently. In some services, instead of offering hollow platitudes that barely relate to the deceased, “we are getting a new radical honesty where people are openly talking about alcoholism, drug use and the tough times the person experienced,” Cunningham says. Suicide, long hidden, appears more in obituaries; opioid addiction, especially, is addressed in services.

West, who hosted such a memorable send-off for her father, has some plans for her own: “Great food and live music, preferably Latin-inspired,” and “my personal possessions are auctioned off,” the proceeds benefiting a children’s charity. Why can’t a memorial serve as a fundraiser?

An avid traveler, West plans to designate friends to disperse her cremains in multiple locations “that have significance in my life” and leave funds to subsidize those trips — a global, destination ash-scattering.

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

How to Be Present in the Moment

Many of us are so used to living in the past or the future that we have no awareness of what being in the present means. Recent research has shown that we are not as conscious as we think we are. In fact, we are unconscious most of the time as we move about our day, with […]

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Many of us are so used to living in the past or the future that we have no awareness of what being in the present means. Recent research has shown that we are not as conscious as we think we are. In fact, we are unconscious most of the time as we move about our day, with only specific decisions making their way into our consciousness. Because of this, we struggle to live in the present because our mind swings from thought to thought, only briefly settling somewhere that captures our truest form of attention. To become more mindful and present in your life, focus on these three areas.

Unselfconsciousness

Thinking about yourself and how you appear to others takes you out of the moment. When in a situation you already feel anxious about, focusing on the anxious feeling worsens it. Instead of focusing on what’s going on in your head, think instead of what’s happening around you and how you are a part of that. Mindfulness blurs the line that exists between yourself and others. Without feelings of self-consciousness, you’re able to witness the passing of feelings and perception of being evaluated by others without feeling threatened and taking it personally.

Savoring

Being so caught up in our thoughts prevents us from truly experiencing and enjoying our own lives. Instead of appreciating what we’re experiencing, we think of when the next time we’ll get to experience this again is or how the experience could be better. Learning how to direct your attention allows you to become an expert at savoring the present moment. No matter what the moment is, take note of how you’re feeling in all of your senses. Taking a few extra minutes to savor daily activities helps you to feel more joy and happiness and fewer depressive symptoms. Savor the taste of food, rather than gulping it down. Savor the feeling of fresh air as you walk to your car rather than re-playing what happened in your meeting. Savor the smell of your favorite cologne, perfume or lotion to bring yourself into the moment. Because the majority of negative thoughts involve the past or future, thinking in the present forces you to stop ruminating on the past and stop catastrophizing about the future.

Acceptance

When faced with pain or discomfort, our natural reaction is to avoid it. Resisting unpleasant feelings and thoughts means you don’t have to face them. Humans have two types of emotions: primary and secondary. Secondary emotions are ones that we feel around other feelings. When we feel stressed out about being busy at work, the primary emotion is the stress surrounding your workload. The secondary emotion is hating feeling stressed. Instead of fighting these emotions, allow yourself to take them in. Be open to how you feel in the present moment without judging your feelings or trying to push them away. Focusing on your secondary emotions instead of feeling your primary ones actually prolongs the negative feelings. Accepting these emotions doesn’t mean you like them and want to feel this way forever. It instead means that there are some things you can’t change, and how you feel right now is one of those things. Accepting your feelings doesn’t mean resigning to them.

Applying these three techniques will help you develop PRESENCE. When you are able to bring your presence to each situation in your life, be it at work, in your relationship, or even when hanging out with friends, the quality of your life experience will increase dramatically.

Complete Article HERE!

How to Live Life with a Conscious Mind

The power to think and act is special to human beings and we must exercise this power in whatever we do. The major hindrance “to think and act” is an alliance between our opinion about ourselves and how we should live our life. To live life more consciously we need to break this alliance and […]

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The power to think and act is special to human beings and we must exercise this power in whatever we do.

The major hindrance “to think and act” is an alliance between our opinion about ourselves and how we should live our life. To live life more consciously we need to break this alliance and focus on these two factors independently.

In the first case, when we make an opinion, we keep ourselves on a higher level, which means we consider ourselves different from others and in that consideration, we pose ourselves as superior.

This superiority is reflected in our thoughts and actions. In whatever we do, we begin comparing ourselves with others and take key decisions of our lives. It gets into our habit and makes us do things unconsciously.

It creates a chain like we meet one person in life whom we admire, we want to become like that person, we copy the traits of that person, get a superior feeling, and then find the next person to admire and copy.

We do this unconsciously, churning out copies of human traits.

Breaking the Habit

Some habits may seem useful.

For example, we often read about people who have transformed their lives by doing a particular thing, and we also want to give it a try. At that moment, we start believing that key to the happiness of our lives, the missing link, is that one thing which we are not doing.

This unconscious habit of copying others, setting other people as standard, and achieve that standard to feel superior or make our lives better than what we have now tied ourselves into a never-ending loop.

To break this habit, we must keep ourselves in the center, and learn about our “self” and do things that make that “self” happy.

Demolish the Boundaries

There are many boundaries we have set against “living our life”. Some boundaries are social, some are mental, and others are physical.

We live our entire life within these boundaries because again we attach a sense of superiority to them.

A common example is we decide what we should wear and where should we live within these boundaries. And we create opinions based on that, like a person of a certain age should get married, a person of a certain age should wear this, a person studying should behave like this.

We act and live within the periphery of the boundary, like a cow tied to a post, whereas the world and our ability to do the things in the world is vast.

To live life with a conscious mind, we need to see things in a more open perspective. We need to get into the life, whatever may come, explore the world with a conscious, open mind, and to do that we need to demolish the boundaries we have set to live our life in certain away.

Follow No Pattern

The moment you see that you are following a certain pattern, getting married at a certain age, making a boyfriend because everybody near you is having a boyfriend, wanting to make money as most of the people around you are rich, you need to stop right there.

Keep yourself in the center, shake off pattern, think consciously like what you want and start living a life that you totally own.

Complete Article HERE!

The Shortness of Life:

Seneca on Busyness and the Art of Living Wide Rather Than Living Long

By Maria Popova

How we spend our days, Annie Dillard memorably wrote in her soul-stretching meditation on the life of presence, “is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And yet most of us spend our days in what Kierkegaard believed to be our greatest source of unhappiness — a refusal to recognize that “busy is a decision” and that presence is infinitely more rewarding than productivity. I frequently worry that being productive is the surest way to lull ourselves into a trance of passivity and busyness the greatest distraction from living, as we coast through our lives day after day, showing up for our obligations but being absent from our selves, mistaking the doing for the being.

Despite a steadily swelling human life expectancy, these concerns seem more urgent than ever — and yet they are hardly unique to our age. In fact, they go as far back as the record of human experience and endeavor. It is unsurprising, then, that the best treatment of the subject is also among the oldest: Roman philosopher Seneca’s spectacular 2,000-year-old treatise On the Shortness of Life (public library) — a poignant reminder of what we so deeply intuit yet so easily forget and so chronically fail to put into practice.

Seneca writes:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.

Millennia before the now-tired adage that “time is money,” Seneca cautions that we fail to treat time as a valuable resource, even though it is arguably our most precious and least renewable one:

People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.

To those who so squander their time, he offers an unambiguous admonition:

You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply — though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last. You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire… How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!

Nineteen centuries later, Bertrand Russell, another of humanity’s greatest minds, lamented rhetorically, “What will be the good of the conquest of leisure and health, if no one remembers how to use them?” But even Seneca, writing in the first century, saw busyness — that dual demon of distraction and preoccupation — as an addiction that stands in the way of mastering the art of living:

No activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied … since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply, but rejects everything which is, so to speak, crammed into it. Living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man; yet there is nothing which is harder to learn… Learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.

In our habitual compulsion to ensure that the next moment contains what this one lacks, Seneca suggests, we manage to become, as another wise man put it, “accomplished fugitives from ourselves.” Seneca writes:

Everyone hustles his life along, and is troubled by a longing for the future and weariness of the present. But the man who … organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the next day… Nothing can be taken from this life, and you can only add to it as if giving to a man who is already full and satisfied food which he does not want but can hold. So you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long. For suppose you should think that a man had had a long voyage who had been caught in a raging storm as he left harbor, and carried hither and thither and driven round and round in a circle by the rage of opposing winds? He did not have a long voyage, just a long tossing about.

Seneca is particularly skeptical of the double-edged sword of achievement and ambition — something David Foster Wallace would later eloquently censure — which causes us to steep in our cesspool of insecurity, dissatisfaction, and clinging:

It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return. New preoccupations take the place of the old, hope excites more hope and ambition more ambition. They do not look for an end to their misery, but simply change the reason for it.

This, Seneca cautions, is tenfold more toxic for the soul when one is working for the man, as it were, and toiling away toward goals laid out by another:

Indeed the state of all who are preoccupied is wretched, but the most wretched are those who are toiling not even at their own preoccupations, but must regulate their sleep by another’s, and their walk by another’s pace, and obey orders in those freest of all things, loving and hating. If such people want to know how short their lives are, let them reflect how small a portion is their own.

In one particularly prescient aside, Seneca makes a remark that crystallizes what is really at stake when a person asks, not to mention demands, another’s time — an admonition that applies with poignant precision to the modern malady of incessant meeting requests and the rather violating barrage of People Wanting Things:

All those who call you to themselves draw you away from yourself.

[…]

I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response. Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself — as if nothing there is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap — in fact, almost without any value.

He suggests that protecting our time is essential self-care, and the opposite a dangerous form of self-neglect:

Nobody works out the value of time: men use it lavishly as if it cost nothing… We have to be more careful in preserving what will cease at an unknown point.

He captures what a perilous form of self-hypnosis our trance of busyness is:

No one will bring back the years; no one will restore you to yourself. Life will follow the path it began to take, and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly. It will not lengthen itself for a king’s command or a people’s favor. As it started out on its first day, so it will run on, nowhere pausing or turning aside. What will be the outcome? You have been preoccupied while life hastens on. Meanwhile death will arrive, and you have no choice in making yourself available for that.

But even “more idiotic,” to use his unambiguous language, than keeping ourselves busy is indulging the vice of procrastination — not the productivity-related kind, but the existential kind, that limiting longing for certainty and guarantees, which causes us to obsessively plan and chronically put off pursuing our greatest aspirations and living our greatest truths on the pretext that the future will somehow provide a more favorable backdrop:

Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.

Seneca reframes this with an apt metaphor:

You must match time’s swiftness with your speed in using it, and you must drink quickly as though from a rapid stream that will not always flow… Just as travelers are beguiled by conversation or reading or some profound meditation, and find they have arrived at their destination before they knew they were approaching it; so it is with this unceasing and extremely fast-moving journey of life, which waking or sleeping we make at the same pace — the preoccupied become aware of it only when it is over.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his own occupation, Seneca points to the study of philosophy as the only worthwhile occupation of the mind and spirit — an invaluable teacher that helps us learn how to inhabit our own selves fully in this “brief and transient spell” of existence and expands our short lives sideways, so that we may live wide rather than long. He writes:

Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are really alive. For they not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but they annex every age to theirs. All the years that have passed before them are added to their own. Unless we are very ungrateful, all those distinguished founders of holy creeds were born for us and prepared for us a way of life. By the toil of others we are led into the presence of things which have been brought from darkness into light.

[…]

From them you can take whatever you wish: it will not be their fault if you do not take your fill from them. What happiness, what a fine old age awaits the man who has made himself a client of these! He will have friends whose advice he can ask on the most important or the most trivial matters, whom he can consult daily about himself, who will tell him the truth without insulting him and praise him without flattery, who will offer him a pattern on which to model himself.

Perhaps most poignantly, however, Seneca suggests that philosophy offers a kind of spiritual reparenting to those of us who didn’t win the lottery of existence and didn’t benefit from the kind of nurturing, sound, fully present parenting that is so essential to the cultivation of inner wholeness:

We are in the habit of saying that it was not in our power to choose the parents who were allotted to us, that they were given to us by chance. But we can choose whose children we would like to be. There are households of the noblest intellects: choose the one into which you wish to be adopted, and you will inherit not only their name but their property too. Nor will this property need to be guarded meanly or grudgingly: the more it is shared out, the greater it will become. These will offer you a path to immortality and raise you to a point from which no one is cast down. This is the only way to prolong mortality — even to convert it to immortality.

On the Shortness of Life is a sublime read in its pithy totality. Complement it with some Montaigne’s timeless lessons on the art of living and Alan Watts on how to live with presence.

Thanks, Liz

Complete Article HERE!