I feel like I sort of forgot, somewhere along the way, that it’s okay for something to just be beautiful.
Not everything has to be valuable, or practical, or pragmatic, or even helpful.
Some things can just be beautiful. And that can be lovely.
John Green gets at this idea really nicely in this video:
He uses the example of sports to illustrate his point.
When people go to a baseball game, the whole joy of it is that –in the larger scheme of things– it doesn’t matter. It’s a bunch of people gathered to enjoy watching something beautiful and exciting happen where there are absolutely no real stakes.
That type of thing feels so foreign during the pandemic.
Like John says, it feels like a luxury now, to be able to care about things that don’t matter.
There are still beautiful non-important treasures that we can access from inside our homes. And despite the circumstances, we can give ourselves permission to enjoy these little things that don’t really matter. We can enjoy these things for the sheer beauty of it.
For some people it’s Animal Crossings. For me, right now, it’s season four of my favourite Viking TV show, The Last Kingdom. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t matter. That point.
Despite the large scale suffering taking place in the world, we still need beauty.
As John says near the end of the video, “we all need things in our lives that have no end, save beauty.”
During the pandemic, we are being deprived of many of the elements of our lives that bring us joy.
It’s easy to start to feel resentful about this.
We can counteract our sense of deprivation by cultivating our ability to be grateful for the nourishment that we have received.
By actively practicing gratitude for the ways in which we have been nourished, we can create a virtuous circle through which we begin to feel even more nourished.
The more that we can actively experience this sense of being nourished, the better our state of being will feel. And when when we experience life in a beautiful state, we feel more capable of helping ourselves and more capable of helping others.
One way that some people practice actively appreciating nourishment is by saying grace before a meal. But for people who don’t self-identify as religious, the practice of grace can feel at least somewhat disconnecting. Saying grace can feel pious.
Perhaps we are missing out by dismissing the practice of grace because of our cynicism towards piousness. We may be blocking ourselves off from an easy way of habitually cultivating gratitude for a part of our daily nourishment.
But there are also other opportunities to be grateful for nourishment.
Nourishment extends far beyond food. We are nourished by love, by connection, by care. We are nourished when we feel taken care of, supported, encouraged. We are nourished when we feel ready to exist.
When we notice that something someone else did (or perhaps, something we did) is helping to support our life, in any form, we can pause for just a moment and be grateful. We can do this at any time, in any moment. It doesn’t have to be before a meal.
We can always pause and give thanks for the kindness that we have been shown. This is a way for us to actively appreciate that we are being nourished, throughout our days and throughout our life.
“I love myself.”
It’s the mantra — the mental loop — at the heart of Kamal Ravikant’s book Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It.
It’s hard to love ourselves sometimes: when we feel like we should be doing better, when we feel like we’re not enough — not good enough, not smart enough, not tough enough.
Without giving ourselves a free pass on living in line with our intentions, we can use this mental loop — “I love myself” — to help shift our default view of ourselves to a warm self-reception instead of a cold internal-admonishment.
Kamal found a sense of healing by repeating this phrase to himself in his head, over and over again, in the little empty in-between moments of his life. He found particular relief in returning to this phrase during moments of great pain and self-hatred.
There is a societal judgment about positive self-talk. But even though the mental loop’s phrase — “I love myself” — can feel contrite in some moments, it seems to have a genuinely positive effect on our state if we stick with it.
The “I love myself” mental loop seems to affect our state kind of like a smile does. Thich Nhat Hanh says “sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, and sometimes your smile is the source of your joy.” A psychological study done in 2012 has found support for the same idea — the physical act of smiling seems to lead to higher levels of subjective well-being.
By continuously telling ourselves “I love myself” we can start to make this true, more of the time — even in the moments where we are not perfect.
It can feel selfish or solipsistic, but it’s not. It’s a lot easier to help others when you love yourself.
And it seems to get easier to love yourself, with practice.
We know that we’re fragile. But we don’t usually walk around feeling like we’re fragile. At least, not this fragile.
COVID-19 has reminded us all of just how fragile we are, both on an individual level and on a systemic level.
Some people live with this acute sense of fragility all the time. But for many people — especially young, healthy, and relatively wealthy people in the western world — our fragility wasn’t really on our minds. But now it is.
During normal times we know that death could technically be just around the corner. We always know that tragedy could come our way. But it doesn’t usually feel like we could leave life at any moment.
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”
— Marcus Aurelius. Meditations 2.11
Right now, the possibility of death feels very real. It feels like death might be creeping around the corner anytime we leave our homes.
The dehumanized numbers that continue to tick upwards and the images of truckloads full of the deceased strike fear into our hearts.
Maybe it won’t happen to us, or to people who we most love, but if we let our concentric circles of care and empathy extend much further than beyond our direct circle — and despite it being painful to do so, we should — the emotional impact is visceral.
It’s terrifying when we let ourselves really feel it.
And the fear that it brings up can lead to huge waves of anxiety.
How should we respond to this anxiety?
Radical Acceptance is an antidote to anxiety
To the greatest extent possible, we should strive to meet our anxiety with Radical Acceptance.
Radical Acceptance is Tara Brach’s way of phrasing an idea that occurs throughout many spiritual and philosophical traditions. The idea is phrased in many different ways by different thinkers but it serves the same purpose — to help us move towards peace, despite the existence of suffering.
As part of our efforts towards radical acceptance, Tara Brach suggests that we attend to our fear with mindfulness and compassion:
Most of us, in some way, struggle with fear—instinctually tensing against it or becoming overwhelmed by it. Shifting our relationship with fear is central to the evolution of consciousness. While fear is a natural, intelligent emotion, when it goes into overdrive, we are in a trance that contracts our body, heart and mind. Our resistance to fear sustains this trance and perpetuates our suffering. As we learn to attend to fear with mindfulness and care, its grip loosens, and we reconnect with our full aliveness, wisdom and love.
Accepting that we are fragile will not make our fragility go away. But it can help make the fear subside.
The fragility and the fear don’t need to go hand in hand. We can be fragile and not be afraid.
Being afraid isn’t going to help us beyond a certain point. Remembering our fragility is going to help us.
“Accepting what is does not mean passive resignation; it is a courageous engagement with the reality of our experience” – Tara Brach
We can use our awareness of our fragility to help us stay conscientious about doing our part to help. Rigorous social distancing is one way that we can pragmatically respond to our fragility, for our own sake and for the sake of others. Acting based on an acceptance of our individual and systemic fragility could help us save a person’s life.
We are fragile, and that is scary. But if we can accept that we are fragile, we can move forward and we can focus on how we’re going to respond to our fragility.
There are significant changes every day right now, sometimes multiple times a day.
It can feel like we need to check the news a whole lot more right now. It can feel like the responsible thing to do.
We need to keep up with important health and safety announcements, but that doesn’t meant that we need to look at the news non-stop.
Scrolling more isn’t going to make us feel better, or make us better prepared, or make us more able to help others than we already are.
5-minutes a day is all you need in order to keep up with any important developments.
Maybe we can save a long-form article or two to read later in the day.
But it’s a balancing act of keeping up to date while also avoiding using the news as just another way to numb out.
We can be informed and thoughtful citizens without compulsively checking the news all day long.
When I was little I used to love collecting things. I’d collect random pieces of fabrics that looked appealing to me. Or buttons. Or rocks. Or bugs. Or pokemon cards.
I still love collecting things. One of my favourite things to collect nowadays are quotes.
If you ever find one that you like, and feel like sharing it with me, please do!
Here are 27 quotes that I picked up and enjoyed looking at when I was 27 years old.
1. A man is about as big as the things that make him angry.
— Winston Churchill
2. When we are contributing we can show up with the same enthusiasm we use when we’re asking for something.
— Seth Godin
3. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.
— Richard Feynman
4. Discipline weighs ounces, but regret weighs tons
— Jim Rohn
5. “You’re two people, the scheming little bastard I saw so easily and the fine, intelligent boy underneath that your grandfather, bless him, saw. But you’re coming of age soon and you’ll have to choose. A boy can be two, three, four potential people, but a man is only one. He murders the others.” That’s what Duddy Kravitz, the ambitious young hustler, heard as advice in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. It bears asking if you’re similarly young and ambitious, which potential person will you be? Which part of you will you allow to rule? The part that betrays your friends, family, principles to achieve success? Or are there other priorities?
— Ryan Holiday
6. When you understand that the glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.
— Tara Brach
7. Oh Lord, let me not be one of those who writes too much, who spreads himself too thinly with his words. Diluting all the things he has to say like butter spread too thinly on a piece of toast, or watered milk in some worn out hotel. But let me write the things I have to say, and then be silent ‘til I need to speak. Oh Lord, let me not be one of those who writes too little. A decade man, between each tale, or more, where every word becomes significant and dread replaces joy upon the page. Perfection is like chasing the horizon, you kept perfection, gave the rest to us. So let me know when I should just move on. But over and above those two mad specters of parsimony and profligacy, Lord, let me be brave. And let me, while I craft my tales, be wise. Let me say true things, in a voice that’s true. And with the truth in mind, let me write lies.’
— Neil Gaiman
8. Laughter is to shame, what grief is to sadness.
— Russel Brand (relaying someone else he heard it from. I couldn’t find the source.)
9. To a disciple who was forever complaining about others, the Master said, ‘If it is peace you want, seek to change yourself, not other people. It is easier to protect your feet with slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth.’”
— Anthony de Mello
10. Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.
— Cyril Connolly
11. What makes life worth living? No child asks itself that question. To children, life is self-evident. Life goes without saying: whether it is good or bad makes no difference. This is because children don’t see the world, don’t observe the world, don’t contemplate the world, but are so deeply immersed in the world that they don’t distinguish between it and their own selves. Not until … a distance appears between what they are and what the world is, does the question arise: what makes life worth living?
— Karl Ove Knausgård
12. Addiction is rife because we are continually taught that we can fulfill ourselves, improve ourselves, advance ourselves with the acquisition of an external material object, or through the validation or approval of other people. Wherever you are on the scale, if you’re using an external object as a tool to ameliorate inner malady, you’re engaged in addiction. Any behavior that you’re engaged in that you want to change and when you try to change it or try to stop it, you can’t, I think can rightly be referred to as an addiction.
— Russell Brand
13. Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that, upon other fields, on other days will bear the fruits of victory
14. Let me repeat once more that great quote by Don Juan in Carlos Castaneda’s A Separate Peace: “The difference between a warrior and an ordinary man is that a warrior sees everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man sees everything as either a blessing or a curse.”
— Michael E. Gerber
15. I think everybody should get rich and famous, and do everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that it’s not the answer.
— Jim Carrey
16. Trying and struggling looks like incompetence right up until the moment it looks like success.
— Shane Parrish
17. That which you most need will be found where you least want to look.
— Carl Jung
18. There have been so many times I have seen a man wanting to weep but instead beat his heart until it was unconscious.
— Nayyirah Waheed
19. Not taking risks one doesn’t understand is often the best form of risk management.
― Raghuram G. Rajan
20. How you make your money, is more important than how much money you make.
— Gary Vaynerchuk
21. Never miss a good chance to shut up.
— Will Rogers
22. Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?
As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.
Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?
To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.
— Anthony De Mello
23. Do you make regular visits to yourself?
24. To do harm is to do yourself harm. To do an injustice is to do yourself an injustice — it degrades you.
— Marcus Aurelius
25. You can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.
— Clay Shirky
26. Forget about decades, forget about years, and forget about months. Focus on days.
— Austin Kleon
27. Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. And between the two my life flows.
― Nisargadatta Maharaj
Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest. — Maya Angelou
Some days it takes courage just to keep going.
Some days feel like weeks.
Some weeks feel like years.
Someone out there needs you to.
Maybe today that someone is you.
We are in the middle of shifting societal norms. It’s not entirely clear how we ought to behave in public. It’s not entirely clear what the responsible thing to do is. The grocery store, the great outdoors, apartment hallways — all of these places have become a battleground of clashing judgements.
People who think we should be more aggressively social distancing and staying indoors are judging people who are going outside regularly in urban areas. They might also be judging people who don’t wear a mask when they do go outside. They’re also definitely judging people who get within their 6-ft radius and act as if this basic element of social distancing doesn’t matter.
On the flip side, there are people who are judging others for being too paranoid, or overly precautious, or elitist. These people might also be judging the people who are judging them for being too judgemental.
Either way, there is a lot of judgement going around.
The dirty looks go both ways when one person is wearing a mask and the other person isn’t.
As I wrote in a previous piece, we have more room to express what we feel to the people who are closest to us, than we do with strangers. With strangers, unless they’re getting into our personal space, it’s a lot more uncomfortable to address behaviour that we think is wrong. Even if we did express our thoughts to strangers, it’s likely they would dismiss us.
But with friends, there’s some potential that expressing our judgement could have a positive effect.
If we are going to be critical of a friend, though, we should be careful to only criticize specific actions and beliefs. If we’re not careful we can slip into criticizing the person’s identity. Criticizing someone’s identity is a painful experience for all involved. We’re also less likely to create room for dialogue and change if we accidentally criticize who someone is as a person. So, we should focus on behaviours and beliefs, not on identities.
We have to avoid making someone feel like they’re a bad person for not have the same moral intuitions as we have. They’re not. We’ve just reached different conclusions on certain aspects of what to do, so far.
PS. We might be wrong, too. If we are, we can only hope that our friends will focus on our behaviour, and leave be our identity.
Another COVID day inside
we sit and wait
we try to hide
it feels like hiding
from a deeper place
we really know
we’re helping out
or so they say
we’re helping keep
and med supplies
of healthcare workers
but we’re at home
and quite alone
trying to strike
a balanced tone
and so it is
and so it goes
at least for now
and no one knows
when this will end
when we’ll go back
the ups and downs
are hard to track
and so we do
the best we can
to help ourselves
and fellow man
for this may last
for many years
and this has brought
so many tears
and we don’t know
when this will go
but we know now
that love must flow
“Be strong, be kind.”
It’s a simple phrase. It can sound like an aphorism. But as we try to deal with the chaos around us, this type of mental loop can help direct our actions.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, ends her daily press briefings during COVID-19 with these words: “Be strong, be kind.”
We’re seeing a version of this message become a mantra in many parts of the world.
There’s not a lot we can say right now with certainty.
But we can say this with certainty.