Beating Stress, Anxiety and Depression by Inhibiting Substance P

Social isolation that goes too long is associated with this molecule of Tachykinin in everything from flies to humans. It makes us more irritable, fearful, paranoid, and impairs our immune system.

Tachykinin is like this internal punishment signal. It’s like our body and our brain telling us, “You’re not spending enough time with people that you really trust. You’re not spending time doing things that you really enjoy.

Having a sense of delight, a sense of really enjoying something that you see and engage in, witness, or participate in, that is associated with the serotonin system. And certainly, play is one of those things.

Dr. Andrew Huberman

I’ve written a number of posts on improving emotional welfare, and how it can shape immune system and physical functioning. Some specific topics include how to find a balance in your life, the pitfalls of the self-absorption paradox, and how interpersonal communication is implicated in mental state, emotions and motivation.

Prolonged stress and anxiety can lead to major depression, and two conditions that cause elevated stress and anxiety are self-isolation and burnout from overworking without downtime to recharge.

Fortunately, it’s easy to take measures that modulate the hormones and neurotransmitters implicated in these mental states, which I’ll discuss more at length in this post.

The benefits of social connection on mental welfare are pretty well publicized, and rightly so, but one thing I’ve recently discovered for myself (and about the human condition) is that it’s really about just getting out and experiencing life.

How Long-Term Stress Can Create Major Depression

When we are chronically-stressed, we get inflamed. Various cells in the brain become inflamed, and their communication with the neurons of the brain and body is disrupted.

So, what specifically is creating chronic inflammation in the brain?

It’s caused by signaling proteins known as inflammatory cytokines.

The primary function of these molecules is to inhibit the release or synthesis of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine—all the neurotransmitters that allow you to feel happy, relaxed and motivated.

I’ll spare you the technical names and details of these, since, in full disclosure, I’m not sure what the functions of and distinctions between them all are, myself. But, there is one molecule I want to discuss, that goes by the name Tachykinin, also know as substance P.

The Sinister Nature of Tachykinin (Substance P)

The neurotransmitter Tachykinin, leads to the production of these inflammatory cytokines. Its receptors are found in brain areas implicated in stress-mechanisms, mood/anxiety regulation and emotion-processing. It is released from sensory neurons of damaged tissue during the neurogenic inflammation response, which as you probably can guess, occurs between the nervous system and the immune system.

Substance P plays a role in many critical physiological processes like the immune response (the inflammation component), pain perception, circulation and respiration, and gastrointestinal functioning (digestion).

Thus, when unchecked, it can worsen or lead to many physical ailments, including intestine and urinary bladder disorders, infection, chronic inflammation and arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

But, more relevant to this post, it can greatly influence various mental processes, and lead to the development of psychological conditions, including anxiety, addictive and affective (depression and bipolar) disorders, schizophrenia, and general irritability. It also can have detrimental effects on memory processing and sleep.

There certainly isn’t much literature on substance P out there for the layman—essentially every article I came across was a peer-reviewed study.

But from what I was able to dig up, the way I understand it is that due to it’s prevalence in the body and its neuromodulatory effects, it can have dramatic influence on the development and mitigation of depression and anxiety, specifically social phobia.

Courtesy of Science Direct

The ironic thing is that it seems to be a hamster wheel cycle. Elevated circulating substance P caused you to become more fearful of social interaction, and the more you hide away, the more you increase tachykinin production—and vice versa.

Specific Methods for Suppressing Tachykinin

So, after taking all this into account, it appears evident that social connection is the most logical tactic you can use to sequester substance P, and facilitate improvements in depression, anxiety, and general mental wellbeing. Assuming, of course a tachykinin imbalance is what ails your mood.

But, I know for me personally, just getting out and interacting with people on the street can turn my whole day around. In my case, it helps to do it early before the stresses of work have wore down my aura for the sake of reciprocity from others. But even in the evening, nine times out of ten my wellbeing is so much better off when I return home.

The other effective technique, especially when used in tandem with the first, is to just have more downtime removed from the stresses of work, where you engage in past times you enjoy.

For me, one such delight-invoking activity is skateboarding. I just feel in my element when I’m on my board, even if just cruising the street. But when I’m at the park, in nature, surrounded by other skaters’ company I enjoy, it can be like a state of ecstasy.

Add the fact it’s aerobic, load-bearing exercise, and this is the ultimate mental state-boosting triple-whammy.

The other thing that makes me feel whole and boosts my serotonin is DJing. And when I lived in Chicago and could do it with my partner, it was even more blissful and fulfilling.

I definitely enjoy doing it in the comfort of my own home, but getting out and spinning in public is that much better. It’s certainly has something to do with the social interaction, bonding-over-music component—and that’s often the subject matter in the music I play out.

That’s one of the big things I like about music to begin with; it’s enchanting because it can bring people from all walks of life – who may not even speak the same language – together.

Having someone approach you to ask the name of a track, or better yet, flailing uncontrollably around while freaking out on the dancefloor is one of the most gratifying events I’ve experienced.

I’m fairly certain you know the feeling I’m talking about, and what that thing is for you that makes you feel it. It may have gotten away from you with all the perceptual stimulation we’re constantly facing.

But with a little searching and time removed from distractions where you can just think should help you remember what it was. And when you can reconnect with it, it definitely will help you mitigate substance P and elevate your mood.

Probably for some, the social interaction aspect not quite to the same effect. But still, combining these two should go a long way in alleviating social anxiety and depression, and may even improve your immune system.

– CC


Panoramic vs. Tunnel Vision, Interoception and Inner-State

Much like how our experience of life, whether we’re alert, stressed, excited or calm changes our patterns of breathing, our inner-state drives changes in our visual system—the aperture of whether or not we see the big picture or have a very contracted view of the world.

When we are stressed or excited about something, the pupils dilate. The shape of our lens changes. Literally the optics of our eye change, and the information about the outside world that’s delivered to the brain and body changes the aperture of our entire experience.

But, [this process] for vision and breathing also runs in reverse. Meaning, if we change our breathing pattern, our inner-state changes. It’s bi-directional. Likewise with vision.

Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman

Tunnel vision is a practice that has become more engrained in our society as the culture has shifted emphasis towards focus and productivity. Naturally, this tendency towards a shrunken visual field inherently contributes to a heightened level of alertness, which essentially is synonymous with a state of stress.

And clearly, at least based on this quote, it can have a profound impact on someone’s experiences and their inner-state (nervous system) during those experiences—and well after, especially if the intense focus becomes prolonged or habitual.

That said, a laser-like focus can induce a meditative state – the act of intense concentration on a sole thing in the present – and bring your nervous system into parasympathetic mode. It’s just knowing how to go about it.

Total immersion in an experience or task and intense focus are not synonymous—It depends on the conditions present during the experience. A “dialed-in” gaze doesn’t really equate to a meditative state if you’re preoccupied with productivity, stressed by background noise or music, reading bad news on your phone or heated from the intense conversation you’re engaged in.

You can enable the parasympathetic nervous system “relaxation response” by harnessing your awareness in the present and undertaking a singular concentration, but refraining from a tight field of vision (which seems to have the opposite effect).

There are distinct techniques to counteract the negative visual effects of prolonged intense focus (like 20 minutes of distance viewing for every 90 min of tunnel vision), but it seems evident that simply zooming-out our gaze can calm the nervous system in a moment’s time.

Deliberately dilating your gaze so that you can see yourself in your environment creates a calming effect on the mind because it releases a particular circuit in the brainstem that’s associated with alertness, aka stress.

Dr. Andrew Huberman

Though Dr. Huberman is speaking specifically to the influence of vision and breathing on the central nervous system being bidirectional, in my experience, this phenomenon extends to muscle and visceral tension, and even posture as well.

I also think none of the three are mutually exclusive—they all have the ability to impact one another. And they can all put you into a state of “flow.” Hence, they all combine to encapsulate my philosophy of “finesse life.”

Body, Breath and Mind (Vision, Awareness, Focus)

To me, this theory makes a lot sense since the muscular-skeletal system is also a periphery of the central nervous system, just like the respiratory system and vision (neural retina).

Recognition of muscle contraction, heart rate (breathing) and being in a state of tunnel vision are all part of the interoception system, which is the brain’s perception of your body’s state, gathered from receptors on your internal organs—but more on that later.

These three in conjunction are likened to the “Three Intentful Corrections” or the “Momentary Method,” a term I first came upon in Qigong authority Roger Jahnke’s The Healer Within manual. The “corrections” are used to bring one into the Qigong state, i.e., active the parasympathetic nervous system.

Though it’s no secret these three aspects of self (body, breathe and mind or awareness) combine to form the holy trinity that lays the foundation for any powerful Qigong practice or meditation, I’d never heard of it referred to as such.

The field of vision component can effectively be viewed as analogous with awareness or consciousness—the “focus” of the mind.

And the breathing component is pretty self-explanatory.

Regarding the body element, movement is a separate sense from interoception (known as proprioception), as it is externally-focused instead of internal. However, I don’t see a clear distinction between that and the muscle tension/spinal awareness aspect of interoception.

Though it certainly aids movement, using your vision can detract from your ability to balance in many instances.

The spine is obviously internal, but spinal awareness allows you to orient your posture, and balance or center your body. I would argue, as an internal arts advocate, that detecting the body’s gravity center allows you to physically orient yourself in your physical environment.

I mean, if you have the tendency to put more of your weight on one leg than the other, doesn’t this imbalance also signify more muscular tension in the subordinate leg? But I digress..

I think the muscular tension and postural aspect is brushed over by Huberman (and the neuroscience community in general) because it’s not really quantifiable like the other two. You can measure pupil dilation or heart rate, but how do you quantify someone’s capacity for interoception?


Interoception is defined as the sense of the internal state of the body. It is a sensory system that provides information to the brain about how the body feels on the inside.

However, beyond encompassing just the viscera – internal body components like the organs, muscles, bones and tendons (visceroception) – this “eighth sense” more broadly relates to all physiological tissue signaling.

Interoception accounts for the senses of touch, vision/perception, sensing pain (nociception), and recognizing feelings of anxiety/fear (heartrate).

This last facet, cardiovascular interoception, is the most commonly studied, likely because it is the most quantifiable. It is typically measured by asking a subject to count their heartrate, and compare the actual pulse to the figure they came up with.

Some of these process are entirely subconscious, like immune functioning, or to a degree, your endocrine system (hormones). But other sensations, like muscle tension or clenching your stomach, should be apparent to the conscious mind, at least in some instances.

So therefore, the abilities to both recognize a stressed state via heart rate and to calm one’s self down are quantifiable (pupil dilation for field of vision, pulse for heart rate). But, like I said, how do you gauge their aptitude for recognizing themself in a state of panic or stress by way of muscular tension or body posture?

And what’s more, how do you measure the recognition of your field of vision, body posture or visceral tension?

Regardless, the ability to shift your nervous system from stressed to calm is contingent on your awareness of muscular or structural tension, a tight field of vision, or an elevated heart rate.

Fortunately, there are several techniques I’m aware of that can aid in recognizing an overactive sympathetic nervous system, and help you come out of the stress response.

How to Improve Your Interoception Ability and it’s Impact on Health

I’ve discussed it fairly in-depth in previous posts, but the ultimate technique I’ve found for tapping into your interoception ability is through mindfulness meditation.

It’s not really important if it’s a seated, standing, or dynamic (movement)—choose whatever is ideal for you. The point is, with time, routine practice focusing on your breathe, internal world or body posture through any of the hundreds of available mindfulness meditation exercises will help you better gauge the state of your nervous system.

Some examples I use include diaphragm breathing, the inner smile, spinal waves or spinal cord breathing, or simply spinal posture awareness and adjustment.

These are just a few of the countless exercises that can bolster your ability to recognize muscular tension, a tight field of vision, or an elevated heartrate outside of practice as you go about your day, and allow you to calm your self down—although deep, abdominal breathing may do that of its own accord.

Another potential mechanism that has recently come to light for improved interoception, and thus better control of your stress response, is regular aerobic exercise.

In fact, a 2021 study demonstrated that interoception capacity improved significantly in an experimental group who engaged in 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise three times a week.

The control group did not perform any exercises, while the exercise group performed bench step exercises at an intensity of 50% of heart rate reserve for 30 min a day, three times a week, for three months.

We assessed their cognitive function by measuring their auditory information/working memory processing speed using a paced auditory serial addition task (PASAT) and evaluated their interoceptive accuracy (IA) using a heartbeat tracking task at baseline and 1, 2, and 3 months after the start of the exercise intervention.

There was a significant positive correlation between IA and PASAT scores at baseline. However, exercise did not lead to a significant increase in PASAT scores of the exercise group as compared with the control group. IA (interoceptive accuracy) scores increased at 2 and 3 months after the start of exercise only in the exercise group. 

BMC Sports Science Medicine and Rehabilitation, The effect of aerobic exercise on interoception

And so, as we can use the trifecta of body, breath, and mind (awareness, focus) to quiet an overexcited nervous system, the key is recognizing a state of elevated stress.

There are techniques out there to improve this ability, and I hope it’s now clear what these tools available to you are.

– CC

Emphasizing the Extremities in Practice, Breathing

Most times, the Dantian, (the body’s energy/gravity center) is the predominent area of breathing emphasis in most Tai Chi and Qigong exercises, including silk-reeling, the principle movement in Chen-style Tai Chi, among many others.

Though heavily-centered on the Dantian (forgive the pun), my staple practices (Hun Yuan and Wudang Qigong and Tai Chi) all contain particular exercises that bring the intention to the hands and the feet.

Often though, when the distal regions are emphasized, the practitioner is sending the energy outward from the Dantian (also known as the sea of Qi elixir field or vitality center) to these areas.

However, focusing on the extremities during practice or breathing in general has allowed me to improve energy flow to and generation in the Dantian.

Wuji Stance Basics

I’ve discussed it elsewhere, but the wuji stance is maybe the most foundational position in Qigong. The ultimate goal of wuji is to transcend thinking about the posture and to simply exist within it.

It revolves around the Three Powers, which include:

  1. Visualizing a connection lifting the top of your head into the heavens. The spine is suspended from the head which is suspended from heaven, like a dangling string of pearls.
  2. Next, with tailbone “tucked in,” envision a connection from your sacrum to the center of the earth, sinking the weight down through the feet, which corresponds to Earth.
  3. Concentrating on the dan tian which corresponds to Humanity. The upward lift and downward pull opens this gravity center and fills the body with Qi.

Adjusting your posture optimizes the inner flow of blood and lymph in your body.

The Dan Tian as the Body’s “Power Plant”

As mentioned, the torso is the body’s energy center, and releasing it creates openness around the organs and promotes the circulation of nutrients, blood, lymph and neurological impulses.

The hips, legs, feet and shoulders, arms, hands all connect through the torso, making movement fluid, coherent, and connected.

Thus, if you have cold hands or feet, it signifies energy stagnation in the torso region or more specifically, the dan tian.

Qigong Master Mantak Chia likes to refer to the lower dan tian as the body’s battery or power plant. The battery is charged through mindful breathing exercises, and then pumps an electrical charge (Qi) outward through the body.

As it’s a linear process, so obviously it reaches the distal areas, like the extremities last.

Bringing in Qi Through the Extremities

Lately, many of the exercises I’ve been exploring (Jiechi, craniosacral or spinal cord breathing) set the intention on the extremities in some way.

Master Chia has exercises – like the “dragon tail (sacrum) vibration” – that suck in Qi from the Earth up through the feet and pelvic floor to the dan tian and spinal cord.

Several of the Wudang Qigong warms ups I do breathe in Qi from the hands, including the “clearing” exercise.

And there are Tai Chi practices, like the basic silk reeling motion and the more advanced “cloud hands” form which teach how to coordinate the dan tian with the limbs through whole-body spiraling movements—the intention is to continually maintain a connection (a slight pull) from the toes to the fingers.

I know the intent of the Yang element of Tai Chi and Kung Fu is often sending impulses to the extremities when striking. But, most times though, in all Qigong practices I’ve come across, the intention is not drawing in Qi through the breath from these distal areas, but sending it out to them.

In the wuji stance or zhan zhuang, the big toe, little toe, heel and especially ball of the foot (Kidney 1 point) root to the floor and, with intent, project energetic roots into the ground, or through the floor into the ground.

With these visualization, the roots grow out of the soles of your feet each time you exhale. With each breath the roots extend deeper into the earth, which improves concentration and feeling more connected, grounded and centered.

A basic diagram of Zhan Zhuang form
A basic diagram of Zhan Zhuang form. Courtesy of Water Dragon Arts

Another example is the “Microcosmic Orbit”, where as you inhale, visualize the breath moving from the tip of your nose down the front of the body and resting on the tip of your tailbone, and visualize the breath moving from your tailbone all the way up the back of the body and resting upon the tip of your nose on the exhale.

However, I’ve found breathing in from the hands (Laogong, PC 8 point) and feet (Kd 1 point) to the dan tian and out the ming men (Door of Life) point at the lower back to be highly beneficial in cultivating Qi in the dan tian and helping me tap into zhan zhuang or the silk reeling motion, and allow me to sink the kua.

I definitely try to envision my feet firmly rooting to the Earth in (and outside of) practice. But, while my weight is sinking from the kua, my feet are receiving Qi instead of sending it down, and the hands are taking it in as well, regardless of the posture.

It totally makes sense to me though, since there are six leg meridians that connect to the feet and ten that run through the hands.

I just have a much easier relaxing areas where I hold tension in the legs and torso and can thus better cultivate Qi in the dan tian when visualizing the breath coming in through the extremities.

Seems to me it’s an advantageous potential technique that should be conveyed more, at least based on the descriptions of the various exercises I’ve heard—which believe me, is a few.

So try it out next time you’re practicing or just trying to breath to the abdomen and let me know what you think.

– CC

Eating as a Tool for Self-Cultivation

“Lately, I’ve been rethinking my relationship with food.”

A Friend

Over the last several years, I’d devoted a good deal of consideration to food. As I lost balance in my life, more and more of the thoughts and impulses occupying my mind space would revolve around eating.

I’m extremely fortunate that these concerns are entirely first world—I’m talking worrying about when I’m eating and the macronutrient composition of my meals, not simply ensuring I have food to eat, period, like so many worldwide must grapple with.

Though I’ve long placed importance on the mental and physical optimization aspect of nutrition when selecting my dietary regiment, after partaking in more self-examination and rediscovery lately, I’ve come to the realization that eating should be used as a tool for internal self-improvement and avoiding physical discomfort instead of just the motivations of enjoyment or beautification.


With new insights (how difficult it is for the body to process protein, especially the amino acids in animal protein) I’m beginning to rethink my “protein, protein, protein!” approach. Not that I consumed excessive amounts, but it was the one macronutrient I would try to ensure I was getting enough of as much as I was preoccupied with limiting carbohydrates (especially refined carbs).

However, on half the days of the week (when I’m not practicing Tai Chi or Gong Fu)  I don’t do much zone 2 cardio aerobic exercise.

Most of my daily Qigong routines are anaerobic as is the half hour or so I spend walking, which usually amounts to two or two-and-a-half hours total. While walking for me is about exercise, it is equally about mindfulness and enjoying the present.

I like to make a meditation out of it, kinda like everything else I do—so I walk in a relaxed manner, bringing my awareness to the movement and the breath. Also, it’s worth noting that the lack of tension in your posture and movements exudes more friendliness and confidence to passersby on the street than an agitated, nervous anxiety-projecting brisk pace would.

On these off days, It’s not like I’ve exhausted my muscles to the degree I need excessive amounts of protein for their recovery.

The other thing is that my main workout of the day is generally mid-afternoon. And as mentioned, knowing now how long it takes the body to break down protein to the amino acids necessary for muscle maintenance means I would still likely be digesting my dinner well into the next day, messing with my sleep quality.

And that I can’t have. So I really only have a generous helping of protein, let’s say over 25g, with dinner on the days I work out intensely. I also try to finish eating at least several hours before bed, and go for protein-rich foods like yogurt that are easy for the body to digest.

I’ve started caring less about getting a sufficient amount, and more about the quality and timing of when I eat it, especially animal proteins. Most of my routines are more about sustained posture than load-bearing exercise, except when skateboarding. So I think I can get by with MSM for joint and muscle recovery in most instances instead of excessive protein.

My protein-heavy (if you can call it that) and carb-light meal is lunch, which is almost exclusively three eggs fried in ghee with sauteed onion and a small avocado on the side. I tend to go very low carb during my first meal of the day because I notice I am more clearheaded and have higher energy after eating.

Beyond this consideration, enough weighing what sequence to eat protein in versus carbs and fat for optimal bioavailability, or to prevent an insulin spike. Which, I’ve discovered may actually not a bad thing at dinner since a delayed insulin response from a lot of fiber slows down digestion, again causing sleep issues.

All this accounting for was mentally exhausting, and I’ve realized that my cognitive expenditure is better allocated elsewhere.

I think I’m eating enough to maintain myself, which is the most important and ultimately, the only necessary consideration.

Eating for Pleasure or Vanity vs. Sustenance

Wisely reflecting, I use this alms food not for fun, not for pleasure, not for fattening, not for beautification—only for the nourishment and maintenance of this body.

For keeping it healthy, for helping with the Holy life. Thinking thus, I shall destroy old feelings of hunger and not produce new feelings of overeating.

Thus, there will be freedom from physical discomfort and living at ease.

Theravada Meal Chant

This passage is a chant repeated by Thai Theravada Buddhists monks before each meal. Since it came onto my radar, it has profoundly reshaped my intention regarding food.

So many eat for the sole purposes of vanity (beautification) or pleasure. They will choose to only eat foods that taste good, or based on the intention of appearing a certain way, either in terms of radiance or physique.

I’m guilty on both accounts.

Though during the days when I would try to ensure I’d get enough protein, it was more about making sure I didn’t wither away than bulking up. But now that I’m skating regularly again and using different body mechanics, this isn’t much of a concern.

I’m getting my ass and thinning calves back, and burning the visceral fat that had grown around my liver, all conditions that resulted from chronically elevated cortisol. Something I believe would result regardless of my animal amino acid intake because I’m working my body again and doing something that boosts serotonin, thus mitigating cortisol.

Still, my preoccupation over intake and timing of protein and carbs was at least in part about not gaining weight, as much as it was about mental performance (through ketosis or a maintaining a stable blood sugar) or reducing inflammation.

And even though boosting my physical and mental wellness through nutrition is my primary concern, even to this day I try to select foods that I think taste good. And just at much, enjoy the flavor as I consume them.

These “eating” considerations are a far cry from the “nutritional” considerations made during meal proceedings practiced by the monks I mentioned.

Each one is allotted just one oversized bowl per meal, and one opportunity to fill it. It is impossible to keep all the foods in the bowl separated, and I can only imagine that soup is one of the meal staples.

Young Buddhist monks carrying their eating bowls to a meal

Filling one bowl only once results in much less attachment to how things taste, and more consideration for how much to eat.

As monks fast from after lunch to sunrise, they must estimate their expected physical and mental energy expenditure for the day when deciding how full to fill their bowl. Too much and you end up in a food coma; too little and you won’t make it through the last alms round.

I mentioned this type of consideration is something I’m trying to get away from, and I fast during the early part of the day so it strategically isn’t really a necessary one for me to make. Maybe that’s part of the reason I rarely overeat.

Still, it is evident the process helps develop the skill of careful consideration, and helps ingrain the belief of food for sustenance over everything else. Eating to maintain for one more day, not to improve your looks or indulge yourself.

And this indulgence or attachment to taste, on the other hand, is certainly one area I could further develop.

I prided myself for a long while on steering clear of sugar and refined carbs in general, artificial colors and flavors, and excitotoxins (like MSG, yeast extract “natural” flavors, and aspartame), which are amino acids that overstimulate neurons in the brain.

My go-tos are eggs, avocado, sauerkraut, yogurt, pistachios and cacao (dark chocolate). Though the foods I generally consume don’t pack quite the flavor punch and salivary stimulation as those I mentioned earlier, when envisioning a meal often I’m fantasizing about the taste, however bland—not mulling the sustenance it will provide my body.

I’m the type of person who cuts a slice of avocado for each bite of egg, lol. So you can understand how much importance I place on taste. Just the thought of all the courses of a meal – like soup, bread and dessert – blending together in a bowl is pretty unappealing. Especially after getting cold and all the components changing texture.

I was consumed – forgive the pun – by the taste. But that at least in some ways helped me bring my mind into a meditative state, concentrating solely on the eating process. Being mindful of each bite and savoring the flavor as I chewed carefully.

However, it’s hard to remain in a meditative state when you’re doing other things like watching tv, in conversation, or even reading while eating.

Mindful Eating

I mentioned earlier that I enjoy walking at a leisurely pace when out and about, and that I try to make it a meditation.

Well, as a Qigong and mindfulness “apprentice,” it’s becoming apparent that I should try to conduct all my activities as a meditation in order to really embody the philosophy of mindfulness practice, and foster stillness and non-attachment even more.

Everyone should aim to be practitioners themselves in whatever their chosen field or role is, embodying the philosophy of the discipline in all their tasks.

And as someone on the path towards fine-tuning my interoception skills, my goal should be to carry the internal awareness being cultivating with me as I transition between activities going about my day.

As Nick Keomahavong – the publisher of the YouTube video I took the Theravada Meal Chant from – suggests in the video:

Don’t just have meditation in a meditation session, but carry this feeling, your progress and hard work, this inner-peace you’ve been cultivating into the next activity—don’t lose it. When you’re eating, be so mindful that the continuity of this peace carries through seamlessly…

…Use your meals as another tool. The way we eat, how we eat, how we behave continues that continuity. If possible, try to not have a gap.

Nick Keomahavong

This is definitely I reminder that I had been needing.

Though I’m generally solely-focused on the primary task when doing the dishes, shaving, etc., one activity where my actions are inconsistent with this belief/ideal is eating.

Nevermind seamlessly flowing between activities, there was a stretch where I had difficulty even making the meditation itself a meditation, and focusing my Shen as I transitioned between exercises. Thoughts (worries) and impulses would enter my mind during practice, and I wouldn’t be able to easily shake these distractions.

Sometimes was tough to not lose the feeling, or even “get it” to begin with. However, deploying mindful eating has helped me get back on track with my practice.

The intention of devoting your sole awareness to the activity – whether eating, walking down stair, or any other task – improves concentration. Like most things, the more you practice, the better you develop that ability.

For a long while I’ve viewed meal time as break time—a brief stint for unwinding between working hours or after the day’s most demanding tasks have been accomplished. Therefore, I’m open to distraction during this window.

Historically, it had been watching (informative) YouTube videos during lunch, and maybe an episode of the Sopranos at night with dinner. But, as I became more aware of how exposure to multiple sensory stimulations (especially visual ones) while trying to concentrate works against the cultivation of mental stillness and the relaxation response, I stopped viewing content while engaged with a meal altogether.

A man sitting at a dining room table, jaw dropped, with a fork full of spaghetti in one hand and scrolling on his laptop with the other as he stares at the screen.

Early on it was challenging. Especially considering where I’m coming from, with meals as an escape from life’s daily complexities, as I mentioned.

At first, I stuck strictly to listening to lectures or podcasts. Then I moved on to reading, exclusively. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to just “sitting” with my food, but it’s a work in progress.

Trying to engage all five senses (yes, even hearing) in the task is a feat in itself, not even accounting for the array of distractions we have at our disposal.

It may be a bit much for a lot of people to handle, myself included in this camp during the early going. But this is how you truly embody a mindfulness “practitioner” during the eating process, and how to foster your self-development, emotional awareness/intelligence, and cognitive growth.

Alcohol, Other Attachments, and Acceptance

“As soon as I had the realization that sitting down and cracking an ice cold beer when I got home was all I was looking forward to after work each day, I knew I had to make a change.”

Alan Heffelfeffer, Owner of Oak Park Records

This statement, made by fellow music nerd and confidant, Alan, owner of the record shop in the storefront next to the office I used to work (where I spent a considerable amount of time and money) is something that really resonated and has stuck with me all the (four) years since.

Even though it may have taken all this time to actually put it into practice.

It’s really universally-applicable advice, and pertains to much more than just alcohol. You could apply it to video games, tv and social media entertainment, marijuana, shopping—any compulsion, really.

But for me, this specific vice used to exemplify the principle was applicable.

I’ve written posts on how alcohol and other substance abuse (even simply overindulgence in food) is generally just the tip of the iceberg indicating much larger emotional problems at play, and often signifies a facet of your life that’s lacking where you are using that substance to fill the lacuna.

So I’m not really going to open that can of worms.

My intention here is instead to convey how when something has power over you, it’s best to nip it in the bud as soon as you have the realization that you are at its behest.

However, unless you have mastered your mind, in my experience, if you completely cold turkey cut something out of your life that gave you pleasure (i.e., a dopamine hit), you will just replace it with something else.

Such is life.

And even if you are able to kick it and not defer to a substitute, if it is still something constantly on your mind, it still has its fangs in you. Even “healthy” habits, in excess, can have negative effects (overexercise, excessive fasting).

Therefore, you must try to attain a balance. However, if you are unable to achieve a symbiotic relationship using moderation and aren’t routinely mentally grasping for your chosen dopamine stimulus, it must be removed.

Simplicity and adaptability are several of the few keys to life. It’s fine to become accustomed to something, but you don’t want to cling to or require it. Acceptance of a given situation or circumstance, and appreciation of yourself (just being) in that moment is what we should seek.

This condition, or rather, lack of conditioning, is what allows us to achieve soul awareness. Full immersion in the here and now, and inner-tranquility/acceptance without conflict—the ability to be a lucid participant in the human experience.

My downfall started when I when I stopped partaking in that experience.

The Dangers of Letting Go and Resulting Imbalance

Somewhere along the way, I stopped having fun. When I think back on it, it was when I still had no income and was looking to cut costs in as many ways as possible after six months of traveling and living off of savings.

I started going out at very infrequently, and wouldn’t really ever splurge on a meal. Mostly, I tried to limit myself to 50 pesos ($2.50).

But this continued even after I had landed a steady, decent paying online job. The worst part was, by this point, I had even stopped going to the cultural events and other free happenings like live music that I had gotten such fulfillment from in my first several months in Oaxaca.

I think it was the combination of workload (~25 hrs/week) and still being convinced that I couldn’t spend money that persuaded me to relegate myself to confinement. Though I wasn’t going out, I would still occasionally buy alcohol at the store for home consumption, because I enjoyed the taste of a quality beer, and could somewhat rationalize the purchase since I was spending less than $5 a week on it.

Eventually I cut drinking out almost entirely as I knew it was detrimental to both my pocketbook and emotional and physiological health—short bouts of depression, disrusption of the gut microbiome, fatty liver disease, etc.

Ironically, however, in some regards alcohol had benefitted my emotional welfare—but really only from a social interaction and sense of belonging standpoint, much like the wellbeing boost I received from attending local cultural gatherings and events.

I can recall the days living in Chicago when I would go to the bar straight from work. While I enjoyed drinking my flavorful go-tos or trying new beers on tap, it was just as much about the social interaction—shooting the shit with my “barmates,” the bartenders or other regulars I had befriended, or striking up a conversation with new acquaintances.

It was the camaraderie and sense of belonging or community in that space that made me feel content and accepted. I can thank Jake, a former bartender-turned-buddy at Beer Shop in Oak Park (adjacent to my former apartment), for planting the seeds of my love of soul, disco and house music that made me the music curator I am today.

I suppose other crutches I mentioned in the intro, like video gaming (online, as part of a team) and social media also can also improve social welfare in this way, as you are interacting with others via the internet. But in many instances, it is almost a phony sense of belonging, or at the least doesn’t offer the quality connection or strength of bond that in the flesh, person-to-person contact does.

Another “perceived” benefit from drinking, in addition to the “social lubricant” phenomenon, was the relaxation component. Unbeknownst to me, this was also about self-acceptance or contentment.

When I did choose to drink, it was often as a way to calm down and release the day’s stressors, typically from my work editing blog posts. The inability to let go of those external triggers signified my inability to bring my awareness to my internal world, and accept myself and be fulfilled in the present moment.

Practicing Qigong would certainly help me decompress and bring my mind into my body, but the mental stillness and relaxation that resulted often was short-lived. As soon as I got back on my laptop after a great practice, my flight-or-fight system would kick back in.

So, my intention was to use alcohol as a last resort to relax my nervous system. Little did I know at the time, this wasn’t actually what was happening mentally or physiologically.

It took me a while to discover, but drinking often had the opposite effect of relaxation. After even a few sips of beer or wine, I would become more alert, energetic and enthusiastic and wouldn’t want to stop—sensitivity to the opiate response that alcohol can produce is a telltale sign of an addictive personality, something I unfortunately possess.

This lack of willpower likely is a response to the psychomotor stimulant, beta endorphin quality of alcohol I experience that I referred to earlier.

Though most times I didn’t want to stop, I would; my cutoff time was 8pm-ish. This allowed my digestive system a few hours to process the booze before dozing off. Alcohol suppresses sleep quality, and for me personally, it plays into long-term nighttime teeth-grinding troubles.

Since I drank somewhat infrequently (twice or thrice a week), for a while the fixation didn’t bubble up to the point I described in the intro. Though it may have crossed my mind briefly, I certainly wouldn’t ruminate on alcohol consumption on the days without.

However, though I could drink casually, my self-control seemed to only be due to the fact that I was the one financing the habit. When I had an endless supply of beer at my disposal – for example, when staying at my parents’ house – my capacity for self-control told a different story.

Eventually, beyond just difficulty stopping at night, during a five-week stay at my childhood home, I would have the urge to drink every night, and the impulse would be steady on my mind by the time mid-afternoon rolled around.

Not that this signified alcohol dependence, as I could function without it but it certainly had become a crutch.

The way I see it now, ironically, removing the social interaction element from the equation is why I became more infatuated with alcohol by itself. I was looking for something that provided acceptance and contentment—not necessarily an escape from reality as so many others who become alcoholics or video game addicts seek.

The Gradual Clearing Process

After this realization, I reverted back to my non-drinking way for several months. However, I begun using other things to fill that void, like food. Meals used to be an afterthought before, but now I regularly romanticized dinner starting several hours before—even if it was nearly almost just different variations of the same “courses.”

So in the absence of alcohol, I begun using other things as avoidance coping mechanisms to not have to deal with the stress of lack of fulfillment.

However, clearing is a gradual process. You can’t expect years-long ingrained programming to be removed overnight. And as you remove the programming, the patterns are still imprinted.

Look for example at the joint consumption phenomenon, where one trigger, like caffeine, goes hand-in-hand with another, say nicotine. Or a donut. I’ve dealt with both these scenarios before.

After quitting smoking or eating sweets, initially it’s extremely difficult to enjoy the coffee without the complimentary stimulus. Though you are getting closer to the root of your issue, this is a sign of still clinging to your avoidance coping device—just a lesser form of it.

Another example from my life is fasting. I almost always consume content (podcasts, YouTube videos) along with my meals. And when I take food out of the picture, just sitting, watching a lecture on YT doesn’t seem really seem appealing.

Same goes for if I were to try just eating mindfully with no distractions; neither would be the same in the absence of the other.

As you awaken to the program, chances are, initially self-loathing could manifest—in this instance, I’d feel guilty to be just consuming media without a way to rationalize it, e.g., a lunch break.

Or, I would now get down on myself since I was still fixated, albeit with the “lesser evils” of dopamine like coffee (caffeine), nicotine, dark chocolate, and some relatively healthy food indulgences. I failed to remind myself how far I had come, stepping back from recreational amphetamine and alcohol use.

However, self-examination is a painful process. And the more of these compulsions you remove, the closer you come to facing the cause of your suffering and preventing immersion in the present moment—where the real euphoria is.

Food is a bit different than other sensory stimulations, as we need to eat to nurture and sustain ourselves. But when you let everything else go that made you feel whole, you can easily find yourself deriving pleasure from and clinging to it—when its sole purpose, in reality, is sustenance.

Again, I needed to strike a balance between work and play and fitting socialization into the mix, because what I looked forward to or the things that gave me pleasure we’re pretty sad, in hindsight—honestly, maybe even more pathetic than getting drunk… well, not really 😉

Sensory Stimulus Deprivation

I’ve discussed this in other posts, but as soon as I recognize that something becomes ritualistic (a behavior, activity or substance) and controls my focus to the point where I’m incessantly fantasizing about it is when I determine it’s time to take a vacation from it.

We would all be wise to employ enough time away from a stimulus to let it slip from your mind altogether, or at least until it isn’t engrained as a habit. Constantly fantasizing over something even when not engaging with it is little better than to be habitually indulging—it still possesses control over you.

Obviously, you can’t cut food from your life altogether. But whether it’s the sandwich you’ll have for lunch, that first cup of coffee in the morning or post-work pint of beer that evening, fantasizing over these stimuli and living in the future causes you to miss the awe-induing subtleties of life in the present moment.

We must step back from our material fixations to truly appreciate the complexities of life instead of being attached and consumed by them.


The reason for the game is to be free of it. For the games you’ve won, it’s time to let go and be free of them, and not unconsciously double down…

…not wanting something is as good as having it.

Naval Ravikant

The abilities to deploy moderation, cut yourself off, and let things go are big ones in my book, and often don’t get the recognition they deserve.

The incessant perceived “need” for something causes a lack of being present (at least for me personally)—always concerned with the next drink or bite, rather than enjoying the sensation from immersion in the moment.

It’s ironic because I always thought my inability to recall things from the previous day after drinking was due to alcohol’s effects on memory; which, I’m sure is partially to blame. However, I realize now this lack of memory had more to do with dopamine than alcohol—failure to release my mind and be content in the moment instead of chasing what was next.

If you spend enough time removed from something to the point it is no longer a fixation, I see no problem introducing back into your life. As long as you can practice moderation. If this proves difficult, it’s probably time to let it go altogether.

I’ve recently gotten back to other things that used to make my feel whole, like skateboarding (after two year without) and volunteering a at garden. These past times should restore balance.

I’m also drinking again, but only in a social setting, since preventing it in that context ironically seems to do me more harm than good. And I’m limiting myself to two nights a month for now to ensure it doesn’t again become a fixation. I’ll continue to monitor the situation.

It really boils down to the question of what would you rather have? A singular, fleeting euphoric experience of no more than x minutes or hours, or the potential to find the flow of a continuously orgasmic, ecstatic state that allows you genuine contentment.

As I continue to strip back the layers of my attachments, it’s becoming more evident to me which experience is more blissful—I choose the latter.

– CC

Rediscovering Happiness: Back to Your Roots

“Seeking sometime missing. Missing something left behind…

…Maybe with good luck, we’ll find what eluded us in the places we once called home.”

The French Dispatch

Today marks three years to the day since I first left home and set out for greener pastures. I surrendered my two-bedroom apartment in Pilsen, Chicago, and hauled two full-sized duffel bags and a hiker’s pack with me to catch my flight to Caribbean costal Mexico.

I was eager to make something of myself, and determined to find what I was lacking in my circumstance. Little did I know, what I was searching for was right in front of the me the entire time.

Sometimes, we just need a change of scenery to realize that and rediscover ourselves. Or maybe simply just a reprieve from all the digital stimulation we encounter day in and out.

After enough exposure to external stimuli you begin to identify with them, and your self-identity starts to falter.

Shutting off your digital devices gives your mind a vacation, a return to your world. You then are able to rediscover yourself, and things you enjoyed in (what may feel like) a former life.

Maybe the most effective – though for many, drastic – measure to bring you back there is by killing the power.

Forced Isolation with Your Mind

The infrastructure in Mexico isn’t quite what it is in the States, and during the various bouts I’ve lived there dating back to 2019, I’ve been subject to several blackouts of differing timespans.

When you don’t know how long you’ll be without electricity, you want to use the batteries on your devices as little as possible—these include laptops, phones and lights, primarily.

You therefore are forced to be alone with your mind, or at least occupy it with pre-20th century activities, like reading, writing, exercising, and cleaning. You could add cooking to the mix, but because you want to conserve the cold in the fridge, you really want to delay opening it until absolutely necessary.

Granted, it’s not entirely like you’re liking in the 1800s because you still have an Internet-enabled smartphone for emergency use and listening to podcasts and things you had downloaded to the device for offline listening if you were prepared—but it’s almost as close as you can get.

I’m embarrassed to admit that the most recent time this came to pass was rather difficult on me. Without devices, I didn’t know what to do with myself; like I didn’t know who I was anymore. It was a pretty sad discovery, but certainly eye-opening.

Clinging to the little semblance of the outside world I had left, I started listening to a podcast I had downloaded on my phone in airplane mode. Though I had been attempting to get back into a daily creative writing routine (rap lyrics), creating took a backseat to consumption.

I added writing to my mental to-do list while without electric, along with resuming the book I had sometime along the put down, Spontaneous Healing by Dr. Andrew Weil, but the podcast consumption took precedent.

However, I never got around to these activities (though I did write several bars later on for the sake of making good on the task) because to power cut back on about 15 minutes into my listening session.

The first impulse you have when power resumes is typically a good indicator of your most pronounced current infatuation. Mine was to continue listening to the podcast, but via YouTube and my laptop so I could get some visuals (even though I’m well aware the visual element detracts from my engagement with the auditory informational content).

My secondary impulse was to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs game replay from the previous night. Had it been the nighttime, when I opt for less mentally-engaging and more meditative activities, this may have been my primary impulse over educational material.

So evidently, it seems information is what I’m currently fixated with, or at least fortunately has a slight edge over entertainment. However, my go-to is still consuming rather than creating—something I’m now aware that I need to change in order to get back to my past, fulfilled self.

Returning to Your World

Stillness of the mind keeps you in the present, preventing you from treading on the past or romanticizing the future. Eventually, it may bring you face-to-face with your emotional suffering, where you’re lacking inside—and the external things you may be using to fill the void.

We read magazines and watch television, we try and find something to eat. We listen to music, we pick up the phone to talk. Everything we do is because we hope by doing these things, we don’t have to confront the suffering inside us. And we allow that pain continue to grow in us.

…so mindfulness practice helps us go home to the present moment, even if it is not pleasant. But it is in that very moment that we can understand the suffering, and that we can find a way to calm it down and transform it.

Thich Nhat Hahn

Just being free of stimulation and distraction allows you to be present, and have mental clarity. It may provide you insights on the obstructions you’re currently fixated with preventing you from being your organic, contented self.

This downtime is also conducive to self-reflection. And I’m talking constructive reflection here, not depressive self-rumination.

When you reflect, you can determine what is missing from your life that kept you centered—maybe memories from when you had a different life altogether.

I had to come to grips with the fact I’d been using sports viewing as a way to fill the void left by the absence of other activities I used to hold sacred and supported my wellbeing—things like playing records my vinyl collection, skateboarding, volunteering at the community garden, and just not working at a desk or staring at a screen for eight hours a day.

In addition to filling this whole, watching things was causing me stress, as I was constantly grappling with subpar wifi strength and resulting streaming quality (when I could stream video) that was giving me an ulcer.

I had a similar realization when partaking in a prolonged “monk fast” (36 hours). I typically fast 16-24 hours, and for the one-day fast I often spend the better part of the afternoon pondering what to break it with when dinnertime rolled around.

However, as I wasn’t eating anything for the entirety of the day, I wasn’t supposed to have this preoccupation. But on the contrary, it was enlightening how many instances there were where my mind defaulted to food during that span, especially as a source of pleasure instead of as sustenance for the body.

And how my eating habits coincided with mindless entertainment indulgences. The two seemed to go hand-in-hand.

My insight was that I would justify YouTube or sports viewing by telling myself that since I was sitting down to a meal, or rather simply taking a break from work (either my editor role for Attainable Home or just blogging for myself), the distraction was warranted.

Without food in the equation I felt guilty consuming content, even it if was informational. As if, for the sake of productivity, I shouldn’t have this downtime.

In the spirit of reflection, I recalled back to a period while living in Chicago when my dinner often consisted of a bagel with peanut butter on one half and cream cheese smeared on the other, and a small spinach salad with olive oil and sea salt as a dressing.

I would scarf it down and get on with my night, either going out to skateboard, producing or djing music, volunteering at the garden, or posting up at the townie bar across the street—and I felt none the worse considering the massive inflammatory effects of a bagel with conventional PB.

Again, I came to realize my obsessive thoughts about food resulted from the void left my the gradual removal of these endeared pastimes from my life.

Using Self-Reflection (in Moderation) to Restore Balance

To help pinpoint where your life is lacking, reflect on the conditions present when you were happiest, your life the most harmonious and balanced. For me, this was around 2017-2018.

I continued to recall these times—back to when I felt a sense of community, belonging (to a tribe). As mentioned, these were the days when I enjoyed skateboarding and made friends through it, and would dj vinyl-only gigs with my roommate (or just play vinyl at home).

I also remembered how I felt when volunteering at the neighborhood community garden in Pilsen—the benefit to wellbeing I received from giving back, getting out in the microbiome, working with my hands, or simply just spending less time in front of screens.

These last several qualities also apply to the aforementioned activities, and provided an additional boon to my wellbeing.

And ironically, I don’t recall feeling overly stressed, worried or depressed despite the fact I was drinking 3-5 nights a week and taking prescribed amphetamine at least every other day. The other conditions that fostered a sense of belonging and fulfillment served to counteract the detrimental effects to mental health from habitual consumption of these substances.

So, what do you need to do to restore that balance? What is it that makes you frantically cavort?

Improvements Only Result Through Action

It’s up to you to take initiative when having recognized something is creating ‘friction’ in your life. You must enact the measures needed to get your life back.

While it will be very friction-inducing in itself when taking the initial steps, and may even cause you financial hardships, the payoff will be well worth it in the long run.

For me, I needed to mediate my infatuations with:

  • Stimulants (caffeine consumption leading to chronically-elevated cortisol; nicotine rationing causing me stress )
  • Food (eating, for pleasure instead of nurturing body) and nutrition, a toxin-free diet
  • Time (scheduling, productivity, especially with respect to “being on the clock”)
  • Evening entertainment, especially while in bed right before sleep
  • Money (investment portfolio, conservation of household items)

It’s good to reflect on the past from time to time. But when you have gathered the insights and inspiration you need, it’s time to let go and move on. Rumination can have the opposite effect of what was intended, which is rediscovery and growth.

The grass always appears greener on the other side. And once you’ve reached the other side, the distance between where you came from and where you were only makes the heart grow fonder. Please forgive the tired idioms, but they are still used for a reason.

You could leave the ‘States to dodge hyperinflation like soaring food prices, $6/gallon gasoline or to avoid government and big tech control and manipulation (taxes, other obligations like insurance or certifications, and surveillance).

But there’s always a tradeoff.

In Mexico, you’ll be at the mercy of poor IT infrastructure (including spotty wifi/cell reception and occasional power outages) and a lack of clean water for drinking and showering.

Adaptability is key. Once you recall and recognize the conditions or ‘non-negotiables’ that are sacred to you and make you feel fulfilled, as long as you can achieve them on a regular (daily) basis you should have no problem finding contentment in whatever circumstance life throws at you.

And I certainly took the long road, but I realize that now.

– CC

Releasing Tension and Improving Flexibility through Mind in Body and Self-Applied Massage

For the longest time, I always viewed Qigong instructors saying to “relax the hips” as referring to the exterior lateral area. You know, like the top of the pelvis, or the ‘hip joint,’ where the femur and pelvis intersect.

I had been practicing qigong regularly for over two years, with little improvement to show in my hip and leg flexibility while in various postures, when I had an insight that allowed my elasticity in that region to progress dramatically.

There is really but one practice I can attribute this discovery to.

Zhan Zhuang

Zhan zhuang, also known as “hugging tree” position, is a static Yiquan Qigong meditation practice.

It involves the practitioner standing as if in the wuji stance, elongating the spine by envisioning the tailbone sinking down to the earth and head suspended from heaven above, breathing into the gravity center or lower dan tian. Knees are slightly bent and facing straight ahead while envisioning the Bubbling Spring (Kd 1) point firmly rooted, grounding you to the earth.

The intent with both postures is to center the mind in the dan tian, and seeks to establish a connection to and stability of your gravity center (core). Proficiency in resting the mind in the dan tian makes you mentally and physically infrangible.

However, the main difference between the practices is that in Zhan zhuang, instead of placing your hands clasped over the dan tian (lower abdomen below navel) your arms are straight out in front of your chest, slightly relaxed, as if your were hugging the trunk of a mature oak tree. Hence, the nickname.

This added positional/structural element is often viewed as a way Zhan zhuang brings your mind into your body better than the Wuji stance, which is considered more a “resting” posture—for centering between exercises. Zhan zhuang forces the practitioner to be aware of the spots they have tension when the arms are outstretched, typically in the upper and mid-back regions.

As one commenter on a healing modality message board noted, “you can be completely lost in your mind in Wuji and there is no presence that forces you back into your body,” as in Zhan zhuang.

And even though you are not physically guarding it in Zhan zhuang like you would in Wuji since your arms are outstretched, you are forced to bring your attention back to the body, as there will no doubt be pain and tension somewhere, especially when just starting out.

Muscular tension signifies a blockage in Qi flow in the tender area. It is believed that Zhan zhuang, with enough intent practice, will resolve any habitual tension through the normalizing effect it has on the body.

This was certainly my experience when I began to practice. It blew my mind (though it probably shouldn’t have) how many knots were in my shoulder muscles and tendons. Through quick jerks of my neck, lower back, and knees, I was able to release a lot of these points with a satisfying ‘crack.’

But things really opened up when I took it a step further and began to massage the tender trigger points I discovered in Zhan zhuang.

Unsung Benefits of Self-Massage

Using a theracane, a hook-shaped hard plastic massage tool, I would novicely dig into tender spots in my back that were brought to my attention during Zhan zhuang practice. It was certainly difficult to relax the spots and breathe into them while applying consistent, pressure because of the sharp pain many radiated throughout various parts of my upper body. But the payoff was sure worth it if I was able.

I’d released blockages in all sorts of body awareness meditations—static or dynamic, seated or standing, short practices and long ones. But never did I achieve the sort of gratification from any of them that I’ve gotten from self-massage.

I would literally feel like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. The neck muscles around my collarbone just seemed to open up, and I felt more lucid and mentally alive—maybe this was from improved bloodflow to the brain as the neck muscles were at least temporarily relaxed and dilated.

Beyond just the release of years of bottled up tension in my upper back and neck, pinning down and easing into those shoulder trigger points allowed releases in several other seemingly unconnected tissues. Specifically, my knees and ankles.

I knew I had fairly severe inflammation or swelling in the back of my knees and interior of my ankles that came and went, and I was occasionally able to find relief while in practice or sometimes just moving around. However, I never really found a method that offered a more permanent solution.

But, this problem surprisingly began to resolve itself through massaging my upper back. Suddenly with a resounding, satisfying ‘crack,’ the unshakeable swelling in the back of my right knee was resolved. I also released swelling in my ankles, but the newfound knee mobility was the most satisfactory.

Now I was equipped with knowledge of the reactive measures I could take to combat this occurrence. But what I really sought was a proactive approach to prevent the swelling from happening in the first place.

Well, an insight from Qigong Master Mantak Chia led to me to discover something I could do in my practice, and even better, in waking life in general, to prevent it.

Releasing the Gracilis

I was watching an old lecture of his that showed diagrams of all the primary organ meridians and their corresponding physical manifestations of deficiency. The one in particular which piqued my interest was the spleen meridian slide.

Courtesy of Mantak Chia

I already believed I suffered from a spleen Qi deficiency because of the emotional symptoms associated—obsessive thoughts and overthinking, disordered eating, and lack of mental constitution (clarity) (brain fog and forgetfulness).

However, prior to seeing this slide I wasn’t familiar with the physical symptoms like ankle, interior knee and thigh muscle pain, tightness in the groin, and a strained mid-back region.

Though for years I’d been coping with a hernia (that seemed to come and go) and tightness along the groin and upper thigh adductor muscles, I’d stretch that region while warming up, but never thought to make it a particular point of emphasis until now. Honest mistake, though; I hadn’t been privy to the physical manifestations of a spleen Qi deficiency.

I immediately began looking at images of the composition of the “adductor muscles of the thigh.” I discovered the existence of a long, ribbon-like muscle running from the bottom front of the public bone to the back of the knee, where it connects with the top of the tibia, and turns into a tendon. This muscle is named as “the gracilis.”

As soon as I read that it connects to a tendon in the knee, I put two and two together—instantly I knew this was the muscle I was habitually tensing up and the culprit holding my flexibility back from progressing.

From then on, I started making the gracilis a particular point of emphasis during stretching, tai chi practice, and equally, if not more importantly, just while sitting, walking or standing in waking life.

My practice has improved by leaps and bounds. And really all I needed to do was stop straining my face, enjoy the exercises, and breathe in and relax the hips and thighs, specifically the gracilis muscle.

I used to dread doing the splits while warming up, and several other adductor muscle-focused positions because of the discomfort. But now that I’m not fearful these positions are not as uncomfortable, and I can enjoy the practice, release the gracilis and improve flexibility.

Enjoying the posture has become easy because I sense and can appreciate the growth. I’ve taken on a growth mindset in my practice, and am rewarded by the improvement itself, instead of treating myself to some external reward after the exercise.

Just like with so many other things, it’s primarily a psychological battle.

The various areas I’ve improved flexibility or alleviated deep-seated tension through self-applied massage and just bringing my mind into my body include:

  • The ability to finally put my left heel on the ground in Pubu position after two years of daily practice.
  • Release of a mad knot in my neck around the C7 vertebrae, and what felt like years of inflammation/edema in back of my left knee when staying grounded and relaxing face and specific spot in my back I was applying massage to.
  • My hernia seems to have subsided, at least temporarily.

Using the takeaways I gathered through these experiences, I formulated a new hierarchy of areas to be mindful of when in practice, or just going about my day. I only call it a hierarchy because it goes from head to foot—the lower body focus points aren’t particular more important than the top; they are all equally essential to focus on.

However, despite all this hubbub about the gracilis, if I had to pick one thing that I’ve found most important, it’s relaxing the face, smiling to the organs, and not fighting the position—just releasing the mind and letting go is paramount for any Qigong practice I’ve come across.

My newfound “chain of focus” is:

  • Relaxing face and shoulders and smiling with the eyes into the organs
  • Breathing into/straightening spine, specifically the T7 vertebra
  • Mind centered in the lower dan tian
  • Grounding, while paying particular attention to the gracilis, the back of the knee, and Yongquan point (Kidney 1) at the ball of the foot

– CC

Conscious (Intuitive) Consumption

Recently, the concept of ‘intuitive eating’ came onto my radar. While this term was new to me, the philosophy behind it is very similar to my concept and inspiration for this blog, ‘Conscious Consumption.’

Not to be confused with the book by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole (though it shares several principles), ‘intuitive eating’ is an idea I was put onto by self-healing expert Michael Heatherington via a YouTube video.

The main gist is to trust your body and take the thinking out of the equation. Rather than meal planning, listen to what the intuition of your intelligent, ‘energetic system’ or what I like to call your ‘inner pilot light’ is telling you to eat in each particular instance.

The rationale behind this approach is that those intelligent cells or intuitive system knows what’s best for you and what is required to promote your health—it’s merely the overthinking done and impressions formed by the psyche that undermine this internal intelligence.

The process works like this:

If your body moves towards a food you are considering when it is in front of you, it believes it to be good for you, and is worthy of being eaten.

However, on the other hand, if your intuitive energy is repelled by the food, your internal system believes it to be toxic—at least in that specific moment.

While he applies this concept to food only, I’d like to consider it on a more macro scale. I’ve long viewed this philosophy in the context of ‘consumption’ or engagement with something as a whole.

I think this should be the primary consideration in most decisions we make—does our intuitive nature draw us to it, or repel us away?

The ‘Conscious Consumption’ Approach

I like to view conscious consumption (CC) as a multi-faceted philosophy. Though it relies on letting your instincts guide your consumption behavior, it is a lot more encompassing than merely following your intuition.

In addition to instinct, CC accounts for your preferences (beliefs, ideals and motivations) also derived from your intuitive nature, and involves your consumption tendencies—actions in pursuit of these drives aside from just being conscious of them, i.e., following through or acting on your morals.

Some examples include supporting local independent businesses, buying fairtrade or sustainably-sourced products, resource conservation (water, paper, electricity) and reducing your carbon footprint through other measures like reusing plastic to-go containers (recycling) or picking up litter.

The internally-focused consumption preferences facet of conscious consumption breaks down into two main components.

First, there’s the intuitive or inner pilot light element. This is the aspect most comparable to “inuitive eating.”

Being ‘conscious’ of or in tune with one’s instinctual system will provide insight into what is best for us at that moment in a particular situation. We can then act in accordance with that particular instance.

Then there’s the other constituent, what I like to call ‘finesse life,’ which combines body awareness with the Taoist concept of wu wei. The body awareness aspect is your ability to focus on your breathe and sense the relaxation and tension of your muscles and other various parts of your body.

I’ve discussed wu wei a fair amount in the past, but essentially, it is employing non-forced, non-contrived actions in your undertakings.

Wu wei is often defined in the West as ‘non-action’, but this is sort of a fallacy—it doesn’t mean doing nothing. Rather, the aim is to act spontaneously in accordance with the circumstance in a non-contrived way, thus removing the division between thinking and acting. Basically, letting you heart guide you.

Think of it as intelligent spontaneity, in which you spontaneously adapt to the circumstance or ‘fit’ of a situation and let your intelligent intuitive nature guide you, rather than forcing an outcome. For example, envision how gently turning a key in a locked door will unlock it much quicker and with less friction and frustration than forcing it.

Wu wei also is commonly described as “tranquility while undertaking the most frenetic task, allowing one to conduct it with the utmost skill and efficiency.”

I have often seen it likened to the phenomenon of ‘flow theory,’ or ‘being in the zone’, in which the individual is in a state of deep focus, and the sense of them actively ‘doing’ something is removed. Thus, there is no distinction between them and the task or activity they are engaged in.

However, wu wei goes a step further than ‘being in the flow’ in the sense that you also are attuned to your emotional instinctual nature, rather than just your physical instincts and actions. Though still a measure of spontaneous reaction, it is more about removing the ‘tension’ that serves as a buffer between thoughts or emotions and actions—allowing organic action as dictated by the circumstance.

I’ll go more into detail later, but this state can be achieved through internally-focused mindfulness practices. Body awareness techniques improve your ability to sense physical tensions and allow you to relax. Thus, you can ‘finesse life,’ and not have to force things.

Taoists believe that mental stillness can work in conjunction with action—if we are completely in the present moment, our actions will glide effortlessly without friction, accompanied by laser-like focus almost to the point you’re in a state of ecstacy.

Another example of wu wei from my own life is how, when I’m typing, if I can just relax, and bring my awareness to the dantian and the present moment rather than being stressed by external distractions, my fingers glide effortlessly over the keys, and I seldom mistype something.

Taking this information into consideration, you can see how, in the broadest scope, wu wei is basically the combination of finesse life (body awareness) and instinctual connectedness. It’s more than simply ‘flow theory’ but short of conscious consumption, which takes it an additional step with the concerted effort aspect.

To break it down even further, finesse life is sort of the precursor to intuitive eating or channeling your inner pilot light—through breath practice and internally-focused mindfulness, you better develop your intuitive system and the ability to harness your mind, taking thinking out of the equation in order to hear it speak to you.

In turn, your internal pilot light can then reveal how to act in your true nature, which is the essence of wu wei. It’s simply a matter of bringing passive, objective attention to your internal world in order to reach down and reveal who you are. Then, you’ll naturally know what to do in a given circumstance.

A person in nature, in touch with one’s own nature, trusting one’s thoughts and abilities to guide one’s self.

Deng Ming Dao, Taoist author and teacher

That is the essence of wu wei, and it’s ‘conscious consumption’ in a nutshell.

Individual Differences in Consumption Tendencies

When you have successfully developed your intuitive/conscious consumption compass, you sense how your instinctual system may actually be repelling away from material things, toxic thoughts and unnatural habits your mind is clinging to that are counterintuitively toxic in nature.

What’s more, when you are attuned with your internal pilot light, you can let that be your guide with your dietary and entertainment or social media consumption habits, instead of worrying so much about following nutritional media usage guidelines from the “experts.”

While still beneficial to have knowledge of what foods cause inflammation and leaky gut or what is the ideal “screen time” allotment during the day for example, each individual is unique. Some will handle certain toxins better than others, for example, RF frequency exposure or a diet high in processed foods.

Experimentation can show each person what suits them best, and it is much easier to get a sense of how your are feeling when you are tapped into your intuitive nature.

In light of this realization, I’ve begun unsubscribing from various email newsletters and opting out of or turning off push notifications and alerts from many apps on my phone since I’ve become better in tune with my internal world.

Listening to my intuitive body has allowed me to realize just how much distraction and stress I’ve been subjecting myself to via these stimuli.

And more than just that, it’s made me realize how I’ve been using food, music and other dopamine triggers to compensate for aspects of my life where I’m dissatisfied – like my life balance or drive – and as a coping mechanism to not have to confront them.

Intuitive Scheduling or Activities

I’ve also been applying the intuitive consumption technique to my daily schedule, something which I’d long expended waaaay too much mental energy on. Instead of meticulously timing all of my activities for the day down to the fraction of an hour, I’ve begun to better follow what my inner pilot light is telling me will be best for me at that particular time.

Though I still have a list of tasks to accomplish over the course of the day (‘non-negotiables’, as I like to call them), beyond starting my morning Qigong practice by 7 o’clock (or ASAP, if I was fortunate enough to have been able to sleep in) and blogging immediately following, my schedule is pretty much an open book.

For example, I used to begin ‘work’ (blog post editing for a more-established company) directly following my morning practice. But, after finally listening to my internal energetic system’s intuition, I had the insight that punching the keyboard and purging all the thoughts bouncing around my head first was what I really needed.

And that instinct turned out to be spot on.

I’ve found my creative and linguistic juices are flowing better and I have a more productive output first thing in the morning right after internal arts practice and before work has worn (stressed) me out.

Instead of being preoccupied with plotting things out by the hour, just TCOB (taking care of business) as the opportunity presents itself organically has served me well thus far. Doing things as my intuition tells me to usually means I enjoy the task or activity more, or at the very least I can better engage with it and finish it quicker.

More relaxation and higher engagement, especially during qigong practice, means that I can achieve the benefits of the practice (mind emptying and muscles and sinews releasing) in a fraction of the time it would take if I were mentally fighting the practice, or distracted by a thought or or impulse I couldn’t shake.

I can then follow my intuition regarding if I need more reps, or should be satisfied calling it quits on the practice for the day.

To be honest, I’m more likely to throw in the towel if I’m distracted or frustrated because additional practice will have little benefit—remember, it’s all about effortless action.

I know many exercisers or internal arts practitioners will hang it up for the day when they are satisfied or maxed out. This may seem counterintuitive to some, but usually, if I am in the flow I’ll continue practicing since the additional repetitions will benefit me even greater.

I’ve gotten better at letting go of whatever’s next on my to-do list because what I’m doing right then is the most beneficial to me, and really, humanity, according to my intuitive system.

It’s something I’ve already alluded to in the ‘two hour rule‘ post, but rather than planning and allocating mental (and emotional) capacity to things you must accomplish later that day, just doing them when they’re on you mind and your intuition tells you to allows you to devote more time and mental resources to internal focus, freeing your mind from a lot of unnecessary thinking and emotion (fear, worry/overthinking)—it’s a self-feeding cycle.

Consider a child or any other living organism besides an adult human being. Free of the concepts and distortions imposed by society, they have a natural, unbiased, innocent sense of wonder—always questioning, but in the end following their gut instinct.

This ability to see the world with fresh eyes is a result of our capacity for simplicity, adaptability and acceptance—namely, the ability for mindful, internal focus in the present, letting all our conceptions enter our minds, and then pass freely without grasping.

Qigong and Tai Chi Grandmaster Ken Cohen put it well in a recent interview I saw him participate in—

Emptiness means freedom from thought and worry. Since emptiness is the goal, why don’t you put that at the beginning of your process?

If you cultivate emptiness, again, freedom from thought and worry [returning to] the realm of pure existence, then automatically, Jing, Qi, and Shen – the three treasures – naturally return to balance.

Ken Cohen

Detaching from The Mind: The Shen and Hun’s Role

Beyond just not being able to tap into one’s spiritual nature, many mental diseases and societal problems are the result of consuming mental complexities and self-identification with their contents. The proclivity to let thoughts pass, rather than identify with or internalize these manifestations of the (ir)rational mind is what allows one to connect with their inner pilot light.

Emptying your mind and disassociating from your thoughts, habits, concepts (of self and others/material things) and impressions from the external world is the job of the Shen, one of the five TCM ‘spirit-minds’ that branch off from the central spirit.

I’m saving the specifics for a future post, but in a nutshell, the Shen is the rational spirit of ‘the Mind’ that constructs our self-identity and how we view and interact with others and orient ourselves with respect to our surrounding environment—in short, it is our insightful awareness.

So in this regard, the Shen is essentially the ‘wu wei‘ component of the spirit-mind. It is our emotional wisdom responsible for recognizing the division between our ideals and actions, and allowing us to act in congruence with our natural conduct, rather than for the sake of achieving (or avoiding) a desired outcome.

The Hun, in contrast to the Shen, is more than ‘awareness.’ It can be thought of as ‘consciousness’—spiritual awareness of something (sensing and feeling) without definitively ‘knowing’ exactly what it is.

Essentially, the Hun is our instincts, inner pilot light or intuitive system—our soul wisdom. It alerts the Shen to our intuition and drives so they can be acted on instead of simply reflected on.

Thus, body awareness (distinct from general awareness) or ‘finesse life’ is also part of the Hun, since it relates to sensing and feeling, and the movement of both internal energy and physical extremities.

Free-flowing energy (both mental and physical) is an essential prerequisite for tuning into your natural instincts. Getting hung up on concepts, faults, and ambitions prevents this connection between these two spirit-mind components, and restricts the flow. Often, the emotions blockages manifest physically as tension or obstructions in muscles, joints, or tendons.

Tapping Into Your Inner Pilot Light: Removing Impediments

I’m sure I sound like a broken record by now, but the best way I’ve found to improve the capacity for tapping into the intelligent intuitive system is through, you guessed it, habitual mindfulness meditation focused on body awareness, like grounding, spinal cord or dantian (abdominal) breathing or ‘sinking the Kua.’

These internal-focusing techniques enables contentment with ‘just being’ in the present moment, and can free your mind of afflictions like hangups and fixations.

With enough repetition, eventually you will be able carry this meditative state beyond just the practice, and translate body awareness effectively to all circumstances you find yourself in.

And when you can attain mindful body awareness in all your undertakings instead of just while practicing, you will quickly develop a substantial connection with your internal pilot light.

To be Zen in life is not just about meditation, but instead life has become meditation, in the sense that our illusory perceptions of separation have disappeared, allowing us to experience the non-dual, innate beauty of all life.

Jason Gregory

I like to make a game out of it, trying to deploy internal focus in all my daily undertakings, and as I transition between them. Not that I award myself points or anything, but rather just enjoying paying mind to the dan tian and spine, and relaxing the face while ‘smiling with the eyes’ to the organs.

This qigong meditation style has a wide array of additional health benefits, but in this context, I’m speaking specifically to helping tune in to your intuitive (Hun) system.

“It’s not a matter of practicing [mindfulness] to ‘get better,’ it’s a matter of practicing to remove all these unnatural habits society has normalized us to, or that we’ve developed ourselves. Then we can connect with our true nature and have a fulfilling, flourishing life.”

Deng Ming Dao

Tapping into my inner pilot light has taught me that my attachments are just mental baggage. The less you have, the less you’ll have to think about, and the more simplistic your life will be. In turn, this results in less problems and more contentment and a better ability to stay present—becoming ‘conscious‘ of my ‘consumption‘ has allowed me to simplify my life.

This newfound ability is what has led me to cut out alcohol consumption, consolidate my wardrobe, shave off my facial hair, frequently skip meals (fasting), streamline my investment portfolio, unsubscribe from email newsletters/alerts and opt out of push notifications on my phone (as mentioned), and altogether ‘fast the mind‘ each night beginning at 8pm.

Though ‘digital detoxes’ or ‘digital sunsets’ – periods of time removed from digital devices and blue light technology, especially in the evening to improve sleep – have becoming popular recently, my nighttime ‘fasting’ routine encompasses all forms of stimulation, like entertainment, food and drink.

I understand the focus on blue light because of its melatonin production-inhibiting effect. But for me, deactivation of the sympathetic nervous system (stress response) during the late evening hours is equally important as avoiding blue light.

And regardless of if these societally-derived material fixations, thoughts and habits are ‘digital’ or not, if they cause you stress or ‘friction’ they are creating tension somewhere in your body or mind, and prohibiting the free flow of energy.

In the words of Deng Ming Dao,

Qigong believes in circulating energy naturally through the body. Blockages in Qi can also be mental—I can inhibit myself with ‘strange ideas’ so that my energy is not moving naturally.

So, if Qigong can clear away obstructions and keep the energy moving naturally, that in turn will circulate through what we would discern as the emotional, the mental – capacities the Taoists don’t distinguish between – then you are naturally who you are.

Tao is movement. Everything in the universe moves, from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest galaxy. So, what do we need to do? Get out of the way. What most gets in the way? Our thoughts are our socialization.

Everything in life is about not impeding that movement, but letting it happen by itself.

Deng Ming Dao

So, in order to access our intuitive system and righteous, organic self, all we need to do is refrain from stepping on our own toes and getting in the way of the flow of nature (or Qi).

– CC

Stillness: The Key to Success

For the sake of examining both sides of the coin, this post is meant to be complimentary to one I published previously, advocating for action-taking.

Here I am championing non-action and introspection. Both have their place in the life of a balanced, centered individual. The key is to be a go-getter, but also pick and choose your battles. To achieve this, tranquility and reflection are paramount.

Interoception is defined as ‘the sense of the internal state of the body.’ While introspection in concerned with taking stock of the qualities of the mind and emotional state, these two processes are far from mutually-exclusive.

On the contrary, they very much go hand-in-hand. By evaluating with the mind our internal physical state and the movement and feelings of our physiology, we improve our awareness—of our external environment as well as the internal.

The soul and the heart-mind and it’s processes are one, and you can be content with just being after practice focusing your intention to your anima (internal world).

Staying grounded in both the physical and mental sense brings your attention to the body (body awareness) and the present moment (breath awareness), respectively. We can thus tap into our ‘internal pilot light’ or intuitive intelligence, and allow it to guide us on what we should or shouldn’t do.

This is the foundational principle behind the Taoist concept of ‘wu wei.’

Wu Wei

When your body is not aligned [形不正],
The inner power will not come.
When you are not tranquil within [中不靜],
Your mind will not be well ordered.
Align your body, assist the inner power [正形攝德],
Then it will gradually come on its own.

Guanzi, Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-yeh) and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism

Wu wei is loosely translated as ‘effortless action’ or ‘not forcing’. It is essentially non-attachment and non-resistance. The goal of wu wei is to effectively move smoothly with spontaneity and intelligence. 

In this state, you don’t push back against obstacles, and instead act as a key gently trying to open a door. Meaning you may absorb the pressure of an obstacle, but because you don’t resist it, you overcome it without forcing the outcome.

The concept can also be likened to a boulder in a river. Instead of moving against a current, or floating with it, the rock just is.

“When there is no interference from the over-analytical cold cognition system of the mind, you express the spontaneity of human nature intelligently. Intelligent spontaneity, then, is a fully-embodied mental state where one is perfectly calibrated to the environment.”

Wu wei means being at peace while engaged in the most frenetic tasks, so one can carry these out with maximum skill and efficiency.

Eastern Philosophy: Wu Wei

The Dangers of a Productivity Mindset

As alluded to briefly in the previous post, there can be many pitfalls with the en vogue ‘productivity mindset’ or ‘hustle culture.’

One of the biggest is that by setting out to be ‘productive’ you can easily decrease immersion in a particular activity. Preoccupation with productivity or other things you need to do will counteract your ability to engage in wu wei or simply be present, and thus you will require more time to reach proficiency as a result.

Deliberation or intent in your actions is a great way to not expend energy beyond what is required. In both skill-building and generalized learning, being mindful of the task at hand improves attention span and stamina, since you are not divesting energy to other thoughts or actions.

Additionally, it will improve your retention of memory or motor function regarding that particular activity.

The other drawback of focusing solely on ‘hustle’ or being productive is that it creates internal friction, activating the monkey mind. It can become difficult to focus on what you set out to do, or you may be liable to lose sight of your goal altogether, as I mentioned in the proceeding post happened to me.

One example of this from my life occurred when I was still working in an office. I would play DJ mixes recently-posted on Soundcloud as I worked, mainly as a way to discover new music for my DJ repertoire, but also to achieve playback for a long timespan without having to cue a new track or skip between commercial breaks.

Somewhere along the way I lost sight of the forest for the trees. I became primarily concerned with organizing and cuing the mixes over finding the most moving tracks themselves, and letting them stick.

I got bogged down with cataloging mixes and the tracks I found within them, adding them to my wantlist on Discogs (an online vinyl record database and marketplace) but never really coming back to listen to or appreciate the tracks—which is what I set out to do in the first place.

It shouldn’t be about ‘hacking’ a skill to master it in the shortest amount of time. Rather, your focus should be on enjoying the activity, being present and thus creating the highest level of immersion in it possible by reduction friction. In this way, we progress more rapidly when developing skills or reaching goals.

One proven method to reduce friction from external distraction and improve your concentration and enjoyment of a task or activity is through the use of intermittent reward schedules.

Intermittent Reward Scheduling

This technique for controlling stimuli and the release of the hormone/neurotransmitter dopamine revolves around the concept of ‘dopamine reward prediction error.’ For those unfamiliar, dopamine is an externally-focused “molecule of more”—of seeking, motivation and reward. It also is a precursor to adrenaline.

The dopamine reward prediction error occurs when an actual reward from engaging with something is less or more than the perceived reward was.

One practical example of this is finding $60 in your wallet when you thought there was $40, resulting in a pleasant surprise and an increased release of dopamine.

However, it also can work in the opposite manner, in which the reward we actually received was less pleasurable than what we perceived it would be.

When we expect something to happen, we are extremely motivated to pursue it. And if it does occur or we get the desired result, we are more likely to engage in that behavior again.

‘Intermittent reward scheduling’ leverages this theory by delivering dopamine intermittently and at random (or at least perceived to be random by you mind). When this occurs, we are again likely to continue the behavior, especially if the increase in dopamine was more than we perceived it would be.

This is the foundation on which ‘the house’ of casinos is built, and how they keep you coming back and make their money.

We can employ this concept to better engage with an activity and enjoy it more. As a result, we will feel more fulfilled and appreciate that thing that much more. The key to this is to not expect or chase a high level of dopamine release every time we engage in an activity.

For example, say someone is undertaking a somewhat unfavorable task. Often, to make the activity more appealing or palatable, the individual will engage with other dopamine triggers—think listening to music or watching a sitcom while working out.

This person, most likely unbeknownst to them, is increasing the number of conditions required to attain the same level of pleasure from that activity during subsequent attempts.

This phenomenon also translates to pastimes one enjoys. The more stimulation you brought into the mix, the more you will need to achieve the same level of satisfaction the next time.

Personally, when I have the insight that I need a given something in order to undertake a task or engage in an activity – or that activity has just become ingrained as part of a routine – is about the time I decide I need for a break from that something.

Or when I catch myself fantasizing about it. For example, watching every single Minnesota Wild game over the course of an 82-game season. When that night’s game is all I would think about and look forward to throughout the day, I realized it was time for a break.

The ‘random’ element of the intermittent reward schedule is the most critical to achieving intermittency. Your mind cannot be privy to when and how much dopamine will be released while partaking in an activity.

One way to make it random is to flip a coin to determine if you’ll be including the secondary stimuli as part of the routine. For example, flip a coin to determine if you will listen to music during a workout or not.

Another thing you can do is to just remove that secondary stimuli as soon as you have the recognition that it has become engrained as a necessary condition as part of the routine along with the primary activity, like in my case.

Though this latter route doesn’t technically work at random, it is still intermittent in the sense it was not premeditated that you would remove the condition prior to having the insight that it had become ingrained.

However, with this technique, you also must have no determined time for when you will add that element back into the mix, otherwise you defeat the purpose—it makes the schedule predictable, rather than random, though still considered intermittent.

For example, if you tell yourself you’re not going to have a bowl of popcorn with your favorite sitcom this evening, but your mind is under the assumption you will resume your favorite post-dinner snack the next night, your just delaying the reward, and likely making your cravings for it and the bond between it and you that thing much stronger.

Cutting out these external, perceived pleasure-providing elements, will help you appreciate the present moment and what you are engaging with more, and aid you in become in tune with your internal spontaneous intelligence.


By focusing our awareness on our internal world, rather than external motivations and stimuli, we are able to better tap into our intuition. And when we have this ability, we will know what to do or not do in the moment by just listening to it.

The anima is an intelligent system—it knows what is best for us, and can nudge us in the right direction. We simply need to quiet the (often ir)rationale psyche in order to hear it.

– CC

Inaction: The Crux of Insecurity and Wellbeing (A Plea To Do)

I’ve talked in the past about the two-minute rule, and it’s benefits on motivation and freeing up your mental hard drive. But I want to go into more detail on action taking, and the advantages I’ve found that being proactive can have on our confidence, self-concept/esteem and wellbeing—specifically proneness to depression.

Proactivity and achievement can reduce your tendency towards negative-self talk, something that can quickly lead to depression.

Often times, what we perceive as negativity or cynicism is really vulnerability masquerading as insecurity (fear). Having the insight that you are scared person, rather than a bad or negative person can be monumental.

This realization should usher in optimism or bring a sigh of relief because fear-based thoughts and behaviors can be changed, as opposed to inherent traits or qualities like pessimism. Fortunately, fear, insecurity and depression can be quashed through proactivity and preparation/repetition/momentum.

Accomplishing things throughout the day, even those which may seem insignificant at the time, will prohibit even the tendency of your mind to default to worry or fear, because you followed through and did what you intended to do. Therefore, you will feel prepared to tackle the future occurrences you are fretting over.

When you are proactive, feelings of adeptness and accomplishment lend themselves to “a sense of control” of your life, and “the perception that life is improving,” two things which have been shown to mitigate stress and depression.

Obtain a Growth Mindset

By then reflecting on and basking in your achievements you are cultivating a growth mindset. This concept revolves around learning to appreciate the effort put forth during the process and the progress made, and making those the reward rather than the end goal or result.

Obviously, this is more easily said than done. Unfortunately, you must convince yourself that you enjoy the activity—a difficult task, but absolutely possible.

The brain is a miraculous tool. It provides you the ability to assign a subjective view to an experience via the prefrontal cortex. This is a powerful insight because as you engage with something more and more and your sentiments surrounding it change, what you think about it will impact its rewarding or non-rewarding properties.

One other words, you will gain appreciate for pursuits that cause you discomfort the more you pursue and reflect on them. This phenomenon may be partially explained by the self-realization that you are improving yourself as I alluded to earlier.

One practical example of this is fasting. Though difficult in the twilight hours of the fast, as someone progresses along, they are able to see and feel the benefits in real time, and are thus more likely to pursue them, extending the length of the fast.

Another excellent example is sleep schedule. Though it may be a pain at first to cut yourself off from nighttime stimulation and lay your head down at a reasonable hour, once you begin to do it, you realize the benefits an early bedtime brings, and thus enjoy it. You then are likely to continue the practice.

The nice thing is that this mindset translates to all types of effort rather than being contained to a particular activity.

The key to obtaining a growth mindset is attaching feelings of conflict and struggle to an internally-generated reward. You must find the reward or dopamine release inside effort, rather than rewarding yourself with something innately pleasureful after the effort.

One way to think about it, in the words of neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman, is ‘don’t spike dopamine prior to engaging in effort, and don’t spike dopamine after engaging in effort. Learn to spike dopamine from effort itself.’

When you can practice a growth mindset, you’re able to convince yourself that you can improve your abilities, and that nothing is unattainable. As a result, you will boost your morale and confidence, and be able to rest easy because you have the sense you are in the driver’s seat of your life, and are on a forward trajectory.

‘Sleep On a Bed of Merit’

I once saw a YouTube video with Buddhist monk Nick Keomahavong (seems paradoxical, I know) in which he discussed ‘methods for recharging your mind.’ One of these techniques offers additional emotional benefits beyond just mental clarity—namely combatting worry/anxiety, stress and depression.

One suggestion he makes is to – before drifting off to sleep – reflect on your accomplishments and good deeds from the day, rather than ruminate on your problems or shortcomings.

Take those feelings of achievement and pride, and let them emanate from your core, and blanket your body.

Obviously, this practice becomes easier when you have taken the actions and made the preparations and changes you needed to in order to bring yourself into harmony with your self-concept/ideal self during the day.

For me personally, going to bed feeling accomplished improves my ability to fall and stay asleep, as it prevents me from fretting over things I failed to do that day, or that I need to do tomorrow in order to make up for that inaction.

The truth of the matter is that the last thing you think about before dozing off is highly likely to be the first think on your mind when you wake. In this sense it’s easy to see why inaction, especially ruminating over it before bed, can put you in a depressive loop, starting from the moment you wake up—when ideally, you should be viewing each day anew as an opportunity for a fresh start.

Bear in mind, however, that there is a distinction between between proactivity and productivity. Taking action simply for action’s sake or to increase your perceived productivity can have the opposite effect on your well being, causing stress and overwhelm.

Modern society pushes the productivity mindset, and often many people are quickly steered off course and lose sight of what their initial goal or ideal was altogether. Relationships with others, and more importantly, ones’ self can suffer as a result.

Rather, I’m advocating for deliberate action with intention behind it. When you have clear intent, and have set your coordinates accordingly, you will realize gratification and fulfillment with each achievement, no matter how minuet. This gets back to the growth mindset principle I discussed earlier.

Staying conscious of your intention by slowing down, reflecting, and regularly taking inventory of your values and motivations will help you maintain clarity in your focus. And it will vindicate you, confirming you’re on the right path to your goal as your destination approaches.

Goal-oriented proactivity or momentum building can allow you to feel fulfilled (“satisfied or happy because of fully developing one’s abilities or character”) and accomplished (“highly trained or skilled”) because you have worked closer towards a goal or brought yourself more into balance with your ideals or self-purpose.


The term, Ikigai, which originates from Japanese Traditional Medicine, is loosely translated as simply ‘one’s reason for getting up in the morning’.

The principle revolves around devoting one’s self to the thing that gives them fulfillment, and the sense of purpose and increased wellbeing experienced as a result. Additionally, the pursuit of this thing is generally not just for your own personal benefit, but also in service to others.

Ikigai also resonates with Cognitive–Behavioral Therapy’s emphasis on pursuing activities that produce enjoyment and a sense of mastery, specifically as a way to alleviate depressive disorder., “The Philosophy of Ikigai

In addition to fighting depression, ‘a sense of mastery’ can boost self-esteem and confidence because your perceived worth is higher—you feel like you’ve built upon yourself and have a skill set apt to handle a particular situation you’re facing.

And how does one achieve a sense of mastery? Well, through action, of course—and the repetitive, momentum-building variety in particular.

Obviously, one must know or determine roughly what gives them fulfillment or a sense of purpose in order to take actions in that discipline.

However, the aim of this post is to convey the benefits of action-taking, not discover your self purpose. For those who could use assistance with that, however, I suggest using the free fillable diagram offered at the bottom of the ‘Positive Psychology’ article I linked above.

Call to Action

Now, time to act. If you are experiencing depression or lack of confidence/self-esteem, use any method(s) mentioned of your choosing as a tool to crush it.

Every individual’s circumstance and traits are different, so you may have to experiment to find the best technique or combination of them for you.

– CC