The Importance of the Here and Now

 

View from Benediktenwand, close to Munich. A day nothing short of "perfect" - if you are able to enjoy it...

View from Benediktenwand, close to Munich. A day nothing short of “perfect” – if you are able to enjoy it…

An important (and a very difficult) ingredient to leading a good live is living in the here and now.

To not spend unnecessary thoughts on facts and circumstances that you cannot change anyhow.
The idea is very simple on the one side and VERY difficult to put into practice on the other side.Basically – if done right and taken to the extreme – living in the here and now means that you never spend any thoughts on anything that you are not doing right now.In other words: In the optimal case, your thoughts and your doing is always fully aligned.

  • When you take a shower, you take a shower. You do not think about the argument you had with your boss.
  • When you are driving, you are driving. You do not think about that vacation trip you still have to organize.
  • When you are doing a hike, you do a hike. You do not think about your stocks which could have performed better.

In theory that sounds like a simple thing, and you will find the idea repeated throughout all schools of philosophy and religion.

However, there are probably only a handful people on the world which are able to fully put this into practice. And in ZEN-Buddhism, a philosophy that has much to say on this idea, they would be called enlighted, so rare are they.

Anyway, as Woodpecker and probably you too are unfortunately quite a bit away from getting enlighted, let’s focus on a first step:

Realize how often your thoughts are distracted from the here and now to something negative, and how these thoughts ruin an otherwise pretty perfect moment.

Walk through a valley, Bavarian alps. Focus on the very moment and happiness will follow.

Walk through a valley, Bavarian alps. Focus on the very moment and happiness will follow.

I tried to practise this a bit during a two-days winter hike on another alpine hut with an old friend of mine.

In fact, this two days were – objectively – nothing short of perfect:

The weather was fantastic, cold and crisp, but sunshine and fresh, dry air.
A winter wonderland landscape only for ourselves, not spoilt by any other hikers, who all have been partying carnival or whatever.
A cosy hut all for ourselves alone, enough firewood to have it warm (after two hours of non-stop power-firing the stove 🙂 ), totally calm and peacefully surrounded by a mountain cirque. Great fresh food and wine that we carried up in large quantity to the hut.
We both being healthy, alive, not tired, no ache, all fine.

And still, it is so easy to damage that perfect atmosphere.
In that case it was not so much me (although I play that part often enough myself) who was unbalanced, but Woodpeckers friend.
I do not at all blame him, as he currently is going through a difficult time, I only want to highlight the mechanism at work in all of us in some examples.

  • We parked at the wrong parking place. Meaning +30 minutes additional walk. A walk through a very nice, winter-snow valley plus we had a lot of time, so actually something great and we were there to walk anyway! But made my friend uneasy for not having found the “right” parking.
  • He forgot to bring “vanillin sugar” that was needed to prepare a Kaiserschmarrn (traditional Bavarian sweet dish) after a recipe from his grandmother. It had to be replaced by normal sugar, not a big deal and the result still tasted fantastic, but made him rant for not less than half an hour.
  • Instead of enjoying the evening, he was repeatedly bothered by the fact we only had one night at the hut because he did decide not to take two days off but only one. A second night would have been much more relaxing.
  • A lot of discussion on Munich city government’s stupidity regarding traffic planning and what could all be better if they were not so stupid.
  • Woodpecker did ok “here and now”-wise these two days, but of course I also had my “moments”, e.g. a mood-lowering discussion with him on a car shortcut he proposed and I was so damn sure my way was better (I initially asked for him to do the navigation, and of course it turned out he was right). etc.

So you get the picture.
It was all minor normal things that happen all the day in human interaction.
And don’t mistake me, it was still two great days out in nature – fortunately not great harm done.

Self catering hut of the German Alpine Association. (Cost per night: 12 EUR.)

Self catering hut of the German Alpine Association. (Cost per night: 12 EUR.)

But still my point is:

All of the above happens all the time.
This kind of negative thoughts are of absolutely no use, as you cannot change the given situation anyway. And (for the given moment) this kind of thinking takes significantly away from your happiness.
If you observe closely, you will find that all of us have this types of thought very often.

But now the good news:

If you continue to observe, you will get better and better in stopping this kind of thinking.
You will not dwell on an error you cannot change anymore (the forgotten vanillin sugar) for 30 minutes but only for 10 minutes, and later for 1 minute. And even later you will just accept it and laugh about it, turn the fact from a mishap into something increasing your happiness, e.g. by seeing the absurdity of the situation and enjoying it!

This is and important step towards happiness. Start today and try it out!

Take the next situation were you feel you get upset. Observe it closely and try to put some distance between you and the situation.

It will be difficult in the beginning, but the more often you practise, the easier it will get to stay calm and let the negativity spiral pass by.

Cheers,

Woodpecker

 

 

A Good Fight with Mother Nature is Something no Money can Buy

A glorious morning in the Bavarian Alps (Tegernseer Hütte).

A glorious morning in the Bavarian Alps (Close to Tegernsee).

One week ago, the annual old boys gathering with people from Woodpeckers home town was due again.

As we were going to meet at lake Tegernsee close to Munich, Woodpecker and one guy who lives here too decided to prolong the gathering by an extra night on a hut close to the lake, a ca. 3 hrs / 1.000 height meter hike up on to mountain top.

The hut was assumed to be pretty booked but the week before our trip a huge autumn storm hit Germany. So one day prior to our departure the landlord called me up and strongly recommended not to go, as +1 meter of fresh snow had fallen in the mountains, with a lot of wind to produce snowdrifts, the ways not cleared and the storm still raging outside.

Well, if you ever fought your way uphill through the mountains in 1 meter of fresh snow you know that this is not quite an easy task.

However, the next day was calm, the mountains glazing in the sun (so the webcam told me) and after a second call to the landlord and a check for the avalanche situation we decided to start anyway. We rented out a couple of snow-shoes for the flatter first half of the hike, and packed avalanche shovels, snow trousers and all the other winter gear plus enough schnapps for the steep upper half.

Sunset.

Sunset.

The first part was easy-going through a fairy tale snow-white and untouched winter forest, crisp air and nobody else walking around. The snow-shoes served us well and soon we reached a hut half-way up.
That was where the real fun started. The inclination got too steep now to use the snow shoes efficiently and the snow was so soft that they were sinking in anyway.
So the only way was to bulldoze our way up, sinking in up to the hips with every step, with snow everywhere, taking turns every 50 meters. Fortunately we were good on time, and a jigger of booze every half an hour gave additional energy. 🙂

Woodpecker did some similar (although shorter) tours before, but again and again it is amazing to feel special atmosphere and the quietness of the snow-covered mountains. It is also fascination to observe the different textures snow on a mountain face can have. From soft powder to sticky, from unstable to compressed by the wind, or with a hard icy surface that makes you hope it can hold your step until you break in and have to fight your boots out from below the ice cap.

And it is always amazing to feel your senses and your body absolutely awake and at maximum alertness once they feel a challenge is more real than the ones they encounter in their daily office routine or in front of a computer game.

The night creeping in...

The night creeping in…

Your mind feels the thrill once it notices you will not make it during sunlight, your body chemistry reacts once the shadow of the night creeps in, when the temperature starts to drop quickly, and the wind catches up icy closer to the top with your muscular energy level going to reserve. You perception gets sharper than you think possible when you look out for a weather change, for signs of avalanche danger or for the optimal route through the hillside. No small noise or crackling sound goes un-noticed, every small change in the tone of distant howling wind is recognised. In other words: You can barely feel more alive.

Obviously all of this was not actually dangerous and I would not have done it if it was, but still, the hike was a challenge and far out of the typical comfort zone of us modern humans.

But that is the point:

The true reward, the kick of mountain happiness comes only if you have a prolonged moment of suffering on your way up.

A moment where you curse it all and wish you would have stayed at home on the sofa. This moment then is followed by complete emptiness of the brain, where you just fight on step by step. And only then you will be rewarded later by an overwhelming flow of happiness once you reach the top. Something all the flip-flop cable car riders will never experience.

Every mountaineer, every climber and generally every sportsman will confirm.

And what a reward we got! Reaching the hut when the last bit of the twilight faded with a last look on the mountain range of the Alps under the stars. Finding ourselves the only guests in a normally very crowded hut. Drying in front of the cracking fire, a good Bavarian beer and some hearty food at hand.

And at the break of dawn this view:

Sunrise, 6:50 in the morning. For some reason, no alarm clock needed, the body clock woke us up in time.

Sunrise, 6:50 in the morning. For some reason, no alarm clock needed, the body clock woke us up in time.

 

Boy, this was a good tour.

Something no money ever can buy.

Any similar experience to share? Let us know!

 

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Happiness comes unexpected

A simple hike in the mountains might provide a better happiness boost than a new TV. (pic taken close to Füssen, Bavaria)

A very short and maybe unspectacular post, but I had to note down an observation before going to bed…

Spent the afternoon at the local playground with the kids. In the beginning I was not that motivated to go, because, you know, it’s always the same playground, and sometimes you just are too lazy to get your ass out of the door.

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Another frugal trip – to Woodpeckers home, Franconia!

A quick little trip to another nice and mostly unknown part of Germany:

Franconia

The “Altes Rathaus” (old townhouse) of Bamberg, sitting in the middle of the river Regnitz.

…where Woodpecker spent a happy youth in the beautiful small, and happily quite un-poshy town of Bamberg.

Bamberg with its 70.000 inhabitants is a medieval town founded more than 1000 years ago, then the seat of the holy Roman Emperor Heinrich II and today one of the few cities in the world which are entirely entitled the world cultural heritage status. Reason is that the old town was not bombed in WWII and Bamberg lacked massive industrial development afterwards, leaving it quite in its original state.

Once again it was really inspiring to stay there due to the contrast the town offers compared to Munich.
As pointed out, I love Munich and it is and excellent place to be, but its main disadvantage are too many un-frugal people who live there. A thing certainly more rare in Bamberg. Here you will see less hectic people running through the city with cell-phones on their ears, you will have difficulties finding anyone running around hacking on his blackberry, you see less top-edge designer-cloths and high-class cabriolets. All in all it is (like most smaller towns) more relaxed and more modest.

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Guide to Happiness & Money: Do you need a TV?

Did these guys need a TV? (seen at the amazing ancient greek city of Ephesus, today in Turkey)

Woodpecker’s last TV

Do you remember these bulky huge TVs, one bought in 90s?

Big as a wardrobe and energy-consuming in a way you could heat your flat with them?

That was the last TV I owned.

I don’t know how many hours I spend in front of it…
…until finally it broke down in 2004.

I was going to let it be repaired, but it was Mrs.Woodpecker (Mrs.Woodpecker in spe at that time), who voted for putting it away in the basement for some time, as she felt that she could not control her TV consumption.
Because of that she was one of the few persons who never possessed a TV, until we moved together some years before.

So the TV set went to the basement, and guess what:

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May 1st – the “day of work” is a good day to think about how to work less…

Mountainbiking at a lake near Munich. You can enjoy it for free...given you have TIME!

Today is May the 1st!

This is again a good day to live, especially here in Germany where it is a public holiday.

Is it in your country as well?!

If not, that should be introduced. At least I find the idea quite nice and appreciate it very much, that the “day of work“, as it is called here in Germany, is actually a day of not-working!

This is a good day to pause and think about the role work plays in your life.

Initially for most people work or labour was just a means to survive. Later a means to consume and to afford some nice things and a bit of spare time on top.

And today? Well, we earn much more than we actually need for living and eating.

Let’s look at some data from Germany (Source here, in German)

Item Work needed 1950 (h) Work needed 2009 (h) Difference
1kg bread 0:27 0:11 -60%
10 eggs 2:01 0:08 -93%
1l milk 0:19 0:03 -80%
1kg coffee beans 2 days 0:19 -99%
Suit 4 days 17:00 -80%
TV 16 days 2 days -87%

This list could easily be continued to most products that we really need for living today.

So, instead of what most people think, life in general does not get more expensive over time.

On the contrary, it got massively cheaper in the last decades, and probably in many aspects continues to do so. Looking at the data you can see that you can easily afford everything that your grandparents had by working much less – let’s say not more than 30%  of the time – than your grandparents had to work for it.

The problem thus is not that we have too little money but we work too much because we think that we must have much more things to make us happy.

Instead of being happy with a simple TV, a basic car as one had in the 50s and furniture you would use for decades, today we are talked into a brand-new TV each 5 years, 2 cars with oversized motors, cloths that are thrown away after wearing them only twice and loads of lifestyle-crap that is forgotten a week after you bought it. A lot of this desires are not coming from within ourselfes but probably from outside via peer-group pressure and TV ads.

Well, I don’t say that all modern products are bad.

Not at all. Me and my family for example fancy very much some nice holiday-trips every now and then, and I enjoy the variety of books, films, good food and kitchen machines my grandparents weren’t able to possess.

However, again there is the middle-way:

Find out what are the basic goods that you really need in life. Then think about what extra add-ons you like to have, add-ons that really increases your happiness on a long term basis.

And – important – find out for yourself!

Don’t let others or advertising influence you. Think hard about things you bought and whether you enjoyed them in a sustainable way or whether they only gave you a short kick (as e.g. cloths do for me).

And then cut out all the crap, concentrate on basic needs and these few add-ons, and you will find that probably you can afford all of this and still work much less than your grandparents did.

Now the tough next step is to convince your employer that you want to cut down to 4 days a week from tomorrow on – but maybe you find a way!

So enjoy your day of work by spending a few thoughts on how to actually work less in the future!

Woodpecker

#7 Bury your Blackberry! Separate Job and Spare-Time

This could be so relaxing…

A nice day at the beach.

Waves are splashing, the sky is blue, a nice breeze is cooling the summer heat. You are sitting in an arm chair, listening to some good music on your mp3-player, reading a magazine or a good book.

Then suddenly you are interrupted by a humming sound coming from your beach-bag!It is your Blackberry, and while you try to keep on reading you think by yourself it could be very very important and it might be absolutely necessary that you react IMMEDIATELY, because if you don’t, your employer will go bust the other day, or even worse the economy of your country will instantly fall apart.

So you try to resist for a moment, you try to re-concentrate on the surf and the sun, but your relaxation is gone and 10 seconds later you grab the Blackberry and hectically open your post-box.
But it was only a colleague, sending a mail @all to ask if anyone wants to join for lunch.

Ah, Relax again….

…but 10 minutes later, same humming, same game.

This time it’s your boss, apologizing only very briefly for contacting you in your well earned holidays, but it is VERY important.

…Relaxation gone.

You spend the rest of the day sending eMails, trying to remember if you messed up something and trying to calm down your girlfriend or wife who complains about you working in holidays.
Necessary?

Your employer might say YES:

This is a helpful and so-modern device, and you as a flexible, dynamic, so-modern young employee should use it to your own benefit, you stay updated and you don’t miss out.

I say its bullshit:

This is a modern type of ball and chain or shackle (Fussfessel), binding you to your work even in your well deserve some spare time. It’s dragging you like Sauron’s Ring the ring-wraths in their sleepless death.
It forces you to never sleep and never rest without a spark of duty lingering still in your head. It ties you to the machine and keeps you in the middle of the rat-race with the most simple trick: Pretending it’s for your own best. And pretending it underpins your Status and your Importance.

I tell you:

Get rid of this shackle and let others feel important!

Ban it!

If you are an employee most likely you are not important. But tell you what? It’s great not to be important! Accept it and benefit from that fact! Because that means you can enjoy the sun and the company will not go bust, the world will not end if you cannot be reached by your employer. Forget about your employer when you are in holidays and look for somthing or somebody you are really important for.

I am resisting a Blackberry since I was first offered one 6 years ago by my then-boss. And you know what? It’s great! When I am travelling for my company I can concentrate on my task, I don’t get distracted and annoyed by stuff happening at home. If I am in a meeting I listen, and if everybody else gets bored and starts typing on their blackberries, I still could join in and pull out my private cell-phone and play a game (which really is the same thing in the end).

I don’t feel important, but I don’t feel stressed either.

And when I am in holiday! Ahhhh…I enjoy the sun and the sound of the waves…!

Have fun,
Woodpecker