A Live or Just Breathing?

“The proper function of man is to live – not to exist.” – Jack London

I’ve learned to not give up on life.

Even when the darkest clouds have been cast upon me, what seems permanent is usually only temporary. Pain is not forever and nothin
g is infinite.Except maybe wisdom. The best answer for any life experience is to take a lesson from it. Too often we go through life on autopilot, going through the motions and having each day pass like the one before it. That’s fine, and comfortable, until you have gone through another year without having done anything, without having really lived life. That’s fine, until you have reached an age where you are looking back on life with regrets.

In the last few months, I’ve really gone through some deep thought processes. I’ve talked to a lot of people, young and older. I’ve watched a lot of movies, listened to a lot of music and even traveled to see different people. Through all of this, I’ve discovered that “living life” is really the only option anyone ever has. When I say living life, I mean just…live. Enjoying all the simple, yet awesome, things life has to offer. The simplicity of singing a song when no one is listening, eating chocolate, a perfect fitting shirt, your hair just the way you like it, a good meal that has more fat content then what you’re “suppose” to intake, a really good piece of fruit, a simple text from a friend and the best parking spot in the place. Yep, all the simplicities make for a great day.

That being said, no one ever wants to make a bad choice. It’s human nature to want to be happy all the time, to strive for perfection and the pursuit of happiness. Somewhere along those lines, we hurt people. maybe not intentionally, but we are human, and it happens.

If you want to truly live life, to really experience it, to enjoy it to the fullest, instead of barely scraping by and only living a life of existence, then you need to find ways to break free from the mold and drink from life. What follows is just a list of ideas, obvious ones mostly that you could have thought of yourself, but that I hope are useful reminders. We all need reminders sometimes. When you find this useful, print it out, and start using it. Today!

Be in the moment. Instead of thinking about things you need to do, or things that have happened to you, or worrying or planning or regretting, think about what you are doing, right now, this moment. What is around you? Who is around you? What smells and sounds and sights and feelings are you experiencing? Learn to do this as much as possible through meditation, and also through bringing your focus back to the present as much as you can in everything you do. Be present in your life.

Be positive. Learn to recognize the negative thoughts you have. These are the self-doubts, the criticisms of others, the complaints, the reasons you can’t do something. Then stop yourself when you have these thoughts, and replace them with positive thoughts. Solutions. You can do this!

Be true to who you are. Stop pleasing other people or be someone else. It’s better to be an original version of yourself than an exact duplicate of someone else.

Break out from ruts. Do you do things the same way every day? Change it up. Do something new. Take a different route to work. Start your day out differently. Approach your day from a new angle. Look at things from new perspectives.

Connect with an old friend. There is no end to the number of friends you can have. Reach out to people from the past.

Create a morning ritual. Wake early and greet the day. Watch the sun rise. Out loud, tell yourself that you will not waste this day, which is a gift. You will be compassionate to your fellow human beings, and live every moment to its fullest. Stretch or meditate or exercise as part of your ritual. Enjoy some coffee or tea. Sit in the sunshine and feel the warmth of the beginning of the day.

Create your bucket list. Make a list of no less than seven things to do before you die. Then, get out to achieve them.

Cry. Crying is an amazing release. Cry at sad movies. Cry at a funeral. Cry when you are hurt, or when somebody you love is hurt. It releases these emotions and allows us to cleanse ourselves.

Declutter. Start from your computer, then your table, your room, your bag/wallet, and your home. The more you throw the unwanted and old stuff away, the more room you’re creating for new things to enter.

Discover your values. Values are the essence of what makes you, you.

Do nothing. There is value in doing nothing. Not doing nothing as in reading, or taking a nap, or watching TV, or meditating. Doing nothing as in sitting there, doing nothing. Just learning to be still, in silence, to hear our inner voice, to be in tune with life. Do this daily if possible. Start with 5 minutes and increase to your own comfort level.

Don’t settle. Don’t settle for less. Don’t settle for someone you don’t like as your partner. Don’t settle for a job you don’t like. Don’t settle for friends who make you feel like a lesser person. Don’t settle for a weight you are unhappy with. Go for what you really want.

Do something new, every week. Ask yourself: “What new thing shall I do this week?” Then be sure to do it. You don’t have to learn a new language in one week, but seek new experiences. You might decide you want to keep it in your life.

Eliminate. What’s going on in your life? Is there stuff that is wasting your time, pulling your attention from what’s important? As much as possible, simplify your life by eliminating that stuff, or minimizing it.

Embrace gratitude. Be grateful for everything you have today, and everything you will get in the future.

Exercise. Get off the couch and go for a walk, bike ride or jog. Or do some push ups and crunches. Or swim. Or go for a hike. Whatever you do, get active, and you’ll love it. And life will be more alive.

Express gratitude. Let the people who’ve touched you know of your gratitude towards them. You’ll be surprised what a little act like this can do. If you don’t tell them, they’ll never know.

Face your fears. What are you most afraid of? What is holding you back? Whatever it is, recognize it, and face it. Do what you are most afraid of. Afraid of heights? Go to the tallest building, and look down over the edge. Only by facing our fears can we be free of them.

Find spirituality. For some, this means finding God or Jesus or Allah or Buddha. For others, this means becoming in tune with the spirits of our ancestors, or with nature. For still others, this just means an inner energy. Whatever spirituality means for you, rediscover it, and its power.

Find your passion. Find your calling. Make your living by doing the thing you love to do. First, think about what you really love to do. There may be many things. Find out how you can make a living doing it.

Follow excitement. Find the things in life that excite you, and then go after them. Make life one exciting adventure after another (with perhaps some quiet times in between).

Get outside. Don’t let yourself be shut indoors. Go out when it’s raining. Walk on the beach or along a wooded path. Hike through the woods with friends. Swim. Bask in the sun. Play sports, or walk barefoot through grass. Pay close attention to nature.

Hold yourself to the highest conduct. Every one of us have our own set of ethics, principles and moral codes. Live true to them every day. Also, live in full alignment with your purpose.

In the rain, in the snow. Seize the moment and be. Raining outside? Dance in the rain. Driving home? Stop the car and pick some wildflowers. Send a note to someone you appreciate. Snowing? Make a snow angel and send the picture to someone who needs to be comforted.

Know your inner self. This means knowing who you are and what you represent. Be clear of your personal identity and integrity.

Laugh till you cry. Laughing is one of the best ways to live. Tell jokes and laugh your head off. Watch an awesome comedy. Learn to laugh at anything. Roll on the ground laughing. Get tickled or tickle someone. You’ll love it.

Learn new skills. Constantly improve yourself instead of standing still — not because you’re so imperfect now, but because it is gratifying and satisfying. You need to accept yourself as you are, and learn to love who you are, and yet still improve — if only because the process of improvement is life itself.

Let go of attachments. Don’t fixate yourself with a certain status, fame, wealth or material possessions. These are impermanent and will ultimately disappear one day when you die. Focus on growing and living life to the fullest instead.

Let go of relationships that do not serve you. That means negative people, dishonest people, people who don’t respect you, people who are overly critical and clingy that prevent you from growing.

Lose control. Not only control over yourself, but control over others. It’s a bad habit to control others — it will only lead to stress and unhappiness for yourself and those you control. Let others live, and live for yourself. And lose control of yourself now and then too.

Love. Perhaps the most important. Abandon caution and let your heart be broken. Or love family members, friends, anyone — it doesn’t have to be romantic love. Love all of humanity, one person at a time. Love yourself.

Make an awesome dessert. I like to make warm, soft chocolate cake and then a slice with a cold glade of milk. Get berries and dip them in chocolate, or crepes with ice cream and fruit, or fresh apple pie, or homemade chocolate chip cookies or brownies, are great. This isn’t an everyday thing, but an occasional treat thing. But it’s wonderful.

Open your heart. Is your heart a closed bundle of scar tissue? Learn to open it, have it ready to receive friendship and love, to give love unconditionally. When you have a problem with this, talk to someone about it. Practice.

Play with children. Children, more than anyone else, know how to live. They experience everything in the moment, fully. When they get hurt, they really cry. When they play, they really have fun. Learn from them, instead of thinking you know so much more than them. Play with them, and learn to be joyful like them.

Pull away from Internet. You’re reading something on the Internet right now. And, with the exception of this article, it is just more wasting away of your precious time. You cannot get these minutes back. Unplug the Internet, then get out of your office or house. Right now! And go and do something.

Rediscover what’s important. Take an hour and make a list of everything that’s important to you. Add to it everything that you want to do in life. Now cut that list down to 5-6 things. Just the most important things in your life. This is your core list. This is what matters. Focus your life on these things. Make time for them.

Savor food. Don’t just eat your food – really enjoy it. Feel the texture, the bursts of flavors. Savor every bite. When you limit your intake of sweets, it will make the small treats you give yourself (berries or dark chocolate are my favorites) even more enjoyable. And when you do have them, really, really savor them. Slowly.

Slow down. Life moves along at such a rapid pace these days. It’s not healthy, and it’s not conducive to living. Practice doing everything slowly — everything, from eating to walking to driving to working to reading. Enjoy what you do. Learn to move at a snail’s pace.

Stop playing video games. They might be fun, but they can take up way too much time. When you spend a lot of time playing online games, or computer solitaire, or Wii or Game boy or whatever, consider going a week without it. Then find something else to do, outside.

Stop watching the news. It’s depressing and useless. When you’re a news junky, this may be difficult. However, it won’t hurt you a bit. Anything important, you will know about.

Take chances. We often live our lives too cautiously, worried about what might go wrong or who may be judging us for our actions and choices. Be bold, risk it all. Plan it out. What have you got to lose?

Take mini-vacations. Don’t leave the joy of vacations until you are too old to enjoy them. Do it now, while you’re young. It makes working that much more worth it. Find ways to take a month off every few years. Save up, and travel. Live simply, but live, without having to work for that full month. Enjoy life, then go back to work and save up enough money to do it again in a couple of years.

Talk to older people. There is no one wiser, more experienced, more learned, than those who have lived through life longer than yourself. They can tell you amazing stories. Give you advice on making a relationship last or staying out of debt. Tell you about their regrets, so you can learn from them and perhaps avoid the same mistakes. They are the wisdom of our society — take advantage of their existence while they’re still around.

Touch humanity. Get out of your house and manicured neighborhoods, and find those who live in worse conditions. Meet them, talk to them, understand them. Allow them to feel being human again.

Travel. Sure, you want to travel some day. When you have vacation time, or when you’re older. Well, what are you waiting for? Find a way to take a trip, if not this month, then sometime soon. Make it happen. You are too young to not see the world. Only work an hour or two a day. Don’t check email but twice a week. Then use the rest of the time to see the world.

Turn off the TV. How many hours will we waste away in front of the boob tube? How many hours do we have to live? Do the math, then unplug the TV. Only plug it back in when you have a DVD of a movie you love. Otherwise, keep it off and find other stuff to do.

Volunteer. Help at a homeless soup kitchens. Learn compassion, and learn to help ease the suffering of others. Help the sick, those with disabilities, those who are dying. Teach something you know that others want to learn.

Watch sunsets, daily. One of the most beautiful times of day. Make it a daily ritual to find a good spot to watch the sunset, perhaps having a light dinner while you do so.

When you suffer, suffer. Life isn’t all about fun and games. Suffering is an inevitable part of life. We lose our careers. We lose our lovers. We lose our pets. We get physically injured or sick. A loved one becomes sick. A parent dies. A friend dies. Learn to feel the pain intensely, and really grieve. This is a part of life — really feel the pain. And when you’re done, move on, and find joy.

Regardless, good or bad, everyday you live becomes a memory. There is no going back in time and changing what has been done. Everything that you have done rests up to this moment in time. Every minute that you have lived brings you one day, one minute and one second closer to your destiny. Ask yourself, are you really, living life? Are you getting the most out of everyday and every year that passes by? Can you say that underneath all the stress and misery that people go through, you can still smile at the end of the day, knowing that you lived the day out? The best you could? I hope for your sake, that answer is yes. I hope that you can look back on all the days that pass you by, and remember that you didn’t let a moment slip when you didn’t at least learn something new, something exciting or something challenging; even if it was about yourself.

You are the legacy you leave behind. Choose well. Choose often. Choose to live. Life is what you make it.

Written by Dore E. Frances, Ph.D., a writer, a speaker, and a soulful teacher.

Television Addict?

Could one of your favorite pastimes be an addiction? Not only is the sedentary nature of watching television partly responsible for fattening the country — 33% of the population is overweight — some experts contend it meets the official psychiatric criteria for unhealthy dependence. The average American spends 4½ hours/day in front of the boob tube — behavior that Rutgers University psychologist Robert Kubey says mirrors symptoms typical of substance abuse.

But even if TV isn’t an electronic drug for you, it can have negative effects on your health… and that of your kids — studies suggest excessive viewing causes academic problems, hyperactivity, aggression, and poor attention among today’s youth.

Wean from the beam with these tips:

  • Turn off the TV for a week. Most schools sponsor family activities like story time, game nights, and concerts that encourage a week away from the box.
  • Remove TVs from bedrooms. Like any temptation, if it’s unavailable you’re less likely to partake. And you’ll notice a better night’s sleep without the screen’s flicker flashing through your mind before you drift off.
  • Scale back channel surfing by allowing each family member to select 1 show a week. Keep the set off otherwise, especially during dinner — the distracting background diminishes personal connections you can make.

Healthy Bravo!

Studies suggest classical music helps train children’s brains to build neuro–pathways, specifically those for language processes, spatial intelligence, and creativity. But just because you’ve graduated into adulthood doesn’t mean you’re immune to the Mozart Effect. Appreciate timeless concertos, and your mind and body just might appreciate you.

  • Relieve pain. Before you grab an aspirin when your next headache strikes, turn on a little Canon in D. Researchers at the Florida Atlantic College of Nursing cited a decrease in chronic pain among sufferers of osteoarthritis, while many childbirth experts recommend playing classical music during labor to manage pain intensity and decrease medication.
  • Sharpen mental edge. If you’re feeling sluggish and absentminded, turn up Beethoven to help wake up your mind. One study found that stroke patients who listened to music, specifically jazz or classical, regained language and motor skills better than those who didn’t. The results suggest that music could play a role in slowing cognitive decline.
  • Reduce stress. The next time your blood boils or muscles clench, give Bach a chance. Evidence suggests classical pieces can dissolve tension and calm negativity. In fact, a 2004 experiment recorded vandalism went down 37%, robberies 33%, and staff assaults 25% in London subway stations after the British Transport Police piped classical music through the tunnels for 6 months.

Nutrition: color cues

A game of red light-green light might improve your eating habits. In a new study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital’s main cafeteria, tagging foods with red, yellow, or green stickers and placing wholesome “green” foods at eye level made diners less likely to reach for unhealthy options. Why? We’ve been conditioned to react to these hues – whether that means hitting the brakes or dropping the cookie. Here’s how to put that reaction to work in your own kitchen.

Shelf Service

Establish red, yellow, and green shelves in your pantry and fridge using colored tape (or masking tape you’ve colored with a marker). Make sure the green shelf is easy to see and reach and the red shelf is the most difficult to access.

The Danger Zone

Whether or not you use color-coding, foods with more than two grams of saturated fat or 200 calories per serving (think cookies and chips) should be kept on a high shelf. The time it takes to pull out the step stool “makes you think about what you’re doing rather than just eating mindlessly.

The Middle Ground

Foods that fall into the yellow category are those that have less than two grams of saturated fat and 200 calories per serving, such as pretzels, multigrain chips, and peanut butter. Situate these middle-of-the-road pantry items so that they’re reachable but out of your direct line of sight when you open the cabinet door.

The Healthy Haven

A food qualifies are green if it’s a fruit or vegetable, is made from whole grain, or is composed mostly of lean protein or low-fat dairy. These good-for-you bites should be the first thing you see when you open the refrigerator or cupboard. (Also try keeping fresh fruit, washed, in a bowl on the counter for easy access). Color-coding isn’t just for dieters. Incorporating this red-yellow-green program into your home allows you to teach your kids about nutrition without having to lecture about it.

Good Sense

Sight, hearing, and smell are often taken for granted. But would you know if your senses were in trouble? Each day, they’re exposed to harsh environments — loud music, cell phones, and too much screen time. It’s time to come to your senses and protect them.

  • Vision: On average, an adult will spend 8 hours in front of a computer or TV — which can lead to obesity, blurred vision, back and neck strain, and mental fatigue. Take short and frequent breaks, adjust lights to minimize glare, and use drops for dry eyes. Indulge in vitamin A–rich foods like papaya and carrots to improve your vision, and guard your eyes from the sun’s glare by wearing UV protected sunglasses.
  • Hearing: Exchange your headphones for ones that sit on top of your ears, and turn the volume down. Slip in a pair of ear–plugs when attending a concert. Include magnesium and vitamin B–rich foods in your diet; a deficiency in either of these can impair your hearing.
  • Smell: Avoid cigarettes and alcohol — they can damage olfactory nerves. Similarly, stay away from strong, offensive odors. Zap blocked noses caused by colds with a shot of natural saline spray.

Sleep Disturbances

Your bed may be causing health problems that threaten more than your peaceful slumber. Take inventory of these hidden threats:

  • Bed bugs are reddish–brown insects that nestle into mattresses, feeding on you (or pets) as you snooze. If signs like empty exoskeletons, blood stains, or dark specks suggest these pesky critters have invaded your home, hire a professional exterminator. Severe infestations may require you to replace your mattress.
  • Microscopic dust mites (and their waste) can cause respiratory symptoms. Frequent vacuuming, washing all linens in hot water, and encasing your mattresses in allergen covers can help curb colonization.
  • Variables such as weight, physical issues, sleeping position, and mattress construction all affect your comfort and support. To be safe, The Sleep Council recommends replacing your mattress every 5–7 years. One study found a medium–firm mattress best for lower back pain, but overall firmness and contour depend on personal preference.
  • Any moisture damage can serve as breeding ground for mold and mildew, so use a moisture–resistant mattress pad. Absorbent cloths will immediately dry spills or accidents from pets and kids; clean the stain with a mild detergent, then air dry outside or with a high–powered fan for a day before putting sheets back on.