Glue

When I think about my life as an object, one image seems to come to mind – a wobbly tower held together with glue and rudimentary building materials like mortar and sticks. On this tower, I see some parts built using better materials, mostly towards the bottom, some foundations of solid wood, but there is a lot of glue and thatch and sticks as I move up. In this image, I see forces acting on the tower to destabilize it, which I think of as the general disorder and chaos of the world around me. As the only one laboring on my wobbly tower, I need to pay attention to various parts from time to time, and apply glue in places that need it. Some of you may relate to this, come with me as I explore this a bit more. 

Each part on this tower is built with effort. Nothing grows on its own like a plant where you “just add water”. The bottom of this tower is made of foundations that can be equated to daily habits. My specific tower at this point in time is entirely supported by current habits – good and bad. When a certain habit starts to change, I see parts of the tower shaking with it. Most of the structure on top of the good habit foundation are things I value. The bad habits are baggage, weights at work to destabilize the tower, counter balanced with effortful, good ones. 

Each time I engage in a routine, I’m adding glue to my tower. So far, habits are the only source of glue I have found. This glue makes the tower a small amount stronger. Over time, this glue hardens, and forms a rock. These rocks are strong, and are able to support structures on tip as time passes. But this takes time, and a lot of glue. 

Sometimes, I need to build in a new spire on the tower, to create something where there is currently nothing. A good example of this, is my ability to write. My writing is currently all sticks and thatch held together with glue that’s still wet. It’s going to take a lot of practice, feedback and iteration to get to writing that resembles a more permanent structure, a structure that can support a moderately high outgrowth. In this process, I’ve had to borrow glue from other people, glue that they don’t have use for at the moment. Some people are able to supply me the glue, but I’m the only one who can apply it and build. These are wonderful people who are essentially helping me prop up this writing spire on my tower. This all started with some glue, thatch and sticks. I believe that this is how anything that I value was created. 

My tower does not stand in a vacuum. The general chaos of the real world chips away at it, chopping off some of its parts. I think this is a good thing. I rebuild parts of It that I still value with glue, and don’t bother with parts that fell away that I no longer need. Over the years, this has simplified my tower, cutting off excess complexity. The parts that stand the test of time are parts that I care about at any point. Sometimes I see myself rely on wobbly parts, but the passage of time forces me to re-evaluate and put effort into either strengthening them or letting them go. 

Calm

Most of us have experienced a state of calm at one time or another in our life. Some of these were sustained over time, some fleeting. All of them, I tend to remember fondly. 

What is calm? 

I noticed that I experience calm states of mind by chance: when in nature, being alone with my thoughts, walking, having a few things figured out, listening to a cat purr and several such moments. These serve me as good reference points for what I consider calm states. They also help me pose the question – well, how can I structure my days so I can experience more of that? 

I believe that calm states are objectively superior states of being. From my experience of previous calm, I can say that I would prefer a state of calm to its alternatives. I am able to think clearly and understand the influence of my environment on me, and maybe tweak the way I react to it. I experience less stress, agitation or anxiety in calm states. I get my best ideas during calm states. I’m able to be a better person to the people around me when I’m calm. I’m able to find what I like when I’m calm. This list goes on. As of this moment, I can’t think of a better practical state to be in for most of my day. I have a feeling you will agree with me and share this mindset. With a bit of craft, experiencing more calm in your day is entirely within reach. I found that this line of thinking can set us up for clarity, peace and a better experience of our day to day. 

A good step towards more calm is this moment. If you take a minute to listen to your thoughts, your top three trains of thought can give you a sense for what’s occupying your thinking space at this time. If you have a few more minutes, you can choose to set them aside for now and see if you can be without these thoughts. Maybe you aren’t able to at this time, but know that it’s possible with practice.

You can try more elaborate experiments, and most are within your reach if you set out with the goal of experiencing calm. If you are able to learn that calm states are superior, you are well on your way towards experiencing peace. On this path, a few questions can come in handy to measure and course correct. When have you experienced calm in the recent past? What usually calms you? How much calm do you experience in a day? What portion of your day are you able to stay in calm states? What would be a good goal for you for the next year or so for daily calm? What would be a good goal for you ten years from now? 

If this all seems too complex and too much to think about, you can stay with taking this a moment at a time. Because time is full of individual moments. The future seems infinite! Start with tomorrow and go from there.

I wish you well in this process, I hope you experience more calm. 

Health

Such a ubiquitous topic that occupies quite a bit of our thinking time, for good reason. It’s as central to our life as a thing can be. Our lives revolve around health. It colors most of our experiences. Health can change the way we experience even the very mundane. So what is the best way to approach this topic?

I believe that health should be treated with the utmost importance as it applies to oneself. It is a permanent fixture in life past the point of a lucky childhood. We somehow make a dichotomy when we talk about physical and mental health, though I’m not entirely convinced they can be thought of as being separate. In fact, I think they are one and the same.

Our body is our biggest asset. It is the only known way through which we can have experiences. It is what brings us joy, calm, excitement, pain, enjoyment, agitation, peace and love. Treated well, you may be able to experience most of these quite well, may even extend our ability to experience for a bit longer. Neglected, which happens to be our default state, it diminishes our ability to have rich experiences. As with any asset, it requires attention and nurture. The amount of upkeep required may be subject to a few factors like age, habits etc, but it’s definitely a non trivial amount, which comes as a surprise as we realize from time to time.

Our body is a thing of beauty, it somehow manages to stay alive despite the way we treat it, which I think is a wonderful blessing. Default sustenance is still at it’s very core, sustenance. Unfortunately, there are some in this world that cannot afford more than a basic sustenance. Most would agree that they have levers at their control that can be tweaked for experiencing something more than basic sustenance. These levers are mostly known.

Good health mostly starts with food – simple, nutritious and necessary. Food habits alone can serve as a positive feedback loop towards a well functioning body. Interestingly, this is best learnt through experience, by consuming various types of food, and learning from the feedback that your body gives you. Within a few months, you get to learn what a food habit can do. This feedback is also very easy to miss and ignore with our “busy” lives.

Most would agree that some sort of activity goes a long way in delaying the general decline of the body associated with aging. Those of us who have crossed our twenties know this from experience. Dog owners know walks as necessary for their pet’s health. Somehow this doesn’t serve as an obvious cue as it applies to our health. I think a non trivial amount of activity is necessary to have a health mind and body. If activity is one end, inactivity is the other. Somehow they are the best of friends, sleep helps with activity and activity helps with sleep. Together, they occupy more than a third of our lives. Sleep is the loan shark you simply cannot win against. At the end of the day, you pay what’s owed. Habits seem to help take the drama out of these two.

Then there are these pesky things we call minds. They can seem to color even the best of days with the brush of their choosing. Minds seem to require their fair share of nurture. The experience of calm and peace seems to entirely be under the influence of the mind. Thankfully, our minds seem to be malleable. I will also go as far as saying that we need to perform laundry on them from time to time, with the activity of your choosing.

I believe that with some effort and attention into the food we choose, how much we choose to move and how we perform mind-laundry goes a long way in enriching our experience of life.

Learning

Evidently one of the most powerful tools available at our mind’s disposal is the ability to assimilate inputs from our environment and turn it into knowledge, that sticks with us for a time proportionate to it’s utility and applicability to us.

As fundamental to our existence as it is, I feel this crucial element is not well understood. How do we learn? Do we read books and memorize them for future use? Do we absorb wisdom by osmosis from our family and society? Do we learn by going to school? Or something else altogether?

We probably do learn bits and pieces that we weave into our personalized knowledge base via methods listed above, but I feel there is a much more powerful way we learn that is vastly more effective than all of the methods above combined – through our experiences.

I believe that this is the only way we build the most useful parts of our knowledge base and that there is no substitute for this. This is easily understood by taking an example of how one learns to run. For those of you who are fortunate enough to stick to the habit of running, you know very well that you had to learn about a fair amount of nuance associated with aspects of running.

Probably the best thing you did, was that you started, and kept repeating. Along the way, you learnt about how to breathe, how to find your stride, how to land your foot, how to speed up, how to take it easy, how to push yourself, how to adjust to the weather, how to find the right shoes for you and so on. Each of which is possible to research by reading expert advice, very little of which is applicable directly to you. To even get a grasp of why these aspects of running are relevant, you have to try running, a lot of it.

Your body teaches you all of these things by providing you the best kind of feedback there is, direct feedback that is immediately relevant to you alone. You fall into a stride that works for you – you might make a few changes along the way for comfort, but you will find it eventually. You may have aches and pains that you need to address, you may need gear to help you power through changing weather, you may need to get tips based on what your body is telling you from the experts. But the specific aspects of what you’ll need to learn are unique to you, to your mindset, to your body.

I believe this is applicable to everything we learn or need to learn. I believe we learn best from our experience of our going though our life and trying new things.