On Sandstorms and Sustainable Living

The Interruption

A strong wind woke me up at 3 in the morning. It felt like a ferocious storm is ensuing. I chose to ignore it and tried to go back to sleep. After all, my head is still reveling in an unwanted headache that’s close to using up its time. I have decided not to take a pill for it and instead practice the “observing mind” idea. I read about it sometime back. When you’re in pain, you observe your body going through it, how it reacts, it feels and looks, and recognize that the pain is not you. It’s apart from you, and most likely will just pass you by. Your body may be experiencing it but your “being” isn’t affected by it. It’s highly philosophical and I am not the best person to articulate it so let’s just go back to the “storm” story I talked about earlier.

I was starting to imagine movie scenes and pictures of:

  •  a house caught by a tornado, or swept out to the sea, with the site of pirates looming in far ahead, or
  •  a town invaded by zombies with me being the only survivor left 

are becoming vivid as I lie in bed awake. Needless to say, the thought of looking outside finally won me over.

“Calm down, you’ve been watching too much Netflix”.

I got out of bed, stood up, walked towards the balcony door, and peeked behind my curtain. My fresh laundry is now waiving like white flags screaming surrender. As if it wasn’t enough, I slid the door open and yes, a dusty, forceful wind slapped me in the face. I’m awake, I’m alive and a sandstorm is haunting my town.

About 8:30 in the morning the air quality index (AQI) was high. Reducing physical exertion particularly outdoors especially if a person is experiencing symptoms like cough or sore throat, was the advice I got from weather.com. Looking outside I still see people going for a jog or a stroll. No judgment here, perhaps they are just not aware. AQI measures the level of air pollution. You get updates from websites monitoring air quality in your location on any given day along with advice on how to protect yourself and your health.

The Irony

Yesterday, I visited the sustainability pavilion featured at the EXPO here in town. A walk through the place was evocative of the things I was taught at school when I was a kid and how I felt at that time. Again, it brought awareness to how we are contributing to the destruction of the ecosystem and how we can participate in re-building it if we want to survive.  

I think the least that we can do is to consume less and produce more to make life sustainable. It’s not rocket science, and the beauty is we can start with small things. Some ideas of my own:

  • buy fewer clothes, choose durable ones
  • use recyclable bags
  • use public transportation if possible, or travel less
  • consume less meat, eat more vegetables
  • order or cook the right amount of food to avoid wastes
  • save animals, plant something (tree or vegetable)
  • change gadgets only if it’s broken
  • dispose of waste properly

The EXPO made the experience more meaningful by confronting people with well-thought-of questions and then posting a scoreboard to see which of the given options are winning. On the day I visited this was the trend for a few of those:

  • 68% choose to save the Earth rather than escape to Mars
  • 51% wants clean air to breathe more than clean water to drink
  • 69% are willing to get paid badly for doing something they cared about rather than getting highly paid for doing something they disagree with
  • 60% choose to live 100 years into the future than to have lived 100 years into the past
  • 51% opt to be surrounded by annoying people for the rest of their life instead of being lonely for the rest of it
  • 71% would rather be not famous but their family and friends are proud of them instead of the other way around

And get this. 52% choose to find 10 million dollars in a suitcase rather than find true love. Is finding true love becoming overrated? I wonder.

As the pavilion tour rightly puts it, difficult decisions lie ahead.

What choices are we going to make?

Every day we will be confronted with different things. But at the moment, I can start right here. I choose to eat my vegetables, stay indoors, write this article, and hope you’d ponder upon these things and do something about it.

Until then.

I need this place. Can you move over there?

W: Excuse me, how much longer are you staying?

M: For about an hour.

W: Oh okay, you can move over there, you know, because we need this place.

M: Sorry, we just had lunch. We need an hour to rest before we pack up and take off.

W: Oh, so, can we just bring our stuff over because my family is already here, or you could just take the first spot over there. It’s the same size.

I couldn’t understand the woman.  

The first spot is the same size as ours but she wants our spot.

The place is free for everybody, first-come-first-served basis.

It’s one o’clock in the afternoon, we’re resting and she likes us to have enough of it and leave.

Even the proposal to bring their stuff over was ridiculous.

How can you rest when people are moving stuff around?

Choose your battles. 

This was ringing in my ear so loud that I just nudged the rest of my team to pack our things up and leave. I didn’t want to fuel my anger and use up my energy for this “coveted” spot. The reluctance to leave was strong but we did anyway.

Fast forward ten minutes later we found ourselves exploring a more exciting part of the desert. We walked across a lake through a man-made pass, dipping our feet on the water, went up a hill, and took splendid photos of colorful fishes, beautiful swans, and quirky landscapes decorated by heart-shaped begonia, branches of trees, and shrubs.

Talk about a blessing in disguise.

Oftentimes we do things reluctantly. It feels heavy because we’re resisting something emotionally or intellectually. But as heaven would have it, in turn, miracles happen, surprises pour down like rain, good things take place unexpectedly.

Can we be so certain that’s the way stories would unfold every time? I could only tell from my own experience. I have enough to say that when you chose to do what’s good and right based on your inner compass and do it sincerely, rewards are forthcoming.

  • Reluctantly choosing to be patient with a difficult boss has rewarded me with the coolest bosses years after.
  • Reluctantly serving in the community brought me so much happiness and deepened my spiritual growth.
  • Reluctantly studying since I was a kid developed my love for learning.
  • Reluctantly waking up early in the morning has helped me become more centered, more present, and more aware.

I know the journey would have been easier if I did things with less resistance.  But you see, like everything else, cultivating a good attitude is like a muscle, It grows and strengthens over time. When it’s finally “ripe”, the attitude sticks. It becomes second-nature to you.

I’m not saying I’ve already nailed it. I’m still a work in progress, but way better now than years ago. A rebellious kid turned respectful, disciplined fellow (almost)!

I thank that woman who pushed us away. I couldn’t care less if they had a good time.  For me and my buddies, we surely did!  

I guess this is just a simple reminder to us all.

Never underestimate the power of something you know is Good.

A Little Bit Out Of Tune

Work on a weekend.

Posts not published on time.

Errands squeezed in between.

Lack of sleep.

Tough weekend indeed.  

Normally a little discomfort or unwelcomed interruption would annoy me but not today. Not lately.

No, I didn’t take a magic pill. I haven’t found one and I think none exists.

You see not all days are the same. And not every day do we feel great or at least conscious and willful enough to do the right thing even if we don’t feel like it.

A friend of mine and I had this conversation lately. Before I tell you about it, I’d like to say I’m blessed to have the kind of friends with whom I can be vulnerable. Being around them need not require anyone to filter through words or thoughts. You get to say what’s on your mind and what you feel inside even if it’s not at all pretty. Of course, it goes through layers as well. I mean, as trust and respect evolved between and among us, the level of real-time authenticity also deepened. Over time, the roots grew bigger. Big enough to allow any feeling of anger, shame, guilt, fear, inadequacy, or unforgiveness to express itself without the fear of judgment and blame. Talk about being in a safe place.

So there I was with all the baggage I’ve been holding on to for weeks suddenly bursting heavily, like a hesitant thunderstorm finally giving in on a rainy day. Some may find it hard to believe but yes, even the best of us can lose it sometimes.

I poured out all my frustrations and cited all those times I held back from doing what my negative impulse was raging to do. It’s hard to try to keep things together for a long time. I just wanted to shout to the ends of the earth and finally release all these negative charges. Fortunately, I didn’t have to.

Then my friend asked. “So what stopped you from giving in to your frustrations”?

Choice

It takes a lot of will power and heavenly grace to say no to your negative impulses. I tried hard. I held on to the idea of doing the right thing even if it’s not easy or something that I like to do. Doing so wasn’t even a commitment. It was just a conscious, willful choice as I traverse from one moment to another. Some say, “Fake it till you make it”, I say, “Fake it, till you be it”.

Eventually, I don’t want to reach the end of the road and only say “I’ve done all I’ve set out to do”. Rather I want to get there and sigh, “Yes, I’ve made it. I’ve become what I’ve been called to be”. This leads to me to another point.

Consequence

Every day we’re not just choosing and making decisions. We’re trading consequences.  

Sometimes one choice isn’t necessarily better than the other but we get to size ourselves up and see which consequence would we rather have.  

Taking care of an ailing parent, for somebody might mean, postponing Board exams and working on a dream job. Everybody gets to outrun him. While the other boys and girls are chasing his/her dreams, he stays at home taking care of laundry, medical appointments, cleaning after mess, and running errands. At that point, he may not be happy at all or ecstatic about doing his tasks. But a deep sense of meaning and purpose came first. It beat all the odds and trump all desire for excitement and happy encounters for a young guy his age. That was my brother by the way,

So what am I saying?

I have searched for happiness and found how fleeting it is. Sometimes we depend on other people or outside circumstances for it, ‘till eventually, we learn how to create it for ourselves. But as I said, happiness doesn’t get smitten by you or me every single day. So I stopped chasing. Right now I’m in a space where I’m looking out for meaning. 

Meaning behind, 

extraordinary encounters

failed attempts

unrequited love, respect, or attention

ordinary struggles

unanswered prayers

even regular bouts with frustrations.

If something doesn’t make sense to you and you don’t believe in it, why bother? Why should you hold on to it? Why don’t you change course?

But if something does make sense to you, and you believe in it, you do what you need to do. No questions asked. No explanation required. You detach yourself from the outcome and just DO. I have found a sense of peace in this. Hope you do too.

Owning Your Story

On Christmas eve last year, I was still working till about 10 in the evening. I know what you’re thinking. Mind you, it’s not the job. There have been few things here and there that we’re put on hold ‘till 24th because I was on leave for a day. But what made it a long night for work was simply because I chose to. 

You see, I could have decided to pick up the rest of the things the week after, but I didn’t. Choice indeed shapes the kind of experiences we get in life. Here are a couple of things I began to reflect on.

We reap the consequences of the things we put up with.

Take for example the way people treat us. When somebody disrespects you as a human being or disrespects your time, for instance, it’s worth asking yourself:  

Am I contributing to this experience? 

Have I shown him disrespect? 

Have I not made a request for us to respect each other’s time?

Am I experiencing this from this person alone? If yes, this whole thing might not be about me but about him.

Can I change something around this?

Put in reverse, we might have to take a look at how we treat ourselves too. Do we tolerate our laziness, our lack of motivation, our lack of commitment, our being irresponsible, or us not learning lessons from our past mistakes? What are the instances when we might have disrespected ourselves and failed to hold ourselves high up the moral curve? 

How we treat others is reflective of how we treat ourselves. 

The way we show up to the external world around us gives a glimpse of how we show up in our inner world.

We get what we give.

I always believe in the power of intentionality. It’s ideal but not as easy as we think.  

Say you are intentional about designing a balanced life. There are several routes you can go with this, but it all starts with defining what for you is a “balanced life”.

For every person, priorities are circumstance-specific. Meaning, they get arranged according to where we are right now in our life. A student will have different priorities than a wife who just had a baby. Someone whose health is failing might have a different priority than somebody who got his first job. We can never compare and we can never judge how a person designs his own life.

There’s the catch though. I mentioned “design”. You see we have to actively participate in our own story. If we give out crap, we will surely get crap. When we do something good, there’s a big possibility it’s gonna come around like that too. Yes, in reality, bad things happen to good people. But even in that, I believe something good could still come out of it. At least that’s what I’ve seen in my own life.  

Life is what we make it.

There’s really not much we can do about things beyond our control. My faith is in what we can do, to things that are within our control. There’s no point complaining about our experiences and our circumstances. We can choose to stay stuck with what’s undesirable in our life or find ways to move forward. 

So how does this circle back to my Christmas eve story? Well, yes I finished work late but I slept soundly like a baby and enjoyed the 25th without wishing I was somewhere else doing something else.

Choice. It is really powerful. 

We can be pushed around if we allow to.

We can define boundaries if need be.

We can drift through life and not make a call, or,

We can exercise the inner muscle of being intentional and design our life like “We own our own story”. 

Because truth is, we do.

Is your Life a Sham or an Escape?

Two sides of a coin.

We pursue things we don’t really want

Peer pressure, society standards, parents’ wishes, people’s expectations.

We let these things determine the course of our lives and later find ourselves asking, “Why again am I doing this? Who is it for?”.

Clarifying questions like these are helpful.  Often, the questions are easy to ask. The challenge is, the answers we get. Do we like what we hear?

Starting over when necessary for you, would take:

  • Re-defining your intention, 
  • spending time alone with your thoughts, 
  • looking into your heart,
  • taking inventory of what you have,
  • imagining the future you want,
  • charting your course,
  • making the first step,
  • and then the next,
  • and then the next, 
  • and so on.

Building on top of what you already do or have would require the same process. Mind you, you’re not going to use all the tools you’ve gathered up to this point but surely there is something you could work with.

Our desires are misplaced. We feed our cravings instead of focusing on things we value the most.

SUNDAEWRITES

We don’t “want” the things that are good for us.

Think about craving for likes and shares vs focusing on creating.

  • – Fans and followers vs our most important relationships
  • – Success and accolades vs learning and growth
  • – Accomplishment and outcomes vs process and experiences
  • – Luxurious travel destinations vs creating a life you wouldn’t want to escape from.

We are often conflicted. 

On one hand, we want things for us but we want them easy. We despise hard work and run away from challenges and difficulties. We escape reality and seek refuge in fantasy.

On the other, we work hard on things to satisfy others’ expectations even if it drowns our own.

So how can we turn this around? Is there a way we can change the narrative in our own story?

Intention.

I believe this is the missing piece.  

We are easily swayed to having or pursuing what’s “in”, what’s popular, and we carry through days mindlessly ticking off “have to’s”. No wonder why we fall victim to overwhelm, stress, and “time is never enough” syndrome.

Setting out intentions first thing in the morning or wherever you are right now while mulling over this idea would require you to clarify your values. So, what do you value the most?

  • Is it enriching relationships?
  • Is it security?
  • Is it joy?
  • Is it freedom?
  • Is it peace?
  • Is it integrity?
  • Is it love for service?
  • Is it passion?
  • Is it Meaning?

There could be others but imagine these values as your moral compass so to speak. Once you know them,

  • you could build intentions,
  • decisions,
  • actions, and
  • priorities around them.

All else can be blurred in the background or will have to wait. After all, with limited time, space, and resources, you can only focus on a few things and make them significant.

You can’t be everything to everyone. So, carefully choose what you want to do and above that, carefully choose who you want to be.

Why Having More Choices Can Make You Feel Less Happy

It all boils down one thing. But first, let’s go through a typical day.

From the minute you wake up, your mind would have gone through a long list of decisions to make.

  • What will I have for breakfast?
  • What clothes do I wear today?
  • Which pair of shoes would go with it?
  • What should I prioritize at work?
  • What can I order for lunch?
  • Which flavor of ice cream shall I have?
  • Which coffee shall I order?
  • Should I opt for plan A, D, or F?
  • Shall I have meat tonight or fish?
  • Which brand of tissues should I go for? Brand of shampoo?
  • Which show do I watch on Netflix? Which program do I watch on tv?

And the list goes on, and longer especially when you are a parent, a spouse, and you’re trying to do all things and squeeze them all in one day.

Is choosing meant to be a joy-stealer? No. Then why is it draining our energy? Mind you,

It’s not the decision that’s exhausting us, it’s the number of options we have on the table.

Think about these.

If you only have one pair of office shoes, you’d just wear them every day regardless of the style or color of clothes you put on.

If there’s only one brand of tissue, one brand of shampoo, your trip to the grocery store would be done in less than half an hour.

If there’s only one show on Netflix, you never have to scroll through it for too long. You just decide whether to watch it or not.

If there’s only one school in your town or city, you won’t have to spend time comparing. Instead, you can focus your energy on finding ways to pay off tuition fees.

Too many options lead us to experience what Psychologists call Decision Fatigue. It’s

the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making.

Wikipedia

Why? Because,

We use the same amount of willpower every time we make a decision regardless if it’s important or not.

Having too many options before us can be exhausting. Imagine scanning through a lot of information, choices, and combinations, that you end up feeling like, you don’t know what you want anymore. So when you’re faced with more important decisions, you’re left with depleted energy, no focus, and no wits.

There’s no quick way to fix this, but definitely,

We could start with reducing our choices

Dr. Laurie Santos- Yale University

Perhaps:

  • Have the same thing for dinner every night. Create a routine.
  • Have a fewer set of clothes, or stick to two pairs of shoes.
  • Stick to one color theme at home.
  • Only keep one phone. One tv. One mug, if you’re living alone.

Whatever you decide, keep things simple so it’s easier for you. Remember, you only have limited mental energy for the day. Make sure you use it, where it matters the most.