Meditation

Meditation

Why Getting Rid of Your ‘Self’ is the Key to Personal Growth

On page 214 of Mickey Singer’s bestselling book The Surrender Experiment, he writes, “I made getting rid of myselfmy only goal.”

I’ve been on the spiritual path for many years now — meditating regularly for seven years, going to conferences, taking online courses, reading the great books like Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now and many others. While doing so, my instinct has been to try to hone everything down to that one fundamental thing. Not five or ten things I need to do. Just one.

Singer’s line captured it: getting rid of yourselfIt’s the be-all-end-all of spiritual growth.

Of course, in my spiritual pursuits, I’ve seen this concept expressed umpteen times. But Singer’s phrase ‘getting rid of myself’ resonated stronger than any other expression has.

Singer’s Surrender Experiment

The book (which I highly recommend) is about the decision Singer made in his 20s to surrender to the flow of life, which he equates with a continuous letting go (or ridding) of himself. If this sounds confusing, here’s an example from the book on how this ridding of himself manifested.

One summer he went away for a month to a spiritual centre in California. He returned home to his Florida land to find that a female friend of his had begun building a home on his property.

Every fibre of his being was infuriated and wanted to kick her off his property. But he had resolved to ignore his preferences and to flow with what life put before him, so he didn’t say a thing. In fact, he helped her finish the house!

Not long after, this woman’s friend came to live with her, a friend who would later become the love of Mickey’s life and mother of their daughter. All because Mickey ignored his self.

The Egoic Goliath vs. the Conscious David

Now some of you might still be a bit confused as to what ‘getting rid of myself’ even means. I wrote a piece recently about exactly this subject. In it, I pointed out that we are all comprised of two selves — the egoic self and the conscious self.

The egoic self is the voice inside your head constantly tormenting you with those unwanted, involuntary thoughts. It’s the harsh, relentless critic inside you, the you of your past and the you of your perceivedfuture. It’s the “I have no idea what I want to do with my life. My future is going to be one big failure,” or “I never reached my potential. I should have worked harder.”

It’s also the self that wants and desires things. “I want to go to X restaurant, not Y!” It was the self that erupted inside Mickey Singer when he saw his friend building a house on his property.

Your conscious self is the you that exists only in the present. This is the real you, the you that exists when your mind is not off chasing some useless thought. In its purest form, it’s just consciousness.

The fundamental problem most humans have is that the egoic self is so dominant that the conscious self is rendered impotent. Another way of putting it is that most people are so stuck inside their heads and ruled by their unruly minds that they are seldom present.

So what Mickey Singer was saying is that the goal of his life is to rid himself of his egoic self so that all that’s left is his conscious self.

The Ultimate Goal of Life

It’s my view that the ultimate goal of life is to eliminate your self so that God, the Universe, Yahweh, the Supreme Being (whoever you think is in charge of the cosmic show), can express itself through you. And it’s impossible to be a vessel for the Universe to express itself when your mind is blah, blah, blahing all the time!

Have you ever met someone who is described as selfless that you didn’t like? My mom was like that. She had few needs and desires and her willingness to do for others was effortless. She had very little self. The result? She was universally loved and admired. AND, importantly, she was one of the happiest people I’ve ever known.

You’ve probably seen it in others, too. Ever see some of these priests or nuns who’ve dedicated their lives to helping the abject poor in Africa or South America? You see them interviewed on TV and they just exude happiness and love. And we all think, “How the heck can this guy/woman be so happy living among such awful squalor?” The answer? They have little to no self.

How many poets, philosophers and scholars need to tell us that selflessness is the best path before humanity listens?

How to Rid Yourself of Your Self

Fine, so it’s great to rid yourself of your egoic self. How the heck do you actually do that? The short answer is you chip away at it slowly and make this endeavour the focus of your life.

The specific practice that will help you immeasurably in chipping away at yourself is regular meditation. Why? Well, one way to look at meditation is that it strengthens your conscious self’s ability to merely witness the egoic self.

For example, you’re meditating and an angry thought crops up about your boss. You just notice that thought then come back to something happening in the present, like your breathing.

When you do this over and over and over again, what you’re doing is creating separation between your conscious and egoic selves. And this is monumentally important.

Why? Because as I wrote earlier, most people aren’t even aware that they have this other, conscious self because it is so dwarfed by the egoic self. Once you extricate it from the clutches of the egoic self, your conscious self gains the ability to gradually grow in influence over your life and you begin reaping all the spiritual riches flowing from that.

Meditation is the key

If you’re not meditating, I urge you to give it a try. It is profoundly beneficial to virtually anybody who does it. And contrary to what you may have heard, it’s not that hard and won’t take that much time out of your day.

If you’re looking for an easy way to start, I created a program that is simple, doable and designed so that a regular person, like me, would be successful in developing a long-term meditation practice. The program is eight-weeks and starts off with meditating for two minutes a day then building gradually from there. Go for it! It’s free. You can access it at davidgerken.net.

So get rid of yourself. You, your spouse, your kids, your friends and humanity will all benefit greatly if you do.

Meditation

3 Tips for Using Mindfulness When Traveling

Let’s face it, traveling can suck. Missed flights, lost bags, packed in like a sardine in the middle seat…it’s a long list. Here are three ways mindfulness can help you reduce that travel stress.

1. The Night Before Travel Pep Talk

I used to get really uptight the night before I traveled, especially if I had an early morning flight. Will my alarm clock work? Will I get stuck in traffic on the way to the airport and miss my flight? Will the security line be a mile long also resulting in missing my flight? Will my flight be delayed so I miss my connection? Worry, worry, worry.  

I’ve been meditating regularly and practicing mindfulness for seven years so I decided to sink my brain into that well and see what I could come up with on the travel front. The solution I came up with has worked like a charm on my last several trips. As with all things related to mindfulness, it’s exceedingly simple, but effective. 

The night before I fly, I close my eyes and have a short chat with myself about what the next day may have in store. I go through everything that can go wrong (oversleep, traffic, security line, etc.) and then ask myself: Okay, what if any of those things dohappen? 

If there’s an accident on the 405 Freeway (I live in Southern California) and I miss my flight, is it really the end of the world? No. I’ll get another flight. Same with the security line. Same with any of those things.

Yes, there are times that missing a flight could have major negative ramifications. You may miss an interview for a job you really want. Maybe your kid’s college graduation is the next morning. In those cases, yeah, it would be awful if you had to spend the night at the airport and fly out the next morning.

Well, maybe it’s just me, but I’d say that 90 percent of the time I travel, it won’t kill me if I miss a flight and get in later or, worse, have to spend the night and arrive the next day.

Most of the angst we experience when we miss a flight or have some other travel mishap comes from responding reflexively. In other words, we say to ourselves right in the moment that some awful travel thing happens, “Damn it! I missed my flight. That means I have to be angry and miserable! AAARRGGHHH!!!” No. You don’t have to be angry and miserable. 

And most of the time the things we get anxious about the night before or the day of travel don’t come to pass. So have this chat with yourself the night before flying. You’ll feel calmer and less anxious the night before, the day of and during your actual travel.

2. Take Two Breaths Before Exploding

The gate agent taps away on her computer…after what seems like an eternity, she says, “Gosh, I can’t get you on anything until tomorrow morning. Everything is completely full.” Upon hearing this, or any other awful news given by some hapless airline employee, most people roll their eyes, sigh and say something like, “God, I hate this airline. Every time I fly X (American, United, Delta…we all have our least favorite airline), something goes horribly wrong!” 

The result of that response is twofold: 1. You feel worse, and 2. The hapless employee feels worse which, importantly, makes them less likely to try and go the extra mile to help you out.

Next time you get the awful news try something new: Immediatelyclose your eyes and take two deep breaths. I guaranteethat you’ll feel better at the end of those ten seconds. And the result of that will be dealing with the agent in such a way that they will be more helpful. 

This has worked for me in the past where the agent has found some better solution to my problem. I don’t know if it’s just the universe smiling on me with good karma because I didn’t lose it on some woeful airline employee or what, but good things generally happen when you chill out, stay in the moment and don’t lose your s%*t on people. Taking two deep breaths is usually all it takes.

3. Ask Yourself This Critical Question

You deplane from flight number one, look up at the departures screen and find out that your connecting flight is delayed three hours. You’re mad. You grumble under your breath and start that miserable walk toward your next gate. 

Next time you find this happening, stop in mid-walk and ask yourself this question: “Is there anything really wrong with this moment right now?” In most cases, the answer is no. You’re just walking through an airport.

Most of the pain and agony we feel in life doesn’t arise from the original painful incident. In this case, the initial pain is the three-hour delay. No. Most of the pain we feel is what WE add on top of that, in the form of negative, pointless thinking. “Every damn time I fly through Dallas/O’Hare/Minneapolis, etc., my flights get screwed up. Why does this always happen to me? I’m so unlucky!” [I wrote a separate article on the concept of primary and secondary pain that goes deeper into this. Here’s the link.]

So the next time you catch yourself at the airport about to go down the woe-is-me/rumination rabbit hole, just ask yourself, “Is there anything hugely wrong with the moment I’m in right now?” Once you realize the answer is no, your mood will lift.

This is mindfulness at its essence. Doing your best to be present in each moment of your life. The benefits of doing so are mind-bogglingly profound. You’ll be calmer, happier and a better spouse, parent, friend and overall member of humanity.

Now I’m not going to lie to you and say that that’s easy to pull off. It takes a strong commitment and sustained practice. But I can say with confidence that if you practice on a daily basis, you’ll reap deep benefits in a fairly short amount of time, especially on travel days!

Meditation

Three Ways Mindfulness Will Transform Your Marriage/Relationship

Mindfulness is a powerful tool that can enhance myriad areas of your life. Here are three ways it will deepen your relationship with your spouse/significant other.

1. Healthier Fighting

If you’re in a long-term relationship, you fight. It’s the price of admission. But HOW you fight can determine whether you’re miserable or happy in the relationship. Mindfulness will teach you to do something that seems so simple and insignificant but that in reality will be a gamechanger for your relationship.

Here’s the deal. It’s my experience that about 80 percent of what fuels a fight and pushes it into the realm of screaming and general nastiness is NOT ABOUT THE TOPIC YOU’RE FIGHTING ABOUT. It’s about completely unrelated factors.

Some examples. You’re both tired and grumpy after a long day at work. One of you fought traffic for an hour on your commute home. You’re on a diet and desperately want to attack that pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough beckoning you from the freezer…but can’t.

And then…

Significant Other (S.O.): “I see you didn’t get a chance to clean the kitchen this morning…as you said you would. Let me guess: you thought the Magic Cleaning Fairy was going to do it?””

You: “Look, I’m tired. Don’t start with me.”

S.O.: “Every time I ask you to do something, you just blow it off. You’re about as reliable as a nine year old.”

You: “You know what, go f*%k yourself.”

And you storm out of the room, plunging both of you into that frosty abyss we’ve all inhabited, a cavernous sinkhole of averted looks and bullheaded silent treatment for the rest of the night…Or the entire next day? The next week?

Commit yourself to mindfulness and this is how it would play out. After the left hook thrown your way about being a nine year old, you would literally stop. And instead of REACTING right then by telling your partner to F off, you would create some space between what was just said and your response. Bring attention to your breath. Maybe just two or three breaths. We’re talking 5–10 seconds.

And then…

You: “Sorry, I got sidetracked this morning. But look, we’re both exhausted so let’s not let this ruin our night. Okay?”

Then a quick kiss on the lips and you move on with your evening. Calamity avoided. All by a few seconds of mindfulness-induced presence.

The simple but powerful secret is: create a few seconds of space between what has just been said that angers you and your response. It’s all about RESPONDING and not REACTING.

Mindfulness is what provides you with the ability to become AWARE that you’re about to go off the rails and need to just stop and breathe. Think about all of the misery you and your partner would avoid if you did this one simple thing!

2. Deeper Intimate Moments

Do you ever experience intimate moments with your partner when you’re thinking about the memo your boss wants on his desk the next morning? No. In fact, you could say that the defining characteristic of intimacy is its requirement that both partners be attuned to the present moment. And that is really all that mindfulness teaches: living your life in the moment. Strengthen that skill and here is what you and your partner can do:

— Watch a beautiful sunset together. In silence. No need to talk about it. Or describe it. Because it’s only in silence that two souls can merge and dance with one another. So you just sit there, holding hands, while you both experience the beauty of the sunset from a place of still awareness.

— Enjoy the deepest levels of physical intimacy. When you and your partner are both truly “there,” present, and in the here and now, you will reach sublime levels of sexual intimacy that you’ve never experienced before.

— Experience a deeper sense of connectedness when doing everyday things together like cooking, working out or watching your favorite TV show. Every one of these activities will be enhanced when you are both in the mindful now.

3. Stronger connection through mindful listening

When you are fully present when your partner is talking, they feel heard. Seen. Respected. When they’re talking and you’re off in LaLa land, stuck inside your head, they feel the opposite of those three things.

It’s my experience that women are generally better, more mindful listeners than men. And they don’t like it one bit when their partner doesn’t pay attention to what they’re saying. So this one is mostly directed at the men of the world: working on your mindfulness will make you a better, more present listener. And that alone will pay enormous dividends with your partner.

Great, so mindfulness can do wonders for your relationship, but how do you actually DO it? God knows there have been thousands of articles written about any number of aspects of mindfulness.

Commit, then practice

But the actual doing of it requires only two simple things: 1. You need to decide that you want to be more present in your life and therefore commit to achieving that; and 2. You need to PRACTICE.

How do you practice? Next time you and your partner get into an argument, make it a point to see if you can stop for a few seconds, take a few deep breaths and then calmly respond.

Next time you’re in line at the grocery check out and you find your blood starting to boil because the clerk isn’t moving their hands at the speed of light, stop. Close your eyes. Take a few mindful breaths. In other words, chill out.

Next time your wife vents to you about some jerk at work and you find yourself drifting off to the Bahamas, become aware of that and transport yourself back to the here and now.

Meditation: the best path to mindfulness

What’s the most effective way to increase your ability to become AWARE that you’ve drifted off from the present moment? That’s easy. Develop a regular meditation practice.

All meditation is is sitting quietly and placing your attention on something happening in the present moment, like your breath. Then, when your mind wanders, and it will, you simply notice that that has happened and bring your attention back to your breath. That’s all it is. When you practice this on a regular basis your noticer “muscle” inside will strengthen.

Photo by Dingzeyu Li on Unsplash

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

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

And if you really want to take the bull by the horns on the mindfulness front, take the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. It was created forty years ago by acclaimed mindfulness meditation pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn. You meet once a week for eight weeks. I took the course in Los Angeles four years ago and thought it was excellent. They teach it all over the world so go online and see if it’s available near you.

Meditation

The One Thing You Need to do to Master Any Craft

When you boil it all down, mastering any craft, whether it’s writing, acting, surfing, golf or anything else, comes down to doing one thing: Vigilantly focusing on and mastering the few fundamentals central to that craft. Let me explain with some examples from my life.

I’ve been a serious tennis player since age nine. I played on the junior tennis circuit in the highly competitive Southern California area then played four years of division one, varsity tennis at Princeton. Upon graduation, I took a short, and admittedly failed, stab at playing professionally in Europe.

The fundamentals of tennis

In my quest to master the craft of tennis, I learned early on that I had to focus on the fundamentals of the game. In tennis, that meant a loose, flowing body, constantly moving my feet with small steps and turning my shoulders and bending my knees on groundstrokes and volleys. That’s it. Focusing on those few fundamentals was the key to advancing my game to the highest level.

My wife is learning how to play tennis and I just keep telling her the same thing over and over: be loose, move your feet, turn your shoulders and bend your knees. Over and over and over again.

Writing in Hollywood

In 2001 I moved to Hollywood to pursue my dream of becoming a writer after spending fifteen years in politics. I had some friends who’d been in the business for years and I’d already written a few scripts while working in Washington, DC, but the bottom line is that I was starting at ground zero.

So what did I do? I dove whole hog into learning and mastering the fundamentals of writing, specifically writing for television drama shows.

What were those handful of fundamentals? First, there has to be conflict in every scene. Characters telling each other how much they like and admire each other is as exciting as watching paint dry. Second, stories need to have twists and surprises. Three, stories need to put the show’s main characters in highly dramatic situations that put them under intense pressure.

Aaron Sorkin and the fundamentals of writing

I learned much of this while writing on The West Wing, which was run by Oscar and Emmy Award winning writer Aaron Sorkin. Many people thought the show was just a vehicle for Aaron to advertise his liberal views. Wrong. I saw Aaron time and again eschew political ideology in an episode in furtherance of one thing: making a scene or story as dramatic as it could be. That’s all he cared about. What made him a great writer was his vigilance in sticking to the fundamentals of dramatic writing.

Upon learning these fundamentals, I set about creating a story for The West Wing. Previous seasons had featured a fictional African country called Kundu. My idea was to recreate in fictional Kundu the conditions of real world Rwanda in 1994 when a horrific genocide claimed the lives of upwards of 800,000 people. President Clinton to this day considers his lack of intervention in Rwanda the biggest regret of his presidency.

My WEST WING story

My idea was that President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) would receive intelligence showing that a genocide in Kundu was imminent. Thus he had to decide: intervene and probably lose about 150 American soldiers or do nothing and allow half a million innocent Kundunese to be slaughtered.

Remember, Fundamental #3 is to put your characters in the toughest position possible. And my thought was, if you’re President of the United States, there can be nothing more excruciating than sending troops into battle, knowing that a good number of them will be coming home in flag-draped caskets. Mothers and fathers losing sons and daughters. Kids losing their moms and dads…all because of you.

Then, to make it even more difficult on Bartlet, I added the wrinkle that the US had zero strategic interest in Kundu; i.e., no oil, no important borders (with Russia, for example), no terrorist training grounds, no nothing. Bartlet would have to decide to put US troops in harm’s way for purely humanitarian interests.

Off to the Emmys

This emphasis on fundamentals paid off as this was the most successful story of season four and accounted for two of the six episodes the show submitted to the Emmys that year for Best Drama Series. [BTW, we won and I got to go on the stage with Aaron and all the actors and other writers. It was surreal!]

Not all writers I worked for did this. Another boss of mine, who has had a surprisingly successful career in Tinseltown, used to get overly intellectual about the stories we were developing. His focus on ideas and concepts extinguished the heart and emotion from our stories.

Not a big surprise that the show was cancelled after a few episodes while The West Wing won the Emmy for Best Drama Series four years in a row, beating the likes of The Sopranos and Six Feet Under along the way.

What you need to do

Fine, so those are some examples of focusing on fundamentals to master a craft. What about you? What do you need to do?

Two simple things. First, you need to laser in and determine what those few fundamentals are. The key word in that sentence is F-E-W. If you come up with ten things you think are fundamental to mastering your craft, they aren’t fundamental! Just about any endeavor you pursue will have three or four things you need to focus on, TO THE EXCLUSION OF LOTS OF OTHERS.

Second, once you’ve determined what those few things are, you need to be VIGILANT and DISCIPLINED about not allowing yourself to get sidetracked from those fundamentals.

It shocked me how often writers in Hollywood would lose sight of the core principles of dramatic writing. For example, coming up with a great story…in which everything dramatic and interesting happened to guest stars and not the show’s main characters. If you ever pitched something like that to Sorkin he’d shoot it down in a nanosecond.

Gladwell’s 10,000 hours

Malcolm Gladwell writes about the need to spend 10,000 hours on any endeavor in order to master it. And he may be right. But you have to spend those 10,000 hours on the right FEW things!

If you think all this sounds overly simplistic, it is. But disciplined focus on the fundamentals is absolutely the key to mastering any craft.

Meditation

The 3 Things You Have To Do To Develop A Lasting Meditation Practice

Meditation has been all the rage for years now. The Headspace app has over 31 million users, Meditation dens are opening everywhere and it seems like every day there’s a story in The New York TimesTime or on Good Morning America extolling the myriad benefits of this awesome, ancient practice. Yet with all this hype, the fact is that only a tiny percentage of people actually meditate regularly. And the science shows that the profound benefits of meditation only come with consistent practice. So why is it that with all these amazing benefits hardly anyone sticks with it? I think I have the answer.

I’ve been meditating for fifteen minutes a day for almost seven years and the reason it stuck for me is that before I got started I asked myself the obvious question: How in the hell am I going to keep this ball rolling once I get started? After giving it a lot of thought I came up with THREE extremely simple but crucial things I knew I needed to do if my practice was going to endure over the long haul.

By the way, I’m writing this because meditation has done wonders for me and can do so for most everybody else who does it. The problem is that the books, the sites and the experts all say essentially the same thing: “Hey, meditation is great! Try it. You’ll love it!” Well, for most regular people, “Just try it, you’ll love it,” won’t cut it. People need more direction and help getting started and making meditation a lasting practice. So, without further adieu, here are the three things you’ll need to do to increase your chances of making meditation stick…

1. Make a Commitment

I know. Commitment is a scary word for most of us. Trust me, I am the Grand Poobah of commitment-phobes. If I had a dollar for every woman who told me I had a commitment problem when I was in my 20s and 30s I’d be a rich man. I didn’t get married until I was forty-one!

But here’s the deal. You don’t need to commit to meditating for two hours a day for the rest of your life. You just need to bite off something doable. I recommend committing to two months of meditating for five out of seven days a week. Don’t go crazy and start by committing to doing it every single day for fifteen minutes. That would be like starting a diet by giving up sweets, pasta, dairy and alcohol and eating only celery and lettuce for a month. Two days in and you’d be pounding Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough by the pint!

I came up with a program for myself seven years ago that is simple, doable and designed so that a regular person, like me, would be successful in developing a long-term practice. Called Five Steps to a Regular Meditation Practice, the program is eight-weeks and starts off with meditating two minutes a day then building gradually from there. You can access it at davidgerken.net (it’s free).

Before I created my program for myself I had tried meditating from time to time. And I really liked it. I felt calm and clearheaded afterward. But I never succeeded in developing a regular practice. Why? What stopped me? Life. Life got in the way. “I can’t do it this morning. I have to take all three kids to school because Steph has to leave early for work…” Yada, yada, yada. There’s always going to be something getting in the way. But NOT if you’ve made a commitment. I’ll be blunt: For 99 percent of people, just trying meditating and even loving it will NEVER develop into a lasting, regular practice unless you commit to at least a few months after which it will become more of a habit, just like working out.

2. Pick a time of day that works

This is huge. Why? Because if you make your two month commitment to regular meditation but don’t settle on a time of day that works with your schedule the chances are extremely high that you won’t develop a successful practice. There are just too many moving parts in most of our lives such that if you wake up every day not having any idea when you’re going to meditate and just wing it, you’ll get swept up by events and it won’t happen. Here are some thoughts on each time of day.

Start of the Day — If you can do it, this is the best time, mostly because it will help center you for the rest of your day. That passive aggressive remark from your boss at ten in the morning won’t send your day into a death spiral the way it used to.

You don’t have to do it right after you wake up. Maybe it works better for you to eat breakfast, take a shower, get ready for work and then meditate before leaving. Any time in the morning is optimum.

Midday — If the morning doesn’t work for you for whatever reason, how about midday/lunch time? Most of you, whether working stiffs or not, get some kind of a lunch break of 30–60 minutes. If you’re single and work at home, midday is obviously not a bad choice.

Mid-Afternoon — If morning and midday don’t work for you, the mid-afternoon can be great for some people. Whether you’re working at an office or not, most of us hit that mid-afternoon wall around 3 p.m. or so. You head off to Starbucks or grab coffee at your work kitchen. If your work allows you a bit of time during this period, meditating can give you a nice jolt that will get you to the finish line of your workday. Throw in the coffee and you’re golden.

Evening — You can also try your meditation when you get home from work. This is a great way to create a dividing line between your workday and your night at home.

Choose whatever time of day works for you. And protect it. Let your spouse, kids, roommates, friends, coworkers, etc., know that X time each day is time you’ve set aside for meditation and you’d appreciate if they’d respect that. Because again, if you go into your two-month commitment saying, “I’ll just find the time each day whenever it arises,” you won’t make it. Life will pull you in ten different directions and divert you.

3. Be patient with yourself

In my conversations with friends who’ve tried meditation but blew it off early on, the number one reason it didn’t work is that they got frustrated with themselves for not being able to stop their minds from wandering. “I can’t do this! I’m just not cut out for meditation! I suck!” Bottom line: you have to cut yourself major slack in the early phase of learning to meditate or you won’t make it. It’s that simple. You have to say to yourself, again and again and again, “Okay. I just lost myself in a swirl of thoughts. But that’s okay. I’m just going to slowly, gently, and with compassion toward myself, bring my attention back to my breathing…” Again and again and again.

And if it sounds like I’m being some new agey, self-helpy softy who’s telling you to love yourself, because loving yourself is the only true path to spiritual enlightenment, I’m not. I’m being 100 percent pragmatic here. If you are not patient and good to yourself in the early months of practicing, you will NOT succeed in developing a long-term practice.

And by the way, it’s a win-win if you can be patient and good to yourself in your meditation. One, you facilitate the development of your practice and garner the myriad benefits, and two, you get the benefit of learning how not to be a jerk to yourself. Learning that skill is one of the many invaluable byproducts that come with developing a long-term practice.

One final point. Developing a long-term practice isn’t that hard. Seriously. If a regular schlub like me can do it, anyone can. The benefits are so profound and life-altering that it boggles my mind that more people don’t do it. So give it a go. You won’t regret it.

Meditation

Learn From Rembrandt: Success and Peace Come From Accessing The Spirit Within

This self-portrait of Rembrandt hangs in my office. Why? It’s my constant reminder that connecting with the inner genius inside us all is absolutely paramount in life. Not just to achieve great things in your work, but also to lead a peaceful and fulfilling life. Call it inner genius, the spirit, the universe, the life force, chi, Shakti or God. Call it whatever you want. If you connect with it, and live your life through it, powerful and positive things will happen to you.

The reason I’ve chosen to focus on Rembrandt is that his work actually captured his deep connection with his spirit in his paintings. Meaning, you can literally see it. This is why Rembrandt is thought by many, including me, to be the greatest painter who ever lived. Not because he painted sublimely beautiful works like Raphael, Renoir, Monet and scores of others. No. Rembrandt, working in 17th century Amsterdam, is thought to be the best ever because he depicted the human spirit on canvas better than any artist in history. He was, by all accounts, a simple man whose towering accomplishments resulted from the direct connection he had with his soul.

So first I’ll show you, through three of his paintings, what I mean by Rembrandt capturing the spirit on canvas. Then I’ll recommend a practice that will enhance your ability to connect to your genius within.

A caveat: Trying to express in words Rembrandt’s rendering of the human spirit is not easy. As Vincent van Vogh wrote of his idol, “Rembrandt goes so deep into the mysterious that he says things for which there are no words in any language.” I’ll try…

Rembrandt, The Apostle Paul – 1657

The Apostle Paul: The painting portrays Paul, the second most influential person in Christianity, writing one of his letters to a congregation. Rembrandt’s most important tool in evoking the human spirit was his use of chiaroscuro, an Italian word meaning “light and dark.” Look at how the light on Paul’s nose, temple and forehead works to evoke a sense of profound contemplation in his eyes, which are shaded in dark tones. Rembrandt’s placement of the left hand on Paul’s forehead further amplifies the feeling of deep spiritual reflection. You look at this painting and know that Paul isn’t writing a letter to some buddy telling him how much fun he had on his vacation frolicking on the beaches of Corinth. No. Look at this painting and you get the sense that Paul is channeling God. That is genius. If you’re ever in Washington, D.C., do yourself a favor and go to the National Gallery of Art and see it first hand.

Rembrandt, Hendrickje Stoffels — 1660

Portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels: Hendrickje was Rembrandt’s common-law wife from 1647 until her death in 1663. Rembrandt again uses light to draw your eyes where he wants them: on her face. The robe she’s wearing and the background behind are completely muddled and fuzzy, Rembrandt’s way of telling you they mean nothing to him. This painting is all about Hendrickje’s face. And what do we see there? I see a gentle, beautiful soul that Rembrandt loved deeply. How? What did Rembrandt do to elicit that response from me? Just like van Gogh said, it’s hard to put into words. All I can say is that this painting impacted me so much when I first saw it at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1986 that I decided to write my term paper on it for my course in Rembrandt that I took at Princeton way back when.

Rembrandt, Return of the Prodigal Son — 1669

Return of the Prodigal Son: The prodigal son is a New Testament parable wherein the son of a well-to-do father asks for his share of the estate. The son takes the money and proceeds to squander it in exotic places on prostitutes and other unsavory activities. When the son hits hard times and is forced to become a pig shepherd, he finally realizes he’s reached rock bottom and comes home begging forgiveness from his father. It’s a parable about love, compassion and forgiveness, all three of which pour forth from this painting. The pathetic, broken son wears raggedy clothes and his hair appears withered from malnutrition. But most important, again, is Rembrandt’s placement of light, which is brightest on the father’s downturned face. This, in conjunction with his accepting hands on the back of his kneeling son, evokes a divine sense of love and compassion. This one brings tears to my eyes.

How did Rembrandt pull this off? In painting after painting? It’s hard to know as he left virtually no chronicle of how he went about his work. But it’s safe to say that he didn’t achieve this brilliance by sitting in his studio and thinking about his paintings. He did it by getting quiet inside, shutting his mind down and connecting with the spirit inside him. Just as Bob Dylan did when he wrote all those amazing songs in the 60s. Just as Michael Jordan did when he dominated basketball in the 90s.

My zen mom

And just as my mom did. What? Was my mom Georgia O’Keefe? Katherine Hepburn? Julia Child? No, no and no. My mom was a housewife who brought up six kids…with no nannies and no maids. And she may have been better connected to her inner chi/Shakti/spirit than anyone I’ve ever known. How did her inner connection manifest in the world? It wasn’t through sublime works of art, an angelic singing voice (I can attest to this one!) or some other super talent. No. My mom’s connection with her inner spirit manifested in her near-total lack of self. And by that, I mean she was the most selfless human I’ve ever known. She never demanded to go the restaurant she wanted, or the movie she wanted. She didn’t tell her six kids she didn’t have time to take them to tennis tournaments on weekends in far off places because she desperately needed some “me” time at the spa. She just flowed with life and gave and gave and gave and rarely complained about it. And guess what? She led one of the happiest and most fulfilling lives of anyone I’ve known.

The point is that connecting with your inner spirit yields sheer genius in the form of art, literature, athletic feats, etc., for some, like Rembrandt. But for others, it results in a peaceful, present-oriented manner that benefits the world greatly.

Another critical point is that it is extremely difficult to access your inner spirit when your mind is constantly yapping away. Your inner genius is most easily accessed when you are quiet inside.

To access your spirit, meditate

So, how does one get quiet inside? It’s been my experience that regular meditation is the best way. If you’re not doing it, I wholeheartedly recommend giving it a try. I’ve done it the past seven years and it’s made me a better dad, husband, friend, brother and overall human being.

It’s not that hard. All meditation is is sitting quietly and placing your attention on something happening in the present moment, like your breathing. Then when your mind grabs your attention and throws you into thought, you simply notice that that has happened and bring attention back to your breathing. And when you place attention on your breath going in and out, guess what you’re NOT doing? Thinking. So all meditation is doing is helping you, slowly and gradually, to quiet your mind. And when you do that, you open communication with that genius spirit inside you.

How to get started with meditation? I designed a program called Five Steps to a Regular Meditation Practice that is simple, doable and designed to help regular people, like me, develop a practice. It’s eight-weeks and starts off with meditating for two minutes a day then builds gradually from there. It’s free and you can access it at davidgerken.net. I also recommend the meditation books and recordings of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Peter Russell and Jack Kornfield.

Rembrandt’s paintings inspire me to connect with my spirit. Who inspires you? Tolstoy? Eminem? Picasso? Whoever or whatever it is, go there. Go inside and connect with it. It’s the key to life.

Meditation

For a Fulfilling Life, Follow These Four Pillars of the Great Teddy Roosevelt

Former President Teddy Roosevelt (TR) led one of the most exhilarating, adventurous and joyful lives in human history. It was a life built on four pillars, and the good news is every one of them is available to you. In fact, if you truly commit yourself to these four pillars it is almost impossible to not lead a healthy, fulfilled life.

1. Focus on the work at hand: Roosevelt famously urged people to be “in the arena” fighting the good fight and not critics or spectators on the sidelines of life. How did this manifest in his career, which saw him rise to the presidency at the age of 42? Simple. He focused on the work that was in front of him at the moment and not on plotting and scheming his way to some higher office. TR’s modus operandi was to put everything he had into whatever work he was doing and success, achievement and all the rest would follow.

How many people do you know who spend half their time and energy schmoozing and bullshitting and the rest on performing their actual work?Mindfulness is all the rage these days. Well, putting all of your attention on what is right in front of you is the quintessence of mindfulness and is exactly what TR did. Operating this way allowed TR to bust the rapacious corporate trusts, build the Panama Canal and conserve 230,000,000 acres of land, among numerous accomplishments.

2. Immersion in Nature: We all know that being in nature does wonders for the soul. I’m convinced that’s because our homo sapiens brains developed when we humans lived in nature as hunter-gatherers. It’s why we feel “at home” walking through a forest or a meadow. TR from his earliest days had an almost ethereal attraction to nature. At age seven he founded the Roosevelt Museum of Natural History, which housed all manner of dead insects and taxidermied animals he’d collected.

At age 25 Roosevelt unknowingly used nature to heal his broken heart. He’d lost his young wife and his mother, both unexpectedly, in the same house, on the same day. As if this story could get any more tragic, the date was February 14, 1884, Valentine’s Day. His wife, Alice, had given birth to their first child two days prior and the pregnancy had masked a serious kidney disease. His mother, Mittie, died after a brief spell of Typhoid Fever, which Roosevelt thought was only a bad cold.

At the time TR was a rising political star who had been elected Republican Leader of the New York State Assembly at the ripe old age of 23. But losing the two people he cherished most led him to quit politics and become a cowboy in the Badlands of Dakota Territory where he bought a cattle ranch 35 miles north of the town of Medora.

He spent those days surrounded by nature, observing the meadowlarks and magpies, and watching the cottonwood trees flow with the breeze while the sun set over the hill in front of his ranch house. One day he got on his horse with nothing but a rifle, a few biscuits and a blanket and spent a week riding the prairies of the Badlands, living mostly off some antelope he killed. In effect, he was allowing the beauty and spirituality of nature to heal his fractured soul. I actually wrote a movie about this episode of TR’s life that sold to American Film Company, but unfortunately, it never made it to a theater near you.

Roosevelt’s connection with nature was sacrosanct and nothing, not even holding the highest office in America, was going to break that. As president he traveled all the way to California to hike through Yosemite with famed naturalist John Muir. He also took regular walks outside the White House, paying particular attention to identifying the birds he’d studied his entire life.

3. Living the strenuous life (i.e. exercise): TR was a sickly child who was plagued by asthma. His father’s insistence that he work extra hard on his physical condition to combat his weak body might be the best thing that ever happened to him. It led TR to live what he called “the strenuous life,” which meant brisk exercise on a regular basis. At Harvard he boxed and played football.

In his cowboy years in the Badlands TR insisted on taking part in the cattle roundup, an incredibly grueling, month-long endeavor requiring 18 hours in the saddle in addition to branding calves, both of which Roosevelt did. In Roosevelt’s 1885 journal entry about the roundup you can just feel the energy and exhilaration that vigorous physical activity brought him:

“We know much toil and hardship out here, but we feel the beat of hardy life in our veins and ours is the glory of work and the joy of living.”

As president, TR insisted on riding his horse, alone, through Rock Creek Park in Washington. He used to skinny-dip in the Potomac River during the winter. And he even boxed regularly in the White House until one of his sparring partners punched him so hard he lost the sight in his left eye for the rest of his life.

4. Ironclad Integrity: Great, so TR focused on the work at hand, loved immersing himself in nature and exercised vigorously. But what good would any of that have been were he a serial philanderer? Or a pathological liar? Or a corrupt politician lining his pockets? Luckily, he was none of those things. Roosevelt lived Ralph Waldo Emerson’s axiom that “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind.”

TR summed it up this way: “I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do! That is character!” He didn’t fool around on his wife, Edith. He loved all six of his kids dearly. Bottom line: Unless you’re a sociopath, I don’t see how anyone can feel authentic peace inside unless they have solid integrity. Without it, I think Roosevelt’s life would have crumbled like a house of cards.

Will you be president of the United States if you focus on your work, get out in nature, exercise vigorously and lead an honest life? Probably not. But it is almost guaranteed that you will be content and fulfilled. All four of Roosevelt’s pillars are available to just about everybody. They’re there for the taking.

Meditation

3 Ways to Keep Spiritual Growth the Main Thing

As management expert Stephen Covey famously said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” So if you’re a car salesman, the main thing is to focus on selling cars and not allow yourself to be diverted to spending a bunch of time researching the history of cars or constantly making sure your desk is clean and tidy. No. Focus all of your work attention on selling cars. I believe that the main thing for human beings is to keep spiritual growth, defined as the emphasis on being present, conscious or aware in your life, the main thing.

And yet, I find so many people who are “into” spiritual growth spending about ninety percent of their time off the wagon and ten percent on. An example: One day you’re having a soulful conversation with a spiritual friend about how valuable it is to be present in the world. The next day they call you up and immediately launch into, “My boss is such a jerk! I hate this job. I’m so stressed out! Ahhh!” They completely lose their spiritual bearings.

Spiritual growth is the main thing

But here’s the thing: spiritual growth isn’t just any “thing” we need to make time for. It is THE most important endeavor any human being can pursue. The first person I heard say this was Eckhart Tolle, author of the bestselling book The Power of Now. He said, “There’s nothing more important you can do than be present.” Another favorite teacher of mine, Mickey Singer, says the same thing in a course of his I just took called Living From a Place of Surrender. Several times throughout the course he says of spiritual growth, “It’s by far the most important thing you can do. And you need to do it every moment of every day. It’s a 24/7 thing. Your spiritual practice IS your life.”

Are Eckhart and Mickey right about this? You bet they are. Why? Why is spiritual work more important than anything else in life? Because it sits atop the pyramid of life and as such, strengthens everything below it. Like what? Like relationships. If you are present and not at the mercy of your racing egoic mind, you will be a better spouse, parent, friend, colleague and even acquaintance. Like your work. If you are present while performing your job — I don’t care whether you’re an accountant, a teacher or a professional basketball player — you can only achieve your best if you’re present. Like your overall well-being. Being present and not stuck in your thought factory mind is the most effective avenue to feeling calm and peaceful inside. And is there anything more important than that?

Why people get thrown off the spiritual path

So if spiritual growth is so good and important for us, why are the vast majority of those so inclined continually thrown off the path? First, and most obvious, life is hectic. Kids. Husbands. Wives. Jobs. Bills. Some people can barely find the time to get six hours of sleep and eat three meals. There’s always something out there in the real world working overtime to pry our attention away from the present moment.

Second, spiritual work isn’t easy. It’s hard to stay present when your boss is an a-hole. Or when you’ve spent an hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Or when your son smacks his little sister in the face and all hell breaks loose.

So if you’re one of those people who continually gets knocked off the spiritual path, here are three concrete things you can do to ensure that spiritual growth remains the main thing. The first is obvious: You need to resolve to yourself that spiritual growth is indeed the main thing in your life. For incentive, reread the paragraph above about how spiritual growth will enhance your relationships, work and well-being.

Regular meditation is the key

Second, nothing will be more effective in keeping you on the spiritual path than regular meditation. Why? Because meditation can serve as the anchor for your entire spiritual practice. It’s a set amount of time each day devoted to practicing presence. Over time, meditation will strengthen that core of presence inside you, making you less susceptible to being knocked off the spiritual path — by your awful boss, rambunctious kids, bad drivers or anything else that pushes your buttons.

If you’re not meditating regularly, do it! It’s not that hard and it doesn’t need to overrun the rest of your life, either. Ten or fifteen minutes a day will do wonders for you. Seriously, the benefits are profound and can transform your whole life.

My meditation program

I created a meditation program that is simple and doable and I urge you to try it. I designed it so that a regular person, like me, would be successful in developing a long-term practice. The program, which I’ve written as an ebook called Five Steps to a Regular Meditation Practice, is eight-weeks and starts off with meditating for two minutes a day then building gradually from there. The good news is it’s free. You can access it at davidgerken.net.

Third, practice mindfulness throughout your day. Mindfulness, which I call meditation’s brother, is simply being present in your daily life. If you’re cooking dinner, place your attention on each action that requires and don’t allow your mind to drift to wondering if your family will like the veggie lasagna you’re making. If you’re taking a shower, focus on that and not on the job review with your boss in two hours.

Zen and mindfulness

It’s worth taking to heart here what one Zen master said in response to his frustrated disciple asking, “Master, I’ve been a monk for many years and I still don’t understand what Zen is. Please tell me.” And the master said, “Zen is doing one thing at a time.” That’s mindfulness. And if you continually practice it in your daily life, that will also strengthen your core of presence and make it harder for anything to bump your spiritual practice from its rightful place as the main thing in your life.

Finally, you’ll notice that none of these three suggestions requires upending your life. You don’t have to sell all your possessions, leave your family and move into a Buddhist monastery to keep your spiritual practice front and center in your life. No. You just need to resolve to yourself that that is what you want (easy), develop a regular meditation practice (not nearly as difficult as most people think — especially if you follow my program!) and practice mindfulness in your daily life (not hard and gets so much easier the more you do it). So do it! You’ll be better in every way if you do.

Meditation

Office Politics: A Valuable Lesson I Learned From a Real West Winger While Writing On The West Wing TV Show

Whether you’re a high-level executive at Bank of America, a kindergarten teacher or a burger flipper at McDonald’s, you’re going to encounter office politics.  It’s a fact of life.  What follows is a valuable lesson I learned from a good friend of mine on the  best strategy for dealing with office politics.

First, some background. After graduating from Princeton I spent 15 years in Washington, D.C., working on Capitol Hill and then as a lobbyist. Having had my fill of politics, in 2000 I ventured to Los Angeles to pursue a writing career.  Two of my best friends since college had been writing in Tinseltown since graduation so I was familiar with it and had always wanted to see what I could do with my creative talents.  

My big break: a job on The West Wing

After a year and a half of hard work, I got an enormous break: a spot on the writing staff of my favorite show, The West Wing.  It was the reigning two-time winner of the Emmy for Best Drama Series, had a talented cast in Martin Sheen, Brad Whitford, Richard Schiff, Allison Janney and Rob Lowe and was run by Aaron Sorkin, thought by many to be the best writer in Hollywood.  Bottom line: I was pumped.

Once the honeymoon was over reality set in.  I had to produce, and on our show that meant pitching stories that Aaron loved.  With ten writers on staff, the competition was fierce. I worked my buns off, marrying my knowledge of Washington and my creative instincts to devise what I thought were killer West Wingstories. Unfortunately, my bosses weren’t as thrilled as I was with these stories as I was continually shot down in the writer’s room.  After several months of little success, I started feeling major job insecurity, worrying that this dream writing gig wasn’t going to last long if I didn’t break through.  And then…

Recreating the Rwanda genocide in fictional Kundu

…I broke through.  In previous seasons the show featured a fictional African country called Kundu.  My idea was to recreate in fictional Kundu the conditions of real world Rwanda in 1994 when a horrific genocide claimed the lives of upwards of 800,000 people. President Clinton to this day considers his lack of intervention in Rwanda the biggest regret of his presidency. 

My idea was that President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) would receive intelligence showing that a genocide in Kundu was imminent.  Thus he had to decide:  intervene and probably lose about 150 American soldiers or do nothing and allow half a million innocent Kundunese to be slaughtered.  The objective of great drama is to put your characters in the toughest position possible.  And my thought was, if you’re President of the United States, there can be no more excruciating situation than dealing with sending troops into battle.  Then, to make it even more difficult on Bartlet, I added the wrinkle that the US had zero strategic interest in Kundu. Meaning no oil, no important borders (with Russia, for example), no terrorist training grounds, no nothing. Bartlet would have to decide to put US troops in harm’s way for purely humanitarian interests.  So that was the idea.

Teaming up with a friend from the real West Wing

Next I pitched the idea to Gene Sperling, a good friend of mine who had been instrumental in my landing the job in the first place. Gene was the top economic advisor to President Clinton, which meant he was one of the top three aides in the White House (along with the national security advisor and the chief of staff).  When Gene left the real West Wing in January of 2001, one of several jobs he took on was as an expert consultant on the fictional West Wing. Gene liked the Kundu idea so we joined forces and fleshed out the story more fully as a team.  

Then, in the middle of a ritzy party thrown by agency juggernaut CAA at the Pacific Design Center (located on none other than Melrose Avenue – you can’t make this stuff up), I pitched the story to Aaron.  He gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up. I called Gene immediately, “We’re in, baby!” (BTW, my only other memory of that night was getting a kiss on the cheek from Paris Hilton after a short chat.)

The ensuing two months were a blur of near-constant work.  Our Kundu idea caught fire to the point that Aaron made it the main story for four straight episodes.  For comparison, no other main story carried over for even two episodes during the whole 23-episode season. 

But a problem developed early on in that period.  Remember when I mentioned the stiff competition for stories among the writers? Well, there was one particular writer on the staff who consistently tried to “poach” our story.  And he had one major thing going for him:  Aaron liked him.  I didn’t respond well at all to this perceived threat to my “baby.”  

The Sperling credo: outwork everybody

And this is when Gene taught me the hugely important lesson about office politics.  Remember, the guy worked for eight straight years in the Clinton White House at the highest level.  He faced off against some of the brightest minds in America trying to push policies that he fervently believed in.  You want to talk about brutal office politics with the highest of high stakes?  Gene lived it in the real West Wing. [BTW, after leaving the fictional West WingGene returned to the real West Wing again when he served as President Obama’s top economic advisor for three years.]

So early on, when I started whining about this other writer trying to encroach on our story territory, Gene cut me off and gave me a talking to.  He told me that in his years working in the White House he had a simple strategy for dealing with other high-level staffers trying to “beat” him on the policy battlefield.  That strategy?  Out-work them.  That’s it. 

Most important about this strategy is not what it entails – that’s obvious; work your ass off.  It’s what it doesn’tinclude.  Don’t sit around all day scheming and plotting and planning over how to defeat your office “enemy.”  Don’t be a sycophantic weasel to the higher-ups in order to procure special treatment.  Don’t cut corners with your work product in order to be seen as fast and efficient.  

Hard work = better work product + less stress

No.  Just work really hard.  That’s what I did on the Kundu project and it worked.  Nobody could keep up with the quality and pace of the work Gene and I produced.  The only down side is that I got very little sleep for two months, but it was worth every lost wink.  

Best of all, it’s a multi-win strategy.  You produce much better work than if you were being distracted by the office politics BS. And you avoid all the stress, anxiety and bad karma that comes from sitting around plotting and scheming all day.

I especially hope any young professionals out there take this advice to heart.  Don’t let yourself get bogged down in petty, intra-office rivalries.  It’s a huge energy suck that diverts attention from where it needs to be:  doing your best work.  

Life’s too short.  So work hard, don’t get distracted by office politics, and let the chips fall where they may.

Meditation

An Invaluable Tip I Learned That Transformed My Meditation Practice

Anybody who’s meditated for any length of time knows this: some sessions are good and some are pulling-teeth awful.  The good ones connect us to our home base, make us feel centered and are marked by a physical feeling of inner calmness.  The bad ones are full of uncontrollable, racing thoughts and anxious feelings that make us feel worse than if we hadn’t meditated at all.  Many meditators, especially those in the early stages of their practice, give it up if these “bad” sessions continue for too long. The fundamental mistake these people make lies in what they believe to be the purpose of meditation.  Hint:  That purpose is not, as most people believe, to feel divinely serene and peaceful inside, an invaluable lesson I learned a few years ago from Western meditation pioneer Joseph Goldstein.

A little background. Along with Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield and Sharon Salzberg, Goldstein helped bring meditation to America in the 1970s.  I had been meditating regularly for five years when I took Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course in 2017. One of our course readings was a short chapter in Goldstein’s book Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom.  The chapter eloquently describes what the purpose of meditation is and isn’t.  

Up to that point in my practice I’d experienced hugely frustrating periods where I wondered why the hell I was even meditating.  Luckily, I persisted.

Radiant meditation sessions turn to twisted steel

The lesson Goldstein taught me came in the story he tells in the chapter about a particular experience he had while practicing in India intermittently in the late 60s and early 70s.  During one several month sojourn to India Goldstein’s meditations were off-the-charts sublime.  As he described them, “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.”

After those mind-blowingly great months he returned to America for a while.  When he returned to India not long after, he expected to resume those other-worldly, radiant sessions.  Guess what?  It didn’t happen.  Not even close.  In fact, his sessions were the worst he’d ever experienced.  As he put it, “Not only was there no longer a body of light, but my body felt like a painful mass of twisted steel…There was so much pressure and tension, so many unpleasant sensations.”  Twisted steel?  Yikes.   

Then it dawned on him: meditation is not about feeling great or achieving ecstatic states of being. It’s about being completely open to whatever is happening in the present, good or bad, radiant vibrations of light or twisted steel in your gut.  Doesn’t matter.  The point is to just observe, nonjudgmentally, anysensations you might be feeling or experiencing.

Meditation isn’t about achieving ecstatic states

Goldstein’s epiphany hit me like a ton of bricks…in a good way.  Ever since reading this, whenever I’m feeling anxious, unsettled or uptight in a session, I just step back and literally say inside my head, “Okay, I’m feeling anxious.”  And I observe it.  And sit with it.  And most important, I don’t resistit.  Or engage with it.  Or fight with it.  Why? Because that anxiousness is the reality of that present moment.  As Eckhart Tolle so succinctly puts it, “Don’t resist what is.”  

Any of you out there who are just getting into meditation or are considering starting a practice, please take note:  This really is the whole ballgame of meditation.  It’s all about being present with whatever is happening in any moment.

Mindfulness: also about accepting good AND bad moments

The same is true for meditation’s brother – mindfulness.  I define mindfulness as simply being present in your daily life. If you’re washing your hands, place your attention on washing your hands, as the great Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh says.  If you’re hitting a golf shot, focus on that, not letting your mind wander to the presentation you have to give a client the next morning.  

As with meditation, so it is with mindfulness in your daily life: be present and accept whatever’s happening in any given moment.  So much of the tension and anxiety we experience comes from simply resisting what’s happening in moment after moment after moment.  And most of the time we’re not even conscious that we’re resisting those moments!  In fact, the next time you find yourself anxious or uptight, just stop and ask yourself: “What am I resisting right now?  In this moment?”  Once you identify it, just relax and let that resistance go; once you do, the tension inside you will disappear.

The good news is that the more you practice this “just accept whatever’s happening in the present moment, good OR bad” thing, the better you’ll get at it.  That goes for both your meditation and mindfulness practices. And the better you get at it, you’ll find that the bad/stressful/anxious periods start to diminish.  And when these periods do come, they pass much more quickly than when you used to wrangle, engage and fight with them.

Princeton rain vs. Hawaii rain

Here’s an analogy that captures this last concept.  When I went to Princeton, there were many days when I’d wake up, look outside and see it was raining.  And it bummed me out.  Why? Because I knew that that rain was going to stay there allday long and that I’d have to walk to tennis practice in our indoor facility jumping over puddles and avoiding general misery.  So Princeton rain is what happens when you resist and fight with uncomfortable moments.  They linger.

In Hawaii, rainstorms move in quickly, drop their water, then leave.  In, then out.  And everybody gets back to doing what they were doing.  No harm done.  Hawaii rain is what happens when you just observe the stress and anxiousness you’re feeling in any moment – whether while meditating or just going about your day. It comes, you observe it and then it goes.  So resist your tough periods and you’ll get Princeton rain.  Nonjudgmentally observe them and you’ll get Hawaii rain. 

Try my meditation program

Finally, if you’re thinking about starting a meditation practice, I’d advise you to give my program a try.  I made it simple, doable and designed it so that a regular person, like me, would be successful in developing a long-term practice.  The program, which I’ve written as an ebook called Five Steps to a Regular Meditation Practice, is eight-weeks and starts off with meditating for two minutes a day then building gradually from there. The good news is it’s free.  You can access it at davidgerken.net.