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Leo Babauta

Writer, Mindfulness Guru, Creator of Zen Habits

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How to Love Your Dark Side

By Leo Babauta

We all have a side of ourselves (or multiple sides) that we don’t want others to see. You might think of this as your “dark side,” or the Gollum in you (as my friend Adam calls it).

It might be that you procrastinate, waste inordinate amounts of time on a certain site or game, drink or smoke too much, are jealous, ungenerous, critical of others, depressed or lonely.

These are not usually things we want others to see. But what if we tried to embrace our inner Gollum? What if we learned to love our dark side?

This is so against our usual approach that it might seem impossible. Love our inner Gollum? Absurd! We normally want to hide it, get rid of it, cure ourselves and forget everything about it.

But what if, instead, you tried:

  1. Telling someone else about your dark side, allowing some sunshine into this dark area of your life.
  2. Being gentler with yourself, and seeing this side of you through loving eyes. For example, maybe you are tired and are craving a rest, maybe you’re sad and want relief from that sadness. In this way, our dark side is not bad, but a (misguided) loving way to relieve our difficulties.
  3. Try giving yourself some compassion rather than being harsh on yourself about it. If you can wish for an end to your difficulties, and give yourself some love, maybe your dark side doesn’t have to be such a bad thing, just another experience in your life to love.
  4. When you start going to your dark side, pause here and allow yourself to just feel whatever pain you’re feeling, rather than going down your usual path of numbing or running away. Stay in the pain, and feel it fully. Immerse yourself in it, with curiosity and love.
  5. Laugh about your inner Gollum, telling others about it with some humor. It’s just another part of you, nothing to be ashamed of. And admitting it to others helps them connect to you in a more intimate way. Own it, and embrace it.

This won’t “cure” us of anything, but it is a gentler, more loving way of seeing ourselves, and dealing with the difficulties we face. I encourage you to try to love this side of yourself, as I’m trying to do with myself.

By Leo Babauta We all have a side of ourselves (or multiple sides) that we don’t want others to see. You might think of this as your “dark side,” or the Gollum in you (as my friend Adam calls it). It might be that you procrastinate, waste inordinate amounts of time on a certain site […]

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The Mindfulness of Pure Experience

By Leo Babauta

Dropping any story or narrative in your head about what’s happening right now … what are the sensations you’re feeling at this moment?

What are you smelling, tasting, feeling, hearing, seeing? What colors, textures, qualities of light can you perceive? What does it feel like where your body makes contact with your clothing, with your chair, with the earth?

This is your pure sensory experience, and it is rare that most of us let ourselves just stay in this place.

Usually, we’re caught up in a narrative about ourselves, our lives, our current situation, other people. We might notice the pure experience, but almost immediately we start judging it, wishing it were different, getting upset at it, or wishing it didn’t have to change.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with having thoughts about our experience — it’s natural. But it can be the cause of anxiety, fear, unhappiness, frustration.

Dropping into the mindfulness of pure experience is a way we can deal with those problems, in any moment.

Actually this is what meditation is, for the most part — dropping into pure experience. Many people misunderstand, and think, “I shouldn’t be thinking! I’m screwing this up, because I keep having thoughts.” This is not a problem. When you meditate, thoughts will come up. You will get lost in a train of thought.

What you want to do, in meditation, is get better at noticing when you’re lost in a train of thought. Then, after noticing, simply return the the immediate sensations of your breath and the rest of your current experience. It’s like waking up from a dream. Meditation is training to wake up more often, and stay awake longer.

Let’s talk about dropping out of thought and into pure experience.

What Pure Experience Is

So what do I mean by “pure experience”? Isn’t everything part of our experience, including thoughts? Yes, that’s technically correct (the best kind of correct), but it’s useful to distinguish between our train of thoughts (what I like to call our “story” or “narrative” about our experience) and the actual sensations of what’s happening right now.

A couple examples of the difference between the two:

  • You feel coldness on your skin (sensation). You immediately think, “This sucks, I don’t like the cold, I need to get warmer.” This is your narrative about the situation, your interpretation, your judgment. It makes you unhappy. The pure experience of cold, without judgment or narrative, is just a sensation.
  • You’re in an airport, and there are noises from people talking all around you, smells from the pretzel shop, light and colors and shapes and visual textures, and more. These are your sensory experience. Your story about how irritating the people are, or how you need to get a cinnamon pretzel in your belly right now, are your thoughts, judgments, narrative. The story can cause you to be unhappy with the situation, but the sensations are just sensations.

So right now, you can notice your sensory experience:

  1. What can you hear? Take a moment to pay attention to all auditory sensations you are receiving.
  2. What light can you see? What is its quality?
  3. What colors and shapes can you see? Soak in the visual sensory information you’re receiving.
  4. What touch sensations can you notice in your body right now? Can you feel your feet, your butt on a chair, your jaw, your chest?

What do you notice? Can you be curious about these sensations, and stay with them?

Noticing Thoughts, and Returning to Pure Experience

What happens when you (inevitably) start thinking about the sensations instead of staying with them?

Well, this can lead to an extended daydream as you get lost in the narrative about your experience. Now you’re not actually experiencing the moment, but caught in your story and judgments.

These judgments usually aren’t helpful — they say some version of, “I don’t like this situation (or other person, or something about myself) and I want it to be different.” Or, “I love this so much and I never want it to end, but it will, oh why does it have to end?” Either way, we can be unhappy, frustrated, clinging to what we don’t want to lose or rejecting what we don’t want to experience.

Instead, we can let go of the story, let go of the judgment, and return to the sensations.

We can practice getting better at noticing whether we’re “in our head” or “in our body.” That means noticing whether you’re lost in thoughts, or present with your experience.

Once we notice being lost in thoughts, we don’t have to judge that. We can just notice, non-judgmentally, and then make it a habit to return to sensation. What sensations can you notice right now?

Don’t judge the sensations, just pay attention to them. Don’t push them away and wish they were different, just be curious about them. Don’t cling to them if you like them, but notice with gratitude and let them flow past you lightly.

This is returning to pure experience, with mindfulness and gratitude.

This is the joyful mindfulness of the present moment. Practice now!

By Leo Babauta Dropping any story or narrative in your head about what’s happening right now … what are the sensations you’re feeling at this moment? What are you smelling, tasting, feeling, hearing, seeing? What colors, textures, qualities of light can you perceive? What does it feel like where your body makes contact with your […]

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about 1 year ago
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Training to Be Relaxed in Stressful Situations - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

Many of us face things every day that stress us out: overwhelming number of tasks, a big meeting, a project that feels really tough, behind on paying bills, someone is upset at us, there’s a family crisis, the world feels chaotic.

Can we find a way to be relaxed in almost any stressful situation?

Absolutely. It just takes some training. And lots of practice.

Let’s imagine you’re feeling stressed right now, about whatever you need to do, about an interpersonal conflict, about something coming up in the near future …

What is it that’s stressing you out about this? You might start telling me all the details of the situation, or all the things the other person has done wrong … but that’s your narrative about it. The thing that’s stressing you out is the narrative, or how you view the situation or person.

What if you could let go of that view, and just be in this present moment, without the narrative? There can be a feeling of peace and openness. Try it right now.

This is the training. Relax the narrative, loosen your view, and drop into the openness of the present moment. Breathe deeply, and relax your body. Relax the jaw, relax the muscles in your torso. Feel the openness in this moment.

With training, you can do this as you go into a stressful meeting, or enter a chaotic scene, or have a difficult conversation. But start with the easier situations: when you’re on your laptop, or washing a dish. When you’re out for a walk, or talking with a friend.

Breathe, relax, let go of the view and narrative, and find the peaceful openness of the present moment.

By Leo Babauta Many of us face things every day that stress us out: overwhelming number of tasks, a big meeting, a project that feels really tough, behind on paying bills, someone is upset at us, there’s a family crisis, the world feels chaotic. Can we find a way to be relaxed in almost any […]

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How to Do the Thing You're Avoiding https://t.co/a5OgxLuhRP

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What are some hard or scary things you’ve been putting of that you’re like to do this year?

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