Meditation

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?

Meditation

3 Meditations And 3 Mindfulness Exercises That Will Ease Your Covid-19 Blues

This Covid quarantine has many of us anxious, irritable and worried about our finances and health. These six meditation and mindfulness exercises will help restore some calm and sanity to your life.

Three Meditations:

  1. WHAT: Four Count Breathing

HOW: You can do this one just about anywhere. It only takes about a minute. You just want to be in an area where no one will bother you. You can do this sitting, standing or lying down.

Close your eyes. Inhale to a count of four…Hold your breath for a count of four…Exhale for a count of four. Do this for five breaths.

WHEN: Do this any time during your day when you feel uptight, anxious or upset. I also advise doing it any time at all, for no reason other than giving yourself the gift of calm relaxation.

2. WHAT: Body Scan Relaxation Meditation

HOW: Just click here and listen as I guide you through various areas of your body. It’s around six minutes but will feel much shorter. I find the body scan to be the easiest and most relaxing form of meditation.

WHEN: Ideally, you want to do this one sometime in the morning before your day grabs hold of you and shoots you into the pinball machine of life. You don’t have to do it right when you wake up, but shoot for doing it within an hour so of awakening. It will help center you and set a tone of calm presence for the rest of your day.

3. WHAT: 3 Minute Breathing Meditation

HOW: You’re going to just follow your breath as it comes in…then follow it as it goes out…And if it feels comfortable, say to yourself “in” on each inhale, and “out” on each exhale. This can make it easier to keep your attention on the breath.

When your mind wanders, you just notice that that has happened and bring attention back to your breath.

HUGELY IMPORTANT POINT: You need to be vigilant about being good to yourself when your mind wanders. Most of the people I know who tried meditation and gave up on it did so because they got frustrated with their mind wandering into thought so much.

Minds wander. All the time. It’s normal. The key is just noticing that that has happened and literally saying to yourself, “Okay. No big deal. My mind wandered. Now let’s just slowly bring attention back to the breath…”

I’ve been meditating for almost eight years and I STILL do this all the time!

Okay, when you’re ready, click on this link and listen as I guide you through this short meditation.

WHEN: You may want to try this some mornings instead of the body scan meditation. Or if you want to go for it, do this one in the afternoon as a second meditation. It’s only three minutes. You can do anything for three minutes!

Three Mindfulness Exercises:

1. WHAT: Hot Wash Cloth Rub

HOW: Soak a wash cloth in hot water. Wring it out and then rub the cloth all over your face, neck and head, just like you do upon sitting at a Japanese restaurant.

Notice your breathing as you rub your face. When you’re done, look in the mirror and say thank you for being good to yourself.

Be sure to place the wash cloth next to your sink the night before so you don’t have to rummage around looking for it in the morning.

WHEN: Do this first thing in the morning upon rising. It’s a fantastic way to start your day.

2. WHAT: Nature Walk Exercise

HOW: Many of us have been going on walks as a way of getting away from our spouses, kids or roommates and stretching our legs in the process.

Next time you venture out on your walk find a scene that appeals to you. It could be a tree, flowers, a sunset, birds singing in a tree, a bee flying around pollinating flower after flower.

After you’ve found your scene, stop. Close your eyes. Now take 15 or 20 seconds and just relax your body. Start with your head, your face, then neck, shoulders, chest, stomach arms and legs.

Now take three slow, deep breaths…

Then open your eyes…and observe. Don’t label anything in your mind. For instance, if it’s a bird, don’t say “Wow. Look at that red breast and yellow feathers…how beautiful!” Just look at the bird. And listen to it. Experience it. Be present with it.

Using this relaxation and breathing technique is what I call a backdoor, indirect entry into the present moment. A lot of people will, for instance, see a sublime sunset and say to themselves, “Wow. How great. Let’s just be present with this!” And it rarely works.

It’s hard for most of us to force ourselves into the present moment in a direct way. Indirect entry into the moment through relaxation and breathing does work.

Also, try something Eckhart Tolle recommends. Stand next to a tree, preferably one in your yard or near your residence so you can return to it frequently. Stand there and sense the stillness of the tree. It’s alive. And it just stands there. Every day, all day and night. Some of them for hundreds of years.

Doing this can have the cool effect of instilling stillness in you. Try it.

3. WHAT: Exercise for Dealing with Anxiety and Pain

HOW: This Covid quarantine has many of us experiencing more than the usual anxiety. The way most people respond is to try and push the anxiety away. We resist it. It comes out in your head as “Ahh. I hate this feeling. It sucks. I feel like it’s never going to go away.”

And the anxiety just sits there, making you miserable. We do this automatically, not even aware that we’re doing it.

So next time you feel awful anxiety or some other type of suffering, try this instead:

Go inside and actually observe that feeling. Observe it as non-judgmentally as you can. Do the opposite of resisting it and pushing it away. Look at it. Talk to it. Accept it. It’s there. It’s the reality of that moment.

Now, that doesn’t mean you go inside and say, “Hey, anxiety, you’re not so bad. You’re fine. I like you.” No. That’s just denying the feeling which makes it worse.

Try this. It’s a game-changer. In fact, this one technique is at or near the top of the most profound benefits I’ve gained from eight years of practicing meditation and mindfulness.

As one of my readers commented recently, “Pain is certain, but suffering is optional.” This technique will cut down on the amount and duration of your suffering.

WHEN: Again, do this any time you experience acute anxiety or any other type of pain.

Trying some or all of these exercises will make a sizable dent in your Covid-quarantine blues. Go for it. And if you want to learn more about meditation visit my website davidgerken.net.

Meditation

Trying to Conquer Your Chattering Mind Is Futile — Do this Instead

Most people on this planet are “stuck in their heads” most of the time. Thoughts about the past, worries about the future and just plain trivial BS dominate most peoples’ moments. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that past years have seen an upsurge in public awareness that this state of affairs is not a good thing. For millennia before this, people just accepted that their minds were who they were and didn’t see this as particularly concerning. The boom in meditation and mindfulness (MM) has the world trending in the right direction.

A common beginner mistake

But many wading into the incipient stages of MM have a faulty understanding of what the true game plan is. They identify, correctly, that the mind and all of its injurious, involuntary thinking, is the main culprit. And they think, logically, that the way to approach this problem is to try and overcome, or conquer, this mind that has caused them so much grief throughout their lives.

How does this strategy manifest? In meditation, people say to themselves, “Okay, let’s focus on stopping my crazy mind from thinking…” This may work for a short while, but then the thoughts inevitably come charging back with a vengeance.

In practicing mindfulness it comes out when, for example, someone is out in nature and says, “Wow. What a beautiful sunset. Let’s just stop thinking and be present with it…” This also ends in frustration and increased thought traffic.

Observe, don’t conquer

The point is that the human mind cannot be wrestled into submission by direct action. So what is the best strategy for slaying our noggin dragons? Simply learning how to observe your thinking mind. That’s it. Don’t conquer it, observe it.

What that requires is self-evident: You need to separate the real, conscious you from the egoic, thought machine you (i.e., the mind). You to need separate the subject (real you) from the object (not real you thinking mind).

Unfortunately, doing this is difficult. Why? Because we’ve been stuck in our heads believing we are our thoughts for as long as we can remember. I can’t think of a harder habit to break than stopping myself from getting sucked into my thoughts. It happens so automatically for most of us that it’s hard to notice and therefore hard to prevent.

There’s a reason for the chattering mind

It’s important to acknowledge that the mind produces all these thoughts for a reason. It is desperately trying to make things “okay” for us. It uses all of our past experiences as data points in determining what thoughts will result in an okay you. The problem is that the mind is almost always wrong.

Fine. So we’ve concluded that the chattering mind is injurious to our well-being, that trying to conquer it is futile and that the best solution is to observe it.

That leads to the inevitable question: How do you teach yourself to detach from and observe your mind? Answer: You do it by practicing meditation and mindfulness correctly.

The key: nonjudgmental observance

Both of these practices at their essence are about nonjudgmentally observing what is happening in the present moment. In meditation that means following your breath, listening to that truck that just drove by and, most important for our purposes, noticing the thought I just had about my tennis match yesterday. The tennis thought is no different than the truck sound or the breathing. It’s just something that isn’t me appearing in my field of awareness so I treat it as such.

Fortunately, the more we meditate and just observe our thoughts as something that is as separate from who we are as a speeding truck, the quieter the mind becomes. It takes a while, but slowly and surely, it happens.

And as it does, you become calmer, less anxious, more focused and, best of all, more content.

Meditation

How Meditation and Mindfulness Reduced My Fear of Death

Seven years of regular meditation and mindfulness practice have done a world of good for me. I’m calmer, less anxious, happier, more patient with my kids, my focus has improved and, in general, it’s made me a nicer human being.

But maybe the best thing meditation has done is reduce my fear of death. Not because I had some Woody Allen-esque, all-consuming, neurotic fear of death. I think my fear of the great hereafter has been fairly normal.

But here’s the thing. People do all kinds of things to improve their happiness and overall sense of well-being. Some exercise to release tension and get their bodies in good shape. Some eat and drink healthier because it makes them feel more energized. Some work hard and become rich, famous actors or wealthy in business. Others have close relationships with spouses, friends, their children.

“Things are awesome!…But I’m still gonna die.”

All that stuff is great and can lead to genuine happiness, especially that last one about human relationships. But it’s my experience that most people, no matter how good things become in their life, suffer from that nagging existential fear of death always lurking in the background. “I’m president of the United States!…but I’m just gonna die someday so big whoop…”

The point is that unless you have some kind of game plan with that most macro of macro questions, it’s hard to ever feel completely at ease in life.

I’d never had the “big” answer

Some people do have an answer. True believer Christians, for example, take comfort in their faith that death will bring them eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.

Because I’ve never been one of those people, I’ve had to fashion my own answer to that most vexing question. For most of my life I had no answer at all. Like most people I know, it was something along the lines of, “It’ll happen some day and…I don’t know. Who knows what happens after you die? Might as well focus on the here and now as much as possible and just don’t think about it.”

So what have meditation and mindfulness changed in me regarding death? Well, if you’re wondering whether all that inner stillness has resulted in a grand epiphany about what actually happens after we die…sorry. I still don’t know.

But I can say that the fear has gone way down. Best I can tell, there are two main reasons for this.

Shrunken amygdala = less fear

The first, which is purely physical and involves my brain, is something I can only surmise as I am not a neuroscientist. Many of you may have heard of the amygdala, an almond shaped set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe. The amygdala is the ‘fight or flight’ structure in our brain and as such is central in humans’ processing of fear.

It is something we share with all mammals and is therefore a relatively primitive area of the brain. Think about it. If a gazelle comes face to face with a lion, its amygdala will sound the alarm and tell it to run for its life. Similarly, if we encounter an intruder inside our home, our amygdalae has to make that same decision re: fight or flight.

In humans the amygdala processes all sorts of fears — financial, career, relationships, dangerous situations — but the big daddy of them all is fear of death.

The science

And science has shown that meditation and mindfulness practices have the effect of actually shrinking the amygdala. In addition, these practices weaken the amygdala’s connections to other parts of the brain, which results in those other parts of the brain becoming less susceptible to the fear-based freak-outs the amygdala wants them to engage in.

Several reputable studies have demonstrated meditation and mindfulness’s salubrious effect on the amygdala, most notably 2005 and 2012 studies at Harvard and one from 2015 conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

The bottom line for me? I’m convinced that seven-plus years of regular meditation and mindfulness practice has shrunk my amygdala, which has caused a corresponding reduction in my overall level of fear, including that of death.

Sensing the divine within

The second way meditation and mindfulness have reduced my fear of death is more amorphous and intangible, but no less powerful. The best way I can describe it is that the stillness I feel when doing these practices allows me to sense a deeper, eternal being inside. I can’t see it or put my finger on it. I can only sense it. It’s my spirit. My soul. My consciousness. My true self.

I sense it most clearly as a form of energy. And as physicists will tell you, energy cannot be destroyed.

So what does that all add up to? I feel that energy/spirit and know that when my time comes, that entity is going somewhere. Where? I haven’t a clue. But just sensing its existence and knowing it will live on in some form provides some solace.

Start meditating

As for any of you reading this who have considered meditation, I can tell you this much: When your mind is flooded with thoughts 24/7 it is really difficult to sense that transcendent, still energy inside you.

So if you want to enhance access to the divine entity that resides inside you and every human being, dive into the ocean and start a meditation practice. I have a free, easy program to help you get started that you can find at davidgerken.net.

Meditation

Use this Passage From the Tao Te Ching to Transform Your Life in Self-Quarantine

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that most of us are sitting around all day in a stew of boredom, disbelief and fear. The good news is that these very conditions provide a golden opportunity for profound personal growth, courtesy of this passage from the wisest book ever written, the Tao te Ching:

“Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place.”

For most of us, especially in America, it is seen as virtuous to “Do, do, do! Go, go, go!” We equate doing with effort, discipline and being a “self-starter.” Sitting around like a bump on a log is looked down upon.

The problem is that the motivation for much of our doing is to distract ourselves from uncomfortable thoughts and emotions about the reality of who we are. The 17th century French scientist Blaise Pascal put it best when he wrote: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Washington power brokers

I saw this on steroids during my fifteen years in Washington, D.C., where numerous powerful people I knew worked themselves to the bone every day until they passed out at night for a few hours of sleep, then got up and did it all over again. I didn’t realize until many years later that many of them worked so hard only to avoid the demons that were lurking inside, waiting to pounce the moment they relaxed.

Therein lies the most difficult aspect of self-quarantining for so many people: the forced confronting of inner demons.

Fine. So you’re sitting in your living room furiously fending off your demons. What do you do?

Obviously, there are myriad things people do, depending on the severity of their particular situation. Some people do therapy. Some are on antidepressants. Most just fight the good fight on their own (not recommended).

Observe your thoughts and emotions

Whatever you are doing, there is one incredibly powerful arrow I recommend adding to your quiver. And that is simply observing any and all thoughts and emotions you may be experiencing. What? Yes, it’s that simple.

One way to explain this is to illustrate what NOT to do. What you DON’T do while sitting alone in your living room staring at the wall is notice an uncomfortable feeling (like “My career has pretty much been a failure…”) and then let it pull you down the rabbit hole where you grapple with it and give it life.

No. What you do is just observe it as best you can from a place of non-judgment. In your head it goes like this: “Okay. Just had a thought/feeling that my career hasn’t gone well.” And you leave it at that.

We’re going to be inside for a while

I know. This sounds ultra-simplistic and therefore unhelpful. And that may be true if this self-quarantine thing was going to end next week. But it’s not. Even the rosiest forecasts have us cooped for at least another month.

Fine. So you have at least another month of this. How should you make use of that time?

Learn to meditate.

Why?

What I wrote above about observing uncomfortable thoughts and emotions? That’s all meditation is. Observing what’s going on in the present moment, without judgment.

What’s meditation?

You just sit quietly and place your attention on something happening in the present moment, like your breathing. Then, when your mind wanders, and it will, you simply notice that that has happened and bring your attention back to your breath. That’s all meditation is.

And when you do this over and over and over again, over weeks, months and years, what you’ll see is that these demons start to fall by the wayside. Why? First, you will have stopped avoiding them and faced them. That is absolutely critical.

Second, when you did face them, you just observed them. You didn’t energize the demons and give them fuel by interacting with them. You neutralized them by just observing them.

Worthy work

I’m not going to lie to you and say that doing this will eliminate your demons overnight. It takes a lot of work over a long period of time. But I’d submit that no work is more worthy of your attention.

And the whole point here is that most of us have nothing but time right now. This quarantine thing is an absolute godsend because it provides a sustained amount of free time to devote to developing a meditation practice.

A simple meditation program

How do you get started with meditation? Contrary to what you may have heard, it’s not that big a deal. When I started meditating seven years ago I created my own program. I made it simple, doable and designed it so that a regular person, like me, would be successful in developing a practice.

The program is eight-weeks and starts off with meditating for two minutes a day then building gradually from there. I strongly urge youto try it. It’s free. You can access it at davidgerken.net.

Do this. I’m telling you that developing a meditation practice could literally be the best thing you ever do for yourself. It will make you a better friend, daughter, son, spouse, parent and overall human being. Now is the time. Go for it.

Meditation

Less Is More: The Profound Lesson That Quarantine Life Has Taught Millions

The COVID 19 pandemic has ravaged many parts of the world, most notably Northern Italy, Spain and New York. But in many other areas, like California where I live, the effects have been far less severe. In fact, I keep reading about people who are actually enjoying life in quarantine. How could that be?

I believe it’s because those people have been forced to simplify their lives. Peoples’ focus has been reduced to getting enough food to eat and staying safe, the only two things our hunter-gatherer ancestors concerned themselves with 100,000 years ago! There’s a deeply felt comfort when these ingrained, primordial needs take center stage.

Sushi, shoes and jets

What has quarantine life prevented? The many “extras” we all think we need to be happy. Going out for sushi. Shopping for shoes. Jetting around the country on business trips or vacations.

Pursuing our every desire has been forcibly replaced by simpler living. In addition to eating and staying safe, it’s walks. Board games. Reading. Face Timing with friends and family.

This quarantine is a monumental gift from the heavens…if humanity plays it right.

Why? Well, you could make the argument that the biggest cause of human unhappiness is wanting too much. Desiring too much.

Try this experiment

Don’t believe me? Next time you feel awful, try this experiment. Say to yourself, “Am I wanting too much right now?” The answer is almost always yes. Identify what you’re wanting, then say to yourself, “I don’t need anything. Other than a roof over my head and some food.” Then feel yourself unclench inside, the anxiety melting away.

Many may say, “That’s crazy. You have to want things. Life would be boring if we didn’t want anything.”

Wrong. Life is absolutely fantastic, fulfilling and energized when you cut down on desire and live more simply.

My simple, happy parents

My parents were a great example of this. Mom grew up poor in Milwaukee so life was pretty simple from day one. Dad also grew up with little. They got married and had a great life, pumping out six good kids (I’m #6).

About twenty years into their marriage my dad became a Fortune 500 CEO. And it didn’t change either of them one bit. They drank Gallo jug wine until the end.

Want to know what my dad used to make himself for lunch on weekends when he was Mr. Big? Caviar on toast points? Foie gras pate? Steak sandwich? No. He’d slap a couple hunks of Swiss cheese between two pieces of rye bread. That’s it. No mayo. No mustard. He’d wash it down with a Pabst beer.

My mom also kept life simple. She rarely shopped for clothes. Her extravagant lunch consisted of sliced green peppers on wheat bread. I remember this distinctly. Why? Because the crunching sound she made chewing those green peppers used to drive me crazy.

My mom’s fake jewelry fake out

My favorite was what my mom did with jewelry. My parents would go to glitzy fundraising events in Los Angeles with the top business leaders. The rich wives would come up to my mom and say, “Oh, Darlene, that bracelet is beautiful!” And my mom would just smile and thank them. What these women didn’t know is that she was wearing costume jewelry that cost ten bucks. Had it been real it would have been worth six figures.

Fine, so my parents were simple and frugal even though they had plenty of money. But that would be pointless if they were both miserable. They weren’t. They led great lives and felt incredibly fortunate, largely because they kept their desires to a minimum.

Buddhism’s main teaching

Does all this sound farfetched? Don’t take it from me. The Buddha himself, one of the great spiritual teachers in human history, made this idea the central tenet of Buddhism.

The Four Noble Truths, the foundation of Buddhism, basically boils down to this: Life is suffering; suffering is caused by desire; if you eliminate desire, you eliminate suffering. That’s pretty much it.

Exploit this opportunity

The bottom line on all this? An enormous opportunity has been presented to the millions of people out there, especially in America, who have learned that having less has given them so much more.

The key is to realize this and then fight like hell to keep it going when this quarantine winds down. Keep walking. Getting out in nature. Playing board games with your kids. Face Timing with friends on the other side of the country.

Keep it simple. You’ll be happier.

Meditation

The Universe Is Teaching Us A Profound Lesson Through This Pandemic

The Olympics have been cancelled, throwing thousands of athletes into a depression. Why were they cancelled? Because somewhere in Wuhan, China, a bat bit an exotic animal which was then ingested by a human shopping at the Huanan Market.

Obviously, the Covid 19 pandemic didn’t just affect the Olympics. It has literally shut down planet Earth. All because a bat in China bit an animal that was eaten by a human.

The lesson that the universe or God (or whoever you think is in charge) is teaching we mortal earthlings is patently unsubtle: Trying to control the outside world is an absolutely futile endeavor.

This is particularly harmful when people tie their self-worth to their career status, which is significantly influenced by outside factors beyond their control.

Depression on Wall Street

Let’s take the world of Wall Street as an example. There are probably thousands of Wall Streeters who feel thoroughly dejected right now because the 16% average annual return they’ve made their clients has vanished. They feel deeply wounded because they derive an inordinate amount of their self-esteem from one little number. Are they responsible for that investment return number plummeting? No. A bat is.

So what does the universe want you to focus on? The process. Not the outcome. The part that you CAN control. For the Wall Street financial person that means doing the best you can with understanding the companies you’re investing in, poring over the data, etc. In other words, doing the work to the best of your ability.

For the Olympic athlete it means cherishing the training and eating right, etc., and not getting so fixated on winning a gold medal that the whole endeavor will feel worthless unless you do.

Be like a golfer

The universe wants us to treat life as golfers do in a tournament. The golfer gives their best on each shot for 18 holes then posts a score. If someone shoots a better score, you don’t win the tournament. But there’s nothing you can do about that. You just focus on getting the most you can out of yourself and then let the chips fall where they may.

My favorite American, Teddy Roosevelt, embraced this philosophy fully. He prided himself on working his tail off on whatever the issue of the day was. He knew if he did that the future would take care of itself. He had contempt for politicians that spent most of their time scheming on climbing the political ladder and little on the actual work of public policy.

It’s ALL about the inside

But beyond careers, there’s an infinitely more important lesson the universe is teaching us in this pandemic. And that is that it is futile to try and manipulate the outside world in every area of our lives.

Some examples. “If I can get this man to love me I’ll be so happy.” “If I buy my dad a new BMW he’ll love me because he’ll think I’ve really made it in life!” “If I lose twenty pounds people will like me more which will make me feel better.”

It doesn’t work. Trying to control the outside world so you feel good inside is a destructive, dead-end venture.

Work on what you can control

What does work? Focusing 100% of our life’s efforts on the only thing we do control: Handling what life brings us from the inside out. How does this manifest?

Don’t work on “landing” some guy. Work inside on why you don’t feel complete without a man in your life.

Don’t try to buy your dad’s love with a BMW. Work inside figuring out why you feel his love needs to be bought in the first place. You’ll probably determine that it’s his inner damage that’s the problem, not yours. And then you come to terms with that from the inside.

Don’t focus on your weight or body image. Go inside and work on why your weight determines your self-worth.

The work of your life

To be blunt, this is the work of your life. Taking what the universe gives you and working from the inside on how best to respond.

I can tell you from personal experience that life is so much better when you deal with what you can control and let go of what you can’t. It really is the key to living a peaceful, fulfilled life. What I’d give to have learned this as a kid.

Finally, they say that God/the Universe works in mysterious ways. Well, that is not the case with this Covid 19 pandemic. There is nothing subtle or mysterious about a bat in China shutting our world down.

The sheer absurdity of that fact is the universe screaming at us from on high: Don’t try to control the outside, your work is on the inside.

Meditation

The Best Strategy For Managing The Bizzaro World of Self-Quarantine? Surrender

The coronavirus pandemic has turned billions of lives upside down in a matter of weeks. Day after day we sit at home, wandering around in a hazy fog of boredom, disbelief and depression.

The main source of torture for most people is that insidious anxiety roiling around in our guts 24/7. That anxiety has three main causes: Health fears, financial worries and the plain old weirdness of being holed up at home. This piece deals with that last one — the bizarro world of self-quarantine.

Resistance is the culprit

Though you may not be aware of it, it’s likely that the biggest contributor to your anxiety over the weirdness of your self-quarantine life is resistance. You’re thinking to yourself or telling your friends and family things like “God, I hate this. I wake up every morning and have no idea what to do. I can’t believe this is happening. It’s just weird. And bizarre. I sit at home and feel like crap. It’s like I’m paralyzed. Then I go out and the grocery stores shelves are half-stocked. And people there are all paranoid…”And on and on.

When you do that, what you’re doing is resisting the reality of what’s going on and that in itself causes anxiety. What should you do?

Surrender. Completely and totally surrender.

To what?

To the reality of life in quarantine.

It’s here. Don’t fight it. This virus has thrown the world into chaos and that’s it. There’s nothing you can do about it. The healthiest thing to do is accept it.

By the way, my motive in recommending this course of action has nothing to do with acting virtuous in the face of adversity. It is 100% about helping you feel better.

Resistance=feel worse, Surrender=feel better

The bottom line is that if you resist and fight this weird new world you’ll feel worse. If you surrender to the reality of it you’ll feel better.

To better understand why, it’s worth exploring the two kinds of pain we face in life, primary and secondary. As an example, when you break your leg the actual pain in your leg is primary pain. We all deal with primary pain. It’s inevitable in life.

Secondary pain is what you ADD on top of the primary pain and is emotional in nature. “This leg pain is never going to go away. I’ll never run again. Why did this have to happen to me? I’m so unlucky…”

In other words, secondary pain occurs when you flip out over primary pain. What most people don’t realize is that secondary pain usually causes as much or more suffering as the primary pain it’s responding to.

With our case, the self-quarantine morass we find ourselves in is the primary pain. It sucks. Our lives have been suspended in animation. We can’t go to work. Can’t go to the gym, etc.

Surrender to the primary pain

The secondary pain, which I detailed earlier, is all the complaining and ruminating we do in response. The best way to eliminate this unnecessary secondary pain is to surrender to and accept the primary pain.

Don’t try to win the fight against reality. It never goes well.

How do you actually do this? Well, there is no five-step program for mitigating secondary pain.

The solution

The solution comes down to doing one thing: disciplining yourself to become aware when you start descending the rabbit hole with thoughts of, “Boy, another day of hanging out doing nothing and feeling weird. Why did this have to happen — ” Then…

Boom. You stop yourself right there and say, “Nope. Not going there. I’m stuck in the house. It sucks. But there’s nothing I can do about it so I’m going to make the best of it. Let’s make a list of three things I want to get done today. Read fifty pages of The Great Gatsby, start cleaning out/organizing my disastrous garage…”

And leave it at that. Cut it off at the pass.

This is a tough time for just about everybody. Make it easier on yourself by cutting down on that self-imposed secondary pain!

Meditation

Eckhart Tolle Teaches To Not Identify With Your Thoughts — But How Do You Actually DO That?

Eckhart Tolle’s main teaching is that we are not our thoughts and as such shouldn’t identify with them. Sounds great. But actually achieving this is difficult. In fact, dis-identifying with your thoughts is literally the entirety of the spiritual journey. Here’s a three-step process for getting there.

Step 1: Acknowledge the two selves

First, you need to become aware of and acknowledge that you and your thoughts are two distinct entities that are entangled inside. Because they are so entangled, most people think they are just one entity — their compulsive, incessant, involuntary thoughts. Peoples’ conscious selves are so swallowed up and enveloped by their thought-producing minds that they think that their thoughts are who they are.

So what needs to be acknowledged is that humans consist of two inner selves: 1. A conscious self that is the real you; the you that exists only when you are rooted in the present moment and not lost in a stream of thoughts. And 2. The egoic/unconscious self that constantly pulls your attention to your thought factory mind. This egoic self is extremely powerful. Volumes could be written about why this is so.

For now, though, let’s just stipulate that separating and then creating distance between the conscious and egoic selves is the be-all end-all of spiritual growth. And acknowledging that you are comprised of these two selves and that they are entangled is the first step toward creating separation between the two.

Step 2: Begin Practicing Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness practices will facilitate further separation of the conscious and egoic selves. Why? In the case of meditation, all you’re doing is practicing “being” in, and occupying, your conscious/present self. Then when your mind sucks you into thought, you just notice that that has happened and bring your attention back to the present moment.

In that last sentence, when I say “you just notice…,” that you is your conscious self. And the more times that conscious self notices when you’ve drifted into thought and brought it back to the present, the stronger that conscious self becomes. And the stronger it becomes, the more distance is created between the two selves.

Mindfulness at the grocery store

Mindfulness, which is just meditation in your daily life, also increases the separation between the two selves. Here’s an example. You’re waiting in line at the grocery check out. It’s been a long day at work, you’re hungry and you just want to get home…but the cashier is chatting it up with someone who’s taking forever because they’re paying with a check. You feel yourself clench up inside, anger mounting.

But your meditation and mindfulness work cause a bell to go off inside your head that says, “Whoa. Chill out. Don’t let your egoic mind ruin these moments just because you may get home ninety seconds later. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths…”

Doing this kind of thing several times a day for years on end will be massively helpful in strengthening your conscious self and thereby creating more distance between it and your egoic self.

Step 3: Don’t Listen to Your Mind

After years of practicing meditation and mindfulness the chasm between your conscious and egoic selves will widen. But your mind will still suck your attention away from the present moment. The difference is you’ll notice it faster and therefore return to the present faster.

But when your conscious self becomes strong enough you can do something even better than notice the thoughts and then bring yourself back to the present. And that better thing, step three, is this: Right when the egoic thoughts come up, your conscious self will recognize this as it is happening and is so strong now that it can say, “Nope. I’m not going to listen to you, mind. You are the egoic me, not the real, conscious me and I aint listening to you.”

A ceiling leak tests me

Here’s a recent example from my own life that illuminates this. We discovered a ceiling leak in our kitchen four months ago. After much time and money investigating the source, we determined that the leak was coming from our upstairs shower. A shoddy bathroom renovation by the previous owner had caused the leak so we had to rip the entire shower up.

The ripping up and the subsequent hot mop and concrete work was completed two weeks ago. But our contractor told us it would be weeks before he could get his tile specialist there to complete the job because the guy had just gone on vacation and when he returned had to finish two other projects before he could get to ours.

How did I react? At first it was, “Damn it! This is BS. You can’t leave us hanging for weeks like this! We’ve had to use our kids’ shower for four months. Waa! Waa!”

Not listening to my egoic self

But then I caught myself, as it was happening. I said, “Wait a minute. This is my egoic self complaining that I didn’t get what I wanted. The fact is, we’ve been without this shower for several months. What’s a few more weeks? Screw it. This is the egoic me complaining and the real, conscious me is deciding here and now that I’m not going to listen to it.” And I didn’t. And I felt much better because of it.

This concept of not listening to what your mind is spewing is hard to do. After seven years of regular meditation and mindfulness practice, I’m just now getting to the point where I can do this, and only sporadically at that.

Why it’s so difficult

The difficulty of all this is not surprising when you consider that most of us have spent decades identifying with and thereby strengthening our egoic selves. It takes a lot of time and work to strengthen our real, conscious self to the point that it can actually supplant our egoic self as the captain of our life’s ship.

The fact is, most of us probably won’t get to the point that our conscious selves consistently rule the roost in our lives. But even getting to the point where it’s in charge a good chunk of the time will greatly enrich your life and make the world a better place, too.

Disentangle, then create space

Finally, if you take only thing from this piece, I hope it is this concept: that disentangling and then creating space between your conscious and egoic selves is central to spiritual growth. The hard work involved in achieving this is, as Michael Singer and Eckhart both say, the most important endeavor of your life.