Meditation

Meditation

A Ram Dass Quote About How to Seek Truth

I love Ram Dass. No, I never met him. Never saw him in person. I didn’t even dive into his teachings until after he passed away in 2019.

But when I watch his talks, the love in him stirs the love in me. Is there any greater gift one human can bestow on another? He should be glad we never met because if we did I would have engaged him in the bear hug to beat all bear hugs and I’m not sure I could have let go.

A 40 year old talk that blew me away

Just yesterday I listened to one of those fantastic talks. Given in 1982, it was two hours long, all of it beautiful. But a particular four-minute section at the end is what bowled me over.

It was about how to seek truth and what happens when we do. I encourage you to watch it. Here’s the YouTube link for the whole talk. The four-minute section starts at 1:51:50 and runs through 1:56:00.

A song that made me cry

There’s a song (it’s just three words) that he runs the audience through for the final six minutes (starts at 1:56:15) that I also suggest watching. I found it so moving I cried.

The specific quote that resonated so deeply with me is about gaining closer access to the great truths. Most of us spend the bulk of our time in striving. Doing. Seeking. All of which have their place in our lives.

But the deep truths of who we are and what our destiny is come through different means. Which brings me to Ram Dass’s sublime quote. He said:

“The truth waits for eyes unclouded by longing.”

Let that sink in…

The most important word in that sentence is “longing.” What is it to long for the truth?

I say we keep it simple on this. Longing is thinking about the truth.

“What is the purpose of my life?”

“Is there a God? And if so, how could that God allow so much suffering?”

“Why does anything exist? Why is there something rather than nothing?”

Truth be told, I’ve been just as guilty of this as anybody. I think about and long for the truth. Always have. My high school yearbook quote was something along the lines of,

“There are a lot of mysteries in life, but I’m having a good time anyway.”

The fact that you are reading this article indicates a high likelihood that you also long for the truth.

But I think Ram Dass is right — truth is elusive to those who pursue it with their thinking minds asking questions like the ones posed above.

Long for quiet

The only longing that does lead to finding truth is the longing to quiet down inside. It’s a longing that manifests as practicing meditation, mindfulness and other pursuits that enhance quietude.

The quiet we achieve through that type of longing diminishes the static of our inner car radio, thereby allowing the Universe’s divine truths to make their way through to us.

The takeaway

Let’s keep this one short and sweet. Why? Because the idea here is short and sweet. And true. And powerful. And it is this:

Go about your life, stay as quiet as you can inside, and the truth will find you.

Meditation

Yogananda’s Quote About Education is Right on the Mark – We should teach true intelligence, not facts and ideas.

With kids and their parents preparing for another school year, now’s a good time to dive into that age-old topic: What the heck should education be all about?

Most debates go straight to whether the focus should be on science, math, and engineering (knowledge deemed “useful” in today’s working world) or on the humanities where students learn to become well-rounded citizens. This framing, and others like it, completely overlook what should be front and center in any educational system.

Yogananda, the great saint

The person who eloquently captured what that should be is the great 20th-century Indian saint, Yogananda. Growing up in an upper-middle-class family in India, Yogananda had a rigorous education that culminated with a college degree.

But after many decades as a spiritual leader, mostly in the United States, Yogananda came to realize the deeper purpose of traditional learning. He said:

“Education does not consist of pumping ideas and facts into the brain. It consists of developing one’s intuitive faculties and bringing the hidden soul-memory of all knowledge onto the plane of human consciousness.”

I couldn’t agree more. And this is from a guy who was privileged to have an elite education. I studied at Princeton where I learned about the Roman Empire, Soviet politics, Rembrandt, geology…It was a veritable liberal arts potpourri.

And I’m still learning all these years later. I’ve taken online courses taught by college professors in Shakespeare, the Greek Tragedies, Alexander the Great, Russian literature, Medieval history, and literally dozens of others. All on my own time in my adulthood.

Traditional education is limited

I’ve loved it all, both the college years and the decades subsequent. But ten years of traveling the spiritual path have taught me that traditional education is only a part, a small one at that, of developing intelligence.

Which begs the central question: What is intelligence?

Is someone intelligent because they know that Virgil wrote the Aeneid as a way of connecting Rome to the heroes of Troy and the Greek Gods? Or that Caravaggio, and his use of chiaroscuro, ushered in the Baroque period? Or that Cleopatra was Macedonian and not Egyptian, a descendant of Ptolemy, the right-hand man of Alexander the Great?

These are like inputs into a computer. Hit a button and out pop some facts. Is that intelligence? Yes, but only a limited form.

Intellectualism is the computer processor

Well, what if you have an analytical brain that can take several bits of information and link them in a way no one else has thought of? In other words, what about intellectualism? Is that intelligence?

To continue with the analogy, that’s using the most complex part of the computer, the processor, whereas knowing Cleopatra was Macedonian is just data stored on the hard drive. So yeah, intellectualism requires more “intelligence” than simply regurgitating facts from memory.

But all of these pursuits rely on the use of our minds. Our brains. And the intelligence available to us from our noggins is highly limited.

Our brains are limited

True intelligence, as Einstein and many other geniuses have stated, arises from a place of no thought. Or, as Yogananda so eloquently stated, it “consists of developing one’s intuitive faculties and bringing the hidden soul-memory of all knowledge onto the plane of human consciousness.”

The intelligence gained by learning from Cleopatra, Virgil, Rembrandt, computer programming, and differential equations can help students understand the world we live in and also help in starting and advancing in the working world.

Those are no small benefits of traditional education. But they are limited.

True intelligence offers limitless benefits

Because what true intelligence offers is limitless and profound. The highest “prize” offered is finding our place in the universe. Finding the path that feels “right” to us. That feels ordained by something infinitely higher than us.

That prize has been bestowed on people like Bob Dylan, Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou, and a host of others. Yes, all of these people worked hard at their crafts to attain their high level of genius.

But they also say they’re not exactly sure how they do what they do. They can’t explain the depth of their genius. It just comes through them. Through some mysterious channel or connection to something higher than them.

That is true intelligence.

How do we develop true intelligence?

So the question becomes: How do we develop that true intelligence? The answer is that we practice getting quiet inside so that we can establish and strengthen the connection with that mysterious higher being that knows our true path.

Our thinking, chattering minds, so influenced by our parents, siblings, friends, and society writ large, are so loud and active that they sever that connection to the divine. The result is anxiety, confusion, and frustration with life.

Which brings us full circle to the question at hand, as our kids prepare to go back to school, what should we be teaching them?

First and foremost, we should be teaching them how to quiet their minds.

There. I said it. And yes, many would be aghast that teaching our kids to quiet their minds would top the list of education priorities.

Quieting kids’ minds should be central to education

So instead of backing away from that, I’ll double down: There is nothing remotely close in educational importance to teaching our kids how to quiet their minds.

Yes, let’s teach them math, writing, history, science, and the like. But if we don’t teach them how to get quiet inside, we’re failing to teach them the most important and beneficial skill a human can learn.

How do we teach this “quieting down” skill? That’s the easy part. We teach them how to meditate and practice mindfulness.

The curriculum on this doesn’t need to be that complicated. It just needs to be done.

The takeaway

Imagine a world where our young learn to quiet their busy minds. They’ll be less anxious and overwhelmed by school and all the social pressure that comes with it.

Most important is that when they continue these practices into adulthood, they will be far more likely to find that place in the world that feels “right” to them. Is there anything more important than that?

Now, please indulge me as I dream even further. Imagine a world that eventually consists of people who were taught these skills in school. People who are less anxious and feel connected to something bigger than they are.

I posit that the world will see less war, less crime, less divorce, and less tribalism, to name a few.

What will that world see more of? Compassion.

Imagine that.

Meditation

How, and How Not, to Deal With Your Ego: Watch, don’t fight.

The ego has been central to trekking the spiritual path for thousands of years. Look no further than two of the most revered spiritual texts ever written.

The Bhagavad Gitasuggests meditation to help control the mind, just a different word for the ego.

And chapter 10 of the Tao te Chingasks:

“Can you step back from your own mind and thus understand all things?”

Bottom line: The ego is a big deal. What is the ego? It’s the voice in our head that rarely shuts up. It’s our inner critic, not only of us, but of others. The complainer. The bragger. The brooder. The worrier.

In terms of spiritual growth, the ego’s most harmful influence is that it dominates and drowns out our true, conscious selves — the consciousness, soul, spirit, Atman that is our true essence.

Why I’m writing about the ego yet again

I’ve written several times about the ego, so why am I going back to it again? Because so often I hear spiritually minded people voicing their frustrations with their egos. They say things like, “God, I just can’t get my head to shut up! My mind just races and I hate it!”

What this reaction does is identify the ego as an enemy. As something to be opposed. Something to fight against.

Don’t fight with your ego!

The central point of this piece is that the ego is not something to fight against. In fact, fighting with our ego only strengthens it. Fighting, and the drama that goes with it, is the fuel the ego needs to survive and thrive.

Let’s take a quick step back. It could be said that the entirety of the spiritual journey involves only two steps: 1. Becoming aware of the ego and seeing that it is not who we are; and 2. Chipping away, day after day, at that ego with the objective of making it less and less influential in our lives. That’s it.

In a perfect world, we eliminate it altogether so that all that’s left of us is that beautiful, conscious, aware presence. Hardly anybody makes it that far, though Eckhart Tolle has come close.

The bulk of our life’s work

That second step comprises most of our life’s work if we are serious about conscious awakening. Which is precisely why how we deal with our ego is so incredibly important.

So, if we don’t fight with the ego, what do we do? We, our conscious awareness, simply lean away from it and observe it. With no judgment. No “I hate my ego, it’s so annoying!”

Just leaning away and saying, “There it is…Okay.” When the ego rears up in the form of:

-An annoyed feeling from being stopped at a red light or waiting in line at the store.

-The feeling of fury that consumes you after your spouse levels a cheap shot at you.

-Or the feeling of disgust that overcomes you when your least favorite politician appears on your television screen…

In all of these situations, we simply do our best to relax, stay calm, lean away and watch the feeling that has arisen. Don’t jump in and tangle with the feeling. That’s akin to fighting with the ego. Just relax, lean away, watch and let it go.

Watch, then let go

That last paragraph sets out the work of our lives. Just watching, then letting the ego go.

It’s not easy, especially at first. But just as with tennis, piano and learning French, we get better at it the more we do it.

Meditation helps the most

It would be spiritual teaching malpractice not to mention a powerful tool that can help us immeasurably in our dealings with the ego: Meditation. Why does meditation help? Because it teaches us to sit in the seat of awareness and notice when our egos take over, in the form of thoughts.

What do we do when the egoic mind has whisked away our attention during a meditation session? We simply notice that that has happened while not getting mad or frustrated with ourselves. Then we slowly and compassionately return our attention to our breathing or other element we’ve chosen to focus on, like a mantra or a sound.

Meditation, in short, provides us with invaluable practice at non-judgmentally watching our egos and not fighting with them. This then carries over into our daily lives when we notice the ego rearing up.

The takeaway

To recap: Don’t fight with your ego. Do relax, lean away and watch it when it arises.

It’s hard. It takes patience and persistence to work through the frustrations the ego brings on us.

But if there’s anything you take away from this piece, I hope it’s that you realize just how valuable and consequential that work is.

Meditation

An Eckhart Tolle Quote You Could Build a Spiritual Practice Around

This is going to be a short article. Why? Because expounding too much on this spiritual gem by Eckhart Tolle risks muddling its essence.

It came to me in an email from Eckharttolle.com back in 2019 as part of his weekly ‘present moment reminder’ series.

By the way, I’ve kept eight of those quotes in my email inbox with the first dating to February of 2013! Here’s how much I value these quotes — my current inbox consists of those eight multi-year old Eckhart quotes and four other random emails — one dealing with taxes, another a Ram Dass email quote, a non-quote email from Eckhart’s site and my Medium Daily Digest.

So, without further ado, here is the Eckhart quote that continues to blow me away:

To offer no resistance to life is to be in a state of grace, ease and lightness.

Does it get more eloquent than that? Reading this makes my whole inner being unclench and relax.

The centrality of nonresistance

The key to it is the third and fourth words, “no resistance.” One could base their entire spiritual practice around those two words.

Why? Because an enormous amount of suffering can be laid at the feet of resistance. We do it all the time.

-We resist bumper-to-bumper traffic by fuming about it. And screaming at the top of our lungs.

-We resist the physical pain of a headache, a sore back or a cut by complaining about it and creating a story about it — “Damn, this hurts so badly. Why does this always happen to me? I’m so unlucky!” That resistance exacerbates and deepens the pain.

-We resist what’s going on in the world (Russia invading Ukraine, global warming, political division) by throwing up our hands and becoming angry and dispirited, thereby rendering ourselves powerless to effectuate any meaningful change.

Resisting does you, me and the world no good.

So what’s the alternative? Nonresistance. Life happens and we accept it. Then life happens again and we accept it. Then life happens again and we accept it. No resistance.

Ahhh…

Nonresistance in action

Just stuck in traffic. Here, now. In the moment. Listening to music. Looking at the storm clouds through the windshield. Calling a friend to chat. The traffic is what is. Accepting what is. No resistance.

My back hurts. That’s what is. Accepting it. Not fighting with it. Sitting with it. Breathing with it. No resistance.

People love Trump, people hate Trump. That’s what is. Lots of factors led to this. Whichever side you’re on, keep your heart open. The best way to exacerbate the problem is to close your heart. Don’t resist what is. This was the modus operandi of Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi and most mega-effective activists.

Nonresistance doesn’t mean passivity

And don’t confuse nonresistance with passivity. It’s not that we sit around and do nothing as life happens to us. We let whatever happens be as it is, then respond to it from a place of presence rather than reactivity.

When we stop fighting with what life and the Universe bring us, we come to live, as Eckhart so beautifully puts it, “…in a state of grace, ease and lightness.”

Radiant. Peaceful. Present.

Ahhh…

Meditation

4 Steps to Turning Around a Bad Day

“Hey, how’re you doing?”

“Not great. I’m having one of those days.”

“What happened?”

“Oh, Janice lit into me because I forgot to pay the cable bill. Then I go downstairs and Audrey’s in mid-meltdown because Bobby hid her favorite stuffed animal. And things just went downhill from there…”

Most of us have been one or the other participants in this conversation. The bad day.

The thing is, most bad days don’t have to be bad days. They may not be great days, but they don’t have to be bad.

How do we turn things around on a bad day? Here’s a four-step plan to get things back on track.

1. NIP IT IN THE BUD

This should be a one-step plan consisting of only this. Why? Because if we nip a bad day in the bud there is no bad day, there’s just the beginning of one that we don’t allow to metastasize.

What’s the chief culprit here? We give up too quickly. One or two things happen and we go straight to, “That’s it. This day officially sucks.” Punt.

Then we get into that mode where we look for things to compound this bad day. “Great, three red lights in a row. As if this day could get any worse…” Once we’ve labeled a day as ‘bad’ it’s hard to turn it around.

We do it because we’ve always done it

So why are so many of us so quick to label the day as bad so early on? I think there’s a simple answer: We do it because it’s a habit. We’re used to doing it so we keep on doing it.

And that’s a good thing. Why? Because the solution is to break that habit.

How do we break the habit? We set an intention. We commit ourselves to not allowing one or two incidents to ruin our day.

Here are some specific actions we can take that will fortify that intention when stressful events arise. Most of these apply to when you’re already in the midst of your bad day and are trying to snap out of it. But they will absolutely extinguish and nip in the bud any bad day potential when you employ them to the initial stressful event(s).

2. RELAX AND TAKE SOME DEEP BREATHS

So your wife yells at you or your kid goes into full meltdown, screaming at the top of their lungs mode. First thing you do is relax and take some deep, slow, cleansing breaths. Try to do at least five of these. I find it works best if I do this with my eyes closed so try that if the situation allows it (i.e., you may not want to close your eyes in front of your boss right after he’s made a snide comment).

What the breathing will do is create some distance between you and those anxious feelings, especially if this is the fifth stressful event that has put your day in a funk and you’re trying to snap out of it.

3. SIT WITH THE STRESS

This one may seem crazy, but it isn’t. After you’ve calmed down a bit from the deep breathing, place your attention on any anxious feelings. Just watch them, from a place of non-judgment. Don’t resist the feelings. Breathe with them. Let them loosen. Give them space. Then let them pass, like clouds through the sky.

4. HAVE A TALK WITH YOURSELF

This is a big one, the key to turning things around. We need to talk to ourselves.

About what? First, we need to dish out some tough love. Because most of the time, a bad day is about us saying to ourselves some version of, “Poor me. I got yelled at. And I’ve missed every light. And my boss was a dick. And my kids melted down on me…” Yada, yada, yada.

Well, here’s the thing. None of those external factors is the reason your day went to hell.

The reason your day went to hell has to do with how you responded to each of those things. If you’d handled each of them well inside you would have soldiered on with your day and been fine.

So part one of the conversation is,

“I’ve allowed these incidents to turn this into a bad day. Bottom line, though, is that it’s not those incidents, or the people behind them, that caused me to spiral into a funk. I did that. I have it in me to relax and let go of all these things and I didn’t do it.”

The negative way of looking at this is that you’re being tough on yourself and blaming yourself. Don’t do that.

Because the positive side of this is massively important and good for all of us. And it’s this: WE have the power to determine how we feel. We don’t have to allow the external world and all the crap going on in it to be the determiner of our moods.

Which leads to part two of the inner conversation: We need to fight for ourselves! Don’t let your boss, your spouse or a random driver be the determiner of your mood. Take ownership of your inner state.

So you say to yourself,

“Yes, my boss just pissed me off. And I just got off the phone with the auto shop guy who told me it’s going to cost $1,200 to repair my bumper. But screw it. I’m not going to let that sink my day. Right in this moment I’m sitting at my desk looking at a photo of my wife and three adorable kids. Life is fine. Actually, life is great.”

The takeaway

The key is to stop looking out and blaming the external world for our problems. Instead, we go inside and work on ourselves. We gain a ton of power over our lives when we do that.

Most of us have been blaming the world for our woes for our entire lives so turning things inward won’t happen overnight. It will take a lot of practice and work to reverse that habit.

But my God, doesn’t that work seem worth it? Imagine if you really hunkered down on this work and got to a point where your ‘bad days’ were few and far between. Because you started fighting for yourself. Taking care of yourself. Sticking up for your days.

All it takes is setting the intention and making the commitment to practice and work at it.

Think Nike on this one…Just do it.

Meditation

9 Words That Calm Me When I Get Stressed

Life throws curveballs at us on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Sometimes life has little to do with it and it’s us throwing those curveballs at ourselves. Whichever it is, stress comes our way most every day (how about that for a song lyric?) in ways both big and small.

Squillions of books and articles have been written offering techniques and ideas aimed at relieving this stress. Most of us employ several different “weapons” to fight against stress, like working out, eating right, meditating, practicing mindfulness, consciously breathing and, if it gets bad enough, even taking medication.

Sometimes just saying certain words to ourselves can do the trick of nipping a stressful situation in the bud. Here’s a mindful sentence I say to myself in certain stressful moments:

“Allow this moment to be exactly as it is.”

That’s it. Most of the time, when I say that sentence I can feel the tension ooze out of my body and psyche.

Stress is caused by resistance

Why does this particular sentence/concept work for me? It’s because the source of so much stress is resistance to the moment we’re in.

To take just one small example, suppose you’re standing in line at the grocery checkout and the cashier is an elderly fellow moving slow as molasses. The usual annoyed sigh starts to rear its ugly head inside you.

Resisting is all cost, no benefit

What are you doing when you get all annoyed and sigh-ey? You’re resisting that moment. Doing so is pointless, injurious and 100 percent cost, zero percent benefit.

The reason that is so is because there’s nothing you can, or will, do about it. What are you going to do, charge up to him and say,

“Come on, you old fart! Speed it up! I got places to be!”

Of course you won’t. At least 99 percent of all people wouldn’t do that.

As my dad used to say,

“If you haven’t got an option, you haven’t got a problem.”

In other words, if there’s nothing you can do about some problem or situation, why get all bent out of shape by resisting it? Instead of resisting, try saying that line above.

And notice that I bolded the word exactly. When I say that sentence in my head, I purposely emphasize and draw out that word, exactly.

Why? Because it drives home that I don’t want or need to change a single, solitary thing about that moment in front of me.

As Mickey Singer would say, whatever moment you’re in took 13.8 billion years to get there and has nothing to do with you. So instead of getting all worked up over it, let it be as it is.

The takeaway

Try this and see if it works for you. It’s useful in all kinds of stressful situations, especially the ones where there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Things like traffic jams and waiting in lines are the most obvious.

Of course, for those on the spiritual path, ‘allowing this moment to be exactly as it is,’ is the ultimate goal for how we treat every moment, whether good, stressful or ordinary. But using this for the stressful ones is especially helpful.

It is for me, at least. I hope it’s helpful to you, too.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.

Meditation

Do You Feel Overwhelmed All the Time? This Ancient Method Will Calm You

Most people I know are overwhelmed. Every day. What does that look like?

They constantly rush. And sigh. And say they’re tired. They stress over their kids, their financial security, their relationships and their work situations, to name a few of the big ones.

Of their life in general, I often hear people say, “It’s just so much.”

The disease of unease

This manifests in a near-constant feeling of unease. Most of the time it’s not of the awful, depressive or super-anxious variety. It’s just a ping-ponging from one stressful situation to the next over the course of the day and night. Day after day, week after week, month after month…

The approach to dealing with these uneasy feelings is to conduct near-perpetual dialogues, mostly inside our heads, but also with our friends and family. One category of these dialogues is the “fix it” strategy.

-You’re pumping gas into your car and, “Holy shit! $110 to fill up my car? I may have to up my hourly rate. Or even get a second job.”

-“Little Johnny has been in his room for four hours straight playing video games. He’ll never be able to make a life for himself. I need to sit with my husband and come up with a schedule limiting his screen time.”

-“My boss is working me to the bone. How in the hell am I going to keep up this pace? I need to figure out a new eating and sleeping strategy that gives me more energy…”

More commonly, people just stress out when these things happen, skip the “fix it” talk and go straight to, “My life is out of control! The sky is falling! AGGHHH! It’s too much!”

Becoming your problems

In other words, people engage with all of their stressors and the feelings they produce. They engage so deeply that they become these feelings and problems. Their entire identity becomes, “I’m a financially insecure single parent who will never go on a date again, whose job could go away any day, who’s got a son whose life is going down the tubes because all he does is play video games. That is who I am…”

Many reading this might be thinking, “Yeah, that’s me. And that’s life. What other way is there other than trying to solve your problems so that this feeling of overwhelm goes away?”

This is the other way:

Don’t engage with all of those thoughts and feelings. Separate from them and observe them.

Why? Because those thoughts and feelings aren’t you. The entity that leans away and observes those thoughts and feelings is you. It’s your consciousness.

The great masters and witness consciousness

Leaning away and observing, rather than diving in and engaging, is called witness consciousness. You’ve heard of the great yogis like YoganandaRamana MaharshiNeem Karoli Baba and Meher Baba? All they really did was master witness consciousness. Through countless years of practice, they developed the ability to experience life in the present moment rather than allow their consciousness to be swept up by their minds.

In all my years of studying and practicing this spiritual stuff, it is this concept that I’d put at the top of the heap in terms of importance. Specifically: It’s about separating the conscious self from the egoic quagmire of the mind.

Why we’re not even aware of our conscious selves

Most people on planet Earth have very little concept of their conscious self because it is so drowned out and enveloped by their loud, powerful egoic minds. As such, they have no ability to realize that they aren’t those thoughts and feelings because those thoughts and feelings are the only things they experience.

Fine. So we’re not our thoughts and feelings. What happens when we do this whole witness consciousness thing?

Answer: When we watch instead of engage, those troubling thoughts and feelings are freed up to pass along, like clouds in the sky.

Eckhart Tolle expressed this metaphor beautifully in a quote I love so much I wrote an article about it (here). Here’s the quote:

You are the sky. The clouds are what happens, what comes and goes.”

Some reading this may say, “This separate and observe thing sounds like a strategy for avoiding our feelings. Well, I like to feel my emotions. I don’t want to turn into an unfeeling zombie.” I’ve received comments from some readers to this effect in previous articles that touched on witness consciousness.

My response is that witness consciousness is precisely the opposite of avoiding feelings. In fact, what we’re doing is purposely placing our attention on our feelings.

Witness consciousness: subject and object

The wrinkle is that witness consciousness involves two entities: the subject, our consciousness, and the object, whatever’s in our field of awareness. Sometimes a chirping bird comes into that field of awareness. Sometimes it’s the smell of popcorn. And sometimes what comes into our field of awareness is the upset feeling when we see that it cost $110 to fill our car with gas.

So what do we do with that gas price-induced upset feeling? We let it come in and relax behind it. Then we observe it, just as we do the bird song and the popcorn smell. We experience the feeling, from a place of non-judgmental observation. Then we let it go.

What we don’t do is what most people do: Allow our consciousness to be sucked into the mind where it gets swallowed up by anxious thoughts. When we do this, we lose the subject, us. And all that’s left is the object, a bunch of wacky thoughts and feelings coursing through the mind and body, a dynamic that is the root cause of most suffering.

Experience life and let it pass through

Look at it this way. We experience all kinds of things in life. Bird sounds, popcorn smells, driving past white lines on the highway…We don’t hold onto these experiences, do we? No. We experience them and then let them pass through us.

Witness consciousness is about experiencing everything — good sounds, bad sounds, good feelings, bad feelings — and then letting them go. The Buddhists call this ‘Don’t resist. Don’t cling.’ Just experience and let go.

The paradigm shift — from mind to witness

That’s the paradigm shift I’m suggesting. It’s going from living a life being overwhelmed by our busy minds to a life of witness consciousness.

Many of you are now asking the next logical question:

“Great. But how do I solve the gas price dilemma, my kid playing too many video games and my boss breathing down my neck? Does witness consciousness make all these problems magically disappear?”

No, it doesn’t. It gets you to look at your problems/challenges through a new lens: present moment awareness. Instead of tackling problems through the lens of egoic freak out, we deal with life from the vastly more intelligent place of presence.

Eckhart and the power of consciousness

Eckhart Tolle even named his greatest book after this — The Power of NowHe’s right. The power behind the universe comes through us when we act from a place of present moment awareness, not when we let our noisy, critical minds captain the ship.

Your next logical question/concern might be:

“This witness consciousness thing sounds like a great way to live. But dang, when stuff happens to me my mind sucks me right in. Leaning away and observing, rather than getting sucked in, sounds like it would be incredibly hard for me. What do I do?”

It ain’t easy

Of course it’s hard. It took sages like Yogananda and Ramana Maharshi many decades to master witness consciousness.

And just to be honest and realistic, the chances of you mastering this state of being are slim. Me too.

But that’s okay. Because there is such a thing as incremental improvement. Most of us may not master witness consciousness, but just working at it and getting better will be absolutely life-transforming for most people.

It’s transformed my life and I’m definitely no master. Far from it. Just ask my wife and kids, who still set me off like Mt. Vesuvius (my son used to call me Vesuvius!) not so infrequently.

How do we “work at it”? It’s broken record time for you regular readers of mine. There’s no magical, special sauce involved.

It’s all about quieting the mind

The work is about quieting our minds to the point that our conscious selves can be extricated from the talons of the egoic insane asylum of our minds. Once freed, we assume our rightful place in the seat of self and observe the asylum from a place of witness consciousness.

How do we quiet our minds? Wait for it………We develop a regular meditation practice and work to incorporate mindfulness in our lives.

There are others, like yoga, mantra, chanting and qigong, to name a few. And they’re all fantastic. I do find, however, that meditation and mindfulness offer the most direct path to quieting our minds.

The takeaway

So get started on these practices. I can almost guarantee that if you do, that feeling of life overwhelm will diminish. Maybe a lot. Maybe a little. It depends on your commitment level, your particular life situation and your personal makeup. But there will at least be a modicum of alleviation in that feeling of overwhelm.

If you’re looking for a place to start, go to davidgerken.net for a free meditation program that’s designed to be as easy as possible.

You and everyone around you — your kids, spouse, family, friends, coworkers — will be better off if you get moving on these practices. I hope you’ll go for it.

Meditation

A Stress-relieving Benefit of Spirituality: Easier Decision-making

We make decisions every day. Some small. What should I have for lunch? Some big. Should I marry this guy?

It’s my experience that most people have a hard time with decisions, especially the big ones. They agonize.

And the reason is obvious, though people don’t necessarily think of it this way. They agonize because they think if they “get it wrong” they won’t be okay.

“What if I marry Mike and he turns out to be a total bore? And we have kids and get all entangled in each other’s lives. Then what? I’ll be miserable forever.”

“I’m pretty happy in this job, but the upside of the one just offered is way higher. I could make a ton of money. But I don’t know the people there and it could be a huge disaster.”

“The three bedroom house is nicer and in a good neighborhood. But it’s more expensive than the four bedroom which is more practical for our family. So it’s higher mortgage, less space but I love the house versus lower mortgage, more room for kids, but not as nice. AAGHH!”

Does this sound like you?

It’s big AND small decisions

And it’s not just the big decisions, though those definitely cause more angst. You’re at a restaurant and you’re deciding between a steak and the halibut special, which could be great but has a mango salsa that you’re not sure about.

Or even what movie you go see. The romcom with Jennifer Aniston which will be okay but not great? Or the WW II drama with Cate Blanchett and Clive Owen that might be great and might be a snoozer?

Most people aren’t okay inside

Here’s the not-so-pleasant truth underlying this dynamic: We, meaning most of us, are not okay inside. If we were, then things like steak vs. halibut and even marry Mike or not wouldn’t torment us.

If we were okay then we’d handle all decisions with the same attitude: It doesn’t really matter what I choose because I’ll be okay either way.

If my dinner sucks, if the movie sucks and even if Mike turns out to be the wrong guy, I’ll be okay. Why? Because I’m okay inside.

Spirituality is about feeling okay inside

And that’s where spirituality enters the discussion. Because what spirituality is all about is working on getting to that place where you’re okay inside, regardless of what’s going on outside.

One way of looking at the spiritual path is that it’s about chipping away at and quieting our egos. Meditation, mindfulness, mantras, affirmations, yoga and all kinds of practices help us do that.

Our egos feed on fear

The driving force of the ego is fear. “What if Mike’s the wrong guy?” “What if this new job is a disaster?” “What if the halibut is terrible and I’m in a bad mood for the rest of the night?”

By reducing the strength of our egos, spiritual practices help us get to that fantastic place where what happens in the external world doesn’t matter as much. We feel good…just because.

Feeling okay is our natural state

Most of the great spiritual teachers like Mickey Singer, Ram Dass and Yogananda teach that this sense of ‘okayness’ is our natural state. That the development of ego throughout our lives takes us away from that natural state. And that the whole point of life, and spirituality, is to work on getting BACK to that natural state.

All my spiritual work has paid huge dividends in the decision realm. One example comes from a few years ago when my wife and I decided that it was time to get out of Hollywood.

Three fantastic options

We decided on three potential places to move: Washington, D.C. (where we met and both lived for many years), Boulder, Colorado, and Newport Beach in Southern California. Three fantastic options.

We finally decided on Newport Beach, partly because I had grown up here and had three siblings living here. And also because it’s beautiful, with great weather and is a good place for kids to grow up, as long you don’t spoil them…and we DON’T!

But all three would have been great places to live. Which you’d think would make this a gut-wrenching decision.

A non-agonizing decision

It wasn’t. We talked about it for a while then went with Newport, with the attitude of ‘we’ll make the best of it.’ As we would have had we chosen Boulder or DC.

I hadn’t been like that in my pre-spiritual work life. I was more of the pro-con list on yellow legal pad type who hashed everything fifty ways to Sunday. Life is so much easier and less stressful now.

The takeaway

Which is really the point of this piece. It’s about incentivizing anyone reading this to get going on these spiritual practices, particularly meditation and mindfulness.

Think of how great it would be if you didn’t fret over any decisions. Because you knew you’d be fine either way.

Let that sink in…

Meditation

The Best Technique I Know to Quiet Unwanted Thoughts

I was having trouble coming up with an article idea yesterday so I did what I often do when stymied. I went for a walk.

I walk on a beautiful path that overlooks the Back Bay here in Newport Beach. I love watching the myriad species of birds flying around.

At least I usually do. Yesterday was different. Bad different.

I got stuck in my head

Why? Because I couldn’t get out of my head. I kept thinking, thinking, thinking. Troubling thoughts.

Which was to be expected. The subject of my last article (here) was about the loss of one of my oldest and closest friends a week ago.

That kind of tragedy can throw one off one’s path. It weakens the psyche and makes us vulnerable to everything. It’s sure had that effect on me.

A thought came to me about slowing my thoughts

Anyway, after a few minutes of this thought-overwhelm early in my walk, I decided to try something that I do in other situations when my mind goes into overdrive. It’s a specific technique.

It’s pretty intricate so bear with me. I randomly pick a number between 1 and 23. Then I double it and add up the digits. So if the number was eight, that doubles to sixteen and add those two digits to get seven.

Then I hop on my left foot seven times and my right foot seven times, while chanting “You deserve a break today. So get up and get away…to McDonald’s!” I finish by dabbing three times, Usain Bolt-style…

JUST KIDDING!

As usual, my spiritual technique is exceedingly simple. I’ve found that complexity and spirituality rarely mix well, especially when it comes to techniques.

My actual thought-slowing technique

So here’s what I do, and what I did yesterday on my walk. I simply counted five breaths. In, out…one. In, out…two. Up to five.

After the first one or two breaths I throw something else in (I’m being serious here…no more jokes). While I’m counting the breaths I look around and survey my surroundings.

Yesterday there were some cool wispy clouds under a beautiful, blue sky. So I looked at those.

There were kids playing in a park. Palm trees swaying in the breeze. And buildings in nearby Fashion Island.

And that’s it. It’s just counting breaths while looking around. The objective is simple: Place my attention on something other than the negative thoughts swirling around my head.

It usually takes a few rounds to calm the thoughts

In a big thought storm like I had yesterday, it takes at least a few rounds of this. I do my five breaths. Then maybe immediately five more. Then walk for another few minutes and…

BANG! I’m back in Thoughtlandia. So I do five more breaths.

If that sounds onerous or tiring, think about the alternative. Would you rather those breath-counting sessions be replaced by unpleasant thoughts? I wouldn’t.

You can do this anywhere. I do it in the car, looking out the front windshield for anything interesting while I count. And also while doing my cycling workouts where my mind typically turns faster than my tires!

The middle of the night thought hurricane

One place where the look-around thing is difficult to pull off is that oh-so-fun thought party raging in our heads when we wake up at 3:30 in the morning. If that happens to you (I’ve heard countless people say this happens to them), try to be vigilant with the breath counting.

See if you can count up to fifty breaths. Make these breaths slow, deep and long. This will often do the trick of simultaneously stopping the thoughts and getting you back to sleep.

The takeaway

Bottom line: When you find yourself stuck in a thought storm, count five breaths and look around. And if the thoughts persist, simply start counting again.

Five breaths and look around. One reason it works is that it’s so easy to remember. Give it a try and see if it works for you.

Thanks for reading and I hope you have a wonderful day.

Meditation

I Lost my Oldest Friend this Week – Shawn Gallagher (1962–2022)

Shawn Gallagher was my oldest friend. We lost him on Monday when he died from complications of leukemia. He’d had some pains in his legs the preceding weeks and went to the doctor about a week ago. They immediately sent him to the hospital where he died only two days later.

It was too soon. He was only 59 and had always been healthy.

We met in 1978 when I was a freshman and he a sophomore in high school. He was a star distance runner and I was also pretty good, but nowhere near his level.

Shawn saved by my wimpy stomach

Early in our friendship we ran in the Southern California high school championship race. Shawn was having a terrible race, for him, but it became cataclysmic when I passed him with about 100 yards to go.

He was thinking, “Great, a bad race is now the worst ever. I’m going to lose to my smart-ass freshman friend who will never let me hear the end of it.” Shawn always described me as being an okay loser but a terrible winner; i.e., I rubbed it in. Only with those I love!

Anyway, shortly after I passed him fortune shone on him. How? He saw me start to vomit.

“Yes! There is a God!” he said to himself. Then, with no mercy, he blew past me as I puked my guts out. We dined out on that story for the better part of four decades.

We saw numerous movies together in those high school years. Oddly, the only one we remember clearly was called Players, which we both agreed, then and now, was the worst film ever made.

My gramma and “Sharon”

Shawn was the only friend who knew my grandmother, who passed away in 1981. She loved Shawn. Unfortunately, she always screwed his name up, calling him “Sharon.” We finally gave up correcting her.

End of story? No. Because all these years later Shawn came back from Europe to live for a year in Newport Beach where I reside. How did I torture him? I had my kids call him “Aunty Sharon.” We’d walk past his house on the way to school and my little Phoebe would yell out, “Wake up, Aunty Sharon!!!” All in good fun.

In the summer of 1985 Shawn and I backpacked around Europe. I could write 10,000 words about that trip so I’ll whittle it down to one story.

A two minute drill with epic results

We had instituted a rule that if we were getting lazy and not meeting people (girls) we would do rock, paper, scissors and the loser had two minutes to meet a girl or girls. If that person failed, they had to buy dinner. We called it the Two Minute Rule.

So we’re in the Piazza San Marco in Venice when we invoked the rule…and I lost. So I breeze through the crowds and spot two Italian women sitting on some steps.

Shawn being the handsomer dude of the two of us ends up chatting with the more attractive girl who also had something else going for her…she spoke English! Unlike mine. So I struggled and got nowhere.

And Shawn? He and Elina got married two years later in her native Lake Como. I was the best man in their wedding.

Bianca the Brilliant

A few years after that came their beautiful, bouncing baby, Bianca. Along with a searing sense of humor (at age 3 she used to refer to me as “Bruto” which means “ugly” in Italian), Bianca was blessed with serious intelligence. She graduated first in her class at Long Beach State University and is now getting her Phd in anthropology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Shawn and Elina hit a home run with Bianca.

Although Shawn and Elina divorced in 1995, he spent most of the 1990s and 2000s living in Italy because he wanted to be with and help raise Bianca. It wasn’t easy. He often felt lonely and out of place, but he pushed through it and did what was best for Bianca.

Fortune repaid him in 2008 when he met Claire, the woman he’d spend the rest of his days with.

Claire and Shawn, the perfect match

Most people find it hyperbolic when someone says two people are a perfect match. Well, Shawn and Claire were a perfect match. They simply loved each other’s company. In all the years they were together I never once heard Shawn say a bad word about Claire.

After teaching English together for many years in Italy and Vietnam, Shawn and Claire got married a few years ago in San Francisco. They’d lived the past two years in England just outside of Oxford.

We’d had one of our regular Zoom calls at the end of May and he was great. Nothing wrong. Fun conversation. No complaints. We emailed about one of my articles on June 25th.

And now he’s gone.

I’m still in shock. Feeling equal parts sad and depressed about it.

4 minute miler stud

Because he was such an amazing runner, that is what many will remember most about Shawn. And rightly so. He ran the 1500 meters in 3:46, which is just about equivalent to running a four minute mile. Put it this way, the winning time in the men’s 1500 at the Olympics in 2016 was 3:50.

But even though I was his biggest fan, I won’t remember Shawn for his running. Not at all.

I’ll remember him for the absolutely beautiful, tender, sweet heart he was blessed with. Try as he did to come off as a curmudgeon at times, he couldn’t pull it off. He was, at his core, simply a gentle, kind soul.

I don’t know where you are, Shawn. I know it’s somewhere out in that mystery of the universe.

I don’t know if that mystery permits you to read Medium articles, but in case it does, please know that the world is a lesser place without you in it and that those you left behind miss you and love you.

Your forever pal,

Geek.