Meditation

Meditation

Using Physical Pain for Growth

My opponent pulled me wide to the backhand side of the court. Being a smart, and cruel, tennis player, he then hit a good shot crosscourt to my forehand. So I hauled ass to my right to chase down the shot. And just as I got to the ball, I lost my balance…

And fell. Hard.

At first, all I noticed was some blood coming down my knee. Then I looked at my hands. No blood. Good sign.

A standing check up

But you don’t really know anything until you stand up and see if you’ve torn your ACL or some other musculoskeletal calamity. So I stood up. Checked everything else out. All systems go.

As the legendary Los Angeles Lakers play-by-play announcer Chick Hearn used to say, “No harm, no foul.” And on we played.

Oddly, it wasn’t until later in the day that I realized I’d bruised my ribs in the fall. I’ve done it a few times before, once while playing pickup basketball at the UCLA rec center. I couldn’t raise my arms above my chin for several weeks after that one.

This time wasn’t nearly as bad. It just hurts in certain positions; also when I sneeze.

Golf pain

But, crucial for the purposes of this piece, it also hurts on the follow through of my golf swing. Before going any further, I’d like to take a guess at what eighty percent of you are thinking right now:

“Ohhhh. Poor little Davey has an ‘ow-ey’ when he swings his golf club. Wah, wah, wah. The Russians are snatching Ukrainian kids and throwing them into orphanages and he’s complaining about a little rib pain while playing the snootiest sport ever invented. Get a life, dude!”

Am I close?

Don’t worry. I’m going to make sense of this.

Here’s the deal. My brother invited me to play in his club’s member-guest tournament in a few weeks. He’s a really good player (I’m not) who takes these competitions seriously.

Worrying about letting my bro down

So part of this has been the nagging thought that I’m going to let him down. Again, that’s no big deal in the grand scheme of the world.

But what can be a big deal is how we deal with this kind of pain. I’m not talking in this article about the severe pain or physical discomfort brought by something like chemotherapy, fibromyalgia or migraine headaches.

I’m talking about things like moderate back pain and yes, rib pain. Conditions that aren’t ruining your day, but that you feel regularly for at least a week or more.

As an athlete, I’ve dealt with these nettlesome injuries for decades. This time I put my spiritual work to use.

Putting my spiritual work to work

How? First, I noticed that the pain was on my mind a lot. Whether at the forefront or lingering in the background.

More important, I noticed that I was doing what all of us do — I was pushing the pain away. I was resisting it.

Which leads to the most important part of this article. That pushing away/resisting was done in the background. It’s not like I was saying to myself,

“Boy, that pain really sucks. I wish it would go away.”

No. As is the case with so much resistance in our lives, it was much subtler than that. Again, it was going on in the background.

The harm of resistance

The problem is that this kind of resistance, which most of us do all day long with all sorts of things, is insidious. It’s harmful. It affects our moods. And it exacerbates what we’re resisting.

As the legendary Swiss psychologist Carl Jung so wisely said:

“What we resist, persists.”

And we aren’t even aware that we’re doing it. Which is the point of this piece. To try and get you to become aware when you’re experiencing this kind of moderate pain and resisting it.

You might ask, “If I’m not going to resist it, which should I do?” Good question.

Move the pain from background to foreground

The first thing we do, as I’ve been doing the past few days, is to move that pain from the background of our awareness into the forefront. When the pain arises, go to it. Don’t jump in and let it consume you. Stay in your seat of self and say,

“Okay. There you are. I feel you. I’m not crazy about you, but I acknowledge you’re there. And I’m here, feeling you. I accept you. Because that’s what is.”

This is what I’ve been doing these past several days. And it works. We just keep acknowledging and accepting that the pain is there.

It’s just mindfulness

It’s classic mindfulness in that we’re simply being present with what is. And not allowing ourselves to create a major dramatic story around it. It just is.

The ideas here form the core of the iconic teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course that I took six years ago. He created it in the 1970s to help patients at the University of Massachusetts hospital that weren’t responding to other pain treatments.

I highly, highly recommend watching this Youtube clip of the PBS special Bill Moyers did on this in 1993. Here’s the link (it’s the first 43 minutes of the recording, not all two hours).

The takeaway

So that’s it. If you find yourself with a moderate headache or some other kind of pain, see if you can move your awareness of it from the background to the foreground.

Talk to it. Be with it. I know that might seem counterintuitive and that ignoring it and pushing it away would be preferable, but it isn’t. It only makes the pain worse and longer lasting.

Give it a try.

Meditation

Mini Grudges: How They Hold Us Back and What to Do About Them

Let’s start by defining what I mean by grudges. It’s when we harbor ill will toward others, for any number of reasons. It manifests in desiring that the object of your grudge experiences some level of suffering.

What’s the difference between a regular grudge and a mini grudge? We’d hold a regular grudge against a guy who weaseled and schemed his way around us to get the work promotion. Or a woman friend of yours who openly hit on your boyfriend. That’s bigger, more understandable stuff.

Mini grudges are often held against those that we don’t even know. Some people can’t stand the Kardashians. Some people love Michael Jackson. Others think he’s a monster. You get the drift.

That brings me to the mini grudge I’ve noticed rearing up inside me the past few days, which is the inspiration for this article. It’s about the state of professional golf.

My LIV golf mini grudge

Bear with me for a minute as I briefly explain the background. The PGA (Professional Golfers Association) has run men’s pro golf for roughly sixty years. Last year Australian golfer Greg Norman started a breakaway tour called LIV.

How did he convince a few big-name golfers, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, and Cameron Smith, to join his tour? He paid them ungodly amounts of money.

Saudi blood money

Who supplied that money? The government of Saudi Arabia is trying to spend its way to a better reputation.

The players, at the direction of Norman, said they joined LIV because they’d have to play less and could therefore spend more time with their families and also so they could “grow the game of golf.” Which is all BS. They went to LIV because they got paid a s*#t ton of money.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that I find the LIV players to be greedy and lacking in integrity.

And therein lies my mini grudge. The Master’s tournament, the biggest event of the year, is currently in its second of four days.

Rooting against the LIV 17

Seventeen LIV players qualified for it and I’ve found myself vehemently rooting against all but one of them. Harold Varner grew up poor and was refreshingly honest when he said that the only reason he and all the others joined was for the massive payday. He wants to set his family up for generations to come.

But the guy currently in the lead by four shots, Brooks Koepka, is a LIV player and it’s been bothering me.

This leads to the point of this piece: We shouldn’t let these mini-grudges get to us. Why? Mainly because it’s simply bad for us. It comes 100 percent from our egos. It’s always about, “I’m right and they’re wrong/bad/greedy, etc.”

We allow mini grudges out of habit

Why haven’t I done anything about this, and other mini-grudges I have? Habit. It’s just the way it’s been for many years and I’ve never given it a second thought. But it finally hit me as I was scanning the Master’s leaderboard looking at how those seventeen LIV players were doing, “What are you doing?”

It’s bad karma to be wishing them, or anyone, ill will. It’s just feeding my voracious ego, which, of course, salivates over this kind of thing.

What should I do about this? Do I say to myself, “Sergio Garcia (a LIV player) is a great guy. Give him a break.”? No. That would be lying.

But how about this? “Sergio Garcia has his problems. We all do. He’s on his journey. I’m on mine. He’s at a certain level of consciousness that has nothing to do with me. Let him be. It does you no good to carry around bad feelings about him.”

The takeaway

I hope you’ll give this some thought. What it all comes down to is one word: Awareness. As I’ve written several times, my favorite Eckhart Tolle quote is:

Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”

See if you can become aware of these mini-grudges. You’re at the supermarket and look at the cover of People Magazine… “Johnny Depp. What a loser.”

We all have these to varying degrees. And they’re not good for us.

Step one is simply becoming aware when we’re spewing out venom, usually on someone we don’t even know. If you become aware when this happens, ask yourself: Is this good for me?

If the answer is no (it always is), then take a few deep breaths and let that energy go.

You’ll be doing yourself, and the world, a favor.

Meditation

Mickey Singer’s Essential Teaching: Being Able to Handle What Life Throws at Us

I like to think that all the articles I write are of equal benefit to readers. But honestly, that’s not true.

Why? Because some articles go deeper and are more beneficial than others.

Today’s article is one of those. It’s about a teaching that I’ve wanted to write about for a long time but have always felt was too daunting.

And that is the subject that my favorite spiritual teacher, Mickey Singer, simply calls “handling it.” What does that mean?

What is handling it?

It is what it sounds like. If something happens to us and we fall apart, that is not handling it. If we respond from a place of presence, that’s handling it.

Let’s look at small and large examples. Really small would be handling it when you stand in a long line at the grocery store checkout.

Small would be your son’s kindergarten teacher taking you aside at pick up to let you know that little Johnny has been disrupting the class and she’d appreciate if you’d to talk to him about it. [I know this one personally as I’ve gotten “the talk” on more than one occasion!]

Yes, it’s upsetting. But as we hear the teacher out and after we walk away, we need to be able to handle it and not let it throw us into a mini-depression.

An emotionally powerful example

A large example came from Mickey Singer himself. A woman asked him for advice on how to deal with the recent loss of her son. I’m not sure life can give us anything more challenging and painful than that.

Mickey’s answer was incredibly powerful. After some empathetic words of compassion for her loss, he pivoted to assuring her that his answer would center on what he thought was best for her.

He then told her that millions, and probably billions of people had lost children over the millennia. And that it’s terrible. But life can be that way. It can be excruciatingly painful.

And then he urged her to resolve to herself that she wasn’t going to let this break her. Or ruin the rest of her life. That of course she was going to suffer and grieve for a long while, but ultimately, she was going to need to…

Handle it.

Raw, truthful advice

You could hear a pin drop. It was one of the most poignant moments I’ve ever witnessed. It was raw, honest advice that pulled no punches. And the mother who received it seemed genuinely thankful to Mickey at the end of it.

Some parents may be outraged at reading this. “Don’t you tell me I need to ‘handle’ my kid’s death. If that happened to me, I’m pretty sure I would die inside. And I’d have every right to.”

I’m a parent. Of three of the greatest kids that ever lived. And I completely understand that response.

We have to be able to handle it

But that doesn’t change the fact that Mickey’s right. No matter what life puts on our plate, we have to be able to handle it. Why?

I’ll answer with another question: What’s the alternative? Collapsing and giving up on life?

The bottom line is this: Unless we learn how to handle it, we’ll go through every one of our days vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life. So the way I look at it, being able to handle it is a huge objective in our work traveling the spiritual path.

But how do we ‘handle it’?

Fine. But if I’m you, I’m thinking, “Sounds good to me. We need to handle what life throws our way. But how the hell do I do that? Do I just wave a magic wand and say, ‘Abracadabra. For the rest of my life I’m going to handle things.’?” No, we don’t do that.

Which gets us to the how of it. Here are three ways to strengthen our ability to handle it.

First, we adjust our life view. We accept that life can be hard and that some level of suffering is inevitable. It’s difficult to handle something painful when our reaction is, “Why does this always happen to me? I hate feeling like this. Life is so awful and unfair.”

No. We accept that life can be hard. So that when it does get hard, we can say to ourselves:

“Yes, what just happened sucks. And I don’t like how it makes me feel. But s*^t happens. And I’m going to do my best to handle it, remain as present as I can and not collapse under the weight of it.”

Second, we do our spiritual practices. We meditate, practice mindfulness, pray, do yoga and any other activities that help quiet our minds.

Why does that help us handle what life gives us? Because the more we practice these things, the calmer and quieter we get, which strengthens our ability to handle tough situations and not freak out.

Third, we exercise our spiritual will. That means setting an intention that we are going to do our best to handle things when they come at us.

A bad performance review at work. Our kid fails their final exam in math. The stock market goes into a tailspin, putting your retirement money at risk. Whatever it is, we go inside and summon our spiritual will to help us handle it.

Spiritual work is hard

Many people have the mistaken notion that spiritual work is all fun, airy and light. Some of it is, but most spiritual growth is attained through hard work. And, sorry to say it, also involves varying levels of suffering.

But there is no more important work we humans can do. Why? Because the payoff is profound.

When we liberate ourselves from our egos, which is what most spiritual work involves, we feel really good…most of the time. Not every now and then as is the case for most people.

Coming full circle to the subject at hand, just think how great it would be if you could navigate every day confident in your ability to handle anything.

-It rains on your wedding day. You don’t like it…But you can handle it.

-A mom blackballs you from the ‘fun mom group’ at your kid’s school. It’s hurtful…But you can handle it.

-You walk out your front door to head to work and find that someone has smashed into your car, causing major damage. No note left behind. And you’re pissed…But you can handle it.

The takeaway

That’s what we need to shoot for. Not many of us are fully there yet. I know I’m not.

But we set our intention to keep working on those three things. And if we do that, we get better every day at handling what life throws at us.

Think of how freeing that would be…

Meditation

Many Say There Should be No Striving in Spirituality — I Disagree

Let me start by acknowledging that there’s lots of nuance and subtlety when it comes to the subject of striving and the spiritual path. How is that?

The traditional sense of striving conjures a go-getter on Wall Street who works his buns off to make the big bucks. Or maybe we strive to lose fifteen pounds.

It’s often about achieving goals in pursuits that are measurable. A million-dollar salary, losing fifteen pounds or running a mile in under five minutes.

Striving conjures notions of hard work, ambition, perseverance and a focus on results.

Two categories of spiritual work

So what about striving and the spiritual path? Here, we need to break things down into two categories.

First would be our practices. Let’s take meditation. If we strive hard in our meditation, that will usually backfire.

That Wall Streeter who works eighty hours a week and is constantly going, going, going, will find it difficult, if not impossible, to replicate that kind of work intensity with their meditations.

Same for the golfer who hits ten buckets of balls on the driving range, then chips and putts for two hours. Then hits the gym for weight-training for another hour.

Most of our spiritual practices are about calming down, not pumping up. So classical striving not only won’t work, it will hinder our advancement.

Strive to work on the overall thrust

But there’s a second category under the spiritual banner where striving does work and is profoundly helpful. That would be our overall path.

To explain what I mean by that, I’ll use my own example. Here’s how I strive in my spiritual pursuits. I can reduce it to one sentence:

“I strive to be free of me.”

Who is this me I strive to be free of? My ego me. My personal self. It’s the sensitive, temperamental, judgmental, egotistical, impatient me.

My spiritual work, at its core, is about chipping away at that “me” every day. How? Through a combination of meditation, mindfulness and letting go of David Gerken whenever possible.

But again, success in achieving this chipping away requires a non-striving approach. It’s not about grabbing “it” by the throat and slaying the ego dragon. That only strengthens the ego.

It’s about practicing relaxing in the face of egoic disturbance. And relaxing in the face of mind disturbance while meditating.

Using my striving energy

But at the top of the pyramid is the me who wants very much, and strives mightily, to free that conscious, real me from the clutches of my formidable ego. And it’s the energy from that striving force that fuels the hard work of calming down and relaxing in the face of inner upheaval.

The bottom line is that I don’t want my ego running my life. Allowing bad moods, angry outbursts, pouting sessions when I don’t get what I want and all the rest.

No. Enough is enough.

So I’m striving as best I can to strengthen the conscious me and whittle down egoic me. The more I do it, the calmer and better I get. At everything.

The takeaway

The upshot of all this? Don’t be reluctant to strive hard on the path. It is well and good to do so.

Meditation

Our Needs Are Not Natural – They’re a symptom of what’s going on inside.

What do I mean by saying needs are not natural? At its core, it means that in our natural state we don’t need anything, other than the obvious like food, water and shelter. We are fine, complete and okay inside in our natural state.

Your reaction might be, “Sure, we don’t need anything other than food and shelter, but come on. What kind of life is that? I need to hang on the couch with my chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and watch my Netflix shows. And drink my Grey Goose dirty martinis. And go to Cabo San Lucas twice a year. And watch college football in the fall. I’d be bored to death if my life was just about surviving.

The point is that a life lived without lots of needs is head and shoulders more satisfying and joyful than the life of Netflix, martinis and football. How so?

Why do we have needs?

Before getting to that, let’s ask a basic question: What is the origin of our needs? Most people would go straight to something like, “I don’t know. I really like chocolate cake. And sushi. And IPA’s. And playing Clash of Clans. I just like having that stuff in my life. Does there have to be some big reason I’m into those things? Or an origin story?”

What I, Mickey Singer and the Buddhists would say is that we have all these needs because we aren’t okay inside. In other words, “I think I’ll go out for sushi. That will make me feel better because I feel a little off right now.”

Of course, none of this is going on in the forefront of our minds. We aren’t thinking, “I feel sad or unfulfilled, so I’ll go get some sushi to make me feel better.” But that is what’s going on.

Inner peace is the ultimate aim

All of this hinges on what I am postulating is the overall goal for humans: To attain peace inside.

To get to a place where we feel unconditionally good most of the time. Not because we just bought a Ferrari or got promoted to sales manager. Just because.

Many reading this may disagree with that overall goal. You might say you’d rather lead a more varied life, full of cool vacations and activities that push the envelope, even if that means feeling inner tumult most of the time.

But I come down squarely on the side of the late, influential Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who said:

“Many people think excitement is happiness. But when you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace.”

Not helping matters is the fact that much of our world, especially America, places a premium on pushing needs on people. It’s all about:

– “Get the iPhone 14 Pro. It’ll make you feel better.”

– “Buy this ridiculously expensive skin cleanser and you can look as beautiful as this one in a million model…which will make you feel better.”

– “Read my bestselling book Ten Steps to a Thriving Business, so your business will thrive…so you’ll feel better.”

It’s constant. Always coming at us. “Get this. Get that.”

The problem is, it doesn’t work. It can for a while. But inevitably the proverbial ‘new car smell’ fades and we go back to trying to fulfill more needs.

People with specific, picky tastes

Another aspect of this surrounds tastes; and being particular about what we like.

You know what I mean. It’s looking at thirty different shades of white you’re considering for painting your kitchen. And you get stuck. Why? Because it has to be just…the right…one…

Or you try on ten pairs of jeans at Nordstrom, checking out each one from seven different angles in those crazy mirrors they have. You work yourself into a tizzy trying to find the pair that makes your lower half look its absolute best.

And here’s the thing: Society lauds us for that. “He has really sharp, definite, unique tastes. I love that about him.”

Specific taste or neurotic?

But check under the hood and the reality is someone saying, “Unless this car/paint color/wine satisfies my stringent, particular tastes, I’m not going to be okay.” It’s saying that the world has to be a certain way for me to be okay inside. And again, it doesn’t work.

The question then becomes: If needs aren’t natural, what is natural and how do we get back to that state? Our natural state is one of upward flowing energy that brings us unconditional well-being.

Getting back to our natural state

How do we get back to that state? First, we don’t get down on ourselves for having lots of needs. We don’t shame ourselves. Every one of us has these needs, to varying degrees, and it does us absolutely no good to berate ourselves about that. It’s 100 percent counterproductive.

Second, we don’t try to curb our needs. We don’t say, “Okay, needs aren’t natural. They spring from my not being okay inside. So let’s start by cutting out ice cream and watching Succession on HBO.”

Working at the roots

The Buddhists say to work at the roots. Trying to curb your needs would be working at the leaves on the branches. The needs are just the symptoms. Like the leaves.

What would working at the roots look like? Working on why we’re not okay inside.

Why we’re not okay inside

So, why aren’t we okay inside? I subscribe to the Mickey Singer teachings on this. We’re not okay inside because we’ve had a bunch of experiences in our lives, good and bad, but mostly bad, that we’ve held onto. That we didn’t let go of when they occurred.

The result is a s*#t ton of blocked energy inside. How do we release that energy? We relax and let it go when it comes up. Like what?

When your 75-year-old mom tells you you need to send your potty-mouthed son Michael to etiquette school, you relax…and let it go.

When you’re running late and hit a few red lights, you relax…and let it go.

When your significant other criticizes you for being lazy and not contributing around the house, like your dad used to, you relax…and let it go.

None of this means you don’t drink your martinis or watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Again, those are just symptoms.

Awareness is the key

Mostly, it’s about increasing our awareness of how much we need. And using that to spur us into letting go of our egoic stuff.

Because I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found that the people who need less are usually the happiest. My mom was a prime example. She’d have a fried egg on toast for breakfast. Lunch was a sandwich that always seemed to contain copious amounts of annoyingly crunchy green peppers!

She expended most of her energy doing for others and not needing much. And she had a great life.

The takeaway

If there’s any takeaway from this article, it’s simply to take a look at the needs in your life. Don’t judge yourself. Or be critical. Just take a look.

Awareness is always the first step on the spiritual path.

Meditation

My Visit to Mickey Singer’s Temple, Part 2: The Ram Dass Teaching He Gave Me – An eloquent teaching on letting go.

Part one of my visit to Mickey Singer’s Temple of the Universe in Florida focused on two areas: My experience of the man himself and the life-changing advice he gave me at the end of our walk. Today’s article is about another discussion we had on our walk dealing with the late, great teacher, Ram Dass.

I can’t remember how Ram Dass first came up in our discussion, but when he did Mickey told me the story of when the great man himself came to visit the Temple. Mickey had just finished the final version of his Medical Manager software and had to drop it off, where I’m not sure.

Mickey and Ram Dass take a drive

So Ram Dass gets in the passenger seat and off they go. Mickey had him hold onto the software package. Ram Dass matter-of-factly asked Mickey: “So. Is this thing any good?” To which Mickey replied, “I don’t know. I guess we’ll see.”

It wasn’t too long after that that package Ram Dass was holding became the number one software program used by doctors’ offices for billing.

Back to the walk. Early on we talked about adversity and how it presents opportunities to let go of our “stuff.” And Mickey said,

“As Ram Dass would say, ‘use it to go to God.’”

So we continue on in our journey talking about all kinds of spiritual topics. Then I bring up my own, very human, very normal life situation. I said,

“I have to be honest. I find it really hard sometimes to keep my cool with three kids, fourteen, twelve and six. Sometimes it just drives me crazy.”

And what did Mickey do? He stopped. Looked at me over his glasses and said,

“Use it to go to God.”

I’ve heard Ram Dass say this in many talks I’ve viewed. But hearing Mickey Singer, my favorite teacher on planet earth, say this to me, in person, really drove it home.

It’s about letting go of our baggage

Use it to go to God. What does that mean? It means use the instances when your egoic baggage is poked to let go of that stuff.

The sum of all that baggage adds up to the egoic mind — all of our sensitivities, insecurities and the like that accrue when we experience something and don’t let it pass through us.

So where does the God part come in? I love how Meher Baba, one of Mickey’s favorite saints, put it:

“Man minus mind equals God.”

In other words, when we release all of our baggage, all that’s left is God. I know the “G” word elicits all kinds of responses from people.

For our sake here, let’s just say that letting go of our stuff gets us closer to what I believe is our natural, beautiful and loving self — what many say is the God inside us.

Use it to go to God. I love how simple, constructive and positive it is. When we’re hit with tough feelings and tough situations, we use it. We don’t complain about it or sigh about it or get frustrated by it. We view it as an opportunity to become deeper, better beings.

Which is work. Hard work.

My challenging day

Just yesterday I had to do a lot of that work because of what I would call a challenging day. Not awful. The further I travel on this path, the rarer are my awful days.

But yesterday was challenging. My son got hit in the head at his lacrosse game so we entered the maze of the concussion world. He had zero symptoms of dizziness, memory loss, confusion, vomiting, sleep troubles, etc. Bottom line is he had a mild headache for about an hour afterward and then nothing for the past two days. I got a doctor to examine him today and he cleared him.

By the way, I’m happy that our school system is strict on this concussion stuff as it can affect people for the rest of their lives if not treated properly. But that’s a different article for a different day.

A guy who bugs me

I also spent some time with someone who simply rubs me the wrong way. He gets under my skin. Which is MY problem. My challenge.

I must have said to myself ten times, when I got poked by him, “Use it to go to God.” Then I’d relax, feel the feeling that had arisen and do my utmost to, ask Mickey would say, “Not get involved with it.” It was exhausting work. But it’s the most important work we humans can do.

Those two challenges combined to form a third one: I got almost no work done yesterday. But that, too, was something I looked at and then used to go to God.

The takeaway

My recommendation is that you use Ram Dass’s words here to help you let go when you get poked.

Whatever it is. Your boss says something crappy. Or your spouse. Or your kid.

Summon those words! “I’m going to use this to go to God.”

If it resonates with you, go for it. It definitely strikes a chord with me, now more than ever after hearing it directly from my eloquent, wise teacher, Mickey Singer.

Meditation

My Visit to Mickey Singer’s Temple, Part 1: The Life-altering Advice He Gave Me

Wow.

I know I’m a writer and should be able to deliver a more eloquent, creative description of my visit to Mickey Singer’s temple, but I’m going to stick with…

Wow.

You’ll see why after you read this series of articles about my visit.

Today’s piece is about something Mickey told me that helped crystallize my path ahead. Before getting to that, I want to relate my overall impression of Mickey, the Temple and the people I met who make it all run.

First, if you’ve read my stuff these past few years you know that Mickey is my favorite teacher. Why? Here’s an article I wrote about that. The bottom line: His teachings make the most sense to me.

Overview of Mickey’s teachings

In a nutshell, what Mickey teaches is that we shouldn’t do what virtually everybody does, which is look to the outside world to remedy what ails us inside. Instead, we should look inside to remedy what ails us inside.

And what ails us inside? We cling to or resist life experiences that we really like (cling) or really don’t like (resist). This clinging and resisting manifests inside as blocked energy. The key then is to let go of these energies when they arise, paving the way for the eventual return to our natural state: The free flow of beautiful, loving energy.

What’s he like?

Those are the teachings. What about the person? It’s hard to know with any certainty what somebody is like after reading their books and listening to their talks. I certainly had an inkling of what Mickey would be like, but again, who knows? Some spiritual teachers are disastrous people.

The best thing that came from this trip is that I can say this about my experience of Mickey: He far exceeded my expectations. He could not have been more generous with his time or more gracious in his dealings with me and the other guests at the Temple.

I had called a month ahead and told one of his associates of my plans to visit and that I had written extensively about Mickey’s teachings. A few days before departing for Florida, I was shocked and gratified to learn that he had offered to take a walk with me after the Sunday services.

On that walk, we ambled around the vast Temple property for over an hour. Again, he could not have been more decent and less full of himself. We discussed myriad spiritual topics.

Mickey’s inner circle

I also found the five or so people who help Mickey run the Temple to be incredibly competent, “normal” people. Why do I add ‘normal?’ Because you hear of spiritual leaders who are surrounded by bizarre, slavish sycophants.

That is not the case here. All of Mickey’s people seemed comfortable in their own skin and, while respecting Mickey greatly, didn’t seem at all fearful of him. Bottom line, I got the feeling that he’s a good boss who has surrounded himself with good people, as any leader should.

Mickey’s unwavering commitment

The other thing I took away is what real commitment looks like on the spiritual path. Monday through Saturday from 6:30–7:30 a.m. the Temple does a chanting of the Sri Atma Gita, a sacred 2,500-word Hindu text. They told me Mickey has been doing this six mornings a week for fifty years! He led the chant one morning (he knows the whole text by heart) and an associate of his did it the other day I attended.

He also gives three talks a week, every week. There’s singing and chanting before and after all his talks, which he leads and chanting every night at the Temple. He plays a small organ at all the services. He does it all.

What I saw was his authentic devotion. I went to five separate services at the Temple. He was at each one and he did not phone it in at any of them. And he’s been doing this for decades! I was amazed. And inspired.

The life-altering advice Mickey gave me

So, what was this life-altering advice he gave me? It happened at the end of our walk on Sunday.

As we neared the parking area, I started talking generally about where I saw myself going. It went something like this:

“This stuff, the meditation, the mindfulness, the letting go, isn’t really that hard. And it’s so unbelievably, profoundly good for people. And yet, hardly anybody does it. I’d be shocked if more than one percent of people have a regular meditation practice. So I want to get this stuff to the masses. Get many, many millions more people doing all this great work…”

And just as I was about to go to, “Just think about what the world would look like if billions of people meditated and practiced mindfulness,” he stopped me in my tracks and said —

“No, no, no. You don’t have to spread this to the whole world. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Things will evolve. I never did anything. I just put everything into what came before me.”

My first reaction? It was like I’d been knocked to the canvas by a right hook from Muhammad Ali, the announcer bellowing,

“DOWN GOES GERKEN! DOWN GOES GERKEN!”

But as I picked myself up off the proverbial canvas, it dawned on me…Holy crap, this is huge.

My baggage with ambitious ideas

Why? Because of my background, the sixth of six children in a high-achieving family with a Fortune 500 CEO dad, I’ve always tended toward grandiose, BIG ambitions. Like spreading meditation to the planet. But it’s never served me well and never felt quite right.

Not that there’s anything wrong with big ideas and big ambitions. It’s just that when I do it, it usually comes from a place of trying to fix a big hole in my psyche for the reason I stated above.

That advice of ‘just do what’s in front of you. Give it everything you’ve got. Then let things evolve,’ was music to my ears.

I’m 1,000 pounds lighter

The net result is that I feel like a thousand-pound weight has been taken off my shoulders. I don’t need to singlehandedly change the world. I just need to focus on writing these articles, maybe write a book someday and see what else comes down the pike.

Who knows? Maybe by doing that, I will massively change the world. If that’s the case, great. And if it isn’t, that’s great, too. I’ll put in my effort and then let the universe decide what it wants to do with it. As the Tao says, do your work, then let it go (chapter 24).

The takeaway

What does this mean for you? I hope what you’ll take is the importance of simply giving everything you have to what’s in front of you. If it doesn’t feel like the right thing, move on to something else and put effort into that.

And keep doing that until you find what feels right. And when you find that thing that feels right, as I did with writing about spiritual matters, just put a bunch of effort into it. Then see where it goes.

That’s it. That’s all you have to do. Just three steps:

Step one, find that thing that feels right to you.

Step two, put effort into that endeavor.

Step three, get out of the way. Let the Universe/God/Nature decide what to do with your work.

Hope that helps. The advice Mickey gave me could well be what shapes my work life from now until the end of my days.

Meditation

Multitasking Is Not What It’s Cracked Up To Be

People have gotten busy these past several decades. Constantly doing, doing, doing.

Much of it stems from technological advances. First it was computers. Then came the internet which gave us all kinds of things to “do” on those computers, either at home or at work. Then it was smartphones that allowed us to do everything, everywhere, all at once…ala the latest Oscar-winning film.

The resultant Distraction Busyness Revolution has hatched a subspecies of do, do, do behaviors: Multitasking. What is that, exactly? Multitasking is doing two or more activities at the same time, usually as a timesaver or productivity enhancer.

Folding laundry while on the phone

We all know multitaskers. You might be one yourself. These are people who, while talking with you on the phone for fifteen minutes have folded the laundry, made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for their son, and emptied the dishwasher.

Or someone who listens with one ear at a work meeting while making their to-do list for the day.

And here’s the thing: Multitaskers love the fact that they’re multitaskers. “I get so much done!”

Most of you can guess what I’m going to say about why multitasking is not good for our spiritual, or any other type of health. It’s simply this:

Multitasking is the antithesis of mindfulness.

The reason is obvious. Mindfulness is about being present for the moments of our lives, something that is impossible to do when we we’re engaged in multiple activities at one time.

As the great Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh once said,

“We do the dishes not only in order to have clean dishes, we also do the dishes just to do the dishes, to live fully in each moment while washing them, and to be truly in touch with life.”

Eckhart Tolle tells the story of the Zen monk lamenting to his master that he’d been at the monastery for four years and still didn’t know what Zen was. The master thought about it, then said:

“Zen is doing one thing at a time.”

Mindfulness is also doing one thing at a time. So why am I stressing this so strongly? Why devote an entire article to multitasking? Mainly to make people aware that it doesn’t serve them as well as they may think.

Because if one is multitasking, that frenetic, busyness tends to bleed into the rest of life. So that all day, every day the mind is going, going, going. Which isn’t healthy. It wears people down and contributes to that syndrome so many people have these days of waking up in the middle of the night thinking obsessive thoughts that refuse to shut the hell up, which is torturous.

Now some of you multitaskers out there might be fuming as you read this thinking, “Who the hell are you to tell me not to multitask? I’m a single mom with three kids under age eight. I have no choice but to do 100 things at once!”

Fair enough. If you’re in over your head in life, you do what you have to do to get by.

Just try being aware

To those in that position I say at least be aware of this. Maybe you’ll find that there are times that you can do one thing at a time.

And to those of you who multitask because you simply like to be busy and do a lot, consider what I’ve said here. You’ll feel a lot calmer and centered the more you stick with the one-thing-at-a-time strategy.

Also consider this: When you’re ironing shirts or whatever while talking to an old friend, your sister, your son or your mom, that person is NOT getting the best of you. Why? Because you’re not all there.

And again, that’s the biggest problem with multitasking: it becomes a habit that pervades the rest of your life. You’re so busy and frenzied all the time that you’re not present. For anybody. You have coffee with a friend and you can barely keep your eye on them, much less listen to what they’re saying, because you’re so preoccupied with…your meeting in an hour, the three errands you need to do, your son’s problems at school…

What the masters say

If you’re at all into this spiritual stuff, remember what pretty much all of these great beings say. People like Ram Dass, Mickey Singer and Eckhart Tolle. They say that the greatest gift we can give someone is our presence. Our full attention. Our consciousness.

Let me stress that this is NOT about being a “good,” virtuous person. None of my writing is about that. It’s about making you aware that there could be a different way of doing things that will result in you FEELING BETTER.

You don’t need to be the Dalai Lama. But how about a little less crazed? Less frantic. Less busy in the head.

The takeaway

In the end, I hope you’ll get one thing from this article. Awareness. As Eckhart says,

“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”

So at the very least, take a look. Are you trying to do three things at once when you could do one, then the second, then the third? Is your attention distracted from the person you’re on the phone with because you’re doing something else at the same time? Something you really don’t have to do right then?

Just take a look.

Meditation

This Joseph Goldstein Teaching on Meditation is Essential – It has to do with the goal of meditation.

A meditation practice cannot be successful without following a wise teaching from Joseph Goldstein. Bold? Yes. But I stand it by that statement 100 percent.

First, who is this guy? Joseph Goldstein is one of the pioneers of meditation in America, along with Jack KornfieldSharon Salzberg and Jon Kabat Zinn. In 1975 he, Kornfield and Salzberg founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, where the Theravada version of Buddhism is taught. Suffice to say that Goldstein has been one of the preeminent meditation teachers in America for fifty years.

So, what about this brilliant teaching of his? I learned it six years ago while taking Kabat Zinn’s eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course in Los Angeles.

Goldstein’s pivotal story

In week two of the class, we read a one-page essay by Goldstein titled Feeling Good, Feeling Bad: Progress in Meditation. In it, Goldstein relates a story from his life that captures the teaching.

In the late 60’s he traveled to India for a few months of intensive meditation. It was an earth-shattering experience for him. Here’s how he described the meditations he had during those months:

“…my whole body dissolved into radiant vibrations of light. Every time I sat down, as soon as I closed my eyes, this energy field of light pervaded my whole body. It was wonderful, it felt terrific. ‘Ah, I got it!’”

He returned to America for a while then went back to India, excited for round two of meditation nirvana. He was sorely disappointed. As he put it:

“My body felt like a painful mass of twisted steel. As I sat and tried to move my attention through that tight and twisted block, there was so much pressure and tension, so many unpleasant sensations.”

The next two years were brutal. All twisted steel. Until he finally broke through with the realization that is the focal point of this article. Again, his words:

“It took me two years to finally realize that the idea in practice is not to get anything back, no matter how wonderful it might be…We practice to open up to what is present, whatever it happens to be. Tingles. Light. Twisted steel. It doesn’t matter…Simply be open, be soft, be mindful with whatever is present itself.”

This is so vital to understand if we want to develop a regular, growing meditation practice. Goldstein’s bottom line is this: If you’re meditating to achieve some other-worldly, awesome high state, you are doomed. That’s not the purpose of meditation.

Meditation is about honoring the moment

The purpose is to be present with whatever’s going on in the moment. Sometimes those moments will be characterized by blissful feelings. Sometimes those moments will be filled with tension and anxiety.

Our quest is to do our best to treat both of those states the same way. Just being present with them. Simply witnessing them from a place of nonjudgment.

And as is always the case, meditation is a microcosm for the larger, non-meditation part of our lives. How so? Because it’s also the quest of our lives to be present with the good and bad moments, without judgment.

That’s what mindfulness is. Being fully present for the moments of our lives.

When teaching my meditation classes, I place great emphasis on this concept. We don’t meditate to ‘get anywhere.’ We do it to practice being present, in the moment.

My go-to meditation cue

In most of my meditation sessions, early on I’ll say to myself,

“Not trying to get anywhere special or achieve some high state…Just sitting here, letting everything in this moment be exactlyas it is…”

It’s a cue I picked up from another fantastic meditation teacher, Peter Russell. I highly recommend using it early on in your sessions.

The reason I emphasize this so strongly is that the trap Joseph Goldstein fell into over fifty years ago is extremely common, especially among those just beginning to practice. People try to reach a high place and when that doesn’t materialize, they get frustrated. So much so that they give up meditation entirely.

The takeaway

Save yourself a ton of twisted steel. Meditate to practice presence. Ironically, you vastly increase your chances of reaching divine states when you approach it this way.

If you want to begin meditating and are looking for a place to start, go to my website at davidgerken.net where I have a free program available. It’s designed to be as easy as possible.

Meditation

Please Practice Nonresistance — It Will Improve Your Life Immeasurably

Practicing non-resistance has been a Godsend for me. It’s something I find myself coming back to multiple times a day.

What is non-resistance? It’s the acceptance, in the moment, of what life throws at us. Like what? As usual, it’s best to explain through examples:

-While driving to a doctor’s appointment you realize you got the time wrong and you’ll be an hour late.

-Your husband was supposed to take your daughter to basketball practice, but he hasn’t shown up so now you have to take her, which means missing your yoga class.

-You hit four red lights in a row.

In each of these situations we feel that jolt of negative energy zap our gut.

And what one critical element do each of these examples share? It’s something that has already happened. There is nothing we can do about it.

A critical question to ask

The most important question we need to ask ourselves in the immediate aftermath of these situations is this: Resisting what just happened will get me what?

I’m going to be late to the doctor, I’ve hit a bunch of red lights, I’m going to miss my yoga class. Resisting those realities and getting pissed off about them will bring exactly what positive benefit to me?

The answer, of course, is that resisting these realities will bring only angst, anger and bad moods.

No, you don’t become a doormat

What this doesn’t mean, as it relates to the husband being late and many situations like it, is that we bow down and let everybody walk on us. No.

It means that we simply chill out and respond from a place of presence rather than react from a place of egoic fury. With the no-show husband situation, you figure out why he was late and implement measures that will ensure it doesn’t happen again.

I know a lot of you are saying, “Chill out? After my husband screws up my afternoon? How the hell am I supposed to do that?”

It’s a great question. A question that goes to the heart of non-resistance. Why? Because life hands us a plethora of annoying and unfair situations. Every day.

But I have an answer to the question. Here’s why you should do everything you can to ‘chill out’ and not resist that situation with your husband:

BECAUSE IF YOU DO RESIST, YOU ARE SCREWING YOURSELF OVER!

Those words may be inartful, but they go to the core of non-resistance. Reality has happened. What good does it do you to get all uptight, angry and anxious by fighting reality?

This is looking at the matter from the harm resistance does us. Here’s a beautiful, eloquent description of the flip side, what a life of non-resistance looks like. No surprise, it comes from the great Eckhart Tolle:

To offer no resistance to life is to be in a state of grace, ease and lightness.”

Ahhh…It relaxes me just reading that.

But I know something else many of you are thinking:

“Sounds great, but easier said than done. It would be impossible for me not to blow a gasket if my husband sauntered his way home and screwed me out of my yoga class. This non-resistance thing isn’t doable. It’s pie-in-the-sky.”

That is simply not true. It is doable. How?

Two steps.

First, become aware. The problem with most inhabitants of this planet is that they don’t even know how much they’re resisting and how damaging it is. Why? Because they don’t know there’s any other way to be.

“Of course I’m going to blow up at my husband. What the hell else am I going to do? Say thank you?!”

So step one is to simply go about your days and be vigilant about becoming aware when you resist.

Second, you practice. Practice what? Practice noticing when you’re resisting and relax. Calm down.

One thing that has helped me is when I get that agitated feeling, from being mad at something someone’s done or the red lights, etc., I turn it around and say to myself,

“This pissed off, negative feeling is on me. Not my wife. Not the lights. It’s on me. Because I’m choosing to resist rather than accept this reality.”

That may not eliminate the feeling each time, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get.

Practice works

Which leads to a central point of this article: If you practice non-resistance, you will get better at it, and it will get easier. It’s like anything else. If you practice playing the violin, you’ll get better. If you practice your pickleball serve, it will get better. It’s no different with non-resistance.

I have a great example of this: Me. I’ve put in lots of practice over these past years and the results are showing. Here are a few recent examples.

1) Our neighborhood association informed us that we had to take down the basketball hoop in our driveway because it violated the bylaws. It wasn’t enforced for years then somebody got a bee in their bonnet over it and decided to crack down.

The old me would probably have gone to the mattresses over it. Who the hell do they think they are telling me what to do? Then I might have gone to some board meetings and raised hell.

But the bottom line is that my kids hardly used it. And frankly it gives us a little more room for parking.

So I didn’t resist. I let it go.

2) My tax accountant charges about twice what I should be paying. Why? Because he’s a high-end guy who charges something like $700 an hour. It’s been like this for around 7–8 years.

The problem is that my taxes aren’t that complicated. No shelters. No multiple properties owned, etc.

Starting around a year ago I looked around for another accountant. Strange as it may seem, I haven’t been able to find anybody. All the friends I’ve asked have said they don’t like their accountant, either!

So a few weeks ago, I said screw it. I’ll do it myself. It took me about an hour to realize that it wouldn’t be as easy as I thought.

So right then I said fine. I’ll go another year with my old guy. It’ll cost me around $1,000 more, but the thought of grinding out a return over the next month didn’t appeal to me.

And the reason the old me would have endured that tax prep misery wouldn’t have been about the $1,000. It would have been about “Screw him. He way overcharges me and I’m sick of it! No more!” In other words, it was about resistance.

3) You know that article I wrote last week about our family ski trip to Colorado? Well, one issue I didn’t dive into was that it cost me a fortune. The flights, the $1,500 for the rental car, the $239 lift tickets.

But here’s the reality: I’d decided we were doing this trip to celebrate my wife’s 50th birthday. So it was going to cost what it cost. In other words, I wasn’t going to decide mid-trip to slash costs somehow.

I quickly accepted the reality that I was spending a ton on the trip. The old me would have worried about it and gotten uptight on the trip.

The new me practiced non-resistance by acknowledging a reality I wasn’t going to change. So I didn’t worry about it.

I can’t tell you how good it feels to not get worked up about this stuff anymore. I’m saving myself from tons of toxic energy.

The takeaway

So when life happens, don’t resist. Accept. Relax. Then respond from a place of presence. It’ll be hard at first.

But if you rinse and repeat that process 24/7, you will eventually reach that “…state of grace, ease and lightness,” that Eckhart wrote about. I can’t think of anything more important than that.