Meditation

Meditation

Constantly Obsessing About Our Overall Life Situation is Futile — Try This Instead

Do you know people who constantly obsess over their life situation? And vent to you about it…constantly? The same conversation, over and over. Often year after year. I know scores of people who fit this to a T.

Before diving in, let me first define what I mean by ‘overall life situation.’ That would be things like changing jobs or careers because you’re not satisfied with what you’re doing. Or maybe it’s about balancing your job with spending more time with your kids. Or if you’re a stay-at-home parent, it might be that constant tug in your belly urging you to go back to work, even part-time. It’s the big pieces on the chessboard of your life.

My friend, the obsessor

This idea came to me the other day after a good friend obsessed to me, yet again, about her life situation. She’s trying to figure out a healthy work-family balance. And, within that, she’s trying to navigate two jobs, one that helps pay her bills and another that is more a labor of love but pays less consistently.

She tells me she wakes up at four a.m. with thoughts buzzing around her head like atoms circling the superconducting super collider.

“Should I blow off the small business? But I love what I’m doing. Maybe I should blow off the real job and give everything to the business. But then I’ll lose my health insurance. And damn it, I’d really love to spend more time with my kids. I need to figure this out!”

This same conversation goes on in her head, on and off, every day. And also with me, her friends and family. And this is the kicker, and also a main point of this article:

It doesn’t work.

What doesn’t work? The obsessing and figuring out doesn’t accomplish her chief objective: Figuring it out. How do we know this? Because these issues persist, on and on, and nothing changes.

Most people do this

If it sounds like I’m criticizing or judging or singling out this friend, I’m not. Because I know tons of people who do the same thing. And I’ll bet you do, too. You might even be one of them!

Before we get to what does work, let’s examine why obsessing/trying to ‘figure it all out’ doesn’t work. It’s simple. It doesn’t work because the entity we’re going to for the answers doesn’t know squat.

That entity is the ego, the thought-producing, critical, fearful, Nervous Nelly inside all of us. It’s the sum total of all the experiences we’ve had in life that we didn’t let go of. That are still stuck inside us causing angst.

To use my friend’s example to illustrate this, she has always been a financial worrier. Why? Because her parents instilled that in her, even though they never experienced anything close to real financial insecurity. AND she herself has tons of financial security now. So when she adds health insurance to her two jobs and kids ‘balancing’ equation, it’s misplaced. She shouldn’t worry about it. But her fearful ego insists on worrying about it…and everything else.

It’s a no-win situation

Do you see how ‘figuring it out’ by using our egoic minds is a no-win situation? It’s like asking a five year old for help with your calculus homework. They don’t have a clue!

Let’s end this ‘obsessing doesn’t work’ section with a brief summation. Obsessing/trying to figure everything out in your head: 1. Doesn’t work, and 2. It makes us feel like crap.

I’m telling you this to incentivize you to stop trying this. Each time you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night trying to figure out your entire life, STOP. Tell yourself that 1. it won’t work and 2. you’ll just feel terrible as a result.

You may as well bang your head against the wall

Maybe this comparison will help you. And I’m serious about this. Using the method of trying to ‘figure it all out’ in your head is no different than if you tried banging your head against the wall. So hard that you almost pass out. Why? Because both of those methods do the same thing: 1. They don’t work and 2. They hurt you.

Let’s use that as our segue to what does work. If I had to sum it up in as few words as possible, it would be this:

Get out of the way.

Who needs to get out of the way of what? The who is that ego we spoke of earlier. It needs to get out of the way. If we really want to ‘figure out our life situation,’ we need the ego to shut up.

What does the ego need to get out of the way of? The natural, true path that the universe has in store for you. When your ego wakes you up at four a.m. and starts yammering away, you can forget about finding the path that is best for you.

Ignore your ego as much as you can

What does getting out of your own way look like in practice? Obviously, ignoring your ego as much as possible is job #1. So when you catch yourself obsessing about switching jobs, etc., you simply say to yourself, “This doesn’t work and it makes me feel like crap. Let’s get the hell out of the way.”

How do we get out of the way of our yakking mind? If it’s four a.m., try counting 100 breaths to get your mind off your situation and get back to sleep.

If it’s during waking hours, do something that requires your attention. Yoga. Lift weights. Watch a movie. Call a friend (just don’t talk about your life situation!). Or here’s a novel idea: Focus your attention on your actual work, rather than on “Gee, do I really want to do this work? Is it right for me?” Do anything but obsess about your life.

Yes, there’s a place for planning

Obviously, we need to use our minds to plan and think about what we want to do with our lives. The problem is that most people spend 90 percent of their time in obsess/figure it out mode and 10 percent on actually living their lives in present mode. The goal for all of humanity should be to flip those numbers.

If you’re used to obsessing, pulling off this transition to getting out of the way will require one big thing:

Trust.

Trust in what? Life. The Universe. God. Jesus. Allah. Nature. Whatever your belief system is.

Why is trust required? Because I’m urging you to get out of your own way to let something much bigger than you (ego) take over the wheel of your ‘life car.’ But you don’t know that bigger entity so why should you entrust your life to it?

When you freak out about your life for the umpteenth time and the ego dives in and says, “Okay. That’s it. It’s time to figure out the exact right job/career for us. Once and for all. Right now!” you actually think that that is going to help. That’s why we all do it.

Human behavior, even the crazy kind, makes sense

It’s important to understand that most human behavior makes sense, even if it is crazy and destructive. Ever know of a woman who was physically abused by her awful, alcoholic father who then ends up marrying an awful, abusive alcoholic? It’s crazy, but it makes sense. Because that is what she is accustomed to. In some sick way, it actually feels right to her. There are countless examples of this.

It’s the same here. We think obsessing will help us because our egos convince us that is so. But, again, our egos are wrong. Egos are TERRIBLE at figuring out what’s best for us.

Being present is paramount

What that life of ‘getting out of the way’ looks like in general is this: Spending as much of your waking moments as possible in the present moment. And NOT fretting about the future or bemoaning the past.

When we do just that, good things tend to happen. God/The Universe, etc., can express itself through us when we’re present. Not so when we’re stuck in our minds.

That’s how we find our path. It comes to us when we live this way. There’s no need to get out a yellow legal pad every day and write at the top of the page “What the hell am I doing with my life?”; followed by an hour of ‘trying to figure it out.’

At least take this one thing from this article

If you take away only one thing from this article, I hope it is realizing that obsessing doesn’t work. So that when you do it, you catch yourself and say, “No. This doesn’t work. And it’s bad for me. Let’s nip this in the bud right now and do something else.”

If you want an example of how this ‘get out of the way’ thing can work, look no further than yours truly. I was a thinker/planner/obsesser for decades and all it did was tie my stomach up in knots.

But for the past several years I’ve been living according to the following mantra:

Be present and trust in life.

And it’s worked. I’ve never been happier or more fulfilled. I put my attention on present-oriented actions like writing these articles and being present with my family and friends.

I don’t spend an iota of time or energy on things like figuring out the Medium algorithm or trying to work the system to boost my followers, or obsess over expanding to Twitter, Instagram, Youtube or Tiktok. The result? In the past year I’ve gone from roughly 10,000 to 100,000 Medium followers. I did absolutely nothing other than give my all to writing the articles.

The takeaway

The long and the short of it is, if obsessing/figuring it out doesn’t work and makes you miserable, why not try something else? Look at yourself as the President of Ferrari of North America. You’ve been focusing all of your sales efforts for years on rural Kansas — a place where people don’t want or need Ferraris. And your sales have sucked! For years.

A smart businessperson would try something different. So should you!

Try being present and trusting in life. It takes some strength, courage and work, but it works.

Best of all, it’s a win-win. We feel better, more centered, calmer and happier when we’re present. AND we find our path.

Give it a try.

Be present and trust in life.

Meditation

Liberation: A Helpful Concept for Understanding the Spiritual Path

I’m always on the lookout for ways to illuminate the spiritual path that resonate with regular people like me. Here’s a good one: Liberation.

We typically view liberation as a freeing from something, most often in terms of oppressed peoples. Women’s lib is short for women’s liberation. Liberation from what? A society that has discriminated against women in myriad ways over the centuries.

Liberation in history

Other examples are African Americans, who were liberated from enslavement in 1863 when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Paris was liberated from its Nazi oppressors in August of 1944. And the Afghan people were liberated from the Taliban in 2002.

Liberation is a prominent concept in Buddhism, Christianity, Ram Dass’s teachings and countless others.

Liberation and the pathSo what does liberation mean in terms of the spiritual path that many of us are traveling? It means liberating the oppressed –our true, conscious selves — from its oppressor, our egoic minds.

I’ve explored this conscious self/egoic self dynamic in many other articles. What I’m doing today is looking at the same dynamic from a different angle in order to better equip you to work on it.

Egoic mind vs. conscious self

What is our true conscious self? It’s the being that is present when we are just…being. In the present. Not lost in mindless thoughts. And the egoic mind? That’s the voice in our heads that never shuts up. Yak, yak, yak, yak, yak. All day long. Every day.

“I can’t believe she said that. What a bitch!”

“I’ll never meet anybody.”

“I wish I were smarter.”

It’s the ceaseless critic, of ourselves and others.

So how are our conscious selves oppressed by the ego? Think of it this way. In the vast majority of people, the egoic mind dominates the conscious self. It’s not even close. We’re lucky if we spend ten percent of our waking day in presence and ninety percent stuck in our heads.

The ego monster

Think of the egoic self as a ravenous monster that smothers/imprisons our conscious selves. So the work of our lives centers on liberating our egoic selves from the clutches of this egoic monster.

How do we do that? In other words, how do we get that voice in our heads to shut the hell up?

Let’s start with how we DON’T do that. The natural tendency is to try and directly stop our minds from producing all those unwanted thoughts. That doesn’t work. We don’t win the battle against our minds by trying to attack it. Or change it. Or wrestle with it. Or argue with it.

Winning the war by watching

So how do we win this “war” and thereby liberate our precious, conscious selves? We watch our minds. We lean away and watch. Observe. And resist the urge to dive in and become involved with it.

And we observe without judgment. What does that mean? If you’re observing the thought “I can’t stand that guy. The little snake is trying to steal my girlfriend,” you don’t say to yourself, “Wow. I’m having a batshit crazy thought about a guy I don’t like.”

Instead, you simply say to yourself, “Having a jealous thought about my girlfriend.” No judgment. Good or bad. Just describing it as it is.

Look at leaning away and observing your mind as your conscious self breaking free from the egoic talons holding it down and creating space between the ego and it.

Meditation is the best “weapon”

Of course, what I just described is meditation itself. Which is simply sitting quietly and observing whatever’s happening in our present moment awareness. Much of the time that present moment awareness consists of those egoic talons snatching us back into thought.

So we just observe that we’re back in thought and slowly create space again by leaning away and going back to awareness of the moment.

Mindfulness is simply becoming aware that we’ve drifted off into ego during our everyday life. What do we do in those cases? The same thing.

If you’re stopped at a red light obsessing about exactly how you’re going to tell off your mother-in-law when you get home, you just notice that this is what you’re doing, then slowly and gently, without judgment, bring your attention back to the present — on your breathing or looking out at the sky through your windshield.

It’s all accomplishing the same thing. Liberating your true, conscious self from your egoic mind.

The takeaway

The more we do these practices, the greater the space we create between the ego and the conscious self. With that increased space we feel calmer, more centered and just plain better.

And if we practice diligently for a long time we get to a place where that yakkity yak yakking mind noise becomes a distant whisper. That’s when we know liberation is at hand.

Free at last.

Meditation

Rumi Has Hundreds of Beautiful Quotes — This is My Favorite – It’s about the voice inside.

The brilliant Persian poet Rumi seems to be all the rage these days. And for good reason. He’s one of the few sages who was both deeply wise AND surpassingly eloquent in expressing that wisdom in his writings. He was a Muslim, but his works have always appealed to people of all spiritual traditions, proof that his wisdom was universal.

I wrote an article a few months ago about my four favorite Rumi quotes. But I came across another one recently that tops all of them. It’s this:

There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.

So succinct, yet so powerful. People read this and they just get it.

What is ‘it?’ That mysterious, inner voice that communicates to all of us at some point.

And what is that inner voice? Some people call it God. Others Jesus. Or the Universe. Or nature. Or intuition. Or the Divine Creator.

The great American poet Maya Angelou put it this way:

“Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.

I call it the voice of the Universe trying to express itself through us. Whatever words are used, I feel on safe ground in saying that this voice is some supremely intelligent being deep inside us that knows the true path of our lives…if only we would listen.

“I can’t hear it.”

But how do we listen to something we can’t hear? I don’t know about you, but when I was searching for my path in life in my teens and twenties, countless people told me some version of, “Don’t look out to the world for the answers. Look inside yourself. And listen.”

Upon hearing that, I’d nod and say, “Great. Thanks. I’ll do that.” And then I’d say to myself, “What the heck does that even mean? Go inside and listen?”

When I would “go inside and listen” all I’d hear is a cacophony of voices swirling around like race cars at Daytona Speedway, saying things like, “Go to a great college.” “Get a high profile job.” “Be the best.”

Not Me Stew

The voice urging me to be myself, the voice that actually is myself, the voice that Rumi wants us to listen to, was drowned out. Why is that so? Because as most of us develop into adults we incorporate the voices of our parents, siblings, friends, teachers, Instagram, the covers of Cosmopolitan and the rest of society into one big, noisy pot of stew. And unfortunately, if I were to give that concoction a name, it would be Not Me Stew.

Even with a completely still, quiet mind, that all-knowing voice inside is elusive. Because it’s subtle. And it doesn’t typically deliver its messages in the form of direct, hit-you-on-the-head epiphanies. When we throw in that goulash of discordant babble flying around our heads, that faint voice speaking from our depths doesn’t stand a chance of being heard.

The Tuner and the Station

Here’s an analogy that illuminates this dynamic. Think of yourself as a car radio and the radio station you want to listen to is God/Jesus/Allah/The Universe/Yahweh/The Supreme Being/The Genius of Nature…whoever or whatever you think is running the cosmic show.

These Gods/Divine Beings are beaming out signals to you from their radio stations, signals whose purpose is to guide you to your destiny, or Providence. The reason our “car radios” don’t receive these messages/signals is that our racing minds create static. The messages can’t get through.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can slow this thought traffic in our heads to the point that we can hear the intelligent voice within. Improve communication with it. Develop a relationship with it.

Meditate!

How? Through regular meditation. Really? How is that possible?

Because meditation quiets the mind. And in so doing it allows our tuner to adjust, allowing these all-important cosmic signals to pervade our being.

Cosmic signals? Yeah, it sounds a bit nutty California Granola Guy-ish. But give it some thought. It makes sense.

Man, what I would give to have developed a regular meditation practice at age seventeen. I might have left politics ten years earlier to pursue my creative passions, which have been central to who I am for as long as I can remember.

The takeaway

Quieting our minds is absolutely central to accessing the wonderful things life has to offer, like listening to that sacred voice within. If you want to follow Rumi’s recommendation to listen to the voice that doesn’t communicate in words, start a meditation practice.

If you’re looking for a place to start, go to my website, davidgerken.net, where I have a free, easy to follow program. I designed it for regular Joe’s like me, not for those aspiring to be Tibetan monks meditating in Himalayan caves ten hours a day. Good luck!

Meditation

5 Pinch Myself Moments Working on “The West Wing” Television Show

I wrote an article recently about the most powerful moment of my tenure on the writing staff of The West Wing, one of the most highly acclaimed television shows in history. It was about a story I developed that dealt with a brewing genocide in a fictional African country.

Today I’m going lighter by highlighting five experiences I had on the show where I had to pinch myself to make sure they were actually happening. Without further ado, here they are, in reverse order of pinchiness.

5. LUNCHING WITH THE “FRIENDS” WOMEN

The West Wing was produced on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California. WB’s biggest hit in 2002–2003, when I worked there, was Friends.

One day our writing staff had lunch on the lot at the WB restaurant. Midway through lunch all three Friends women walked in and sat right next to us — Jennifer Aniston (Rachel), Courtney Cox (Monica) and Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe). We had some fun “Hey, love your show,” “Love yours, too” chit-chat then it was back to lunch. I’m not going to lie — I was pretty starstruck.

4. CHATTING WITH ROB LOWE

The writing staff used to work from 10 a.m. until 1, then break for lunch until 3. Most days I’d head straight to the WB gym and workout, then grab lunch.

One day I was working out there and I saw none other than Rob “Sam Seabourne” Lowe pumping iron in a Princeton tee shirt. I hadn’t met him yet so I went over and introduced myself. My excuse was that I was the one person on staff who went to Princeton, which is where his character went.

The Rob Lowe salary skirmish

Two cool things about this. First, there was a roiling controversy at the time over the actors and pay raises. Four of the main actors (Richard Schiff, Allison Janney, Brad Whitford and John Spencer) were getting raises from $40,000 an episode to $70,000, which is where Rob had been the first four seasons of the show. He was a much bigger name than the other four in the beginning so he got more money. But after 3 ½ seasons the producers felt that parity was merited. (BTW, Martin Sheen made $300,000 an episode.)

Rob didn’t like this one bit. So what did he do? He immediately launched in with ME saying exactly that. He said he would refuse to be the only actor who didn’t get a raise. Why did he do that with little old writer me? Because he knew that I would go back after lunch and tell my boss (who was also his boss), Aaron Sorkin, about his tirade. Which is exactly what I did.

The postscript to the story is that Rob stuck to his guns and left the show at midseason. Which was a shame because I, and most of the fans, thought he was great for the show.

Best looking human ever

The second cool part of the story is that as he was chatting away about the pay situation, this was the thought going through my mind: “This guy has to be the most physically perfect human being on planet Earth.” His eyes, skin, body…everything was perfect. It was bizarre.

Interestingly, not a lot of women put him on their hottest/sexiest/favorite hunk list. Why? They think he’s too perfect looking. Go figure.

3. READING A SCENE WITH MARTIN SHEEN

Every time we finished a script the entire cast and writing staff would gather at a huge conference table on the set and do what’s called a table read. Most shows do this as a way of hearing how the written script sounds.

It was tons of fun. We’d get a bunch of food and eat lunch while reading through the script.

I played President Nzele

Because none of the guest parts had been cast, Aaron would dole those out to the writing staff. On my African genocide script Aaron gave me the part of President Nzele, the leader of Kundu.

I got to read a scene where Bartlet (Martin Sheen) pressures Nzele (me) to prevent the looming genocide. So I say a line, Martin responds, and on and on. I couldn’t believe it. I was reading a scene with the star of Apocalypse Now!

Funny sidebar. Martin was notoriously bad at pronouncing difficult names. So he would stop and look at me and say, “Is it, Nzelly?” And I’d say, “Nzaylay.” Then he’d butcher it again. Then do it again. And again.

Martin shows his huge heart

Final note about Martin. My sister-in-law had a friend going through a tough bout with cancer who happened to be a huge fan of the show, and specifically, of Martin. So she asked if I could get him to sign a script for her.

So I asked him at one of the table reads if he’d sign the script. He didn’t hurriedly sign the script and move on. He looked up at me and started asking questions about the woman and what would be a really good thing for him to write that would be helpful. If you’ve ever wondered, Martin Sheen is an incredibly sweet, decent man.

4. SEEING RELIGIOUS COSTUMES ON THE WARNER BROS. LOT

When you write a movie that actually gets made (one in a thousand, at best), from the time you finish it until the time you see it being made is at least a year and can be as long as twenty years. Television is different. You write scripts and they go right into production.

So my partner on the Kundu story, Gene Sperling, and I come up with this big story. And it starts off at the National Prayer Breakfast, a real-life annual event that gathers all of the religious traditions together at the Washington Hilton. Every president since Eisenhower has attended.

A priest, a rabbi and an imam walk down the street…

We came up with the prayer breakfast scene idea sometime in late December. A few weeks later I’m walking from our offices on the Warner Bros. lot to lunch and what do I see? Five actors walking together, all dressed in religious outfits — an Imam, Priest, Rabbi, Buddhist.

It was mind-blowing. To think that just a month earlier we’d dreamed something up out of thin air and now a bunch of guys were wearing costumes carrying out the idea. When I got back to the office I immediately called Gene who lived in Washington, D.C. We gave each other a hearty, telephonic high-five.

5. GOING TO THE EMMYS…TWICE

The Emmys are the television equivalent of the Oscars. Held every September, it’s a really big deal for the TV biz.

In September of 2002, Aaron invited the whole writing staff even though the awards were for the previous season, which most of us didn’t work on. It’s a black-tie affair with the red carpet and the whole shebang.

“And the winner is…”

The coolest thing by far that year came at the end when the two big Emmy awards for best drama series and best comedy series are announced. So when Rudy Giuliani (at the time a big hero because of 9/11; Now? Not so much.) said, “And the winner is…The West Wing.” we all literally had to get out of our seats and walk down to the stage. It was surreal. I loved every second of it.

The second cool moment came after we won. The people who’ve just won are ushered into a huge press/media room where all the stars get interviewed. So we’re in there for a few minutes when the winners of best comedy series, Friends, start streaming into the press tent. And that meant one of biggest celebrity sightings I’ve ever had: Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. [A close second was seeing Tom Brady and Giselle Bundchen strolling past us at the Louvre in Paris.]

When we went in September of 2003, most of us weren’t writing on the show anymore, including Aaron. But he got us all tickets anyway, which btw aren’t cheap at around $700 if memory serves.

My full-court press at the Emmys

I took my now-wife. After dating for a year or so, we had split for a year. I was trying to win her back and thought a night at the Emmys couldn’t hurt. So I bought her a dress ($$$) and shoes ($$$$$$$$$$$$$) and off we went.

And we won again! So I head down to the stage. Aaron gives a speech. And we were the last category so all of the other winners are asked to come up to the stage to close the evening.

This was amazing. So I called Steph on my cell phone from the stage to her seat and told her to come up. I said no one is going to check. “Just get up here!” She resisted, being the consummate rule-follower she is.

So I ask the guy standing next to me if he wouldn’t mind telling my girl to get her butt up here. The guy says sure. Takes my phone and starts haranguing Steph to get a move on. That guy? Jon Stewart! The Daily Show had won for best late-night show. He couldn’t have been nicer.

The takeaway

So there it is. My top five pinch-me moments from working on The West Wing.

No grand spiritual message here. Just gratitude for the opportunity to experience these special Tinseltown moments.

Meditation

What Eckhart Tolle Says is the Only True Purpose of Our Lives

So many of us struggle with that age-old question: What’s the purpose of my life? Maybe the most valuable benefit of my spiritual journey these past years is that it has provided me with an answer. And not a crazy one, either. It’s something that actually makes sense to me.

While many teachers I’ve studied have touched on this topic, none of them has done so more directly and clearly than Eckhart Tolle. I’ve heard it from him many times, but just this morning he laid it out again in his usual concise, eloquent way. He said:

The only real source of meaning and purpose comes from being aligned with the universe. And the purpose of the universe is to bring the light of consciousness into the world.”

So that’s it. The only real purpose we have is to bring consciousness into the world. How do we do that? By being conscious.

Becoming more conscious

How do we become more conscious and therefore bring more consciousness into the world? By doing any number of spiritual practices. I meditate twice a day. I practice letting go of my egoic baggage.

I also practice mindfulness throughout my day. Here’s a quick semi-digression to give you an idea of what that entails for me. I think providing specifics can go a long way in helping others on the mindfulness front. Here are three examples just from the past day:

1. As I brushed my teeth this morning, I took three, extremely long, deep breaths. This 1. Relaxes me, and 2. Prevents my mind from swirling around with thoughts about the day, the crisis in Ukraine, how my son will do on his math test, yada, yada, yada.

2. While driving to the grocery store yesterday, I hit several red lights in a row. Each time that annoying feeling of “Damnit! Another one?!” hit me, I noticed it, then leaned away from the feeling to give it room to loosen and travel up and out of me.

3. While showering yesterday after my workout, I caught myself doing the usual shower thing of thinking a million thoughts (like brushing teeth). I then spotted the yellow Post-it note on my shower wall on which was written “Breathe.” Upon seeing that, I closed my eyes and took three deep breaths.

I do these kinds of things every day. All day. I’m far from being perpetually mindful. Just ask my wife. And my kids. And my dogs.

But all this practice helps me become just a tad bit more conscious. Each day. Which is the purpose of my life.

Consciousness first, everything else second

If that sounds strange, look at it this way. All it means is that working on consciousness comes first. After that, we go about our lives. We choose an area for work that feels right for us or just works for us. Physicist. Yoga teacher. Software engineer. Full-time parent. Walmart cashier. Teacher. Whatever we choose to do, we put at the top of the pyramid becoming more conscious while performing that work.

It’s not just for work, either. It goes for everything. If you’re into golf, use golf to become more conscious (btw, it’ll help your game a ton if you do!). If you’re an avid scrapbooker, use that to become more conscious. In other words, whatever we do in life becomes an avenue for bringing consciousness into the world.

Don’t shoot for the prizes or the billions

It’s worth pointing what we don’t do when our lives focus on strengthening our consciousness. To take the physicist example, we don’t have as the driving motivation for our hard work winning the Nobel Prize in physics. If we’re a teacher we don’t do it to win Teacher of the Year. The software engineer doesn’t go into it solely to make millions. These are all examples of the ego driving our pursuits. The problem with that? We can’t be happy going that route.

So we do all of these things because we’re interested in them. In that way, consciousness can flow into the world through us.

This concept has done wonders for me and my mental well-being. I was concerned for too many decades about the traditional BS American ideal of success. Money. Power. Adulation. Again, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t make people happy.

Making this shift has helped me immeasurably

Now, I focus on my writing work, parenting my kids, being a decent friend and sibling, playing my sports and, of course, working on becoming more conscious through all of those. That’s pretty much it. Importantly, I think I’m markedly better at ALL those things because of my focus on the consciousness angle.

I’ve been blessed to find peace of mind through this path. Why? Probably the biggest reason is that it has simplified my life enormously. All that pointless, detrimental, second-guessing mind chatter around “What am I doing? Is it enough? Am I a big enough deal? Your classmate at Princeton, Jeff Bezos, is the richest guy in the world, what the hell are you doing?” is gone.

don’t poison my soul by constantly wondering whether I’m a success or a failure. What I do is place my attention on what I’m doing — writing, parenting, etc. Which is just another way of saying I place my attention on being conscious. It simplifies everything. And it really does feel good.

The takeaway

I hope you’ll consider this paradigm shift. It’s a shift from allowing your ego to be in the driver’s seat deciding your overall view of life’s purpose. “Be rich. Be thin. Be pretty. Be married. Be powerful.” To allowing the real, conscious, beautiful you to slide into that driver’s seat. And to become simply a vessel for the Universe/God/The Creator/Nature to express itself.

Living our lives with that as our purpose gives us the best chance at experiencing peace, love and the best that life has to offer.

A heartfelt shout-out to Eckhart Tolle for drilling that into me.

Meditation

This is My Least Spiritual Article to Date — But Also the Most Important – It’s about practice.

This is the 209th article I’ve written on Medium. Most all of them have centered on spiritual matters. This one only does so tangentially. And it’s more important than all the rest.

Why? Here’s an analogy to explain. Let’s say you’re really interested in getting good at tennis. So you watch every single match you can on the Tennis Channel. You spend hours researching which racquet would be best for you. You buy Asics Gel Resolution 8 shoes, the best of the best for tennis. You watch a ton of instruction videos on Youtube. You buy the classic book The Inner Game of Tennis and learn all about the ways to overcome the mental obstacles the game presents.

To get good at tennis, play tennis!

You do all of those things…and you stink at tennis. Why? Because you haven’t done the one thing that is required to get good at tennis: PLAY TENNIS!

Those who want to get good at tennis need to devote the lion’s share of their tennis efforts to playing tennis. Not reading about it, talking about it, watching it or shelling out big bucks on the best equipment money can buy.

The same can be said for virtually any endeavor. Playing the piano, golf…anything. We need to actually perform the activity if we are to improve at it.

Prioritize practicing over learning

To all of my seeker brethren reading this, the same is true for the spiritual path. I see too many people who are more interested in learning about and thinking about spirituality than they are in actually practicing it.

This gets a bit dicey when I throw out the word spirituality and say people need to practice more. So let me be more specific. I’m not talking about religion, per se. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, et al, are all spiritual traditions but, as someone who adheres to none of them, I have no right or interest in dispensing anything resembling advice on them.

Becoming conscious by moving on from ego

The specific brand of spiritual teaching I’m exhorting people to practice would be in the vein of Ram Dass, Thich Nhat Hanh, Eckhart Tolle and Michael Singer, among others. It’s mostly about moving away from our egoic selves and toward our present, conscious selves.

Is there a lot to be learned in this spiritual tradition? Sure. It’s good to become steeped in the concepts of surrender, non-attachment, non-resistance, presence and letting go, among others.

The perpetual student analogy

But I see it kind of like people who go to college, then get their masters, then get their Phd, then get a second masters in a different subject area…These people go to school forever and never actually get out and work in the worlds they’ve studied.

The same is true with spirituality. Great, listen to all of Michael Singer’s talks, read everything Ram Dass has ever written, and listen to and read everything Eckhart has ever uttered or written. I do some of that every day. But we need to know that that will only get us so far.

If we really want to reap the vast, profound benefits of this beautiful, powerful spiritual path, we need to focus most of our efforts on practicing. Practicing what? That’s another dicey avenue to travel down because we all have different techniques and practices we pursue.

My definition of practice

For me, practice means meditating every day for fifteen minutes, practicing mindfulness whenever possible during my day and last, but definitely not least, letting go of my egoic baggage when it gets poked.

My recommendation is that whatever you practice should contribute to two main areas: 1. Strengthen your ability to be present and not lost in your thought factory mind, and 2. Facilitate letting go of your egoic baggage, or samskaras as Mickey Singer calls them.

Here’s one tiny anecdote from last weekend that gives you an idea of what I mean by letting go. I’ve been a serious tennis player since the age of eight. Played juniors, then division one at Princeton. I carry a lot of egoic baggage from this lifetime of competitive tennis.

Recently I’ve been playing with an old friend who I first played in 1975 when we were kids. I like him, but there’s always a weird competitive vibe going on when we play; i.e., he gets under my skin.

Letting go of baggage on the tennis court

So the last several times we’ve played I’ve made a point of using our matches as an opportunity to let go of my baggage. If he hits an incredible shot to win a big point, I’ll stop, feel the annoying, angry, “baggagey” feeling come up, then literally close my eyes, feel myself leaning away from that feeling…and then let it go.

This is a petty, seemingly unimportant, but real-life, example of letting go of my inner ego junk. It’s the kind of stuff we need to work on every day.

And a word about practice. Many will say that practice makes perfect. But I like the twist that legendary football coach Vince Lombardi adds to this:

“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

In other words, when you’re practicing meditation or letting go, or chanting, or doing whatever you do…go for it. Give it everything you’ve got. Because there’s nothing more important we can devote our time and energy to.

The takeaway

In the end, this article is really about one word: Emphasis. Because everyone reading this knows on some level that practicing spiritual techniques is important.

The point of this piece is to emphasize that practice is indispensable and needs to be treated as such. So if you spend 20 percent of your spiritual efforts on practice and 80 percent on reading and learning, etc., I encourage you to flip that. Go 80–20 on practice versus learning.

Frankly, it’s harder to practice than it is to learn. But if we really want to advance as human beings, that spiritual work has to be front and center.

Practice.

Practice.

Practice.

Meditation

My Computer Crashed, But I Didn’t: How Mindfulness Saved My Day

The other morning I was sitting at my desk going through my usual, pre-writing (aka procrastination) ritual. This consists of, usually in this order: Wordle, Word Cookies, accuweather.com, ESPN.com, answer Medium responses, LSU football news sites, Washington Post.com and Politico.com. [With all that, it’s a miracle I ever write anything. But that’s for another story, another day.]

Anyway, I get up, go to the bathroom. Wash my hands. Then come back to my desk. We’re talking two minutes max.

Computer snooze

I look at my computer. It’s dark. No problem. It’s just sleeping. I hit a few keys to wake the sucker up…Nothing.

But even that’s not a big deal because that happens too now and then. So I press down the power button. And hold. And hold. And nothing. Hmm. That’s never happened.

So I go to my old pal Google and type in ‘Macbook Pro completely unresponsive.’ I try their fixes. Nothing.

Off to see the Wizard

Unfortunately, that meant it was time to goooooo… “Off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Apple. Because, because, because, because, becauuuuuuse…because I don’t know shit and they always do. Yat da da da da da da…” Translation: I got in my car and drove to the Apple Store.

They’ve fixed every problem I’ve ever brought to them. Right there. On the spot. For no charge, unless they had to put in a part. They really are geniuses.

I get there and am pleased to learn it’s only a 15-minute wait, which is great for not having an appointment. Shortly thereafter, “David?” My Genius had arrived to save the day.

First, he fiddles around with it. Tries a few things. Nothing. Then he says, “Let me take in the back and bibbly gabbly goobyldee to see if it might be the jinkity blinkity gakkity goo gah.” (He said something else, but that’s what it sounded like to me.)

The $700 diagnosis

He comes back from the back and…NOTHING! Sadly, this was the last nothing. He told me it must be a dead motherboard. Yada, yada, yada, he tells me they need to send it in for repair and I can have it back in five days. Oh, and that’ll be $700 please. Yikes.

So that was my morning from hell a few days ago. Or was it hell? It should have been. And would have been several years ago. But not now.

Because I’ve developed a superpower these past years. In fact, right there in the Apple Store I took my shirt off and underneath it was my superhero uniform with a large ‘M’ emblazoned over the chest. Somebody saw me and said,

“Oh my God. It’s a bird, it’s a plane…No, it’s Mindful Man!”

Okay, enough comedy. You get the drift. I put my mindfulness practice to work throughout this potentially disastrous fiasco. How?

Breathing does the trick

Through each phase — trying to fix it at home, then taking it to Apple and waiting for the verdict — each time I found myself going to,

“Oh great, my computer is toast. I’ll have to buy another one. A couple thousand bucks down the drain. I’ll lose my files. I’ll be without a computer for several days. I won’t be able to write…”

Each time one of those thoughts came up, courtesy of my ego, I immediately went to my breathing. I just tried to stay within the moment.

Because at its heart, that’s what mindfulness is: Not allowing our minds to go forward into the future or backward into the past. How do we do that? The best way for me is to simply place attention on my breathing. Of course, there are all kinds of techniques we can use, many of which I’ve written about before.

Good things always seem to happen when I go to my breathing. Here’s a tiny example. There’s a Whole Foods near the Apple Store (shocker, right?). So I head in there on the way back to my car for a few things.

My marshmallow mission

Just for the hell of it, I ask if they have marshmallows. I was near certain that a place like Whole Foods would NOT carry them, but thought it was worth asking. Why marshmallows? Because I’d told my five-year-old daughter a few days before that with the chilly nights we’d been having, we could roast marshmallows outside in our fire pit. Unfortunately, my local grocery store had been out of them the past THREE times I’d been there.

Well, guess what? Whole Foods sells a nice big bag of beautiful marshmallows. Who woulda thunk it?

I literally said to myself, “This is my lucky day!” I’m serious. This leads to another aspect of mindfulness, at least as I see it, and that is having a basic, positive attitude. Yes, my computer was dead, but I found the marshmallows. What’s more important, my adorable, five-year-old cherub or a computer?

My wife comes through

As for working these past few days and the lost files scenario, everything worked out fine. My wife’s computer, which I’m clanking on right now, filled in perfectly. She had a busy week outside the house and didn’t need it.

And that $2.99 a month I pay Apple for iCloud storage proved to be worth it as all of my files were stored there. I’m such a knucklehead that I didn’t know that, but that made the surprise all the more special.

The takeaway

The answer to saving ourselves from these everyday disasters is so simple: Go to your breathing and prevent yourself from shooting down the “I’m so screwed!” rabbit hole.

That’s mostly what mindfulness is. Staying in the present because most of the time there’s nothing all that bad about our moments.

I was sitting at my desk trying to figure out what was wrong with my computer. Then I was waiting at the Apple Store for my Genius to diagnose the problem. What was so bad about those moments? Nothing. Those moments only become bad when we let them, by allowing our minds to charge into the future or past.

Granted, going to our breathing and staying there during these difficult situations is not easy. And the bottom line on that is: Practice, practice, practice.

Commit to becoming more mindful. Then practice. Two simple steps that will transform your life, including how you deal with your computer dying.

Meditation

How Teddy Roosevelt’s Darkest Period Propelled Him to the Presidency

Teddy Roosevelt (TR) is my favorite American president. He’s the only president who achieved greatness when our country wasn’t in the midst of a crisis, as was the case with Lincoln, FDR and even Washington. In other words, he effected change by sheer force of his lionhearted will.

What big things did he achieve? The short list includes taking down the corrupt trusts that dominated the American economy, getting the Panama Canal built and conserving 230 million acres (you read that right) of land. That last feat makes him, in my opinion, the most consequential environmentalist ever.

A soul at death’s door

But none of it would have happened if not for the two years, between 1884–1886, when TR’s soul groveled at death’s door. The story that follows is one I found so moving that I wrote a movie about it. (I sold the script but, alas, the film was never made.)

In February of 1884 Teddy Roosevelt was on top of the world. He was 24 years old and, after only one year in the New York State Assembly, was named leader of the Republican caucus. His colleagues saw him as a force of nature whose future was limitless.

His personal life at the time was equally bountiful. He’d married Alice Lee two years previous and the two had just welcomed Baby Alice on February 12.

Tragedy on West 57th Street

After receiving the news of Alice’s birth, Roosevelt rushed home from Albany on the next train. Soon after arriving at his home on West 57th Street in Manhattan, a tragedy of epic proportions unfolded.

Roosevelt discovered that his wife was seriously ill with kidney failure, a condition her pregnancy had masked. She died in the afternoon of February 14, Valentine’s Day.

Typhoid thought to be a cold

But that was only half of the tragedy because eleven hours earlier TR’s mother, Mittie, had died. Upstairs, in the same house. The bad cold they thought she’d had turned out to be Typhoid Fever.

In a matter of half a day he’d lost, unexpectedly, the two people he loved most. On Valentine’s Day, of all days.

What he wrote in his diary that night flattened me when I first read it and was the inspiration for my screenplay. TR wrote:

“The light has gone out of my life.”

Underneath it he drew an ‘X’ that filled the rest of the page.

Roosevelt was so devastated that he dropped out of politics and spent much of the next two years in the Badlands of the then Dakota Territory. What did he do in this desolate, mysterious land a couple thousand miles to the west?

TR the cowboy

He became a cowboy, buying two ranches and almost 4,000 head of cattle. A backwoodsman from Maine named William Sewall, who was TR’s hunting mentor, moved out to help run his operations.

What did TR actually do in those two years? He participated in cattle roundups, sometimes spending 18 hours a day in the saddle. This also involved roping and branding calves and doing all the things that real cowboys did back in the 1880s. He also hunted buffalo, antelope and all manner of birds. He wrote a few nature books and conducted all sorts of business required of a ranch owner.

Solitary rides through the Badlands

But mostly what Roosevelt did was ride his horse for hours, and sometimes days, at a time through the Badlands. Although I’m sure he wasn’t conscious of it, what TR was really doing was healing his shattered soul.

Imagining TR riding alone through the Badlands evokes my favorite passage from the great Greek tragedian Aeschylus:

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

It’s difficult to describe the mysterious beauty of the Badlands of North Dakota to those who haven’t seen it. I spent a week there on a research trip and I get why it touches those who see it.

The picture below gives some idea of the unusual topography.

Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash

Roosevelt’s own words, written in his diary during a weeklong solo hunting trip, reveal the influence the Badlands had on him.

“I grow fond of this place and its desolate, grim beauty. The plains stretch out in deathless and measureless expanse, lacking in all signs of life. Never have I felt more alone and so far off from all mankind.”

TR’s soul gradually came back to life after two years of this hardy cowboy living. Obviously, this was an essential benefit of his years there. But something bigger happened in the Badlands that paved the way for TR to become the massively successful leader that he became.

To understand what that was you need to know who TR was when he arrived in the Badlands in June of 1884. He was obviously many things — intelligent, charming, honest and charismatic, among others. But he was something else that he himself later said would have prevented him from ever becoming president.

He was a snob.

The aristocratic Roosevelts

Which wasn’t surprising given his background. The Roosevelt family was one of the most prominent in New York. TR’s father was a founding director of both the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He prepped at Groton, did his undergraduate work at Harvard and received his law degree from Columbia. He grew up with servants and every advantage an American boy could have in the latter of half of the 19th century.

And while his political views at the time tended toward helping those in need, his personal dealings with the “lower classes” were downright snobbish.

TR discovers the heart of America

But two years in the Badlands changed all that. He spent hundreds of hours with hard-nosed cowboys doing extremely physical work. He hung out with them around campfires in the middle of the Badlands while on multi-week cattle roundups. And what he saw impressed the hell out of him. These cowboys were tough, resilient men.

Critically important was the fact that none of these people were impressed with TR’s background. In fact, they called him a tenderfoot. Everyone was measured by the toughness and grit they brought to the arduous work of cattle ranching. TR relished proving that he belonged.

Ultimately, what Roosevelt came to realize is that it was these people that made America great. They were, and always had been, the backbone of our country, not the well-heeled patricians he grew up with in New York City. TR said he never could have attracted the political following he did had he not bonded with the brawny colleagues he rounded up cattle with.

And that was the invaluable benefit TR gained from the indescribably painful tragedy of losing his wife and mother on Valentine’s Day, 1884.

The takeaway

What does that mean for us in February of 2022? The answer is self-evident: If we ever find ourselves in the abyss of life, we need to garner every last morsel of strength we have and simply hang on for dear life. Sometimes that’s all we can do. I’m sure Roosevelt felt that way. I had a period where I did.

If we do hang on there’s always the possibility, as Roosevelt proved, that something profoundly good will come to us, even if it comes through the awful grace of God.

Meditation

The Comparing Game: A Losing Proposition That’s All Pain, No Gain

This topic came to me after receiving an incredibly generous and gracious email a few days ago from Tim Denning, one of the top writers on Medium. He wrote to tell me he enjoyed a recent article I’d written about my most memorable experience working on The West Wing.

Our exchange got me thinking about the futility of the comparing game. I checked and Tim has 235,000 Medium followers which, if it isn’t the most, I would think is top five. I have a little more than a third of that at 94,000, but, of course, I’m beyond happy and grateful to be where I am.

A lot of people reading my stuff makes me happy because I strongly believe that the spiritual topics I write about can really help people. So it’s about serving, not serving my ego.

You might be thinking: “Uh, you did just compare your stats to Tim’s. Soooo, what’s that all about?” It’s about the fact that I honestly don’t care that he has more followers. I’m happy for him. And anyone else with bigger followings.

I used to be an envious idiot

The point is, that wasn’t the case for me for the lion’s share of my life. Before I started walking the spiritual path, I was a slave to the comparing game.

The three worlds I chose to immerse myself in, tennispolitics and Hollywood writing, didn’t help matters. All three encouraged a hornet’s nest of comparing.

Princeton but not pro

Take tennis. I played a ton as a kid and then played varsity for four years at Princeton. Not bad, right? Wrong. A guy I’ve been playing with recently in SoCal, who I beat when we were 12, rose to number one in America in both the 14 and 16 and under divisions. I didn’t even qualify to play in the nationals!

So he goes on to a full tennis scholarship at USC, wins the NCAA doubles title, wins five pro doubles tournaments, gets to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon doubles and reaches a world ranking of 18 in doubles. Not bad, right? Wrong.

Because a close friend of his won nine Grand Slam doubles championships and was ranked number one in the world in doubles! Not bad, right? Wrong.

Because that guy never cracked the top 100 in singles. But that guy’s doubles partner not only reached #1 in the world in doubles, he also reached #20 in singles. Not bad, right? Wrong.

Great, but not Sampras great

Because that guy never reached top ten in singles or won a major tournament. You know who did? Pete Sampras. He was number one in the world for several years and won 14 major singles titles! Not bad, right? Wrong.

Because Pete never won the French Open, something that Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal did, in addition to all three obliterating Sampras’s record 14 majors (the Big 3 have 20, 20 and Nadal now has 21).

You get the drift here of how pointless it is to compare ourselves to others? There’s always going to be somebody who’s done better.

The DC comparing cesspool

How about Washington politics? Yikes. Don’t get me started. I began as a legislative assistant to a congressman. Not bad, right? Wrong. Others my age worked for more powerful congressmen. Then I became a lobbyist and made good money…But others made a heckuva lot more.

Hollywood, prime venue for comparers

My last stop was Hollywood, Shangri-La for masters of the comparing game. I got a job on season four of The West Wing, but didn’t get asked back for season five. Those who did made more money than I did and got a big career boost…But none of them created their own show and…yada, yada, yada…none of them was Aaron Sorkin, who won multiple Emmys, Oscars and Golden Globes.

This game is played everywhere, by everybody:

“I’m a great mom, but Sally is better. Her meals are much healthier and she never misses her kids’ soccer games…”

“I sold the most cars at our dealership last year…But some guy at our other dealership sold more.”

The bottom line is that there’s always going to be someone with more followers, more tennis titles, more power, more money, more, more, more. So F-ing what? Who cares? I hope you don’t.

If we don’t compare, then what do we do?

The obvious question is: If I don’t compare myself to others doing what I’m doing, how do I know how I’m doing? You don’t. There’s no need to know how you’re doing.

You simply place all of your focus on getting the most out of you. Who gives a shit what everyone else is doing?

Comparing ourselves to others is a monumental energy suck. It’s all bad, no good.

And it results in our work suffering. Why? Because our focus isn’t 100% on our work; part of that focus is diverted to looking over our shoulders at what “the other guy” is doing.

The Tao: Do your work, then let it go

I can say that these past years where I haven’t compared myself to others have been fantastic. I write my stuff. I do the best work I can. And then, as it says in chapter 24 of the Tao te Ching, I let that work go. And I move on to the next thing and give that my all.

This results in my doing better work and feeling good. My days of envy and schadenfreude are, thankfully, in my rearview mirror.

If you’re still in that place, come join me on the other side. You’ll do better and feel better. What’s not to like?

Meditation

We Spend Our Lives Constantly Asking “What do I want?” It Doesn’t Work – I’ll show you a path that does.

It’s an odd thing to ponder, but have you ever wondered about the foundational way you conduct your life? For most people it consists of this: A persistent asking of the same question, over and over. That question is:

“What do I want?”

Small

The situations in which we ask this question come in the small, medium and large categories. The small would include things like:

“Let’s see, it’s 3 o’clock and I’m dragging. What do I want? A Starbucks venti latte and a chocolate croissant is just what the doctor ordered.”

“It’s Saturday morning and I have nothing to do. Do I want to go shopping, take a walk, or read? A trip to the mall sounds good.”

“Just home from a tough day at work. What do I want: An IPA, a fat glass of chardonnay or a vodka with fresh squeezed grapefruit? Ding, ding, ding! Vodka.”

Medium

In the medium category we might ask:

“Do I want to continue dating this guy? It’s been three months and I’m not really feeling it.”

“Do I want the four bedroom, three bath house or the two bedroom, two bath that’s closer to downtown?”

Large

Then, of course, we have the large.

“What do I want out of life? Marriage, kids and a career? Should I just focus on career so I can make the most money and have the best life?”

“Do I want to be a lawyer? A doctor? A businessman? What would make me happiest?”

Most of us ask questions from all three categories, all day long. Every day. Our lives constantly ping-pong from one “What do I want?” to the next.

And it makes sense, people asking what they want all the time. How the hell else are we supposed to live our lives?

But there’s a problem. A massive one.

It doesn’t work.

How do we know this? Because most of humanity lives the “What do I want?” life, and most of humanity is several French fries short of a Happy Meal most of the time.

Why it doesn’t work

The logical next question becomes: Why doesn’t going after what we want work? The answer starts with why we’re asking this question in the first place. Most people would say that it’s normal to ask what they want. They’re just pursuing things they want. What’s wrong with that?

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it. It’s just that the place from which that question arises is one of lack. It comes from “I am not okay right now. But I’ll be okay if I — have a beer, go get sushi, go shopping, become a doctor, get married and have kids…”

This “What do I want?” life is a constant, and unfortunately futile, search for happiness. “I’m not okay, but I will be okay if I just get this, this, this, and this.” As most of us know, it doesn’t work.

It can in the short term. Three days after buying that Audi A4, you’re cruising around with a big smile, thinking, “Mmm, nothing like that new car smell!” Two weeks later you’re driving to work and don’t even give it a fleeting thought — you’re too busy ruminating about the new guy they just hired and how he might leapfrog ahead of you on the job ladder.

Who’s asking the question?

Next, we need to explore the entity inside us that is constantly asking, “What do I want?” The answer?

Our egos.

What’s that? It’s the voice in our heads that never shuts up. That is critical of our, and everybody else’s, every move. It consists of all the accumulated emotional baggage we’ve stored, beginning in our first years of life. It’s the “not who I am” part of us that most people think “is who I am.”

The ego operates from a place of fear and lack. So when it constantly asks, “What do I want?” it is just trying to sustain and fortify itself. It’s not out to serve our best interests. It’s out to serve its interests.

What I’d ask if I were you

We’re at the point now where, if I was reading this, my question would be, “Thanks, Mr. Know-it-all. If constantly trying to fulfill our wants doesn’t work, what the hell does work?”

There is a life path that does work. And by “work” I mean a life that leads to a sustained feeling of peace inside.

For the answer, let’s turn to basic logic. If the ego is the entity responsible for making us feel the need to want all the time because it always feels in a place of lack, what would be the rational course of action?

Let go of the ego.

That really is it. When we let go of the ego, bit by bit, piece of baggage by piece of baggage, we start feeling less needful of all these wants.We start feeling okay just living in the moment. And the reason we’re able to be present in the moment is precisely because we’ve begun to eliminate the entity that constantly draws us away from the moment — our egos.

How do let go of our egos? I’ve written several articles attacking this subject from myriad angles, including this onethis one and this one. Suffice to say the work involves letting go of ourselves. How? When something triggers us, instead of chasing it down the ego rabbit hole, we stop, relax, lean away, breathe and let it go.

How to let go of the ego

We also meditate and practice mindfulness because they improve our ability to impartially observe our egos. And that makes it a heckuva lot easier to stop, relax, lean away, breathe and let the ego go.

The work involved is worth putting at the top of our life pyramid. Because dissolving our egos and facilitating the present-oriented life that that allows will make every area on the pyramid sitting below — career, relationships, athletic endeavors…everything — better.

The takeaway

Imagine a life where you walked around all day feeling peaceful inside…for no real reason. Not feeling the constant pull of wanting this and wanting that.

It’s doable. Like anything worthwhile, and nothing is more worthwhile than achieving peace of mind, it takes work. We, those around us and the world at large is better off when we choose to do that work.