Meditation

Meditation

Want To Propel Your Spiritual Growth? Be Patient

I had an epiphany a few days ago while riding my bike along the Back Bay near my home in Newport Beach, California. It’s about a 45 minute ride and serves as my workout four or five days a week.

Forty-five minutes alone on a bike. You know what that means: Lots of time for my mind to wander into Thoughtlandia.

Traveling to Thoughtlandia

As someone who has traveled the spiritual path these past ten years, I am well-aware that Thoughtlandia is NOT where I want to be. My regular meditation and mindfulness practices train me to live in the present moment as much as possible. But that’s hard to do when you’re alone on a bike, even with the beautiful scenery surrounding me.

After several years and thousands of miles on my bike, I have noticed thousands of times that my attention has drifted into thought, just as I would in a meditation session. So I say to myself, “Okay, yet again, you’re off in thought. Let’s look around at what’s in front of you…in this moment. Beautiful, blue sky, sun shimmering on the water, ducks swimming around in the bay…”

But most of the time the preeminent feelings inside me are frustration and exasperation. My inner dialog is, “Come on, man. You’ve been meditating regularly for eight years, practicing mindfulness in your daily life and you STILL drift off so easily on these rides? Get with the program!”

A golden opportunity

Well, a few days ago when this happened it occurred to me that this riding dilemma presented a golden opportunity. And it has to do with the nature of spiritual growth/awakening.

This growth doesn’t happen overnight. More important, most of it doesn’t occur with noticeable milestones.

I’ll illustrate with an example of the opposite. Let’s say you take three putting lessons from your local golf pro over a few weeks. And he has you practice a bunch of putting drills in between lessons. After a few weeks you play eighteen holes, putt amazingly well and shave a few strokes off your score. That’s an example of practice and work resulting in noticeable progress.

Spiritual growth is subtle

Well, most spiritual growth isn’t like that. It’s subtle. You just sort of notice at various points that you feel calmer. More centered. But for most of us, that progress doesn’t come with hit-you-over-the-head, wow moments.

So what does that have to do with my Back Bay bike ride? My epiphany was that I need to accept that my growth has happened, and will continue to happen, in a very gradual, subtle way. My mind is still going to wander on my rides. But as time goes on it will wander less.

Just keep practicing

All I need to do…all any of us needs to do, is continue practicing. Every day. Do your meditation. And during your daily life, notice when you’re drifting away from your center and bring yourself back.

Image for post
Photo by Jonathan Marchal on Unsplash

If you keep doing that, day after day, month after month, year after year, the growth will come. Slowly but surely, gradually, you will become calmer, more present and more compassionate.

Patience is all

So bringing this all the way back to the profoundly valuable lesson I learned pedaling away a few days ago: We can all travel this spiritual path more swiftly if we exercise patience.

It hit me like a ton of bricks on my bike that if I’m just more patient with my growth, those feelings of frustration when I drift into thought will evaporate. As they did on that ride.

So if you get frustrated in your meditation, or if you get frustrated when you blow your stack with your teenage daughter because she stepped on your last nerve, or if you get frustrated because you just drifted into thought for the tenth time on your 45 minute bike ride, just say to yourself: “That’s okay. I’m on this path. I’m doing the work. And I’m just going to be patient with myself.”

The great thing is, if you do become more patient with yourself, you’ll speed yourself along the path. Because getting frustrated, whether in meditation or mindfulness practices, only slows our progress down.

So that’s it. Do the daily work. Chop the wood and carry the water, as Ram Dass called it. Don’t let any mind-wandering or unconscious behavior throw you off track.

And be patient.

Meditation

A Helpful Analogy For Working With Our Frenzied Minds

I’ll start this off by posing a seldom asked question: What is the mind? Mickey Singer defines it as a field of energy that can create thoughts. So the brain does lots of things, but the mind is the entity within it that creates thoughts. And let’s face it, most of those random thoughts are the bane of most people’s existence.

In fact, quieting our noisy minds is central to many spiritual traditions, notably Buddhism, Hinduism, the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, Mickey Singer and many more. A fundamental precept within all these traditions and teachings is that our minds/thoughts are not who we are. Who we are is the conscious being that is aware of our thoughts.

A tough concept to grasp

That last sentence is extremely difficult for many people to comprehend. Their reaction is, “What?! Of course I’m my thoughts. They constitute my personality. They make me, me.”

In truth, however, our thoughts are just reactions to experiences we’ve had over the course of our lives that we’ve stored in the misplaced belief that doing so will protect us.

For example, if your first true love cheated on you and broke your heart when you were in high school, forty years later your mind still produces suspicious thoughts every time your faithful husband of thirty years goes on a business trip. Why? To defend against getting your heart broken again. And so on.

Life is one big tug of war

So long story short, what life comes down to for most of us is one long, exhausting, exasperating game of tug of war between our conscious, real selves and our egoic mind selves. Fortunately, there are ways to help the conscious you pull the rope its way. Practicing regular meditation and mindfulness strengthens the “muscles” of our conscious selves, which results in less monkey mind thought production.

But I have found that the two adversaries in this tug of war, the conscious and egoic/mind selves, to be amorphous and intangible, which makes it more difficult to pull the rope toward the conscious self.

The “conscious” self? The “mind”? They’re just words floating in the ether. Wouldn’t it be nice to have images we could conjure to help sharpen things?

Well, I’ve thought of an analogy that can help bring this lifelong tussle into greater focus and therefore make it easier help the conscious self gain more sway in your life.

Picture the stallion and the tamer

It’s about the wild stallion and the tamer. The stallion represents our restless, temperamental, sensitive minds. The tamer is our calm, focused, present, conscious self.

I find it helpful to picture this scenario in my head, especially at the beginning of a meditation session when my mind monkey is swinging from tree to tree. I picture the tamer in the corral, calm, present and accepting of the stallion’s restlessness. He’s not trying to force anything on the stallion because he knows that doing so will only cause the horse to become more upset and run away.

So the tamer simply stands there, calmly observing the stallion. Patiently breathing with it. Motionless.

The more he does this, the calmer and more trusting the stallion becomes. The tamer knows this takes immense patience, but also knows that that patience will eventually pay off and the stallion will be tamed.

Identify your mind as the stallion

Another helpful aspect of this analogy for me is identifying my mind as a wild stallion. Because it is. Even after many years of spiritual work my mind still has a life of its own. But identifying my mind as a stallion helps to further separate it from my true, conscious self. Why? Because I’m clearly not a stallion. I’m the calm guy working with, but separate from, that stallion.

And possibly the most important thing I’ve learned in my many years on the spiritual path is that that separation of the all-powerful egoic self/mind from the conscious self is the central aim of the journey. Keep doing that and growth is inevitable. So anything that facilitates and widens that separation is valuable.

Try this. Look at your mind as the wild stallion that it is. Look at it as something that’s in you, but isn’t you.

Meditation

These 4 Michael Singer Quotes Are All You Need For Your Spiritual Journey

I’ve found Mickey Singer’s teachings to be the most eloquent, relatable, resonant and, most important, helpful, of ANY of the myriad spiritual teachers I have explored. Here are four quotes of his that, if you incorporate them into your life, will provide all you need for your spiritual journey.

1. “There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind — you are the one who hears it.”

This one lies at the heart of many spiritual traditions and teachings. One way or another, this concept sits at the foundation of Buddhism, Hinduism, Eckhart Tolle’s teachings and many others. If you get this, you’re halfway toward the pot of gold at the end of the spiritual rainbow. If you don’t get it, life will remain hard.

Why? Because that “voice of the mind” Mickey refers to is the self-critical, conditioned, egoic self that torments most of humanity…And it isn’t who we are.

Who we are, as Mickey says, is “the one who hears” this voice. Once we begin identifying as this conscious “hearer” of our mind/voice, the spiritual journey picks up steam and we’re on our way.

2. “Letting go of yourself is the simplest way to get closer to others.”

This one is related to the quote above. How? Because once we start identifying as our conscious self we create space between it and our crazy, egoic self.

We then spend the bulk of our sadhana (spiritual practice) on simply observing that egoic, thought-factory mind, both in meditation and in daily life. Over time, this simple observing results in the weakening and eventual dissolving of our egoic selves, aka, our baggage.

This “letting go of yourself” (baggage) clears away the very obstacles preventing you from being close to others. Why? Because there is literally less “you” to get in the way of that closeness. Less you that feels superior/inferior, vulnerable to criticism, insecure, etc., all of which serve to sabotage our ability to get close with others.

The conscious you, which has been lurking all along beneath the baggage crowding it out, then moves into that space. And the conscious you knows how to be close. It loves being close with people. Why? Because the conscious you is love itself.

3. “You’re floating in empty space in a universe that goes on forever. If you have to be here, at least be happy and enjoy the experience.”

This one is all about perspective and I love it. Mickey refers often to the fact that we live on a tiny rock twirling around in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

I actually wrote a piece about this last year that focused on the photo below. The photo was taken from Voyager 1 at a distance of 3.7 billion miles (somewhere near Pluto), making it far and away the most distant image of Earth ever taken. Can you see Earth? It’s the tiny dot about halfway down and to the right, in the middle of the brown vertical band (the bands are the result of sunlight reflecting off the camera).

Image for post
Photo Taken by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990 (NASA)

Why are Mickey’s quote and this photo relevant? Well, next time you get bent out of shape that someone at work undercut you, or your car bumper got dinged up in the grocery store parking lot, or your husband forgot your anniversary, try to remember that you’re floating in an incomprehensibly vast universe comprised of 99.99999999999999999999999% empty space. Then consider Mickey’s advice that you may as well be happy and enjoy the experience!

4. If you are resisting something, you are feeding it. Any energy you fight, you are feeding. If you are pushing something away, you are inviting it to stay.”

So much of our lives are spent resisting the reality of the moments of our lives. And as Mickey says, when we resist, we feed what we’re resisting.

It’s worth pointing out that it makes sense that we resist. If you don’t like something, push it away, right?

But the universe doesn’t work that way. The universe (or God or Jesus or Allah or the Supreme Creator or whoever you think is the head cosmic honcho) wants us to experience the moments put in front of us as they are. That doesn’t mean we have to like every moment of our existence. It just means that, at the very least, we need to accept those moments and not resist them.

My favorite analogy that illuminates this is that of the dark cloud. When we’re experiencing a challenge in life, think of it as a dark cloud raining down on us. When we fight with or push away that problem, we feed that dark cloud and it sits over our heads, making us miserable. But if we merely look up at that cloud, notice it and accept that it’s there, it moves…and slowly but surely, passes through the sky and disappears.

Of all the tremendous benefits I’ve reaped from traveling the spiritual path these many years, this concept of nonresistance might be the most valuable of all. Why? Because when we learn to not resist the moments that challenge us, an enormous burden falls away and we feel lighter, calmer and more at peace.

Meditation

An Overlooked Gift That a Meditation And Mindfulness Practice Bestows

Meditation and mindfulness have been all the rage for several years now. Mindspace, Calm and Insight Timer have multi-millions of users, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other elite publications write frequently on the subject and Eckhart Tolle is now a household name.

There’s no doubt that these mega millions of meditation and mindfulness practitioners are better off as a result. So is the world.

Why are these people better off? In other words, what benefits have they reaped? Lots. You’ve probably heard of the health benefits like help with depression, anxiety and chronic pain, a strengthened immune system, and weight loss, to mention just a few. And also the more amorphous, but no less valuable, benefit of becoming a more patient, compassionate and content human being.

But it has occurred to me of late that there is another, seldom mentioned gain that ardent devotees garner. What do I mean by ardent devotees? These are regular meditators with a consistent mindfulness practice. Not necessarily Buddhist monks who meditate six hours a day, but not dabblers, either.

It’s all about being present

Anybody practicing meditation and mindfulness regularly eventually concludes that the endeavor comes down to one thing: Being present. Present in your meditation and present in your daily life. That’s it. And the profound benefit this ‘be present’ practice offers is…drum roll please:

The opportunity to radically simplify our lives in a profoundly healthy way.

There are two broad areas where this manifests. The first is in how we deal with life situations, both big and small. Bottom line: we can handle every situation or challenge in life by simply being present. That’s all we have to do. Everything else flows from doing that.

Eckhart answers with the same thing: be present

I’ll go to one of my favorite teachers, Eckhart Tolle, to illustrate this point. I subscribe to Eckhart’s website and have listened to countless hours of his talks for ten years. A lot of the content is Q & A with his audience with questions running the gamut from problems with marriages, kids, bosses, jobs…you name it, Eckhart gets asked it.

I noticed at some point that Eckhart answers almost all of these questions the same way. He says, “Just be present with it. Meet this person/situation/challenge from a place of presence.”

After hearing this for the umpteenth time, it occurred to me: That’s all I have to do. Be present. And that has made my life so much easier to manage. Why? Because it simplifies everything.

How? Somebody upsets me. I go to, “Be as present as you can in handling this.” I see a beautiful mountain landscape. I go to my breath, don’t think about the beauty I’m seeing, but rather just be present with it.

What I don’t have to do in any of the situations life presents me is agonize over a laundry list of potential actions I can take. There’s just one action — be present. And best of all, and the reason that Eckhart espouses this approach, is that the right course of action comes when it is taken from a place of presence.

Talking people down from the ledge

I can’t tell you how many times I speak with a friend or family member and they’re stuck in their heads worrying about some calamity they foresee coming down the pike. And I’ll say, “Hey, why not just focus on what’s happening right now? You’re sitting here talking with me. That’s it. That’s all there is. The future doesn’t exist. It never has and it never will. The only place life has, does and will ever take place is in the present moment.”

I’m not saying that I have perfected the art of living presently. Far from it. But the more I meditate and practice mindfulness, the better I get at this whole presence thing and the simpler my life becomes.

The second area that meditation and mindfulness radically simplifies is clarifying what’s important in life. I think all would agree that that is supremely important.

Porsches, mansions and botox

I live in a wealthy community in Southern California where most people put a premium on money and material. Lots of Mercedes’, 5,000 square foot homes and middle aged women (and men) strutting into Neiman Marcus with their perfect bodies and surgically altered faces. I notice they don’t seem to smile much.

When I lived in Washington, D.C., people valued power and status much more than money. A 55 year old man cruising around town in a Porsche would be considered almost gauche. But if he drove a Lexus, graduated from Yale, was an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and his kids went to Sidwell Friends School (the tony prep school where the Obama kids went), now that guy would be admired and envied.

Surrounded by bigwigs

I went to Princeton, worked around some extremely powerful people in Washington (some of whom were my friends) and swam in the shark-infested waters of the Hollywood creative scene for fifteen years. So long story short, I’ve seen up close and personal the deification of money, power and status.

And I’m not going to lie to you — not becoming fabulously wealthy or powerful plagued me for decades. It’s been the core issue I’ve faced since childhood.

But now? After eight years of regular meditation and practicing mindfulness? Maybe the greatest reward these practices have given me is clarifying what is important in life. And it’s not money, power or status.

So what is it? If the glitzy stuff isn’t important, what is? Again, drum roll please…

Waking up. Being present. Letting go of my ego.

That’s it. That’s all I have to do. Every day. Wake up, be present and let go. Simple. Doing that is the most important thing in life.

Why? Because doing so makes me a wiser, better human being. Not better in the traditional sense of smarter, more athletic, richer or any of that. No. Better in the sense of more compassionate and available to others.

Being present allows you to find your true path in life

Waking up and being present is also the surest way of finding your true path in life. Not to get too metaphysical here, but God, the universe, the supreme being — whatever your version of the cosmic Big Cheese is — communicates its grand plans to us in the silent stillness within ourselves. We can’t hear these communications when we’re busy scheming our way to a seat in the U.S. Senate or to the CEO’s suite at General Electric.

By the way, none of this means you can’t become that powerful senator or CEO of GE. It just means that if you’re pursuing those things to satisfy your ego, you’ll never be happy and you’ll never find your true path.

But to reiterate, the unsung gift of these spiritual practices is the simplicity they infuse in our lives. The second-guessing, the doubting, the insecurity…they all dissipate. And when they do, a large reservoir of anxiety empties, leaving the meditation and mindfulness practitioner feeling lighter, calmer and more content.

Meditation

Want to Feel Good? Fight for Your Energy Flow

If we want to feel good we have to fight for our energy flow. It’s that simple. What does that mean?

First, I am equating energy flow with what in India they call Shakti and in China they call Chi. When you feel great, this energy flows freely. When you feel lousy, it’s blocked.

As Mickey Singer says in his The Untethered Soul Lecture Series, our energy flows freely when our hearts are open and is blocked when our hearts are closed. The key here is that we determine when our hearts open and close.

The situations where we open and close come in sizes tall, grande and venti (an homage to Starbucks, where my persistent kids have forced my wife and me to spend a small fortune recently on chocolate croissants, cake pops and other nutritious items).

Here’s a tall example. You’re driving down the highway, the radio blasting your favorite song, your energy flowing fine…when somebody suddenly cuts into your lane. Your lava starts flowing immediately. You lean on your horn, lower your window and shout epithets at the 80 year old woman who just committed this heinous crime against humanity.

YOU decided to shut down

Most important, you’ve closed your heart and shut down your energy flow resulting in you feeling angry and upset. Whose fault is this? Yours. You decided to lose it and shut down.

What could you have done? Fight for your energy flow. The moment you feel that anger rising up, you relax for a couple seconds and let it pass. You don’t allow a meaningless incident on the road to shut off your Shakti.

A grande argument

Moving to a grande example, your spouse or significant other says something that really pisses you off. They’ve pushed a button. Worse, they know they’ve pushed that button.

And you react by lobbing a verbal grenade their way that sends the argument to DEFCON 1 (the U.S. Military’s highest state of alert). Less than sixty seconds later one of you storms off, initiating a period of monosyllabic, cold-shoulder, cold war warfare for the next day…or two? Three? Now we have two people in a household who’ve cut off their energy flow. By choice.

Avoiding nuclear war

What could you have done? Kept your heart open and your energy flowing. How? By taking a few seconds after the shitty comment was lodged your way to gather yourself, relax, and let the rage/lava inside you calm…Then respond in a measured manner that expresses how you feel about what your significant other has just said, but in a way that doesn’t result in WW III.

By reacting with fury, you gave up on yourself. You chucked your energy flow into the garbage can.

The venti example comes from my own experience. This one doesn’t deal with a one-off episode, but a more pervasive, recurring core issue I’ve struggled with for decades.

Pressure to succeed, my core issue

In brief, from childhood throughout adulthood my core issue has been a deep need to feel successful in the eyes of my peers and society at large. This has its origins in my being the sixth of six children in an achievement-oriented family headed by my hard-charging father, a former Fortune 500 CEO. My siblings all went to great colleges and excelled in all kinds of things. The basis of this core issue is never quite feeling that I’ve measured up or achieved my potential.

For fifteen years in Washington, D.C., I worked on Capitol Hill for two congressmen and then spent a lucrative number of years in the lobbying profession. But I wasn’t a congressman. And I never worked in the White House.

Tinseltown success, but not enough

Then I spent fifteen years as a writer in Hollywood, working on shows like The West Wing, others that didn’t last long and selling a few television pilots and movies along the way. I did reasonably well in an excruciatingly competitive business. But I never ran my own show and never wrote a movie that appeared at a theater near you…or anybody else.

I’ve devoted the past few years to writing about and teaching meditation and mindfulness. And in those years I’ve definitely made progress on the “I have to be a big success” front in that I no longer feel compelled by insecurity and past scars to be a big deal or better than everybody else. In other words, I don’t feel pressure to be the next Eckhart Tolle or Deepak Chopra.

HOWEVER, I am not all the way there. For while I don’t feel the need to be a big shot, I still do suffer from feeling like I need to be productive in my writing.

My inner monologue is, if I’m not striving for greatness the least I can do is work hard and put stuff out there. So when I’m not pumping out articles on Medium I get a sick feeling in my gut, otherwise known as…a blockage of my Shakti/Chi/energy.

My golden opportunity

I’ve been in one of those phases for the past few weeks now and it’s been tough. But it finally dawned on me that this presents a golden opportunity for me to go further and deeper in my quest to wrestle my ego dragon to the ground and let this core issue breathe its last breaths.

Because for so many years I have tacitly accepted that lack of productivity should result in my shutting off my energy flow. It’s almost like a Protestant work ethic, guilt thing. That I need to cut off my Shakti as a way of forcing myself to be productive. And in that inner deal with my “ego devil”, once I get a piece written I earn the right to resume healthy energy flow.

Calling BS on guilt

This time around, I’ve called bullshit on that deal. How has that manifested? Each time I catch myself feeling crappy because I still have nothing going on the writing front, I stop myself. And I say “Screw it. I’m not going to allow this writing blockage to kill my energy flow. I have an amazing life, with a great wife, three of the best kids on earth, tip-top health, a decent place to live, a modicum of financial security and, last but not least, I’m devoting my work to something I absolutely believe in and know can and is changing people’s lives.”

Long story short, I’ve been fighting for my energy flow. Has it been easy? Hell no. I’ve had several writing sessions where, in protest of this ego devil trying to steal my shakti, I’ve spent hours just reading the Washington Post or reading spiritual books (like Ram Dass’s Be Here Now — more on that in a future piece. It’s amazing!).

Staving off writer’s guilt

But I haven’t given in to feeling lousy because I’m not writing something. And, by and large, it has worked. My moods have been pretty darn good throughout this period.

Now if I’m you, at this point I’m asking, “Okay, I get it. We need to fight for our energy. But how do we actually do that?” As is the case with most spiritual solutions, the answer isn’t complicated.

You work at it. You practice. Next time you feel yourself getting hot under the collar because the red light your stopped at seems to have been red for an eternity, STOP. Catch yourself. And say, “No! I refuse to give up my energy flow just because I’m stopped at a red light.”

In the grande example, next time you see a fight about to erupt with your significant other, STOP. Relax. Gather yourself for a few seconds. Is this easy? No. You’ve probably been flying off the handle your whole life. It’s a habit. But if you practice, you’ll get better.

Which leads to the most important thing you need to do. It’s the underpinning of this entire piece. And that is…

You need to COMMIT to fighting for your energy.

Why? Because you won’t practice or work at it unless you’ve made a commitment.

I know all this may sound crazy, but it really does work. As opposed to fighting for the more amorphous feeling good, energy flow provides a vivid, almost tangible entity that we can fight for.

Several times this past week, whether at my desk or walking around my house, I felt that pang of writer’s unproductivity guilt traveling south from its origin in my mind down to my energy centers and…BAM. I caught it. I connected with my energy flow and said, “No. I’m not letting it happen. I choose to keep my energy flow.”

Try it. Maybe you start by committing to just one day. Take tomorrow and commit to fighting for your energy flow whenever you feel yourself wanting to close your heart and shut it down.

The good news is you have the power to do it. You just have to commit to it.

In essence, you have to commit to fighting for yourself.

Meditation

4 Jon Kabat-Zinn Quotes to Anchor Your Meditation and Mindfulness Practices

Ifyou have reaped the profound benefits mindfulness offers, chances are you have Jon Kabat-Zinn (JKZ) to thank. He is the father of mindfulness in America. Because this article focuses on the wisdom behind these four quotes, I’ll hold off on a lengthy description of his life and work for a future piece.

With that, here are four things Jon Kabat-Zinn has said that can help to anchor your meditation and mindfulness practices.

1. You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

The waves of life come at us all the time. Large waves, in the form of the death of loved ones, the painful ending of relationships, being fired from a job; and small waves, like your teenager swearing at you then charging into her room and slamming her door, spilling an entire bowl of cereal on the floor and a driver honking you the riot act because you didn’t signal when you changed into their lane.

These waves are inevitable. They’re part of life.

But these waves don’t have to drown you. As JKZ says, you can learn to surf these waves. How? How does one ‘surf’ the waves of life?

By meeting any and all challenges in the moment. Head on. By not resisting the waves or fighting the waves. That’s a losing game. The waves always win. But if you surf the waves of life by treating them mindfully, that is, by experiencing them in the fullness of the moment, without judgment, the waves will eventually crash and peter out.

And then you’ll paddle out again, catch another wave and surf that. And then another. And another. And guess what? Like golf, playing the piano or learning Mandarin, the more you surf, the better you get at it. And the better you get at it, the better, richer person you become.

2. In meditation practice the best way to get somewhere is to let go of trying to get anywhere at all.”

I’ve been teaching a meditation and mindfulness course online and I just sent an email to my class this morning emphasizing exactly this sentiment. Meditation is not about trying to “get somewhere.” It’s about experiencing and accepting anything and everything happening in the present moment.

How does one do that? As JKZ so simply and eloquently states, by letting go of trying to get anywhere. The paradox here is self-evident: Only by letting go of trying to get somewhere in meditation can we actually get somewhere.

3. We take care of the future best by taking care of the present now.”

One could make the case that much of the suffering humans endure is caused by worrying about the future. “Will I get laid off in the next round of cuts?” “Will my restaurant survive the pandemic?” “Will this Covid-induced distance learning result in permanent damage to my ten year old son’s education?”

Worry, worry, worry. As Eckhart Tolle says,

“Worry pretends to be necessary.”

It isn’t. Ever.

Which is easy to say, but much harder to actualize in one’s life. Why? Because like most human behaviors there is a logic (if flawed) to why we worry. We worry because we think if we don’t those bad future things will happen. But again, worry is ALL bad, no good.

So how do we stop worrying about the future? We do two things. First, we double down on our meditation and mindfulness practices that help to calm our worrying minds and bring our attention into the present.

Second, we screw up our courage and place our faith in life, the universe, God, or whatever or whoever you think is cosmically in charge. In taking that leap, though, we can take solace in the evidence all around us that worrying doesn’t work and that living presently does.

4.“Another way to look at meditation is to view the process of thinking itself as a waterfall, a continual cascading of thought. In cultivating mindfulness we are going beyond or behind our thinking, much the way you might find a vantagepoint in a cave or depression in a rock behind a waterfall. We still see and hear the water, but we are out of the torrent.”

Image for post
Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

I love this one. It’s a perfect metaphor to describe the meditation process. Why?

If we become mired in the torrent of our thoughts in our meditation, as we would if a waterfall were crashing on top of us, we become lost. But, as with the waterfall, all it takes is stepping back a short ways to get out of the way of the crashing water. In meditation we do this by seeing ourselves lean away from our thought producing minds and then just observing the water cascading down in the form of thoughts.

This leaning back into the seat of self, as Mickey Singer calls it, is the linchpin of all spiritual growth, whether in meditation or our daily lives. Because that self sitting in that seat, that witness, is our truest self. And the more our attention is fixed on that self sitting in that seat, the stronger, more intelligent, more powerful and more compassionate we become.

Meditation

Want To Be Happy? Get Rid Of Your Baggage – Here’s how

My last article focused on the fact that while people think they pursue happiness, they really don’t. They pursue things they think will make them happy. Like being successful in a career, getting married and having kids or trying to end world poverty.

None of these endeavors brings lasting peace and happiness. What does? Eliminating our emotional, psychic baggage.

What is baggage?

Before diving into how to do that, let’s first describe what this baggage is so we know what we’re trying to get rid of. I think most people get it. It’s our stuff. The emotional traumas, both big and small, that we experience in childhood and throughout our adult lives.

There are an infinite number of examples of these experiences, but here are a few to give you an idea of what I mean.

-When you were ten your dad abandoned your family.

-At age 17 you found out that your boyfriend, your first true love, had been cheating on you incessantly and it caused your relationship to explode in disaster.

-You grew up poor and went to bed hungry many nights.

-Your dad was highly successful in his career which made you feel pressure to achieve.

Holding on is the problem

What is of paramount importance is that we held on to these experiences. We kept them inside instead of experiencing them and then letting them go.

We don’t hold onto all of our experiences in life. Just the ones that cause us some kind of inner disturbance.

Old traumas run our lives

The fundamental obstacle to happiness for most people is that these traumas end up running our lives. How? Let’s revisit each of the above examples and see.

Because your dad abandoned your family when you were ten, anytime you get involved in a relationship you freak out that your significant other is going to leave you. To the point that you break off all your relationships before they get too serious because you can’t handle even the prospect of being abandoned.

Because your first true love broke your heart by cheating on you, anytime your husband comes home late from anything, you think he’s cheating. Or if he’s on a business trip and doesn’t respond to your phone call within five minutes you think he’s cheating.

Even though you have made a significant amount of money, because you grew up poor you live your life in abject fear, thinking that poverty is always lurking around the corner.

Because you felt pressured to achieve as a result of your dad’s success, you never feel that anything you do is good enough in your career. You always feel inadequate.

Getting rid of the baggage

So how do we get rid of all this baggage? Again, Mickey Singer has a beautiful way of describing the whole process.

He likens the energy flow throughout our bodies to the flow of a river. When the river contains no impediments it flows smoothly. But when rocks make their way in they cause disturbances in the water flow in the form of eddies, currents and rapids.

Likewise, when we have no impediments in our psyches our energy flows smoothly and we feel fantastic. But most of us don’t feel fantastic most of the time. The reason? We have “rocks” inside us blocking our energy flow.

What are these rocks? That emotional baggage we held onto. The baggage caused by our dad abandoning us, growing up poor and all the other myriad traumas humans experience.

Baggage is normal

Of course, developing emotional baggage is perfectly normal. Not too many souls escape the jaws of life that clamp down on us and cause suffering.

The key is to recognize that those rocks inside you are running your life. And they’re not running it well.

Eliminating the rocks

How do we get rid of these rocks? When one of our traumas is triggered, instead of jumping in and falling prey to it, we do the opposite. We step away and resist the energy that is trying to pull us into the disturbance.

Then we take a few moments to relax. Everywhere. In our head, shoulders, around our chest and heart. Relaxing like this loosens up the rock. And then we let go…

We don’t reach into the river with our right hand and try to remove the rock. Why? Because our left hand is feverishly holding that rock down. You are the one holding onto these traumas, something Singer calls Samskaras after the Sanskrit word.

It’s about letting go

The key is just relaxing and letting go. And when we keep doing that, over and over, disturbance after disturbance, day after day, week after week, month after month and, yes, year after year, these rocks fall away.

And with that, our energy starts flowing more smoothly. And we feel better and better.

When that happens we are no longer dependent on job promotions, wedding days or tennis tournament victories to make us feel happy. We’re just happy. Because our energy is flowing. Because we removed the rocks.

The spurned lover

Here’s just one example of this in action. Let’s take that 40 year old woman whose boyfriend cheated on her and broke her heart at age 17. Her husband, who is a good, faithful guy, is off on one of his periodic business trips. She calls him at 8 p.m. and he doesn’t answer. She immediately becomes overcome with that awful feeling in her stomach telling her he must be with another woman.

The moment she feels that, she leans away from the impulse trying to pull her down the freak out rabbit hole. Then she closes her eyes. Takes some time to relax all over — head, shoulders, chest. Then she lets go.

Imagine the rock

It may even help to conjure an image of herself holding the rock down in the river with her hands…then see herself unclenching her hands and letting go of the rock. And seeing the rock flow away, down the river.

That’s one example of letting go of a trauma that needs to be repeated with all the other rocks you’re holding onto inside. It also needs to be repeated a month later when her husband goes on another business trip and doesn’t answer her call immediately.

So that’s it. Our lives become dedicated to working on letting go of our “stuff.”

This is great news

And if there’s only one thing you take away from this article I hope it’s that this is stupendously good news. Why? Because continuing what most humans do — trying to manipulate the external world to satisfy their inner needs, NEVER works. It can work short term, but never long term.

The Tao te Ching sums it up perfectly:

“The master understands that the universe is forever out of control, and that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao.”

But we CAN work on our insides with great positive effect. They’re our insides and nobody else’s.

Think about how much better our lives would be if we focused all of our attention on fixing our insides rather than wasting energy on the fool’s errand of getting the world to be as we want it.

Start today. Start letting go of those rocks…

Meditation

Most People Say They’re Pursuing Happiness. They Aren’t.

If you ask most people if they’re trying to be happy in their lives they’ll say yes. Most will say they’re not fully there, i.e. truly happy, but they will say that they’re giving it their best shot. In almost every case, this isn’t true. They’re not pursuing happiness.

Why? Because when asked a separate question: “What do you want from life?”, people offer a multitude of answers:

“I want to kick butt in my career so I can make a lot of money and have a nice life.”

“I want to get into Yale.”

“I want to get married and have kids.”

“I want to reduce malnourishment in Africa.”

The one answer people seldom give?

“I want to be happy.”

The above are all things people pursue because they think they will make them happy. And none of them does. Not one.

Yale won’t make you happy

Sure, when the 18 year old gets that letter in the middle of April telling her she’s been accepted to Yale she’s thrilled. Over the moon. And then slowly but surely that elation dissipates.

So she sets her sights on the next thing she thinks will make her happy: Doing well at Yale so she can go to Harvard Law School. She gets into HLS and is elated.

And…And…And…Thirty years later, after Supreme Court clerkships, successful runs for Congress and the Senate, she becomes president of the United States. And she’s elated…Until U.S. troops are attacked somewhere and she needs to decide whether to retaliate which could send America to war. Suddenly, she’s never felt worse in her life.

Manipulating the world doesn’t work

The point? Most people don’t live their lives in direct pursuit of happiness. They spend their lives trying to manipulate the external world in a way that they think will make them happy inside.

Be successful in a career so I can feel happy inside.

Get married and have a family so I can feel happy inside.

Save the world so I can feel happy inside.

The things we pursue are influenced by a mélange of three ingredients: our upbringing (parents, siblings, teachers, friends), societal influences and our actual genetic makeup. Unfortunately, most of these pursuits do not have happiness as the primary motivation.

What is happiness?

At this juncture it’s worth defining what happiness is. Though definitions abound, I think most people would agree that happiness is a feeling of energy bounding throughout the body and also an overall state of inner peace.

Most of us experience this energy from time to time. When you win that big athletic event. Or get that promotion. Or get that letter from Yale. Or see that beautiful baby girl come into the world. But eventually life grabs ahold of you and the energy stops flowing as you fall back to earth.

Don’t get me wrong, you can do ALL of those things and still be happy. But if you’re pursuing them because you think THAT is what will make you happy, it won’t work. It can for a while, but never for the long haul.

Mickey Singer is dead on

The ideas here come straight from the great spiritual teacher, Mickey Singer. I encourage anybody to listen to his The Untethered Soul Lecture Series where he expounds on these topics. They can be found at Soundstrue.com.

At this point, many reading this will say, “Fine, I agree. Good things happen to us and we feel happy. And then it wears off until the next good thing happens. That’s life. There’s no such thing as persistent, sustained happiness. To say otherwise is pie-in-the-sky fantasy.”

Happiness is attainable

No, it’s not. We can be persistently happy. The key is to pursue happiness straight on, and not by devoting our energies to manipulating the world in ways we think will get us there.

Which leads to the $64,000 question: How do we get to that place where we feel vibrant, positive energy and a sense of peace inside…not just some of the time, but MOST of the time?

Answer: We get rid of our baggage.

Question: How do we get rid of our baggage?

That’s the subject of my next piece. Stay tuned.

Meditation

Eckhart Tolle: Why People Are Drawn to Him Is a Lesson in Itself

Ten years ago my sister told me about a German spiritual teacher named Eckhart Tolle that I had to check out. After watching one of his talks on Youtube I was hooked.

I subscribed to his website and have been listening to him regularly ever since. In fact, for many years I have listened to fifteen minutes of his talks as preparation for my daily meditation practice.

Why? Why did Eckhart have such a strong influence on me? And on so many millions of others around the globe?

It’s not only his teachings

I submit that it is only partially because of the spiritual concepts he espouses. Yes, I love his articulation of how and why we are not our thoughts and as such should not identify with them. And yes, I love his emphasis on the power humans can gain from accessing and living in the present moment.

But his concepts, like most spiritual teachings, are not particularly original, something he would admit to. They are mostly drawn from Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity (he even changed his name from Ulrich to Eckhart as an homage to the great 14th century Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart).

The reason Eckhart is so beloved and one of the most influential spiritual leaders on the planet (along with the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis and Thich Nhat Hanh) is because of his presence. His bearing. His mien.

Being present is the key

Let me back up. Another of Eckhart’s central teachings is that there is nothing more valuable we can give to another than being present.

What does he mean by “being present?” He means interacting with others from a place of no mind. Of no thought. Experiencing the other in the moment. Not thinking about what you want to say next or somebody else at the party you can’t wait to talk to or what you want to eat for dinner later. Just being fully there.

Crucially, when we do that, when we are one hundred percent there, what is not there is our ego. The ego that judges, compares, criticizes, gets distracted and does all sorts of other undesirable things.

Eckhart is egoless

So where does Eckhart fit in all of this? Of the many spiritual teachers I’ve studied/listened to, Eckhart is head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to being present and egoless.

Which isn’t to say others aren’t also this way. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Mickey Singer, Adyashanti, Peter Russell…They’re all incredibly present and low ego.

It’s just that with Eckhart one gets the sense of no ego at all. He’s all presence.

Presence is God

And here’s where things get a little wacky and metaphysical, but here goes. That presence that Eckhart emanates is called many things by many people. Some call it consciousness. Others call it pure awareness.

And some call it God. Or the presence of God.

I’m not saying that I think Eckhart is God. I’m saying that when the mind and thinking subsides in anybody, the resulting space of consciousness provides a portal for God to shine through.

The person who captured this best was the great Indian guru Meher Baba who said:

“Man minus mind equals God.”

Presence is love

And that is why Eckhart is so beloved. It’s because I, and so many others, feel and sense the pure love and compassion that comes from this place of no ego. I just feel good when watching and listening to him, regardless of what he’s saying.

We also love Eckhart because that strong God presence in him recognizes and brightens the God that is in all of us. In most of us that God presence is shrouded by our overactive minds that prevent us from being as present as we’d like to be. But being in Eckhart’s presence, even if it’s only looking at him speak on my computer screen, feels good because it stirs the deepest, best, God-like part of me, if ever so fleetingly.

The takeaway for us

Fine. So what’s the takeaway from all this? What does learning about why people love Eckhart do to help the rest of us? That’s easy: It shows us all the endpoint.

Not many people get to that egoless point Eckhart has arrived at. I know I’m nowhere near it. But it’s my strong belief that getting closer to it is the work of our lives.

How we get there

What work is involved in getting closer to the awakened being that Eckhart is? Working every day to shed our egos. Through meditation and mindfulness we chip away every day at quieting our minds and allowing our egos to dissolve.

And when we do that we become more present. And when we become more present, we become better dads, moms, siblings, friends, coworkers and human beings.

In short, we become more like Eckhart.

Meditation

Want to Reduce Stress? Try Being IN The World, Not OF It

Do you ever feel like you’re going about your business when the world invariably pulls you in and pumps you full of stress? You didn’t ask for it. It just happens. When it does, what we’re doing is allowing ourselves to become of the world, not in it.

What’s the difference? Being in the world means you have a life like anybody else — a job, family (or not), interests, etc. But you don’t allow any of those things to pull you away from your center. People that are of the world allow themselves to get sucked in by outside influences in one or more arenas of their lives.

The Princeton blues

I know this concept quite well as I spent many years being of, not in, the world. A particularly bad patch occurred way back in my college years at Princeton.

I grew up in a laid back, beach town in Southern California. Then I headed 3,000 miles east to a school teeming with uptight kids from the tristate area and prep school know-it-alls from New England.

Swimming with sharks

I was an 18 year old beach guy swimming in a sea of over-achieving sharks. And I got bit. Repeatedly. How? I hung out, a lot, with my neurotic classmates who did nothing but sit around and worry.

“I have a paper due in three weeks and I haven’t even started. What if I fail?” “I have so much work to do tonight. I may need to study seven hours instead of my usual six.” “I’m going to bomb this physics exam tomorrow!”

How did this affect me? For a variety of reasons I had neither the strength nor the confidence to fend off these tentacles sucking me into the vortices of anxiety hell. So I too became an anxious wreck. I became of the world of 18 year olds stewing in fear. This led to a quasi-nervous breakdown and a couple years of depression.

My trials in Tinseltown

Cut to 18 years later and I found myself in an even more insidious cauldron of of-the-world-ness: Hollywood. Talk about a place that sucks you in and carves you up.

Why is this so? A simple reason: There are a tiny number of jobs available for a huge number of seekers. In acting, directing, producing and writing (my area).

We television writers got inordinately spun up every spring when the networks staffed their new and existing shows. It was an anxious frenzy. Every year.

“How many meetings have you gotten?” “My agent sucks! I should’ve gotten an interview on that show!” “I can’t believe he got a job on that show. He’s a terrible writer!”

Bad karma permeated everything. It was so unhealthy.

Where does the world suck you in?

-Maybe you have a 17 year old child applying to college and all the moms and dads are kibbitizing with each other about who’s applying where. And blah, blah, blah.

You tell a mom your kid is taking the Princeton Review SAT prep course. “Oh no, that’s not good enough. He needs a one-on-one tutor. Let me give you the number of…” At which point you tune out because your stomach is now in knots.

-Or maybe you work at one of the 10 trillion places where office politics runs rampant. “You’re ten times more competent than that boob Cal but mark my words, he’ll get the promotion because his nose is three inches up Ken’s (the boss) butt.” So you constantly churn and ruminate about Cal and Ken’s relationship, which takes your focus away from where it needs to be: Doing your job.

-Or maybe where you get sucked in and “de-centered” is in the general world of social media. You see all the great things your “friends” are doing on Facebook and Instagram and it makes you feel like a loser. Or you get sucked into nasty fights over politics or whatever some provocateur is peddling any given day and the next thing you know you feel spun up and terrible.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. I didn’t have to allow myself to get sucked in and become of the world of Hollywood. And you don’t have to become of the worlds you live in.

Staying centered

The core idea here is about feeling centered and anchored. When you get sucked in you lose your centeredness. When you’re merely in the world, you maintain your center. And as most of us know, uncentered equals anxious and vulnerable. Centered equals peaceful and secure.

So how do we accomplish going from ‘of’ to ‘in?’ Here are three ways.

1. Become aware when you’re doing it. I’ve mentioned several times before that my favorite quote from Eckhart Tolle is: “Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” That is so in this case because chances are you’ve been getting sucked into your various worlds your whole life. So when it happens, it’s just normal.

Not anymore. Make it NOT normal. And NOT good. The first step toward achieving that is training yourself to become aware when it’s happening. So the next time that person at the office starts going off on some office politics gossip, just notice it.

2. Speaking of that person at the office, the second thing we need to do is identify the people in our lives that instigate our getting sucked in. Once you’ve identified who they are, slowly but surely back away from them. We all know who they are. The negative, neurotic Nellys who constantly vomit their angst onto anyone who will listen.

Stay away from that office gossip. And stay away from that mom who constantly makes you feel like you’re not doing enough to get your kid into Harvard. And get the heck off of Facebook and Instagram! Or at least drastically cut back your involvement.

This leads to the tough love portion of this piece. Most all of the being of, not in, stems from OUR actions. We allow ourselves to get sucked in. We need to take ownership of that. And begin the process of backing away from all the negative, neurotic guck we allow ourselves to be part of.

3. And finally, take a look at the photo below. I know I’ve used this in other pieces, but nowhere is it more apropos than here.

Image for post

The photo was taken from Voyager 1 in 1990 at a distance of 3.7 billion miles, making it by far the most distant image of Earth ever taken. Can you see earth? It’s the tiny dot about halfway down and to the right, in the middle of the brown vertical band (the bands are the result of sunlight reflecting off the camera). It’s a valuable reminder of how mind-blowingly infinitesimal our world is, a tiny dot in a vast ocean of blackness.

Here’s a suggestion. Print out this photo and put it on your refrigerator door. And save it to your phone. Then the next time you find yourself mired in one of your worlds, ruminating about some pointless workplace scenario or feeling badly because some insecure mom made you feel like an inadequate parent, take a look at this photo to remind yourself that we’re living on a tiny rock twirling around in space in the middle of nowhere.

Then feel the stress melt away.