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A Dozen Ways to Live Real Good (pt 2)
let's dive right in, shall we?
Hopefully if you’re here, you’ve already read Part One and it’s introduction, so let’s not waste any more time on re-introducing the idea.
6. Ground into Your Senses
Every day, several times a day, it’s good to re-ground directly into your senses, into your own direct experience of what’s going on. You can do this while sitting and focusing only on the senses, or it might occur to you to do it while out for a walk, or sitting on a balcony.
Whenever you remember to do it, start doing it immediately, and hold it as lightly and naturally as possible. Remember, anything that feels like trying isn’t the move. Just allow yourself to notice what colors you’re seeing, what sounds you hear, what’s available to run your hand over. Notice the pleasant and grounding aspects of this experience, and increasingly orient towards those aspects.
Tip: it can be nice to schedule some of these ahead of time, and consciously coincide them with pleasant things to sense. Soak your feet and put on some evocative music. Eat a square of milk chocolate in the forest while listening to birdsong. If you already know where and when to find some stuff that’s a delight to ground your senses into, tie those in from time to time.
note: i’m using the language of “do this more and more” and “keep remembering to do this”—but I don’t want you to confuse that with “the ideal is to be in this state at all times.”
final note: it can be easy to get stuck on the “5 senses” we’re taught as kids. Expand your idea of what “senses” are—feel into your thoughts, emotions, the “genre” of your experience so far
7. Be Outside
I’m not gonna over-explain this one: go outside, walk around, be under the sun and the moon and the vast open sky. Go find a tree and sit down with your back against it. Pinch some needles off a pine tree, crush them between your fingers and inhale the scent deeply. See if you can befriend a local squirrel.
There’s a spectrum of experiences available here, from “walking on the sidewalk” to “hiking in Yellowstone”—do what’s available to you, and take opportunities to expand that availability as you’re able. Just be outside.
8. Fresh Diet
This will mean different things to different people—there’s a lot of emotional AND intellectual baggage tied in with what we eat. This item could be not just it’s own article, but it’s own section at the bookstore.
With that said: my encouragement here is to allow some of that baggage and complication to drop away, if only for a couple months. Eat fruits. Eat veggies. Eat meats. Listen to that little voice inside that knows when you’re making an excuse to eat something you shouldn’t. But don’t get fussed with yourself when you slip up. Just make the next simple call. Find a way to make it work for you.
One of my favorite simple ways to take time with this is to spend a week or two with the simple rule “I can only eat things I visibly recognize from nature.” It’s a good heuristic. It gets a little fuzzy at the edges (I wouldn’t eat steak, cuz I can’t really visibly recognize it as a cow, for example), but overall, it’s an improvement over how I eat a lot of the time, and I’d imagine it’s an improvement for a lot of people.
The bottom line on this one: eat simple foods, and don’t worry about it. Let yourself enjoy some bell peppers and chicken legs.
9. Expanded Awareness
I’m drawing this name from an Alexander Technique course—and that technique is one good example—but I mean a more general suite of attitudes and ways of moving through your day.
Most of us keep out awareness pretty focused, pretty narrow most of the time. Even when we try to relax, a lot of people do this with focus-based meditation—narrow your awareness down to just the breath, for example. It’s easy to lose the reflex for re-expanding out of the focus, for relaxing ourselves from the sticky narrowing of awareness.
That’s a good reflex to re-build, and there are a lot of ways to do it. One is the Alexander Technique, another is Somatic Resonance, others are things like hypnosis or exhaustion or daydreaming (see part one of this article). I promised not to use The M Word for my recommendations in this article, (last paragraph doesn’t count), so I’ll simply say “maybe look up Loch Kelly and try his activities” instead.
Maybe the simplest is to practice the direct experience of letting go.
Whenever you notice that you’re holding on to some experience, some focus—whenever you find yourself narrowing your attention so you can grip some task or object with it—let go. Drop it.
No matter what the things you’re gripping and focusing on are, none of them will destroy you if you sit down and drop them for 15 minutes. Just take a seat, notice what you’re holding, and let it go. Then notice what you’re still holding, and drop it. If it starts to feel like you’re straining or trying to drop—drop that straining, drop that trying.
And each time you let go of something, notice how your awareness gets a little wider, a little lighter. Notice how the room around you seems a little more alive, how your own personality seems a little less heavy and important. Keep letting go. Keep expanding. Keep noticing.
note: see note to #6.
No need to get complicated with this one: take a few minutes each day (and maybe 20 minutes a couple times a week) to make your breath slower, deeper, steadier. Maybe go on youtube and look up some specific breath patterns aimed at specific goals—try out box breathing or 4-7-8 breathing or some kapalahbhati.
Whatever you go with, try not to bounce around too much. Pick a pattern you like within the first few days, and stick with it for a couple months. Simple, straightforward, sink yourself into your breath. Let it fill you, let it enliven you, let it calm you. Just keep breathing.
11. Cultivate Your Heart
I’m gonna try to make this one as stripped-down and simple as possible: find a feeling that is pleasant, enjoyable, and meaningful—then spend a lot of time feeling it.
That’s it. That’s the thing, don’t make it more complicated than that.
A few times per week, when you can make 20-40 minutes in your schedule, sit down somewhere comfortable. Call up that pleasant, meaningful feeling. Allow yourself to sit with memories, images, scenes, anything that helps create that feeling for you, and kindle that feeling like a little flame you’re cultivating into a bonfire.
Is that feeling loving-kindness? Cool, sit with a memory of holding your baby nephew, or a kitten you had once, or a kind saint you feel strongly connected to. Let that feeling build.
Is that feeling coziness? Sit down and imagine a roaring fireplace in a mountain cabin during a snowstorm, you and your lover all wrapped up blankets and drinking hot cocoa. Let the feeling seep out of that image and into you, and once you have the feeling, keep spinning it, keep amplifying it.
Is the feeling a pleasant body-rush? Maybe run a feather over the back of your neck, to kick-start the tingles. Move your body a bit, swaying to evoke and enhance the rushes. Let them build, take joy in them, follow them wherever they go.
This doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need to read a sutra on Metta or buy a book on cultivating the loving heart of christ or anything.
You can find simple, straightforward ways to get comfortable, find the feeling, turn up the volume, and simply marinate.
More of a meta-intervention, but a sense of curiosity and exploration is one of the most impactful life-changes you can make.
As a first experiment in curiosity, go out for a walk right now. Watch people’s faces on the sidewalk, in their cars, in cafes. Do you see any curiosity there? Any sense that they’re attending to the world around them with a sense of exploration and intention? Probably not, in almost all cases.
As a second experiment, maybe you’ll be able to catch yourself unawares later this week, walking down the sidewalk. Were you on autopilot, not noticing any of the people or trees or cars or birds around you? Were you caught in an inner thought loop about work, dissociated from the world directly around you?
Curiosity can start small or start big. The trick is that once you get it running, you have to let it take the lead. It’s not something you switch on and off at a whim (it might be at first, but that’s just to get the fire sparked), it’s a current that sweeps you through the world like a kid in a toy store.
I could give examples from my own life, examples from historical figures, examples from friends—but none of the examples will really capture the way the world lights up when you have some genuine, autochthonous curiosity about it—when you have a genuine sense of exploration, rather than a vague sense of living your life on a conveyor belt that takes you where it wants you.
Another word to feel into this sense is eros—the inner drive, energy, directionality that unrelentingly leads you towards where your soul wants to be.
No one else can tell you how to access your curiosity—but I can suggest that you retrace your steps, back to the times in your life when curiosity was vital and present. Most of the time, eros is right where you left it.
You probably noticed while reading that this isn’t a list of separate, discrete practices. A lot of these bleed in and out of each other, overlap with one another, and lead into one another. Choosing one example at random—if you decide to ‘Cultivate the Heart,’ you’ll likely find yourself wanting to spread this pleasant feeling to more areas of your life, and over time you’ll notice that you’ve been eating better, spending more time outside, being more physically active—you might notice that you’ve felt more curious about things, and had more expanded awareness that’s grounded in your senses. All that, just from starting a heart-based habit.
You may also notice that I go to some lengths to describe these habits in open and pleasant ways; and how I point out the total simple legitimacy of tweaking them to fit your own life and being, of making this a self-guided exploration, rather than a set of rules passed down from someone else. That is very intentional. Really, we could delete this whole article and replace it with something like “find gratifying ways to directly inhabit the charming experience of your own body, heart, mind, and soul,” and very little would be lost. These 12 items are just specific examples of ways to do that.
Finally, in the spirit of simplicity and packaging, I’m going to list a few things that I think lend themselves really well to some of these 12 things, and combinations of them, just to offer a couple jumping off points
The Alexander Technique is centered on Expanded Awareness, and also touches on things like Grounding in Your Senses. It’s also helped me feel into different areas of Somatic Resonance.
My Somatic Resonance course is aimed specifically at #3 on this list (where’d you think I got the name?), and it also puts a strong emphasis on Curiosity, Grounding into Your Senses, Expanded Awareness, and Heart Cultivation. (Metabolic Journaling is also going to be added to the course, as soon as I make some time.)
Sam Sager has been starting to communicate his knowledge around Intuitive Fitness, which is basically what I called Vital Exercise in part one of this article. When you start talking to him or reading his work, it’s almost impossible to not also cultivate Curiosity and Grounding in Your Senses.
Rosa Lewis’s website is full of ways to generally play around with the core prompt for all of this, “find gratifying ways to directly inhabit the charming experience of your own body, heart, mind, and soul”, from a spiritual and meditation perspective.
While we’re at it, some of the things I intentionally tried not to name in the main article are: Metta meditation, heart-centered meditation, open awareness meditation, non-dual meditation, somatic meditation, imaginal meditation, and dreamwork.
Finally, I’m putting together a cohort-based course, “Integrated Aliveness,” that’s going to combine most of these as well as some other stuff. You can find some information about it here, and sign up for updates on it here.
If there are more habits/people/books that you think are really fruitful examples of the 12 things listed in the article, drop them in the comments, I’d love to see them and I’m sure other readers would too.
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.