Monday, 16 January 2017

What is Minimalism and Why Should You Try It

One of the large changes I have made in my life during my time away from the blog has been to adopt minimalism.

'What's minimalism?!' I hear you cry. Well its simple: I own and pursue only that which brings true joy and meaning to my life and the lives of others and those I care about. Gone are the stacks of video games, gone is my unnecessary spending on trinkets. My pile of possessions has been reduced to what is meaningful or essential. I spend less time and energy pursuing more stuff, worrying about my stuff, worrying about other people's stuff. I appreciate some people find true value and joy in their things and so clearly minimalism is not for everyone but I would urge you to at least think about it and maybe look into a bit further - if for no other reason than the interest.

I used to own every console Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft had ever made. And dozens of games for each. I bought things just to stick on a shelf, things that I would worry about breaking or losing and things I would spend time dusting. Now all that money, thought, time and effort can be spent on other things, like writing stories or poems, learning about new things, spending time with loved ones. By owning less and by desiring less I am able to better enjoy what really matters to me. I can't take a new Xbox with me and I won't remember it like a gathering of friends and family on my death bed.

I'm not crazy, I still own furniture and things like that, I'm just less materialistic and I'm healthier for it. Why not take a look at it yourself by checking out Becoming Minimalist, a site that can far better explain the finer benefits of this amazing lifestyle than I can!

Friday, 13 January 2017

How and Why to Meditate

Meditation is surprisingly simple and magnificently powerful. Many know of it and many mock it but few have actually given it a try. Here is how and why you should start meditating.

1. Do it Little and Often

You don't need to start meditating by embarking on a hour long trawl through your inner most thoughts and feelings. The best way to start meditating and to keep meditating is to commit to just two minutes each day. Maybe try getting up just five minutes earlier in the morning and, before you do anything else, sit and meditate for two minutes.

2. Don't Worry About Where and How to Sit

Don't worry yourself with buying special cushions or getting into the sort of position only an experienced Yogi could manage - lord knows I don't! Just put a cushion on the floor, sit on it cross legged and try to keep your back straight, maybe by sitting up against something. Be relaxed, be comfortable, just rest your hands in your lap, close your eyes and...

3. Just Breathe

Focus solely on your breath, in and out. Don't do anything to alter it, just breathe naturally and focus solely on that. On every out breath count one, two, three etc. When you hit ten start again at one. If you feel your mind wonder and start to think about things ( this is completely natural) then just come back to focusing on your breath.

When you feel ready gradually bring your focus back to where you are, wriggle your fingers and toes a bit, open your eyes, raise your head, maybe stretch a bit, and then get up and crack on with your day.

You should feel peaceful, aware of yourself, your thoughts, your feelings. Meditation allows you to reflect, to pause, simply to stop and just be for a moment. No worries, no frustrations, no expectations, no pressure. It is a blissful experience and I urge you to try it and see so for yourself.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Depression and Meditation

Six months ago, to be honest maybe even three months ago, if you had mentioned meditation I'd have scoffed. A bunch of idiots sat in stupid positions humming inanely. Utter nonsense. Yeah, three to six months ago I was a bit of a dick when it came to the idea of meditation.

Now I must stress I am not a spiritual man, I'm an atheist, anti-theistic and do not believe in energies, the afterlife or anything in that spiritual vein. But I think meditation is one of the most useful, awesomely powerful things someone can do for themselves. Seriously, try it. It was recommended to me whilst I was being helped with my depression, I didn't try it for quite a while but it was part of my course and I was recommended the app Calm. After trying a few minutes of it in my course, with no real understanding of what it was, I realised it was an interesting idea. So I tried the app and went through the 7 days of Calm, basically an introduction to meditation. By the end of it I knew meditation would be a part of my life forever.

You see it turns out it isn't a bunch of spiritual nonsense. It also isn't hard to get started, all you really need to do is sit quietly and focus solely on your breath. You don't need to change your breathing, study complex mantras or anything like that. Just completely clear your mind by focusing solely on your breathing. Try it, you won't regret it.

Now if I feel down, angry, anxious, confused - pretty much if I am not happy with how I am feeling, I know I can find a quiet space and spend a few minutes focused solely on finding wellness. I can clear my head, scan my body, understand my thoughts and feelings and come to a state of calm and well-being.

A lot of things have helped me with depression, they've helped me understand it, confront it, embrace it, but nothing has helped me manage it in quite the same way that meditation has.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Why I'm Giving Up My Smartphone

Re-uploaded from 5th January 2017.

Smartphones are technological marvels, a computer, library, CD collection, movie collection, phone and so much more. Yet, after a number of months of steady decline in usage, I have decided to give mine up. Here's why.

1. I am too distracted by it.

I write a lot; stories, poems, blog posts, songs. I like to create things, its fun and its a good emotional release. My smartphone distracts me from this, its too easy for a notification to catch my eye, make me put down my guitar and stop me from picking it back up. Whether I'm unsubscribing from emails of offers of sales, credit cards or insurance that I never signed up to receive or checking to see if a Facebook notification is relevant to me I am simply too distracted by my Smartphone. How easy is it to pick it up and go down a wormhole of Googling things? Suddenly my evening is gone.

2. I'm using it just because.

I don't enjoy Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Tumblr or anything like that. As a matter of fact today I deleted my Twitter account, my Instagram account and my Tumblr account, Facebook will be next. I signed up for them because it was the done thing, I could promote my blog or blah blah. At the time, I wanted to. Before I knew it I would pick up my phone and start scrolling down the screen, a screen composed mainly of things that do not interest me. I would do this without any real conscious thought or action. It was automatic, habitual. A waste of my time and my brain. Comparatively rare is the moment that I pick up my phone to do something deliberate, meaningful or enjoyable. And the people I care about that are on Facebook I can and will make time for in the real world.

3. Everything I want/need to do on it can be done elsewhere.

Everything my smartphone does that isn't the phone element can be done on my laptop, where I am writing this blog. This leaves the phone and text part - £20 will sort me out a phone that does exactly that. Why do I have a phone - hundreds of pounds worth of phone! - in my pocket that does nothing that cheaper, better technologies can't do? Apparently its to be distracted and waste my time.

For the record I am not saying smartphones are bad, or that I judge anyone for doing anything I have mentioned above but, for me, on a personal level, these are big issues. And sure I could just cut back but I think we all know I can't, these things are addictive. The best course of action, for my creativity, my health and my happiness is to abandon the thing entirely.

I Gave Up Social Media

As a quick caveat I’d like to say social media is not inherently a bad thing, it just can be and was in my case. Anyway – on with the post!

Much like with my smartphone I find myself all too often distracted by social media. I was a regular and active user of Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook. I used all of them to promote this blog and, in the case of Facebook, to keep in touch with friends (supposedly).

My accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr have been deleted now for a few weeks and I am already noticing I spend more time doing productive things, like writing blog posts, stories or poems, on my laptop rather than scrolling mindlessly through posts.

Facebook will be next.

You see, I do not use Facebook in an intentional and healthy way, it is not a tool for me to keep in touch with people. The people I want to keep in touch with I do outside of Facebook anyway. What I was doing was scrolling through posts from pages of humour, satire, game traders etc. I was not interested, not engaged, it was habitual. If a film was on, if me and my partner and our friends were watching TV, playing a board game, out at dinner, if I was sat by myself somewhere, on the toilet, at work waiting for a report to run, stood waiting for a bus or train, I was on my phone scrolling through Facebook – memes, news stories, items for sale, life updates from people I barely know.

I am, quite frankly, an addict. So I’ve stopped and, after enjoying my time away from it – time spent writing, paying attention to people and enjoying my surroundings, I’m going to delete it, it can join my other social media accounts.

Now my time on my technology will be spent meaningfully, intentionally – I will read to learn, to enjoy, I will write, I will be active on the blog – I will not be mindlessly, habitually, addictively scrolling.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

We Should All Make More Room for Silence

These days we are constantly bombarded by noise. Self inflicted noise. We never give ourselves the chance to take stock of things, people, of our surroundings. No chance to unplug for a second and just think.

I've been just as guilty as most.  At home alone I had a YouTube video on my phone, a series on Netflix or music on my headphones, plugged into my iPhone. Out walking my headphones were in, a song playing, podcast streaming etc. Even if I was on the loo, the speakers had something coming out. I never experienced silence.

Some people do it to feel less alone or less anxious. I don't know enough to say whether this is a good idea or not, though I suspect it isn't. I was and am not one of these people. Much like being distracted by Facebook et al I was distracted by the sounds, filling the air with anything, meaningless noise. Then I realised this just filled my head with nonsense. So off went the sound.

Now when I'm out and about I can think about things, reflect on thoughts, feelings, my surroundings, people I pass. When I'm at home I can reflect on my day, how I'm feeling, what negative or positive things happened and how I handled them. I can think about creative projects, think about things I want from life, things I want to learn, reflect on things I have learnt. My head isn't full of noise so I can focus.

Since doing this I've been far more creative, more aware of how I'm feeling, more aware of what I want. I feel less in a bubble and it's marvellous, well worth a try.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Depression and Music

In April 2015 I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I've been tackling this fairly heavily over the past several months and it's largely the reason why I've been absent from the blog. I thought, as well as my other posts i'll be back to making, I should dedicate some time to talk about it. So i'll be doing a few posts about it, like today's, which looks at depression and music, specifically how music helps me cope when I get particularly worked up.

When I was first diagnosed it was because I'd noticed I wasn't eating very much, was very unmotivated and found things hard to enjoy. At first I went to the doctors, was given medication and I just coasted along, not really improving. In January of this year I switched jobs and that largely solved my anxiety (more on that in a later post me thinks) but it wasn't until the summer I started any form of therapy.

During this time I became a lot less cynical about emotional things. I stopped snorting at people who said certain albums or artists had saved their lives and I realised meditation wasn't just a bunch of idiots humming - again there may be a post on that at some stage.

So, in case you hadn't guessed by now, one of the big things I use to help stay on top of my depression is music. Specifically the music of Peter Gabriel.

Peter Gabriel and his music hold a special place in my heart. Me and my dad have a hefty amount of things we disagree on but the opinion that Peter Gabriel is one of the finest musical minds of all time is something we both agree on very strongly. When I was young my dad bought the Secret World - Live and Growing Up - Live concert films on DVD. They both feature Gabriel's greatest songs, great musicians and great stage shows. I love both (Secret World is my favourite though) and have loved Gabriel ever since.

Gabriel's songs, from his first album, up to his last album and even his newest song The Veil all have a timeless quality to them. They are emotional and catchy and inventive. They are utterly unique to him and are a true work of art, written and performed as a form of expression, not as a commercial product. Combine this with the nostalgia I have for his music and what you get is a powerful mood enhancer. If i'm feeling down I can put on some headphones and listen to a concert or album of Gabriel's and, after a few songs, I'll find my foot tapping, my ear's attuned to the amazing work of the individual musicians and my spirits will lift.

There is something inherently calming and joyous about these songs. Even the saddest moments of his ballads are amazingly life affirming. They are powerful, heartfelt, interesting. His up beat songs can be danced to, his introspective ballads are powerful songs for times of reflection and all of it can make you feel like life is worth living and is an amazing thing.

So (no pun intended) if you are looking for an album that can silence your darkest thoughts, raise you out of your lowest mood and make you realise that life is worth living and that things can be ok again, put on So. From the awe inspiring lyrics of Red Rain and Mercy Street, to the amazing rhythms of Sledgehammer and Big Time, to the awesome melodies of Don't Give Up and In Your Eyes, So is one of the finest albums of all time and the peak of Gabriel's amazing writing prowess. 

Have any of you got songs or artists who are this important to you? Have any of you used music to help with mental health, or just to help see you through hard times in your life? Let me know in the comments, also, if you're a fan of Gabriel, let me know your favourite concert or song.