Everything is connected. The question is can you ‘see’ the connection.
Not just with your eyes….but all five senses and then some.
Do your own thoughts impact how the world shows up for you?
Do your own actions have undeniable impact of everyone and everything around you?
Do your own emotions impact the emotions of others both near and far?
Of course this is the way of the world. You don’t have to believe me. Science shows us that we are connected not just with each other, but across space and across time.
There are certain moments when the interconnectedness becomes obvious. During a meditation, while hiking though nature, snowboarding on fresh powder, water skiing across a still lake, relaxing with people you care about, even the final moments of an Ironman!
The real trick is to bring this awareness into other aspects of life. During a challenging work meeting. While having an argument with a family member. While getting pulled over by a traffic cop. Waiting for a delayed flight to take off. While doing laundry. While staring at a sink full of dishes after a long day of work.
There’s a great saying that ‘when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” It is true. Seeing the connection between all things will fundamentally change how you relate and react everything in this world.
You stop being at the effect of the world and instead become ‘at cause’ for what happens. Everything that shows up in your world will seem to be a manifestation of who you are and how you are showing up.
In a world of abundant distraction, focus has become a more valuable skill than ever.
I use the word ‘skill’ because focus is something that can be practiced and improved over time.
In yoga, we call this ‘dhristi’, one point of focus. It starts with physical focus, fixing your gaze to a single point. From the physical focus, your mind becomes more focused, with your awareness moving to a what is happening in the current moment. From this mental focus you’ll find deeper levels of meta-physical focus.
When you look at things worth appreciating in this world; be it nature, new technologies, art, books, movies, music, meaningful relationships, etc…they were all created through some degree of focus. Scattered energy and attention doesn’t accomplish much and over the long-term can actually be destructive in terms of physical, mental and societal well-being.
Yoga and meditation practice is just one way to improve focus. Any act of doing one thing at a time works. Write a blog post, knit, go on a hike, spend time with family, play an instrument. The key is to just be present to what you are doing without letting your mind wander.
Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.
Worrying has an incredible cost. I estimate that through the course of an average workweek about 80% of waking time is spend worrying about something.
Worry about being late for a meeting. Worry about public speaking. Worry about dealing with a co-worker. Worry about dealing with a manager. Worry about how a project will turn out. Worry about an upcoming performance review.
Worry comes at a cost.
Blood pressure issues. Stomach ulcers and digestive problems. Eating disorders. Insomnia. Worry is no joke. People die young due to stress and anxiety induced health issues.
Beyond the physical I think the biggest cost is that when you worry you miss out on what is actually happening in the world. Worry is only possible when you are dwelling on the past or projecting some situation into the future. If you catch yourself worrying a lot, you are certainly not present to what is really going on.
Your kids. Your co-workers. Your friends. All your relationships become tainted when worry has a grip on you. Mr. Carnegie has a nice tip for dealing with worry if it keeps you from sleeping:
If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep. ~Dale Carnegie
I like meditation as proactive way to eliminate worry. I believe that like any other skill, freeing yourself from worry is no different that losing a few pounds, learning a language or a new sport. It can be trained. The most powerful training is mediation.
Meditation teaches awareness to what is going on in the present moment.
10 minutes a day of breathing and simple awareness will give you the capacity to let go of worry when it comes, and with continued practice you’ll notice that worry just stops taking root in your mind altogether.
I’ve been meditating daily for over 5 years and am convinced that it has re-wired my brain. I’m not worry-free but close to it.
Authenticity is a rare thing. You know it when you see. In people. In art. In music. In cuisine. In the environment. The real-deal stands out because it doesn’t try to be real. It just is. I notice this with people all the time. Authentic folks stand out without trying to stand out, they are so rare nowadays. There is a great quote that I heard many years ago that captures this notion:
Who you are speaks so loudly I can hardly hear a word you are saying.
Being authentic is incredibly simple, but not easy. It is simple because it does not require you to do anything. It is hard because it does require the non-doing of many things. We are programmed to pretend. From a young age we learn that being ourselves is not OK. It isn’t appropriate to dance around the floor of the temple or the church. It isn’t appropriate to wear flashy clothes to school. It isn’t appropriate to cut your hair like a mohawk. It is isn’t appropriate to eat dessert first. There are so many things we are told are not appropriate.
As a result we learn how to be a genuine fake and get very good at it. We learn not to rock the boat. We learn how to fit in and do what we are told. We learn how to judge ourselves as good or bad based on the expectations of others, and this in turn helps us be even better and the fakery. We become very good actors.
There are many problems with being good actors. Acting, even for the most highly skilled actor or actress, takes an enormous amount of energy. Being someone who you are not is a net energy drain. All the thoughts, words and deeds that must be done come at a cost. In fact, it’s a double-whammy. Not only does it take energy to act, it also takes energy to repress who you really are, your authentic self.
A great meditation teacher taught me that meditation is an act of non-doing. If you think meditation is tough, it isn’t because it requires you to do something tough, because there is no doing involved! In fact, the more you sit still and force your mind to focus on only one thing (or nothing), the more tiring meditation will become. Therefore, the best way to meditate is to make it effortless. Sit down, and just notice what you notice. If your mind wanders let it wander and notice it wandering. Continue the practice of noticing and you will begin unwind the Gordian knot of effort that is keeping you all wound up! Meditation must be effortless, it is the only way.
Authenticity happens, it isn’t something you do.
In the same way, trying to be authentic is a massive energetic drain. Authenticity happens, it isn’t something you do. The best way to be a genuine fake it to ignore this fact and continue doing what you are told and fitting into how you think you should be. Another great way to entrap yourself and others is to get caught up in double-binds about how to live your life. This means you come to believe that you must “try to be sincere” or “you must always love him” or “you must only tell the truth”, etc. These statements are double-binds because they require forced thinking and agreement to an impossible outcome. These beliefs make it impossible to be authentic. As ridiculous as it seems to read these statements, people live their lives according to these rules and don’t even know it. You become a first-class genuine fake when you force things to happen. When you speak what you think you should speak instead of what is true. When you act out of concern for the future or the past vs the present.
If you are tired of being a genuine fake, the good news is that the way out is far simpler than the what got you there – but it may not be easy depending on your past conditioning and mindset (though it may quite trivial if you believe it to be so). It comes back to aligning thoughts, words and actions based on what is really happening, not what is expected of you or what you think about the past or the future. In the truth of the now, there can only be authenticity, for fakery relies on the mind, and the mind operates in the past/future and not the present. In the present there is only awareness which lies behind the mind. This is the only truth.
If you can find some peace of mind in the middle of madness, finding it in everyday life will that much easier. If you keep putting off a meditation practice because you don’t have the right meditation pillows, music, incense, etc…you’re making excuses.
Just sit down and do it. It doesn’t matter if the sun is shining on your eyelids. It doesn’t matter if there is noise from the street outside. It doesn’t matter if there is a kid running around and distracting you or a baby crying in the distance.
Just start and embrace the distraction. It is all part of the practice.
I asked a student in yoga class today “why are you here” and she replied “to lose my mind!” It sounds funny but it’s right on.
Losing your mind is great thing. When you are thinking you aren’t noticing what is really going on, and there is always much going on that is worth noticing.
Yogis practice for years to perfect this skill. Zen monks do austere meditation and rituals to cultivate present moment awareness and lose their minds.
The cool thing is it doesn’t need to take a long time and tons of effort to do this. Every day you spontaneously lose your mind. It happens when you get out in nature. It happens during bouts of intense physical activity. It happens when you express your creative potential.
Discover the ways of being where you can lose your mind. Bring more of that into your life. See all the cool stuff that is really happening when you are not caught in a web of thought.
(Below: losing my mind on the beach in Santa Barbara, CA)
The problem with self-help books, tapes and programs as they are commonly presented in bookstores and seminars is that they cater to the “self.” This is an issue since the self that desperately needs help is exactly the same self that is trying to help itself! It’s like trying to pick yourself up by your own bootstraps, it’s an impossible task. This is the issue with so many personal development and self-help approaches. They rely on some sheer force of will, ridiculous effort or some crazy process of control to create a change. These approaches simply strengthen the very things we must begin to let go of to achieve any sense of true personal growth, the ego.
This is where meditation fits in. When practiced without focus on outcome or desire, it provides a shim against the force of will that we apply in most every endeavor we take up. It allows one to grow without feeding the ego. It can help to undo the egotistical build up we experience throughout other activity. Through simply witnessing breath and becoming aware of what “is,” there is an increased capacity to see things objectively throughout all of life. It is perhaps the only form of self-help that is truly effective.
I commit to, starting today and for the next 30 days, meditating twice a day for 20 minutes each. Once in the morning and once in the evening.
The challenge began simply enough, and became progressively more challenging as life seemed to get in the way of my attempts to sit still and focus. First allergies, then a cold, then several late nights and busy work meetings made sitting still a challenging task! Despite the challenges I persisted and eventually found my time sitting to be easier and more fulfilling. By the 10 days of my 30-day challenge my meditations took on a whole new shape. I was no longer having to force myself to sit. It became more enjoyable and I began to notice more profound benefits.
I’ll share my approach to meditation, the challenges I faced and the benefits received as a guide for those of you that want to take up a similar challenge yourself. Suffice it to say, that at the end of my 30-days, I took 1 day off and did not meditate at all (even though I wanted to!) simply to keep myself from getting in the trap of trying to “keep a streak alive.” However, this morning I did sit for 20 minutes again and will do so again this evening. This is no longer a challenge for me but a way of life. I’m going to keep this up.
Sat still in silent meditation for 20 minutes, every morning and evening
Often meditated after exercise or yoga practice (makes it easier to sit still and focus)
Chose the same place every time, mostly in a dark room (without tons of light shining on my) and away from noise
Set a timer for 20 minutes (I use my iPhone, it has a built-in count-down timer and the alarm is soothing!)
When cold, I draped a shawl over me (including my head) just leaving room around my mouth to breathe
Sat on the floor (light carpet or yoga mat), and avoided using excessive props and pillows (if you need props or pillar, or even a chair to start, no problem, if you can sit cross-legged on the floor, do that)
Rested my hands, palms faced down, on my knees
Kept my spine straight, but with its natural curves
Imagined an apple balancing on my head to keep from slouching (just initially)
Kept eyes closed no matter what
Breathed in and out through my nose (not loud or with “ujayii” breath as in yoga asana practice, but with a normal breath)
Focused on my breath to start (in fact, you could spend the entire 20 minutes just noticing your breath, I would often do this)
If you know a mantra or empowering phrase, you can repeat that, often I would do this, but it is not necessary. You can also focus on an emotion or idea like peace, love, harmony, etc…
No matter how much my mind wandered, I brought it back to my single point of focus (breath, mantra or whatever you are using for that)
No matter how badly I wanted to see how much time I have left, I did not open my eyes! (it helps to keep any clocks out of sight so you aren’t tempted to look)
When finished, I ended in namaste (with hands in prayer at heart center) and that is it!
My challenges (all avoidable with practice and care!)
Felt sleepy while meditating if I didn’t get to bed early enough
Had trouble concentrating if I would eat right before meditation or ate heavy foods or overate (or ate late in the evening and then meditated before sleep)
Tempted to look at a clock or timer to see how much time was remaining. In many cases, I would open my eyes and look right before the time was up!
Legs sometimes felt ancy…..not pins and needles, but ancy like I wanted to get up and do something
Mind would wander incredibly, especially if I was late for work or had other important matters to do
Allergies made it very challenging at times, with constant sneezing and a runny nose, I persisted through this
Was extremely tired a few times, due to a cold and late work days, made meditation incredibly challenging
Listening to music or watching a movie (especially action movies) would make meditation more challenging
Less attachment to other people’s actions towards me – especially words and things they say or do that would normally tick me off. Things would just have a far more neutral effect on me
Incredibly enhanced ability to concentrate on single tasks – especially creative tasks and challenging work that requires focus. I wouldn’t be joking to say that my productivity at work doubled in the past month on a per-hour basis. Not in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality of work.
Better connections with people. I noticed a better connection with people in yoga classes I teach, and also in several personal relationships and also in the workplace.
Easier control over what I eat – size of portions, type of food, etc. I’ve noticed that I’ve become far more away of what I eat and have noticed having to eat less or just moderate my food intake in a more natural way. I think this is due to less impulsive feelings which let me notice when I am really full and stop eating at the proper time, and also make smarter choices about what to eat.
Overall feeling of happiness and well-being. This is perhaps the single biggest benefit. I generally just feel happier. I feel like there is a purpose and direction for what I am doing and things don’t get to me like they used to.
That’s it, if you decide to take up a meditation challenge of your own, please let me know in the comments. It is very well worth it!!!
My challenge is cruising along, I’m on day 28 of my 30 day meditation challenge. Sitting for 20 minutes is now no trouble at all. It doesn’t matter how bad my allergies are acting up, how tired or cold I am, how hungry I am or how late I might be for a meeting 🙂 , I can sit for 20 minutes no matter what. That’s big progress. I’m also beginning to realize that there is a saying that will probably be very familiar to you, that is absolutely not true. Here it is:
Ignorance is bliss
I say this because over the past few weeks my mind has seemingly grown more distracted and my time sitting in meditation is seemingly less fruitful now than when I first began this challenge. At first I was thinking that maybe I wasn’t meditating properly, but quickly realized what a dumb thought that was. There are some guidelines to help you get meditate, but there are really limitless methods and tools people use. The major point is to just sit still and bring your attention to the present moment. Exactly how you choose to do so is up to you really.
I’ve come to realize that it is not that my mind is becoming more and more distracting by having to sit still for 20 minutes twice a day. It is simply that I am now able to actually notice the distractions that have been there all along. I’ve been ignorant to the fact that for the majority of my waking life I am really not present with anyone or in any situation. I’m either thinking about the past, dwelling on some prior event, or dreaming hopefully about the future.
I am rarely present and this is what I’ve been having to deal with in my meditations. In sitting still, I can really see my mind race. I observe the games it plays, tempting me to peak at the clock, or get up and do something else, or daydream, or do anything but pay attention to the present moment. I’m becoming far more aware of this fact, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cause me angst. The good news is, now I am aware of the fact – which means I am no longer ignorant! Ignorance is not bliss, it is just a mask that keeps you from experiencing the world as it really is, not as you dream it to be.
Day 15 of the 30 Day Meditation Challenge. The rhythm and process of meditating is getting easier. With consistency applied to any endeavor, this usually happens. I’ve had several situations where it was rather difficult to actually sit still for 20 minutes, but I managed and after sitting for a minute, it was totally fine. Here were a few of the more challenging scenarios:
Staying up way too late on St. Patty’s Day, and then having to come home and meditate late at night (well, very early morning technically!)
Waking up a little late, and having to sit for 20 minutes to meditate, while worrying about being late for an important work meeting (I made it on time)
Eating way to much for dinner late in the evening, and having to sit for an uncomfortable meditation
Having crazy bad allergies where my nose was literally dripping like a faucet, but sitting still nonetheless (probably the single most challenging meditation session of my life!!!)
Being incredibly tired after a long day at a work offsite and not much sleep, but sitting for meditation anyway
Struggling to find a quiet spot while visiting family (with a small child calling out my name every now and then!)
Ultimately, the point of meditation isn’t to do it only when convenient. In all the above scenarios, there were no dire consequences, and the discomfort in every case was my own fault (except for the allergies…and there even, I should have gotten the right medicine in time).
One of the insights I’ve been tuning into is that there are a whole bunch of things that are having no effect on me or just having a lighter effect on me. These relate to things people do, say or their actions that can be frustrating or irritating. They are just having less of an impact. This also relates to stressful situations (having a big presentation, meeting, or other nerve-wracking situation) – they are having a lesser impact on me. I don’t know why this is happening but it is. Also, I am having a MUCH easier time concentrating on creative tasks (writing papers/presentations, reading, etc.). If you do any kind of creative work, you need to start meditating….just watch what it does to you!
With consistent meditation, the “Not I” has no chance!
The way I see it, meditation allows one to see things as distinct from who you really are. It’s like a big giant wedge that you can drive into your own being, to separate away all the things that are not you. My simple doodle explains it.
This is important, because I believe that anything truly not wanted in life (pain, fear, stress, etc.) comes from outside of who you really are. If you identify with your true being, the negative emotions cannot exist (even if the situations or actions that caused them still do).
Will also plays a big part. If you imagine a big metal stake and you want to drive it into the earth, you need some force behind it or it will not do any good. You need to press on it really hard, this is the force of will. For me, will is needed just to sit still for 20 minutes. You’d be amazed at how challenging it is just to sit for 20 minutes and listen to your own breath – with no fidgeting or other movement! It is infinitely challenging.
If you think you are a badass Ironman triathlete, corporate executive or some other “rock star,” let me tell you – this is far more of a challenge than any of that stuff. I swam across Puget Sound a few years ago (hopped off a ferry at Bainbridge Island and swam to West Seattle), that was a challenge, but this is really tough. I know people who would not think twice about lacing up their shoes and going for a tough 20 mile run, but they refuse to sit still (call it meditation or whatever you want) for 20-30 minutes on a regular basis. If you consider yourself a motivated type-A personality…..your probably need a steady meditation practice badly. Try it and then let me know if you decide to take up the challenge.
Anyway, I digress….some days I feel like I hitting the wedge really well and making some progress but many days I am just pushing and pushing but not super focused. In fact, on several occasions last week, I just sat there, completely unable to focus…but sit I did! My mind kept wandering….and in some cases I would open my eyes and fidget a little before closing. In either case, in focused meditation or not, I’m training the “muscle” I call “willpower” and over time this will muscle will help me bring about the change that is required when the time and setting is right (namely, when I am well-rested and eating well…which is when I have the most pleasant experiences with meditation!). With strong well and consistent meditation, the “Not I” has no chance.
Found my groove over the past few days. After having a hard time sitting still and really wandering mind, things have settled down a bit. My mind still wanders, but not as much. Also, sitting for 20 minutes at a stretch is no problem at all. I’ve even noticed that I’ll open my eyes literally seconds before my alarm goes off!
In a couple of cases, I’ve day-dreamed pretty badly. In one case, I actually opened my eyes and was looking around, and actually started wondering why I was sitting on the floor and almost got up! Then I realized I was supposed to be meditating and closed my eyes again
Anyway, so far so good. The biggest shift I’ve noticed is that I’m able to focus much better during the day, and shift on to tasks quickly and drop whatever I was doing without worry or having my mind partially on the other task. These benefits are a paradox (focus and being able to shift focus quickly) but true.
Every now and then I do challenges to either learn something new or re-commit myself to something I already do – but not enough. They say that 30 days is just enough time to make a habit and from my experience it is long enough to get “over the hump” that usually comes with any kind of change in routine – and actually start to see the benefits.
I have been meditating on and off since late 2003, having learned a technique from John McAffee at the Relational Yoga Mandiram. You can read about one of my fasting and meditation retreats a few years ago. Since that time I maintained a regular twice-a-day meditation routine. 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening. On occasion I would sit longer, but this was the typical day.
However, for the past couple years I’ve been slacking. Sometimes I will sit for just five minutes before getting distracted. Sometimes a week would go by without sitting at all! While I do practice yoga regularly (and during 90 minutes I do experience a heightened flow-meditative-state), there is still nothing like sitting still for a few minutes. It is perhaps the most challenging of all aspects of a well-rounded yoga practice.
So, I’m starting a new 30 day challenge. Here it is:
I commit to, starting today and for the next 30 days, meditating twice a day for 20 minutes each. Once in the morning and once in the evening.
I’ll blog about my experience as the days go on. I sat already for my two sessions today. They went by surprising quickly, and my mind was quite still. I’m guessing not all days will be this easy 🙂 . If you have never meditated before, here are a few tips:
Find a spot that is flat and firm, use this spot consistently for all of your sessions. Don’t meditate in a bed or on a cushy couch. If you get cold in the morning wrap yourself in a shawl.
Try to sit cross-legged, but if your legs and hips are two stiff, fold up a blanket and sit on it, allowing your ankles to rest of the floor with crossed legs. Use as many blankets as you need! If this doesn’t work for you, find a stiff backed chair to use.
Set an alarm clock for the allotted time. Start with 5 minutes and build up to 20 minutes. Do not open your eyes until the alarm goes off. Resist the urge to peek!
Find your spine in a position where it’s straight, with natural curvature. Avoid the tendency to slouch. This will just induce sleepiness! Imagine that you are balancing an apple on your head 🙂
Rest your palms on your knees face down. Alternatively, you can rest your palms one on top of another in your lap.
Breath in and out through your nose. It doesn’t have to be a loud and audible breathe like they teach in some yoga classes. Just breath normally. Allow your mouth to close and bring the tip of your tongue to the upper palate, and rest it there.
Continue to notice your breath, if you mind wanders, bring it back to your breath. No matter how many times your mind wanders, keep bringing your awareness back to your breath.
Try to remain motionless, no matter what! Even if your body tingles or tickles. This is the point, don’t get distracted. You can do pretty much anything for 20 minutes.
That’s it! There are other techniques that people use as part of a meditation practice, but this is the most simple approach. It is highly effective and infinitely challenging. Give it a shot!
It is not in a book. It is not in a TV show. It is not in the DVD you just got through the mail from NetFlix. It is not in the lecture you are going to hear from your favorite teacher. It is not in the conversation you might be having with your friends at dinner tomorrow. It is not in the Wall Street Journal or The New Yorker. It is definitely not in this blog.
Whatever you are really seeking. Whatever you really need to know. Whatever you think you need to learn and understand by taking in outside information, it is all within you right now.
Deep down you have all the insights you need. The knower, the silent witness – is present in all of us. Our challenge is to quiet the thinking mind to the point where our deep-rooted and all-knowing self can really shine through. This is where meditation and the practice of present moment awareness can be such powerful tools.
Next time you have a big problem, something that has been puzzling you for a long time, something that causes you some level of anxiety or worry. Instead of trying to talk to people about it, read books to find the answer or turning to the Internet; try just quieting your mind.
Go for a walk. Sit in meditation. Go for a jog (no iPod please!). Take a relaxed bike ride. Do something to still your mind. Chances are you will either discover the answer, or realize that the problem isn’t even a problem to begin with and isn’t worth any further attention.
Either way, the solution is a process of discovery, not one of learning. Find the answer within yourself.