How I Meditate

Life has been a chaotic mess of work, family obligations, failed fitness routines, and unfinished books. Time to refocus the mind and body on the things that matter the most to me, time to begin again a meditation practice. The practice is simple. Routinizing it, prioritizing it, those are the hard things.

This is how I do it.

I set a timer, or a meditation app, for the desired amount of time. Right now, its ten minutes, soon fifteen, then twenty, then perhaps longer. If I don’t have time for ten minutes, I’ll do five. Something is always better than nothing at all.

I sit comfortably, in a chair, on a cushion, or on the floor. With my eyes open I take three or four deep breaths, in through the mouth, out through the nose. I set my attention to be present, to be here now.

I close my eyes and begin breathing normally again, in and out, in and out.

I attempt to notice the sounds around me without judgement or concern. There, a siren, there, a car. They’re just there. Neither helping or impeding my practice. Just there.

I perform a “body scan” wherein I start from my head and move down my body noticing its state. Does my shoulder hurt (it usually does) Is my back tight? My feet tired? I notice this aspects of my body. They’re just there. Neither helping or impeding my practice. Just there.

Then I try to focus on my breath. In and out, in and out. I count my breaths one on the in, two on the out, three on the in, four on the out, five on the in, six on the out, seven on the in, eight on the out, nine on the in, ten on the out.

Then again.

My mind wanders, it always does. I get hung up on the car, or the ache in my shoulder. I don’t make it to ten breaths. I don’t make it to four.

As soon as I notice my mind wandering, I start again.

I do this, over and over until the timer goes off.

Almost always, I feel better afterward. I try to remember that feeling the next time I am making an excuse for not meditating. The process isn’t hard, remembering how important it can be is. Be Here Now

Review: Hoffman’s Greeting from Utopia Park

Greetings from Utopia Park
Claire Hoffman

Mindfulness and meditation are having a moment. All over the business world people are extolling the virtues of a daily practice for productivity and mental health. This mainstreaming of meditation is being led by apps like Headspace (which I use) and the leaders of the mindfulness movement like Joseph Goldstein. But a rising tide lifts all ships and the perennially popular and controversial Transcendental Meditation (TM) is also having a moment.

This book, a memoir of growing up in the hot bed of hardcore TM practitioners in Fairfield, Iowa, gives some valuable insights into the TM movement, especially in its early years. These days, TM prefers to be associated with Hollywood celebrities and the health benefits which have been correlated with the practice of the discipline, but we should forget that for a while there TM and the Maharishi were more closely associated with attempts at “yogic flying” and meditating for world peace.

This book is a story of those years.  About what it means to grow up deep within the TM movement, with a single mom who spent hours a day in meditation, to be broke when those around you were wealthy, to want the secular pleasures of average teenager when your mother would rather you sat on a cushion. It’s a book critical of TM’s excesses, for sure, but not entirely dismissive of them. Indeed by the end of the book, we’re filled with doubts about the leadership of the TM movement, but also following the author as she attempts to learn yogic flying.

It’s a New Religious Movement memoir, and I’m a sucker for those, even when they’re poorly done. But this one is thoughtful, it is well written, and if you have an interest in TM, or what its like to grow up outside the mainstream, its worth the time.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review – Newports Deep Work

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
Cal Newport

A wake up call for a distracted internet user like myself. A call to arms to regain our attention from those who wish to monetize and destroy it. A guidebook for how to begin to rebuild your attention to succeed in the new digital world.

Here’s the basic premise: The market rewards that which is rare. In our distracted age, the ability to focus for long period of time (what Newport calls “Deep Work”) is a rare. If you can develop this skill, you will be rewarded, both financially and emotionally.

I may not be quite as strict as Newport (who has never had a social media account) but I do think that unless you’re a very certain kind of infotainment entrepreneur, or a buzzfeed reporter, you probably don’t need to spend very much time on social media.

And no one needs to be playing candy crush.

Take a couple of hours and read this short book, try to implement some of the tools he gives, and see how you feel. I know when I resist the siren song of the twitter feed, I’m more productive and feel better. You probably will too.


Review: Harris’s Ten Percent Happier

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story

Dan Harris

This one is on one hand a pretty no-nonsense introduction to “mindfulness” practice and on the other a slightly annoying memoir from a television anchor. I find it a bit ironic that this was the book that finally got me to take meditation seriously. But here we are.

There is something about Harris no bullshit approach, his general skepticism about the whole endeavor, and his clear reportage style that resonated with me. He became interested in meditation because he was struggling, and needed to find grounding somewhere. Then he kept at it because it worked. He struggles with how to stay competitive in his professional life with pursuing a sense of non-attachment. He grapples with what, exactly, Buddhists means when they speak of enlightenment.  And he takes the advice of western hippies and the Dali Lama interrogates it, and takes a real, honest, stab at figuring out if it is bullshit or not. I appreciated the forthrightness, if not always the tone.

I listened to the book mainly while walking back and forth from the hospital where my wife was cooped up, trying to stave off a premature pregnancy. It was a stressful time and this book, and what it taught me, helped. I am sure there are better books out there on mediation and mindfulness, and I intend to find them. But this is the first one I read (at least since a short teenage dalliance with Zen) and for better or worse, it resonated with me. Harris’s can be grating at times, especially when speaking of his reportage coups, or his days as a cub reporter tutored by Peter Jennings, but his struggles with what it means to live mindfully in as unmindful a place as New York City, in as un-reflective a world as TV journalism spoke to this middle age white dude looking for a little peace of mind.

Your mileage may vary.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

62 Day Challenge: Day 4 Not Everyday Is Interesting

Reflection: Another long day of work and social engagements (PURIM PARTY!), but got the miles in and stuck to the diet. Not everyday is interesting. In fact, most days won’t be.

Day 3 done, 60 days to go.

Daily Weight 179.2 (weight, why you no move?)
Breakfast ½ avocado, 1 cup of strawberries
Lunch Hummus and tomato sandwich, fritos, diet coke. (I know, I know, I eat way too many chips)
Dinner Salmon with sweet potatoes and green beans. Apple tart. Boulevardier
Run: 5.25 miles in 51:39
Bike: 0
Swim: 0
Strength/ Flexibility: 5:00
100 push-ups (22,18,10,20,20,10)
Total Exercise Time(day/week) ~1:00:00/2:30:00
Mediation: 5:00
Steps (goal/actual) 12424/18555