Meditation

Meditation

Ram Dass’s Wise Teaching on Deciding What to Do With Your Life

Most people, young and old, struggle with the vexing question: What should I do with my life? It hangs over many of us like a dark cloud, never to be fully resolved.

The good news is it doesn’t have to be like that. The simple solution to this age-old dilemma was stated with beautiful eloquence by the late, great spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, who said:

When people say, ‘What should I do with my life?’ the more interesting question is, How do I cultivate the quietness of my being, where what I should do with my life will become apparent?

Game, set, match. I could end the article right here. But let’s dive a little deeper to put some meat on them bones.

Don’t let your mind be the decider

First, let’s examine what most people do with this ‘what should I do with my life?’ question. The answer is they rely on their egoic minds to guide their life decisions.

Why is that a losing strategy? Because the egoic mind doesn’t know jack sh*t! It’s just a compendium of all the limited life experiences we’ve had that we didn’t let go of. Bottom line: Our minds aren’t smart enough to know what paths we should take.

Let your insides guide you

What is smart enough to guide us? There are many words people use to describe it. Our consciousness, presence, the deep ‘I’, our essence, intuition, soul, spirit and true self just to name a few.

That force is subtle, mysterious and elusive to those of us humans (which is almost all of us) who have loud, active minds.

Which is where Ram Dass’s brilliant quote comes in. He teaches us to work on quieting our minds so that we can hear the answer to the ‘what should I do with my life?’ question.

So the work of our lives isn’t in figuring out what to do with our lives. It’s about, as Ram Dass says, cultivating the quietness of our being.

The Mickey Singer example

I saw a perfect example of how this manifests in real life watching an interview recently with another fantastic spiritual teacher, Mickey Singer. The interviewer, actress and scientist Mayim Bialik, went through all of the things Mickey had accomplished — creating a billion dollar software company (Medical Manager), writing three highly acclaimed books, and creating the Temple of the Universe in Gainesville, Florida, where he teaches. Then she asked what his process was for deciding what to do all those things.

The crux of Mickey’s response was this: He had no process. He never sat around and thought about what he should do next.

So what did he do? He let the universe put something in front of him then he ran with it. By ‘he ran with it’ I mean that he poured his heart and soul into it and did his best work.

Mickey follows his nose to Radio Shack

The software company is an apt example. He was always fascinated by gadgets and how they worked so one day in the late 1970s Mickey walked into a Radio Shack and bought a rudimentary computer (which is all there was back then).

He then taught himself how to program. Why? Because he found it interesting. That randomly led to him creating some software for a small business. Which led, eventually, to a multiyear project of creating software for doctors’ offices. Which became the multi-billion dollar company Medical Manager.

No pro/con lists written on legal pads of what he should do. Just following his nose and exerting a ton of attention and effort.

Crucially, Mickey was able to do this because he’d already spent several years ‘cultivating the quietness of his being’; that is, he had done a ton of meditation and all sorts of spiritual practices to quiet his insides.

Deciding what to do is a continuous process

Also critical is that this process of ‘deciding what to do with your life’ is an ongoing process. So many, especially the younger among you, place undue pressure on themselves by looking at this decision as a ‘Damn, I better get this right, because if I get it wrong, my whole life will be ruined.’

WRONG! The process of deciding what to do with our lives is continuous. Take Mickey again. Back in the early 2000s his company went through a brutal period that tested him to his core.

What did he do? This tough situation the universe put in front of him led him to write one of the surpassing spiritual books of our time, The Untethered Soul.

The takeaway

So if you’re racking your noggin trying to figure out what to do with your life, don’t! Expend your effort and energy on getting quiet inside. Then let the universe guide you.

Meditation

Letting Go of Our Emotional Baggage is Crucial, but Also Really Hard – Here’s How to Make it Easier

If you’re wondering why I write a lot about letting go of our baggage, here’s the reason: It’s the most important thing we can do. I’m not being hyperbolic, either. That baggage is actually energy we’ve accumulated in our lower selves over the years that sits there and runs our lives…unless we let it go.

But here’s the thing — we have so much of it, and from so many sources, that our emotional baggage overwhelms intrepid spiritual warriors like us who decide to try and let it go. It’s simply too much to try and let go of all the enchiladas all at once.

My mom’s great idea

So what do we do? We take a page from my mom, the late great Darlene Gerken, who advised me, when faced with a big project, to bite off a small piece and work on that first.

How would that work with letting go? We pick a few areas that push our buttons and focus on those.

And by a few, I really mean a few. I recommend picking one big and one small.

The Big

For the big category, pick something central in your life that challenges you. If your spouse or significant other frequently pushes your buttons, that could be your ‘big one.’

Or maybe it’s your core issue. In my case, that’s the ‘Be big, be a doer and not a lazy shlunk’ issue I’ve dealt with since childhood. If your core issue is weight/body image issues, focus on letting those feelings go when they come up.

The Small

In the small category, choose things that come up most days but that don’t send you reeling. Things like:

-Driving. Make a point to let go when someone cuts you off, or drives too slowly, or too fast, or you get stuck in traffic.

-Waiting. I came out of the womb impatient. If that’s you, try this one. Let go when you feel that low-level seethe coming on from waiting in line at the grocery store, stopped at a red light, or waiting on hold for Delta Airlines for hours on end.

-Squabbling kids. If you have teenage and/or pre-teen kids who fight a lot, choose those situations to let go instead of losing it (a good one for me!).

How to let go

How do we actually let go? Here’s the process.

First, immediately upon noticing that your button has been pushed, RELAX. Everywhere. Your head, chest, belly, lower body.

Second, place your attention on the upset feeling…and lean away from it. Give it space. And don’t judge it, or get mad at it, or fight with it. Don’t do anything other than watch it as dispassionately as possible.

Third, visualize the feeling as a hard, rigid field of energy, which it is. Then feel that energy soften as you relax into it…and let it break loose and flow up.

Then open your eyes and go about your day.

Two essentials to help ensure success:

1. SET AN INTENTION. For this to work, you need to ingrain it in your skull. Tell yourself, for example, “Okay, I’m going to do this letting go thing. Each time my husband pushes a button and each time I feel myself losing it while waiting I’m setting the intention to become aware of that and then do the letting go process.”

2. WRITE REMINDER NOTES. This is really helpful and easy. If you’re going to let go while driving, put a note on your dashboard that says simply, “Let Go.” So when someone honks, flips you off, cuts you off or whatever, that note is there to remind you what to do. If it’s your ‘big’ topic, put those ‘Let Go’ notes in the places you most experience those button-pushing events.

The takeaway

Many people get the crux of spirituality all wrong. They think it’s about adding things on to themselves.

Not so. Awakening is about subtracting, not adding on. We all have a beautiful spirit made of energy inside us. And guess what blocks that energy from flowing up and making us feel great?

OUR BAGGAGE.

So all we’re doing with this letting go process is removing these layers of blockages. Each blockage removed gets us closer to feeling fantastic. A lot.

Bottom line: Pick a big, a small, set your intentions, write your reminder notes and get to it. The cost of doing so is minimal and the benefit is sky high.

I hope you’ll go for it.

Meditation

A Tip to Help You Let Go of Emotional Baggage

A subject that’s received oodles of play on Medium is the whole morning routine thing.

“Drink 250 ounces of water and stand on your head for ten minutes. Then slap yourself in the face five times while screaming out ‘I’M A GOOD PERSON, GOD DAMNIT!’ Bing, bang, boom, you’re set for a great day!”

Today I add my contribution to this vaunted topic. It has to do with what I think is the healthiest endeavor humans can pursue: Letting go of our emotional baggage. First, some quick background on that, then on to my morning tip.

Spiritual practices don’t accomplish everything

Letting go. I’ve written multiple articles about it. So many spiritual teachers recommend meditation, mindfulness, yoga, chanting, Qi Gong and many others. And I love all of them.

But here’s the thing. You could spend all day, every day for years doing those things and still not come close to liberating yourself.

Why? Because none of those practices will release the emotional baggage we’ve stored inside ourselves from our earliest days.

The monk who lost it

Eckhart Tolle tells the story about an American man who moved to India and became a monk. He lived in a monastery for a few years, meditating several hours a day.

Then he went to Delhi to get his visa extended. After standing in line for hours the guy lost it.

“You people are completely incompetent! I’ve been waiting in this line for three hours! This is unacceptable!”

Turns out Mr. Meditator Monk had issues. Like the rest of us, he had baggage he’d trapped in his lower self just waiting to spew out.

What that baggage is

As Michael Singer teaches, that baggage (which he calls Samskaras) is stuff we’ve experienced in life that we held onto and didn’t let pass through us. If we don’t let it go when it comes up, it stays there. And runs our lives. How?

When you were eleven and went to the store with your friends to buy a candy bar and nothing eventful happened, you experienced that and let it pass through you. Same with the trees you looked at as your mom drove you home later that day. You experienced that and let it pass through you.

But the next day, when you played terribly at your piano recital and your parents berated you for not practicing hard enough and wasting their hard-earned money on lessons…that didn’t pass through. You took that experience and shoved it down to your lower self. And thirty years later, it still pops up when you feel like you’ve failed at something.

The letting go in the morning idea

Which leads to this letting go in the morning idea that came to me a few days ago. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they wake up in the morning not feeling great. I put myself in that category.

Not that it’s a feeling of absolute dread with the pit in the stomach. Just a feeling of unease and low-level anxiousness.

I posit that that feeling often derives from our core issue. As many of you know, that core issue for me has always been about feeling pressure to succeed. And BE somebody. And PRODUCE.

My go, go, go baggage

So when I wake up and feel that unease, it’s usually related to this collection of baggage inside exhorting me to, “Go, go, go. Time to get up and make something of yourself! Get something to eat and then sit your butt down and write something great!”

It’s not normally that direct and at the forefront of my mind, but if I pursue that feeling down to its roots, that’s what I find. It’s those trapped emotional energies spurring me on. And not in a healthy way, either.

What occurred to me recently is that it would be incredibly helpful to use that initial, unease-upon-waking-up feeling as an opportunity to let go. As the first thing we do in our day.

The step-by-step process

What does that look like? You’ve woken up and you’re lying in bed. You notice that feeling of unease. You slide your feet over and onto the floor and sit on the edge of the bed, keeping your eyes closed.

Then you relax. Everywhere. Your head, chest, belly, lower body. Then you place your attention on that feeling…and lean away from it. Don’t judge it, or get mad at it, or fight with it. Don’t do anything other than notice it, with no judgment at all.

Finally, look at that feeling as a pocket of energy, which is what it is. It’s stuck energy that wants to flow up.

Visualize that energy as hard and rigid, which it is. That’s why it’s stuck. Then visualize or just imagine that your relaxed state is slowly softening that energy. Breaking it up…until it breaks loose and flows up.

Then open your eyes and get on with your morning.

Two more points

Couple things. First, I have good news. This is not some long, half hour meditative process. I’m talking about maybe thirty seconds. Hopefully that short amount of time will incentivize you to go for it.

Second, don’t feel like you have to pinpoint exactly what that feeling is before relaxing and letting it go. To use my example, I don’t need to think “Okay, that uneasy feeling. Is that my ‘Go, go, go, be somebody’ thing? Or does it come from knowing I have a few meetings today that will throw off my normal routine? What is it?”

We don’t have to do that. As Mickey Singer says about this topic, Yoga is much deeper than our thinking minds. That feeling is there and what we need to do is relax and let it release upward, regardless of its origin.

This letting go of our baggage thing is not some quick and dirty process. It took us many years to pack those energies in there and it’ll take a good while to let them go.

The takeaway

But it makes sense to me that letting go first thing in the morning, every morning that we have that uneasy feeling, would, over time, make a sizable dent in that large Samsonite bag of baggage we all lug around with us.

So I hope you’ll give this a try. It’s short and easy to do and, as I wrote up top, nothing is more important than letting go of our stuff.

And if you’re one of those lucky few who wakes up every morning bright eyed and bushy tailed singing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma, you can disregard this idea. You lucky dog…

Meditation

3 Words to Stop You from Falling Into a Bad Mood

A bad mood is often the result of one incident cascading out of control. That’s all it takes. One thing happens and we let it take over our mood.

Like what? Well, I’m not talking about major events like getting fired, broken up with or losing a loved one. Those require bigger responses.

I’m talking about things like getting in a fight with your spouse/significant other, your boss being a jerk or somebody making a snarky comment on your Instagram page. It’s things that upset you and can drag you into a daylong funk.

The key is preventing that one incident from burrowing into our psyche and dragging us down. How do we do that?

Resisting the egoic force

As I’ve written many times before, it’s mainly about resisting the powerful egoic force that BEGS us to go along for the ride down to our lower selves. It’s not easy.

I’ve talked to many people about this and they all say the same thing: That force is near-irresistible AND there is so little time to keep our wits about us and resist its allure.

Your wife throws a cheap shot your way and you have less than a second to NOT respond by throwing an even cheaper shot her way and ruining your day, week, month…or marriage! That ring a bell with anybody?

So there’s the preamble. Now onto what can help us in that infinitesimal amount of time we have between incident and explosion.

My lap-swim induced inner brawl

It’s a three-word admonition I learned from the great Mickey Singer, my favorite spiritual teacher. I’ll explain it by relating the inner jujitsu match I had with myself yesterday at the lap pool.

First, I hate swimming laps. I’m a terrible swimmer, the second slowest of all time, behind my dad who was so slow he looked like he was going backward when he swam.

Shellacked by my 11 year old daughter

Here’s how slow I am. My eleven year old daughter had to swim 100 yards in under a minute and forty seconds to qualify for the junior lifeguard program. So for the hell of it, I tried doing 100 yards all out. My time? 2:10. My eleven year old daughter? 1:30.

So why do I do it? Because it’s a fantastic workout. Good cardio and great for my body that I trash on a regular basis on the tennis court.

Yesterday’s swim was more important than usual because I’d pulled a quadricep muscle on the court. In other words, swimming was my only option.

No open lanes makes David a dull boy

I arrived at the pool at my tennis club to find that all four lanes were occupied. In four years this has happened maybe twice. And I’m such a bad swimmer that I never ask others to share a lane because it could be harmful to their health.

So that meant I had to wait, something I’ve never been good at. After a few minutes I saw an older woman exiting the pool. Yes! No. Because two buddies were sharing a lane next to her and one of them slinked right over to snake her lane.

Which meant more waiting. As I sat in a tiny white folding chair, the seething process got underway:

“Damnit. Just my luck. The one day I really need to swim is when there are no lanes.”

“When are these idiots going to finish?”

“Come on, they’re not idiots. They’re just getting a workout in…”

Early on in this inner battle, when the low seethe starting morphing into that white hot feeling in my lower self that desperately wanted me to dive below to get that egoic party started, I remembered Mickey’s three magic words:

“DON’T TOUCH IT!”

That’s all I told myself. Don’t touch it. Touch what? That white hot force begging me to go for an egoic joy ride.

That’s what Mickey advises people do when that force beckons to us. Whether it’s that lousy comment from your wife or your boss, relax immediately. All over. Then summon all your will to not TOUCH that energy. Just relax, lean away from it and watch it.

I kept saying those three words. Relaxing behind that energy. And it worked…

Open my eyes, repeat the process

Then I’d open my eyes, look at all the lucky lane winners, start to feel myself getting worked up again…Then I repeated the process.

Ultimately, I gave up and went home. But I felt okay about it. I successfully prevented myself from “touching it.” The result was that my mood remained stable.

Had I allowed myself to dive down that rabbit hole my mood would undoubtedly have soured, possibly for the rest of the day.

The takeaway

The next time something upsets you and you feel that white hot energy tempting you to follow it, give this method a try. Again, all you have to do is:

-RELAX, immediately. Everywhere in your body, but especially the head, shoulders and chest.

-LEAN AWAY from that egoic feeling.

-Say to yourself, “Don’t touch it!” Keep repeating it until you feel fully relaxed and the feeling has dissipated.

Life’s too short to let things ruin your day. If this method resonates with you, put it in your quiver with your other mood-saving arrows.

Thanks for reading.

Meditation

How Mindfulness Made My Lousy Day Less Lousy

Today hasn’t been great. Just haven’t felt up to snuff.

Why? The main suspect is the second booster shot I got on Wednesday. My first two, plus first booster, were all Moderna. This fourth one was Pfizer. My only reaction to the first three was a sore arm. That’s it.

This time, the arm isn’t that sore, but I feel a little woozy and off. Not full-on flu symptoms as some people experience, just off.

I’ve heard that mixing the vaccines has given people some rough reactions, but that it’s a good idea because it creates more antibodies. So I did it. Who knows?

A rundown body

I also might be a bit rundown from working out seven days in a row. My body isn’t 23 anymore and needs a day off now and then. So I took today off.

I also feel like I’m still in recovery mode from having my in-laws here for two weeks. No big problems on their visit; just having to sleep and work in a merry-go-round of rooms each day. I’m sure you writers out there understand. We love us our routines.

Ain’t writer’s block fun!

The above three factors combined to throw a fourth ingredient into my ‘blah’ feeling stew: Good old writer’s block! Isn’t that fun, fellow writers? Just sitting at your desk all morning and all that goes through your head is, “Ugghh. I have absolutely zero interest in writing anything.

Weighing on me was the added element that today is Friday and I’ve been pretty good the past few years at writing two articles a week. I’ve only written one and my week usually ends Friday. I’ve been trying not to write on the weekends, mostly to give some time to refill my creative tank.

Alright, enough complaining. How did I use mindfulness to help me in today’s battle with the blahs? It was mostly one small-ish thing and one bigger.

A mindful walk to the rescue

The small-ish: As I sat at my desk, ping-ponging among “Hmm, what would be a good article topic?”, checking U.S. Open golf scores and reading the latest terrible news in the Washington Post, I finally decided to do something smart. I got my butt out of the chair and went for a mindful walk.

Normally, I go for a quick five minute jaunt to the Back Bay, look at some birds and the beautiful scenery, then head back to my desk. This time it occurred to me that I wasn’t going to work out so I decided to go for my longer, thirty minute walk.

It was just what the doctor ordered. It was a beautiful day, I got my blood going and saw and listened to some amazing birds.

More important was something I did several times today. When I found myself going to that place of,

“God, I feel terrible. And I can’t write anything. And…”

In other words, when I was about to dive down the negativity rabbit hole, I caught myself and kept coming back to,

“Yes, you feel like crap. That’s okay. Sometimes we feel like lousy. End of story. And yes, I have zero energy or enthusiasm for writing right now. That’s okay, too. It happens. Don’t make it worse by beating yourself up about it.”

Primary vs. secondary pain

I’ve written about this several times. Why? Because this primary/secondary pain dynamic is at, or near the top, of the benefits that mindfulness has given me.

What’s the primary/secondary pain thing? To take one of my examples, primary pain would be feeling physically lousy because of the COVID shot. It’s the actual lousy feeling the shot gives me.

The secondary pain would be if I went down that rabbit hole I just mentioned and added to the primary pain. How?

“Damn, I feel terrible. Why didn’t I just get another Moderna shot? I’ll bet I’d feel better. That pharmacist was an idiot for suggesting I do the Pfizer. Now I bet I’ll feel lousy all weekend. Great. The kids will be running around the house all weekend raising hell and I’ll spend the weekend with a pillow over my head. Ugh.”

I avoided all that extra/secondary pain by being mindful about not letting myself go beyond the primary pain of: “Yeah, I feel lousy. And that’s it.”

This literally saved my day

Bottom line: I could have felt a lot worse and done a lot worse today had I not reached into my mindfulness quiver for some helpful arrows.

And I can guarantee you this: If I had gone down the rabbit hole and drove my day into the ditch, there isn’t a chance in hell I would have written this article! I wouldn’t have been able to summon the energy.

A key point to remember is that this isn’t about turning things around so you feel great. If something has you feeling lousy, that probably won’t fully go away so quickly. What it’s about is making you feel less lousy, which is incredibly valuable.

I can’t recommend this strategy highly enough when you’re not feeling great.

Thanks for reading.

Meditation

A Tao Te Ching Gem About Where to Mine for Life’s Gold

I believe the Tao Te Ching is the wisest book ever written. Thought to be written in China by Lao Tzu some 2,500 years ago, the Tao is a guidebook on how to live life.

What does Lao Tzu mean by the Tao? Here’s the definition given in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

“The unconditional and unknowable source and guiding principle of all reality.”

One could say that God and the Tao are interchangeable. Or the Tao and nature. Or this: The Tao is what existed before the Big Bang occurred 13.8 billion years ago.

The passage I’m writing about today is chapter 33. This is it:

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.

Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”

What Lao Tzu is saying here is that the riches of life are found inside us.

When I come across wisdom like this that was imparted so long ago and that resonates with me, you know what I do? I lean in. And I listen.

Putting chapter 33 into action

What would listening to this Tao nugget entail for us? It would involve refocusing our energies on knowing ourselves and mastering ourselves.

Maybe even more important is what it would require us to STOP doing, which is trying to manipulate the outside world so that we can feel good inside.

“If I get him to like me, I’ll feel good inside.”

“If I scheme my way to the promotion, I’ll have a cooler title and make more money…then I’ll feel good inside.”

“If I starve myself and lose that weight off my butt and thighs, I’ll feel good inside.”

It doesn’t work! If we succeed at any of these, it’s only temporary. Always.Then it’s right back to figuring some other way to manipulate the world so we can feel better. Rinse and repeat, over and over, until we take our last breath.

The sad truth is that most people are like miners digging for gold on the beaches of Honolulu. There’s no gold on them thar beaches, people!

Lao Tzu got it right. The gold, the riches of life, are found inside us.

This is flowery, high-brow spiritual language we’re talking about here. “Master yourself. Know yourself.”

So instead of you all saying, “Wow. That’s great. I totally get it,” and then moving on with your day, let’s dive into how you can actually incorporate this wisdom into your lives. Consider this simple two-step process.

STEP 1: EXAMINE YOUR LIFE

First, conduct a broad, objective survey of your life. What are you doing? Most important, look for the ways you are looking to the outside world to make you happy.

Are you in a marriage or relationship where you consistently let that person determine whether you are happy, sad or upset?

Look at how you decide your self-worth. Does it come from your job title? Your car? Your academic degrees? Your kids’ academic degrees?

Maybe you work eighty hours a week and make great money but are exhausted much of the time and don’t have much of a life apart from work. What’s behind that?

Look at the main components of your life and ask yourself the motivation for doing those things.

STEP 2: REALIGN BASED ON YOUR FINDINGS

If we’re positing that the gold is inside, job number one is to clean up that inside so we can harvest the gold. How do we do that?

Well, it’s loud in there for most of us. Tons of thoughts swirling around that divert our attention from the inside to the outside world.

How do we quiet things down inside? Develop a regular meditation practice. I know I sound like a broken record on this, but meditation is the best way to turn down the volume on all that chatter inside so that we can do the work of knowing and mastering ourselves.

While working on quieting down inside, we simultaneously look for ways that we can refocus our attention from the external to the internal world. Some of these could be big and life-altering. If you’re that person working eighty-hour weeks on Wall Street, maybe you consider changing jobs. Obviously, that decision needs to be well-considered.

For most, probably best to start smaller, effecting changes that don’t uproot your life. If you work out two hours a day because you need the world to see your rockin’ body, maybe you cut that back to one hour a day. Use the freed up hour for meditation, yoga and taking walks in nature.

You get the drift. It’s about realigning your life in a way that allows you to work on your inner life.

The takeaway

A bank robber named Willie Sutton, when asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, famously replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”

As Lao Tzu knew so well, we work on our insides because that is where the beauty and richness of life is found.

Thanks for reading.

Meditation

What I Learned Taking the Ananda Meditation Course -Pro and Con.

Ananda is an organization created by the successors of Paramhansa Yogananda, one of the great Indian saints of the 20th century. Yogananda lived and taught in America from 1920 until his death in Los Angeles in 1952.

The meditation technique Yogananda taught is the ancient Indian practice of Kriya. At its heart, Kriya is about freeing up the life force/prana inside us for use in higher activities. This is done through specific techniques that still the restless prana inside us.

The course I took from Ananda is the introduction to Kriya and is step one of five necessary to learn advanced Kriya. Steps two through five are somewhat secretive because Kriya is taught in a guru-disciple manner. In other words, it needs to be transmitted by someone who has reached the high levels of Kriya. This is part of the ancient Kriya tradition.

The course was taught online and consisted of a live teaching each week plus several readings and recordings to watch. It was highly professional and I liked all the teachers.

I’ll give a short summary of what this meditation technique entails, then give one main pro and con from my experience.

Kriya summary

The technique involves four phases:

-First, before starting a meditation session, one is to perform a series of what are called energization exercises. There are 39 exercises and their purpose is to get our energy flowing properly. Ananda has a more metaphysical description of energization involving drawing in cosmic energy through our brain’s medulla oblongata, but for our purposes, energy flow will suffice. These exercises can also be performed at any time of the day, apart from meditation.

Second, the meditation session starts with thanking God and any gurus or saints for the wisdom they’ve imparted. This leads to a few breathing exercises, including one involving a short inhale, then a long inhale, then tensing the body for a few seconds, then a short exhale and finally a long exhale. Another is to inhale for eight seconds, hold for eight, and exhale for eight, for 6–12 sets. All of this warmup leads to —

-Third, is Hong-Sau breathing. Say what? Hong and Sau are Sanskrit words that mean “I am spirit.” The sound they make when we say them in our minds is supposed to have a calming effect on the breath. And calming the breath calms the mind. The middle part of the meditation session simply involves saying to yourself “Hong” on the inhale, and “Sau” on the exhale for several minutes.

-Fourth, the final part of the session involves simply enjoying the peaceful, still state one has reached by performing steps one through three. It’s like mindfulness meditation where we simply linger in the moment, observing anything in our field of awareness, like sounds, feelings and even thoughts.

While some meditation techniques involve doing one thing the entire time (from what I know, TM is about saying a mantra over and over and that’s it), many I’ve studied are similar to Kriya in that there is a beginning, middle and end structure.

We start by relaxing and doing some breathing exercises. Then graduate to following something specific, like our breath or, what I do, which is a body scan. Then end in some sort of mindful awareness.

So that is a highly simplified summary of the introductory Kriya technique I was taught. Instead of giving several observations, I’ll focus on just two.

THE PRO

If I had to pick one word the instructors drilled home more than all others it would be relaxation. They said it is the key to meditation. This really hit home with me.

Of course, I’ve heard others talk of relaxing in meditation. But the Ananda teachers, through continuous emphasis, made relaxation central to meditation. Relaxed breathing. Relaxed awareness. Relaxed body.

Which makes total sense. When we relax everything, our mind relaxes…and stills. Which is the main objective of all meditation techniques.

I will use this emphasis on relaxation in my own meditation practice for the rest of my days. For that alone, I am more than grateful that I took the course.

THE CON

My one problem with the Ananda/Kriya technique is that it is rigid. The energization exercises, the breathing exercises and the Hong-Sau breathing all need to be done in a certain way, in a certain order. This was reiterated several times by different teachers.

It felt forced and inflexible. I’m confident that the Ananda people would agree with that. Kriya is a very specific, ancient technique.

For me, it’s a preference issue. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this technique. I simply prefer the more flexible techniques, like mindfulness meditation where the main objective is being present, in a nonjudgmental way, with anything and everything happening in the moment.

The takeaway

Let me reiterate that I very much liked the vibe of the Ananda teachers. They knew their stuff and were professional. The $100 fee was way lower than the value they provided. I would have paid much more.

If you like strict structure in your meditation, I highly recommend taking the course. Go to Ananda.org for information.

Meditation

Why Worrying is the Most Destructive of All Human emotions – And How to Slay it.

I’m going to go out on a limb here: I posit that most of you would say that the number one problem in your life is worrying. About your kids, about your financial situation, about your health, about your retirement, about your marriage, about death, and on and on.

A more compelling way of putting it is: Imagine your life if ALL worrying were eliminated. Try imagining that for a few seconds…It’s the be-all, end-all, isn’t it? No stress. No anxiety. Just inner calm.

Worrying drags down so many of us. Every day. We worry while we’re driving. While we’re eating. While we’re talking with people.

The 4 a.m. worry flurries

We even worry in the middle of the night! I can’t tell you how many people have told me they wake up at 4 a.m. and start worrying, their minds racing with thoughts about every potential doomsday scenario they’re convinced lurks around every corner. It’s torturous.

Bottom line on worrying: It causes great suffering and afflicts almost every human on earth.

Which begs the question: Why do we all worry so much? The short, ‘I don’t have 100,000 words to express it,’ answer is that our egos are the culprits.

The ego: everything we’ve held onto

What is the ego? One way to describe it is it’s the sum total of all of the experiences we’ve had that we’ve held onto.

For example, I lost a tennis match at age fourteen and saw the look of disappointment on my parents’ faces afterward. Instead of experiencing that and letting it go, I held onto it. I stored it inside.

Tennis worrying in my 50s

Decades later, I’m in a tennis tournament and my stomach is in knots about the match I’m playing in an hour. And I think to myself, “What the hell is wrong with you? It’s a stupid tennis match. Why are you so worried?”

I’m worried because of what I stored in there decades ago. It’s stored energy that never goes away unless we let it go when it comes up.

Now multiply my tennis story by thousands to come up with all the experiences I’ve stored and not let go of in my lifetime.

My first girlfriend

Here’s another example that’s more relatable. I had my first serious girlfriend my senior year in high school. It was fantastic for a few magical months…Then the potion wore off.

The truth is that I wasn’t into it anymore after about four or five months. But I felt like I’d made a commitment to her and didn’t want to let her down. So I hung in there for another six months or so. And felt terrible that whole time. Which was all my fault, not hers.

A relationship that never ended

I finally headed off to college and fell apart so badly that I had no choice but to break up with her. And that was the end of it. Right?

WRONG! It was the end of our relationship, but because I stored that experience and didn’t let it go, it tormented me in relationship after relationship…for DECADES. I’d get into a relationship, things would get rolling and then I’d freak out that I was going to have to break up and let the current girlfriend down. Time after time. It was debilitating.

Needless to say, worrying is never a good idea. The problem is that our egos constantly trick us into thinking it is. “I have to worry about keeping my job. If I don’t worry about it, I may lose it and then I won’t be able to pay my rent and buy food!”

Wrong. That person needs to NOT waste his/her energy on worrying and focus ALL of their attention and energy on doing the absolute best job they can.

Eckhart Tolle summed it perfectly by saying:

“Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.”

Fine, so worrying sucks. My attitude is, let’s not complain about it. Let’s address the problem.

What’s the solution?

Thinking logically, if our egos are the root cause of our worrying then…wouldn’t it be smart to chip away at our egos? Of course it would.

How do we do that? The first order of business is to work on getting quiet inside. How? By regularly meditating and practicing mindfulness.

What does that accomplish? It enhances our ability to watch/observe our egos rather than get swept up by them.

In the tennis example, my true, conscious self would observe that worrying/pit in my stomach an hour before my match. Instead of diving down to my lower, egoic self and being swallowed up by it, my conscious self would lean away and say, “Okay, my ego is worrying about my match.”

And that’s it. Not “Jeez, my ego is such an a-hole. Why does it worry about a dumb tennis match?” No. That’s placing a judgment on that feeling.

What meditation and mindfulness teach us is to look at ALL the elements of our present moment awareness in a nonjudgmental manner. With consistent practice, that worrying feeling becomes no different than the sound of the airplane flying overhead or the bee we see pollinating a flower. They’re just things happening in our present moment awareness.

Letting go is crucial

In addition to meditation and mindfulness, we also work diligently at letting go of those worrying situations when they arise. When that worried feeling comes up in my stomach regarding the tennis match, I lean away and watch it. And then let it go.

Then rinse and repeat this process every day for the rest of our lives on the myriad worries that prop up in our consciousness so frequently.

Amygdala shrinkage

I’ll conclude with some good news. Ever hear of the amygdala? It’s the part of our brain responsible for fight or flight and emotion regulation.

To massively simplify things, think of the amygdala as the worry wart center of your brain. The larger and more active yours is, the more neurotic and worrying you are.

Well, studies, including this one from Harvard, have shown that meditation causes our amygdalae to shrink and become less active. I can confirm through one anecdotal piece of evidence, ME, that this is accurate.

How? I can say with 100% certitude that I worry far less than I did ten years ago before I started meditating regularly.

The takeaway

So if you want to take a real crack at reducing how much you worry, start a meditation practice. Seriously. Do it.

If you’re looking for a place to start, go to my website, davidgerken.net, where I have a free, simple, easy-to-follow program. Or sign up for Calm.com or Headspace.com.

Do it for you and for everybody around you, like your kids, spouse, friends, parents, work colleagues. Because all of those people, especially YOU, will benefit immensely from you cutting back on worrying.

As incentive for you to take action on this, let’s end by again contemplating this hypothetical:

Imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t worry…

Meditation

This Supreme Spiritual Teaching Takes Vigilance to Follow

Ram Dass taught it. So did his guru, Neem Karoli Baba. And Eckhart Tolle. And Mickey Singer. In my book, it’s the supreme teaching. This is it:

Traveling the spiritual path towards awakening needs to be the primary focus of our lives.

Before getting into that, a little background on why I’m writing about this. A few days ago I was in that place of “What should I be doing? Continue writing articles on Medium? Try branching out into doing video talks on YouTube? Create an online course? Try a TEDx talk?” It’s that macro strategy talk I have from time to time, usually when I run out of gas in coming up with Medium article ideas!

Spiritual work is the main thing

After lots of frustration, it dawned on me: What I do vis a vis writing, talks, courses, etc., is not the main thing. The main thing is to keep my own spiritual awakening front and center in my life.

What I, and many others do, is allow that focus to slip. This recalls the brilliant quote by the great Stephen Covey:

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

The reason my focus consistently falters on the primacy of spiritual work is because the compulsion to do and produce and be something “big” has always been my Achilles heel. As such, my ego lures me into perseverating over all the different paths I might pursue.

It’s insidious though because if I do succeed on YouTube or whatever else, more people will be helped by the spiritual teachings I put out. And that’s great.

My ego’s always lurking

But lurking behind, always, is my ego licking its chops with, “If video or the others hit big I’ll make good money! And maybe I’ll even achieve great notoriety. Maybe someday Oprah will interview me for Super Soul Sunday!” That’s the constant battle going on inside my whacked-out mind.

Why do I believe that the most important teaching of the great beings like Ram Dass, et al, was keeping the spiritual path front and center? Because all of their other teachings — staying present, not resisting life, nonattachment, impermanence, letting go of ourselves — won’t be realized unless we make them our life’s priority. It’s the sine qua non of spirituality.

So what do we do? We use our lives for growth. Here’s how Ram Dass put it:

“What I’m suggesting is that after a while everything in your life becomes grist for the mill for awakening, and your priorities change. Instead of, ‘Am I awakening through my work? Am I awakening through this relationship? Am I awakening through this drive? Am I awakening through how I take care of my body?’ The journey of awakening begins to dominate the terrain. There is clearly an inner shift of priority, and then you start to use your life that way.”

I’ve heard Mickey Singer say in several of his talks some version of, “This isn’t stuff you find time to work on and fit in with other pressing life matters. This is work you need to do every second of every day for the rest of your life.”

I’m putting this practice into practice right now. My wife’s mom, dad and sister are visiting for a few weeks. I don’t have any big issues with them, but the fact is that my life is upended when they visit. The parents stay in my office. I sleep at my brother’s house because there isn’t room for all of us at our place.

Using our lives to grow

So what am I doing? Using this situation as “…grist for the mill” as Ram Dass says. Taking more deep, cleansing breaths when I feel uptight and uncentered. Being present with the instability. Letting go of the impatient me when he rears his impatient head.

And also using the visit as an opportunity to serve. My father-in-law is 78 and not in great health. His favorite thing out here is a Balboa Bar, vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate sauce and peanuts. I picked one up for him yesterday on the way home from my brother’s house and he was in heaven.

My mother-in-law likes my salmon so I fired that up last night for dinner. The good vibe this engenders in me makes me think I benefit more from this than they do. But again, it’s just daily spiritual work, in this case, serving others.

The takeaway

Do we need to plan and make decisions about where and how to focus our work? Yes. The mistake is allowing that planning/scheming, or anything else, to supplant the true main thing: Our basic, everyday spiritual work.

The good news is that when we do keep that main spiritual thing the main thing, everything else falls into place.

Just writing that makes my insides unclench and relax…

Meditation

My 1987 Ralph Waldo Emerson Yearbook Quote Took Years for me to Follow

First off, where did all the hair go?! I’ve been bald as a cue ball for 25 years. Actually, a cue ball with a little fuzz on the side. On the bright side, I spend a total of an hour, and $0, per year on hair care (my wife shears what little fuzz that does grow every six weeks or so. Takes five minutes.).

Now on to the great Ralph Waldo Emerson. As a 22-year-old senior at Princeton University, this is the quote I chose for my yearbook page:

“Absolve you to yourself and you shall have the suffrage of the world.”

It obviously meant a lot to me then, but all these years later it means far more.

Emerson’s mid-19th century prose can be hard to understand. So here’s my rewrite using modern language:

Dedicate yourself to being the real, authentic you and you will live a thriving life.”

By ‘live a thriving life’ I don’t mean that you will become President of the United States or the richest person on the planet — although that could very well happen should you chart this path. I mean that you will be energized, enthusiastic and content.

How do we discover the real, authentic us? It’s a three-step process. First, we get quiet inside. Second, we listen to the silence.

The great Persian poet Rumi put it best:

“There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.

That is the voice we listen to in the silence. It’s the sacred voice that people refer to as God, the Universe, the Supreme Being and a host of others. Whatever it is, it is the deepest essence of us.

So we get quiet. Then we listen to the mysterious voice. The third thing we do is act on what the voice tells us. How? We follow our intuition. We follow our nose.

Finding our path in life usually doesn’t come in one ‘listening’ session. Mark Twain, perhaps the greatest of all American writers, serves as a salient example. Twain didn’t become a writer with one youthful epiphany. It happened in stages.

Mark Twain’s circuitous path to writing

When he was twelve, a measles epidemic decimated Twain’s Iowa town. He was so sure he’d die that he snuck out of his home and got in bed with his friend who was deathly ill from it. Twain got very sick but lived.

His mother was so upset with him for doing this that she sent him to another town to be an apprentice to a printer. This introduced him to reading and books.

In his late teens, Twain found a fifty-dollar bill on the ground. After nobody claimed it, he used the money for a trip to the Amazon, a fascination he’d developed from a book he printed. To get to Brazil he needed to take a steamboat down the Mississippi. And that was when he fell in love with the Mississippi and the boats that traversed it.

These events and many more led, decades later, to Twain writing America’s greatest novel, Huckleberry Finn. And it was all the result of Twain listening to the voice within. Following his nose.

I loved the quote but didn’t live it

Why does the Emerson quote resonate more with me now than when I made it my yearbook quote? While it struck a deep chord back in 1987, the fact is that I didn’t live Emerson’s quote for several decades.

I got a job in Washington, D.C., after graduation and allowed myself to get swallowed up by the political power game. “I’m a legislative assistant, which is cool, but so and so is the legislative director for a congressman. I need to be that!”

Then it was onto lobbying and measuring myself by how many dollars I made. Needless to say, chasing power and money always left me a few French fries short of a Happy Meal.

Still short of fries in Hollywood

Then it was off to Hollywood where I chased creative glory. Everything was measured by who had what writing job on what show and at what level. Yet again, I was wanting for fries.

It wasn’t until I discovered meditation, mindfulness and the spiritual path that I truly felt that I had ‘absolved me to myself.’ That’s what those practices push us toward — quieting down our insides so we can hear, as Rumi wrote, that “…voice that doesn’t use words.”

Which has led to my feeling that I have ‘the suffrage of the world.’ That is, I’m allowing the true me to come through me. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the world keeps showering me with good fortune.

The takeaway

So what does this all mean for you? Get quiet inside. Drown out the external mind noise.

The real, authentic you is in there, dying to be heard. Listen for it. Let it take over the steering wheel of your life. When you do, ‘you shall have the suffrage of the world.’