Food is for Nourishment, Sleep is for Rest

Let things do what they are supposed to do, and nothing else.

This sounds simple, but we often use things for purposes other than what they are intended or designed for. This lies at the heart of many of the things we struggle with.

This can happen in funny or slightly annoying ways.

The bed is used for a closet, the kitchen table as a junk drawer. The car for a trash can, the garage as a storage unit for things you don’t need. Not helpful, but not necessarily destructive either.

There are more problematic ways, the things that have the potential to disrupt the important things in our lives.

Work becomes a place where we talk about our personal life more than we should, or we let professional relationships become too personal and get ourselves in trouble. I talk to a lot of people whose bed has become a place to eat, play video games, read, play on their phone and iPad, and watch TV, but they cannot sleep.

Then there are the persistent, problematic ways of allowing things to become something they are not, ways that grind our world down and make us unhealthy.

Food is meant to nourish the body, sleep is meant to help us get rest and give our brains a chance to defragment after the day. Work allows us to contribute to society, to engage our minds and earn a living. Raising kids also contributes to society and engages our minds. These are all good, necessary things.

But, for many, food becomes their source of entertainment and comfort and stress relief. Sleep becomes a way to avoid facing the day, to avoid unpleasant emotions, or to just pass time. Work becomes the place they get their sense of self and identity and where they get their worth. The same thing happens with kids, and this is not a fair weight for them to carry.

All of these things are out of place, and this always brings unhealthiness – physically, mentally and, emotionally.

Maybe these things being out of balance only happens in response to something being wrong in the first place, maybe it’s a chicken and the egg thing. But, if this is the case, we chose a solution to our problems that didn’t fit, we let something get out of place, and it became a habit.

What can we do about this?

It’s really pretty simple.

Let things be what they are supposed to be, don’t expect them to take care of things beyond their scope.

You can still enjoy going to sleep at the end of a long day, you can still enjoy a really good meal or trying something exotic. You can still take pride in your work. You can still love your kids and do a lot for them. This isn’t about strict definition of roles and purpose, but it is about not allowing things to become something they are not. A Band-Aid over a seriously infected wound may cost you your arm.

Things have a job to do. Let them do it.

Eat, sleep, work, rest.

Just that.

Pain Hurts, and Other Insights

If I am building an orphanage for children who have no home with my bare hands and I accidentally smash my thumb with a hammer, it will hurt. It will hurt and I will cry and everyone will feel sorry for me, because of the super nice thing I was doing.

Now, if I am building again, but this time I am building a meth lab so that I can sell meth to orphans, and I smash my thumb, it will still hurt. It will hurt and I will cry, but no one will feel sorry for me, because of the super not-nice thing I was doing.

The problem is that the pain is the same in both instances. It feels the same, it is miserable and I am crying.

Why I am in pain is irrelevant, pain is pain.

We don’t really believe this though. We like to know how another person got into the position they are in, so that we can decide if they deserve our sympathy or our compassion. We want to assess things before laying out any emotional investment of our own.

I am not sure why we do this. I think that many of us would want to say that we don’t want to enable (one of the most abused reasons for not helping) the other person to keep making bad choices. We are white knights of valor and righteousness, withholding our kindness for the good of all. So brave.

If we are honest, it probably has more to do with the fact that people who get hurt (physically or emotionally) doing stupid or immoral or lazy or unskillful things annoy us, and we don’t want to offer them anything. We are actually a little bothered that they even hint at needing something from us.

But pain is pain. It hurts no matter what the motives or wisdom of the choice that caused it. It seems that we should be able to open ourselves up to someone who is experiencing this regardless of why they are feeling it.

We all know what it feels like to be in pain, to be rejected, to be abandoned, to be betrayed, to regret something we’ve done. It’s a universal thing that could give everyone some kind of common ground to stand on, but we insist on dividing it up into parcels depending on whether or not someone “deserves” to have us join them there.

What would be the harm in meeting someone in their pain, no matter what brought it to their door?

What would be the harm in doing this for yourself after a bad choice?

Can we not have compassion for others and still help them find a way to make choices that don’t bring them the same pain next time?

Thank you for reading, have a great day.

The Freedom of Indifference

I didn’t know it was Elie Wiesel who articulated it until I looked it up for this blog, but one of my favorite concepts is the idea that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. I think as counselors we get a lot of mileage out of this, especially with couples.

I am not very good at marital counseling, so I use it in a different context. When we are talking about mindfulness, I tell people that the opposite of attachment is not rejection, but indifference.

This is important. When we first become aware of our thoughts as being thoughts, our tendency is to argue with them. This is better than letting them run amok, but we cannot stop here. Rejecting thoughts keeps us attached to them, indifference is the only way to freedom.

Think of it this way.

I walk out of my office, and some random guy walks by on the sidewalk and whispers something I disagree with.

“Jet fuel can’t melt steel beams.”


“9-11 was an inside job.”


“Vaccines cause autism.”


“There is no link between vaccines and autism.”

Whatever, this person says something.

This statement, made by this random person, can cause attachment if I agree with them. Maybe I stop them and we talk and agree with each other and hug at the end.

Or, I stop them to tell them that they are wrong and exactly why they are wrong. We yell about it for 20 minutes, we do not hug at the end.

In both instances I am attached to this person and what they have to say.

By conceptualizing something’s opposite, we are conceptualizing the thing itself.

Here’s the real question too: why would we be anything but indifferent toward a vast majority of our thoughts? They float in and out, making random observations, criticizing, complaining, talking to talk. It’s like having a toddler or a teenager living in our head, and for some reason we invest in them.

Thoughts come and thoughts go. They have no effect if we just let them drift, but latching on – whether by accepting or rejecting their “truth” – puts us into a place of engagement with them.

Sure, this doesn’t matter a whole lot of the time, but what about the thoughts that plague us and affect our relationships and potential as people?

“I shouldn’t have said that, I sounded stupid.”

“That would be fun, but I would probably screw it up.”

“I don’t really have any business trying something like that.”

“I’ll never be able to quit.”

“I deserve a day to do nothing.”

“I can always make up for the lost work.”

“I don’t have to tolerate that!”

“I deserve better than them.”

Thoughts have this really dangerous trick where they say “I”, and make us think it’s “us” thinking them, so we are more likely to take them at face value.

Learning that thoughts are just thoughts and not believing everything we think can have a tremendously freeing impact on our lives.

Cultivate indifference toward the things that don’t have to matter. See what happens.

Being Content with Discontent


The one thing that would probably fix most of our problems if we just had more of it.

Religions are dedicated to it, the self-help sections of book stores promise it, motivational speakers tell you how to get it. The Stoics praised it, mindfulness both requires it and strengthens it.

It’s important.

Think about it.

How much time would you save if you could do what you were supposed to do, when you were supposed to do it?

How many relationships could be saved if one or both partners made better choices?

What would your dreams and projects and plans and future look like if you could just do what you were supposed to do?

It’s an odd thing.

We have these desires to do certain things and accomplish goals, but we also have something inside of us that makes it really hard.

There’s no real debate on what is better for us most of the time, yet we choose what is more pleasurable over it constantly. We even do this knowing we will feel terrible afterward.

So what can we do about this?

Shockingly, I think there is something of a solution in mindfulness.

When we can step back from the things we want, when we can observe our desires instead of letting them control us, we can make different decisions. Oftentimes, when we really learn to pay attention to the things that drive and compel us, we learn that they are really about other things.









These things drive us to do things that are not healthy, and our self-control slips because we are already worn down by resisting these things without understanding them. We have already expended our energy on self-judgment and self-criticism and fake debate over what we are going to do. This all changes when we can offer ourselves a little compassion in our suffering, when we can see these things that drive us for what they are.

We can also learn that there is tremendous power is simply accepting them as they are.

It turns out a lot of the things we are driven and compelled by lose their power when we stop wishing they were different.

This is cool because it turns out that willpower and self-control work like a muscle, and they can be trained. The more we use them, the easier it is to use them, and this creates a helpful feedback loop for us.

The next time your self-control falters, take a second and explore it.

What are you experiencing at that moment?

What would it be like to experience it without judgment?

What would happen if you simply accepted that you are feeling a certain way, without trying to change that feeling by making unhealthy/unskillful choices?

Can you learn to be content with being discontent?

Superman Isn’t Brave

There is this scene in the movie Angus where the title character’s grandfather asks him if Superman is brave. Angus answers that of course he is, he’s Superman. He does all sorts of brave stuff and is always running around saving people and fighting crime. The grandfather tells him that Superman is not brave, because he is invulnerable to harm.

At least, this is how I remember the conversation playing out, it’s been 15 years since I saw it.

So what does it mean to have courage?

I think, like the grandfather implied, courage is simply being scared of something, and still doing what needs to be done or what you should do.

It doesn’t mean you don’t get scared, it means that you do the right thing even though you are scared.

This is much tougher than it seems. Fear is a deeply primal emotion, wired into our DNA and into our bones. It is the first line of self-preservation and one of the quickest ways to generate a response from human beings. Fear is designed to run the show, and is tasked with keeping us alive. Acting contrary to this requires a great degree of courage.

Fear affects us in so, so many ways.

A lot of what we do out of anger is actually out of fear, and so many of the terrible ways we treat people is the result of fear more than anything else. Fear can lead to avoidance when we need to be confronting something and it can cause us to try and dodge the inevitable things we need to be leaning into.

At its very core, courage is probably little more than choosing our response to a something that seems to have a standardized reaction already chosen for us.

Whether it’s running away, attacking, or simply freezing up and doing nothing, these are all responses that can happen with little or no choice from us. We have to feel fear, but we do not have to let it control us.

A mindful response to fear allows us to acknowledge it is there, to feel its effects and have compassion for ourselves, while still making the decisions that leave us in a better place, or at least minimize harm as much as possible. We can ask ourselves if the thing we fear is truly bad, or if it simply doesn’t line up with what we want. If the thing is beyond our control, what we think about it is irrelevant anyway.

Where does fear slip into your life?

What are the areas it is most likely to get control of you?

What would it look like if you chose courage instead?

Thank you for reading, take care.