Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Affirmations from Buddha.


~~~ Buddha ~~~
Many words of inspiration can be found in religious texts, I have often perused the archives of human spirituality scrutinising and dissecting every line and every verse, attempting to unravel the quandary that is life and fill the wanting void.  It seems to be a common human condition that we seek external guidance when the going gets tough or when life's pressures seem insurmountable. People, and often entire cultures, tend to look toward a perceived higher power or an "enlightened" doctrine to solve their problems.  Nearly everyone I speak with can attest to this "inner void" we all feel from time to time, and just about everyone fills it with the wrong things, myself included.

Minimalism was my first step towards physically decluttering life but as I stripped away the unnecessary garbage significant holes were left behind.  I had spent so much time working, earning money and buying things that I had neglected what was really important. The gaps left after this purging process were almost palpable.  Removing the physical junk revealed an even bigger mountain of mental clutter previously masked by worldly consumeristic conducts.  I found this a very daunting situation to be in and at times my resolve really wavered.

Fortunately, it didn't take me long to realise that what had been missing were meaningful relationships and inner spiritual peace.  I am not saying that these important elements didn't exist in my life per se, but they had been seriously neglected and were in need of some real effort on my part.  At this point in my life minimalism became as much a diagnostic tool to identify issues as it was a tangible method for removing material clutter.  The more I removed the more minimalism revealed.  What an incredible web of self deceit I had woven.  Indoctrinated by society, but equally indoctrinated by my own mindset, all made worse by a plethora of meaningless external validation pushing me further down the wrong path.

Historical religious leaders have often been referred to as the first minimalists, many religious doctrines advocate the removal of attachments to the physical world and earthly possessions.  Look at the life of Christ for the ultimate example of selfless minimalism.  For Christ the things that mattered were spirituality and relationships, all impeccably encapsulated in the instruction, "love God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself."

Buddhism and it's teachings have often been a source of daily affirmations for me, while I am not a Buddhist that does not preclude me from seeing pertinent truths within it's teachings.  As minimalism changed my daily life so I was able to give more attention to the underlying cause for the way I had been living.  In the end it was all about free choice, I had made a conscious choice to live a worldly life, now it was time to choose to live a different one.  Minimalism was now about changing the way I think, it had become a mental endeavour where the junk was no longer physical and easy to dispose of.

At this point in my life minimalism was still a new concept, daily affirmations were therefore very important to me. They gave me focus and served to remind me where I was heading and why.  Most people who choose minimalism as a lifestyle initially make good progress, physical decluttering is the easy part, but soon realise that if minimalism is to become sustainable it's their mindset that ultimately must change.  As I mentioned, this was the hardest part for me and the part I still battle with the most.  You have probably noticed that a larger percentage of my posts relate to changing the way you think, this is of utmost importance.  I still discuss techniques for physical change like debt reduction, decluttering, parsimonious living techniques and so on but without a mental left shift most people simply end up back where they started.  Physical minimalism is no more than monkey see monkey do if not backed up by a complete change of thinking.

The message I want to share more than any other is that you can adopt every and any technique you like in order to bring about change in your life, but if you don't radically alter how you think you wont get far before you fall.  Change your mind to change your life, this is the essence of minimalism.  Your ultimate goal as a minimalist needs to be the provocation of a thought process that empowers you to formulate your own solutions to problems, change on a mental level will create change on a physical level.

 
 
The quotes below are from Buddhist texts and are just a few that I found really helped me on a daily basis to stay focused.  Encourage yourself daily and change the way you view life because this is where minimalism begins. 

"All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.

All wrong-doing arises because of mind. If mind is transformed can wrong-doing remain?

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.

However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you If you do not act on upon them? 

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
 
In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true."


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Care Factor Zero - The Sooner You Don't Care The Better You Will Feel

Have you ever heard the phrase "care factor zero", I am sure you have?  The phrase is for the most part used in a negative way, defiantly against authority / common sense or to portray the speakers total lack of interest in something (smugly spoken).  I also hear it used during arguments, usually by the person losing the debate, in the form of a "shrug off" to the victor.  For most people the phrase would have a negative connotation, or at the least you would have encountered it's use in a negative situation.  I have actually learned to embrace this phrase, now more and more often applying it to situations in my life.  I will explain more as the post progresses.

Of course there are many things in life that we do need to care about, this goes without saying, but I would like to encourage you to start NOT caring.  I believe we need to learn to say no, to turn our backs on STUFF, and to walk in a new direction.  The question is however, what things and how?  As with everything in life the answer will be different for me than it is for you but as a minimalist learning not to care about certain things has been one of the most freeing experiences of my life.  Saying no and reversing years of subliminal and other forms of societal indoctrination has been the hardest part of my journey as a minimalist but the most rewarding.  The physical tossing of junk is easy, learning to let go of attachments and the underlying mental brainwashing is really where minimalism begins, it is our mindset that creates the physical ties we have to worldly possessions.  I have always stated that minimalism is a mental concept not just a bunch of physical actions.  The battles a minimalist fights, in my experience, are usually in the mental realm not the physical one.

The "what and how" I mentioned above were only revealed to me after I understood minimalism and had defined the concept specific to my life and situation. This is an essential starting point for any new minimalist and one I have elaborated on in earlier posts.  You need to go through this process to have a clear understanding of minimalism, to establish a starting point, and to provide future direction.  Take these initial steps and you will have a foundation to build on and clarity of purpose.  Complete lucidity of thought is so very important because with it comes focus and with focus comes determination and strength.

Consumerism, keeping up with the Jones, success (worldly definition), greed, jealousy, anger, control issues, self esteem, hate, coveting, peer pressure, ego, addictions, these are some of the things a minimalist needs to learn to say no to.  This is where we need to embrace the phrase "care factor zero" and learn to reverse a lifetime of programming, this is where minimalists fight for their freedom and walk a different path to the majority.  Yes minimalists are a minority subculture but I am very happy being so.

Essayist and Poet Ralph Emerson summed it beautiful in his quote below.  To be yourself, your true self, amidst all the pressures of modern life should be considered any man's greatest triumph.  Do this and I promise you will enjoy real freedom, your relationships will soar to new heights, and you will finally experience life and love as it was meant to be.

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

To finish please have a read of the quotes below, I have ordered them in a conceptual sequence, can you follow the underlying theme?  To me they paraphrase thus, Don't be afraid to be crazy or different, people like us change the world.  Don't be afraid to try new things, they are the spice of life.  Don't be afraid to walk your own path, you will always find someone to walk with you.  Don't be afraid to be yourself, in doing so you will find true and lasting friendship.
~~~ James Miller ~~~

“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” ― Apple Inc.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ― H. Jackson Brown Jr.

“Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” ― Albert Camus

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” ― Elbert Hubbard

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Minimalism, Once You Are Free Then What ?

Make The World A Better Place One Person At A Time

 
 
 
Recently I decided it was time to take a critical look at some of my undertakings.  After delving into just about every aspect of my life I decided that there were some things in need of a little tweaking if they were to conform with my current views as a minimalist.  After making slight modifications to several of my pursuits I was feeling pretty good about where I was at, but then I happened upon an Internet article about success and failure.  The basic premise of the article, although greatly paraphrased, was that modern society has undergone a paradigm shift and the way we currently view "success" has changed considerably.  Further, the article suggests that people increasingly feel like a failure in life because our definition of success has become less about unselfish personal goals and more about keeping up with our peers.  Our yardstick for measuring success now seems to involve a much greater need for external validation, without this validation we don't see ourselves as successful.  This article really got me thinking....

People need to feel wanted, we need it from our spouses, our family, friends and peers. Some need it more than others, but as a general rule people have an innate yearning for some level of personal confirmation. Much of what we do in life is driven by this desire, if you examine the motivation behind many of your actions you will begin to recognise a pattern. I believe our desire for personal validation has become so intertwined with modern consumer mindsets that most believe success is simply a measure of what we have in life, bigger houses, better cars mean we must be successful. The greater the external sources we have around us to endorse this believe the stronger it becomes and the more we associate "success" with the corroboative opinions of others.  We seek this type of external substantiation daily on a subconscious level often being unaware we are doing so. Why did you pick those special jeans, those boots, that hair style, that car, house, boat, caravan.... getting the picture? Why did you work so hard to get the 6 figure job, that promotion with the better office and the great view.... why, why, why? Can you see that little validation monster insidiously lurking behind your every decision?

People are gregarious companionable creatures, we enjoy the company of others. Positive feelings of self worth are derived from the opinions and views that other people have of us. The risk here is that when we place a disproportionate importance on these opinions we are essentially allowing others to authenticate "success" for us through their eyes not our own. Of course not everything we do in life is driven by the need for external (or internal) validation, but more often than not our decisions gain weight, in one direction or another, based on the potential for this to happen.  As a young man my choice of cars was always determined by what my mates would think of my new wheels, obviously to that end a V8 with wide tyres and a screaming exhaust became my vehicle of choice.  When driving my hot V8 I felt successful, and the opinions of my mates gave me the reinforcement to believe this was so.... Ah how simple was life, but then I grew a conscience.

"Whatever your striving for validation looks like, you are not alone. Renowned social psychology researcher Albert Bandura showed that we’re constantly comparing ourselves against others and making decisions accordingly.....

But we’re no longer trying simply to survive. The luxury and curse of our era is that we can do virtually anything we want with our lives.

And in this world of possibility, you are leaving your greatest potential unfulfilled by letting others define what success means for you.

Simply recognize that the more conscious and deliberate you can be about what success means for YOU, the more empowered you will be to pursue the path that’s true for you." - Taylor Jacobson


 Success in it's self will have a different definition from person to person and it is our individual right to decide exactly what we call success and therefore the accomplishments we seek to achieve.  For me, this is where the rubber really hits the road.  When was the last time you evaluated your "success" in life?  When did you last ask yourself the question "what does success really mean to me" ?
 
 

 
 

After looking at my personal definition of success I thought I was doing OK, I am ticking many of the boxes I had sought to tick, my life, along with my family, are moving in a positive direction all due to the concept of minimalism.  Then this article got me thinking again, on a world wide scale I am actually pretty unsuccessful.  I might be successful living my life as a minimalist, stress and worry are at an all time low, my finances are good, debt non-existent, but this success is based on my own life plan and goals as a minimalist, how can I sit back and enjoy my new found freedom while so many others are suffering. 

My broader view of success is definitely still a work in progress, it was only recently that I began to see a bigger world wide picture, and how I should work that into my overall life plan.  It's very easy, once you have found the freedom that minimalism can give, to then rest comfortably on your laurels, but this is not what minimalism is meant to be.  Once your life is clear of all the junk consider the bigger picture and how you might seek to leave your mark on the world.

This post is not about suggesting anything specific, that's for you to decide, this post is simply about remembering when all is said and done there are still people around us everywhere that need our help.  Never be too busy that you can't show love or give a helping hand.  At the end of the article I noticed a comment from a reader, they summed the article by quoting a passage from Emerson, I would like to do the same. 
 
"Success
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded." - Emerson

 Only when we work TOGETHER can we realise our potential as a united people hand in hand, can we answer the call "PLEASE HELP", can we fill the outstretched HANDS of those without food, only then can we stop the TEARS of those who need us the most.
 
 
 
~~~ James Miller ~~~

Monday, 8 July 2013

Be Careful What You Wish For. Dream A New Dream.

 
How often do you let your mind drift off to that dreamy place where everything is perfect, just like you have always wished?  When I was a child I imagined that I had the same magical powers that superman had, that was my dream and all I thought about.  Dreaming is a great way to escape, even for adults, it's a form of meditation that helps lower stress levels and revitalise the mind.  I hold the belief that true intelligence is not a measure of what we know but of what we can imagine.  Anyone can learn, but that's really just monkey see monkey do.  Having a head full of book knowledge is more an indicator of how you spend your evenings and how good your memory is than of how intelligent you are.
 
Real intelligence is being able to use your "book knowledge" to make dreams a reality, to change lives, to invent new things, to create new ways of living and seeing the world.  The real pioneers throughout history were firstly dreamers and secondly doers.  Dreams are the chalkboard of great architects, the canvas of inventors, and the chisel of a master sculptor.
 
Most of the mistakes that we make in life come from dreaming the wrong dreams, or from imagining unrealistic outcomes from our dreams.  Of course it's crucially important that we keep dreaming, forever imagining better ways to do things, better ways to relate to people, better ways to see life and the world.  It is however a mistake to chase the wrong dreams to the extent that people around you suffer from your pursuits.  As I said, dreams are a great sounding board, a great place to pin up the butchers paper and pencil your ideas, but like everything in life you need to keep things realistic and within the realms of sensible possibility.  You should always table your ideas and consider everything in light of your family, your relationships and yourself.
 
I can almost hear the naysayers at this point,
"if it were not for passionate men chasing impossible dreams modern society would never have evolved and we would still be using the horse and cart."
Guess what... they are right!!  If it were not for such people many of life's modern conveniences would not exist, medicine, industry, art, literature, architecture, the list goes on, would never have become a reality.  Despite this indelible fact I would like to challenge the modern notion that we all should chase our dreams and make them happen at all costs. As a minimalist I believe that we need to temper our dreams and focus more on collective aspirations rather than individual ones.  Many lives, relationships, and families have been ruined by the selfish pursuits of just one person.  Is that person you ?  Are you letting your personal dreams / wants come before the things of real importance in your life?  If you are then now is the time to change, remember once is a mistake, twice is a choice, learn from your mistakes and re-establish your priorities based on things that really matter.  I chose to become a minimalist because I no longer felt the need to chase over the top personal dreams, someone else can run that gauntlet, I want the quiet life, a life of meaning and deep personal connections, I have nothing in life to prove other than my devotion to the ones I love.  Make your dreams come from your heart, because if you allow your heart to hold your real treasures then your dreams will reflect what really matters.
 
 
 
~~~ James Miller ~~~
 
 

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Palliation Is Not A Cure. Today's Challenge.


If you have been thinking about minimalism as a life style change, but have not yet taken the plunge, I would like to encourage you to stop procrastinating, jump off the fence and give it a try.  If you decide that it's not for you then no real harm has been done, other than cleaning out some junk and clutter.  Fence sitting may be a safe, but it certainly isn't productive.  You can never realise any real change in life if you continue to err on the side of caution. 

Before you begin have a read of this and other blogs, formulate your own definition of minimalism and evaluate it's worth in light of your own personal or family situation.  Remember, there is no point doing something if your heart is not in it.  Minimalism requires intentional steps towards your goal, change won't happen of it's own accord.  If you maintain your current status quo, sure you wont be risking anything but nothing will change either.  Actually, now that I have read that sentence back it's not really correct.  If your current status quo is a slow decline into the mire of consumerism then doing nothing will ensure you continue in that negative unproductive direction, things will continue to get worse not better.  Doing nothing may well be just as bad as doing the wrong "something" as the eventual result will be further chaos in your life.

Remember doing nothing is the same as changing nothing, doing nothing is not a cure to your current situation.  You will need to take steps to see change, if you take the wrong steps you may not see the results you want but at least you have tried something and learned from the mistake.  Aussies are very good at the term "she'll be right mate" and tend to wait till things are a crisis point before acting.  Minimalism is a proactive approach towards the alleviation of many of life's stresses, don't be afraid to give it a try.  At the very least examine the concept and see if you can formulate a definition that suits your current needs.

If I can be of any help at all feel free to post questions here or email me directly at: australian.black.opals@gmail.com

~~~ James Miller ~~~

Monday, 1 July 2013

Don't Spoil Your Children.

What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? - Matthew 7:9
I honestly believe that in today's modern world we are forgetting how to raise our children.  Think back to your childhood summer holidays, what did you do?  I was out with my mates at every opportunity, riding bikes, swimming, playing cricket, I was always outdoors and most, if not all, of the things we did were totally free.  All I needed was a couple of bucks in my pocket for lunch and 20 cents for a phone call (from a public phone box) if I had to call mum or dad.  This was summertime bliss, never in my life have I ever felt this free, and never in my life did I own less, I was not wrapped in cotton wool and I survived just fine....

We all want to give what is best to our children, we want them to be happy, healthy, well educated, and safe.  We delight in seeing them grow, watching the varied nuances associated with every stage of their physical and mental development.  In my opinion however it's blindingly obvious that as societies values have changed so we as parents have had a priority shift analogous with that change.  More and more focus has been placed on the importance of our children having everything they want.  Parent's evenings seem filled with sports practise, music practise, gymnastics, singing and dancing classes, drama classes, play rehearsals, just to name a few.  The weekends then revolve around parents rostering themselves as taxi's to transport kids to even more outings and events.  When parents finally get some "time off" they are usually financially and mentally drained and thus don't do much more than watch footy and have a beer (or something similar) in an attempt to recharge their own batteries ready for the onslaught of the coming week.

I would like to pause for a moment and say two important things; firstly, in moderation these activities are not the problem.  Secondly, a family consists of more than just the children, parents don't neglect yourselves!! It seems the balance has shifted so far from centre that parents now base what they do for their children more on consumerism and keeping up with the Jones than they do on good old fashioned common sense and values.  SLAP..... wake up people... We are spoiling our children to death and in the process turning them into selfish teens without realisation of family values or an understanding of what is important in life.  With every generation I notice this gradient of moral decline seems to be getting steeper.  If they ask for bread, of course you won't give them a stone, but increasingly pressured parents seem to give kids not just their daily bread but the whole bakery as well.

I have friends whose lives revolve around their children, it's sad because as their kids want more and more so they spend more and more time and money trying to provide for them.  The result of all this effort is usually at the expense of their own relationship.  Find a balance parents, you were not put on this earth to live solely for your kids.  Below are some simple points that I find helpful for parents to follow :

1.  Establish appropriate bed times, children need rest and structured routines... Not forgetting that parents need child free relaxation time too.  We need it for our own relationships and general sanity.  If you are not looking after yourself how can you expect to look after your kids.  Possessions and countless external activities don't grow relationships or develop meaningful value sets.

2.  No means No, think your decisions through carefully then stick to them, always however be prepared to gently explain your rationale.

3.  Present a united front, make sure you discuss decisions with your spouse in private, make your decision, and stay firm and united.  Children are masters at divide and conquer, it's no surprise that this saying dates back to the ancient Latin  Divide et impera.... it was probably scribed by a frustrated parent :-) (actually I think it was Caesar).

4.  Don't involve your kids in too many activities, two or three at most, the most nurturing times you spend with them will be during family activities not individual ones.  We allowed one musical instrument, one sporting commitment and a sensible personal choice for our daughter. If she wanted to change then something had to be dumped in favour of another activity or personal pursuit.

5.  Let the kids pick the activities they want to be involved in, and allow them to decide to change if they don't like their current endeavours.  Don't however indulge ridiculous requests, sensible boundaries based on time and finances ultimately need to govern this decision making process.  It is damaging to a child if a parent indulges their every whim, but it is equally or more damaging when you don't give of yourself and your time when children REALLY need it.

6.  Don't live your children's lives for them.  You have had your crack at life, let your kids develop their own personalities and interests.  Never try to relive your life through them, children are not show pieces - Don't be SOCCER MUMS,  pushing kids into all the things you wished you had done means you are doing it for yourself not for them.

7.  Encourage productive friendships.  Every parent has met the "friend from hell", someone you know has the potential to lead your kids down the wrong path.  Gently discourage such friendships while supporting and encouraging healthy and productive ones.  At the end of the day however your kids need the freedom to make choices of their own, so be ever mindful but only intervene when really necessary.

8.  Be natural, honest and open, don't be scarred to talk with your children even if the subject matter is confrontational.  Remember we raise our kids we don't own them, so allow them to grow and developed in an informed, open, and honest environment.

9.  I know the old bible says "spare the rod spoil the child", but it is one bible verse I do not agree with.  I have never found the need to be violent toward my child and I never, under any circumstances, will find a reason to.  Violence is reactive not proactive, developing an open and transparent relationship with your children will ensure you can talk all issues through in a non confrontational manner.  Talk, talk, and more talk, be kind in what you say yet firm with your opinion.  Using threats and intimidation against children is a recipe for a rebellious teenager.

10.  Encourage, applaud, smile, love, hug and constantly reassure your children.  Love them with all your heart not all your money!!

To conclude I would like to encourage you to think carefully with all you do regarding your kids, you have been given stewardship over their lives but you do not own them.  Gently steer them with love, encouragement and understanding so that when they finally leave the nest they soar greater and higher than you ever expected.  This is the greatest gift we can ever give our children.  The link below has some sensible and relevant ideas, please have a look and feel free to comment.

 
~~~ James Miller ~~~