Living vs. Being

Are you merely living or are you being? What is the difference between the two? Living consists of the things we do in life; the physical act of “making things happen.” Being, however, is the act of experiencing and appreciating all life has to offer.

Many of us feel life is all about action. We believe life is a verb. We believe life is about arranging things exactly how we would like them to be. Here is what I have come to realize: Life is not something you do, it is what you are submerged in. The more we try to control and arrange the outside world, the more attached to it we become, and the further away we get from our true being. We try to fill ourselves up with stuff from the outside world in an attempt to find meaning. All of the meaning and answers we seek are already here inside of us, we just have to stop and pay attention long enough to see it and feel it.

Try to be more than live. Try to become aware of your true nature, instead of the false one created by the physical world. Try focusing on the present moment instead of distracting yourself with the past and future. Listen to your thoughts and feelings, and see what they are really telling you.

We spend so much time trying to accomplish our goals and create the idea of the “perfect life” that we forget to stop, experience it, and be it. Do not become preoccupied with material possessions and attention from other people. When these things become the focus of life, we lose sight of why we are really here. Life is not about doing it is about being. Remember, life is not something you do, it is what you are submerged in.

Branch of Knowledge

COLLAGE-1

Every day, try to take a few moments to read about something you’ve always wondered about or don’t know much about. For example, let’s say you’ve always heard about Marilyn Monroe, but you don’t know anything about her. Take a few moments to look her up on the internet and read about her life (Wikipedia is a great page for doing this exercise). This is where you will begin your first branch. As you read about Marilyn, notice if there are any other people or things mentioned on her page that you don’t know much about. When you are finished reading about Marilyn, click to the next thing you want to learn about. For example, she was married to Arthur Miller. Perhaps you don’t know who we was. Click his page and learn about him. Next, within Miller’s article, find someone or something else to learn about, perhaps one of the plays he wrote. You are creating a chain that, in this example, begins with Marilyn Monroe and might end up at the history of Times Square in New York. Keep going and extend your branch until no more curiosity finds you. From this point, you can either back-track to a previous topic, or start an entirely new branch. The key is to not read about things you already know or like. It is about experiencing something new.

During this game you will stumble upon people, things, and ideas you might never had found had you not been curiously scanning the internet. You will open your mind to things you never knew existed. We tend to stick with what is familiar and don’t venture too far from our comfort zone. If we read and listen to the same opinions and ideas from the same people every-single day, we will never learn anything new. We will stay the same forever. There is an entire world of knowledge and experience out there, but many of us come nowhere close to experiencing it. In our world, with internet and smartphones, there is absolutely no excuse for this.

Our current narrow-mindedness is one of the reasons there is so much hate and anger in the world. We cannot accept the view-points of others because we are too tied to our tiny, barren tree branch. The few people in this world who have a full tree, with many branches, do not feel the need to defend their point of view, because they have learned to accept everyone’s ideas equally. This is what open-mindedness accomplishes. The further away you get from your microscopic view-point, the more you can appreciate all the world has to offer. You learn to see the world in a new way. I invite you to challenge yourself and open your mind to as many new things as possible.

Spread what you’ve added to your “Branch of Knowledge” on Twitter by using #KnowledgeBranch and follow me @UnstickNow

Attitude

“The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”

The above quote is from the 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia. At the beginning of the film, the title character, T.E. Lawrence, performs a trick where he puts out the flame of a match with his bare fingers. A coworker, William Potter, attempts the same trick and quickly discovers that it hurts, prompting him to ask Lawrence what the trick is to accomplishing the feat. The before mentioned quote is Lawrence’s reply. This quote eludes to the fact that it is our attitude towards a situation that creates our feelings about it.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is one by Epictetus, a Greek philosopher born in AD 55. He said, “Men are disturbed not by things that happen, but by their opinions of the things that happen.” We are often taught that our feelings and emotions happen to us, inflicted on us by the uncontrollable circumstances of life; however, we have this backwards. In reality, we create our feelings with our response to the situations that occur in our lives.

Let’s say one day you wake up on your day off and discover it’s raining, you may say, “Now my entire day is ruined! I was supposed to go to the beach today. Now what am I supposed to do?” You feel disappointed and angry; therefore, stubbornly decide to lay in bed all day, wasting your entire day off. There were several things you could have done, despite the rain; however, you would not allow yourself to discover any of them because of your attitude about the situation. We have all heard the saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” You can choose to be upset that life has handed you something sour and distasteful, or you can choose to make the best of it and make lemonade. If you allow yourself to only see the bad things about life, then you will never find peace or happiness.

If your outlook on life is one that is negative, distrustful, and hateful, then it is impossible to find happiness in life. You will always blame others for the situations you find yourself in, because of your failure to realize you are the creator of your life and no one else. Take a good, honest look at yourself: Is your default mindset one where you tend to complain, whine, make excuses, blame others for your circumstances and feelings, or feel a lot of anger, sadness, and/or distrust? You feel and act this way because you believe other people and circumstances have a greater effect on your life than they really do. You whine, complain, and feel disappointment and sadness because you view situations from the position of how you want things to be, instead of how they are.

If you discover that you are guilty of this mindset, how do you correct it? Instead of your current attitude about life, try to develop the mindset of acceptance. Accept that many things happen in life that we cannot control. The trick to life, much like the trick to extinguishing a flame with bare fingers, is not minding when bad things happen. Accept them, learn from them, and move on. Do not dwell on them, it does us no good and serves no purpose. Yes, it can be infuriating when someone cuts you off in traffic. Getting angry and yelling about it changes nothing. You cannot make it un-happen. Carrying it around all day doesn’t affect the life of the other driver, it only affects you. It happened, accept it, and move on.

A few weeks ago on Twitter, I retweeted this quote, “A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.” You can win the lottery tomorrow and find yourself in an entirely new set of circumstances. However, if you continue with the same negative set of attitudes, your life will be no different. Your outlook on a situation, or on life, determines how you feel about. No one, other than you, has an effect over how you feel. You choose to become angry. You choose to become sad. You choose to worry about the small, petty things in life. Instead, choose not to complain when things don’t go your way. Choose to accept things as they come. Choose to be happy.

Materialism

If someone were to offer you one million dollars for your eyesight, would you take it? Seriously consider this right now: would you sell your eye sight for $1,000,000? Would you take the money knowing you would never be able to see your loved one’s faces or watch a sunset ever again? (And don’t say you would take the money and use it to fix your eyesight. This hypothetical question doesn’t work that way.) If not one million dollars, how much money would it take for you to give up your eyesight? Personally, I believe no amount of money would ever be enough. No amount of money is worth more to me than my eyesight. In my opinion, it is priceless.

If the ability to see is worth more than money, if the ability to watch a sunset is more valuable than one million dollars in the bank, then why are we so money hungry? It seems to me, we already have “one million dollars,” and it has been right in front of us the entire time. Perhaps, something that is so priceless, something we would not even take millions of dollars for, is what we should be paying the most attention to, instead of the worthless pieces of paper we call money. We take our senses for granted. If we would only open our eyes and USE them to look around, and really see what is around us, we would be much happier. We would finally discover the happiness we have been searching for. In today’s society, we are usually taught that in order to be happy, we must strive to collect as much money and material possessions as possible. In reality, this belief if what keeps our happiness from us.

As human beings, what do we really need in order to survive? The answer: food, water, clothing, and shelter. That’s it. Nothing more. After all, this is what our ancestors lived on. These things are all it takes for us to continue living. In this country, almost all of these necessities come very easily to us because of technology. When it comes to survival, we have nothing to worry about; it is almost too easy. Most people do not realize how lucky we are to have it this easy. Thanks to technology, all of our basic needs met, and survival has almost become an afterthought to us.

Because of the ease of our modern living, our lives now revolve around our material possessions; from the house we live in, to the car we drive, to our technological gadgets, to all of the meaningless stuff we fill our houses and lives with. Take a look around; is there anything in your house that you cannot absolutely live without? By live without, I do not mean that you really like it and would feel sad if it were taken from you. Consider television, for instance; is television essential for survival? Would you wither up and die if it suddenly stopped working? You may be bored without any entertainment, but you would certainly continue to breathe. In other words, we don’t actually need any of the things we surround ourselves with and endlessly strive to obtain.

The feeling material objects and money gives us is what we mistake for real happiness. It feels good after we buy something, but soon the urge to buy more stuff returns. We have a continuous urge to buy more, more, and more. We believe once we get everything we want, we will find happiness, and the urges will cease. I hate to break it to you, but no matter how many things we buy, or how much money we collect, it will NEVER be enough, we will always want more. Just look at rich millionaires who have more money than they could ever spend. They have millions, yet they continue to accumulate more and more money. If possessions truly created happiness, then why do people line up, year after year, to buy the newest iPhone being released? They still have the functioning iPhone they lined up for last year. If it truly quenched their thirst, then why are they lining up again? This urge to obtain will never fully go away as long as we continue to feed it. It will dissipate as soon as we realize we do not need these material objects and stop giving into our desires.

Most of us believe that if we could just win the lottery, we will finally be happy. Here’s the truth: If you are unhappy without money, you will be unhappy with it, too. Money cannot give anyone happiness. If you win the lottery, you will simply be living the same unhappy life, with the same unhappy problems, only in more luxurious surroundings. It is our attitude and mindset about life that creates our happiness, not the items we surround ourselves with. You must learn to be happy without money first, if you wish to discover true happiness and to free yourself of the constant urges to collect more stuff.

Am I saying we must abolish all material possessions and money? Am I saying we must live a simple life, move to Tibet, and become a monk who lives in a cave or on a mountain top? No, that is not what I’m saying. We can still have and enjoy all of the benefits of our modern society. All I am saying is this: Do not make material possessions the source of your happiness. They are merely nice things to have and to enjoy. They are only meant to enhance our experience, not be the source of it. If you were to lose them, it shouldn’t be a big deal.

I will close with a quote from the 1936 film My Man Godfrey, “Money, money, money! The Frankenstein monster that destroys souls!”

Knowledge is Power

We have all heard the saying knowledge is power. This is usually interpreted as having an advantage over someone who does not possess the same information you have. This is somewhat true in cases of war and business; but how about general knowledge, like math, history, cooking, computers, etc.? How does average, every day knowledge give us power? Is knowledge really power?

Do you ever wonder why we study history in school? Why should we care about what a bunch of dead people did hundreds of years ago? We study history because it is beneficial for us to know where and what we came from. People from the past were people, trying to survive, just like we are. They had the same feelings, desires, and questions about life as we do now. We are not better than the early American settlers because we have cars, electricity, and smartphones. The only difference between us and them is that we are people, trying to survive, with a lot of fancy gadgets to distract ourselves with. If there were to be a natural disaster tomorrow, and all of our material possessions and technology were lost, we would be in the exact same situation they were. Since they were people, just like we are, shouldn’t we attempt to learn from them?

The reason it is beneficial for us to study history and read older writings is because it helps us to learn and grow. Humanity keeps making the same mistakes over and over again because we refuse to learn lessons from the people who came before us. The Founding Fathers of the United States were great students of history. They studied many forms (and mistakes) of government, from several generations before their time, in order to form the republic we have today. Unfortunately, the generations since the Founding Fathers did not learn these same lessons; therefore, are making the same mistakes made by past leaders from hundreds, and even thousands, of years ago. (These mistakes began long before our current time. If you don’t believe me, watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), a movie that should be required viewing for anyone employed in Washington.)

Speaking of movies, I am a big fan of movies. My favorite movies are those from the 1930’s and 1940’s, a period known as the “Golden Age” of Hollywood. Whenever I recommend one of these movies to my friends, they usually say something like, “Eww, that’s black and white. It’s too old. I don’t want to watch that.” Most people today consider something that came out before they were born to be old and not worthy of their time. This is why we remain ignorant. We all believe that newer is better, and anything else is worthless. Who would want to watch a movie that isn’t even colorized when you can see computerized robots chasing each other and fighting? If it’s brand new, it’s automatically better than anything that came before it.

In our current society, the old and elderly are typically forgotten and stashed away in an “old folks home” until they die. We are often too busy with our lives to worry about taking care of Grandma. We worry about saving for retirement because we know that once we are not able to work, our family will not take care of us. This was not always the case, it is a recently new cultural trend. In the past, families would live together for generations. They would usually own a piece of land and keep passing it down through the family. The children would take care of the parents when they got old, instead of shipping them off someplace to have a stranger care for them. In Eastern cultures, the old are respected viewed as being wise. These cultures understand that with years of life experience, comes years of knowledge and wisdom. These cultures listen to, learn from, and respect the old, instead of shipping them away to be ignored and forgotten.

Today, we believe we have all of the answers because we know how to use the internet and how to download apps on our smartphones. Knowledge and wisdom come from experience. It comes from reading and learning what others before us understood about life. You accomplish this by listening to those with more experience than you, reading works by those who came before you, and by venturing out of your comfort zone in order to try new things, having as many different experiences as possible. Scrolling through your social media feed is not an adequate way of acquiring life experience. Most of us do not know the first thing about life or what it means to be human, yet we think we know everything.

Just because something is brand new does not automatically make it good or right. There are things out there that are better than superhero movies, Transformers, and The Hunger Games. There’s music other than Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, and Adele (not that there is anything wrong with these movies and music). Perhaps you should broaden your horizons by listening to other genres or time periods of music. Don’t only stick to what is being played on the radio or what your friends listen to. Try reading books on topics you wouldn’t normally read about. Try watching different movies other than what you ordinarily watch, like All About Eve (1950), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), or Double Indemnity (1944). Who knows, maybe you will stumble upon something amazing you never knew existed, I know I have.

Let’s go back to the question from the beginning of this post: Is knowledge power? I personally believe knowledge gives us power….. to overcome ignorance. Knowledge gives us the ability to view life in a more logical, practical way; it helps us to gain wisdom. Knowledge comes from experience, it is a basic familiarity or understanding of something. Wisdom, on the other hand, is the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment. We become wise when we have a multitude of knowledge and experience to pull from. Humanity has already learned many lessons throughout time; however, each generation forgets these lessons because of their ignorance of what came before them. Newer may be cooler, flashier, and slightly better, but we could never have gotten to where we are today without what came before us.

Success

“Success isn’t just about what you accomplish in your life, it’s about what you inspire others to do.”

We are often taught that money is the measure of success. Those who are famous, live in a big house, or drive a fancy car are considered successful. The definition of success is: The accomplishment of an aim or purpose. What is your purpose in life? What is your main goal? For some of you, your current goal may be to gain many followers and admirers on social media. For others our goal is collecting large sums of money, or having the respect of others. What should our purpose or goal in life be?

At the time of her death, Mother Theresa did not have a huge mansion or flashy jewelry, but yet, many people would consider her successful. Is it possible that money is not the true measure of success after all? There are those who believe we must leave the world a better place than how we found it. Mother Theresa certainly accomplished this. Some believe we must contribute to society in a way that will make this world better for our children and future generations. If every generation lives this way, humanity will continue to prosper. Jerry Hicks, an author and artist, once wrote about his life’s mission statement: It is my intention that the lives of all people I interact with will either be elevated as a result of our interaction, or they will be left where they are, but that no one will be diminished as a result of their association with me. Could it be said that anyone who manages this throughout his or her lifetime is considered a success?

If you decide your life’s purpose is to murder as many people as possible, under our new definition of success, are you successful? You may have been successful in completing your goal, but are you a success? No, because it is safe to say that the person’s life, which you ended, is diminished thanks to your actions. How about if you decide to mug someone on the street? Once again, someone’s life is diminished because of your actions. The 18th century philosopher, Immanuel Kant, had a theory that states we should behave as if our conduct were to become universal law. In other words, every action we make must be judged in terms of what the world will be like if everyone behaves as we do. Consider littering, for example. We may think throwing one piece of trash on the ground does not hurt anything; however, what if everyone thought this way? What if everyone decided to stop using trash cans, and began throwing garbage all over the place? Do we want to live in a “trashy” world like this? Of course not; therefore, we should take the extra effort to throw our trash in the trashcan, because it is what we want others to do. This is an excellent test to pass through our mind when considering any action: what would the world be like if everyone behaves the way I do?

If what you choose to do with your life happens to bring you large amounts of money, great. But you must understand that the money is not the proof of your success. You are not successful because you happen to be a millionaire. You are a successful person because you elevate those around you and treat others with respect. Take LeBron James for example. Is he successful because he is a millionaire? Is he successful because he is one of the best basketball players in the world? Or is he a success because he is kind and gracious to those he meets, he elevates his teammates and competitors by encouraging them to play harder, and because he gives back to his community? There are other pro athletes who are also millionaires, who reached the top of their profession, who could not also be considered a success because of the way they treat others in the world. Just as there are doctors who are in it for the money, title, and flashy car, there are also doctors who do it for a pure desire to help others. You can have all of the money in the world, but if you are a disrespectful, selfish human being, then you are a failure.

I am not suggesting rich people must give their money away or share it with others in order to be considered successful. If you work hard in order to earn your money, in an honest way, then it is yours to enjoy. However, do not think of yourself as better than others, who may not drive a car as nice as yours, or live in a house as big as yours. These things are merely symbols, and do not mean anything, at all. You are not a better person because you drive a BMW. You just happen to have more money, that’s it. The only thing that determines your worth as a person, and your level of success, is how you treat others and your attempts to leave the world a better place than how you found it.

Potential

“The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” –Michelangelo

Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, motion picture camera, and the light bulb, three inventions which completely transformed the world. One man created things that still have a huge impact on our lives every day. He reached his full potential and look what he created. He thought outside of the box and created things most could never have imagined.

There have only been a handful of people throughout history who have reached their full potential, and look at the benefit to humanity they have been: Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, Alexander Graham Bell, Leonardo da Vinci, William Shakespeare, Eli Whitney, Isaac Newton, the Wright Brothers, Steve Jobs, just to name a few. What if everyone in the world reached the same level the previously mentioned people reached? What kind of world would this be?

Most people throughout history have not done much with their lives. Like I mentioned in my previous post, we tend to just wait around until it is time to die. We tread water, doing to least amount possible, in order to ensure our survival. Most of us focus on ourselves, without much thought to those around us. The people mentioned above did not live this way. They pushed themselves in order to become the best version of themselves as possible. Most of us will never come close to tapping into our full potential.

When you were in high school or in college, or if you still are, did you actually care about the information the teacher was teaching you? I know when I was in high school, I didn’t learn much of anything, but yet I was an honor student. How did I accomplish this? I simply figured out what the teacher wanted. For example, I figured out that the test questions came from the summary at the end of the chapter. I didn’t bother to actually learn the information. I just memorized the summary, then forgot everything after the test. I made it all the way through high school without having to learn a thing. Yes, I got an A in chemistry, but I can’t even begin to tell you the oxidation number of sodium or how to figure it out. I simply showed up for class, went through the motions, and received my A.

Most students, and people in the real world, are just going through the motions, while not absorbing any information at all. We believe we should just show up for class and get an A, whether we learn the information or not. Just complete the report and get an A, whether it discussed the topic or not. Complete all of your credits and get a degree, just because you paid your tuition. Show up for work and receive a paycheck, whether you accomplish any real work or not. This level of mediocrity can be found multiple places throughout this country. It is the mindset of, “All I must do is show up and I will be rewarded.” With this mindset, we are never expected to accomplish anything except the bare minimum. We never challenge ourselves to do more with our lives. We have grown accustomed to having others think for us or do things for us. It is easier to have someone tell us what to do, while getting away with the bare minimum, so that we will not be held accountable if we fail. We simply shift the blame to someone else; it is never our fault. Ask yourself: Do you really challenge yourself, or do you coast through life with unaccountable mediocrity?

President John F. Kennedy once said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Humanity can continue to take the easy way out or we can push ourselves to do and be better. If we coast through life, never accepting any challenges, sure it will be easy, but what do we really get out of it? The ups and downs are what make life worth living. We must learn how to actually apply ourselves and accept the challenges life hands us, instead of just going through the motions.

How do we begin to apply ourselves, while trying to reach our full potential? First we must decide to stop relying on and following others. You have your own functioning brain, use it. Don’t wait to be told to do something or how to do it. Figure it out yourself if you have to. Next, apply yourself. Don’t give up if it becomes too hard, keep going. The fact that it’s hard means that you are growing. If everything in life were easy, we would never grow or become anything better. For example, if you lift weights in order to grow your muscles, it burns. This is because the muscles are getting stronger. If you keep lifting 5 lbs. every day, you will never get any stronger. You must continue to push yourself with more and more weight each day if you hope to grow. You can’t go through the motions every day of your life and expect to reach your potential.

The key to being good at anything is first having at least some interest in it. You should not do something only because it is the next logical step in life or because it is what everyone else is doing. You need to follow your gut. You need to follow your heart. You need to find your passion. We all have the potential to be great at something, we all have the potential to change the world; all it takes is passion. When we are passionate about something, it drives us to go further than we ordinarily would.

Each one of us has something we are really good at and enjoy, we just need to find it, first. How do we do this? 1) Learn about a multitude of things until you find something that appeals to you. Are you really passionate about studying pre-law or are you only doing it because your parents want you to or because lawyers make a lot of money? 2) Have as many experiences as possible until you find something you feel passionate about. 3) Do not second-guess yourself. To quote my favorite movie, Back to the Future, “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” You can accomplish anything you decide to accomplish. The only one who can stop you is you. Dr. Wayne Dyer once said, “Don’t die with your music inside of you.” Each of us has a song to share with the world. Right now, most of us have no idea what that song is, but it’s inside of you somewhere. It would be a shame for you to die without finding it and sharing it with everyone else. Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci, and Steve Jobs didn’t die with their music inside of them, will you?