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A Dozen Ways to Live Real Good (pt 1)
I said there were a dozen interventions I'd recommend, so let's see 'em
I promised 12 entries to this list, so let’s make this intro quick:
A lot of people feel adrift, miserable, purposeless, scattered, and/or just generally blech. I was an extreme version of one of those people for most of my life.
But overall, I’m doing quite well these days. I sleep well, I work on what I love, I stop and smell the flowers (well, pine needles more often than flowers)… I’m having a grand time.
Some of my favorite interventions I’ve made in my life are complex and strange, and might not work for a majority of people—but there are a few others that are incredibly simple and intuitive, and almost everyone can weave together a version that works for them.
These are 12 interventions that I’d feel confident recommending to anyone; but let’s specify what I mean before we dive in. I’m confident that these would work to make basically anyone feel different about their life—in a good way—under the following conditions:
They make a good-faith effort, not just a “I’ll follow the letter of the law to prove this wrong” effort.
They keep it up at a reasonable rate for a reasonable amount of time—as a heuristic, let’s say 3-4x per week for 3 months or so. (That exact heuristic won’t work for every item, but use common sense.)
So within that basic framing, let’s start.
note: I’m going to try to avoid the word “meditation” in this article. There’s significant overlap with meditation on a couple of these, but I’m avoiding that frame for a few reasons. The big one being that when people hear that word, they tend to think of some “technique” that they have to “learn” to “do”—and that’s not what I mean by these practices at all, so I’m gonna try to describe what I mean without bringing in that frame.
1. Metabolic Journaling
First, there’s an important distinction we need to make:
Some journals are for recording,
Some journals are for metabolizing
I’m not talking about the kind of journaling where you write down what happened to you each day, your appointments and thoughts and schedule and what you were reading.
I’m talking about the act of writing in a way that reaches inside you, grabs your internal experience, and splatters it onto the page in front of you so you can see it; so you can take it as an object in front of you, instead of being subject to it while it moves you from the inside.
A lot of people do Morning Pages, which are almost an example of metabolic journaling: the idea with Morning Pages is that you put a pen to paper and write for some number of minutes without stopping, not letting yourself edit or tidy your experience.
I like Morning Pages. But for Metabolic Journaling, I like to add a couple of ground rules.
Continuously anchor what you write back to your own experience. Spinning off into high-flown philosophy and airy concepts can be a good way to avoid the simple fact of your experience. Avoid this as much as you can. It’s okay to touch on philosophy and concepts or whatever else your mind wanders to, but whenever you do, anchor back—what events have sparked a concern with this concept? Where can you feel this concern in your body? What emotions are coming up? Is a memory present? Keep weaving it back to your direct experience.
Coax the poetic out of the common. I just finished telling you not to get too airy, and now I’m gonna tell you to not get too earthy. Remember, this isn’t a journal for recording—we’re not just trying to list the events of our day, or write down a moment-to-moment record of our body awareness. “I got a latte. My ankle hurt. I was nervous about the presentation. My stomach was buzzy from nerves.” If flying off into disconnected conceptual space can be a way to avoid metabolizing your direct experience, so can listing a record of the events of your day. If you find yourself on this side of the spectrum, push the other way a bit—does that turned ankle bring up an old memory? What’s your relationship with coffee been like over the years? What do you fear a bad presentation would be like? —Don’t just record details of direct experience, coax out what your experience of those experiences is like.
Metabolic Journaling helps to put yourself on the page, put your patterns in front of you, and helps you get to know yourself a little better. There are a lot of ways this process builds positivity in your life, but I’m already going longer than I wanted on entry one, so I’ll leave those positives for you to explore.
2. Vital Exercise
Yes, moving your body and having strong bones and muscles and lungs is good, lots of benefits, etc etc. Exercise is better than antidepressants, we know this, it’s a whole thing, I don’t need to say a lot about this.
There is one thing I want to emphasize though: for an exercise regimen to really enliven you, it should be challenging and vitalizing for your mind and heart as well as your body.
I’m sure there are lots of benefits even to mindlessly performing repetitions with heavy objects. But the real vitality comes with finding a way to work out that gives you a direct sense (not a “this is for future-me” sense) of fun and liveliness and purpose.
For some people, distance running scratches the itch. They get the runners’ high, they see their numbers moving in a good direction, they hang out with other runners—it seems like a wonderful thing. Makes me wish I didn’t hate running so much.
For others, yoga does this. I had a couple good yoga years while I was living in Korea—daily practice, day-long retreats every Saturday, trips to the islands with my buddies from the studio, it was great. Learning the poses and watching my body become more stable and flexible week by week was a trip. That particular trip wore off though.
Dead-lifting, sprinting, Cross Fit, soccer, dance—it can be anything, but it really has to be something where you feel more alive coming out of it than you did going in.
3. Somatic Resonance
There’s a sturdy joy that comes from bringing deep awareness into your body; from undoing years of dissociation and numbness and rebuilding a relationship with the direct experience of having legs, of touching your toes, of feeling the little fist-pump of joy that your ass feels when you finally stand up from that hard chair after a long sit.
There are a lot of practices and activities that help you get back to the direct, non-mediated experience of your body, but the specific practice doesn’t matter much. What matters is finding a way that you enjoy spending time in the simple, open, undistracted experience of the body.
There’s a lot to go on in the links above, but just to give one basic example:
sit or lie down, get comfortable
as your body and mind calm down, start to notice your breath
don’t only notice your nose, mouth, throat, lungs, belly—expand to the rest of the body, bit by bit
how does your hand feel, on the inhale? and on the exhale?
what’s the experience in your thigh muscles like on the inhale? on the exhale?
are your feet breathing? notice how they buzz on the inhale; and on the exhale.
is anywhere else in your body feeling like it wants attention? staying with the inhale and the exhale as a guide, let your body explore itself, guiding your attention to where it’s wanted.
continue this exploration as long as feels calm, pleasant, enlivening.
don’t feel bad if you fall asleep; sleep is lovely, just maybe try to not do it every time
It’s as simple as that, or as complex as some of the practices in the Somatic Resonance course, or Reggie Ray’s Somatic Descent program. The trick isn’t to “perfect the technique” for any one of these—but to try out a couple, notice what works for you and what doesn’t, and keep orienting towards more of what works. Figure out for yourself what that looks like for you.
4. Live Somewhere Tidy
There are levels to this one, but the basic prompt is: in whatever way works for you, in whatever way is available to you, to whatever extent is available to you—create a tidy environment for yourself.
This might mean taking time every day to clean and organize your apartment, as an act of self-compassion. It might mean shelling out for a cleaner twice a week for a couple months as an experiment. It might mean creating one special place in your house that you dedicate to tidiness, and commit yourself to keeping it clean and orderly and to spending as much time as you can in that clean and orderly space.
Whatever works best for you, make it work. Your physical environment is a part of your bodymind, it’s inside your OODA loop, it’s an aspect of yourself. Changing this in a dramatic way for a significant period of time changes your brain chemistry, it changes how you see things, for better or worse.
If this one doesn’t feel logistically available, but you’re interested in pursuing the idea a bit further, there are other ways to get at it:
EDIT: I’ve thought about this for a couple months now, and I think I framed this wrong. What I really mean is something closer to “Treat your environment like a living creature and a dear friend—attend to it and shape it intentionally.” For most people, tidying is a good start. For many though, it’s also beneficial to, eg- keep a pile of handwritten pages strewn about your desk. The aesthetic might help you feel more at home at the work station. Either way, play with it, listen to your environment, flow with it.
5. Intentional Daydreaming
You know Carl Jung’s name because he decided to play with rocks so he could daydream. By Jung’s own admission, his life’s work is an offshoot of his Red Book, and his Red Book is a record of his inner fantasies that he cultivated by making the decision to return to his childhood habit of building little houses out of rocks. When he started building the rock houses, his mind went blank of its usual chatter, and fantasy images and narratives started spinning up. He followed those fantasies, cultivated them, steeped in them, and now all of us have access to ideas like “archetype” and “anima” and “shadow.”
Adults tend not to remember how to daydream. They might sit around and fantasize about sex or money or power or revenge, but the free and easy wandering of a good daydream is too often lost.
And yet, when an adult manages to keep the daydreaming impulse, or re-encounter it, we get stuff like Depth Psychology or most of what Einstein was up to. We get adults with a sense of meaning and purpose, who can make novel contributions to the people around them and sometimes even the world.
Just find a fun repetitive task you like, and let your mind go blank doing it. Preferably something you did as a kid. Building matchstick houses or shuffling cards or playing with legos or a fidget spinner. Let your mind go blank and wander; make no effort to “do” any “technique”, simply let yourself go because it’s time to relax and wander.
I do have a couple helpful ground rules, mostly pinging again the impulses I mentioned above:
stay away from any fantasies about money, sex, power, revenge, all that stuff
whenever you notice yourself “trying” to do something, maybe just drop that and keep wandering
I’ll Finish Tomorrow
It’s late, and this is already longer than I wanted to go. I’ll get the other seven tomorrow. [EDIT: Here they are.]
I hope you found something helpful here; if you want to support my work and/or see more of it, see my Somatic Resonance course, Patreon, and link tree. Or just sign up for my Substack while you’re here.
I’ll also be starting a writing space soon, based around cultivating authentic expression, imaginal resonance, and true voice in writing. Leave your contact info on the site if you’re interested.