Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu, Japan

November 13, 2016

Oof. What a week.

Here, it was a strange melange. Almost every day, I worked until the wee hours of the morning, tacking down the last details for the book launch.

The sun came up, traced its arc, then curled under the horizon, waiting and turning until it reached, fingers trickling, threatening the dawn.

On the final day as I finished the last print details, I felt that mix of exhaustion and relief and jubilation that often comes at the end of big, long journeys. That same night, the country I hail from elected Donald Trump as its president.

One of the skills I’ve found most useful in taking on depression - and life - is simply being able to notice and experience emotions and thoughts, without having to hold on to them.

Every morning, for the last eight hundred and ninety-six days, I’ve gotten up, opened an app on my tablet, and done a few minutes of mindfulness practice.

Eight hundred and ninety-seven days ago, I was sitting in the office of a therapist, picking their brain for tools and techniques to take on depression. The therapist mentioned mindfulness. I said I’d tried it, and eventually given up because while it sometimes really settled things down for me, other times it didn’t do anything at all.

"That’s not really how it works," he said. "A mindfulness practice is like going to the gym. You don’t go to the gym to be strong and look good in the gym. That would be stupid. You go to the gym to be strong and look good in the rest of your life."

That clicked.

And in weeks like these, two-plus years of a couple minutes of mindfulness every morning has made a huge difference.

I think about what that simple act of being aware without having to act looks like a lot, here in Japan.

In the West, America in particular, we have strong narratives and stories around conflict - there’s always a winner and a loser.

Even in our most equanimous, we have sayings like Fitzgerald’s:

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

But here in Japan, I think they’d see it differently.

The mark of a well-developed mind is the ability to hold two ideas in mind without conflict.

That feeling of "instead of x or y, why not both?" permeates life here.

Buddhism or Shinto? Do both, and top it off with a Christian wedding. Fast food or healthy? Why not eat sushi and get both? Densely populated cities or homes that feel comfortable? Why not reinvent interior design and have both?

Here, there’s the feeling that if you can give ideas enough time, the edges where they conflict can start to unravel, and a third harmonious option can present itself.

That third way often turns out to be a great one.

Today, my feet took me around this city, one I’ll only call home for another month. They wandered their own path among the reddening leaves, letting my mind sift and and balance and simply notice all the emotions and experiences that have been packed into the week.

There is a lot here, in this moment. And something soothing, powerful, and true in the simple act of noticing it.

Be well,

-Steven

p.s. If you’ve been keeping an eye out for my book, the pre-sale opens this Tuesday. I’ll drop you a quick note so you don’t miss it!

p.p.s. The best thing I saw all week was this brilliant video by Tim over at WaitButWhy. He asked people from five countries all over the world what they’d do if they were given three wishes from a genie. Their answers will re-affirm your belief in humanity.

p.p.p.s. You might be wondering if I have something specific to say about a President Trump. I do. It’s here.

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