focusing on living

I’m going to cleverly pretend I haven’t skipped a month’s worth of blogs and instead jump right into it: we need to focus.

I don’t mean focus on a task, although surely that’s a real possibility. Instead, what I mean is focusing on existence. Focusing on knowing who we are and what we can do. Focusing on living, on making the most out of every day.

The truth is, I love movies. I love TV shows, Youtube videos, and generally wasting my life watching ridiculous things that make me forget my worries. Media is a more successful numbing device than most drugs because it’s socially acceptable.

Media, however, is the sort of thing whose excess can drain us of all our will. It’s not just that though. Everyone has that thing that wastes time. They have that area of their life where it’s easier to just go along with it than force yourself to stop and do something that you’d enjoy better.

You know what makes an artist good? Practice. Creative talents may limit the where and what of an artists’ content, but some good ol’ practice is the primary thing that makes them good at what they do. Cooking is the same thing. Exercising is the same thing. The bottom line is if you want to do something, you need to start doing it.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t rest. Of course, we should! We need to be still more. We need to drink coffee or tea in the morning and just let time itself be. We need more sleep, more downtime with people we care about, and plenty of other things. Absolutely we need to relax. My chief argument is with the habit we have of using activities as escapism, rather than approaching life as something we are living.

Maybe we feel controlled and limited by the things around us. That’s because we are. We limit others, and others limit us. When we exist in a social world, our lives end up entangling with each other, and it becomes harder to separate the individual from the group. Having that social trust and interaction is precious, above the individual at times.

Yet we also need agency. Your life is your own. We can give out our love, our time, our being to other people, but the only person who experiences what this world has to offer is you.  Your actions, whatever they end up being, fall on you.

So focus! Focus on existing, on asking yourself why are you doing what you are doing, and if it’s the right thing to do. Check in with yourself, we only have so much life to live.

realignment after existential crisis

Sometimes the best way to realign ourselves is to think, “What if I were a peasant?” At the very least, I find it helpful because there are so many things we have now that we didn’t. There’s the basic stuff like vaccines, air conditioners, electric lights, washing machines, and so forth, but it’s more than that.

The average peasant probably never left their little village more than once. Perhaps a single person from their village left to get supplies from a big city, traveling for weeks to buy a fabulous luxury, like a ribbon and other important things for farming. Reading about old cities, it’s clear that the cities were disgusting, and diseases were everywhere. This is largely before the advent of sanitation systems (ignoring the Indus River Valley and Rome), so the filth would likely shock us to our core if we were to travel back to see it.

With the strict hierarchies, abuses of civil rights (not that they even understood the concept), a people’s only focus was survival. They didn’t have to deal with the higher questions, because their local religious or magical specialist told them everything they needed to know. When we have time to think about the premises and beliefs we hold, things get more complicated. We start to consider why we are here, we begin to have this idea that we are meant to be here for a reason. Or, at the very least, we tend to look for a reason.

It is in this stage that there is a proclivity we have to wish we were back in the past. After all, if we lived in some ancient Greek time, we wouldn’t have to wonder about our lot in life, we would trust it to be destined, with none of the ambiguity of modern life where the roles themselves change faster than our biology can keep up. Even for the religious, faith becomes more difficult when we have more control over our actions. If you want to honor God as a peasant, you go to church, don’t steal your neighbor’s cow, etc. If you want to honor God now, you have to watch your behavior in a far more complex social situation, likely doing far more intellectual work.

But here’s the catch: we shouldn’t want to be in the past. For as much existential pain quelling going back in history might solve, the worse and worse the physical circumstances get. Humans need stress, need pain. Being uncomfortable motivates us to get out and do things. If we were perfect, we would have no motivation for existence. When we are okay internally, we are likely focusing on surviving the external. When we are okay externally, we are likely focusing on surviving the internal. The burden and type of stress have changed, but everyone is suffering, no matter where or when they are.

We have a limited amount of control over what happens around us, and what happens inside our own heads. To be sure, we are more in control than we might think, but there is always a wild element involved. We aren’t sure about the future, our faulty memories may make us unsure about the past, but we can always find solace in the moment (Thus the success of things like meditation and mindfulness in helping anxiety and depression). Whether or not you have faith in an afterlife or the divine or even a plan for your existence, the fact is you are here right now.

You are not alone in your hurting, and you are not alone in your rejoicing. Whatever this life business is, you are alive. You are living, and you didn’t ask for it, so why should you feel guilty for it? You exist, and just like everyone else, you are doing your best. It is a wonderful thing are you here and you are here right now. The pain you feel would always be there in some form, but the beautiful thing about where we are right now is that we have the means to try and find the best of it. We may always suffer in some way, but we can change how we deal with it, and thereby survive it, so we can make the most out of what we have.

materialism vs valuing material

In many ways, the material things we keep near us begin to become a part of our identity. Materials do matter. Having money is something we need, and it’s okay to want it. Dressing well has very real social results. The things we have and carry with us matter. The problem with materialism is when the physical things we have undercut or try to replace our well being.

Such as with the Instagram trend of artists showing what they have in their bags, or with the fashion we wear, how we adorn ourselves represents us in a very real way to those around us. While in some ways, a shirt may just be a shirt, it still says something. Are you the person who cares about trends? Are you confident enough to try out more risky styles? Even if one’s style is, “comfortable”, how far does that stretch? What colors are you incorporating? But it’s not only about fashion. For good or ill, for many people, our technology is also incorporated into our existence. It’s a part of how we survive the day to day, it’s a part of our routine, and our use of it because personalized to our needs and limits. Operating more or less dependently on a phone or laptop is a feature of how we exist. In a weird way, it could even be considered a personality trait, or at least be related to certain traits. Humans have been relying on technology since the beginning, and in that way, the technology we use is a fundamental part of our humanity.

While we like to think of ourselves in the way we think of souls, as entities separate from physical form, we exist in a physical world. At some level, we have to interact with what is around us to survive. From what we know about our health, exercising, having basic hygiene, being careful with what we eat, practicing mindfulness and so on: the better we take care of our physical bodies, our psychological health tends to follow. There are always exceptions, and mental illness for example, isn’t something that be wished away, but taking care of your body helps your whole self.

Yet, if we accept that we need to take care of our physical bodies to take care of our full self, we need to also look at the material things we surround ourselves with. Presenting yourself in a stylish way, thinking about what you wear with intention, is automatically making you invest in you. If you’ve put in the effort to prepare for yourself for the day, it provides incentive to care more about the day. If you know you go on social media too much and it is making your mindset more negative, try to cut it out. On one hand, small material things may seem silly to value. However, if bubble tea makes your day a little better, why deny yourself simply because it’s a silly thing? Granted, everything in moderation is a good rule of thumb, but we often place more limitations on ourselves than is necessary in the spirit that the material world doesn’t matter. What is important is that we realize where and why we are desiring and surrounding ourselves with what we are. Be intentional about your life because it’s yours.

 

i will focus in 3.. 2… wait-

It is much more difficult to focus in this day and age because of technology. In short, we have more things to distract us, things literally designed to grab our attention away from our responsibilities and other tasks. Knowing this information however, doesn’t give us an ‘out’. What we need to do still needs to be done. Having access to the resources we do online means we also have the ability to make ourselves focus.

What I mean by this is using what we know about our brains for our own benefit. Multi-tasking drains us and leads to ineffective efforts in both. It doesn’t matter if you’re ‘good’ at multi-tasking, it’s still less than your best if you were focusing on one thing. There’s apps that help us close out everything until a set time. If technology itself is too distracting, we can usually do it by hand and upload it digitally later. We have entire genres of music designed to help us zone out into our effective work mind-sets. Planning is difficult, but the number of applications that can help us get our lives together are numerous and usually free. There’s meditation apps, writing idea apps, scheduling apps, just about anything to help you focus.

At the end of the day, it’s still on you to a large amount. If you allow yourself to open up youtube and surf cat videos whenever the urge strikes you, you’re going to be much more prone to giving in to those urges. You don’t have to be that person. If you want to be more productive and effective in your work habits, you can do so. Technology isn’t evil or good, simply a tool we use for whatever we were desiring in the first place. Procrastination is a society-wide phenomenon, but procrastinating work doesn’t make you better than anyone else, and it helps few matters. You are stronger than it, your self-control is your own, and you can do this! I believe in you.

to Gen Z

Technology has such a psychological impact on us because we can compare so much information and so many people consistently and constantly. No matter how fast you go, someone is faster. No matter how smart you are, someone is more intelligent. No matter how hardworking you are, someone else is doing more. But it doesn’t end there! the expectation has shifted so that the pressure is on to be the most intelligent, athletic, social, and hardworking individual all at once. Or at least, that’s what the pressure feels like and seems to say.

The other half of the pressure is the force to become your own individual, to have clear characteristics and quirks, as long as they within some acceptable range. It’s bland to be uncertain. We want to be able to quantify our traits, in order to feel like we have traits to begin with. The problem arises because we aren’t going to react the same in every situation. The mood, the environment, how much sleep we’ve gotten, our health, etc., to say we are one thing a near blatant lie.

Overall, both of these pressures turn into an assumption that we need to be figured out.  Whoever we are, we need to be established, going for gold in all areas of our lives. The problem is, we aren’t. Age is a factor, but it’s not a defining one: our identities are dynamic things. They flow, they change, they develop into new and beautiful patterns. So we aren’t going to be amazing at everything. We are going to mess up, and we are going to be lazy. We might very well be living train wrecks, but the important thing is that we are alive. Even if the progress doesn’t seem fast enough, we’re moving forward anyways. We’re pushing through and learning more about ourselves. Sometimes we’ll have to make new labels and new boxes, and that’s okay! It’s okay to be uncertain.

 

just talk to a dang person

As amazing and important as technology is, there is one queen bee we often forget about: socialization. Humans are social creatures! We organize in groups of kinship, then create groups of similar disposition. When we are afraid, we tend to recruit another human to go along with us. As a species, we have managed to create the most complex and dense structure of interaction to provide resources for not only ourselves and immediate family, but for virtually all families of our nation! There are of course many nuances, details, exceptions, and limitations to that concept, but just consider!

Take an individual who is living in a first world country. They live in homes constructed by people they’ve never met, filled with things that people have created machines to mass produce, have complex interactions with a variety of people who are potentially amazingly different than them! Even with violence and war, racism, sexism, and all those other isms, we manage to find massive conglomerates of people with our same beliefs! We are able to organize to the point of millions; that is absolutely crazy!! Humans are amazingly social, seeing faces in clouds and personifying things like toys.

Socialization is one of the key foundations of our psychological well-being. Loners might seem cool, but they also die faster and live miserably. To some extent, we likely adore loner figures in stories and fiction because of our innate drive to want to incorporate them into the group again. The “bad boy” stereotype is admired in part, not because he’s bad, but because of the hope that maybe he isn’t.

And yet! We stop physically interacting because of smart phones, opting for the easier option. Don’t get me wrong, technology is amazing and incredibly important! We could do so much with it, and do! However, there is a colossal problem with over using social media in a way that disrupts our naturally physically interactive social behaviors. You don’t have to chuck your phone, it would probably cause a huge mess because of all the responsibilities tied to it. However, what we can do is try to limit ourselves. Revel in being human! Sure, check out your feed, but then have a face to face conversation over dinner. Just talk to people, do something, don’t just scroll for hours on end! It sounds like unnecessary work, but it really isn’t– on the contrary, it is core to our physical and mental well being.