Our world gets more global and fast by the day. As a result, our minds have the ability to become confused at a faster rate than ever before. As more data comes into our brains, the less chance we have to assimilate and react gracefully.
We get cluttered with life-gunk and have no idea how to floss our mind and attain clarity. But don’t panic. I’ve condensed every aspect of my monk training into seven levels in order for you to study your mind, your body, and your emotional system, and become the modern-day warrior you were meant to be. I’ll even provide some common excuses that come with some of these disciplines—and why they are wrong.
Seven Levels of Self-Development:
- Waking Up Early
- Yoga and Meditation Practice
- Read and Learn New Things
- Write Anything
- Work Out and Eat Healthful Foods…Most of the Time
- Listen to Your Language
- Take the Blame
Waking Up Early
Waking up early is hard, tiring, and sometimes painful, but when this specific discipline is accomplished, the day is sacred, more secure, and powerful. Try to wake up 30 minutes earlier than you normally do, and eventually wake up before the sun does, when everything is dark and quiet outside. The routine itself is doable and the mystery of the early morning routine slowly begins to reveal itself.
Excuse: Some of my clients have tried to get out of this one by explaining that they stay up later so they don’t have to wake up earlier. They are night owls and are productive late at night.
Wrong. The morning hours help us prepare for the rest of the day, so pushing those hours of routine and ritual to the evening don’t have the same preparatory impact. We wake up early not just to fit in more time in our day, but to prepare for the day itself. When we are up and ready and in our own head before the world gets to us, we are able to absorb the impact of the pressures of the world in a less stressful way.
The alternative is to get as much sleep as possible, wake up just in time to get ready and maybe eat something and rush off to work or school. Our mind’s ability to process the pressures of society are reduced as we attempt to stay out of stress’s way. When we aren’t ready to face the world, the world will appear to show no mercy. Wake up early and prepare yourself before the world pushes back, and your reactions will come from a place of calm.
Yoga and Meditation
Most think that yoga is calming, relaxing, and stress relieving—and it is. But the main point of yoga is to stretch out the nervous system so we can absorb more pressures from society. The more pressure we can take, the more effective we will be at leading our own lives.
Meditation naturally follows yoga and helps us consciously train our ability to move awareness. When we can move our awareness at will, we can move out of anger, frustration, jealousy, and resentment—the lower emotions that constantly attempt to take our equanimity away. Practicing yoga and meditation in the early morning hours will eventually mean we control our own emotions, our mind, and our body throughout the day.
Excuse: I’m too inflexible to do yoga and I’m terrible at meditation. Each time I try to sit, my mind wanders and I fall asleep.
I get that one a lot when it comes to yoga and meditation. What most people don’t realize is that yoga doesn’t mean standing on your head; it means “to attach, join, harness, yoke” and to yoke or join means to bring your mind into a peaceful state with itself and merge with a contentment that already exists within you. Uniting our spirit with the divine is something that everyone can do, and there are many ways to go about it. If we hold onto this state, then we naturally end up in meditation.
Reading is one of the most powerful tools our mind has in the form of education, self-development, and overall upkeep for our brain as we get older. If we do not take the time to read, then our brains will atrophy and the level of sharpness our minds had during schooling will be the peak of our mental development.
We cannot learn enough from our own experience since it’s far too short and slow going, but there’s a solution. When we read biography, autobiography, history, philosophy, and some fiction (I don’t recommend a lot of fiction since it tends to be more abstract and life lessons could be harder to grasp), we enrich our mind with the experience of others. Their perspective on life helps us see ours in a wider, less myopic view. The struggles and pains of history are often the greatest gems we can grasp from reading.
Learning what has come before can give us insight into why we do what we do (learning is mostly from imitating our parents), and what we should do in any given situation. Culture and tradition stay afloat by the ocean of the written word—ethics and morals all passed down from storytelling can continue to broaden our way of thinking—assuming we do a great deal of thinking.
Excuse: I don’t have time.
Take one book that you might like and start with five minutes of reading. Set a timer and just begin. You might not have any time, but you can’t afford to not read. Reading as a means of self-development is not the same as watching a YouTube video, so carve out five minutes and read.
Expressing our own thoughts by writing on paper or typing on a screen is a way of clearing out the excess and making room for the new. Creativity and spontaneity are waiting for all of the backed-up mental barriers in our minds to clear out: writing is one way to mentally floss.
Take some time throughout the day—especially before meditation—to jot down some floating mental images on paper or on a word doc. As you write, the slow process of mental revelation will begin and more words will come out. Self-authoring is powerful, and it is one of the concrete ways for us to show the mind what its contents are.
In this way, we bring to light that which has been in darkness and expose that which has attempted to remain hidden. We may make ourselves vulnerable, but every thought kept inside is just an undeveloped seed. Bringing out our thoughts, past experiences, fears, doubts, worries, and ideas for the future helps give them tangible form instead of remaining formless and without resolution.
Excuse: I can’t write well and I don’t know where to begin.
You don’t have to be a trained writer to begin—you just begin. Start writing thoughts down on paper and you will find that even though it isn’t polished, people will find something they can relate to and enjoy. You can learn about proper grammar later, first just start getting ideas out of your head and into the written word.
Work Out and Eat Healthful Foods…Most of the Time
There has been much written online about fitness and diet, so I won’t bother with that here. What I want to express is the truth-bearing qualities of fitness and eating clean, bright, fresh, local foods.
Fitness for me can be defined as simple as just walking outside or jogging on a treadmill—whatever you can survive for 20 minutes. We don’t have to explore more advanced areas of fitness to be healthy, and we don’t have to spend more than 20-30 minutes a day if we dread the thought itself. What we need is the consistency of action for a change to take place, and the exciting thing about my kind of fitness is that the benefits begin immediately.
I’m talking about mental health and our ability to create mental floss. Daily cardio begins by just walking for 20 minutes, and has the profound effect of clearing out the dross of our mind—the excess junk, grime, and buildup that happens naturally as we live life. All of the toxins produced by living in this world can be sweated out through a simple activity like walking in nature or jogging on a treadmill. It’s easy, time-effective, and it will be the catalyst to feeling better and maybe even sparking an interest in a more advanced form of fitness.
Eating clean and fresh foods—mostly leafy greens, veggies, and high-quality proteins—will be the foundation of a clean and fresh mind. The cells in your body will thank you once a disciplined routine of getting fresh air, sweating, and eating whole foods are a part of your life. But remember not to fear junk foods—everything in moderation. We don’t need to get rid of simple epicurean pleasures just because we are on a disciplined track of clean eating. Even making time to relax from our disciplines and enjoy the world of junk food from time to time is a stress reliever in itself.
Excuse: I don’t know where to begin.
You don’t have to complicate the matter. Set a timer for 20 minutes and start walking or jogging, trying to produce a light to moderate sweat. In regards to food, stay around the outer edges of the grocery store and explore the weekend farmer’s markets. If it’s in a box, ask yourself if you can find the whole version and make it yourself.
Listen to your Language
Mentally record yourself today and observe everything you say as you say it. Are you blaming others? What about the small, sarcastic jabs you throw at people? Are you putting yourself down in self-deprecation?
Negative thoughts and mental junk lead to audible expressions of communication. Eventually, you should be able to hear yourself defend your own weaknesses or those of others, and you will become more sensitive to harsh language that no longer suits a self-developed adult. When we speak, we create, so make sure you are creating the right things around you. Surround yourself with higher vibration people so that your own reflection is brighter, and be sure to not place responsibility in anyone else’s hands.
Speak well and your mind will begin to sharpen. What you say is a reflection of your mind’s nature, so be sure to help mold it by creating the right words at the right time to the right people. It begins by just listening to our own language.
Take the Blame
As if all this wasn’t enough to make your day harder, I’m asking that you do more to increase the amount of work you can do in a single day and expand the amount of pressure you can handle. But, what if I had just one thing to add that would make the rest of your life more developed, less stressful, and effectively dynamic and powerful? I do—make everything your fault.
We are born with both the power and the skill to control our own judgment in life, but we seldom nurture that power and skill enough to utilize their full capacity. We return to ourselves when we start taking responsibility for situations that involve us. With responsibility, we can take ownership. With ownership, we can fix and repair a broken situation, or prevent things from breaking in the first place. The point is that we at least try, for once in our life, to take the burden of living on ourselves and explore the possibility of relieving others of their pain as we relieve our own.
Making everything our fault is hard, but it has an upside—freedom. We get the freedom to take responsibility of any situation we end up in and fix it. Who else can fix something for you? Taking blame is not about being a victim, it’s about being the leader of every moment. Being responsible allows you to change something instead of placing blame on something or someone else and waiting for a solution to appear. Stop waiting for others—take the blame, be responsible, and make your life what you want it to be.
A version of this post was previously published on Elephant Journal and is republished here with permission from the author.
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