Lately I’ve been pondering whether or not I’ve ever shown up in the world as my true self. Real talk.

I’m finding solace in these quotes on authenticity, both via The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown:

Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want.

―Margaret Young

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what we can control

I’ve always thought about environmentalism as simply making “greener” personal choices – recycling, turning the lights off when I leave the room, eating less red meat, etc…

But lately, these personal choices have been feeling insignificant in light of everything happening in the headlines. That’s because a changing climate is quite literally a global problem. We didn’t cause it on our own and we can’t solve it on our own, but solve it we must.

To lend our-tiny-little-insignificant-selves some sanity in this quest, I think we should borrow our approach from Stoic wise guy Epictetus and focus only on what is within our control.

Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us.

– Epictetus

Our most important choice in life, according to Stoic thinker Epictetus, is whether to concern ourselves with things external to us or things internal. His trichotomy of control, which I pulled from the great book The Guide to the Good Life, involves separating things into three categories:

  • Within our complete control: Values, Belief Systems, Character, Adherence to Virtue, Goals, Self-Control, Emotions. The pursuit of these things brings tranquility.
  • Partially within our control: Let’s use the example of a soccer game to illustrate this one. You can play your best game, but it is not completely up to you whether you win. What can you control? You can control your work ethic, your practice regimen, your nutrition. However, many external factors play into the final result. In such situations, we’re best internalizing our goals.
  • Not within our control: Others’ opinions, others’ actions, luck. Stoics try to avoid reacting to these things.

In dealing with the massive issue facing our generation and future generations, we should focus on what is within our control. Let’s talk about what’s reasonably within our control in this context.

  • Searching for truth: Learning, thinking, asking questions, looking in the mirror
  • Personal choices that reflect our values: Many solutions are within our control, as referenced above.
  • Advocacy for collective choices that match our values: Many solutions are NOT within our control. We can only spread the word, vote, engage in debate, share newsletters, etc.

We’ll touch on all three of these this week on The Commons.

mindful conversation

I’m reading Chade-Meng Tan’s Search Inside Yourself: The unexpected path to achieving success, happiness (and world peace). Meng, who was employee #107 at Google and now leads the Search Inside Yourself Institute, combines mindfulness practice with emotional intelligence.

Chapter 3 is all about taking your meditation practice off the cushion. I’ve written briefly about this before – the point of meditating is to practice for your life. Meng says it another way: meditation becomes life-changing when you can bring up the calm and clear mind on demand. He says we can generalize mindfulness by taking it from self to others and from rest to activity.

Chapter three takes the reader through mindful conversation, walking meditation, tips for sustaining your practice beyond the beginning, joyful meditation, mastering focused and open attention, and how creating that clear, joyful mind on demand actually happens in practice.

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the four maras

I’m reading When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron after many recommendations – from my wife, from Seth Godin, from Derek Sivers. It’s an amazing book. Chapter 11 is about the four maras, which are new to me.

What we habitually regard as obstacles are not really our enemies, but rather our friends. What we call obstacles are really the way the world and our entire experience teach us where we’re stuck. What may appear to be an arrow or a sword we can actually experience as a flower. Whether we experience what happens to us as obstacle and enemy or as teacher and friend depends entirely on our perception of reality. It depends on our relationship with ourselves.

We habitually try to avoid what is happening when we hit an obstacle in our lives. The four maras provide descriptions of the ways in which we do this.

Continue reading the four maras

meta-attention and happiness as the default

I’m reading Chade-Meng Tan’s Search Inside Yourself: The unexpected path to achieving success, happiness (and world peace). Meng, who was employee #107 at Google and now leads the Search Inside Yourself Institute, combines mindfulness practice with emotional intelligence.

Chapter 2 is a detailed guide to meditation and it has some gems I’ve never come across before.

Continue reading meta-attention and happiness as the default

the root of happiness

Over the last year I’ve been reading and listening to teachings from two different ancient schools of thought – stoicism and Buddhism. Both have opened up my mind to the possibility of cultivating happiness in every moment and living life to the fullest.

The two are incredibly similar, but one difference between the two (and this could totally be my wrongful interpretation) is that stoicism is based more upon happiness mind hacks and Buddhism is more focused on the root of happiness and the root of suffering. Buddhism is more about getting to the bottom of things at the very core.

Having come across stoicism first and now more recently getting into Buddhism, I’m finding myself captivated and hooked on the idea of really getting to that core of suffering. Again, I could be totally wrong about this and I hope to explore it more.

from mindfulness to emotional intelligence

I’m reading Chade-Meng Tan’s Search Inside Yourself: The unexpected path to achieving success, happiness (and world peace). Meng, who was employee #107 at Google and now leads the Search Inside Yourself Institute, combines mindfulness practice with emotional intelligence (a la Daniel Goleman).

We use mindfulness to train a quality of attention that is strong in both clarity and stability. We then direct this power-charged attention to physiological aspects of emotion so we can perceive emotion with high vividness and resolution. The ability to perceive emotional experience at a high level of clarity and resolution builds the foundation for emotional intelligence, and we live happily ever after.

Continue reading from mindfulness to emotional intelligence

the path to follow

Negative feelings occur in many moments through each day, whether they be disappointment, worry, embarrassment, fear, irritation, resentment, anger, or jealousy.

Sometimes they’re tiny slights that we simply brush off. Sometimes, though, they really knock us on our asses. Life really takes us down. No matter how much we try to get up, we’re down for the count. It’s easy to numb these feelings – to make it all go away if only for a moment. We numb by watching TV or reaching for the ice cream, the wine, or drugs. We just need to soften the moment – we just can’t stand it.

But these moments don’t have to be bad things to push away. They may actually show us where we’re holding back – where our soft spots are. They may be the truth, the way forward in our journey to be happier and more compassionate people.

These things show up in the present moment if we pay attention, and they show us the way – the path we should follow. Meditation is a place to practice following this path. We’re just sitting with our experience, good or bad. This moment is the perfect teacher, and it’s always right here.


When we face our fears, we see the truth.

When we see the truth, we will often suffer.

When we suffer, we’re given a choice.

We can shut down and avoid it

or we can touch that tenderness and truly feel it.

When we feel it, it feels like a test.

A test to be conquered, to be overcome

so we can make it back to security, to stable ground.

But that stable place is an illusion – it doesn’t exist.

There is no destination where suffering has been extinguished,

no place where things are solved.

Things fall apart and then come back together.

And then they do it again, and again.

And that tenderness, that feeling of groundlessness and instability,

that is how we know we’re on the verge of something.

That is where we grow.

That is where we heal.

That is home.