Friday, August 30, 2019

Ten Best Life Hacks

Feeling lost and adrift? Out of sorts? Cut off from the things that used to bring you joy? Does it feel like a stranger has taken up residence in your own skin? Here are ten life hacks that will quickly get you back on track toward your own best life.
1.    Get up earlier
Instead of dreading the alarm clock and pushing it as late as you possibly can, try reclaiming the calm, quiet, sacred hours of the early morning. Stop intoning the lie that you are not a “morning person” as if that was even a thing. People are not cast in stone. They can change their patterns. Get up early and watch your happiness, self-esteem, productivity, and sense of calm increase.
2.    Turn ordinary activities into rituals
You’re already doing them every day anyway. You might as well turn them into meditative, conscious, reflective rituals. Grinding coffee with gratitude for the Central American farmers who lovingly tend their trees. Pouring that first cup with the focused intention of a monk in Japanese tea ceremony. Brushing your teeth, shaving, bathing, and dressing with deep appreciation for the magical mystery of the mind-body, and the creativity and ingenuity of those who design and make our clothing. This way, your very life becomes a temple, and everything holy.
3.    Move more
An unused door hinge rusts shut. An unexercised body closes down. You don’t have to do anything crazy. Just walk for an hour. Do yoga. Bicycle or swim. Take the stairs. Rake leaves. Whatever you have access to. For tens of thousands of years human beings walked for miles and miles every day. We were made to move. Not only will your body start functioning and feeling better, but your mind will too.
4.    Meditate
Finally commit to a real meditation routine. Not just a dabble here and there, but a commitment as consistent as eating and sleeping – because it’s damn near just as important. Meditation unlocks the mind-body’s hidden restorative powers. Wellness happens if you let it. And unburden your meditation practice of any silly and overblown expectations. Forget about enlightenment. Let the stillness and glow of meditation be its own reward. The rest happens by itself without your interference.
5.    Eat real food
Food guru Michael Pollan famously reduced all of his books down to one line: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” What he means is, eat real food – food as close to the source as possible. Ditch the margarine. Switch back to butter. Just eat less of it. And when you look down at your plate, it should be 75% plants, 12% protein, and 12% carbs. These aren’t hard numbers, but guidelines. Infuse your shopping, prepping, cooking, eating, and clean up with gratitude and presence. Let the miracle of food become a sacrament. Shifting your eating habits will awaken strength and restore equilibrium throughout your mind-body processes.
6.    Find some new music to fall in love with
Ludwig van Beethoven said that “Music is a higher truth than philosophy,” and he was right. If you’re not mindfully, deliberately, deeply, and consciously listening to music on a regular basis, you are at real risk of soul-starvation. Find new music. Ask around. Look up artists you like on YouTube and let the algorithms lead you to similar artists you’ve never heard. Indulge in satellite radio or commercial free streaming subscriptions. When you find artists you like buy their music so they can afford to keep making it.
7.    Fall in love
You can’t snap your fingers and make love happen. But it’s always hovering nearby waiting to be born. And let’s not limit this to romantic love exclusively. I’m talking about love in its broadest sense – that feeling of deep, liberating, exhilarating, and dizzying interconnection with everything. The way a bird loves the sky, a sailor loves the sea, or a singer loves a song. There’s an unbridled zeal within all of us longing to emerge. Don’t be coy. Get out of the way and let your love find its mark. To love is our deepest calling. Be still enough to hear it.
8.    Work in service, not self-interest
Sure we work to eat. We need money to live. That paycheck really matters. But there are deeper currents in motion. When we work we turn our time, talent, and energy into goods and services that help other people enrich their own lives. When we pull back and see the bigger picture, all work is service – an opportunity for us to participate directly in the healing of the world. When you begin to see your work in this light, everything shifts. Your self-esteem increases, your anxiety about outcomes abate, your depression reduces, and your enjoyment expands because you finally see your work for what it is – not a simple quid pro quo for money, but a tether that connects you to the tapestry of all energy, all matter, and all consciousness. It is through our work that we affirm our oneness. Our work is a ritual that sanctifies our life and the lives of all it touches.
9.    Mari Kondo your condo
Get rid of most of your stuff – you don’t really want it anyway, and mindlessly holding onto it is clogging up your life. Take a few days, empty every closet, hold each item in your hand and ask yourself, “Do I really love this, I mean really love this?” Kondo’s animistic Shinto spirituality asks us to feel the energy of each item. It will “tell” you if it should stay or go. If it vibrantly belongs in your life, keep it. If it doesn’t, say “Thank you” and graciously let it go. Place the items you are keeping back in your closets and drawers one piece at a time. Give the rest away. When you are done, your home will feel free, clear, and full of light. And so will your mind. Read Mari Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up for guidance.
10. Ask for help
Maybe we don’t ask for help because we want to maintain the illusion of invincibility. We don’t want anyone to see how lost we are. I get that. But get over it. Ask for help. Delegate. There are people all around you who know way more than you do about just about everything. And they’re grateful to be useful. (They hunger for self-worth and validation just like you do.) When you ask for help you are giving them a gift – the opportunity to turn their work and their love into service. And you too are brought home to the truth that none of us does any of this alone. It’s a win-win.
            When you adopt these ten life hacks you’ll soon see changes happening within. You’ll see your old problems with new eyes, and feel reinvigorated enough to withstand them. You’ll shift from negativity to gratitude, from scarcity to abundance, and from fear to fullness. But don’t wait. Seeds don’t grow in a jar on the shelf. You have to plant them. Ideas alone don’t shift us, only actions do. Begin now. You do not have forever to begin living the life you were born to live.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019


I’m walking from room to room holding my phone aloft like Lady Liberty holds her torch, waiting for the 4G icon to flip back to Wi-Fi. The video I’m streaming keeps buffering, buffering. Then suddenly there it is. The video resumes.
            Whether it’s in our tech or in our soul, we all want better connectivity.
            The word “religion” comes from the Latin religare, meaning “to bind or connect.” We turn to spiritual practice and our faith-communities to come out of isolation and return to our fundamental oneness. It’s lonely out here being a raindrop, longing for the sea.
            So how do we return to oneness? How can we reestablish our fundamental unity? Maybe it isn’t as difficult as we think. What if we never really lost that primal connection, we only think we have? After all, how can one sever an inseverable tether? The 20th century teacher Nisargadatta Maharaj put it this way: “You are universal. You need not and you cannot become what you are already. Having never left the house, you are asking for the way home.”
            When the Scottish-American naturalist John Muir came to America he was only a boy. His father schooled him in a strict form of Christianity, forcing him under the penalty of the lash to memorize and recite the entire New Testament. After spending a few meandering years at the University of Wisconsin Muir left with just enough scientific training to organize his life-long love affair with the natural world. Eventually winding up in the American west, Muir stumbled into the sacred valley of the Yosemite nestled high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Yosemite was his burning bush. After that, nothing would be the same – not for Muir, and not for the young country his work would inspire.
            Muir often wandered Yosemite alone for weeks at a time with a bag of tea, a loaf of bread, and a volume of Emerson’s essays. Emerson’s neo-Vedanta philosophy, born from his immersion in the Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita at Harvard University, seeped into Muir’s pores and softened his strict fundamentalist upbringing. He began to distance himself from the small, impoverished God of his childhood, calling it “as purely a manufactured article as any puppet of a half-penny theater.” Muir found his God in the luminous Sierra Nevada Mountains, calling them his “range of light.”
            Through his writings and advocacy, Muir’s nature mysticism shaped American consciousness, leading to the National Park system and the preservation of wilderness for its own sake – one of the boldest ideas in the American experiment. When Emerson, thirty-five years Muir’s elder, visited Yosemite and met Muir, he offered him a professorship at Harvard. Muir turned it down. How could he leave this cathedral of stone, these hallowed woods, this sacred light?
              Muir found his connectivity in the mountains of California. But we can find it anywhere. God is found wherever the eye falls, at the tip of our fingers, in the sound of each other's voices, in the shimmering sun on the water, in the prescience of our hearts. Finding our connection point is as easy as slowing down, slipping into the eternal presence, and knowing that there is nothing but connectivity. Nothing stands alone. "When we try to pick out anything by itself," Muir wrote, "we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

[This piece first appeared in my "A to Zen" column in the September/October 2019 issue of Unity Magazine, and is reproduced here with permission.]