Forcing the Breath
Love in the Midst of Violence
One of my most frequent meditation habits is forcing the breath.
You may have experienced something similar. You sit down, you say “okay, time to meditate,” and that translates into taking big breaths, or rapid breaths, or otherwise forced, artificial breaths that are surprisingly easy to follow… only not so surprising, because you’ve made them impossible to miss by faking it.
How to Not Meditate
We are living in difficult times, and this has been a difficult week.
Fear and anxiety are always part of life, but these days, people commonly tell me they wake up in a funk, tossed into sleeplessness by a refrain of fear. We fear the violence that we see every day, and in horrifying events like the shootings last week. We fear chaos. We fear being consigned to the category of people in this world who don’t count. We fear the kind of hatred spilling out through Western societies.
Increasingly, people tell me they even fear the kind of hatred spilling from their own hearts.
What Does “Progress” Look Like?
For years, meditation was one more activity I packed into my busy day.
It was yet another thing to check off my to-do list, like going to the gym or buying groceries. I would skid into my meditation session, set a timer, and dutifully bring my attention back to my breath, again and again, with a kind of grim determination. It was really not that much fun at all.
I was, in other words, bringing my everyday habits to the cushion. My overdrive, my overachieving, my over-everything.
Then, a few years ago, I hit a wall.
The Science of Stress
As of this moment, I still don’t know where my wallet is.
I’m pretty sure that by the time you read this, I will have found it. But as I’m writing these words, I have no [expletive] idea where my [expletive] wallet is.
Maybe the baby put it somewhere. Maybe I put it somewhere so the baby couldn’t get it. I don’t know. All I know is that I was almost late to my meeting with Dan Harris because I couldn’t get out of the house.
How to be a Better Listener
Stress is part of evolution’s brilliance. It motivated us to run away from lions in the jungle. It’s your body’s way of trying to keep you safe.
The problem is, in today’s concrete jungle, we’re stressed out not by lions but by traffic jams, overflowing inboxes, and an insufficient number of Instagram likes. All of which our bodies treat as emergencies, What can we do about that?
How Nature Changes the Mind
“You’re not listening!” my friend Jeremy shouted in frustration.
We were standing in his kitchen and Jeremy was upset. Though I can’t remember the details, what I do remember is that he was right: I was only half-listening. I was waiting for him to finish so I could explain my perspective. Even though I was completely silent, making eye contact, and hearing every word, Jeremy could sense that I wasn’t really taking it in. I was building my case, preparing to defend myself.
What Does Mindfulness Have to do with Pride Month?
Summertime, especially around the Fourth of July, is a time many of us in North America spend outdoors. It actually can be a hard time to sit indoors and meditate, because it’s so beautiful outside. Fortunately, being in nature can, itself, be a doorway to a valuable and refreshing capacity of mind that I call “natural awareness.”
Edge vs. Edgy?
Pride Month is a funny thing. Of course, its main focus is on sexual and gender minorities; folks who don’t fit into the majority’s boxes of male, female, heterosexual, or cisgender. This week, after all, is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion, a crucial turning point in the contemporary LGBTQ rights movement. But in recent years, Pride has become a holiday for everyone.
Why I Meditate
Before I started meditating, I assumed meditation would hinder my ability to compete in the sometimes cutthroat world of TV news. And also that I might be required to wear yoga pants to the office.
I have come to believe that, applied correctly, mindfulness enhances rather than erodes your edge – by which I mean, your ability to take on challenging work at home or in the office with rigor, intelligence, and effectiveness.
But I know there are many people who still have similar concerns.
Meditation and Climate Change
I don’t know what I’d do without a meditation practice.
These days, after many years, it’s a regular habit. But it wasn’t always that way. For years I tried to cultivate a regular practice, but I found it hard to stick to a routine. It was easier to hit snooze, or get up off my cushion before the timer went off, or skip the weekly gathering at the Zendo.
But I had an incentive: I was a hot mess.
The Risk of Honesty
Every week, I hear from students and friends who are deeply fearful, anxious, and angry about global warming. For those informed about the issue, it’s not an abstraction; it threatens the lives our children will be able to lead, not to mention those of folks already caught in natural disasters exacerbated by global climate disruption.
If you’ve experienced any of that fear, anxiety, and anger, please read on, because I’ve found mindfulness to be a valuable ally in staying sane, staying engaged, and making a difference -- whatever your political and philosophical opinions.
Is Your Mind an Amusement Park?
A friend of mine works with a writer who constantly misses deadlines. In terms of work, it’s actually not that big of a deal, because my friend knows this about the writer, and course-corrects by giving him deadlines that are weeks prior to when my friend actually needs something turned in.
The challenges arise not because of the lateness, but because the writer can’t seem to accept this shortcoming about himself. He writes long emails with excuses as to why he’s late again—imaginative stories that my friend knows aren’t true.
A Birthday Contemplation
When some people hear about meditation, they may imagine that it’s a cool, calm chill-out with no distracting thoughts or feelings disturbing the Zen.
And then, since that’s not what anyone actually experiences, lots of people become convinced that they can’t meditate because their minds are so busy and distracted.
The truth is, though, distractions happen! Whether out in the world or seated in meditation, the mind will pretty much always find something to do - and it’s not always going to do the thing we might hope.
What can you do?
Change Your Posture, Change Your Mood
My 48th birthday was last week, and I feel great about it.
This might be a feature of middle age. I’m no longer astonished (or embarrassed) at how old I am, like I was a decade ago, when turning 40 seemed like the end of the world. (Hint: it’s not.) Yet I’m still youngish and healthy, surrounded by blessings of family, work, the spiritual life, and love.
For years, I’d been wrong about what getting older is actually all about. Twenty years ago, I worried that it meant an unfortunate decline in attractiveness, coolness, and having awesome experiences like spending all night dancing in crowded nightclubs. (God, I’m glad that kind of awesomeness is mostly in the rear-view mirror.)
Relationships and Radical Uncertainty
According to neuroscientific research, you can change your mood simply by changing your body posture.
Of course, everyone knows that body posture can reflect our emotions. Picture an Olympic sprinter crossing the finish line with their arms in the air, and head thrown back in celebration. Or picture the audience in a horror movie, instinctively cringing and curling up when something goes bump in the night.
But can it also work the other way? Can body posture influence our emotional state, as well as reflect it?
The Trouble with Gratitude
Several years ago, I ran into a particularly rough time in my marriage. I’m not talking about the kind where you have a fight, storm off, and then make up. No, this was the kind of rough time that seemed to have no particular cause. Though there was nothing to fight about, we fought about everything. Nothing was bothersome, but everything one of us did bothered the other. We had no particular problems, but everything we tried to do—eat a meal, make the bed, decide what to watch on television—somehow became a huge problem, impossible to navigate without truly pissing each other off. In short: we could not get along.
When the World Falls Apart
I’m rushing down the street, despite the pleasant weather and flowers blooming. No one else is on the street—I live in a peaceful, quiet, small city, yet I’m hurrying and stressed; I have somewhere to go.
And then I see the old man. He suddenly appears at the end of the block, turns the corner, inches forward as he leans his weight on his walker, lifting one leg slowly, slowly, then the other. My face softens, I immediately slow down, embarrassed by my hurrying.
A rush of thoughts and emotions flood me:
Like many of you, I watched in horror as one of the world’s greatest works of art, the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, burned to the ground this week. I find myself reeling.
The strength of my reaction surprises me. Although I’d twice visited the cathedral, and studied it in art history class, I have no special connection to Notre-Dame. I’m neither French nor Catholic. And yet I feel personally attacked, like a part of me has been torn out.