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!

from zen habits https://zenhabits.net/pure/
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The Mindfulness of Pure Experience

5 Ways to Simplify Today

By Leo Babauta

Living a life of simplicity can be a beautiful thing. But simplifying itself can seem like an overwhelming process.

So I recommend simplicity in your simplifying.

Instead of trying to simplify your whole life, tossing out all your clutter and paring your schedule to just meditation and writing your novel … how about just simplifying one thing?

Simplifying one thing is doable. You don’t have to simplify everything today — you’ve got ages to do all of that.

Simplicity is the path.

You can pick one of the ideas below and implement it today. If it works well, continue it tomorrow. Or try one of the other ideas. And do it with a smile!

  1. Single-task. The next thing you choose to do … do only that. Close everything else, put your phone away, and just focus on that one task. If you’re reading this article, stay with it and do nothing else until you’re done reading. When you decide to check social media, check one at a time and do it fully and with mindfulness. When you go for a walk, have nothing to listen to or look at, other than the nature all around you. One thing at a time: wash one dish, just write, just eat. This is such a simple idea, and it’s doable right now.
  2. Use in-between spaces as mini-meditations. When you’re done with one thing, instead of rushing to the next, pause. Enjoy this in-between space. Notice how you’re feeling, what’s around you, what you just did, what your intention is for what you’re about to do. When you’re going somewhere else, whether it’s just another part of the office or another part of your city … just enjoy this time fully, as if it’s just as important as anything else you do, and don’t rush past it.
  3. Let go of one commitment. Our lives are so full because we say yes to so much, and our commitments pile up over time. You can greatly simplify your life by letting go of one commitment. What isn’t fulfilling you? What can you get out of today by telling them you just don’t have space for it? Practice saying no with confidence and love.
  4. Be fully present with someone. Pick someone today to be with fully. Put away your phone, let go of anything else you’re thinking about, and just be with them. Listen to them. Try to fully see them. Open your heart to them. Send them your love. If you do this with one person a day, which is such a simple thing to do, your life will become better through better relationships and connection.
  5. Clear one space. Find one little area in your work space or home, and declutter it. Just the amount of space that you can hug. For example, just a little space on your desk or kitchen counter. Let this be the blissful oasis of peace and simplicity that will ripple outward to the rest of your life!

These are five little things you can do no matter what you have going on today — don’t do all five things, but just pick one.

And enjoy the simplicity that comes with the doing.

from zen habits https://zenhabits.net/simplify-now/
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5 Ways to Simplify Today

My New Course: Living the Simple Life

By Leo Babauta

I started simplifying my life in 2005, about 12 years ago, and since then I’ve not only learned a lot about it, but have written books on simplicity as well. It’s been one of the best changes I’ve made in my life.

Simplicity has brought less stress, more peace, better finances, more focus, and most importantly … space in my life for what’s most important to me.

Some of the key things I’ve been able to do because of simplicity:

  • Get my finances in order and (eventually) get out of debt
  • Have quiet time in the morning to meditate, read and do my most important work
  • Make time for exercise, which helped me get in much better shape
  • Make time for my wife and kids, where I didn’t have time before
  • Create a business that I love
  • Enjoy the spaces between all of the above

It might sound like I’m exaggerating the benefits of simplicity, but I really believe that it helped me with all those areas and more. Not magically overnight, but slowly and with effort, of course. But it happened, when I struggled with it all before.

So I’m doing a video course in my Sea Change Program this month called “Living the Simple Life.”

Here’s how it works:

  1. Every week this month I’ll publish two video lessons
  2. There’s a challenge to spend 5-10 minutes each day to simplify part of your life
  3. There are weekly check-in threads in the forum and discussion threads for each lesson
  4. I’ll hold a live video webinar on Simplifying & Letting Go on July 15
  5. I’ll also try to answer questions submitted on the forum

And here are the lessons in the Living the Simple Life course:

  1. Why Simplify, & What a Simple Life Looks Like
  2. Simplifying Possessions, a Little at a Time
  3. Simplifying Your Day
  4. Simplifying Finances
  5. Simplifying in a Simple Way
  6. Obstacles to Simplicity
  7. Simple Productivity
  8. 3 Keys to Living Life Simply

This is all included in my Sea Change Program, which you can sign up for today. You also get access to a huge library of other courses and content for changing your life, one step at a time. I hope you’ll join me, I’m really excited!

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My New Course: Living the Simple Life

Conquer Your Day with Mini-Missions

By Leo Babauta

You haven’t been very productive lately, admit it.

You’ve been watching too many videos, cruising your favorite social media, haven’t exercised in too long … you’re slipping, my friend.

I’ve got the fix for you. Mini-missions.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You set yourself a few mini-missions for the day. For example: 1) Write Zen Habits post, 2) Workout, 3) Shoot video lesson for Sea Change Simplify Your Life course. Ideally, they don’t last for more than 15 minutes, but you could do mini-missions of 20-30 minutes if you’re feeling strong.
  2. Pick one mission, and get yourself ready. Stand up, stretch, move your body, psyche yourself up to conquer the mission. Play some pump-up music. Clear your computer or work area. Dive in.
  3. Stay focused, power through, kick some butt.
  4. Reward yourself when you’re done. Raise your fist in victory, then allow yourself a treat. For example: you get to check your favorite social media or watch a Youtube video, or eat that cookie you’ve been craving after your workout.

You can repeat this several times each day, up to five times. If you accomplish five mini-missions in a day, that’s amazing! Give yourself an extra reward.

If it helps, tell someone about your next mission, ask them to hold you accountable.

But even without accountability, you can get yourself psyched up and focused on one mini-mission at a time. Why does this work? Because you’re setting something accomplishable but important in front of yourself, and getting yourself motivated for 10-20 minutes. This is doable. And you’re making it fun, playing a game, not making it drudgery. Play is an amazing way to get things done.

If you can set yourself mini-missions every day, you’re going to see some amazing results.

OK, I’m done with this mini-mission, time for a cookie!

from zen habits https://zenhabits.net/missions/
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Conquer Your Day with Mini-Missions

The Clean-as-You-Go Principle

By Leo Babauta

I’m not obsessive about neatness, but I’ve learned ways of keeping my house neat and clean in a simple, stress-free way.

I call it the “Clean-as-You-Go Principle.”

That’s pretty self-explanatory, but of course I can’t resist going into the details. And also, I’ve found this principle to be great for other areas of my life: finances, email, work tasks, etc.

The basic idea is that, instead of waiting for the house to get really dirty and then having to spend a lot of time cleaning it, you just clean a little bit at a time.

Here are some of the ways I apply it (most of the time, not perfectly of course):

  1. When I’m done eating, I (usually) wash my dishes instead of leaving them in the sink. I’ll also often put away any food that’s leftover, wash cooking dishes like the pan, knife and cutting board, and wipe up the counters. It just takes a few minutes, actually.
  2. When I’m done brushing my teeth, I wipe the bathroom sink and counter to keep it clean. Having a washcloth nearby makes this easy.
  3. When I use the bathroom, I will use the toilet brush to clean it if it’s getting a little dirty. So my toilet is usually fairly clean.
  4. If I see a mess as I walk through the house, I’ll usually put a few things away. Takes just a minute, and no more mess!
  5. I’ll often sweep up the kitchen if I see some crumbs on the floor. Not every day, maybe every other day.
  6. If I see dust on the floor, I’ll wipe it up or get the broom and sweep it up.
  7. If I lift weights in the garage, I use my rest periods to clean the garage, a little at a time.
  8. When I cook, if something has to simmer for a minute, I clean up my cooking area as I wait, in between stirring the food. So when I’m done cooking, there’s not a big mess.

You get the idea. None of these takes more than a minute or three, but by doing it as I go, it takes very little effort and I never have a really messy house.

Of course, a deeper cleaning is still required sometimes, but not as often, and it’s not as hard. Overall, this is an easy system that works really well for me. (Note: My kids don’t always follow it, but I either pick up after them or ask them to clean their messes whenever I see them.)

Applying the Principle to Other Areas of Life

OK, so a clean house — big deal, Leo! Give me something important to try out.

Alright, I like your attitude!

So let’s apply this to other areas of our lives:

  1. Emails: Every time you go into your inbox, clear out a batch. Like, archive/delete the ones you don’t need (or better yet, unsubscribe), then do some quick replies. Put ones that require longer tasks into a folder and add the tasks to your to-do list. You can do all of that in 5 minutes. Then get out of the inbox. Repeat later.
  2. Work tasks: As you go through your day, in between the important tasks of checking social media, watching videos and playing games … why not take care of mini-tasks for work? Just take care of them a little at a time. Break bigger tasks into things you can do in a few minutes (write just the outline of a blog post!). Scrub things a little at a time, and they don’t require huge commitments. Again, there are things that require longer focuses, but clean-as-you-go can be very helpful for keeping things in order.
  3. Finances: I like to put my bills, savings and investments on auto-pay, for the most part … but I will very often check them (using online software like Mint.com to have all the info in one place) and make payments or adjustments if needed. Basically, if I see something that needs fixing, I (usually) take the few minutes and take care of it, rather than leaving it for later.
  4. Health & fitness: I’m not training for a marathon or anything else right now, so I don’t dedicate large amounts of time to fitness. I just do a little bit every day. Do some pushups and chinups today, some barbell squats tomorrow, go for a run or bike ride the day after that, do some yoga for 20 minutes or so the next day, play basketball or go for a walk with the kids, etc. The idea is that if I do a bit every day, I don’t need to deal with health problems later.

I’m not perfect at any of this, by any means. But I’ve found that this principle can help me in so many ways, making lots of areas of my life a lot less stressful, a lot less messy, and a lot easier.

from zen habits https://zenhabits.net/clean/
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The Clean-as-You-Go Principle

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.

from zen habits https://zenhabits.net/gollum/
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How to Love Your Dark Side

How to Be Happy When You’re in an Unhappy Situation

By Leo Babauta

Sometimes life throws you into a miserable situation, and it can seem pretty dark.

Just a few examples of unhappy situations:

  • You lost a loved one
  • You received bad news
  • Your finances are messed up
  • You’re having a bad day at work
  • Your partner is mad at you or has broken up with you
  • You’re sick or really tired
  • You’re in pain
  • Someone has hurt you emotionally

These are terrible, and it’s normal to be pretty unhappy when things like this happen. You might wonder why life sucks so hard. Why can’t things be better?

Often things are out of our control, and we can’t always fix these situations, at least not easily or right away. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find happiness somewhere in that miserable situation.

Happiness is possible, if you learn a few simple techniques:

  1. Allow yourself to be unhappy. When we’re feeling bad, feeling in pain, all we want is to get away from it. Ignore it, pretend you’re fine, comfort yourself from the pain, shield yourself, lash out in defensiveness, numb it with drugs, distract yourself. This is a very human response. But actually, wanting to get away from the unhappiness doesn’t make it better. It usually just prolongs the pain, makes problems worse. Instead, tell yourself that it’s OK to feel unhappy, it’s OK to feel pain. Pause and allow yourself to feel it, to fully be immerse in that unhappiness. See that it’s OK, and be curious about it, explore it, become intimate with it. It’s not pleasant, but it doesn’t kill you. And in fact, it’s where the healing starts, where growth happens.
  2. See the pain as aliveness. Now that you’re face-to-face with the pain and misery, now that you’re touching it and intimate with it … see that in fact, it is a tender feeling of being alive. Life isn’t numbness and avoidance (at least, not exclusively), and it’s not all butterflies and sunshine. Being alive means feeling pain, feeling fear, feeling disconnected sometimes. Allow yourself to feel it, and imagine that this is what living feels like. Yeah, you could say, “That sucks,” or you could say, “What an interesting experience, being alive.” It’s like bungie jumping or how I imagine it would feel if you discovered you could fly: full of fear, excitement, shock and joy. That is an incredible experience. You’re having one of those right now.
  3. Find gratitude somewhere. Being fully alive, being fully immersed in this experience of this moment … what is there to be grateful for? Even small things, like the sight of leaves outside trembling in the wind or someone laughing nearby. Or things we take for granted, like eyesight and music. Having relationships. Being supported by millions of people. Being able to do all the things you can do. The taste of a strawberry or the smell of food being cooked. Your breath. You can find gratitude for any of these things, at any time, including right now. Find three happy things in this moment to be grateful for.
  4. Find joy in being alive. You are alive! You should be singing from the hilltops. Even in our worst moments, we can find some joy in this not-small fact, that we are alive. Your heart is pumping. How freakin’ awesome is that?

Yeah, I know. It’s hard. I’m not saying that doing this will magically make everything better. But there’s always joy to be found in every moment, if we dare to look.

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How to Be Happy When You’re in an Unhappy Situation