Meditation

Meditation

What’s The Single Best Thing You Can Do For Yourself Today? Let Go Of Yourself

There are myriad things we can do for ourselves on any given day. We can workout, read, write, get a massage, eat a kale smoothie, read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle…the list goes on.

But I believe that the healthiest thing you can do for yourself is to let go of yourself. What do I mean by that?

First, by ‘yourself,’ I mean our egoic self. That’s the you that you’ve cobbled together for decades under the false assumption that it would protect you from the vagaries of life. It’s the you 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’.

Examples where we want to let go

Here are some situations in our daily lives where we want to let go of ourselves.

– Somebody cuts you off in traffic and you immediately feel the bile rising up, wanting to explode through your head like lava out of Krakatoa. Let go of yourself.

– A colleague at work spouts off at you about how horrible/great Trump is and, depending on your political persuasion, you immediately become incensed and get ready to prove how wrong your colleague is. Let go of yourself.

– You and your girlfriend are embroiled in a war because the dishes have piled up in the sink for two days and you both feel the other should do them. Let go of yourself and do the dishes.

Catching myself from exploding

– Here’s an example that happened to me an hour ago. My son had a sports training session at 11 a.m. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 10:59. He was late to his first session last week so I burst out of my office to see if he and my wife had left. I yelled out my son’s name to see if he was still home. My wife responded, “Still here. Leaving now. Unless you want to take him.” After no more than a millionth of a second passed, she said, “No? Didn’t think so.”

Just a little dig at me. Nothing earth-shattering, yet annoying nonetheless. But lucky me, I was writing this article when it happened! Perfect timing for me to let go.

So what did I do? In other words, what is a practical way we can let go of ourselves during these situations? The best technique I’m aware of comes from the great master Mickey Singer, bestselling author of The Untethered Soul and The Surrender Experiment.

Mickey suggests relaxing and releasing at the moment we feel that egoic pang in our gut. I call it relax and let go.

Here’s how it works. Like all effective spiritual techniques it’s simple. I’ll use my example. When my wife said, “You don’t want to take him? Didn’t think so,” I immediately felt that anger pang in my stomach.

-Step one: I resisted the urge to come back with my own snide comment.

-Step two: I closed my eyes and took five to ten seconds to relax my head, chest and stomach.

-Step three: I let that feeling go. Mickey Singer calls it releasing. I call it letting go.

And I add one more thing: I imagine a little bubble of air rising from my stomach, making its way up and out of the top of my head and disappearing into the ether.

It’s a little piece of my egoic self that I’ve let go. It’s gone. Forever.

If we do that just once it’s not going to have much of an impact. Because that little bubble is only a small part of a large cauldron of egoic stew roiling within all of us.

But when we do that time after time, day after day, month after month, year after year, we transform ourselves. Just by letting go. And letting go. And letting go…

Spiritual seekers often believe they need to add to themselves. By reading great spiritual books and eating the right foods and things like that.

The truth is, we don’t need to add anything to ourselves. All we need to do is subtract from ourselves, namely subtract, or let go of, our egoic selves. The beautiful, peaceful, compassionate conscious self within us all just needs all the egoic gunk smothering it to be let go.

I’ve been on my spiritual quest for almost a decade now. And while I am a LONG way from eliminating my egoic self (just ask my wife!), I have made steady progress.

The less David Gerken the better

Friends and family have commented in these past years that I seem calmer, nicer and more compassionate. I tell them the reason this is so is because there is less David Gerken in me. I’ve slowly but surely been showing him the door.

And boy does that feel good. Because the less there is of us the lighter and more luminous we feel.

Again, I’ve got a long way to go. But the key for me, as it is for everybody on this planet in my humble opinion, is to simply chip away, steady as she goes, at ourselves.

Before we can do that, however, we have to first acknowledge the necessity of eliminating our egoic selves. Why eliminate something you don’t think needs eliminating?

Buddha and Eckhart

Well, don’t take it from me. Take it from people like the Buddha, whose central aim was elimination of the self, otherwise known as reaching a state of nirvana.

Eckhart Tolle, Mickey Singer and a host of other spiritual heavyweights, past and present, also placed elimination of the egoic self at the top of the pyramid.

Vigilance is imperative

Once you’ve made this determination, the next step is to be vigilant in recognizing when our egoic self is rearing its insidious head. This really is the most important step in the whole process. Why?

Because we are so used to reacting to the demands our all-powerful egoic selves exact upon us that we don’t even realize when it’s happening. We’ve been acting like this our entire lives so it’s hard to catch ourselves. Bottom line: We have to devote significant attention to becoming aware when our egos act up.

Because it’s only then that we can get to the all-important step three where we relax inside our heads and bodies for a short time and then let that small bubble of egoic self rise up and out of us, making us a little bit lighter, a little more awakened and just plain happier.

Meditation

Eckhart Tolle’s Most Important Saying: “Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”

Eckhart Tolle has offered up many profound nuggets of wisdom over the past decades. Among my favorites are:

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

“Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life.”

“You are never more essentially, more deeply, yourself than when you are still.”

But topping my list is:

“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”

Why?

Because the concept expressed carries the most value for the greatest number of people. How so?

Most people try to solve their inner problems by attempting to directly change their behaviors. For example, a parent feels badly that they lose their temper when their young children act up. And they say to themselves, “I have to stop blowing up at Brian when he smacks kid sister Cindy.”

Non-judgmental awareness is key

The better, more effective way to deal with this is for the parent to make a point of just being aware when they do this. And, crucially, to be as non-judgmental as possible when doing so.

So the next time mom or dad becomes furious with Brian, right afterward, or even better, during the incident itself, they merely step back and say to themselves, “Okay. I just lost my temper with Brian again.”

What this accomplishes is a separation of the parent’s conscious, authentic self from their egoic, unconscious self. The anger they are displaying is not who they are, but they think it is because their egoic self has dominated their conscious self for as long as they can remember.

Eckhart in action

I’ve seen Eckhart demonstrate this awareness concept several times in response to a frequent question he gets from his audiences. The questioner asks something along the lines of, “Eckhart, I’ve tried so hard to be present in my day and during my meditation sessions, but the same thing happens every time. My mind just spews out thoughts and I have no control over it. What should I do?”

Eckhart always responds with some version of, “But you’ve already succeeded. You’re aware that your mind is churning out thoughts. That’s the most important thing you can do.” The awareness itself is most of the ballgame.

Separating the selves

So how does mere ‘awareness’ become the ‘greatest agent for change’? By repeatedly stepping outside oneself and occupying this seat of awareness that merely observes our egoic self in action we create further separation between the two.

And achieving that separation truly is the goal of all spiritual work. Because it’s impossible to realize and identify with your true self when that true self is smothered by the all-powerful egoic self.

Be the sky

It occurred to me that one of my other favorite Eckhart adages I listed up top comes into play here. Because in the end, what we’re all shooting for is, “You are the sky. The clouds are what happens, what comes and goes.”

The clouds aren’t the sky. They come and go. Similarly, that anger the parent feels is not who they are. It’s just a cloud that comes and goes. The sky, their true self, is the awareness that watches the anger/egoic self.

Humanity’s biggest challenge

The problem humanity suffers from is that people view their lives as one massive cloud that is always there. There is no sky for most people because they’re not aware that it even exists.

And that is why I believe Eckhart’s aphorism, “Awareness is the greatest agent for change,” is the most consequential of his many sayings. Because if people can just practice this simple act of becoming aware of their problems and behaviors, they can achieve separation of their conscious and egoic selves.

And start to become the sky that they are. Because the sky is good. The sky is peaceful, beautiful, expansive and all-knowing.

So see if you can bring more sky into your life. Make a point of stepping outside yourself and just observing, with no judgment. Why judge when it’s not even the real you anyway?

Meditation as facilitator

The single best thing you can do to facilitate the ability to merely observe yourself in action is to develop a meditation practice.

All meditation is is practicing observing, without judgment, what’s happening in the present moment. Getting better at that will make you better at observing yourself in your daily life.

If you’re interested in starting a meditation practice go to davidgerken.net where I have a free program designed for regular people.

Meditation

Do You Wake Up Feeling Anxious Most Mornings? Here’s a Plan of Attack

For years people have told me that they consistently wake up in the morning feeling some level of anxiety. The chaos wrought by COVID, which has thrown our life rhythms out of whack, has exacerbated the problem considerably.

For most people the problem presents as waking with a floating, anxious feeling that then worsens after lying in bed for several minutes ruminating about a panoply of worries, big and small.

The question is: What can you do about it?

Say hello to anxiety

First, you need to do something that will sound counterintuitive: you need to go inside and acknowledge the anxiety. When most people feel anxious their response is to push it away, not even aware that they’re doing it. It’s more a thought of, “Ahh. I just hate this feeling.” And that feeling lingers…

What do I mean by acknowledge the anxiety? Place your attention on it. Say hello to it. Literally. DON’T try to will it away or fight with it or engage with it. Just acknowledge that it’s there in as non-judgmental a way as possible.

What this accomplishes is a separation of you and the anxiety into a subject and an object, whereas before there was just a single entity, mish-mash of anxious guck.

Try this. It really is an effective way of reducing the intensity of anxiety.

Don’t linger in bed

The second thing you need to is obvious: Get the heck out of bed! I know. This can be hard sometimes. But the worst thing you can do is lie in that stew of rumination, anxiety and negative thinking.

Here’s a seemingly trivial thing I do to help me get out of bed. I keep my eyes closed as I push myself into a sitting position with my feet on the floor. Why? Because it feels just a little less jarring to the whole getting up experience when I keep my eyes closed a little longer. It’s like adding an interim step to the process.

Breathe and tap

So you’re sitting on the edge of your bed with your eyes closed. Now what? Here are two options.

1. Take five, deep, cleansing breaths. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. This is a surefire method for at least some reduction of your anxiety and possibly a lot.

2. Try tapping. My sister does this every morning for a few minutes before she gets up and says it works wonders for her.

What is tapping? It’s simply taking your fingers on one hand and tapping on nine different acupressure points on your head and upper torso area. Here’s a link to a great article in Healthline that succinctly explains everything you need to know about tapping.

The hot washcloth method

After this, go to your bathroom sink and soak a washcloth in hot water. After wringing out the wash cloth, rub it all over your face, just as you would upon sitting down at a Japanese restaurant. This is incredibly refreshing and feels fantastic.

After that, move on with your morning. You may not eliminate the anxiety by doing the above, but you will in all likelihood reduce it to the point that it won’t torment you for the rest of the day.

Addressing this waking up anxiety is of utmost importance. Why? Because so often when we feel like crap right upon waking that lousy feeling stays with us the rest of our day. It’s like a parasite that burrows in and brings us down.

More energy, feel better

Conversely, if we are able to stamp out this anxiety to a manageable level we have more energy and just plain feel better.

So do this. Don’t accept feeling lousy in the morning.

If you feel anxious when you wake up, the first thing you do is say hello to it and acknowledge it right then.

Then, instead of lingering and ruminating in bed, get up.

Close your eyes and push up to a sitting position at the edge of your bed.

And either take five deep breaths or tap…or better yet, do both!

Then get up and rub your face with a wet, hot wash cloth.

All this takes a minor amount of discipline, but the reward is so worth it. Do yourself a favor and try this.

Meditation

Why Most People Struggle With Meditation And Mindfulness

The reason most meditators and practitioners of mindfulness struggle is because they have a faulty assumption about the central objective of the entire endeavor. Specifically, they believe that it’s all about slowing down or even stopping their thoughts, which, if done successfully will produce sublime inner calm.

And if that’s not happening, they think they’re failing. And when they “fail” a lot, which is inevitable, they eventually quit out of frustration.

Stopping or slowing the mind is not the central objective here. It’s often the result of consistent, correct practice, but if your aim is to tame your mind and feel peaceful inside it will elude you like the fruit dangling just out of reach from Tantalus’s outstretched hands.

All you need to know

So what is the objective of meditation and mindfulness? Laser in here because what I’m about to write is all you really need to know about these two practices. Drum roll please…

The objective of meditation and mindfulness is to observe, without judgment, anything and everything happening in the present moment and to accept anything and everything happening in those moments exactly as they are. Do just that and you’re on your way.

Frustrated meditator, exhibit one

Let’s apply this concept to the frustrated meditator. “Ahh! I hate this! My mind keeps fleeing from my breath to thoughts about my ex-girlfriend and everything else under the sun.”

How to handle this situation? Well, what you DON’T do is say to yourself, “Great. I’ve drifted off for the gazillionth time into thinking about that no-good, Medea, snakes in her hair freak. Come on, you idiot. Concentrate!”

What is wrong with that tack? It places judgment on what’s happening in the moment. She’s bad. My focus stinks, etc. Those are judgments. And by definition, those judgments come from your egoic, unconscious self.

Putting the real you in the driver’s seat

Meditation and mindfulness are, at their essence, about putting your conscious, true self in the driver’s seat of your moments. And that conscious self has no opinions, no grudges and no hate. It’s just consciousness.

The more you put that consciousness in your life’s driver’s seat, the more that opinionated, “grudgey,” aggrieved, egoic self fades away and stops tormenting you.

So what do you do in that situation? You simply say to yourself, “Okay. Having another thought about my ex. Let’s just slowly and compassionately return our attention to our breath.” Boom. That’s it. No judgment, good or bad.

Thoughts, chirping birds and popcorn

You’re just observing something happening in that present moment, namely, a thought about your ex. That thought is no different, qualitatively, than the chirping bird sound you just heard or that awesome smell of popcorn that just wafted into your room. They’re just different things coming into your field of present moment awareness.

This concept is of monumental importance and is essential to incorporate into your meditation and mindfulness practices.

I meditate almost every day and in most of those sessions I deal at some point with a slight feeling of unease/low-level anxiety. If I had been under the false impression that I’m supposed to feel calm inside when I meditate, I would have exploded a long time ago and given up. But luckily I learned early on to treat that feeling as just another element of things occurring in the present moment.

Accept everything exactly as it is

So I go inside and acknowledge that feeling, with no judgment. And this part is critical, so dial in again: I also fully accept that anxious feeling exactly as it is. I don’t resist it. Or engage with it. Or complain about it. I just say to it, “Okay. You’re here.”

The person who crystallized this concept for me is a man named Joseph Goldstein, one of the pioneers of meditation in America. He relates the story of a several month spiritual journey he took to India in the late 1960s.

His meditations there were off-the-charts sublime. As he described them, “My whole body dissolved into radiant vibrations of light. Every time I sat down, as soon as I closed my eyes, this energy field of light pervaded my whole body. It was wonderful, it felt terrific.”

After those mind-blowingly great months he headed back to America. When he returned to India he expected to resume those other-worldly, radiant sessions.

Twisted steel

It didn’t happen. In fact, his sessions were the worst he’d ever experienced. As he put it, “Not only was there no longer a body of light, but my body felt like a painful mass of twisted steel…There was so much pressure and tension, so many unpleasant sensations.”

Then it dawned on him: meditation is not about feeling great or achieving ecstatic states of being. It’s about being completely open to whatever is happening in the present, good or bad, radiant vibrations of light or twisted steel in your gut. Doesn’t matter. The point is to just observe, nonjudgmentally, any sensations you might be feeling or experiencing.

Living the moments of your life

Because if you want to take it to its highest level, the goal of meditation and mindfulness is to be present for the moments of your life. All our lives are are a long series of moments.

And the sad truth is that most humans are not there for most of the moments of their lives. They’re stuck in their heads grappling with thoughts that have zero bearing on what is happening in any given moment.

So if you’re into this meditation and mindfulness thing, learn this! Incorporate it into your practices. It makes it all so much easier.

Why? Because you never feel like you’re failing. Because there is no failure. There’s just what’s happening in the present moment. Sometimes what’s going on in the present feels great and peaceful. Sometimes it feels like twisted steel. It doesn’t matter. All you have to do is observe and accept whatever’s going on.

Do that time after time after time after time…and there’s a pot of spiritual gold waiting for you at the end of the rainbow.

Meditation

Want To Get Better At Everything AND Feel Better? Try Slowing Down

It may sound counterintuitive, but slowing down is incredibly beneficial to humans. For two reasons.

First, it makes us better at everything (except track, swimming and other races where going slow is not advised). And second, it makes us feel better, more content, happier.

The opposite is also true. Rushing, hurrying, scurrying; i.e., going fast…all that does is create tension and stress. Why? Because rushing takes us out of the moment we’re in. We’re rushing precisely because we want to get somewhere more important than where we are now, always a bad idea, unless of course you’re running from a grizzly bear.

Going fast takes us away from our center. It destabilizes us. It’s like shaking up a snow globe, which clouds your visibility. Slowing down causes the snow to settle, allowing you to see clearly.

Rushing is a habit

Why do we rush and tend to want do things fast? One reason is simply that we’re in the habit of doing it. When you’re walking quickly from your bedroom to the kitchen are you doing so because of the fractions of a second you’re going to save? Or are you doing it because…that’s what you always do. Because it’s a habit.

A reason we all may have gotten into that habit in the first place is that society, especially here in America, encourages us to go, go, go. Hustle, hustle, hustle. Do, do, do.

So many people I know are proud of their ability to do several things at once. Yes, I’m talking about you multitaskers out there. A dad checks football scores on his phone while shooting baskets with his son and simultaneously surveying his yard to see what kind of work it’ll need over the weekend.

Isn’t that great? NO. It’s not. As the Zen saying goes, “Zen is doing one thing at a time.”

Be like Mike

There are numerous examples of fabulously talented and successful people who operate from this place of “slowness.” I’ll pick one. Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time.

I watched the ESPN documentary on his and the Chicago Bulls’ dominating run in the 1990s. Now obviously, on the court Jordan could be quick as lightning.

But watch him when the ball is dead or during timeouts. He didn’t rush or seem like he was thinking about anything. He walked slowly, loosely, calmly. Same after the game when he emerged from the locker room in his suit and eased down the hall with a slow, halcyon stride that just oozed cool (can you tell I’m a big fan?).

That state of stillness, that groove, is what allowed Jordan’s inner genius to take center stage and do things that we mere mortals could only watch with awe.

Four scenarios for you to slow down

Fine, so slowing down helps us feel better and perform better. If I’m you, I want some concrete tips on how to incorporate that into my life. Here are four.

The first area is for you meditators. One could say that the ultimate objective of meditation is to slow down so much that the only thing left is silent stillness. That’s not easy to achieve, but let me tell you something that helps me a lot.

Early on in my meditation sessions I literally use the words ‘slow down’ as a way of easing me toward stillness. On an inhale I say “slow” and on the exhale I say “down.” Try five breaths like that early on in your session and I can almost guarantee that your mind will slow down.

Second, next time you go to the grocery store make a conscious effort to walk slowly through the parking lot from your car to the entrance. Most people rush from their cars to the store. Why? Again, because it’s a habit.

I discovered a few years back that I was doing this so I decided to try walking slowly. I’m telling you, it will change your inner “vibe” in a matter of seconds. If you really want to feel calm and good, take some slow, deep breaths as you slowly walk through the lot.

Third, try driving slower. I don’t mean going 20 in a 45 MPH zone. Just try tamping it down a bit on the old accelerator. The few seconds you lose will be more than made up for by the clarity of mind and inner calm you gain.

Fourth, try brushing your teeth a little more slowly. I know. This one seems tough. You just want to get through it. But this is one of those quintessential mindfulness traps. This, and drying off after a shower.

Why? When was the last time you brushed your teeth or dried off and actually had your attention on those two acts? We’re always somewhere else in our heads when we perform these things and that’s not a good place to be.

So try it. At least once. Brush your teeth slowly and place your attention on the brushing of your teeth.

Slowing down is not easy for most of us, myself included. In writing this piece I kept falling into the “just do it, write it,” mode which threw me off several times. You know what I did? Five different times, at least, I told myself to slow down…in writing my piece about slowing down!

It works. I’m telling you. And you can use it virtually any time, especially when you’re feeling just a little ‘off’ or anxious. When you feel that way, try closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths, saying ‘slow’ on the inhale and ‘down’ on the exhale.

Give it a whirl. Just another arrow to put in your self-care quiver.

Slow…down…

Meditation

An Effective Technique for Relieving Anxiety

Anxiety has run rampant these past several months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This morning, after feeling an anxious pit in my stomach, I discovered a fantastic remedy.

This solution builds off something I’ve written about before in this area of dealing with anxiety.

Here’s a quick recap of those concepts. Most people push away their anxiety. They resist it. And they aren’t even conscious that they’re doing it. Why?

Because it makes sense to push away a bad feeling. It presents in your head as, “I hate this feeling and I just want it to go away.” Normal, right? The problem is that doing this only leads to the anxiety flaring deeper roots into your gut.

Be present with anxiety

So what I’ve counseled in previous pieces is, instead of resisting it, to actually go inside and be present with the anxiety. To most that sounds counterintuitive. “Getting closer to my pain will help relieve that pain? Huh?” Yes, it will.

Why? Because in doing so what you’re really doing is being present with that pain. And being present, with anything, is always the healthiest course. Volumes have been written about why this is true so I’ll leave it at that.

My anxious pit this morning

What I did this morning was to take this one step further. I was meditating and, not surprisingly, foremost in my field of awareness was this anxious pit in my stomach I referenced at the beginning. So, as I recommended above, I went toward this anxiety and not away from it.

But just before meditating I had listened to an interview with the prominent Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. She was commenting on how to deal with the anxiety so many of us have faced in recent months and offered a breathing exercise she does.

Part of Pema’s breathing technique deals with approaching the uncomfortable feelings inside with compassion. She didn’t hit hard on this, but it occurred to me while meditating that, in addition to being present with and noticing my anxiety, I would try being compassionate with it.

Be compassionate with anxiety

What does it mean to be compassionate with your anxiety? The very same thing it would mean if it were your parent, sibling or close friend experiencing that anxiety.

You show empathy, concern, love.

And how did that work for me?

Like a charm. My anxiety melted away.

Separation of the selves

Why? Honestly, I’m not sure. But I think it has to do with the notion that implicit in all this is the separation of the real, conscious self from the unconscious self that is experiencing the anxiety. This is critical. Why?

Because when most people experience anxiety there is only the anxiety. It envelops their entire being. There is no you and the anxiety. There’s just the anxiety. When that’s the case, relief is hard to come by.

Simply noticing the anxiety and not resisting it effectuates this separation of the selves. But when you add on top of that being compassionate with the anxiety it takes this separation to a higher, healthier level.

How to do it

To sum up, here’s how to actually do this. It’s simple.

Sit somewhere quiet and close your eyes. Take three deep breaths. Then place your attention where you feel the anxiety. For me, it is always in my stomach. Then start breathing into that area.

As you do so, simply send feelings of compassion toward that anxiety, again, just as you would if it were a person you were close to. Be sure not to slip into trying to eliminate the anxiety as this will backfire. By just showing it compassion it will slowly diminish of its own accord.

Anxiety plagues all of us at some point, myself included. This technique worked in calming mine into submission. Do yourself a favor and see if it works for you.

Meditation

2 Current Spiritual Teachers Who Can Transform Your Life Today

I’ve been on the daily meditation and mindfulness path for eight years now. This piece is about the two teachers, Mickey Singer and Eckhart Tolle, who have helped me the most and my recommendations for their work that can catapult you to levels of peace and joy you never knew were attainable.

Both Mickey and Eckhart have drilled into my head in relatable language the significance of the two selves we all are and the need to identify with the “good guy” (the conscious self) and not the “bad guy” (the egoic, thought factory mind).

For each I’ll summarize their main teachings and then recommend some specific works.

MICKEY SINGER

Background: I only came across Mickey’s work a little over a year ago but in that time he has vaulted to the top of those I hold in the highest esteem. He entered the spiritual realm in his early 20s while a college student in Florida.

While chatting with his brother-in-law on the couch one day, a lull came in the conversation. Out of that uncomfortable silence Mickey said, “Have you ever noticed there’s a voice in your head that never stops talking?” His brother-in-law immediately said he did.

That one incident triggered what is now a fifty-year journey to understand and deal with that “voice in the head” that plagues us all. Along the way he created the most successful medical office billing software ever, earning a boatload of money in the process. But he says there was never a second that business or money or “things” took precedence over his spiritual work. Can you tell I love this guy?

Teachings: Summarizing Mickey’s teachings in a few sentences isn’t easy, but here goes. First and foremost is his belief that we are not our thoughts. Every human’s identity, their essence, is the consciousness that is aware of those thoughts. So for example, you may have the thought, “I hate my ex. She’s a deceitful jerk.” The awareness that notices, “I just had a thought about my ex,” is who you are, not that thought.

That awareness or consciousness is the God within you. Mickey quotes the great master, Meher Baba, as saying, “Man minus mind equals God.” Love that!

Second is his belief that humans from an early age hold on to both good and bad experiences inside. They don’t experience things and then let them pass through. This guck that gets stuck inside you blocks the flow of what he variously calls chi, Shakti or just plain energy. And that is why people don’t feel very good much of the time. So Mickey posits that the work of one’s life is to actively let go of these blockages, which he calls samskaras (Sanskrit).

Recommendations: There’s obviously a whole lot more to his teachings than these two points and that is why I cannot urge you strongly enough to dive into Mickey’s books and classes.

If you were going to do only one thing, I would recommend buying his course Living From a Place of Surrender. I’ve read thousands of pages of spiritual books and listened to hundreds of hours of talks from the greatest of the greats and I can say with utmost conviction that the ten hours of talks in this course are the best of the best. It is an A to Z guide for traveling the spiritual path told in compelling, eloquent language. You can find it here.

Almost equally as good are his talks based on his bestselling book The Untethered Soul. I found the talks infinitely more impactful than the book, which I found to be a bit laborious and hard to get through. You can find them here.

I found his book The Surrender Experiment far more approachable and a fantastic read, something not often said about a spiritual book.

ECKHART TOLLE

Background: Eckhart endured an unhappy childhood in Germany. At age 29, as a graduate student in London, he became severely depressed and suicidal.

On one particularly awful night he had the thought that would alter the course of his life, which was this: ‘I don’t know if I can live with myself anymore.’ It occurred to him, who is this ‘I’ and who is ‘myself’? They’re two seemingly distinct entities.

This epiphany caused his ego to collapse resulting in years of bliss sitting on park benches simply watching the world go by. Eventually he started teaching informally and then moving to Vancouver to write his groundbreaking books.

Teachings: As with Mickey, Eckhart’s main teaching is that we are not our thoughts. The true self is simply what is there when one isn’t mired in thoughts. Eckhart calls that true self presence, stillness and spaciousness.

Recommendations: Eckhart’s most important work is his book The Power of Now. It frames the two selves dilemma better than anything I’ve encountered. An argument could be made that it is the most significant spiritual book of the last thirty years. It’s a relatively short, easy read so do yourself a favor and read it. A New Earth is also fantastic but is somewhat repetitive of Power of Now.

I also highly recommend going on Youtube and watching some of Eckhart’s talks. You’ll find he says much the same thing over and over, but I find that merely experiencing his presence is, in itself, a useful spiritual exercise. For years I’ve listened to fifteen minutes of Eckhart as preparation for my daily meditation.

There are a plethora of other great teachers out there, namely Jon Kabat-Zinn, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Deepak Chopra, Joseph Goldstein and countless others. But Eckhart and Mickey have resonated the most with me. If you consider yourself a relatively regular, ‘not-way-out-there’ spiritual seeker, as I do, I think you’ll find their plain, relatable language easy to digest.

Meditation

Want to Nip Negative Thoughts In The Bud? Try This

Most of humanity finds itself awash in negative thoughts and emotions much of the time. Everything from the overarching life drama, “I’ll never meet a man,” or “I’ve always been and will always be a loser,” to the more immediate, “X cancelled on me yet again; why am I even friends with this person?” or “If my little Jeremy doesn’t pass his fifth grade math test he’ll be left behind and will be homeless someday.”

Before offering a technique for dealing with these thoughts, I need to give a quick primer on a topic I write about often: the two selves. We’re all comprised of a present, conscious self and an egoic, unconscious self.

The conscious self is who we are in the present moment, which is the only thing that has existed or will ever exist. It’s the real, authentic you.

The egoic self is the one doing the obsessing, worrying and complaining. Unfortunately, it dominates the conscious self in virtually all humans.

Mickey and the lower self

The idea for this piece came from listening to a talk by one of my favorite teachers, Mickey Singer, author of the bestseller The Untethered Soul. In it Mickey refers to the egoic self as the lower self. So instead of egoic vs. conscious selves, he uses lower vs. higher selves. Same meanings, just different words.

But using his words has helped me lately and I think they can help you, too. How?

Well, in talking about the lower self, Mickey posited some of the same types of negative thoughts and emotions arising in most of us. For example, a friend let you down recently and a negative thought about that arises in your mind.

You have a choice

What most people don’t realize, because they aren’t aware that they are two selves, is that they have a choice. They can either let their lower self glom onto that thought and ruminate over it for the next several seconds, minutes or even hours, and thereby suffer the consequent mood effects of swimming around in that vortex of negative guck we all know so well.

OR…

They can call on their higher, conscious self to step in and say, “Nope. We’re not going there. Even though I know my lower self will get some sick satisfaction over stewing about this, I choose to be my higher self.” In other words, you nip the negativity in the bud and then move on, with you and your mood the better for it.

My Father’s Day test

I’ll explain how this works with a recent real-life example of my own. Yesterday was Father’s Day. We’d just gotten a Dutch Oven pot and my request of my wife was that I get to work in the morning and also be free of her and the kids in the early afternoon so I could make short ribs in the new pot, something I’d looked forward to. I even went crazy and made mashed potatoes, a perfect side for short ribs.

After buying everything, chopping onions, carrots and celery, browning the meat on the stove and then sticking the pot in the oven for three hours, I met my wife and kids at the nearby pool.

I asked if she had thrown out a big chocolate chip brownie dessert our daughter had made and said she had. I told her I was planning to have that for dessert. And in a put-off way she said, “I guess I could go to the store for some ice cream or something if you want.”

My lower self almost wins

At which point my lower self reared its ugly head and started heading to, “Great. It’s Father’s Day. I’m making the entire dinner and she’s put off by having to do one measly thing.”

Now, in her defense, she had a tiring week at work and was exhausted. Nevertheless, my lower self desperately wanted to pounce.

And here’s where the new technique came into play. It’s simple and centers on using basic imagery.

My shark loses

When my wife uttered her put-off remark, causing the negative thought-emotion to arise in me, I visualized my lower self as actually being lower, like in my stomach, and my higher self as being higher, in my chest/head area. Then I visualized my lower self, as if it was a shark with its jaws wide open, wanting to devour this negative thought and swim away with it.

But I pictured my higher self leaning away from the shark/lower self and saying, “No. I’m not going there.” And I didn’t.

I just said, “No. We don’t need dessert. This will be filling enough.” And reminded myself that my wife was running on fumes and had taken care of the kids all day to boot. Boom. Argument avoided.

The key: awareness

The key, obviously, is becoming aware when a negative thought is about to be swallowed by the lower self/shark. For most people, going down the rabbit hole/shark’s gullet of negative rumination happens by rote. But if you can catch it early enough and then set up this visual upper-lower selves scenario, you can nip a ton of negativity in the bud. And that is worth it’s weight in gold.

So try this. Again, it’s simple. Some negative thought arises, you picture your lower self-shark licking its chops and then picture your higher self leaning away and saying, “No. I’m not going there.”

As with anything, the best way to get good at this is to PRACTICE. Just as with playing the piano or golf, the more you practice the better you’ll get at it.

Meditation

The Key To Life is Simple: Keep It Simple

This piece was inspired by something the acclaimed meditation teacher Adyashanti once said. It was about the centrality of simplicity in meditation. He said:

“In meditation the rudimentary stuff is the advanced stuff. It isn’t like learning something in school where you work yourself up to the PhD program. It’s the opposite. You’re trying to work yourself backwards, down to kindergarten. Down into simplicity, not into complexity.”

So true. And though Adyashanti said this about meditation, I think his words hold true for the entire spiritual path. The simple is all.

Yet all too often I see spiritual seekers spending an inordinate proportion of their energies on analyzing and diving deep into the complexities of spiritual concepts. Why do they do this? Because it’s stimulating. And energizing.

Some of this is fine. But many do the analyzing thing at the expense of focusing on the simple. And why do they do this? Because keeping focus on the simple is far harder than picking apart a spiritual concept.

The simple is all.

What meditators and mindfulness practitioners need to do is first to understand that the simple is everything. And many do understand that to be the case.

But they don’t do the second indispensable thing: Resolve to themselves that the entirety of their work needs to focus on the relentless pursuit of the simple. And as I said, that is really difficult. Why?

The mind is complex, not simple.

Because the human mind is anything but simple. It loves to wander. And analyze. And dwell. It hates sitting still. Why do you think we love our iPhones and iPads so much? Because they give the mind instant access to activity and information, etc., and an escape from boring old stillness.

The mind also thinks we need things. Like cool clothes. Fancy cars. Wine. Four-dollar lattes from Fourbucks…sorry, Starbucks.

Sitting outside and simply watching and listening as the tree leaves rustle in the breeze? “No way,” the mind says. “If I’m going to do that, at the very least I need to pour a glass of chardonnay, turn on the Sonos speakers and check my phone every 45 seconds.” That the mind can handle.

I struggle too.

I know all this from personal experience. I’ve been on the spiritual path for close to ten years and still have to remind myself every single day to bring it back to the simple, with varying degrees of success. How?

-Walking from my office to the kitchen, just noticing my breathing.

-Listening to a bird singing on my walk. No analysis. Just listening. And watching.

-In my meditation sessions, it manifests as telling myself over and over, day after day, month after month, “You’re just sitting here, being. Observing anything and everything happening in the present moment. Accepting everything exactly as it is. Not resisting anything. Not trying to change anything. Just being with what is.”

My news junkie downfall

Unfortunately, I still fall prey to distractions my mind craves. I consume way too much news, reading The Washington Post and Politico every single day to get my politics fix, which most days is actually an overdose. Then there’s ESPN.com for sports. And Dandydon.com for my LSU football news (my wife went to LSU so I’ve adopted them as my college football team since my alma mater stinks).

I did cancel my New York Times subscription to cut down on my news intake/procrastination. So I got that goin’ for me…Which is nice. (That’s Bill Murray in Caddyshack for those of you who have a life.)

And that person sitting outside on the patio soaking in nature while drinking wine, listening to music and checking their phone? That’s ME many a night. Only I’m worse because once or twice a week I even throw in a cigar!

Simple isn’t easy.

The point is that adhering to the simple is not easy. It’s a gradual path that requires a certain kind of discipline.

Luckily we don’t have to walk that path alone, but can look to “the greats” for inspiration.

Eckhart and Mickey

At the top of my list of spiritual figures worthy of emulation are Eckhart Tolle and Mickey Singer. I don’t have any problem admitting that I would love to be more like them. How? By living with the presence and simplicity they do.

Mickey Singer is a multi-zillionaire (from creating a mega-successful medical billing software) who wears the same thing every day. Seriously. In every video of him I’ve seen, and there have been many, he wears what look like cheap, khaki Dockers pants and a navy blue, long sleeve sport shirt. He leads an exceedingly simple life outside Gainesville, Florida, on an immense plot of land he’s cobbled together since the early 1970s. And he seems exuberant about life every time I’ve seen him speak.

Eckhart Tolle leads a similarly simple life in Vancouver. He often says that he doesn’t do much. Mostly reads, writes and goes on nature walks. His most egregious foray into the material world appears to be that he has a glass of wine with dinner on occasion.

“But they’re bored, right?”

Many would look at these two, and people like the Dalai Lama and Yogananda, and say, “Great. I applaud their simple lives. But come on, they don’t do anything. They must be bored silly. No thanks.”

Wrong. They aren’t bored. What they are is alive and elated most of the time. They have a near-constant flow of energy and love, something only accessible when one has eliminated the lower self. To put it in more relatable language: They are happy as clams.

The moral of this story is that whether you’re meditating, practicing mindfulness or pursuing any other spiritual endeavor, a single-minded focus on the simple is paramount. It’s also the key to living a peaceful, content life. For proof, look no further than Mickey and Eckhart.

Meditation

Use This One Word to Anchor Your Mindfulness Practice

Most spiritual seekers experience this scenario on a regular basis: Something knocks them off kilter then they immediately scour their mindful quivers for the best “arrow” to handle the situation. “Don’t resist.” “Stay in the moment.” “Be present.” “Surrender.” “Let go.”

This usually results in feeling overwhelmed with options, which results in a throwing up of hands in frustration.

But I’ve found there is one “go-to” word that mindfulness practitioners can rely on to handle ANY situation. That word is notice.

MBSR and Jon Kabat-Zinn

Why? I’ll get to that. But first, I want to relate the anecdote that prompted this piece. Four years ago I took the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. Developed by famed mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, MBSR is an eight week course that focuses on meditation and mindfulness.

My class was taught by the prominent teacher, Christiane Wolf, a doctor from Germany who also trains instructors in MBSR all over the world. A large part of the course involved Q&A with Dr. Wolf.

Students asked a whole range of questions like “What if my mind just won’t shut up when I meditate?” And “I’m finding I’m so angry at my kids all the time. What should I do about that?” And “What do I do about this near-constant anxiety I feel?”

“Just notice that.”

I realized that Dr. Wolf answered countless questions like these the same way: “Just notice that.” To the point where I thought to myself, “That’s not a very fulsome answer, Christiane. How about a little meat on them bones?”

In retrospect I realize that Christiane was spot on in repeatedly giving that answer. Why? Because noticing is the foundation for meditation and mindfulness. And why is that?

Because when one notices something, who is doing the noticing? By definition, your conscious, present, aware self is the entity that notices.

And noticing is inherently of a non-judgmental, detached nature. So when the student asked what she should do about her anger toward her kids and Christiane told her to just notice it, what she really asked her to do was step outside herself and observe her behavior in the present moment.

Separation is key

Because ultimately, when you notice something, you separate yourself from it. There’s you and the anger. You and the incessant thoughts chattering while you meditate. You and the anxiety you feel.

That separation of all things into the conscious you and literally EVERYTHING else that comes into your field of awareness is the sum total of the spiritual ballgame.

The panacea that would cure humanity’s ills would be that people’s “noticers” take over the driver’s seat in the moments of their lives. So that we’re all just there, present for the moments of our lives. Why would that be so great?

Put the ‘noticer’ in charge

When our noticers are in charge we don’t get lost in our heads as they churn out meaningless thoughts. We don’t fall victim to the emotions created by our drama queen, fearful, never satisfied, egoic selves that dominate the lion’s share of the moments of most people’s lives.

Maybe the most destructive misconception plaguing modern humans is their belief that they are the sum total of their thoughts and emotions. Not so. Your noticer is who you are. It’s your conscious presence. Your essence.

By the way, the previous paragraph is the central teaching of Eckhart Tolle (and his groundbreaking book The Power of Now), Michael Singer, Buddhism, Hinduism and, one way or another, most of the other spiritual traditions.

How this can help you

Fine, so noticing is paramount on the self-realization journey. But how can you actually incorporate this into your life in a useful, beneficial way?

Easy. Just have notice at the ready at all times. It’s all you really need. How does it work?

You’re stopped at a red light. Normally, your mind swoops in and carries you off to Thoughtlandia — what should I make for dinner? I hope my hamstring heals up so I can workout again soon; if not I’ll get depressed. I don’t think I’m going to make the next round of layoffs at work.

But now, in the middle of the ‘what should I make for dinner’ thought, your super hero, Super Noticer, flies into your mind and whisks you (the real, conscious you) away from the clutches of the Thought Dragon and returns you to the land of the present.

Notice your surroundings

And then what? You look outside your car window and notice the beautiful trees swaying in the wind. Then you notice the bright blue sky and the brilliant clouds passing over. Why do you do that? Because the trees, the sky and the clouds are all there right now. In this moment.

How about an even more consequential scenario? Your spouse/significant other says something that absolutely infuriates you. Instead of instantly lashing out, you step back and notice for a few seconds the feeling that is enveloping your entire being.

Now, instead of you collapsing into one entity of fury, there is you noticing AND the feeling of fury inside you. Two entities.

If you’re successful at pulling this off, and this will take practice (more on that soon), you’ll create a space wherein you can respond with presence rather than volcanic rage. And that is critical.

It’s the difference between 1. having a meaningful, constructive discussion that might even end in the bedroom and 2. five days of mutually assured destruction, silent treatment, cold warfare. Which would you rather have?

It ain’t easy

Is it easy to simply separate yourself into the noticer and what you’re noticing? No. And the reason is obvious: All your life your mind has sucked your attention into its clutches without so much as a fight.

In other words, your mind is Godzilla and your noticer has all the brute strength of a chipmunk. It’s not a fair fight.

To get better, PRACTICE

So what can you do? Practice. Just start practicing. The only arrow you need in your quiver is the word notice.

But if you really want to take over the reins of your life and feel peace inside, do yourself the biggest favor one can bestow on oneself: Commit to making this practice the central endeavor of your life.

Really? The central endeavor of your life? Isn’t that a bit heavy-handed? Not at all.

Because what you’re doing when you strengthen your noticer is strengthening your connection with the real you. And when you strengthen the connection with the real you, you get…everything.

Like what? Like access to your true self. And your true calling. Which gets you closer to answering that most central of metaphysical questions: What the heck am I doing here?

Can you think of anything more worth your time and effort than knowing that?