Meditation

Meditation

A Mindfulness Technique to Use While Exercising

My main form of exercise for decades was running and playing tennis. Unfortunately, that resulted in three surgeries, two hip and one achilles tear, and a ton of calf muscle pulls and back spasms.

So about five years ago I jettisoned running and cut down on the tennis in favor of the joint-friendly road biking and swimming as my go-to cardio workouts. While biking and swimming are fantastic for my heart, joints and overall mental health (the endorphins they produce always seem to slay any anxiety or depression fog I may have), they do carry one drawback: My mind wanders like crazy on the bike and in the pool.

And I’m a regular meditator. I missed maybe five days of meditation in 2020. I’m also a devoted practitioner of mindfulness in my daily life.

45 minutes in the Bahamas

But man, put me on a bike or in a pool for 45 minutes and I am gone. Thinking about article ideas. What I want to make for dinner that night. The storming of the U.S. Capitol. You name it, my mind wanders there.

After years of going to La-La Land on the bike or in the pool, I finally decided to do something about it. It took a total of 2.5 seconds to come up with a solution, which is about 1.5 seconds longer than it should have taken.

Which leads me to a quick sidebar about meditation and mindfulness. Precisely NONE of it is complicated. It’s all about the simple.

Working our way back to kindergarten

The person who expressed this best is Adyashanti, a prominent spiritual teacher in Northern California. His basic dictum is that in normal education we start at kindergarten, then move up to primary, middle and secondary school, then college and end up at the PhD. With meditation and mindfulness, however, we start at the PhD level and have to work our way back down to kindergarten. Why? Because accessing the calm, compassionate genius in all of us occurs at the simplest level, which is made exceedingly difficult by the complexity our minds lust after.

Back to my simple mindfulness idea. It’s this:

I count ten breaths. And on a 45 minute ride I do this six times. So six different times I catch my mind wandering (not hard to do) and then, just as I would in a formal meditation, I bring my attention to my breathing and count ten breaths.

Another wrinkle I’ve added is to designate six easy to remember spots on my ride that can serve as a trigger to count my ten breaths. The light at Jamboree and University Drive, for example. This ensures that I space out those breathing sessions and also that get them all in.

In the pool, you can do it after 10, 20, 30 laps, etc. Or while resting in between sprint intervals.

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Photo by Mia Mackenzie on Unsplash

This obviously doesn’t work for exercise that requires moment-by-moment concentration, like weight-lifting, basketball, tennis or rock climbing. But you can do it on breaks between sets of lifting or at a changeover in tennis, etc.

The win-win of it all

Why is this technique a win-win? Well, win number one is the short term benefit of not being as thoroughly absorbed in your thoughts as you would be if you hadn’t counted your breaths at all. Being stuck in Thoughtlandia for 45 straight minutes results in our feeling less centered afterward, which makes us more susceptible to any adversity that may prop up during the rest of our day.

Win number two is simply that we get more mindfulness practice in. Repetition and practice is the name of the game with mindfulness. The more we do it, the better we get at it. And by ‘it’ I mean just being present.

So see if you can work in some mindful breathing work in your exercise routine. It’ll help you feel better during that day and help build your overall ability to be present for the moments of your life.

Meditation

3 Classic Must-Reads: 1 Novel, 1 Biography, and 1 Poem

The novel, The Grapes of Wrath, you’ve probably heard of. The biography, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, and the poem, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, maybe not. All three are powerful, compelling and enduring explorations of the human condition, the one criterion all classics must meet. All three touched me to my core.

Because I want you to read all three I won’t spoil them by going into detail on the stories. Instead, I’ll explore my favorite scene/story/stanza to give you a flavor for what lies within.

Without further adieu…

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

My connection to it: I didn’t read The Grapes of Wrath until I was in my 40’s. Why? Maybe for the same reason most of you haven’t: Because I heard it was boring. Wow, was I ever wrong.

Short description: The novel chronicles the experiences of the Joads as they travel from Oklahoma to California, in search of a new life after the Dust Bowl droughts of the 1930s lay waste to their farm and threw the entire family into abject poverty. Steinbeck alternates back and forth between chapters devoted to the Joad’s story and descriptions of various conditions extant during this period.

The scene that captures the heart of the novel: The Grapes of Wrath is a story about the profound beauty that can arise out of oppression and suffering. In fact, if I had to choose one word to describe this novel it would be pathos, defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as, “an element in experience or in artistic representation evoking pity or compassion.”

I might have picked the controversial ending scene of the book but didn’t want to spoil it. The following scene in the novel captures this pathos just as beautifully as the ending.

Two Okie boys traveling with their families along Route 66 from Oklahoma toward California walk into a roadside café, barefoot and hungry. They stare through a display case at some candy and look like they’ve seen manna from heaven. They ask the waitress how much the candy costs.

She says, “How much have you got?” The boys say they have one penny. She says, “Them’s two for a penny.” They give her the penny, take the candy and rush out, smiling ear to ear.

A trucker drinking coffee at a table with his colleague says to the waitress, “Hey, them wasn’t two-for-a-cent candy. Them was nickel apiece candy.” To which she responds, “What’s it to you?”

The truckers get up, put some money on the table and walk out. The waitress takes the money then rushes to the door. “Hey! Wait a minute. You got change.” The trucker replies, “You go to hell.”

Just a simple scene about generosity and compassion in tough times. When the great singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson saw this scene play out in the 1940 film version of Grapes of Wrath starring Henry Fonda, he was so moved that he wrote a song about it called Here Comes That Rainbow Again. Johnny Cash said it was his favorite song of all time. Check out the video HEREBrings tears to my eyes every time I watch this clip.

The hard times our world has experienced this past year due to COVID-19 make the themes of Steinbeck’s masterpiece all the more resonant today. It’s heartening to know that the pain and suffering on the scale of the Dust Bowl-Great Depression and COVID-19 often awakens the best in humanity from the slumber of complacency that often reigns during good times. Give The Grapes of Wrath a read. You, and your heart, will be the better for it. Here’s the Amazon LINK.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

My connection to it: Known as one of the best biographies ever written, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt chronicles TR’s life from birth until the day in September, 1901, that he became president upon the assassination of William McKinley. I first read it in 1991 after finding it in my roommate’s bookcase. TR quickly became, and has remained, my favorite president because of this Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece.

As a Hollywood screenwriter I wrote a movie in 2006 about TR based on the book. Nerding out even further, I named our Labrador retriever Teddy and joined the Theodore Roosevelt Association.

Short description: Born into an aristocratic family (his father was a founding board member of both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History), TR was an asthmatic, sickly child. To fight this condition, his father urged a strenuous physical life for TR. This resulted in a childhood and early adulthood dominated by outdoor activity, leading to TR’s lifelong love of animals, hunting, ranching and horseback riding. This love of nature eventually led President Roosevelt to conserve 230 million acres of U.S. land, making him, arguably, the most consequential environmentalist of all time.

At 25 TR became the Republican Leader in the New York State Assembly, then a U.S. Civil Service Commissioner, New York Police Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, Vice President, and finally President of the United States.

The story that captures the heart of the book: The adventure that defined TR’s life from age 25 until his death in 1919, and the period my screenplay covered, was the two years he spent as a cowboy rancher in the Badlands of Dakota Territory. It defined his life because of the reason he went there in the first place.

In early 1884, TR was a wildly successful 25 year old New York Assemblyman with a future as bright as the sun. Madly in love with his young wife, Alice, the couple was expecting their first child in mid-February. But tragedy struck on Valentine’s Day, 1884, when Alice died two days after giving birth.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t all. On the same night, and in the same house, TR’s beloved mother, Mittie, also died, of Typhoid Fever, something they all thought was just a bad cold only days before.

Two unexpected deaths, on the same night, in the same house, of the two people he loved most. And on Valentine’s Day of all days. Writing in his journal that night TR wrote an ‘X’ across the page and one sentence below it:

“The light has gone out of my life.”

His soul shattered, TR quit politics and move to the Badlands where he owned two ranches. He spent his days riding alone in the Badlands, doing arduous cowboy work like rounding up and branding cattle and reading and writing at his Elkhorn Ranch which was 26 miles from the nearest town of Medora.

This life of peaceful tranquility, hard physical exertion and immersion in nature produced two developments that allowed TR to move forward and achieve the greatness he did. First, it healed his broken heart.

Second, by working and living among cowboys and “coarser folk,” TR came to know the people he subsequently viewed as the bedrock of America. Before his adventures in the Badlands TR was, frankly, an aristocratic snob. He often said that were it not for these years out West he never would have become president of the United States.

The adversity TR overcame is an inspiration for all of us no matter the state of affairs in our world, but especially now with our entire planet battling the scourge of COVID-19.

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Photo by Ronda Darby on Unsplash

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt is by far the best biography I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a ton of them. Read it and you will understand why Theodore Roosevelt is chiseled into Mount Rushmore. Here’s the Amazon link.

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray

My connection to it: Written in 1751 by Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is known as one of the greatest poems of the English language. I was introduced to it in my 20’s by my godfather Tom Tuttle, a brilliant English major at Yale. I’ll never forget the summer night on the porch of his lake house in Crab Lake, Wisconsin, when he recited several of the 32 stanzas of Elegy. After reciting this particular stanza…

“Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,

And all the air a solemn stillness holds,

Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,

And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds.”

…He looked at me and said, “Wow! How great is that?!” His passion piqued my interest and led to me exploring this and other classic poems.

Short description: Gray wrote the poem after seeing a village churchyard (graveyard) near his mother’s home in rural England. It begins with sublime language describing dusk as it falls over the land then transitions to a meditation on mortality that becomes something of an ode to the common laborers who toiled in England’s fields.

The stanza that captures the heart of the poem: The stanza that always stayed with me is this:

“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,

And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,

Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour:

The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

While pondering the graves of the peasants who endured backbreaking labor most of their lives, it occurred to Gray that their ultimate fate was no worse or better than kings, the rich or the beautiful. [Incidentally, the 1957 Kirk Douglas movie Paths of Glory found its title in this stanza.]

This stanza emblazoned in me then and now the old adage that ‘you can’t take it with you.’ As an old Army colonel I worked with used to say, ‘We’re all headed for the big dirt nap.’ So best to give life our all, whether presidents, CEOs, migrant workers or cashiers at the local grocery store.

You can find the poem here.

Meditation

Eckhart Tolle’s Simple, Powerful Spiritual Practice He Recommends For Everybody

I was listening to an Eckhart Tolle talk the other day when he said something that made my ears prick up. He said:

“If I had to recommend a daily spiritual practice for you for the next year, something that would bring about a huge boost in consciousness in you, it would be doing this simple thing…”

And what is that one thing Eckhart recommends?

“Be aware of your breathing.”

That’s it. Whenever you can during your day and evening, simply notice your breathing. Doing just that will bring your attention into the moment. And since the present moment is the only place where life has, does or ever will occur, noticing our breathing literally gives us, as Joseph Campbell used to call it, the experience of being alive.

Not ALL the time

We obviously can’t do this every moment of the day. When your boss finishes giving you instructions for your next assignment and asks, “You got that, Brad?” You don’t want to have to say, “Sorry, Deb, could you repeat that? I was busy following my breathing.”

Ditto if you’re on the phone with your best friend who is bawling her eyes out because her fiancé just called off the wedding. Or if you’re rock climbing up El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

When to go to your breathing

But there are plenty of situations where going to your breathing during the day is incredibly helpful and healthful. Someone just cut you off in traffic. Be aware of your breathing. Someone makes a political comment you find insulting, infuriating or just plain insane. Be aware of your breathing.

Eckhart says a particularly opportune time to practice this is when we find ourselves waiting…For anything. Why? Because the concept of waiting is critical in mindfulness. Virtually every time we’re waiting, we’re saying to ourselves, “I can’t wait until this moment is over so I can get to some better moments in the future.” What this leads to for scads of people is a life spent mostly in waiting. Any of these examples sound familiar?

“I can’t wait until I get that promotion so I’ll make more money and be able to afford a better house/car/clothes/wine…”

“I can’t wait to get married so I can have kids and a loving family life.”

“I can’t wait until my kitchen remodel is done. It’s going to look so great!”

Some would say, “Hold on. I love expending energy to ensure I have a better future.” The problem comes when we feel dissatisfied with the vast majority of the moments of our lives.

Focus on making the most of your moments

So I say, fine, go for the promotion, the kids and the kitchen remodel. But place ALL of your attention and energies on making the most out of the moments of your life and NOT on waiting in dissatisfaction until future desires come about.

Fine, so we’ve established that waiting is NOT a good thing. When would Eckhart recommend you employ his breathing practice while waiting in your daily life?

When you’re feeling annoyed because of the long line you’re waiting in at the grocery store…be aware of your breathing.

When a loquacious friend drones on and on about something you both know is thoroughly unimportant and you find yourself looking for the nearest sharp object…Be aware of your breathing.

When it’s 6:45, your dinner reservation is at 7 and you’re waiting for your wife to decide which blouse goes best with which jeans, (this one is personal for me!)…be aware of your breathing.

I actually used this sage advice from Eckhart a few days ago on my bike ride. My mind drifts into thought in a major way on my rides.

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Photo by Victor Xok on Unsplash

So on my 45 minute ride I pledged to count up to ten breaths, five different times that I noticed my mind had wandered. Not perfect, but better than being lost in thought the whole ride.

You can also go to your breathing when there’s simply nothing else going on, like when driving. Or you can do it as a quick break from writing, cooking or just about any activity.

If Thich Nhat Hanh does this so can we

By the way, this isn’t something that only lay practitioners of mindfulness employ. I’ll never forget watching Oprah interview the great Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. She asked him how, as an activist and a famous, highly sought-after spiritual teacher, he dealt with stress in his life TNH’s answer was so simple. He said, “If I ever have stress, I just come back to my breathing.” That’s all he said.

What are the obstacles to doing this? Eckhart says the only real challenge is remembering to do it. And the best way to get yourself to remember to go to your breathing is simply to commit to it.

Start with breathing while waiting

A good place to start would be using your will to notice whenever you are waiting for something. At the car wash, grocery store, red light…Then go to your breathing.

The net result of doing this will be a diminution of your ego and the consequent amplification of consciousness in you. The cost-benefit on this is sky high: The cost is spending some moments throughout your day focused on your breathing in exchange for the benefit of doing the most important thing any human can do; increasing our consciousness.

It’s a great deal. Take it.

Meditation

The 3 Ways We Can Respond to Emotional Upset: Express, Suppress or Watch

When a person or situation upsets us, we have three ways we can respond: Express, suppress or watch. Only one of these three works.

The bad news is that few of us choose the right response. The good news is that consistently choosing the right way of responding puts us on a glide path to experiencing real, sustained joy in our lives. I’ll tell you how later on, after describing the two responses that DON’T work.

What’s emotional upset?

First, let me explain what I mean by emotional upset so we’re on the same page. It’s how you feel after your boss lobs a passive aggressive comment your way about your work performance; or how you feel after seeing your girlfriend talking with her ex at a party; or how you feel when your husband calls you an idiot for missing the deadline to sign your daughter up for soccer. You get the drift.

What happens in each of these and millions of other examples is that we feel a disturbance inside. That disturbance can be characterized as a field of energy that has been aroused. It’s energy that we’ve stored, for decades in many cases, in our lower selves that wants to flow upward.

The soccer mom explodes

Let’s use the idiot/soccer mom sign up example to explain the three ways she can respond to this energy being aroused in her. The first is to express. What does that mean? It means that she blows up with all the vitriol she can muster at that SOB husband of hers. “If I wasn’t so busy working because your dumb, lazy ass can’t find a job that comes close to paying even HALF of our bills, maybe I’d do a better job of looking after our kids!” In other words, she lets him have it.

How does that work inside of her? This part is crucial so lean in here. What happens first is the husband’s words stir up the energy in mom’s lower self.

Immediately after that, a second, different energy comes into play. It’s the energy that reaches up to her consciousness/seat of self and tries to pull that consciousness down into that lower energy. Once that second energy succeeds in yanking mom’s consciousness downward and into the “fight,” it’s all over…except for the shouting, literally.

So what happens to that lower energy as World War III rages on? It goes out from down below, but not up. This is what we mean by blowing off steam. We just let it rip.

Blowing up is good, right? Wrong

And many believe that that is the best course of action. “Better to let it out than hold it in!” The problem is, expressing doesn’t do anything about fully releasing the energy that’s stuck there in the first place. It just creates a habit pattern so that that second type of energy continually wins in its quest to lure the conscious self into the battles taking place down south in the lower self. So no, just letting it rip is not the best way to respond.

The second way people respond is by suppressing. You know this one. Here’s how mom would suppress in our example: “Oh, Bob’s just tired from a tough day at work. He didn’t mean anything by it.” With this response the energy just burrows in deeper and tighter…Until the day mom explodes like Krakatoa and goes full Lorena Bobbitt on Bob or rushes upstairs, packs a few bags, storms out and is never heard from again…by Bob or the kids. This is obviously the worse of these first two responses.

A note about Michael Singer

Quick detour then I’ll head back. I know this all may sound like spiritual ‘woo-woo’ gobbledygook, using words like ‘consciousness’ and ‘lower energy,’ etc., but 1. These concepts come straight from the teachings of Michael Singer, which, far from being made up on the fly, derive from five decades of experiencing and studying concepts that have been taught for nearly 3,000 years; and 2. They make absolute sense. As I’ve suggested in many previous articles, I can’t recommend highly enough studying Singer’s teachings. Go to Soundstrue.com for his talks or Amazon for his bestselling books The Untethered Soul and The Surrender Experiment.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. The winning response is behind…drum roll please…door number three, watch. What does it mean to respond by watching? This gets pretty in depth but it’s worth going there. Why? Because this process of watching lies at the heart of all spiritual growth.

How our soccer mom watches

I’ll explain watching by going back to our example. Bob calls mom an idiot. Mom feels the lower energy aroused. She very shortly thereafter feels the pull of that second energy trying to suck her consciousness into the fight. The only real work involved for mom, and everybody else practicing this, occurs in that moment of pull. Instead of allowing herself to be pulled down, mom immediately places all of her focus on relaxing her entire body, especially her stomach and chest area. She simultaneously leans away from those energies.

Once she has done that, all mom has to do is watch that energy disturbance in her lower self. “Bob called me an idiot for forgetting to sign Lydia up for soccer.” She just watches the feeling that arouses. She does this without judging it. Without getting involved with it. Where is she watching from? From her seat of self/consciousness, while leaning away.

So again, the only real work involved is to relax and lean away from the tendency/energy that wants to suck you down into the vortex of whatever emotional disturbance is taking place. In our example it’s anger. But it could also be emotions/feelings of jealousy, envy, fear, worry, disappointment and many more.

Knowing there are two selves involved

It’s critical to point out what this concept presumes; namely, that there are two entities involved here. 1. The egoic/conditioned self that feeds off of the drama these energy disturbances provide. And 2. The real you. The conscious self that doesn’t want anything to do with your inner soap operas.

The problem for most people is they don’t even realize they have this real, conscious self that can do the watching. They assume they are all egoic self so their only options are getting involved with the disturbing energy or suppressing it.

Step one on the spiritual path is realizing you are comprised of these two entities. Step two, which is a lifetime of work, is letting go of that egoic self so that the conscious self is the only thing driving the car of your life.

The key is getting the energy to flow up

Back to the energy. What happens when we simply relax and watch it? The energy is loosened and flows up and out of us. And that is the true meaning of letting go of ourselves. All those hurts, jealousies, fears, sensitivities…when they arise in our lower selves and we relax, lean away and watch, rather than get involved with them…they rise up and out of us.

And what happens when we do that over and over, for months and years, and remove those blockages that prevent our energy from flowing smoothly upward? We feel great. We also feel more present because there’s less egoic self to pull our consciousness away from the moment and into the dramas that fuel it.

Why is there less egoic self? Because we’ve let go of it. The egoic self is emotional baggage we’ve thrown off the plane, allowing us to fly through the sky lighter and with more ease.

The takeaway

So what does this all add up to? First, that expressing or suppressing when faced with emotional upset does nothing to let go of the energy in your lower self that wants to come up and out of you.

Second, and most important, it should be apparent by now that emotional disturbances are actually opportunities for us to let go of our baggage. It’s hard to let go of this energy unless it is aroused. So the next time you get mad or jealous or envious, etc., try to look at it as a positive. Then relax, lean away and watch that energy as it rises up and out of you.

It’s not easy, especially in the beginning. Why? Because we’ve been either expressing or suppressing our entire lives. Like learning the violin, calculus or French, doing this successfully takes practice. And commitment.

But make no mistake: Letting go of the egoic self is the most important work any human can perform. Because the net result of clearing out all that emotional garbage we all have is to allow us to access and eventually become the brilliant, wise and, most important, compassionate being that resides in all of us.

Meditation

The Tao Te Ching’s Wisdom Regarding Work Is Invaluable

Thousands of books about work, work habits, what to do, what not to do, have been written by a plethora of brilliant minds over the millennia, especially in the last fifty years. I’ve read some (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey comes to mind), but certainly not all.

For my money, the most profound advice of all regarding work comes from a short passage in my favorite book of wisdom, the Tao te Ching, written 2,500 years ago by Lao Tzu.

From Chapter 24:

“He who clings to his work will create nothing that endures. If you want to accord with the Tao, just do your job, then let go.”

That’s it. Just do your job then let it go. What does that mean?

Let’s start with what this would mean for a Medium writer. It means work your ass off on the article you’re working on. Put in all the blood, sweat, toil and tears you can muster to make it the best it can be. Then submit it and move on to your next piece.

What shouldn’t you do? Check your stats page every five minutes to see how many reads you’ve gotten. Or call every friend you have and see what they think about your latest feat of brilliance. Or spend ten percent of your time writing and ninety percent pushing it on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

Those are examples of clinging to your work. It is an enormous energy suck and diverts your attention from where it needs to be: On your work.

But what about marketing?

I know some will push back and say, “I’m fine with putting your heart and soul into your writing, but unless you market the hell out of it nobody is going to read it. So why bother even writing it?” I’ll agree that some level of marketing is necessary, but my point is that the vast majority of our time and energy needs to be placed on the work itself.

Why? Because it’s a win-win-win. Win number one is that your work will be the best it can be, and that gives it the best chance of breaking through. Win number two is the feeling of deep pleasure and satisfaction derived from a job well done, whether your piece is read by 4 or 40,000 people. Win number three is saving yourself all the time and energy you waste when clinging to your work.

This entire scenario is true for all lines of work. Whether you’re a tax accountant, flight attendant, entrepreneur with a startup…it doesn’t matter. Put your focus on doing great work and then let it go…Then do more great work and let that go.

Teddy Roosevelt did the Tao

There are countless examples of estimable people following the Tao’s advice on work. Theodore Roosevelt (TR) immediately comes to mind. Whether as a New York Assemblyman, Police Commissioner, Governor or President of the United States, TR always said the key to his success was throwing himself into his work and letting the chips fall where they may.

As President in 1906 he dispensed the following advice to the 28-year-old, newly elected Speaker of the New York Assembly, James Wolcott Wadsworth, Jr.:

“I very early became convinced that if I wished to have a good time in public life and to keep my self-respect by doing good service, it paid me to think only of the work that was actually up, to do it as well as I knew how, and to let the future absolutely take care of itself…I believe that you have a future before you, and this future will come not through scheming on your part but by giving first-class service to the State.”

Scheming. I love TR’s use of that word. Have you ever worked with a schemer? Someone who puts all their energy into cozying up to the boss and working their way up the ladder rather than on the actual work? I know I have. I worked in Hollywood for fifteen years as a writer for television and films and scheming was rampant.

Larry Gelbart, the non-schemer

You know who didn’t scheme in Hollywood? Larry Gelbart, creator of MASH and writer of Tootsie and scads of other good films. Gelbart was renowned for working on a script, finishing it, giving it to his agent and then getting to work on his next project. He didn’t call his agent every ten minutes asking if any studios had expressed interest in his script, like 99.9% of all other Hollywood writers did (including me).

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Photo by AB on Unsplash

By all accounts, the legendary Steve Jobs also employed the Taoist approach to work. He gave everything he had, which was a lot, to making every product he worked on the absolute best it could be. He drove his employees crazy doing it because he worked so hard, but you can’t argue with the success of his products. And after he launched something, it was on to the next thing.

So for your sanity and overall sense of well-being, consider taking Lao Tzu up on his advice: Do your work then let it go.

Now it’s on to my next article…

Meditation

Mindfulness Practices In Schools Are Working — It’s Time To Teach What’s Behind Them

The use of mindfulness practices in schools has been growing for several years. Even better, it appears to be working. Kids behave better in school, do better academically and improve their overall focus. (mindfulschools.org) This is absolutely fantastic for all involved — kids, teachers and parents.

But we’re missing a mammoth opportunity by restricting this to mindfulness practices only. Teaching kids the underpinnings of mindfulness is monumentally important. In fact, it could be the most valuable information kids learn in the entirety of their K-12 education.

Bold statement? Yes. True? I wholeheartedly believe so. Here’s why.

Educating about our inner world

I’ve written extensively of my studying of Eckhart Tolle’s teachings so it’s not surprising that it was he who brought this subject to my attention. Eckhart, who studied at Cambridge and has a serious academic orientation, laments that we cram our kids’ heads with so much math, science, language, history and the like, but teach literally nothing about arguably the most significant thing they will need to navigate the rest of their lives: knowledge of their inner world and how and why it operates as it does.

I can see many people reacting to that with, “Whoa, Nellie. Inner world? I don’t know if I want schools teaching my kid about his/her inner world.” I get it. So let me state what helping kids with their inner worlds is NOT before I tell you what I think we should teach them.

Not about psychology or religion

It doesn’t mean dealing with psychology. That is for pediatric psychologists and counselors to deal with. It also doesn’t mean teaching kids religion or about spiritual traditions. That is for churches and temples.

So what does teaching kids about their inner worlds actually mean? I’ll answer that by doing two things. First, I’ll outline briefly what I see as the main problem facing kids today. And if there’s one word that best sums up that problem it would be anxiety.

The teen anxiety epidemic

Some amount of anxiety is normal for kids, especially those in junior high and high school. Bodies are developing, hormones are raging and brains are transforming.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been more self-conscious than when my forehead broke out in pimples in seventh grade. I had trouble enough as it was talking to girls, but when that happened? Forget about it. I took myself out of the game and sat on the proverbial bench until my skin cleared in eighth grade.

Today, though, anxiety among teenagers has risen to levels far beyond normal. According to the National Institutes of Health one in three kids between 13 and 18 will develop an anxiety disorder. And hospital admissions for suicidal teenagers has doubled in the past ten years. (healthychildren.org)

Why teens are so anxious

What’s causing this epidemic in teen anxiety? Social media and the pressures it places on teens is a big one. As is academic pressure to do well and get into a big name college. Add to that the effect that school shootings and terrorist incidents put on kids’ overall feeling of safety and it becomes understandable why this generation of teens is so anxious. The only one of these three causes I had to deal with as a teen in the late 70’s and early 80’s was academic pressure and even that wasn’t as big a deal as it is today.

And how are we treating kids with anxiety? The more serious cases are treated with therapy (especially Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and antidepressants. Studies show that 80% of teens treated with both of these therapies showed significant reduction or outright elimination of their anxiety after twelve weeks.(healthychildren.org)

Mindfulness and meditation practices also help treat anxiety. But it would do teens a lifetime of good if they understood the basics behind why these practices make them feel better. Why? Because the better they understand them the more likely they are to incorporate meditation and mindfulness into their lives for the long haul. And THAT would be profoundly beneficial to those kids and to the world at large.

So what are these underpinnings of mindfulness I propose should be taught? Three main areas: homo sapiens evolutionary history, basic brain science and the rudiments of the human psyche. None of these would require in depth study. The basics will do. Let’s explore each of the three.

1. Our Homo Sapiens Brains

After 5 million years of evolving from primates, around 200,000 years ago our species, Homo Sapiens, arrived on the scene. For the next 190,000 years our ancestors lives were pretty simple: roam around hunting for food and gathering berries, nuts and other edibles. That’s it.

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What’s important for our purposes is that that life was lived pretty much lived in the moment; as such, our brains evolved accordingly. In other words, the amygdala, the emotion center of our brain described below, sounded the alarm for valid concerns, like that saber-toothed tiger trying to turn you into his version of a prehistoric Happy Meal.

The agricultural revolution changes everything

Then 10,000 years ago the most important revolution in the history of humankind occurred: We figured out how to grow food and domesticate animals. The result? We stopped hunting, gathering and roaming and stayed put.

Over the successive millennia this resulted in villages, then cities, then empires. In the last hundred years and change, it meant telephones, airplanes, computers, the internet and then in 2007 the iPhone.

What has that done to humankind, especially teenagers? It has made us crazy. Why? Here’s the brilliant mathematical equation I devised that explains this phenomenonPrehistoric Brains + Modern Problems = Humanity Insanity.

This is absolutely true. Our brains, which are virtually the same as they were 100,000 years ago, evolved to live off nature. If you saw a berry on the ground, you picked it up and ate it. If you killed a woolly mammoth, you didn’t cut it up, fill a bunch of plastic bags and store it in your freezer. You ate it.

What our brains were NOT programmed to do

These brains of ours that were programmed to deal with present moment living essentially malfunction when they are forced to face things like mortgage payments, college preparatory exams and how many people “liked” your Facebook post about your super cool spring break trip to Jamaica with your three besty high school girlfriends (“The dreadlocks photo alone should have gotten 100 likes. 27? WAHHHH!”).

Our attention 50,000 years ago was on what was right in front of us. That same attention now gets hijacked by our overactive minds into involuntary thoughts about that mortgage payment, upcoming SAT test and lack of Facebook likes…literally hundreds of times a day.

We need to teach our teens why their minds produce all this needless anxiety. Because after doing so, we then turn to the good news about what meditation and mindfulness do to counteract the deficiencies of our obsolete brains.

2. The Brain

This is a massive subject, but for our purposes it comes down to explaining two areas of the brain: the aforementioned amygdala and the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The amygdala is the emotion center of the brain and is part of the more primitive limbic system. It evolved to help alert us to danger and whether we should fight or flee…again, if that saber-toothed tiger appeared out of nowhere.

The problem is that our amygdala has not evolved with our life circumstances. So when a teen has a panic attack the morning of taking their SAT tests, that is their amygdala overreacting to something it thinks is actually life threatening. A large, overactive amygdala is at the heart of most anxiety issues.

Studies at Harvard have shown that meditation has the effect of reducing the size and activity of the amygdala. Teens should be taught that.

The prefrontal cortex — the cool cucumber

The prefrontal cortex is the newest and most advanced part of the human brain. Located behind the forehead and eyes, the PFC is responsible for a wide variety of executive functions that include managing emotional reactions and impulse control. Most important for this discussion, the PFC acts as an inhibitory influence on its more primitive relative, the amygdala.

What does that mean? If you look down in your garden and see what looks like a snake, your amygdala sends signals throughout your body to beware. When, upon focusing in, you realize that it’s only a garden hose wrapped up, it is your PFC that tells the amygdala and the rest of your body to calm down. False alarm.

Similarly, if a teen awakens tied up in knots because they have an AP English exam that morning, it is their PFC that tries to talk their “my life is over unless I get an A on this test” amygdala down from the ledge.

After teaching teens this, we then expose them to the Harvard studies showing that meditation not only shrinks the worry wart amygdala, it also thickens the walls of the cool cucumber PFC. The net effect of all this is an overall reduction in anxiety. Teens should know this.

3. The Two Selves

This third topic is the most important, but also the most problematic, the why of which I’ll get to shortly. First, what are the two selves?

Eckhart Tolle’s I/Myself epiphany

I’ll explain by using the epiphany Eckhart Tolle had at age 29 one night while mired in a suicidal depression. While reeling in severe psychic pain the thought came to him, “I don’t know if I can live with myself anymore.” Right then, it occurred to him, “Hold on. Who is this ‘I’ and who is this ‘myself’? They seem to be two separate entities.”

And, of course, they are. They’re the two selves. The ‘I’ he refers to is the conscious self. This is our true self. It’s the self that exists when we are rooted in the present moment and not lost in a stream of thoughts. It’s our consciousness.

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The ‘myself’ that Eckhart said he couldn’t live with is the egoic/conditioned self that constantly pulls our attention away from the conscious/present self into our thought factory mind. This egoic self is extremely powerful and dominates the conscious self in most people. And boy does it ever dominate darn near 100% of teenagers’ psyches.

So what do we teach teens about these two selves? Some version, obviously more expanded, of what I just wrote.

A potentially problematic issue

This could be problematic, as you might imagine, because some parents might view this as an intrusion into their religious or spiritual beliefs. The fact is that this two selves concept lies at the heart of Buddhism, Hinduism and other spiritual teachings. But there’s no reason it needs to be taught as part of any religion or tradition.

This two selves concept could simply be taught as something that is inherent in humans. And that meditation and mindfulness serve to strengthen the real, conscious self and weaken the powerful hold that the egoic self exerts over teens and the rest of us.

Why would teaching teens about this be helpful? Because they’ll start to recognize that all those crazy thoughts and feelings they’re having aren’t who they are. And the more they meditate and practice mindfulness the better they will get at freeing their conscious selves from the clutches of their egoic selves, which will give them the all-important ability to observe their anxious thoughts and feelings rather than become consumed by them.

The net result of all of this? A whole lot less anxiety for our teenagers.

What age group should be targeted?

Who should we teach all this to? Again, junior high and high schoolers. Most elementary school students aren’t developed enough to absorb this material so we should continue their meditation and mindfulness practices as many schools currently are.

Where should it be taught? The likeliest candidate is some version of a health class, which most schools teach. My seventh grade son takes a life skills class which also seems germane to the material.

Unlocking the door to ourselves

Frankly, I don’t care where it is taught, the point is, it should be taught. Developing the ability to calm the mind and step outside and observe our chattering minds rather than get swept up in them is, arguably, the most valuable skill any human can learn. Calming our minds doesn’t just make us feel more peaceful and stable; it also unlocks the door to the room where the beautiful, brilliant, creative being resides in all of us. A being most people never access because it is squelched by our overactive minds.

So what’s the takeaway for this entire piece? This: If our teenagers not only practiced meditation and mindfulness but understood the foundations of how they work and why they are so beneficial, a big chunk of them would carry these practices with them for the rest of their lives.

I can’t imagine anything more valuable for our teens and for our world.

Meditation

What You Can Learn From My New Year’s Resolution

As someone who has devoted his professional life to writing about and teaching meditation, mindfulness and the all-around spiritual path, I thought it might be helpful to those interested in this arena to know what my 2021 New Year’s resolution is. In other words, what does someone who has dived headfirst into the spiritual ocean think is THE most important endeavor to pursue?

First, I think it’s critical to go through resolutions one might think I’d pursue. The following are all important to growth on the path…They’re just not, in my experience, the MOST important. Here are four major, growth-inducing resolutions I didn’t choose.

1. Boost My Meditation Practice: I currently meditate once a day in the morning for fifteen minutes. In 2020 I probably missed five total days. But I could’ve decided to increase the amount and frequency in 2021 to, say, twenty minutes, twice a day by adding an afternoon session. Would that be helpful? Absolutely. And maybe someday I will do this. But it’s not the most important thing I can do.

2. Boost My Mindfulness Practice: I also could have ramped up my mindfulness practice. How? There are myriad ways. I could resolve to stop at least four times a day, when feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and take five deep, conscious breaths. Or resolve to take a walk once a day and watch and listen to the birds, my favorite conscious creatures. Or go outside three times a day and look up at the sky while taking five conscious breaths. Or do all three of those things. This would definitely strengthen my ability to live in the present moment. But it’s not the most important thing I can do.

3. Surrender: This was actually my resolution for 2019. What is it? Any time you feel yourself resisting anything in life, you just surrender to it. You flow with life rather than constantly fighting against it. I love this one. But it’s not the most important thing I can do.

4. Be More Compassionate: I’m a firm believer that what we find at the end of the spiritual path, the final stop on the trail, is not about eternal inner bliss. Or constant feelings of nirvana. In other words, it’s not about achieving something great for ourselves. No, the final state that we reach is one of pure compassion. A state where everything we do, every contact we have, raises others up. So I could have resolved to work on being more compassionate. But it’s not the most important thing I can do.

So what is this grand resolution that I chose for 2021? It is this:

“Keep letting go of David Gerken.”

Yep. That’s it. It’s about letting go.

Of what? Me. More specifically, the egoic, conditioned me. That’s the me that I, and all of us, have cobbled together since we were kids and into adulthood. It’s the me that feels the need to feel superior to others, that feels slighted at a verbal dig, that has to feel ‘right’ while everyone else is ‘wrong.’

It’s the egoic me that constantly steals my attention from the real, conscious me. Why is that egoic, conditioned me so darn successful in stealing my attention away? Because it is unbelievably strong!

I wrote a piece last year on Medium about this entire subject that you can find here. In it I give the technique that Mickey Singer, author of The Untethered Soul, offers for actually letting go of yourself.

Letting go is central to most traditions

Because letting go, as Mickey Singer, the Buddhists and many other spiritual traditions assert, sits at the top of the spiritual pyramid. What does that mean?

I’ll explain by looking back at those four resolutions I didn’t choose. Meditation and mindfulness are, at their core, about helping us live in the present moment. But unless I let go of that egoic, conditioned self that is constantly dragging my attention into thoughts about the past and future, living in the moment will be extremely difficult to pull off.

Unless I let go of that egoic, conditioned self that feeds off of and seeks drama in my daily life, it’ll be near impossible for me to surrender to difficult situations and just flow with life.

And unless I let go of that egoic, conditioned self that expends all of my energy on the futile pursuit of manipulating the external world to satisfy my inner needs, I will not be capable of accessing that deep and beautiful place inside me (and inside all of us) where compassion resides.

Commitment and inner strength is all it takes

Letting go of yourself. It’s everything. And it requires only two things: commitment and inner strength. Commitment to go for it and stick with it, day after day, month after month, year after year. Once you understand the centrality of letting go of yourself, making this commitment will be a no-brainer.

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Then there’s the inner strength required to actually do the letting go. Like when your significant other gets in your face about something and every fiber of your egoic self wants to react with fury, but you dig deep for a few precious seconds, relax, let go of yourself, then respond from a place of presence.

Or you grew up in a household that promoted fear of failure. Now you’re 35, starting a new job and have persistent feelings of anxiety over your fear of failing in the new gig. This requires the strength to: 1. Notice these conditioned feelings of fear when they arise, then 2. Relax and let go of them.

Or you grew up a spoiled kid who constantly got their way and who now pouts as an adult when things don’t go exactly as you’d like them. When one of those disappointments comes up, you summon the strength to notice it and let it go. Again and again and again.

As time goes on, the egoic baggage we’ve all stored inside us for so long dissipates. And as it does, we get closer and closer to that calm and compassionate real, beautiful self residing in all of us.

Meditation

Use These Eckhart Tolle and Tao te Ching Quotes on Gratitude To Jumpstart Your 2021

I’ve paid twenty bucks a month for ten years to subscribe to Eckhart Tolle’s website. Every week he sends out an email called a present moment reminder that contains a quote from one of his writings. At this point I’ve received several hundred of them.

Out of those hundreds of quotes, twelve have stood out above all others; i.e., I keep them in my email inbox to peruse periodically. And I’m not one of those people with 3,000 emails in his inbox. I keep mine clean and minimal.

My Eckhart only inbox

In fact, guess how many emails I have in my inbox right now? Twelve. Just the Eckhart quotes.

The oldest of these, the one that has stood the longest test of time, is one that I received on February 13, 2013. It is this:

“Acknowledging the good that is already in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”

Wow. I really love this one.

At its core it’s about gratitude. Specifically, it’s about the profound, positive influence that gratitude can bestow on those who choose to centralize it in their lives. It’s about surveying your circumstances and constantly coming down on the side of what you have rather than constantly ruminating about what is missing in your life. To put it in today’s parlance, it’s about cultivating an attitude of gratitude.

The Tao strikes again

Eckhart’s quote is reminiscent of another found in Lao Tzu’s sage book the Tao te Ching. From Chapter 44:

“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

Another “wow” expression of the concept of gratitude. It’s my favorite passage from my favorite book of wisdom. So sublimely eloquent.

And that’s really what this piece is about — the eloquent expression of the power of gratitude. God knows we hear about gratitude 24/7 these days from books, articles, podcasts, you name it. But I find that when it’s expressed so beautifully, as in these examples, it burrows deeper into my being than when others talk about it.

Two practical suggestions for you

So here are a few suggestions to consider. First, with the new year starting tomorrow, give some thought to placing gratitude toward the top of your 2021 resolutions. To fuel this resolution, write out these two fantastic quotes and place them on your fridge or desk or wherever you will see them frequently.

Second, download a free app called Gratitude from the App Store. It will help you develop a regular gratitude practice through simple journaling and other cool features.

2020 has been a tough year for billions of us earthlings. One way we can put it in the rearview mirror is to bound into 2021 with a renewed focus on all the good that already exists in our lives.

Onward and upward.

Meditation

The Best 2021 New Year’s Resolution: Working On Yourself

With the new year fast approaching, millions of us will decide in the days ahead what we want to focus on in 2021. Many with holiday guilt will choose to lose ten pounds, workout more, drink less or all of the above. Others may decide they want to read more, travel more or save more. All great ideas.

But I’d submit that there’s only one resolution we need to commit to. And then recommit to every January 1. And that resolution is…

Working on ourselves.

First, a mea culpa: It’s beyond presumptuous to proclaim to know the best new year’s resolution for everybody. But if you’ve read any of my previous pieces you know of my fervent belief that working to get our inner houses in order is the most important endeavor any human can pursue.

All problems emanate from inside

Why is that? If I could sum it up in one sentence it would be this: Almost every problem, challenge or hardship we face can be traced to our inner life being out of order.

And if I had to sum up why that is true in one sentence it would be this: We humans spend our lives in the futile pursuit of external solutions that we think will solve our internal needs.

-If I become a successful doctor I’ll feel happy inside.

-If I marry the perfect man and have a slew of kids I’ll feel happy inside.

-If I go to an Ivy League college I’ll feel happy inside.

The external world can’t make you happy

If if if if if…It’s always, ‘If something “good” happens externally in the future I’ll be okay inside.’ The problem? It never works. Ever. For anybody. Sure, it can work in the short term, but never in the long term.

For the answer to why look no further than the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism — 1. Life is suffering; 2. Suffering is caused by desire (synonymous with seeking external gratification), 3. Eliminate desire and you eliminate suffering.

So how do we eliminate desire/seeking external gratification? That’s the Fourth Noble Truth which lays out the Eightfold Path for achieving this. But that gets too thinky and complicated for me. The good news is, I think I can sum it all up in one sentence:

WORK ON YOUR INSIDES SO YOU DON’T NEED THE EXTERNAL WORLD TO MAKE YOU HAPPY.

As Mickey Singer would say, you live in there. You may as well clean it up and make it as nice a place to live as possible.

Which brings us to the $64,000 question of our show: How do we work on our insides? A 20,000 page book could be written about that, but let’s sift it down to a few basic, doable things you can commit to starting January 1, 2021.

  1. Start a Regular Meditation Practice
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Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

Nothing would be more beneficial for your inner well-being than developing a regular meditation practice. Why? The short answer is that most of the reason your inner world is out of whack is because your egoic, conditioned self rules the roost over your conscious, real self. This is true for virtually all humans. It’s not even a close battle. It’s me playing Rafa Nadal on a clay court.

How does this inner drubbing manifest? Mostly in the form of our conditioned minds creating and spewing unhelpful thoughts 24/7 that torment and inhibit us.

Separating the two selves

Meditation helps to separate these two selves to the point that our conscious selves can simply observe our out of control, egoic selves. For most people, the egoic self is all there is. It’s who we identify with as who we are.

So one person thinks they’re a neurotic worrywart who can’t stop thinking about all the calamities that always seem to lay ahead, but rarely come to pass. No, they are not a neurotic worrywart. Their true identity is the consciousness that is aware of those worrisome thoughts.

Another person thinks they are worthless to the world. They aren’t. Their true identity is the consciousness that is aware of those thoughts of worthlessness.

Still another person thinks they are the smartest, prettiest, most talented human on the face of the earth. They aren’t. They are the consciousness that is aware of those perceptions of their traits.

What is meditation?

Bringing it all together, meditation is simply the practice of placing attention on something happening in the present moment, like your breathing or sounds or any number of things. Then when your attention wanders into thinking, we just notice that and bring our attention back to what we were focusing on.

When we do that, we are NOT stuck in our heads being dominated by involuntary thoughts. Over time, the conscious, real you becomes stronger and the thought factory, egoic mind becomes weaker.

That sentence you just read really is the totality of the spiritual path. The best way to get on that path is to start a regular meditation practice. If you’re looking for a place to get started, go to davidgerken.net where you’ll find my free, easy to follow program for regular people like me.

2. Start a Mindfulness Practice

All mindfulness is is being present in our daily lives. For our purposes, the most important aspect of mindfulness is practicing becoming aware when we get lost in thought in our everyday lives and bringing attention back to whatever’s happening in our present moment.

For example, you’re in the checkout line at the supermarket and you notice that your mind has wandered to worrying if your girlfriend is still into you. That’s not part of your present moment, right? So bring your attention back to what you’re doing — standing in line.

As the great Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh famously said:

“When you’re doing the dishes, be there doing the dishes…”

As for a specific practice to follow, keep it simple in the beginning. It’s just two parts:

1. Make a commitment that, starting January 1, 2021, you are going to practice becoming aware when your mind wanders into thinking during your daily life.

2. Once you notice that you’ve drifted into thinking during your day, try one of these simple techniques for returning your attention to the present moment.

a. Close your eyes, take three deep breaths, then open your eyes and relax into the moment.

b. Notice five different things in your present surroundings. If you’re at the store this could be: cashier’s horn-rimmed glasses, Oprah on cover of People Magazine, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, fan on ceiling and running shoes on woman in front of me. This will ground you in the moment.

c. If you’re outside, do your three deep breaths as you look up at the vast expanse of the sky.

Do whichever one of these resonates with you. That’s all you have to do. Commit to becoming aware when you’ve become lost in thought and then do one of those three things to get you back in the moment.

3. Let Go of Yourself

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Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Mickey Singer, many Buddhists and Hindus would say that letting go of yourself is the purpose of one’s life. The key question is, what ‘self’ are you to let go of?

The answer? That conditioned, egoic self that isn’t the real, conscious you.

How do we let go of that egoic self? I like Mickey Singer’s teaching on this. He counsels that we need to be on the lookout for when one of our buttons has been pushed.

Getting your buttons pushed

What does he mean by getting a button pushed? Some are what he calls low-hanging fruit, like that feeling of annoyance/anger we get when someone in front of us drives 25 MPH in a 45 MPH zone.

An example of a more serious type would be someone who since childhood has always considered themselves not smart. So they’re at a dinner party at age 45 where somebody mentions some historical fact about World War II that everybody else but them seems to know. They feel a deep, painful button pushed inside.

Mickey’s three step technique

What’s Mickey’s technique for dealing with these situations? We do three simple things:

1. We notice that our button has been pushed;

2. We relax our head, shoulders, arms, chest/heart and stomach and then lean away from where we are feeling that pushed button to give that feeling room to soften;

3. Finally, we literally let go of that feeling. Feel it release up and out of us.

When we do this time and time and time again, day after day, month after month, year after year, slowly but surely that self-critical, thought crazy, egoic self that dominates most of us starts to dissipate. The result is an overall inner calm that is priceless and beyond words.

How do you set up this up as a “program” to start January 1? It’s the exact same as with the mindfulness component (which this is really a subset of). You just 1) Commit to noticing when your buttons get pushed; then 2) Notice, relax and let go, just as stated above.

Therapy is also helpful

If you’re experiencing serious inner pain in your life, a fourth area to consider is psychotherapy. I’ve done therapy on and off since my early 20’s and have found it exceedingly helpful in making sense of inner turmoil, something that is essential to resolving our deeper core issues.

I’ve set out a number of areas here for working on yourself, but don’t let that daunt you. If doing it all seems like too much, pick one or two and make those your 2021 resolutions.

Final thoughts

Of one thing I’m certain, though. Until you dive in and do things like meditation, mindfulness, letting go of yourself and therapy — i.e., do the hard work it takes to get your inner house in order — life will always be some level of hard. The good news is, all of this work I’ve suggested is eminently doable.

You just need to commit to doing that work. January 1 is always a great day to get started…

Meditation

An Effective Long-Term Weight Loss Solution: Meditation

Many millions of trees sacrificed their lives providing paper for all the books and articles about diets, dieting and weight loss. Low fat. Low carb. High protein. Paleo. Atkins. Mediterranean. It’s never ending.

I don’t have any qualms about any of these. I’m sure they work for the people who do them…for as long as they do them. But how many people actually stay on a diet for the rest of their lives? Not many. Which leads to the proverbial yo-yo, up and down, lose fifteen, gain eighteen, lose twenty, gain twenty path that so many weight loss aspirants travel.

The annoying Jennifers

I don’t mean to be flippant about this. Weight loss, dieting, body image…it’s an area that dominates the emotional landscape of many millions of people, especially women in America who are tormented every time they wait in a supermarket checkout line and are bombarded by the perfect bodies of Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Garner and Jennifer Lawrence on the cover of Vapid Magazine (aka Glamour, Cosmo, Elle, Vogue…take your pick).

Fine. So people go on and off diets and their weights fluctuate wildly. Nothing new there.

There’s also nothing new about what has come next in the evolution of the weight loss/dieting debate. The smart people in this area say we don’t need to diet; we need to change our eating habits.

The three food culprits

What does that mean? Eating less refined sugar is definitely numero uno, followed by avoiding refined carbs and trans fats.

Which begs the question: Why do people eat badly, i.e., consume lots of sweets, carbs and fried foods? For most people the answer can be summed up in one word: stress.

Why does stress make you eat more, bad food? Because when we get stressed, our levels of a hormone called cortisol rise. Cortisol makes us crave sugary, salty and fatty foods, because our brains think they need fast fuel to fight whatever threat is causing the stress.

Ben & Jerry’s strikes again

Making matters worse, these unhealthy sugary, fatty foods actually turn off the mechanism in our brains that send out the signal that we are full. That’s why we tend to eat the entire pint (or two) of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey after a stressful day at work! (The Active Times, July 15, 2015, Katie Rosenbrock)

This, then, is where the focus of the weight-loss world needs to be — on reducing stress. I’ve relied on exercise to slay my stress for going on forty years. And of course there are myriad other salutary ways to reduce stress.

But in terms of stress reduction to facilitate weight loss, nothing is more effective than meditation. Meditation contributes in two main ways.

Meditation slays cortisol

First, it reduces cortisol in our system. A 2013 University of California-Davis (Saron et al) study found that meditation cut cortisol levels by more than half. (EOC Institute). This shouldn’t be the least bit surprising as the chief result of meditation is the calming of the mind which calms the entire being.

But it’s in the second area that meditation offers weight-loss seekers something that exercise and the other stress reduction techniques don’t. And that is the ability to do the inner work necessary to change our eating habits.

What inner work? Specifically, meditation trains us to be able to observe ourselves from a place of objectivity and nonjudgment.

See cookie, eat cookie

What the heck does that mean? When we eat from a place of emotion and stress, we ARE that emotion and stress. So we see that bag of chocolate chip cookies and there is no entity there to regulate our actions. It’s just see bag, grab bag, open bag, eat cookies until they’re gone.

What meditation does is separate what I call our conscious, true self from the egoic, all powerful, out of control self that dominates in most humans. By separating this conscious self from its dominant big brother, meditation allows that self to observe what big brother is doing.

Meditation strengthens the regulator

The more we meditate and the stronger this conscious self becomes, the better able we are to stop and say, “Okay. I see that bag of cookies. I feel the strong urge to go open it up and devour every cookie in the bag. But if I do that I’ll probably feel terrible in about fifteen minutes. Let’s hold off.”

Bottom line: Meditation strengthens our ability to observe and consequently self-regulate our behaviors. And in the world of dieting and weight-loss I can’t think of anything more important. Because self-regulating our eating really is most of the ball game when it comes to weight-loss.

Not to mention that regular meditation reduces anxiety, depression and chronic pain, strengthens our immune system and improves our focus, among many benefits. More important, meditation makes us calmer, more compassionate human beings.

So if you want to lose weight for the long term and garner all those other profound benefits, get meditating! If you’re looking for a place to start, check out my free program for regular people at davidgerken.net.