Meditation

Meditation

5 Words To Keep Top Of Mind, Especially When You Get Irked

My last article (link) was about my belief that ‘relax’ is the most important word in all of spirituality. Why? Because if we aren’t relaxed it’s difficult to do most anything in the spiritual arena like meditating, practicing mindfulness and not exploding at our spouse when they infuriate us.

I like writing about single words or phrases we can go to for help in different life situations. I’ve written articles about ‘notice,’ heart open,’ ‘Don’t touch it,’ and Flow with life,’ among others.

Why do I do this? Because I find it helpful to have something easy to remember at my fingertips when life gets crazy.

Another one of these “shorties” occurred to me a few days ago:

Get out of the way.

I love this one. Though I’m sure 99 percent of you know what that means, I’ll spell it out: When the ego rears its ugly head, get it out of the way.

What should I do with my life?

This works on matters both macro and micro. On the macro front I use it with the ever-present question of, “What should I be doing with my life?” I don’t know about you, but for decades (my ego) was at the helm of the steering wheel on this one.

That manifested as “What can I do that will make me look successful in the eyes of society? Climb the power ladder in Washington, D.C.? YES! Rise through the writing ranks in Hollywood so I can make a boatload of money and be the envy of my peers? Yes, sir.”

I’m now in the third act of my career, which has been writing about spiritual matters these past four years. And yes, the whole game of “What’s next for me?” does cross my mind, especially lately.

How the old me would’ve handled today

The me of those Washington and Hollywood days would approach this with thoughts of, “How can I maximize everything? Make the most money. Gain the widest audience. It’s time to branch into YouTube videos, Twitter and Instagram” and so on.

But I’m not doing that this time. What I am doing is getting out of the way. I say it a lot.

“So,” you might be asking, “if you’re getting out of the way, who or what is going to determine your path?”

The Universe, that’s who.

I’m focused on doing my best work possible and then letting it go, as it says in chapter 24 of the Tao te Ching:

“If you want to accord with the Tao, just do your job, then let go.”

I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy for someone with my past to ‘get out of the way’ when it comes to this career stuff. But I’m doing it. And I’m trusting it. So far, so good.

Micro petty examples where this works

On the micro/smaller scale of life where this comes in handy are what I call the daily petty annoyances that our egos love to bitch and moan about.

Like what? Here’s a quintessential example that happened to me about four hours ago. I was on my midday bike workout ride. I’m on the sidewalk, where most cyclists ride on this street, and turn right on Dover Road (in Newport Beach)…to find fifteen elderly folks riding towards me on E-bikes. It was mayhem.

Dodging geezer bikers

They weren’t doing anything wrong. It was just annoying that I had to dodge a posse of geriatric E-bikers. My petty, complaining, annoyed ego perked up and was about to do the proverbial roll of the eyes and sigh routine when I caught myself…and said ‘get out of the way.’ Not the bikers! My petty ego. And that’s what I did.

This sounds like a little incident, and it is. But think about how much residual angst we’d save ourselves if we went to ‘get out of the way’ in ten more annoying/petty situations in our day. Every day. For months. Years. It would make an enormous difference in our lives.

Some other examples?

-You feel like someone’s jerking you around in scheduling a lunch and it sets your petty alarm off…Get out of the way.

-Somebody didn’t respond to an important email all day and you feel your nose start to get out of joint…Get out of the way.

-At school drop-off, a mom seemed to go out of her way to avoid saying hello to you and it irked you…Get out of the way.

Remember, YOU are not your ego

It’s important to emphasize that in every one of these scenarios it is not you who is getting irked. It’s your ego. And you are NOT your ego. You are the conscious awareness that notices that your ego has been poked. A sizable chunk of spiritual growth depends on understanding and acknowledging this paragraph.

Of course, you could also use ‘relax’ in most of these situations as I wrote about a few days ago. Or ‘Don’t touch it.’ Or others.

But that’s why I write these things. Because different words, phrases and concepts resonate more for some than others.

The takeaway

So I hope you’ll choose the one or ones that appeal to you and use them. It’s all about adding as many arrows to your spiritual quiver as possible.

Meditation

The Most Important Word in Spirituality

There are many candidates for what I think is the most important word in spirituality. My short list would include presence, non-attachment, non-resistance, breathing, self-realization, stillness, consciousness and awareness.

But there’s one word that, without it, we can’t achieve presence, non-attachment, stillness and all the rest. What’s that magical word?

RELAX.

Surprising, right? But think about it. Is it possible to be present unless we feel relaxed inside? Is it possible to go deep in meditation unless we’re relaxed?

It’s helpful to look at the opposite of relax. Tense. Clenched. Uptight. Resistant. All of those states are anathema to achieving anything in the spiritual realm.

How to relax

How do we induce a relaxed state? We go inside the body and say ‘relax’ in our head; that tells our muscles, brain and every part of our body to loosen up and unclench.

Relaxing is also enhanced by measured, calm, steady breathing. It’s impossible to be relaxed if our breathing is tight and haphazard.

Relaxing in meditation

In my extensive studies of meditation teachers, I’ve found that the cue to relax is the most common. Adyashanti and Peter Russell, my two favorite meditation teachers, both place primary importance on relaxing in meditation. The goal is relaxed awareness.

It’s the same with mindfulness, which is simply the extension of meditation into our daily lives. To take one of my commonly used examples, if you’re waiting in a long line at the grocery store and start to get that annoyed/perturbed feeling, the absolute best thing you can do is go inside yourself and relax.

I can’t think of a situation where telling myself to relax doesn’t work. Wife says something that really angers me…relax. Someone cuts me off in traffic…relax. Mind is racing during a meditation session…relax. Critical point in a tennis match…relax.

Michael Singer and relaxing

My favorite spiritual teacher, Michael Singer, places relaxation at the center of his one and only spiritual technique. He teaches that when a disturbance arises inside us, because of something somebody said or a whole host of other causes, the very first thing to do is relax.

Doing so allows us to loosen the energy the disturbance has brought up to the point where we can then let that trapped energy rise upward as it naturally wants to do. Singer calls this relax and release and it is the only technique he teaches.

Maybe most important, relaxation is a highly effective tool for easing into the present moment. You can’t be in a truly relaxed state AND be stuck in your mind thinking involuntary thoughts.

Putting RELAX into practice

Now we get to the most important part of this article which is about how we can use this information in our lives. It’s nice to learn about spiritual matters, but I like to focus on incorporating this stuff in practical, useable ways.

So what do we do with this ‘relax’ thing? That’s easy.

We use it as our ‘go-to’ word. When? Every day. For how long? The rest of our lives.

When you find yourself rushing for no reason from your car into the grocery store…relax.

When you get annoyed because you just hit the fourth red light in a row…relax.

When your boss says something shitty to you…relax.

When your 13-year-old daughter says something over-the-top mean to you that was 100% about pushing your buttons, relax.

When you find your boyfriend’s dirty workout clothes strewn around the bedroom, after telling him four times in the last week not to do this…relax.

The takeaway

Now do you see why relax is so important? We can use it in any situation where we’ve been poked. And the reason it’s so critical, and why I think it’s the most important word in spirituality, is because relax is the FIRST place we need to go. We do it before we do anything else.

In fact, one could base their entire spiritual practice around doing nothing else but relaxing inside. Frequently. Consistently. All day long…

Until the relaxed state becomes our natural state…which, by the way, it is.

Try it.

Relax…

Meditation

Avoid This Trap in Letting go of Your Ego

I write often about the importance of letting go of our egos. That meditation, mindfulness and other practices can only take us so far on the spiritual path.

Eckhart Tolle tells the story of the American who spent several years in India as a Buddhist monk. He meditated for several hours a day in the monastery, living the quiet life of an ascetic monk.

A monk loses his head

Then one day he traveled to Delhi to attend to a visa issue. After spending several maddening hours waiting in line at the government office, the monk completely lost it and started screaming,

“This is the most inefficient, useless operation I’ve ever encountered! Don’t you people have any clue what you’re doing?! I’ve been waiting in this line for four hours!!!”

Bottom line: Even thousands of hours of meditation didn’t clear this guy’s egoic baggage.

What is this baggage? It’s all the experiences we’ve had in our lives that we didn’t allow to pass through us; that we either clung to or resisted.

Where is all that baggage? Stuck in our lower selves. The Hindu tradition would say they are trapped in our chakras and want nothing more than to be released so they can flow upward.

Trapped energy is the root of our problems

It is this dynamic of trapped energy that underlies the predicament of humanity. Stuck energy robs us of our physical, mental and emotional health. Upward, free-flowing energy produces well-being in all areas. That is what letting go is all about.

So if letting go is the be-all, end-all of spiritual growth, it stands to reason that mastering this process is pretty dang important. What is that process? I’ve described it before, but today’s article is about a crucial piece of the puzzle we need to know if we are to succeed in letting go of our stuff.

Mashed potatoes and butter

I’ll illustrate the entire process with an example. Let’s go with a doozy. Forty-year-old you flies home to have Thanksgiving with your octogenarian parents.

Your mom was always hypercritical of your eating/weight when you were growing up. “Cut to,” as we used to say in Hollywood, the dinner table. You ask mom to pass the butter and she says,

“Oh, don’t worry, honey. I already put butter in the mashed potatoes. You don’t need anymore.”

This passive-aggressive switchblade to your stomach causes the entirety of your insides to rise up…and gird for battle. It’s a classic situation of old, trapped emotional baggage that wants to break free and rise up…if only you’ll let it.

So instead of lunging across the table and grabbing your mom by the neck, here’s what to do instead:

First, the split second you notice that alluring energy beckoning you to dive down into the cauldron of anger in your lower self, you RELAX.All over. Starting in your head, then moving down to your neck, shoulders, chest and belly.

Second, you imagine yourself LEANING AWAY from that anger cauldron down below.

Third, you simply WATCH that anger cauldron/feeling from that distance you’ve created by leaning away.

The trap we need to avoid

Now we get to the trap that many fall for, which is the purpose of this article. People get all the way to this point of watching the feeling, which is a huge feat in itself, and then they want to actively let that feeling go. So they imagine nudging the feeling along. They imagine actively dislodging the feeling so it will break away and flow up.

In other words, they intervene with the feeling as part of letting go. This doesn’t work. As with most everything involving the spiritual path, what works is to get out of the way.

The brilliant Mickey Singer

All of this comes from my favorite teacher, Mickey Singer. This letting go technique is the only practice/technique he teaches.

What does Mickey say about this watching and not intervening issue? That we don’t have to do anything, other than relax and watch.

The beautiful part is what he says causes that trapped emotional packet to ultimately break free and rise up…

Nature.

It’s critical to understand that we are the ones who hold on to these egoic packets of energy. It is natural for this energy to flow up and for us to feel great. It is unnatural for us to hold onto these energies in the first place and not let them pass through us.

Don’t try to dislodge the energy

So what we do is relax, lean away and watch when one of these trapped energies arises. We don’t try to force it to break free and rise up. We watch…And let nature do its work.

Realize that when mom makes that crappy comment about the butter on the mashed potatoes and you do exactly as I just wrote, that egoic packet of energy (called a samskara in Sanskrit) is not going to break free, rise up and leave you fully in the clear. We’ve stored a ton of these energies inside us and it takes a lot of work and time to let it go.

It’s like a cut on your hand

It’s instructive to look at this as you would a cut on your hand. The worst thing we can do is constantly pick at the scab. This interferes with the work nature is doing to heal the wound. But if we continuously leave the scab alone, over time nature will heal that cut.

It’s the same with our egoic wounds. Don’t interfere with them (i.e., pick at the scab) by:

1. Diving down and engaging with them when they come up — for example, by throwing your wine in your mom’s face, or —

2. When watching them from a relaxed distance, trying to mentally dislodge them and hasten their breaking free and rising up.

The takeaway

Our work is to not succumb to #1 above.

Once we’ve taken that critical step of not diving down under and just relaxing and watching the feeling, our work is done.

After that, we let nature do its work…

Meditation

What Eckhart Tolle Says Is the Secret To Life

People pursue many paths in life. Those paths tend to differ based on the continent/country we live in.

In the poorer parts of the world — Africa, South America, South Asia and the Middle East — eking out a life of subsistence is, unfortunately, as good as it gets for many.

Here in America, it’s mostly about achieving some kind of financial and career success so we can enjoy the finer things in life (good food, car, house, etc.) and some level of notoriety. I’ve written extensively about the fact that pursuing the finer things and notoriety spring from our egos and as such can never lead to lasting contentment.

A life path that works

What’s a path that does work? And by work, I mean a path that leads us to inner peace and a feeling of being at one with the universe/God or whatever your belief system is.

There are various ways of expressing what that path is. This one by Eckhart Tolle might be the best and most eloquent I’ve come across:

The secret of life is to die before you die — and find that there is no death.”

Let that sink in….

The key here is what it means to ‘die before you die.’ Specifically, what needs to die before we die?

The ego is what needs to die

The ego. That illusion we create early on in life that defends us from perceived external threats. The critic. The complainer. The worrier. The “fearer.”

As I’ve written about several times, the main job of the spiritual journey is the shedding of our ego. How we shed the ego is a multifaceted topic, but suffice it to say that it’s about letting go of ourselves. And getting quiet inside — through meditation, mindfulness, prayer, chanting and other spiritual practices — so that we can actually observe our egoic selves which then facilitates our ability to let it go.

Once we let go of our egos, what’s left? In other words, what’s left after we ‘die’ while still living?

What’s left is our consciousness. Our soul. Our Atman. Our spirit. Our true self. Our ‘deep I’ as Eckhart calls it. It’s the God inside that we all are that is shrouded by our egos, until we let the ego die.

Who we are when the ego dies

When we get to this place of dying before we die, we love completely and unconditionally. We exude pure compassion that seeks nothing in return. We don’t get jealous or greedy or envious or petty. We don’t hold grudges.

Some reading this may respond with, “This is crazy. That’s not human. Part of being human is being jealous, petty and all the rest. I like being human, warts and all.”

We can do better

But that’s precisely what the spiritual path is about: Transcending our humanness. The bottom line is that humanity can do a lot better than we think.

Before embarking on this spiritual stuff my attitude was that human nature is what it is. There’s nothing we can do to alter it.

I don’t believe that anymore. I’ve seen that when we do the daily work, the chopping wood and carrying water of the spiritual path, we can transcend our humanness. We can become less angry, selfish and all the rest.

It doesn’t happen all at once. At least for the vast majority of us. It’s gradual and incremental.

But the more we do it, the more we die…before we die.

And what of that last clause in Eckhart’s statement: “…and find that there is no death.”

Finding there is no death

This is where it gets as deep as this stuff goes. What he means is that once we clear away the egoic gunk that obscures our soul, spirit, etc., we realize that we don’t actually die.

How so? Because that energy/shakti/chi that comprises our consciousness/soul is as timeless as it is indestructible. The more we realize that that energy is who we are, the real us, the more we realize that this life on Earth isn’t all there is.

It’s about sensing, not knowing

Granted, this isn’t something that we can know, like knowing that Louis XIV was the king of France. The higher plane of spiritual matters like these can only be sensed. Intuited.

But I can tell you that the more I practice, and consequently the more I clear away my ego, the more I sense the divine and eternal nature of that energy/soul within. Which makes me feel like Bill Murray in Caddyshack, after relating that the Dalai Lama promised him eternal consciousness:

“So I got that goin’ for me. Which is nice.”

And you can, too. We all can! We can all die before we die.

The takeaway

We just need to commit ourselves to the work that gets us to dying before we die. Which doesn’t mean we need to quit civilization and live the rest of our days in a desert cave.

No. Go on with your life as a teacher, accountant, photographer, periodontist or construction worker. Enjoy life with your kids, your spouse, your friends.

Just commit to getting quiet inside and letting go of your ego.

So you can die before you die…

Meditation

An Exercise to Stop You From Exploding in Stressful Situations

I’ve written a lot about responding and not reacting in tense, confrontational situations. It’s the difference between possibly resolving a dispute in a constructive manner that benefits you or dooming yourself to outcomes that cause you great harm.

That harm can be as little as an hour of giving the cold shoulder to your “opponent,” or as great as ending up in divorce court. Bottom line: It’s worth putting in some work to avoid those explosions.

But what is that work? What can we do to save ourselves from ourselves?

I try to approach these challenges from a practical, logical standpoint. Here’s what I’ve come up with on the explosion thing.

Those critical first seconds

First, so many of the fractious scenes we encounter come down to how we respond in those first few seconds after our inner lava has been stirred. Most of us don’t make it past those first moments. We explode. I’ve gotten comments from many readers attesting to how difficult it is to make it to the ‘respond’ phase.

Fine. The key question then becomes: What can we do to strengthen our ability to get through those first few seconds without exploding?

I’ve come up with an exercise that I know could really help. It centers on visualization.

Step one is to think about the most fraught situations you encounter. To give you an idea what I mean, here is one from my life.

Not surprisingly, it comes from my family. Why is that not surprising? First, because I spend a ton of my time around my wife and three kids. Second, you don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to figure out that most of our buttons get pushed by family members.

Invasion of the mindfulness snatchers

One scenario that has happened frequently in the past few months occurs while I make dinner. I treasure this time from around 6 to 6:30 every night. I have my drink (usually a vodka with fresh squeezed grapefruit) and I have the news on the kitchen TV as I go about my mindful, one thing then the next, process of making whatever I’m making…

Then comes the invasion of the mindfulness snatchers…Usually my two daughters, 12 and 6, and my wife. My little one wants to come in and just screw around — throw some cups on the floor and play, play, play. My older daughter will come in, grab a snack, change the TV to her show (The Gilmore Girls, Friends) and start babbling, loudly, to her heart’s content. My wife joins in in the babble-mania with the little ones and then a switch goes off in my head when it hits me that…

My peaceful party has crashed and burned.

I completely lose it about a second later… “OUT! Now! Let’s go. Everybody out!” To which I usually get some version of, “Wow. What’s wrong with you, Mr. Grumpy? We’re just hanging out…” from my wife and older daughter.

Step two, visualization

Yesterday, I tried something different. Before I knocked off writing, I did a visualization of the above scene. This is step two.

I saw myself in the kitchen, enjoying, and then visualized the mindfulness snatchers invading my peaceful sanctum. I saw my daughter change the channel. My younger one screwing around on the floor. I imagined loud talking.

And as I visualized all of this, I breathed deeply and got really calm. I told myself it’s not that big a deal. Kids are kids. They get loud. And maybe they even want to be around me!

Then I visualized that one thing that sets me off — a loud noise, a scream — happening and me responding with calm in the moment.

A few hours later the real scene took place again. And I handled it calmly. I’d already visualized how I wanted to handle it so that early phase was easy to navigate.

It’s just basic visualization. We see ourselves doing something we want. It could be hitting a perfect golf drive, delivering a kick-ass presentation at work or responding calmly in a stressful moment.

Be specific in your visualization

Be sure to do what any visualization expert will tell you, which is to be specific. So really try and hear the sounds and see the person who sets you off. If it’s in your break room at work, what does that area smell like?

Also, most arguments that lead to explosions are at least partly due to one or both parties being exhausted or otherwise in a foul mood; for instance, you and your spouse butting heads after a long day at work. So be sure to take into your visualization how you feel at the time. Tired. Exasperated. Whatever.

So that’s the idea. Take one of those fraught situations that typically set you off and visualize yourself calming down with some deep breaths and responding in a measured, constructive manner. Then, when that situation next arises, it will feel like you have already handled it calmly…Which you have, in your visualization.

What are those situations for you? Where you want to rip someone’s head off you’re so mad?

Something your kid does? Your spouse/significant other? An exasperating work colleague? Your mother-in-law?

Whatever it is, pick one that happens most frequently. And then get to work.

The takeaway

Here again are the two basic steps.

STEP ONE: Figure out which situations cause you to explode.

STEP TWO: Do a visualization where you see yourself responding calmly in that situation.

The cost-benefit on this is through the roof. Doing short visualizations (the cost) that could save you mounds of heart ache (the benefit).

I have a good feeling about this one and hope you’ll give it a shot!

Meditation

A Vexing Question I Get Asked About Appearing Weak in Confrontational Situations

In the meditation and mindfulness classes I’ve taught the past few years, there is one question that has come up repeatedly. Here’s how it arises.

I will talk about the necessity of accepting what is. After something has happened, by definition, it is. It’s now a part of your reality.

I then bring this up in the context of sticky, confrontational and sometimes heated situations. The example I find people relate best to is that of arguments with our significant others.

The relatable example of fighting spouses

I’ll give the example of what to do if your spouse/significant other says something or does something that angers or upsets you. We all know what doesn’t work: Losing our cool and yelling at and cussing out that person. This almost always ends with both people upset and fleeing to their respective corners. It’s a lose-lose.

I then counsel people on the healthiest approach: Upon feeling that first pang of upset, we immediately stop, close our eyes, relax our bodies, then take a few deep breaths…THEN we respond to whatever it is that just pissed us off.

It’s about responding, not reacting

Notice I used the word respond and not react. We respond from a place of presence and relative equanimity. We react from a place of anger and egoic outburst.

I counsel people to do this in all kinds of situations where our anger has been stirred. Upon hearing all this, here’s the question I often get:

“So by responding that way, are we supposed to just let people walk all over us? Should we let people abuse us?”

In a word, NO.

When we respond from a place of presence and not out of egoic reactivity, we are not backing down. Or letting someone walk all over us.

What we are doing is giving ourselves the opportunity to achieve the best outcome…for US.

If you’re in a fight with your wife and you insult her with every morsel of viciousness you can muster, what is the likely outcome? A satisfied ego for a few seconds and then hours, days, weeks, or maybe even years of misery…for YOU. That’s a bad outcome.

Serving your best interests

Your best shot at a successful outcome is to calm down for a few short moments and then respond from a place of non-egoic presence. In doing so, you may even be better off than before the fight because you might actually resolve a festering problem.

This issue of whether we let someone walk on us really comes down to, ‘Am I just being weak and giving in?’ The fact is that it takes real strength to calm down and respond rationally in confrontational situations.

And what is the truly weak way of handling things? To cave in to our petty, insecure egos and let loose the cannons of anger.

Bottom-lining the issue

Therein lies the crux of this issue. If you want to be strong and take care of your interests, work on responding with presence. If you want to be weak and not look out for yourself, stick with exploding in reactivity.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s really hard to pull off this calm down and respond rather than explode scenario. You and your spouse both get home from a tough day at work, you’re both tired and then somebody lobs some crappy comment. It’s easy to say screw it and let the bombs fly.

I definitely do not have this down pat. Just ask my wife.

But I do work on it. And not just with her. I use this in all of my relationships. It’s about trying to respond from presence, not ego.

The takeaway

So next time you find yourself in a sticky confrontation, try to remember: The strong way, responding with calm presence, in no way means you’re allowing your interlocutor to walk all over you. The weak course is to let your ego take over and lose your temper.

It takes hard work. But the cost-benefit on this one is through the roof in our favor.

Meditation

My Favorite Meditation Cue Also Helps Bigly in My Everyday Life

I’ve been meditating regularly for ten years. That means fifteen minutes in the morning and, starting this year, a short session in the afternoon (I’m working up to fifteen minutes).

In a recent article, I outlined the beginning, middle, and end parts of my meditations as similar to a rocket’s flight into space. During blast-off is when my mind is most active, so I do a few things to settle in.

Then I devote the middle of my “flight” to calming down and going a little deeper by doing a body scan. Finally, I reach space, the capsule separates from the rocket, and I float in still awareness.

The early going is hardest

I’d be shocked if most meditators didn’t agree that the hardest part of any session is the early blast-off part. Why? Our minds like to race. And they DO NOT like to be coaxed into slowing down. Which is exactly what we do in that early phase of our sessions.

But how? There are all sorts of ways people use to ease into their sessions. Feeling our feet on the floor and bottom on the chair. Doing a few breathing exercises. Courtesy of Peter Russell, I tell myself I’m not trying to get to some deep, spiritual place; I’m just sitting in my chair, being in the moment.

But the one cue I use that helps me the most in the early going, when my mind is racing fastest, is to say this inside my head:

Accepting everything going on in this moment EXACTLY as it is…”

I say this when I feel especially anxious, or my mind is racing out of control. Why? Why does this help so much?

Resistance is the problem

Because it strikes at the crux of the problem: Resistance, the main problem with anxiousness and unease is that we mostly unknowingly resist those feelings. On some level, what we’re doing is saying, “Ahh! I hate feeling like this! Go away!”

And THAT is what makes things markedly worse. The resisting.

So when I say the above, I eliminate the resistance. I focus on every atom of discomfort and mind activity inside my being and say, “You’re there. That’s fine. I accept you fully.”

This almost always has the effect of calming those feelings.

The primary objective of meditation

It also goes to the heart of what meditation is all about. Contrary to what most people think, the primary objective of meditation is not to achieve heavenly levels of spiritual bliss.

The objective is to be fully present and aware of, and accepting of, whatever is in the present moment. Sometimes that’s a plane flying overhead. Sometimes it’s feelings of profound bliss. And sometimes it’s anxiety and tension because you’ve got a super important presentation to make at work in two hours.

Use in daily life

Not surprisingly, this cue works wonders in daily life. Before getting to some examples, think about what this cue entails.

Anything that has happened in life, has happened. If it is part of your present, here’s what it becomes: REALITY.

So when we get annoyed, angered or upset during our day at something that has just become part of our present moment awareness, what we are doing is fighting with reality. And that is, and will always be, a losing fight.

Accept THEN respond

That doesn’t mean we have to like what just became part of our reality. It’s just that we need to accept that it is reality…And THEN respond accordingly.

When does this come in handy for me?

-When one of my kids has a Vesuvius-level meltdown. I hate when it happens, with the shouting, the crying and the heightened drama…but I just tell myself, that’s what is, which usually calms me down to a place where I can deal with it in a measured way.

-I lost in the finals of a tennis tournament a few months ago to a guy I really should have beaten. It was close. I had him beat several times. It was awful. But I lost. That’s the reality. So from the moment that happened until now when it comes up in my head every so often, I simply tell myself to accept what is. Exactly as it is.

-I also go to this when I’m late for an appointment. Punctuality has always been important to me so I hate being late. When it becomes inevitable that I am going to be late, I just surrender to it and accept that that’s what is. Odd as it may seem, the Earth keeps spinning on its axis and circling the sun in spite of my tardiness. Shocking…

The cue also comes in handy with the picayune annoyances littered through any day — like getting stuck at multiple red lights, waiting in long grocery store lines and waiting for my six year old to find that absolute perfect shirt to wear to school. I do my best to accept these realities exactly as they are.

The takeaway

If you meditate, definitely give this cue a try, especially early in your sessions. It’ll help you get off the launchpad and into the stratosphere.

And please think about using this during your everyday life. When something has happened, by definition it has happened. There’s nothing you can do about it. So accept what has happened exactly as it is…Then go ahead and respond from a place of presence.

The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. And the better you’ll feel.

Meditation

Is Being Sensitive Good for Us? Yes…and No

Compelling writing, whether novels, films or Medium articles, often comes from challenging commonly-held beliefs. That frequently results in pushback from audiences that feel threatened by their beliefs being called into question.

One of those beliefs is the commonly held perception that being sensitive is a good thing.

What is sensitive?

Before diving in, let me specify what I mean by sensitive. The all-encompassing form would include sensitivity to light, to the sun on our skin, to loud sounds, to rich, spicy foods, etc.

This article isn’t about any of those. It’s about what most of us think of when we hear the phrase, “a sensitive person.” It’s somebody who is particularly susceptible to perceived threats from the outside world and who feels a lot.

A rock feels no pain

The positive take on sensitivity is usually expressed as, yes, it can be painful to suffer the slings and arrows of life, but better that than to be a rock that feels no pain (thank you, Paul Simon).

I agree with that sentiment. The worst way to go through life is shuttered in a prison of your own making, avoiding feeling anything at all. This is most commonly found among many in my gender who are described as “shut down.”

So, what about the sensitive life? I meet many people who say they like their sensitivity. That the feelings coursing through them on a regular basis constitute a large part of their identity.

“I’m someone who feels a lot. And I’m okay with that. In fact, I love that part of myself. It makes me feel alive and vital.”

Let’s take a closer look at that. First, here are a few examples of sensitivity in action:

-Your boss says that your memo seemed rushed and that you could’ve done better. This pierces you to your core, sending you in a tailspin for the rest of the day.

-You tell your boyfriend that the shirt he’s wearing accentuates his gut, so he tells you that your butt looks big in the jeans you’re wearing. This cuts you to the bone.

-After your successful friend tells you of their latest achievement, you feel yourself shrink to the size of a miniature doll.

I’m part of the club

Now might be a good time to reveal that I’m a certified member of the Sensitive Club. My sister tells me that when I was a kid, any kind of criticism of me resulted in my face looking like I’d had an arrow shot through my heart. I came out of the womb that way. Bottom line: I know of what I speak on this subject.

So let’s look at what’s happening when we crater in the face of criticism or some other outside threat. What do the examples above, and all scenarios where our sensitivity is stirred, have in common?

They ALL arise from ego.

How so? Your conscious, true self couldn’t care one lick how your butt looks in a pair of jeans. Or what your boss thinks about your memo. Or how successful your friend is.

What does care? The ego. It’s that self-critical, insecure part of ourselves that is the sum total of all the experiences we’ve had that we haven’t let go of.

How our sensitivity works against us

Which brings us to the crux of this article — how our sensitivity works against us. If in all these examples somebody shrugs them off as, “That’s the price I pay for being sensitive. It hurts. But I feel alive,” that person is perpetuating a profound problem and missing a golden opportunity.

The problem is seeing our sensitive, egoic responses as an inevitable part of life that we must endure. That’s not true. We don’t have to be crushed day in and day out by our sensitive natures.

The missed opportunity flows from the above: If we think it’s all part of life, why would we let go during these situations? The truth is that we can and need to let go when these situations arise.

What do I mean by let go? Let’s take the scenario where your boss drops the bomb on you about the memo.

How to let go

Once you feel that awful sensation inside, instead of going down to your lower self and allowing it to envelop your entire being, you stop. And relax. All over. Then take a few deep breaths as you lean away from the feeling. While leaning away from it, observe the feeling. Watch it. Feel it; but feel it from a place where there is you and the feeling. Two entities, not one. You aren’t the feeling. Ever. You are the consciousness that is aware of the feeling.

Why don’t most sensitive people let go when their feelings are stirred?

Because they’re not aware that they CAN let go. That that is even an option.

And that is a main purpose of this article. I’m not writing this to castigate sensitive people by telling them they’re doing life all wrong. I’m writing it to let people who may not be aware of it know that there is a higher way. A way that allows them to feel better and not live in fear of getting crushed every day by the outside world.

The higher way

What is this higher way? When we let go of our egoic selves, slowly but surely we start to simply feel better. Why?

I’ll give you a good example. My own. Again, I was always a sensitive person. But after extensive spiritual work, I am far less so.

Many of you might immediately think, “Great. You’re less sensitive. So now you’re an unfeeling robot. No thanks.”

You won’t become a robot

Not true. By working on letting go of insecure, judgmental, complaining David Gerken, there is less of HIM to upset. I’m more consciousness, less ego.

That example I gave earlier about the person shrinking to a miniature doll after hearing his friend’s latest achievement? That comes straight from my life.

Feeling like a mini doll

I had friends in Washington, D.C., who had top jobs in the White House and other political bigwigs who were interviewed on television all the time. Me? I was a lowly lobbyist making decent bucks. And I always felt diminished when I was around them.

Now? I never feel that way. About anybody. Not because I’ve become some nationally recognized Big Man On Campus. I’m not. It’s just that that sensitive, insecure part of me has largely withered away, thanks to my spiritual work. The net result of that is that I feel orders of magnitude less vulnerable to the machinations of the outside world.

And that feels FAN-F’ING-TASTIC!!!

You’ll be even MORE compassionate

You might also be thinking, “But the sensitive part of me is also what makes me a compassionate friend, sibling, coworker, son/daughter. If I lose that, it’ll diminish my ability to be there for people.” No, it won’t. It will make you MORE compassionate and better able to serve the people in your life.

Ram Dass got this best. When he used to counsel dying AIDS patients, he knew that if he fell apart in the room he would be less effective in helping them.

Think of the Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle, Michael Singer, Ram Dass, Thich Nhat Hanh, et al. One wouldn’t describe them as overly sensitive people. Do they all feel a lot? Do they cry? Heck yeah.

Feel, then let it pass

The difference is, they don’t wallow in emotional situations. They feel whatever comes up, in a natural way, and then they let it pass, like a cloud passing through the sky. No clinging. No resisting.

From my experience, too many sensitive people are encouraged to feel their voluminous feelings and then to wallow in them. To bathe in them. That only serves to perpetuate and strengthen the ego that produces many of those feelings.

I’m not saying don’t feel the feelings. Remember what I wrote at the top — the least healthy way to live is to bottle everything up and feel nothing. What I’m saying is to feel the feelings and then let them go.

The takeaway

To sum up: This article is about making the sensitive among us aware that they can be feeling people without letting those feelings cripple them in their everyday lives.

It takes work. Letting go isn’t easy, especially for those of us who have a lot to let go of. But as a sensitive soul I can tell you, it is work worth doing.

Here’s a final thought to incentivize you to do this work: Imagine going about your day not feeling constantly threatened by what the world throws your way. Think of how peaceful you’d feel…

Meditation

Focusing on Process Over Outcome Is the Way To Go

I hear a lot these days about how we need to focus on process, not outcome. I couldn’t agree more. What does process over outcome mean?

Here’s an example from my 12-year-old daughter from a few days ago. She told me she got an A on her math test. I told her that was fantastic.

Then I told her the reason she got an A was because she studied hard. I suggested that she focus on that, the studying (process), rather than her grade (outcome). That if she put all of her focus on the process, the outcome would take care of itself.

It really is about the journey, not the destination

One way of looking at this comes from the old trope that we need to cherish the journey (process), not the destination (outcome). Absolutely.

This is true on several levels. For one, when we become fixated on outcomes it weakens our performance. Why? Because we’re not putting everything we have into the process.

For example, if I’m in a tennis match and my mind goes to, “Boy, I hope I win this match,” or worse, “Boy, I hope I don’t lose this match. What a bummer that would be,” that is diverting invaluable mental energy away from where it needs to be: On playing the next point. Hitting the next shot. Period. That is where 100% of my attention needs to be if I’m to perform to my potential.

And if my daughter is constantly wondering what she’ll get on her math test, that’s taking attention from studying for that test.

Outcomes are also typically about serving the needs of our egos. Win that tennis match so you can feel like a big winner. Get an A on the math test so everyone will think you’re smart. Win that congressional race so you can show up all of those people in high school who never gave you the time of day.

The mindfulness connection

What hit me about all this is that focusing on process is just mindfulness. How? Mindfulness is about placing our attention on what we’re doing in the here and now. What it’s NOT about is getting stuck in our heads thinking about what ifs and future outcomes.

This idea of focusing on process is a central tenet in several major spiritual traditions.

In The Bhagavad Gitathe most important work in Hinduism, Krishna tells Arjuna:

Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in workingRenounce attachment to the fruits. Work done with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done without such anxiety, in the calm of self-surrender. They who work selfishly for results are miserable.”

We find similar references in my favorite work of wisdom, theTao te Ching:

“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.”

And some define Zen as ‘doing one thing at a time.’ In other words, do one thing. Then do the next thing. Then do the next thing. When we do that, we’re not getting stuck in our minds with thoughts of future outcomes. We’re giving all of our attention to the task at hand.

Nick Saban’s process

One final example. Nick Saban, of the Alabama Crimson Tide, is the most successful college football coach in history. He credits his success to a system of coaching he created.

Guess what he calls that system? The process. That’s not a joke. That is exactly what he calls it.

What’s the nuts and bolts of that process? Getting each player to focus on what he needs to be doing in the moment. If he’s lifting weights, focus on that. If he’s the middle linebacker in a game, focus only on what HE needs to do.

Just as important is what that means his players SHOULDN’T be doing. If you’re lifting weights, don’t think about the big game on Saturday. Give 100% to lifting weights. If you’re the middle linebacker, don’t worry about what your defensive end is doing. Trust him and focus on what YOU need to do. Saban would call it, “Just do your job.”

The result of Saban’s process? Seven national championships, more than any other coach in history.

Blocking out the noise

Saban, and many other coaches, talk about how they encourage their players to “block out the noise.” As 18–22-year-old men, these young athletes are susceptible to thinking about “the big game,” and how many millions of eyeballs will be watching the national championship game on television and the media’s focus on how much Michigan players hate Ohio State players and vice-versa, and so on…

No. Saban encourages his players to not think about anything except what’s in front of them.

The takeaway

I encourage you to do the same. Focus on the process. In whatever you’re pursuing in life. When we do, the best possible outcome will follow.

But even more important than achieving successful outcomes, a life focused on process is simply more satisfying. Why? Because when we live in the moment focused on doing what’s in front of us and not in our heads fantasizing, fretting or hoping about some future outcome, we are calmer. Happier. Still.

I’ll take that any day of the week…

Meditation

Why Every Kid Playing Sports Should be Meditating and Practicing Mindfulness

Athletics were a huge part of my childhood. I played four years of division one tennis at Princeton University and also played basketball, volleyball, cross country, and track in junior high and high school. I loved it all.

But if you asked me what one thing I would change, the answer is easy: I would have practiced meditation and mindfulness. Why?

My pro tennis player friend

Let me start with the story of my late friend, Bill Scanlon. In the fall of 1975, Bill was a 19-year-old sophomore at Trinity University playing #6 on the tennis team. That placed him as roughly the 100th-best player in college tennis.

Over Christmas break, Bill got to know a man who focused on meditation and sports. After working with him over the winter and spring, Bill won the NCAA singles championship in May of 1976. He went from #100 to #1 in the span of a few months.

After the NCAA’s Bill turned professional and reached a ranking of #9 in the world, beating the likes of Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe (three times), Ivan Lendl, Ilie Nastase, Boris Becker, and Andre Agassi, all of whom reached the world #1 ranking.

Bill told me unequivocally that there was no way he could have achieved what he did without the meditation and mental work he did. He said it was the most important ingredient to his success.

Why? Why does meditation help athletic performance so much?

In short, it helps to quiet the noise in our heads. What’s that noise and how does it hurt us?

When I was a kid, if I was playing a great player and beating them, my head would go straight to thoughts of: “Oh, my God! I’m beating Jimmy Pugh! He’s a legend! Wouldn’t it be great if I beat him? Can I really do that? He’s so good…” These thoughts were inevitably followed by my falling apart and losing.

Athletes need to remain in the moment

What was I NOT doing when I was thinking all those thoughts? I was not concentrating on the task at hand. The next point. The next shot. That is where an athlete’s head needs to be: In the moment.

An athlete’s head needs to be as clear as possible. What do I mean by clear? Not thinking at all.

When we do that we have the best chance of entering that elusive realm that all athletes covet: The Zone. When an athlete is in the zone, they’re not thinking about anything. They’re on autopilot, letting the genius within us all take over the steering wheel. Think Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Mia Ham, Simone Biles…

The example of Tiger

Speaking of Tiger Woods, I can’t tell you how many times I heard him say to a gushing interviewer, after pulling off his latest brilliant golf win, “You know, I really didn’t do anything special. I was just trying to stay in the moment and focus on each shot.”

Well, that’s impossible to do if your head is thinking, “Man, if I birdie this hole I win the Masters! Holy crap! How great would that be?!” Successful athletes block out the noise and stay in the moment.

And that is the point of this article:

There is no better exercise to strengthen the ability to stay in the moment than meditation.

What is meditation? That’s easy. It’s closing your eyes, relaxing, and then following your breath, or some other object of attention. Then when your mind snatches your attention and starts thinking, you just notice that that has happened and bring attention back to the breath.

And we just keep doing that. Over and over. When we do this on a sustained basis, we get better at remaining present and quieting our chatty minds.

It’s simple. And anyone who tells you otherwise is overthinking it.

Meditation is simple but not easy

But notice how I said meditation is simple. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Why isn’t it easy? Because our minds love to wander into thought. It’s what minds do. But with sustained practice, just as with learning the violin or playing golf, we get better at it.

Which age group does the most out-of-control thinking? Teenagers! Kids! They’re going through all kinds of body changes with hormones coursing through every distant corner of their being. Long story short, the group of athletes who need meditation the most are our kids.

A question for coaches

Let me pose a question to any coaches out there reading this. The score is tied with two minutes left in the championship football/lacrosse/basketball game. The players are waiting for the referee to blow the whistle to start up. Which kid would you want on your team?

Player #1: “God, I’m so nervous. I hope I don’t screw up. My teammates will kill me. So will my dad. I just hope the ball doesn’t come to me…”

Or…

Player #2: The moment he/she finds themselves nervous and starts to think, they notice that and stop. Then they immediately start following their breathing. All the way in…and all the way out. Breathing in…Breathing out…Breathing in…Breathing out…

That is ALL that player is doing. Because when one follows their breathing, they can’t think good, bad, or indifferent thoughts. They just breathe. And the noise dissipates.

Player #2 will be calmer, more focused, and likelier to perform more to his or her potential than Player #1. No question about it.

Champions who meditate

This all seems so obvious to me that it boggles my mind that I don’t hear of many high school programs doing this stuff. If meditation works for Steph Curry, Lebron James, Michael Jordan, Carli Lloyd, Rory McIlroy, Novak Djokovic and Russell Wilson, why the heck aren’t we having our young athletes do it?

I see so many parents going all-in on their kids’ sports lives. I know of several tennis parent friends of mine who have their kids home-schooled just so they can train more.

And yet…I don’t hear any of them having their kids focus on what most athletes would say is the most important part of sports: The mental game. Really?

I’d understand if the meditation/mental game regimen was overly intrusive and difficult. But it’s not. It doesn’t even take that much time. It just needs to be done. Regularly.

A simple program

What kind of program would that require for your teen athlete? That’s also simple. It’s two components.

1. Meditation: You start them on a gradual meditation program. Just 2–5 minute sessions for the first month or so. Then gradually increase to 10–15 minutes a day. That’s it.

2. Mindfulness: You know that scenario I introduced earlier with the kid going to his breathing to calm his nerves? That’s a mindfulness exercise. Mindfulness is just a macrocosm of meditation that we use in our daily lives.

In meditation we follow our breath then when we notice we’ve drifted into thought, we bring our attention back to the breath.

With mindfulness, we notice when we’ve drifted into thought in our everyday lives. One example was noticing the start of freaking out during the championship game with two minutes left and placing attention on breathing.

Obsessing over a crappy comment

Another example, for adults, would be driving home from work thinking obsessively about how angry we are at our spouse/friend/boss for the lousy comment they made earlier in the day. We notice that we’re stuck in those thoughts then bring attention back to our breathing or listening to the radio or looking out the window at the sky and trees. We do anything that returns us to the present moment.

That’s mindfulness. So with young athletes that means teaching them some basic mindfulness practices. They aren’t complicated. It’s mostly just noticing when your mind has gone somewhere you don’t want it to be and then bringing it back to the present, usually with some kind of breathing exercise.

It really isn’t that complicated. IT JUST NEEDS TO BE DONE.

This will absolutely result in any young athlete performing better at their sport. Will it make them a world-class athlete like my friend, Bill Scanlon? Maybe. Maybe not. Some amount of natural talent is required to make it to the elite levels of sports. But they will get better.

I have a big surprise for you

Reading all this, you would think that that is the main purpose of this article. To get young athletes meditating and practicing mindfulness so that they will become better athletes.

Right?

Wrong.

Getting better at sports is the second most important reason you should get your kid athletes meditating. What is number one?

It will help them deal with the anxiety and depression afflicting so many young people today.

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 have doubled in the past ten years. (healthychildren.org) It’s an epidemic.

Meditation and mindfulness have been proven to help in these areas. Harvard studies show that meditation not only shrinks the anxiety center of our brains (the amygdala), but also thickens the walls of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that calms us down when we feel threatened.

The takeaway

I hope any coaches or parents of athletes will act on this. Getting kids meditating and practicing mindfulness is not that hard and doesn’t require much time. But the benefits are enormous.

Again, not doing these practices when I was a teen is my biggest regret. Partly because of what it could have done for my athletic performance. But mostly because of how much it could have served me as I navigated adulthood.

I’ve been practicing meditation and mindfulness for ten years. I can only imagine the good it would have done me had I been practicing for 45 years.

The athletes you coach and their parents have that opportunity. You, your team, your kids, and the world will be better off if you get them doing these powerful practices.