Part One of this series discussed what a foundation is, and I used the example of my diet to show how foundations work. A foundation is essentially a core rule or guiding principle which provides you with order. This order helps to keep your standards- and thus, your quality of life- high. In the case of my diet, it means that I always eat relatively healthfully.
How Foundations Stick
You may be thinking that it sounds great to have a rule that guides how you should eat, but what’s the point if you can’t follow the rule? A lot of people seem to use a lot of rules when they take on fad diets, yet they can’t seem to follow them for very long.
One thing I said in Part One is that a rule or principle does not become a foundation until you cannot accept the consequences of violating it. You probably will violate it at least once. If doing so doesn’t really bother you, then it’s not really a foundation. On the other hand, if violating it comes with consequences you’d rather not face again, such as a drop in energy, then at the very least you have a rule worth following.
I know, this talk of avoiding painful consequences sounds fear-based. That’s how my dietary improvements tend to start out—by trying to avoid pain. However, before long I turn the intention into one of creating a higher quality of life for myself. The pain sparks the idea to change; then the desire to create something awesome (in this case, increased health) keeps the change going.
Overall, a foundation is easiest to follow if it contains a single rule. In the case of my diet, it’s avoid food additives. Through experience I have found that this generally translates to, avoid packaged and processed foods. So, I know to focus on “whole” foods, such as fruits and vegetables. It’s a single rule with big implications.
Generally, if I turn a food package to the side and see more than five ingredients on the label, I don’t even bother reading it—I just put it back. That being said, I also keep in mind that there are a few food additives that are okay, and if I expect to see those I’ll look out for them. For example, I expect to see Tricalcium Phosphate on the label of rice milk, and I know that this is what is used to fortify the milk with calcium. So, I allow it to pass. I have to put most plant-based milks back on the shelf, however, due to the presence of added sugar and additives such as carrageenan.
When new rules come into play that I’d like to implement, such as going gluten-free, I put those not alongside the rule of the foundation, but rather on top of it. It’s like a pyramid. Avoiding additives is priority #1. Being gluten-free is priority #2. If I can’t find something gluten-free (which has yet to happen to me), then that higher step on the pyramid falls down. However, I still have the base of my pyramid. The most important part of the pyramid remains intact. This means that I don’t fall apart and eat a ho-ho when I can’t find something free of gluten.
If I tried to put these different rules on the same level, they would be harder to follow. While I do basically retain perfection in regards to my current set of diet rules (this hasn’t always been the case), setting up the rules in a hierarchy puts less pressure and strain on me to do so. I know that if I fail to make one, I can still do a pretty good job.
Foundations in the Psyche
I’d like to move on to the example of the second aspect of my life where foundations knowingly came into play. This is mental-emotional, or psychological, well-being. I could even call this “general personal development.” I’ll see which term is better suited as I go along here.
Like my diet, for most of my life my psyche was a mess. Thoughts and feelings of self-loathing, anxiety, and depression overwhelmed me. As I discussed in Podcast Episode 6, I even reached a point of being highly suicidal, and I was lucky to have finished my junior year of high school.
Most of my high school days up to that point were filled with a clawing, nagging emptiness inside me, which only got worse with time. It always felt like something was missing—there was never enough. I desperately tried to avoid thoughts of life’s inherent purposelessness, yet I always failed. The idea haunted me, because I “knew” that it was true.
Through reading, thinking, introspection, and deliberately trying to change the way I saw the world, I was able to steadily diminish this sense of emptiness. Finally, after about a month (I’m surprised at the brevity of this period myself), I had a sort of awakening that was a game-changer. I laid down in bed to have a good ol’ cry, as usual. However, instead of thinking the whole time about how stupid I was for doing so, I just let it happen. I tried to have zero thoughts about it, rather than a whole train of thought. After a few minutes, I suddenly felt myself become full. I stopped crying. The emptiness left. It took my breath away.
Quite honestly, I still have no idea what happened here, and I still feel weird when I try to explain it to people. In the context of this article, it was in that moment that I laid down the foundation for psychological well-being.
Since that moment, there has been no thought, feeling, or event that has been able to dismantle my well-being—at least, not for long. Sure, I still fall apart emotionally sometimes. I still have doubts and internal conflict and worries, and I still express my emotions at times in ways that lead people to question my sanity.
What’s different now, though, is that these negative emotions never quite hit the core of my being. There is an underlying, ever-present awareness now which knows that this is just a step on the path. I know that there is something to be learned, healed, or changed here, and I’m curious to find out what that may be, and what I will end up doing. So rather than be 100% immersed in the experience of suffering, to an extent I am now able to step back and observe it. Rather than look on my suffering self in hopelessness and shame, I know that something interesting is emerging here- that this is an opportunity to advance- and I just have to figure out what it is. The drive to learn keeps me afloat.
The Choice: Fear and Love
Additionally, as time goes on I steadily get better at controlling my state of being. I know that in each moment I have a choice—to align either with fear or with love. In each moment I am either trying to avoid something painful or create something wonderful. Whichever I do, it is because I chose to do it. As time goes on, I’m able to remember the presence of this choice more frequently, and thus to make the choice consciously. Whenever I choose consciously, of course, I choose love. This leads to joy, playfulness, creativity, liveliness, a sense of connection to the things around me, and fun. It still amazes me how this simple choice overwhelmingly influences what I experience. It’s basically a choice to either suffer or to enjoy.
So, as time goes on, I get better at aligning with love. Perhaps the moment the emptiness left me was the first time I truly aligned with love.
About 2.5 years ago when that event happened, and when I first felt I had a solid foundation for my psychological health, I said that the foundation was a 50-50 combination of logic and emotion.
It seemed to me the problem I’d had in the past was that I could make logical sense of ideas, but I didn’t really understand them on a deep, emotional level. This basically meant that I was delusional. I thought I understood things I didn’t really get at all. Consequently, my mind and my emotions were at odds with each other, and both were a mess. My thoughts were irrational and punitive toward my emotions, and my emotions were overwhelmingly negative. I had placed a wall between logic and emotion. It turned out, however, that they needed each other to thrive. Cut off from one another, they both suffered. I didn’t get that my negative emotions were trying to signal to me that something was off in my thinking. I thought emotions were stupid—something to be pushed down. It was just natural for a human to feel so crazy, and it was his job to constantly fight off his inescapable, dangerous irrationality.
At least, so I thought.
This situation is a bit harder to unwrap than my diet was—diet is more straightforward. That’s how I can adhere to my foundation for it just about 100% of the time, whereas things are more variable in the realm of the psyche.
So, what is the foundation here? At bottom, it is awareness itself. It’s the recognition that I have a choice in each moment to shrink from life- and myself- or to embrace it. Overall, I would define this foundation as the ability to consult my intelligence. In junior high and high school, when I suffered constantly, it felt like I was without choice. Now, I know that, whatever is happening, each moment poses a choice to either thrive and grow or to stagnate and suffer. Intelligence is the ability to recognize this choice and to make it consciously. We all have always had this ability. I barely used it until I was almost 17 years old, when things turned around for me. That is precisely why things turned around—I made a decision to act consciously and intelligently.
Putting this foundation into practice means remembering this choice exists, and then making it. That’s it. Choose love or fear. Growth or stagnation. Learning or dying. Adventure or hiding. Honesty or delusion. Openness or close-mindedness. Internal locus of control or external. Trust or hostility. 100% responsibility or none. The choice between love and fear underlies all of these, though I can focus on any one of these choices to ultimately align with love and positive progress.
A simple summary of the foundation would be this: Choose consciously. That’s it. It’s ridiculously simple, yet it’s profound. The ability to choose consciously is the foundation for an awesome, real life. Choosing consciously means that you are aware of the present circumstances (both internal and external), as well as the choices you have to deal with those circumstances. Then, you select, or perhaps create an option based on what you value, and how you can apply those values to the situation.
Right now, for instance, I am writing. In this moment, my options are basically to continue writing, to distract myself from writing, or to scrap this article and stop writing completely. There is nothing externally present that could keep me from writing, so this is all a matter of internal circumstances. In other words, it’s a matter of choice. I can choose creativity or avoidance—love, or fear. Because I value creativity over “security,” I choose to continue writing. Once I make that choice, I have to choose which values the writing I do will be based on—creating and expressing an idea, or trying to win over people somehow. Again, it’s between love and fear. I value the pure intention to create over that of trying to dominate people. So, once again I choose love.
I know, it sounds nit-picky. But this really does happen in every single moment. There are some moments where I choose fear, and I try to distract myself. You may not always notice the choice, and you make not always make it consciously, but you really are making the fear vs. love choice all the time.
This foundation seems counter-intuitive because it sounds overwhelming. However, joy and creativity arise from love, and love is a choice. Remembering the choice (which is really to give yourself the option) and making it is how you live consciously.
Living More Consciously
In the long view, living consciously does not produce static results. The more you choose to live consciously, the better you get at seeing the all the options you have and selecting the one that is most in line with what you value. This is partially because you also get more clear on what is truly important to you. As time goes on, you will be more firm in your commitment either to fear or to love. The extent of your commitment is roughly equal to the extent to which you experience either side.
The knowledge and beliefs you accumulate will affect your choices as well. An option you once saw as being on the side of love, you may now see as being on the side of fear, and vice versa. Few courses of action are inherently love-based or fear-based—love and fear are intentions. I can write an article using the exact same words from a place of either love or of fear. I can write to create or to impress. Whichever I do roughly determines whichever I’m more likely to do again in the future. Because I’m used to writing in order to create, I get paralyzed when I think about trying to impress people. That doesn’t mean I never do try to impress people—I just do a hilariously bad job of it is all. It’s the same thing as being a terrible liar: I either smile and laugh when I try to do it, or I get sweaty and nervous and meek. I can’t do it well because the choice isn’t aligned with my values.
A Turn in Intentions
Recognizing that an option you thought was inherently fear-based can actually be love-based is a powerful moment. For example, for a while I thought that holding off on efforts to start a life-coaching program was a cop-out—definitely the fear-based path. However, now that I’ve done just that, I’m getting a sense that it’s easier to be in a pure, love-based intention to create. Before, it felt like the coaching program was a wall I put up between me and other people (especially visitors to my website). It was a burden I carried around, and it was stressful. I didn’t think I was able to coach people effectively, yet I tried to get a program going anyway. I don’t know how long I’ll wait until I try again, but I feel that I have made the love-based decision here.
The other side of the coin is recognizing that an option you thought was inherently love-based can actually be fear-based. For me, this was the case with the Catholic religion. I was raised Catholic, and as a young girl I thought that adhering to the Catholic faith was always good (and aligned with love). However, as a teenager I began to take note of all the atrocities committed by Catholics throughout history, as well as the hatred some Christians held for certain groups of people, such as homosexuals (which bothered me immensely at the time). I started to wonder how a religion wrought with violence and hatred had much room left at all for love. When I first heard about atheism I thought it was evil, but after continued questioning of Christianity I decided it was the path more likely to be aligned with love—even if it didn’t look that way on the surface. So, for several years atheism was the path I took. Christianity was too ridden with fear and delusion to be worth my attention anymore.
The Foundation for All Foundations
Overall, the foundation of not just psychological well-being, but personal change in general, is living consciously. Remember the choice between fear and love and make it. The more aligned with either fear or love your choice is, the more powerful the change will be. Personal transformation tends to occur when a person makes a major shift in their intentions from fear to love. They move from a state of dread and avoidance to a place of desiring to learn and to embrace challenges and life in general.
Perhaps the true foundation of my diet, then, below the rule of avoiding food-additives, is to live a real life. It’s to align with whatever increases my energy and enables me to live joyfully, abundantly, and brilliantly, in such a way that positively impacts the world around me. The choice to live consciously is the foundation for all other foundations I may use to improve the quality of my life. Indeed, it is the foundation which provides all those other foundations with a purpose—with a reason for being. And it is that purpose that makes them immensely more powerful.
Why Have Foundations At All?
I’d like to continue this series with a part 3. Most likely I will use an example of a simple part of my life where I have applied the concept of foundations, and then I will explore how I can use foundations in other, weaker parts of my life.
The general purpose of all foundations is to improve the quality of your life. What, for you, is the foundation for all foundations? Why improve the quality of your life—what’s the point? What is it that makes change and transformation truly important to you? Is it important at all?
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Part 1 of this series: Using Foundations to Maintain Health