Meditation

Meditation

Eckhart Tolle’s Strategy For Dealing With Difficult People

A question that has come up several times in an online meditation and mindfulness course I’m currently teaching is this: How should those on the spiritual path deal with difficult, irritating people? I’ve found Eckhart Tolle’s approach to be the healthiest and most effective. There are two components.

First is Eckhart’s axiom that it is impossible for any person to act beyond their current level of consciousness. He believes that each individual is progressing along their own path toward consciousness and some are further along that path than others.

Yes, this may seem to be a frustrating, overly forgiving take on dealing with “bad actors.” It’s not much different than when your mom told you at age ten that that thoroughly obnoxious boy who drove you nuts “…doesn’t know what he’s doing; he can’t help himself.”

But I’m not, nor is Eckhart, saying this means one should accept or condone bad behavior. I’m just saying that you need to accept that this is where the annoying person in front of you is in their evolutionary development and respond accordingly.

It’s not easy

I acknowledge that this is definitely easier said than done. But it is absolutely worth working on. Why?

Think about how much better off you’d be if you could eliminate the bad feelings you harbor about the difficult people in your life. A colleague at work. Maybe some in-laws who are nasty to you. Whoever they may be. Those feelings are an enormous energy suck that are all harm to YOU and no benefit.

It helped me a ton

Incorporating this idea of Eckhart’s into my life these past several years has been of enormous benefit. I came out of the womb a sensitive soul, which has manifested in many positive ways. But one negative effect has been a predilection for harboring ill will toward those who I thought were awful people.

None of this did me any good. Working on this over the past ten years or so helped me excise a ton of bad feelings I used to have for people.

Resist spiritual ego

One note of caution: Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of saying to yourself, “This poor sot is so spiritually clueless. If only he could be as advanced as I am.” That’s just spiritual ego and doesn’t do anybody any good.

What should go through your mind as an unconscious person is laying into you about something? “This person is unconscious and on their own path.” Short and sweet.

Second is Eckhart’s assertion that we humans need to handle every single moment of our lives in the same way: By being present. It’s the central objective of mindfulness — to be present for the moments of our lives.

Stay present in face of annoyance

So the next time somebody does something that annoys or even infuriates you, force yourself to pause for a few seconds and place attention on your breathing. In other words, stay in the present. Thengo ahead and respond to the situation from a place of calm presence.

The most important thing here is what not to do, which is to react with fury right in the moment. Why is that? Because when you react, you are exiting the present moment and handing control over to your egoic/unconscious self which craves drama and stirred up emotions.

Presence is priceless

I agree with Eckhart when he says that the best thing any human being can do for another is to simply be present. Not stuck in their head thinking about five different things. Just there. Present. With you.

This is true in many areas of life. Have you ever seen how valuable just one calm, present person can be in a business meeting? They can be the difference between the meeting falling off the rails or actually accomplishing something positive.

The complaining Londoner

Eckhart recounts a story from his own life of how valuable a present person can be to unconscious people. A thoroughly unconscious woman who lived in the flat above him in London used to drop by his place and vent and complain about everything under the sun.

One day she raged on and on about something the landlord had decided to do. Eckhart didn’t say a word. He said he just listened to her as intently as he could. In other words, he was present. Eventually the woman stopped, looked at Eckhart and said, “This really isn’t that big of a deal, is it?” Eckhart smiled and said it wasn’t. He defused the whole tirade by simply being present with her.

So that’s it. In dealing with challenging people, accept that it is impossible for any person to act beyond their current level of consciousness and remain present when they engage you. These two Eckhart nuggets really work and will save you a ton of angst. Give them a try.

Meditation

Ram Dass Got It Right: Chopping Wood And Carrying Water IS The Spiritual Path

Chopping wood and carrying water. For me these are the most powerful words in all of Ram Dass’s iconic, groundbreaking book Be Here Now.It’s an apt metaphor for how best to travel the spiritual path. Why?

First, what does Ram Dass mean by chopping wood and carrying water? In older, more primitive societies these would be two of the most basic, daily activities. Essential tasks done every day. Wood for fire. Fire for warmth, cooking and smithing. Water to drink, wash clothes and bathe in.

It’s the little things

How does that translate to the spiritual path? Because growth comes from doing the little things that are no less essential, in a spiritual sense, than food and water. And we do them over and over again. Every day of every week of every month of every year.

What little things? What are the spiritual equivalents of chopping wood and carrying water?

-Noticing that your attention has wandered off into thought and bringing it back to the here and now. While driving on the road, brushing your teeth, participating in a meeting. Whenever and wherever you wander off. Do it twenty times a day. Thirty times a day. Whatever it takes. Split logs and haul water.

-Noticing when something has upset you. It could be something someone said. Or texted. Or it could just be a disturbing thought about your past or future that popped into your head. The chopping wood and carrying water of it is noticing something upsetting has happened, then leaning away from it to give it some space, relaxing your body and then releasing that feeling. Over and over.

-Meditation. Not to reach sublime levels of spiritual nirvana. Just to come back to yourself. Back to home base. To the presence and stillness that is you. Nothing fancy. Just sitting in your chair or on your cushion and chopping wood. Every day.

Flashy doesn’t work

The reason this is important to comment on is that many people focus on the “bigger,” flashier aspects of the path. For example, instead of a consistent, moderate meditation practice, many will opt to do a one or two week meditation retreat. And it will be mind-blowing. But a month later life settles back in and the wood pile goes untouched.

Or people read every spiritual book from Be Here Now to Full Catastrophe Living to The Power of Now. But no wood and no water.

Hit thousands of balls

It doesn’t work. The spiritual path is no different than any other path. If you want to be a good golfer, you go to the driving range and hit thousands of balls, putt thousands of balls and chip thousands of balls. Day after day, year after year. That’s how one masters golf.

Same with basketball. And piano. And writing. And learning French. You chop the wood and carry the water.

And what is most necessary to master these things? Is it talent? No, but talent will get you there faster.

Most necessary is WILL. And discipline. There aren’t any shortcuts.

Use your free will

How does free will manifest on the spiritual path? It’s simple. It means bearing down and committing to becoming aware when your attention gets hijacked by your voracious mind. That takes energy and discipline.

It also manifests in getting your butt in the chair (or cushion) to meditate on a regular basis. The good news is that all of that gets easier and less onerous the more you do it. And the more you do this spiritual wood chopping and water carrying, the more awake, happier and better adjusted you become.

Which is why I say there is no more important area to exercise your free will and discipline than in traveling the spiritual path. Because chopping the wood and carrying the water will make you a better parent, friend and overall human being, all of which our world desperately needs now more than ever.

Meditation

Eckhart Tolle Teaches Us To Not Identify With Our Thoughts: Here’s A Technique To Help You Do It

The concept that we are not our thoughts is central to the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, Michael Singer, Deepak Chopra, Buddhism, Hinduism and too many more to mention. But for many on the spiritual path this is a difficult idea to wrap their arms around.

“What do you mean I’m not my thoughts? Of course I’m my thoughts. I’m the one who’s thinking them!” Actually, those thoughts are a product of your conditioned past and have no bearing on your true identity.

Who are you?

What is that true identity? The teachers and spiritual traditions mentioned above would say your true identity is the consciousness that notices those thoughts.

As I posited in a previous article, disidentifying with our thoughts is difficult. Why? Because most of us have been identifying with them for several decades. In that piece I laid out a three-step process for improving our ability to disidentify with our thoughts.

The first step in that process was becoming aware of and acknowledging 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.

Acknowledging the two selves

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 and dominates the conscious self in most people.

Recently I came upon another technique that helps strengthen my ability in this arena. Whether I’m meditating or practicing mindfulness during my daily life, when I notice that my mind has whisked my attention away into involuntary thinking, I do the usual and say to myself, “Okay, I’ve gone off into thinking. Let’s bring attention back to the here and now.”

The new technique

But I’ve added a new wrinkle. I include to what I say to myself, “And these thoughts are just like anything else that is happening in my experience of the present moment — the faint sound of the cars driving by, the low whirr of the fan in my office, the breath I was following and the stillness I sense inside my head. The thoughts and all of the rest are just things happening in the present moment. And none of these things are me. My thoughts are qualitatively no more ‘me’ than the car sounds, the fan or my breathing.”

Equating my thoughts with anything else happening in the present moment helps solidify inside me the separation between my conscious and unconscious/egoic selves. And as I’ve written many times, increasing the separation between those two selves is the essence of the spiritual journey.

Try it

So give this a try. Any time you notice you’ve drifted off into thought, whether in meditation or mindfulness practice, simply acknowledge that those thoughts are no different than anything else occurring in your present moment field of awareness.

And remember that thoughts and everything else happening in your present moment have one thing in common: They’re not you.

Meditation

A Mindful Strategy For Navigating Today’s Political Firestorm

I’ll be upfront from the get-go: I’m a lifelong Democrat who strongly favors Joe Biden. But this piece isn’t about slamming Trump. For though I worked in the political world in Washington for fifteen years, my work now focuses on teaching meditation and mindfulness.

What is the purpose of this piece then? To offer three ideas to those of you flipping out about the upcoming election and, probably more important, what happens after November 3.

As someone with DC experience, I get asked a lot about the current political tempest. Friends and relatives froth at the mouth with “Oh, my God! Can you believe he said he won’t respect the results of the election unless he wins!?” “Can you believe these a-holes are going to ram through a Supreme Court pick six weeks before an election when in 2016 they said nine months was too close to an election to consider a nominee? Shameless!!!”

Instead of flipping out about these things, try doing all three of the following.

1. Stay calm, be present

A little tough love is in order here. Buzzing around like a pinball venting to anybody who will listen about how angry, scared and fearful Trump’s actions make you does you no good and does nothing to help the situation. It’s just neurotic noise.

Staying present and not allowing your attention to be dragged into future ‘what if’ scenarios is the mindful way to handle this and all matters in life.

Think of two of the most successful activists of the past hundred years: Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Gandhi and MLK didn’t panic or become unhinged when the going got tough. To the contrary, they were the personification of presence and calm.

The result? They were effective. They achieved real reform. “Great,” you’re saying, “easier said than done. I’m not Gandhi or MLK.”

Fair enough. So how do we mere mortals actually accomplish this ‘being present’ thing when our minds constantly drag us into Crazytown? I’ve found that practicing meditation and mindfulness is the best concrete strategy for building ‘presence’ muscles. These muscles are in your brain and are like any other: When we exercise them they get stronger.

Practicing meditation and mindfulness is the mental equivalent of pumping fifty pound dumbbells to build up our bicep muscles. So if you haven’t developed these practices, now is a great time to start. (Go to davidgerken.net for a free program to get you started.)

For those of you who do practice meditation and mindfulness, remember that spiritual growth occurs during times of challenge and duress not when life is hunky dory. So use the current political firestorm as an opportunity to strengthen your practice and become more conscious.

2. Take action

Fine. Let’s say you can remain present and calm. Is that all you can do? Stay calm and present and watch our democracy go down the drain? No. Here are some concrete actions you can take in the now that will give you a sense of empowerment and hopefully quell your propensity toward aimless venting.

A. Indivisible.com: Go to indivisible.com, a fantastic, one-stop resource for grassroots involvement. Surf around the site to find events you can attend near you and all kinds of opportunities to make your voice heard.

B. Contribute: Biden-Trump isn’t the only race right now. There are several close Senate races, too. If you have some extra dough, contribute money to them. Jaime Harrison has a chance to beat Lindsey Graham in South Carolina.

Ditto John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Steve Bullock in Montana, Cal Cunningham in North Carolina, Mark Kelly in Arizona, Sara Gideon in Maine, Theresa Greenfield in Iowa and Amy McGrath in Kentucky. Go online and send them some money.

It doesn’t have to be thousands or even hundreds of dollars. The point here is to give yourself a sense of empowerment, of doing something other than just kvetching. You’ll feel better if you do.

3. Cut down on news

If you’re like me, you’re OD’ing on news every day. For me it’s reading The Washington Post and Politico.com throughout the day, catching a little MSNBC at breakfast and lunch and then watching a full hour of Rachel Maddow at 6. That’s too much.

So I’ve decided to cut waaaaay back. It’s now just the Maddow show.

I don’t need to read all these articles and columns all day. It just gets me spun up.

But I also don’t advocate completely tuning out. It’s important to stay informed, especially now.

How about you? Do you doomscroll through Twitter all day long? Do you read every political piece that comes across your transom?

Then cut back. It’s that simple. Think of one news source you can read or watch at one given time during your day and leave it at that. Surfing around intermittently throughout the day is a huge waste of time and, worse, just makes you anxious. So cut back.

Discipline

Stay present. Take action. Cut down on your news. What do all of these require? Discipline.

I know many people recoil when they hear that word, including me. But this is doable. You just need to hunker down and exercise your free will to do these things.

Because the next few months can either be a never-ending avalanche of apocalyptic anxiety or a period of proactive presence. Be good to yourself and choose the latter.

Meditation

Compassion: It’s the Paramount Teaching of the Spiritual Masters

In traveling the spiritual path these past ten years I’ve noticed that my favorite teachers consistently place compassion at the top of the pyramid of human behaviors. Everything they teach seems to culminate with showing compassion for others.

Who are these teachers?

The Dalai Lama

Probably the most influential spiritual leader in the world for the past fifty years, the Dalai Lama places compassion at the center of his teachings. He has famously said:

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

And…

“The topic of compassion is not at all religious business; it is important to know it is human business, it is a question of human survival.”

How does he describe compassion? He says it is “love, affection, kindness, gentleness, generosity of spirit and warm-heartedness.”

People with these traits don’t go into a personal encounter seeking something for themselves. They go in with the intention of serving that person in some way, especially if that person is suffering.

Thich Nhat Hanh

The other Buddhist teacher who has made a lasting spiritual mark since the 1960s is Thich Nhat Hanh. Here again, in the many interviews and talks I’ve heard him give, Thich Nhat Hanh consistently mentions the importance of compassion over everything else. Here are my two favorites:

“I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”

“Look at flowers, butterflies, trees, and children with the eyes of compassion. Compassion will change your life and make it wonderful.”

Eckhart Tolle

While Eckhart doesn’t often use the word compassion, his central teachings are synonymous with it. He teaches that we are not our thoughts but the consciousness that can only be present in the absence of thinking. He states that only when we are conscious like this can we be there for and with another human. In other words, the purpose of presence is to exhibit compassion toward others.

Mickey Singer

Mickey also doesn’t use the word compassion, but he too teaches concepts that describe the same thing. He teaches that we all have a beautiful, loving energy inside us that is blocked by the emotional scars (samskaras) we’ve trapped inside ourselves. Remove those scars and the energy will flow. He describes that energy as pure love for others, i.e., compassion.

Jesus Christ

While I’m not a practicing Christian, I do subscribe to the basic thrust of Christ’s teachings: Be good to others, especially the less fortunate. I don’t think you need to be the Pope, a minister or a theologian to conclude that compassion for others towers over Christ’s other teachings.

Fine, so the central teaching of these master spiritual beings was for we humans to show compassion toward one another. What can we derive from that?

That the endpoint of the spiritual path is not our own self-realization or some blissful state of nirvana. The endpoint is what we do with that self-realized bliss, namely showing compassion for others.

Personally, the very best I feel in life isn’t when I’ve won some athletic contest or achieved professional advancement. Those satisfy my ego but, by definition, there is no authentically good feeling that comes from doing that.

The best I ever feel has always come from showing compassion to another person. Could be a stranger you help carry their groceries. Or talking a friend down from the ledge. Or calming my three year old daughter when she’s having a meltdown.

Those things actually make me feel good. And I don’t think I’m alone. I think it’s universal that people feel their best when they’ve shown compassion to another.

Why is this so? Is it some Darwinian, evolutionary dynamic where we have some inner, genetic impulse to help each other because that will perpetuate the human species?

I don’t know. And I don’t think it matters.

What does matter? In this time of Covid-19, political insanity and racial unrest, I think it would behoove all of us to remember the aforementioned great masters who teach us that compassion is the answer.

Meditation

These 4 Thich Nhat Hanh Quotes Are A Manual For Life

Thich Nhat Hanh is a 93 year old Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has been one of the most influential spiritual leaders on earth for the past fifty years. Here’s how far back he goes: Martin Luther King nominated him for the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the Vietnam War.

He is best known for his beautiful, simple teachings about mindfulness. In that vein, here are four quotes of his that will help you become a better, happier human being.

1.The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

That’s it. Just be there. All of you. Listening. With no agenda. Just 100% present. With your spouse. Your kids. Your coworkers. Your friends.

Thich Nhat Hanh is right on the money here. Being present is the deepest gift we can bestow on anybody.

Eckhart Tolle, another of my favorite spiritual teachers, states the very same thing.

2. To be beautiful means to be yourself.You don’t need to be accepted by others.You need to accept yourself.When you are born a lotus flower, be a beautiful lotus flower, don’t try to be a magnolia flower.If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life.True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.

I am the father of 12, 10 and 4 year old kids and if I had to pick the number one thing I want to teach them it would be the sentiment behind this quote. Don’t fight yourself. Be yourself. Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed it in the most positive way: “Absolve you to yourself and you shall have the suffrage of the world.”

There is, however, one vital point on this subject of self-acceptance that I wish TNH, Emerson and others would emphasize, which is this: For most people, it takes courage.

Example: If your father is a macho ex-Marine, it takes courage to follow your inner compass that’s telling you to become a male ballet dancer.

Our families, our friends and society all pressure us to do what they think we should do. We have to summon the courage to say to all of them: “Sorry, but I’m the one living in here. I know what’s best for me and I need you to respect that.”

3.The best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment.

The first quote was about presence being the best thing we can do for others. This quote is about how presence is the best thing we can do for ourselves.

So much suffering in the world is caused by our worrying about the future. And what does worrying do? It takes us out of the present moment and makes us feel miserable.

We worry about the future and turn our backs on the present moment because we feel if we don’t, our future will be bleak. Well, how about this for an idea? If you’re worrying about having enough money to pay the rent, don’t spend your moments worrying about it. Place your moment to moment attention on making enough money to pay the rent.

But again, there is this insidious feeling in so many of us that worries that if we don’t worry things won’t work out. As if worrying will pay dividends for us. It’s crazy. And it’s not true.

What I’ve tried to do the past several years is live by the motto, “Be present and trust in life.” Because it does take a leap of faith to just say to yourself, “Screw it. I’m going to give everything I have to the present moments of my life and let the chips fall where they may.”

I can tell you that it’s definitely working for me and I know of nobody who truly lives life in the moment who has been ill-served by doing so. We just need the courage to toss the yoke of worrying by the wayside.

4.Your breathing should flow gracefully, like a river, like a watersnake crossing the water, and not like a chain of rugged mountains or the gallop of a horse…Each time we find ourselves dispersed and find it difficult to gain control of ourselves by different means, the method of watching the breath should always be used.”

This one sums up the ultra-simple mindfulness technique for re-orienting ourselves after we’ve been knocked off track: We just come back to our breath.

I’m teaching a meditation and mindfulness course right now and my class is practicing this very technique this week. So simple, yet so powerful.

How do you do it? Example: You’re driving home after a tough day at work when the car behind you leans on the horn for five seconds because you didn’t signal when you changed into their lane; a minute later your teenage daughter calls and yells at you for not being home on time.

What do you do? At the next red light you stop. Close your eyes. Find your breath. Then start following it. Long, slow breaths. Just for a minute or so. When you open your eyes you’ll feel better and back on track.

If you don’t do this? There’s a good chance you’ll let these two irritating incidents affect your mood for the rest of the evening.

Finally, do yourself a favor and watch this interview with Oprah and Thich Nhat Hanh. The man just exudes goodness.

Meditation

This Teaching on Happiness Is The Best I’ve Ever Encountered

Last year I took an online course called Living From a Place of Surrender taught by bestselling author Michael Singer (The Untethered Soul). The thrust of the course is about why people aren’t happy and how they can be happy.

Singer doesn’t use the word happy. He says that life can be consistently filled with feelings of joy, love and energy. Not just some of the time, but most of the time.

Many of you read that and think, “That’s ridiculous. Nobody feels great all or most of the time. That’s just not the nature of life. It’s impossible.”

I felt the same way up until taking this course, which is the best I’ve ever taken. (BTW, I’ve taken tons of courses, read all the books and done a lot of online seminars so that’s saying something. Do yourself a favor and take it. You can find it at Soundstrue.com).

Our baggage dictates our life

Singer’s teaching is that people are unhappy because as kids and into adulthood they hold onto and push down emotionally difficult experiences (he calls them samskaras, a Sanskrit word) instead of experiencing them and letting them go. These samskaras then become lodged in our psyches where they dictate our actions and life decisions.

In fact, most of us spend our lives in what we think is the pursuit of happiness, but is in reality just trying to manipulate the world to accommodate these traumas. That’s a lot of spiritual-psycho babble so let’s look at a few examples to clarify.

The first is from my own life. With five older, intelligent, successful siblings and a Fortune 500 CEO father, I developed a deep insecurity about not measuring up in my family. So most of my life has been about “pursuing happiness” by manipulating the outside world in ways that would make me appear “successful.” How specifically did this play out?

My college admission rat race

First there was the whole college rat race. I had two siblings who’d graduated from Stanford and another was at Harvard while I was still in high school. To compensate, I did everything I possibly could with my academic and athletic talent to get into as good a college as I could. I didn’t have the straight A grades most of my siblings had and I was not as good a tennis player as my older brother who went to Stanford.

So I pursued the tennis coach at Princeton who I convinced to take a chance on me by putting me on his short list of 3–4 players he pushed with the admissions office. I squeaked in. Did this make me happy? No. It just fed my insecurity samskara.

Mr. Gerken goes to Washington

Next came Washington, DC, where I again tried to manipulate the outside world to accommodate my insecurity “stuff.” I pushed hard to make it up the power ladder, securing jobs with the eventual speaker of the House and also the House majority whip. It never felt right and it didn’t make me happier. Why? Because my stuff/samskaras were still lodged inside me.

What tough emotional experiences/samskaras did you push down and never let go of that you’ve spent your life compensating for?

Was your dad distant and unavailable, leading you to try and accommodate that through relationship after relationship where the guy could never be “there” enough for you?

Were you bullied as a kid and not the popular guy at school, causing you to exert every fiber of your being to become rich and successful in order to “show them”?

Did your parents’ terrible, rocky marriage result in you compensating by being the non-confrontational, people-pleasing, peacemaker in all areas of your life?

We all do it

We’ve all done this to one degree or another. And the fundamental problem is this: It doesn’t work. Ever.

It doesn’t matter if you lose that thirty pounds, buy the Ferrari, marry your dream guy or get into Princeton, you’ll still revert to your default level of unhappiness/unease. Why? Because your stuff is still there.

How does having all that emotional baggage actually manifest in making you uneasy/unhappy in life? Singer’s basic assertion is that these samskaras block the free flow of energy that is our natural state. They are like rocks in a river that create disturbances and eddies, etc.

Mickey’s central teaching

Which leads to the crux of his teaching: The path to happiness doesn’t involve adding a single thing to your life. Not a car. Not a person. Not kale-celery smoothies, fasting cleanses, Soul Cycle workouts or even three month meditation retreats.

No. You don’t need to add anything.

The entire path is about eliminating these emotional blockages.

So don’t go for the mansion. Remove your baggage. Don’t look for the perfect guy/relationship. Remove your baggage. Don’t devote 95% of your attention to treating your body like a temple. Remove your baggage.

How to remove the baggage

Which leads to the $64,000 question: How do we remove that baggage?

Singer offers one simple practice. Any time one of these feelings comes up, the moment that happens, stop, relax everything in your body, and then let that feeling rise up and out of you.

And just keep doing that. And doing that. And doing that. It’s a continuous practice of relaxing and letting go of your stuff.

The hardest part is training yourself to become aware when these feelings are triggered. Why is that so hard? Because these feelings come and go all the time and we’ve just accepted them as normal, in my case for several decades. So recognizing them when they arise requires vigilant attention.

My tennis example

Here’s a current example from my life where I’m working on this. I’m a tennis player. Played juniors, varsity at Princeton for four years and won many club championships over the past many years.

Next week I’m playing in one of the biggest American senior tennis tournaments of the year. And guess what? I’m experiencing nervous feelings already.

This is a perfect example of a samskara that’s been lodged inside me since I was nine years old. “If I don’t win, I’m a loser and people will look at me differently. If I win people will think I’m a better person.” It’s embarrassing admitting that in my mid-50’s I still get nervous for a tennis tournament. But it is what it is.

This time, however, I’ve decided to use this tournament to let go of this particular baggage. I’ve already felt this nervous feeling probably ten times so far and each time I’ve stopped, relaxed and let it go.

Use getting your buttons pushed

I encourage others to do the same. Use the arising of these feelings as opportunities to let them go.

When you notice that angry feeling rising up because your husband just ignored you as your dad did when you were growing up, instead of engaging with it, just stop, close your eyes, relax and then allow the feeling to rise up and out of you. Just like removing a rock from the river.

Make this your primary focus

Finally, to be successful at this we need to put it at the forefront of our attention. It can’t just be one of twenty things you work on in life. Letting go of your stuff needs to be number one.

But if you think about it, it makes sense to do just that. Because getting rid of that baggage is going to make you happier, more loving and an overall better human being. Which is great not just for you but for your spouse, kids, friends, coworkers…everybody you come into contact with.

So that’s the one-two punch of Mickey Singer’s teaching on why we’re unhappy and how we can become happy. 1. We all have a ton of baggage stuffed inside that controls how we live our lives, and not in a good way. 2. Our life’s work is to continuously let that baggage go.

When we do that we actually feel better inside. Lighter. More energetic. More compassionate. More joyful.

I’m nowhere close to where Mickey is on this path. After all, he’s been on it for fifty years and I’ve just gotten serious about it the past few years. But I do sense progress and good things ahead.

Meditation

Do You Constantly Obsess About Your “Problems”? Try This

Problems. We all have them. Or at least we think we do.

Here are a few examples. See if you can spot the one thing they all have in common.

“I’m so worried my kids won’t do well with this whole COVID, distance learning thing and that they’ll fall behind and never catch up.”

“I can’t tell if my boyfriend is really into this relationship for the long haul. Should I stay? Go?”

“I wonder if I’ll survive this next round of layoffs?”

The common theme here? The problem is in the future. Will my kids be okay in the future? Will my relationship last? Will I get laid off?

Future, future, future. Don’t feel badly if this is you because just about everybody does it.

Worrying makes sense

And like most human behaviors there is some rational, though unconscious, basis for dwelling on the future. “If I don’t worry about my job security I won’t be ready to deal with getting fired.” It’s part of an evolutionary instinct for self-preservation.

But just because it’s rational doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It’s not. Worrying about the future is possibly the single most self-destructive act humans engage in. It is almost always all harm and no good.

What to do about it

Fine. So what should you do if you constantly find yourself worrying about your problems?

This. Next time your mind blasts off to Worryland and that awful, insidious anxious guck starts rearing its ugly head, stop and ask yourself this question:

Is there anything going on in THIS moment that is really that bad?

I’m telling you, 99% of the time your answer will be, “Well…no. Right now I’m just driving home from work listening to music.”

Bottom line: Most of the moments of your life are at least okay and bearable. Sure, when your boyfriend breaks up with you those moments will be painful. And your boss telling you you’re fired would cause a series of painful moments.

But most of our moments aren’t that bad. We just make them bad by dwelling on all the bad things that could happen in the future.

My family flu fiasco

Here’s an example from my life where this whole concept crystallized for me. A few years ago I got the flu. Just as I was getting over it my one year old got diarrhea and started throwing up. Then my seven year old threw up all night. Then my nine year old started throwing up. Then the final domino fell when my wife went down for the count.

And it hit me: I am sooooo screwed. I still felt weak and lousy and was going to have to take care of all four members of my family that night and the for the foreseeable future.

That night my son yelled for me to get him some Gatorade. As I zombie-walked toward the kitchen I started thinking about all the misery that lay ahead.

A Gatorade epiphany

Just as I was about to spiral down the rabbit hole, I stopped. And I said to myself, “Is there anything awful about this moment? You’re walking to the kitchen to get Gatorade for Hank. What’s so bad about that?” And just like that, the pit in my stomach disappeared. The next day, my wife was fine and the three kids were on the mend.

Again, so much agony in our lives comes from projecting into the future all the bad things that could happen to us. Then we let all those negative thoughts about the future comprise how we feel in the present moment. The actual reality of the present moment usually has no bearing on how we feel.

Think of all the misery you could eliminate if you just taught yourself how to drop into the reality of each present moment. No thinking about the future. No thinking about the past.

Seek refuge in the now

What I’m really suggesting here is that you seek refuge in the present moment. You might think, doesn’t that just mean escaping from life? NO! The exact opposite. You’re going toward life. Why? Because life only occurs in the present moment. It always has and it always will. Everything else is just mind activity.

You might say, “Well, just being present and not thinking about my problems is easier said than done.” And you would be right. It isn’t easy. We’ve all been hardwired to be this way and we’ve been doing it for, in my case, several decades.

Meditation helps foster presence

But we absolutely CAN get better at being present. Meditation, which is just practicing being in the moment, is an obvious thing we can do to help in this area. Practicing mindfulness, which is simply meditation in your daily life, also helps immensely.

If you want to take a stab at meditation I have a free program designed to help regular folks develop a practice. You can find it at davidgerken.net.

So remember, next time you get spun up about your problems, stop…Then ask yourself if anything about the present moment is all that bad. The more you do this the more you’ll live your life in the only space it ever takes place: the present moment.

Meditation

My Favorite Meditation Teacher and What You Can Learn From Him

In my eight years of regular meditation I’ve come across a slew of good teachers. People like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Peter Russell, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. To a person, I’ve found them to be committed, thoughtful and effective teachers.

But the one who resonates most with me is Adyashanti (FKA Stephen Gray). A former Buddhist monk who hails from Northern California, Adyashanti’s teachings convey, in plain, accessible language, the basic concepts necessary to get the gist of meditation.

His teachings also, crucially, best carry meditation’s salutary influences into our daily lives. For instance, accepting each moment as it is in our meditation helps strengthen our ability to accept each moment as it is at home, work or just driving on the highway.

Here are a few of Adyashanti’s main precepts.

Your true nature

First, he believes that meditation is a way to allow your true nature to experience itself. That true nature is buried most of the time by our thought factory minds. Meditation quiets things down inside so we can merge with our true nature, something that is always there.

What is that true nature, or true self? It’s the life force within us. It’s our spirit. Our soul. Some, like Maya Angelou, call it the voice of God within us.

I believe that allowing our true nature to emerge, to take over the steering wheel of our lives, is the purpose of life. It’s what the spiritual path is all about. As Adyashanti says, meditation facilitates that emergence of our true selves.

Meditation as art, not science

Second is his assertion that meditation is an art, not a science. That is, it’s something that we can’t just grab onto and corral with our will. Meditation requires a “light touch, an ease, a softness, something we need to get the feel of, the hang of…” as he says.

This is why meditation is so difficult for we hard-charging Americans. We’ve all been taught that in order to get what we want in life we need to work furiously to control the world around us. At work. At home. Everywhere.

This approach to life is unhealthy for us and for the people around us. Meditation requires us to take our hands off the world and to let it be as it is. When we do that, when we accept the flow of life, the tension inside us melts away. Is there anything better than that?

Become your true nature

Third, Adyashanti enourages us to “get rid of the meditator.” I heard him say this about four years ago and it’s what initially drew me to his teachings. It blew me away. Why?

Most meditation practices involve a subject-object dynamic. There’s the subject (me, the meditator) and the object (my breath, a mantra, sounds…whatever’s happening in the present moment). That’s two entities.

What Adyashanti is saying by “get rid of the meditator” is to just quiet down and then merge into and become your true nature/self. You’re sitting with your true self as one entity. It’s who you are so why step back and observe it? BE it.

As for his specific meditation instructions, they are simple and encapsulated by what he calls the three commitments. These are the three things Adyashanti says we need to commit to during each meditation session.

The three commitments

1. Be still. By this, he means be physically still. Try not to move around. Why? Because physical stillness facilitates stillness of mind.

2. Allow each moment to be exactly as it is. This one has been the big enchilada for me for years. Adyashanti calls this the heart of meditation. We can only find our natural state of awareness when we fully accept the present moment as is. He calls it the quality of letting go. It’s synonymous with nonresistance. It relaxes me just writing this paragraph.

3. When the mind wanders, patiently and compassionatelybring it back.This one isn’t much different from what all the other teachers say, with one caveat. Instead of bringing attention back only to our breath, Adyashanti includes another option: bringing attention back to our natural state of awareness. What the heck does that mean? It means bringing our attention back to the stillness inside us.

I highly encourage listening to this talk Adyashanti gave a few years ago. It’s 35 minutes and summarizes his meditation approach. Listening to it will also give you the feel of his voice and manner which strikes all the right notes for me.

Meditation

Learn From Michelangelo: Chip Away At Yourself Every Day

On August 16, 1501, the powers that be in Florence chose 26 year old Michelangelo Buonarroti to execute the Herculean task of sculpting what is known to this day as the greatest sculpture ever created: The David.

The Biblical figure David, viewed as the embodiment of fierce resistance to a formidable threat, was to be seen as a symbol of Florence’s unyielding commitment to its independence from bigger and stronger city states, hence why David’s eyes are fixed eastward toward Rome.

Tuscan marble

Shortly after receiving the commission, Michelangelo set to work. From a massive block of marble excavated in Northern Tuscany, he chipped away, day after day, week after week, month after month…until just over two years later he’d finished the massive undertaking.

All of that patience and hard work paid off as the denizens of Florence immediately realized that the 17 foot high statue Michelangelo had created was a masterpiece for the ages.

So what does any of this have to do with we mere mortals slogging away in the 21st century? A lot, as it turns out, because of the potent analogy this anecdote presents.

For in reality what Michelangelo did was take an enormous block of marble and chisel away until he uncovered the sublime beauty that lay inside.

Our block of marble

And that is precisely what we humans need to do. Our block of marble is the totality of our psyches, warts and all.

What warts? The grievances, grudges, insecurities, fears, anxieties, pride, vulnerabilities and feelings of superiority and inferiority we all possess to one degree or another. The sum total of these warts comprises our egoic self, that critical, relentless voice in the head that never seems to shut up.

We create this egoic self in childhood and then pile onto it throughout adulthood.

The David inside you

What is the net effect of all this egoic guck dominating our attention? The near-total smothering of our true, conscious self, the beautiful, compassionate real “you” that resides in us all. It’s the statue of David that is inside you right now.

How do we gain access to our statue of David? We do what Michelangelo did: With patience and vigilance we chisel away the egoic detritus obscuring our conscious selves. Every day. No days off.

How do we chisel away the egoic marble smothering our inner, conscious selves? Any time an egoic thought or feeling comes up we:

  1. notice that it’s come up;
  2. immediately relax everywhere in our body for a few moments; then
  3. let that feeling rise up and out of us. Just let it go.

Mom and the time machine

Example: Forty year old you visits your 75 year old mom. After a few days she asks if you wouldn’t mind tidying up your room, making your bed, etc., sending you kicking and screaming into a time machine that transports you back to age twelve. What do you do? Notice, relax, let go. After doing this, a small piece of your egoic marble hits the ground and you’re one small step closer to uncovering your true self.

We don’t do this now and then or when we feel like it. Like Michelangelo we do this every day. Why? Because there is no more important endeavor we can devote our attention to.

Shedding yourself of yourself takes precedence over everything. Why? Because getting closer and closer to our true selves makes us better at everything. Better parents, better friends, better workers, better human beings.

Tears of awe

My sister cried when she walked into the Accademia Gallery in Florence and laid eyes on The David. The sheer size, vitality and force of the statue was emotionally overpowering.

The true self lurking deep within you, and I mean every single one of you, is a thousand times more powerful, majestic and beautiful than The David.

Our primary job in life is to unearth, with the relentlessness and patience exhibited by Michelangelo, that true self. It’s the greatest thing we can do not just for ourselves, but for the world.