A 3-Step Guide For Cultivating Extreme Gratitude

“Prepare to die, motherfucker!”

Sorry! Sorry! That was a bit harsh. It sounded cooler in my head. Let me try again.

“Hasta la vista, baby”, “Yippie ki yay, motherfucker!”

Damn it! Sorry! I did it again. One more time.

“Prepare yourself for death… motherfucker!”

I’m sorry, I just… I can’t help myself. I have a problem.

Anyway, what I actually want to say is, come to terms with your own mortality. 

Imagine it. Embrace it even. Picture your loved ones dying. Picture yourself slowly turning into dust. Become acutely aware of the fact that you, and everything you hold dear, are going to die.

Now, you might think I’m one crazy motherfucker for suggesting something so morbid – you might think that contemplating death will make you unhappy, however, studies have shown the opposite to be true. Those who deliberately stare into the abyss actually foster a “non-conscious orientation toward happy thoughts.” 

The Bhutansese, for example, considered to be some of the happiest people on earth, think about death, on average, five times a day. Five times! It turns out that death meditation is a very common Buddhist practise. You know those peaceful chaps with no hair and orange robes? Yeah, they even have a name for it called Maranasati.

Personally I’ve found it to be a very powerful tool. It’s something I practise every morning now. I find few things sober me up to my present reality more. Few things give me as much clarity for doing and saying what I should – for aligning my actions with my values. Few things make me feel so incredibly grateful for the fact that I’m still alive – for the things and the people in my life as it stands today.

Now, I should say there’s like 1 percent of the population who probably shouldn’t meditate on death (disclaimer/suggestion thingy), so if you have some sort of trauma or psychological instability then please consult a mental heath care professional first. For the rest of you, however, I suggest implementing the following 3 steps, like, now!

Here they are:

  1. Meditate on the death of your loved ones.
  2. Meditate on your own death. 
  3. Reflect on and revaluate your priorities, today

Here’s the exercise in full:

  1. While sitting up straight, bring your attention to your breathe for a few minutes. However long it takes to stop the monkey mind from dancing around, then bring to mind someone you love. Now, consider the reality that they will die. Imagine it happening. Imagining being by their side during their final moments. Allow yourself to feel any emotions that arise. Next, notice any thoughts you have – like what you would say to them.
  1. Next, spend a few minutes coming back to your breathe before considering the reality that you yourself will die. Make it clear that you don’t know when or how it will happen. As you inhale you can say to yourself, “This could be my last inhale.” As you exhale you say to yourself, “This could be my last exhale.” Next, allow yourself to feel any emotions that arise. Notice any thoughts you have – like what you wish you would have done or said during your life. 
  1. Next, let your eyes open and stop meditating. Take a few minutes to reflect on your response to the reality of death. Did you feel scared? Did any regrets pop up? What seems important to you now? Consider how can you use this knowledge to inform your decisions today. Ask yourself whether your priorities are aligned. Finally, take out your journal and write down any thoughts you have. Make a list of the 3 most important values/things in your life, then ask yourself how you can prioritise them today. Finally, get on it! 

The People Mirror Effect

“Your perception of me, is a reflection of you. My reaction to you is an awareness of me.” Unknown.

What do you do when you look at yourself in the mirror?

Maybe you comb your hair or have a shave. Maybe you brush and floss your teeth. Maybe you correct your posture. Maybe you examine the look in your eyes and evaluate your mood. Perhaps you decide to put on a smile. Either way I’m guessing you pay attention. I’m guessing you take the moment to show yourself some love. 

When you smile in the mirror what do you see? Your radiant self of course, but is that all? 

Can you see your mum and dad? Your brothers and sisters? Your children and grandchildren? Maybe you can see your friends or strangers you’ve never met. Maybe you can see the eyes of millions, generations long since passed, staring back at you. 

Look deeply enough and you’ll see far more than meets the eye.

If we look deeply at others we can also see they reflect the world around them. If you smile at them, they often smile back. And if they don’t, we often drop our own. In this case we become their mirror. 

This is something to be aware of. 

When we are mindless we become the mirrors of others. When others shout and harden their defences, we often do the same in response. Like a mirror image. So often in arguments you hear two people shouting with neither party listening. They might as well be shouting into a mirror.

It’s worth bearing in mind that people don’t just act like mirrors to other people, they often reflect the way the world has treated them. If the world stopped paying attention to them, they may reflect a lack of interest. If it treated them harshly they might act out in kind. The behaviours of someone often mirror something well beyond the person they’re interacting with. 

This is something else to be aware of. 

This is one reason why we shouldn’t take what others have to say so personally. Why we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. It’s also worth remembering that other people’s behaviour doesn’t reflect in you unless you let it. Unless you act mindlessly.

On the flip side when we are mindful, we can influence what others reflect back at us and the wider world. When we are mindful we can disarm the anger thrown at us. When we are mindful we can stand firm and make sure all that is reflected is love and kindness. It is when others are feeling the most pain and at their most vulnerable, that we have the best opportunity to act as mirrors to the good that exists in all of us. 

I believe we should pay the same care and attention we do ourselves in the mirror, to all those we encounter. Show them the same level of love. Maybe don’t start flossing their teeth, of course, but show them kindness all the same. The kindness and love they need. That we all do. 

Ultimately showing love and kindness to others is one of the greatest acts of self love. This is because, if you look deeply enough, you’ll see that person is you. And you are them. As one. 

It’s nice when we see ourselves smiling isn’t it?


(Thanks for reading everyone. I’m curious, do you believe our inner world is reflected back at us? Do you believe the outer world reflects our inner turmoil? Are our perceptions of others merely a reflection of ourselves? Please let us know below.)

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You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com


Tuesday’s Top Tip

You know how we’re always doing one thing but thinking about something else?

Like ALWAYS.

You know how this is an example of mindlessness not mindfulness?

Well I have a little hack for you today.

And it’s going to sound silly but I swear it works. 

Here it is:

When you’re doing something articulate it.

You don’t have to say it out loud of course (unless you want other people to think you’re lunatic) – in your head is fine – but be clear about what it is you’re doing in any giving moment.

For example, I am sitting down to read. I am walking to the shop. I am drinking water. I am eating lunch. I am sitting on the toilet. I am writing. I am exercising. I am brushing my teeth. I am scrolling on Facebook. 

You get the point.

The beauty is, not only will this make you more mindful, it makes you more aware.

I am having another beer. I am having another chocolate. I am throwing away another piece of plastic.

The idea is not to stop you from indulging in negative habits but to simply make you more aware of them. This, in turn, makes you aware of what you should be doing. That’s often enough to steer you in a slightly better direction.

So that’s it.

Todays top tip is to simply say what you’re doing as you’re doing it.

It’s an awesome mindfulness hack.

You’re welcome.

Previous Top Tip

Table(t) Manners

Growing up my dad always made a point about having good table manners. He made sure we never chewed food with our mouths open. That we always sat up straight. That we we set the table properly and cleared away and washed the dishes afterwards. 

One of the rules was if you didn’t cook, you clean! 

Now that I have kids of my own, I really see the value in what he strived to teach us. Good table manners says something important about who you are. More to the point, you are saying something important by having them. 

It shows respect to those around you. It expresses gratitude for both the food you are consuming and the people you are sharing it with. It demonstrates mindfulness, discipline, love, care… 

The list goes on. 

It’s not uncommon for us to sit down and eat a meal made with ingredients from all four corners of the globe. First grown and tendered to by farmers in remote regions. Then picked, processed and eventually shipped, or flown, thousands of miles to your local super market. 

Have ever stopped to think about the multitude of people involved in creating your dinner? 

When you look deeply there is a great deal to be grateful for. I’m not religious but I love the tradition of expressing gratitude before a meal for that reason. It’s a tradition I mean to instil in my own children. 

Anyway I bring this up because, when I look around at the table manners of today, there’s something that breaks my heart. And I’m guessing that you can all guess what I’m about to talk about. If you can’t, then maybe you should get off your phone (hint hint) and have a good look around. 

What do you see? Are we paying attention? Are we mindful of our surroundings? Are we expressing gratitude? And I mean really expressing it and really meaning it?

Let me get to the point. 

What do you think it says when you take out your phone to check something at the dinner table? How do you feel when someone else does it? Do you feel anything? Are you even bothered? Or is it just me?

Because to me it feels like this modern exception to the centuries old tradition of having good table etiquette. It feels like everyone has quietly decided that having phones at the table is an acceptable social norm in modern society. 

“I won’t say anything if you don’t.” [wink wink]

I wonder if this is because we’ve only been living with smartphones for the last 15 years? Because the parents of today weren’t raised in a world with smartphones? 

Or because parents don’t want to acknowledge they might have an addiction themselves? Because they haven’t worked out how to have a healthy relationship with them? 

I wonder how many parents are even aware of the damage they’re doing by letting their children look at screens every time they sit down for a meal? 

I see it with some of my friends and I find it alarming. And let me tell you, it’s very awkward when I have to explain to my two year old son, while eating over at our friend’s house, why he can’t look at a screen while sitting at the table but their kids can (true story).

I genuinely fear the screens we are bringing to the table are doing untold harm to our relationships. 

There are many times I’ve sat at dinner while having a great conversation when someone has decided to “check something” on their phone. Sometimes that something is related to the conversation but even so. Rarely have I found that person checks just one thing. No they get sucked in. The temptation to check several other social media and/or news apps is simply too great. 

And so they click click click, getting one dopamine hit after the next, until they finally “return” to the table where, not only has the conversation stalled, their head is scattered across the stratosphere. Completely frazzled from all the dopamine and cortisol surging around their system while ruminating about events over which they have no control. Or emails they checked but can’t reply to. (You know, because that really would be rude.)

Let’s be honest here. We have an addiction problem. I would be very surprised if it isn’t all of us who have, at some point, found ourselves unconsciously scrolling on our mobile phones. Perhaps it’s not outlandish to claim that maybe we pick up phones, more often than not, for no other reason than we simply want that hit? Because we crave it so much?

You might think these small moments here and there aren’t a big deal but I believe they add up. All the interactions we miss as a result – when we fail to look up and see the people at our table or elsewhere. These conversations that get interrupted all the time…

The mobile phone has become something to hide behind. A shield from having to face one’s actual reality. I believe this is, in no small part, why we have seen such a rise in rates of depression and anxiety among our adolescents.

As I draw this post to a close it occurs to me that I’m not really upset about the fact that our collective addictions are ruining our interactions at the dinner table (although I am), but that they are ruining our interactions everywhere. Our interactions even, simply, with the present moment.

It’s for this reason I feel the dining table should be the place where we all lay down a marker. Where we make it our last bastion in the household free from smartphones. A place where we make a stand for our children’s sake, so their lives aren’t completely ruled by the devices in their pockets. The place from which we make a fight back against the infringement of technology in everyday life. Where we stake a claim to be seen – at the very least – by our loved ones during this very precious period of the day.

Ladies and gentleman I believe it’s high time we brought our manners back to the table. That must mean leaving our phones off them.

Is that really asking for too much? 


Thanks for reading everyone. I’m aware that technology has been a blessing over the last year or so. Allowing us to connect with our loved ones from isolation. However that doesn’t detract from my feeling that our face to face interactions have been significantly harmed over the past decade by the smartphones we carry around. As a parent it’s our children I worry about the most. I am, of course, keen to get your thoughts and opinions on the matter. Let us know below. Warm regards, AP2 🙏

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You can see find more of AP2’s nonsensical world views and poor self-help advice here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

Tuesday’s Top Tip

Is life really so bad?

Is life really so fucked up?

Ok, yes, it is quite fucked up.

Still.

Is it not also rather pleasant?

Is it not also incredibly beautiful?

Is it not also extremely miraculous?

When you stop regurgitating the bullshit narratives fed to you by society over and over again in your mind.

When you consider that we live in one of the freest, safest and richest periods in human history.

When you simply put down your phone and look.

Do we not, in fact, have a great deal more to be grateful for given the odds of our very existence are so infinitesimally small?

You know the answer to this question of course.

The problem is you keep forgetting don’t you?

Which is why you’ve got to keep reminding yourself of how truly fortunate you really are.

It’s why you have to practise gratitude every opportunity you can.

It’s why you have to make being thankful a way of life.

Previous Top Tip

I Am The Fly

As I went for my walk around the park today I paused to observe a tree.

I started imagining what it must look like from the perspective of a fly. How each leaf – seemingly soo small – must be the size of an entire house.

How the whole tree is its neighbourhood. How the park is its city. The neighbourhood its country. The whole city its world. The whole world its galaxy…

At this point I realised the world is well beyond what the fly could ever comprehend. The fly has no idea just how small it really is.

Not. A. Clue.

Then it occurred to me.

I’m no different.

It occurred to me.

I am the fly.

NOTES FROM MY JOURNAL – APRIL 2020 – On COVID-19, Fear setting, practising Compassion, Gratitude, cultivating Mindfulness and more…

Hello fine readers and welcome to my monthly newsletter – a series of my thoughts and feelings from my journal.

Included is a round up of what I’ve been reading and writing, plus a collection of my favourite bits and pieces from around the web, and finally a collection of thoughts and ideas from yours truly. I hope you enjoy!


WHAT I’VE BEEN WRITING:

12 Personal Commandments for a Happier Life

As inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s wonderful Happiness Project, I decided to put together a list of my own 12 commandments for living a happier, healthier and more purposeful life.

5 Mindfulness Hacks to Help Bring You Back to the Present Moment

5 Mindfulness Hacks that I like to use informally throughout the day to help bring me back to and fully engage with the present moment.

How to Gain Enlightenment While Taking a Dump. – Favourite Books for Moments of Profound Pooing

A fun post about creating the habit of reading books while on the loo!

Am I doing this because of Fear or Love? – a question for motivation and guidance

A post based on the question; “Am I doing this because of love of fear?” that I heard from the following Tim Ferris podcast: Dr. Vivek Murthy — Former Surgeon General on Combatting COVID-19, Loneliness, and More  

Now is the time – What will you do with yours?

A piece to inspire action from isolation as inspired by the following Kitty O’Meara poem:

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

The Nature of my Child

A short post inspired by my son/this quote:

“Every child has a god in him. Our attempts to mould the child will turn the god into a devil – A. S. Neill


WHAT I’VE BEEN READING

BOOKS:

2 books have dominated my reading and re-reading for the past two months – both of which I can highly highly recommend reading, especially during this time of great uncertainty.

The first is RADICAL ACCEPTANCE by Tara Brach

From Amazon: “Writing with great warmth and clarity, Tara Brach brings her teachings alive through personal stories and case histories, fresh interpretations of Buddhist tales, and guided meditations. Step by step, she leads us to trust our innate goodness, showing how we can develop the balance of clear-sightedness and compassion that is the essence of Radical Acceptance.” 

The second is AWARENESS by SJ Anthony de Mello

Although written some time ago now – this book is the best I’ve read that translated to me what spirituality means and why cultivating greater awareness is something we all need.

Another book I can highly highly recommend is the beautifully illustrated ‘THE BOY, THE MOLE, THE FOX AND THE HORSE’  by Charlie Mackesy. 

It’s not only deeply moving and thought provoking, it’s a beautiful piece of art in its own right. I could pick any quote and it would be worth sharing, but I’ll leave you with just one that hit home for me on a personal level.

“What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” asked the boy… 

“Help”, said the horse.


OTHER BITS AND PIECES FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Fear setting – who Tim Ferris described as the most valuable exercise he does every month – is an exercise in defining some of your fears about a difficult decision you are considering making, versus the longer term costs of doing nothing. I used it this month to consider what might happen if I lost my job and found it a very reassuring exercise.

This inspirational video of a speech by Orator Jonathan Roberts addressing graduating seniors at Harvard’s Senior Class Day ceremony on May 24, 2017 at Tercentenary Theatre.

THOUGHTS & IDEAS FROM MY JOURNAL:

ON COVID-19, DEALING WITH FEAR, PRACTISING COMPASSION AND BEING GRATEFUL:

Gratitude, with rare exception, gives you a more accurate interpretation of reality.

Do not try to change people, that’s the wrong approach. Instead try only to help people.

The inability to forgive each other and people’s unwillingness to admit they’re wrong go hand in hand.

The Chinese character for crisis translates as danger + opportunity. I think this is brilliant. Danger meaning a need to be careful and vigilant – a need to act. But as with any crisis there is also opportunity for growth and to learn – to profit from setback.

Make your mission about helping others, not validating the ego. Make your mission about inspiring hope, not criticising others for acting out of fear. After all, are we not all irrational when acting from fear? Have compassion for those who are scared and forgive those who acted rashly and misled the public based on limited, information. We are all fools in this together. Don’t attack. Be kind.

ON DEVELOPING THE MIND AND MINDFULLNESS:

As a rule: Clarity first. Action second.

The great thing about momentum: eventually is becomes easy.

It matters less what you choose to do, but that you give that thing your undivided attention.

Everybody’s mind is filled with bullshit. Wisdom comes from shifting through that bullshit and picking out what you know to be true in your heart. 

The egos need for validation will never be satisfied! When you feed it, its appetite over time only grows. You have to let it go!

Your insecurities prevent you from showing your true self.

The desire for others to say something positive about me is a reflection of my own insecurities. 

Your resistance to other people only serves to strengthen their position in your mind.

The mind is a tool – something to be used. If you fail to remain aware, the mind will take over and use you.

Learning to continuously question your beliefs, to unlearn everything you’ve been taught, to treat what you know with a very large amount of skepticism, is one of the most important skills one can cultivate.

ON PURSING YOUR DREAMS/DOING THE THINGS YOU LOVE:

Doing the things you love gives you the energy to the do the things you need but don’t. 

Better to be happy in failure than unhappy in success.

Ask yourself whether you are making this decision because of fear or love. A perceived need for more money is often driven by a fear of losing out, a fear of not having, or losing the things you already have. Of course thats not always the case. If you’re doing it for your family, for a better education for your children, a better neighbourhood for them to grow up, for certain their security, then those decisions clearly stem from a place of love. However that’s often not the case. What I want to stress is to the need be clear of the reasons for choosing to pursue a certain career or path. If the decision is about finding purpose – follow your heart.

ON PARENTING

I think in our efforts to make something of our children, we often do a disservice to that which is already there. I don’t need to make him into anything. I simply need to encourage what is already there, for him to flourish and realise his full potential. 

There is no need to force parenting, just be present and you’ll understand what you should do.

ON HONESTY, EXPECTATIONS & FORGIVENESS

Being honest with someone is important, but unless you do it compassionately you’re probably wasting your time. People aren’t willing to receive rocks if you hurl them – they’re either going to duck and hide, or throw them back. 

The truth hurts because we are breaking down that persons reality – pointing something out they didn’t want to hear. That’s why it’s important to be kind, but to be kind while being courageous enough to tell them the truth.

People often expect an apology before they’re willing to forgive. Forgiveness should come first without any expectations. Ones apology will often be returned with far more sincerity if you do.