Umbrella, light, landscape, sky- there is no language of the holy. The sacred lies in the ordinary.
- Deng Ming-Dao
As opposed to suggesting something mostly outside of ourselves, such as studying research, a special 10-day retreat, or some expensive seminar, I believe that if we know how to we can learn the most important lessons life has to teach us from ourselves, in our everyday lives. And I believe this way of learning is much more effective.
Guidance is powerful, even necessary at times, but ultimately we learn the best and most valuable insights from our own life experiences (which is why the best guidance helps us become a lamp unto ourselves). So then what better place to learn than our regular, normal, everyday lives? If we can learn to do this, the possibilities are endless.
To others, you may seem to be leading exactly the same daily life, and yet in each moment you're working on something, doing something. All day, every day, you're focused on becoming better. This is the kind of self-improvement you can't at first see, but you can feel.
You know you're not the same, but you can't quite define it yet. Each day the definition becomes a little bit clearer and a little bit clearer. It's a slow and steady process, the kind that makes a coal into a diamond.
Nicer, stronger, more resilient, more compassionate, happier, more at peace, healthier, more efficient in your daily activities, better with people, more in touch with yourself, more in touch with those around you, less apt to get angry and frustrated at daily occurrences, and with more time than you ever knew you had. Each and every day you make small changes, little improvements, until the snowball becomes an avalanche.
A quick note before getting into the list:
You can walk mindfully, or you can just walk. What determines how much you grow isn't just what you go through, it's also your level of awareness while going through said experience, and your willingness to be honest about it afterward when reflecting. The more honest and introspective you're willing to be about your life experiences the more you're going to grow.
I know people who have gone through a lot and haven't changed all that much out of fear, stubbornness, or the ego keeping them curled up in their shell. Don't let this be you. Open up to your own life's experiences and learn to grow from them.
The following 23 points are all lessons you can learn in your everyday life. Don't take my word for it on any of these points, though, get out there and experience these things for yourself, and then use them to improve your life in every way imaginable.
1. Helping others makes you happier
When you connect with someone personally and help them in some way you make a deep human connection that resonates not only within you but in the other person as well.
You can do something out of your ordinary routine like find a local program to donate or volunteer at, help a friend take action on their dreams, or you can just be the best person you can be in your everyday life- if you see someone pushing their broken down car then don't just drive by- help them push it, if you see someone on the street asking for money then give them the change in your pocket, or if you see an injustice then stand up and say something. Most people turn a blind eye to all of those things, and it makes the world a worse place because of it.
Often the most powerful effect you can have is in the simple things while going about your everyday life. It doesn't have to be anything crazy, just set out to help anyone you come across that needs a little helping hand.
2. Slow down (You're not getting anywhere)
Watch yourself during a typical day. Begin to identify when and why you're rushing around and how your performance changes versus when you're calm and collected. More than ever we need to learn the art of slowing down. Don't buy into the myth that slowing down will make you less productive. Productivity isn't just about speed, it's also about efficiency.
Can your slow, calm and controlled mind do something in 10 minutes which takes your fast-moving and scrambled brain 20 minutes? It might not break down exactly like that, but you get the point. And productivity isn't the primary reason we need to slow down, we need to slow down for our own well-being. What's the point of productivity if we're not happy in the process?
The myth of the pot of gold at the end of the trail of hard work is just that- a myth- and one that you shouldn't buy into. Happiness is found in how we live our everyday lives. Take a moment to slow down and see for yourself.
3. Breathe (literally, breathe)
Take a moment to pay attention to your breath, but don't attempt to control it in any way. To some degree, simply paying attention to your breath will make your body adjust its breathing, but that's OK.
What did you find? When I first began practicing sitting meditation and mindfulness in my daily life I was pretty surprised to find how messed up my breathing was, but I was more surprised to discover how much our breathing affects how we feel.
During a stressful situation, our breathing often becomes quick and shallow, but if you simply become conscious of your breath it will naturally slow down and deepen and this will immediately calm your entire mind and body. The breath is powerful, pay attention to it as you go about your day and you'll see what I mean.
4. Take care of yourself
You only get one body, and it can't keep itself up. Most people don't get excited about taking care of their bodies, but the reality is that if you don't take care of your physical health you'll significantly affect the quality of your entire life, not just the length of it.
From your energy levels to the strength of your immune system, our bodies can have an effect on everything we do. Start paying attention to how your health affects what you do on a day-to-day basis and think of simple ways that you can improve your health without unearthing your daily schedule (drink water or tea instead of soda or juice, healthy meal planning at home instead of fast food, etc.)
This is easy to test out for yourself: watch your energy levels and performance for the next week while doing nothing out of the ordinary. Then, the following week drink mostly water and tea and remove any sugary drinks.
You can take this further by removing any fast food with decent home-cooked meals. Depending on what your usual diet is you'll see varied results, but simply adopting the habit of replacing soda with water some 4 years ago made a noticeable difference in my energy levels, and I haven't gone back since.
5. Be mindful
The secret of health is not to mourn the past or worry about the future, but to live in the present moment wisely.
Life happens when we decide to be present in the here and now. Without mindfulness, we live mostly semiconscious, with the occasional burst of awareness when something exciting or tragic happens. To live fully present for each moment of your life is to not only discover happiness itself but a deep sense of meaning in your life.
Happiness isn't at the end of the road, it's the very road itself. How you tread the road of life is what will determine if you're peaceful and happy, not what you achieve by getting to the end of the road. Try it for yourself, begin practicing mindfulness in your everyday life (if you haven't already) and see what I mean.
6. You can make a difference
You really can make a difference in someone else's life, whether you believe it or not. You can't force someone to change who doesn't want to change, but you can always offer guidance, help, and support depending on the need of the individual.
From holding a door open for someone as you exit and they enter, effectively brightening their mood ever so slightly for the rest of their day, to donating old clothes and toys to those in need, to being courageous and following your dreams building a product or program you believe can improve the well-being of others.
There are a million ways you can make a difference, from big to small, possibly the most powerful being to simply show compassion to all those people you meet along your daily life.
7. Things aren't as bad as you think they are
Ever heard the old saying, "making a mountain out of a molehill"? Oftentimes, we make ourselves think that our problems are twice as large and menacing as they really are by mulling them over in our heads repeatedly. Think back to a few different things you've worried about in the past- did it really end up as bad as you thought it would?
You can also use mindfulness to help you see what you're worried about right now in this moment, then keep tabs on those worries and watch to see if they really end up as bad as you predicted. The likelihood is they won't and you'll begin to see the divide between what goes on in your head and what really happens in reality.
The act of being mindful in itself, of being present instead of being stuck in our heads, will loosen the hold of such ideas as well.
This part of us, this "worry-machine", has often been with us for so long that its mechanical, and doing an exercise like this can help you begin to detach yourself from the mental process of exaggerating situations altogether.
8. Do it now (before it becomes a mountain)
Sometimes, we ignore a problem for so long that a molehill really does become a mountain. But nothing about this is imaginary, this is about pure and real procrastination.
I did this repeatedly when I was younger, I'd ignore some things for so long that they'd go from being a routine responsibility to a code one emergency. Suffice it to say, I learned this one the hard way.
I keep a (small) list on my phone now for tasks which hold some level of significance and make sure to place reminders on everything if I can't get to them within a day or two. This way I can go about my day without having to remember when I have to take care of them. I either take care of them immediately or I put a reminder down that automatically lets me know that it's time to handle business.
I'm by no means perfect, but I do a much better job now of taking care of those procrastination prone things than I once did.
9. Be considerate and compassionate with others
The selfishness of humanity gets all the news, and yet my experience is mainly of something very good.
- Ajahn Sumedho
You live life intrinsically connected to others, the sooner you realize this the sooner you'll make your entire life (and the lives of others) easier and more enjoyable. What you do affects others and what others do affects you.
Being considerate of others feelings, beliefs, and overall well-being isn't just being nice, it's an all-around more evolved state of mind. We won't survive if we're constantly at each other's throats. Our strength as a species is in our ability to come together, to communicate, and to work together towards a common goal.
In your daily life, this is expressed simply through living with compassion and understanding. This simple act, though seemingly unconnected to yourself, can have a significant effect on your well-being.
The way you treat others often comes back to you and expressing compassion is an altogether healthy mental activity that helps cultivate peace and happiness within you, not to mention the fact that by living in such a way you're helping make the world, of which you're a part of, a better and more peaceful place.
10. What you do consistently will become a habit (so be careful what you do each day)
Look around you- what does your life look like? What time do you go to sleep? And wake up? What do you do when you wake up? How do you work? When you have free time, what do you do with it? Are you usually distracted and out of touch or present and fully aware?
Tread carefully in your everyday life. Observe every aspect of your life and begin to notice what you do in each moment of your typical day. Your answers to the above questions are strong indicators of some of your most important daily habits.
11. Be here (when you get there)
You may have a million desires to be in other places, doing other things, but you are not there, you are here.
- Zen proverb
When you arrive somewhere, leave your problems and worries behind and be there fully with your whole being. Imagine your problems attached to you like balloons tied to your wrists. As you open the door to your home, office, or elsewhere, imagine your problems coming unattached and flying away, and arrive where you are with your full presence.
We carry our problems around from one place to the next, often only physically entering our homes because our minds are still back at the office, or vice versa. To live in this way is to be perpetually distracted and part of the "living dead".
But not only that, because our problems are constantly hanging over our shoulders they bring us down and cause us to lash out at others in frustration or ignore them when we're distracted.
You can start by simply watching yourself go about your daily life. What's on your mind? When you walk into the office, is that fight with your spouse still troubling you? As you walk up to your front door, does that presentation you're doing next week have you distracted?
Remember the molehill? Often cycling things through our mind does nothing to help the situation, so let them go for now and be present for those in front of you.
12. Moods are contagious
Be careful who you surround yourself with on a daily basis. Sometimes, I know, this can't be helped. But at the same time, I've known a lot of people who have, whether consciously or unconsciously, surrounded themselves with the wrong people and paid the price because of it.
I'm not saying draw judgment on them, you should seek to express compassion even to them (although I know these people are probably at the bottom of your list), but you don't need to be around them on a daily basis if they're a truly poisonous influence.
Do what you can to try to help, even if it's at a distance. But if they're unwilling, don't hurt your head over it. There's a lot of stubborn people out there who just can't be helped until they open up and start helping themselves.
13. Automate the unimportant and easy to forget
I'm constantly mindful of the sort of environment that a Zen monk or nun creates for themselves by choosing to live in a monastery and reducing their life down to the essential tasks. I often compare my life to theirs to try to find ways to lessen the burden of everyday responsibilities and make me more efficient, therefore giving me more time for what's most important to me.
That's where automation comes in. From automating bills, setting up reminders for important tasks, to doing weekly meal planning, numerous mundane everyday tasks can be automated to relieve stress and the mental burden of having to remember so much, create a little more freedom in your daily life, and ultimately give you more time for what's important.
14. Keep it simple
In the modern age, it's easy for our life to quickly become needlessly complicated. From T.V., to smartphones, to tablets, laptops, desktops, and all the random money grabbing advertisements in between, opportunities for distraction aren't lacking in any regard.
And often we have a laundry list of responsibilities and things pulling at our time, moving us further and further from what's most important. Then there's the stuff. The useless, time-wasting, and suffocating clutter that often blankets our lives (especially if you have kids!).
This is just a few key examples of all the ways that our lives become overly complicated. If you take a look around you'll probably notice a number of places where you can simplify your life and bring greater peace and breathing room to you and your family.
15. Everyone's different (and that's OK)
Don't hurt your head trying to figure everyone out. There are lots of different shades of people, all colored by their life experiences, culture, background, upbringing, and mental processes.
There are certain universal lessons (like this list) that all people can benefit from and should strive to live by, and a moral standard that most people already agree on, but all those various factors that make up who we are make it to where there's inevitably always going to be varying outlooks and opinions about most other things in life. That's OK, though, those are the flavors of life. It makes things fun and keeps them interesting.
You're going to inevitably run into people throughout your life who you'll disagree with or who you just won't be able to figure out. Seek to express compassion and understanding towards them and realize that oftentimes there's more than one answer to the same question. Especially, in the way one lives their life.
16. Master yourself
If a man wants to be the greatest possible value to his fellow-man, let him begin the long solitary task of perfecting himself.
- R. Davies
Self-control is one of the greatest factors towards achieving anything. From belief in your own ability, to the ability to motivate yourself, to the ability to regulate your emotions, and establish new habits, self-control is the Swiss Army knife of success in all things, and this includes finding peace and happiness.
Work, raising a family, spiritual practice such as meditation, and everything else requires self-control. The good news is 1) it can be developed like a muscle, and 2) it can be developed through what you already do in your everyday life (especially if you practice mindfulness). Pay attention to how important self-control is in your life and begin looking for ways you can flex it.
17. Love yourself
Life, at times, can be hard and beating yourself up won't make it any easier. You never got anything from beating yourself up, only more pain. Discipline and playing through the pain of life are one thing, but beating yourself up is a whole different story. That's never the right way to go about things.
Developing self-love and self-compassion is incredibly important to not only survive but to thrive in your everyday life. Mistakes are only natural, and so are screw ups. And then sometimes things happen that are completely outside of our control. No matter what it is, don't beat yourself up.
Love and compassion for others begin with you. If you can't truly love and show compassion to yourself then you can't truly love or show compassion to another, and what better place to learn and experience this than in your everyday life.
18. Your words are powerful
Your words can cut like a knife, heal like medicine, and motivate like nothing ever seen. So, choose them very carefully. In a typical day you have conversations will all kinds of people. The danger isn't really in normal activity, it's in those times when frustrations are high and anger or stress develops. It's during these times that you can end up saying things you'll later regret.
If this happens to you, take a few minutes at least to do something calming like mindful breathing or walking meditation. When you become so angry or stressed that you begin lashing out at others then you've lost control and need to take a step back to regain it.
Also, though, be aware of the positive effect your words can have as well. Sometimes some simple encouragement for someone in a tough spot can mean all the difference. In both cases, it's not difficult to begin thinking before you speak and always striving to converse mindfully, both with mindful speech and deep listening.
19. People are the most important part of your life
The most important thing in all of life are the people around us. Take care of the people in your life and appreciate them while they're here.
Watch how you spend your time during your day-to-day life. Do you prioritize your family or your career? Money or your children? That might sound a little harsh, but the reality is a lot of us do just that completely unconsciously.
Don't let life pass you by before realizing what's really important. Look around you, what really matters most and how should you alter your life to giving those things more of your time?
20. What you think you become
Your thoughts are one of the most powerful forces in your life. What you think about on a consistent basis really does have a significant effect on your life at large. It affects how you act in every way, from how you are with people to whether you take that leap of faith and go after your dreams or not.
Mastering your thoughts, which primarily rests in observing them nonjudgmentally, is one of the most important things anyone can do for themselves. By sitting in meditation each morning you can help the recurring thoughts you have floating through your consciousness to the surface. It's this simple observing that can heal most deep-seated thoughts and emotions and make them dissipate.
21. It's up to you
Warning: no punches are held on this one.
Nothing's going to happen if you don't get off your ass. We all work together to make the world what it is, but for the most part, you push yourself to take action. You need to learn how to motivate and push yourself to get to work and accomplish your goals.
There's no other way to put it. You could have an army by your side, but each morning it's you who has to push yourself to wake up, and every time you don't feel like meditating but you know you should it's you who has to push yourself to sit.
There are no shortcuts and there's no helping hands on this one. The best I or anyone else can do is to offer clear-cut guidance, you ultimately have to be the one to take action. It's up to you to make your life what you want it to be, and that starts right now in your daily life.
22. Be grateful
Do you have eyes? Ears? A mouth? Can you speak? Do you still have your parents? Children? I'm sorry to be so direct with you, but much of us get down over the smallest things when others are suffering over very real adversities. Take a second to look around you and realize all the great things about your life.
Most people think of gratitude with regards to what you have, but the most powerful use of gratitude is in realizing what you don't have, rather than what you do have. Are you disease-free? Hunger-free? Thirst-free? Free from daily threats of war at your very doorstep?
These are all things you probably never think about because they don't affect you. But think about it for a moment and realize how lucky you are.
23. You won't live forever (so appreciate life and live to the fullest)
Throughout this life, you can never be certain of living long enough to take another breath.
- Huang Po
From the time you were born to the time you began reading this sentence, the clock of your life has been ticking. This is something we all come to face eventually, but we usually ignore it for most of our lives until it's too late to do much of anything.
The fear of death is the most powerful fear known to the human race and the result is for us to either ignore it completely or to think up some story about how we can't do what we really want to do anyway. Your time is limited, so be sure you're not being held back by fear, your comfort zone, or a skewed sense of responsibility to something.
Watch yourself as you go about your daily life- do you feel the urge to do something different? Do you find yourself holding back from doing something? Do you ever feel uncomfortable? About what? The first step is to discover what's holding you back. But if you strive to live fully aware in each moment you'll begin to gain clarity, and that alone can be enough to overcome it.
By no means is this list exhaustive, these are simply the things I've found to be true in my own life, particularly the ones I've found to be the most life-changing. When you can live in a way that your everyday life becomes your greatest teacher, the learning is life-long and endless.
What unique pieces of wisdom have you gained from your everyday life? I'd love to hear them.