Tag Archive | meditation

“How you like me now?” – How I Sit

In the “How you like me now?” Series, I take a blog post from the very beginning of Love Life Practice seven years ago and see how well things have held up. This post comes from November of 2011 (so it’s not quite exactly a year) but it is the earliest “practice” post I have on the site.

How I Sit

I’m a bad Buddhist.

And I can prove it, because if I were a good Buddhist, I wouldn’t say I was bad, because one of the more confusing parts of Buddhism is the idea that you are fine just as you are, wherever that is on your journey of personal development. HA! Paradox!

No, really, the idea is not too hard to embrace – many sects of Christianity include a similar idea with the unconditional love that God and Jesus have for humanity. Having a deity to accept you is much easier than accepting yourself, and even that often requires going to a beautiful church at least once a week just to remind yourself of that fact: “God be with you.”

For me, it takes sitting for fifteen minutes every morning to remind myself that life is a process, not a product, and it’s ok not to quite have the hang of it yet. I began sitting when I was a Marine Corps recruit, trying to reconcile my creative artsy side with the lean green fighting machine that the government was turning me into. At the time, it was the writings of Charlotte Joko Beck that gave me something to hang onto. A few years later it was Cheri Huber who helped keep me going, and most recently I’ve been very encouraged by the writings, both in book form and online, of Brad Warner, author of “Sex, Sin, and Zen” (affiliate link) among others.

All of these teachers come from the Soto Zen tradition, of which I know very litte. What I do know, though, is how they sit. Some would call it meditation, but that polysyllabic word has a lot of connotations attached to it from other spiritual practices, with things like chanting and getting all floaty and at one with the universe.

That’s not what sitting is. Sitting is when you sit. You get into a specific position – legs crossed, spine straight, left hand palm up in your lap and right hand palm up in your right. You focus your eyes on an invisible spot in the air somewhere in front of you and down towards the floor.

A waterfall in a lush tropical setting

CC photo by Grey Sky Morning (flickr)

And you. Just. Sit. There.

No breathing exercises (though Cheri Huber has said you might count breaths, five at a time, if you need to cheat a bit). No closing eyes, no relaxing into ethereal bliss. You just sit and deal with the world as it is, right then, right there.

Sometimes I cheat and put one hand on each knee, palm down. The tripod formed by my spine and my two arms somehow feels right. Often I have to remind myself to straighten my spine, discovering I’ve slumped. But most of my time is spent trying to get my brain to stop spinning. To bring my attention away from what I did yesterday, what I need to do tomorrow, this afternoon, in the next fifteen minutes. To bring it back, over and over and goddamn it over again, to the moment as it is.

The mind is an amazing traveler. It is usually anywhere but where you are. I’ll snap back to the moment after spending who knows how long thinking about computer equipment, having entire conversations in my head with my clients, speculating about friends and lovers and techniques for brewing coffee. It’s sometimes absurd to see where my mind goes. It may be depressed about the state of my bank account, it may be ecstatic about the email I got from my lover, it may be planning on the toppings for oatmeal that morning. I come back to the moment, often wondering what the hell made me go off on that particular tangent.

And that’s sort of the point: to remind myself of how easy it is to not pay attention to the world as it is, and to pay attention instead to the world as I think it should, could, might be. You’d think, since the former is concrete and real and the latter is completely nonexistent, it would be easier to pay attention to the world as it is.

You’d be wrong, though, which neatly proves the point

.

Sitting is hard. I can only handle about fifteen minutes a day right now, though I’m thinking of adding another fifteen minutes in the evening just to see if I can do it. As it is, I count it a victory if I am able to be “in the moment” when the alarm goes off at the end of fifteen minutes. I count it a failure (Bad Buddhist warning, again!) if I succumb to the temptation to look at my phone to see how much longer I have to sit there, because damn it, I’ve got things to do! I read about “sesshin” – where an entire day, or several days, are spent with hours of just sitting – in much the way a person who has taken up walking reads about marathon runners: with envy and admiration and a distinct feeling of “Wow, I don’t think I could ever handle that.

I’d invite you to try it out. Not just for one day, though that’s a start. But commit to, say, a week, with five minutes of sitting in the morning right when you get up. It’s simple: you hear the alarm, you get out of bed, you sit on the floor, and set the timer.

That’s it. If you have to move to some pretty view, or put on some chimey soft sounds, or have to close your eyes, well, that’s fine, but you’re cheating yourself out of Life As It Is. It’s not something we get to see all that often, and sitting only gives most of us a glimpse, here and there. I’m not talking about any kind of satori or enlightenment. I’m talking about just being ok, for just a bit, with the way things are, as opposed to the way you think they should be.

Then the doubts will crash in, the baby will start crying, the cat will start puking up a hairball and your boss will text you reminding you that today is when that report you forgot about is due. All part of the busy beauty that is life. Sitting just gives you a chance to stay in touch with reality, and takes away your excuses to avoid it – i.e., your “to-do” and “wish” list. As another zen writer put it:

Before studying Zen, mountains are mountains.

While studying Zen, things become confused.

After studying Zen, mountains are mountains.

– D.T. Suzuki

Don’t just do something. Sit there.

How you like me now?

I confess to feeling a bit of pride, because this post definitely holds up. Not only is it still accurate (as far as it can be from a layman’s perspective) it is also a practice I still engage in – 10 minutes, 15 minutes, occasionally a half hour a day. I have, since writing it, even done as long as (gasp) 45 minutes at a stretch (though to be fair, that was because the person I’d trusted to tell me when 30 minutes was up fell asleep).

It’s still an invaluable tool – and no, I haven’t been completely disciplined in my Practice. There was a period of a few months where I fell off the wagon, but I noticed the difference (and so did my partner). Now, every morning, we both do our own meditations (she’s more the “mindfulness” type).

It’s a relief to see that this post holds up, as well, because if it didn’t, I’d have to do some quick editing – this is a key chapter in my book The Meditation Manual. If you like what I have here, you will probably like the manual, as well. And if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free.

I’m also available for coaching and online meditation sessions now, thanks to the magic of online video conferencing. Not because I think I have anything special to offer – I mean, I’m basically going to tell you to sit there with your thoughts. No bliss, no transcendence, not even really any peace.

Just…things get better. Incrementally. Sometimes almost infinitesimally.

Sit with me?

Self-Sabotage and Love

One of the themes that has always fascinated me is the idea of “self-sabotage”. Everyone has done it to some extent, but some of us are more…talented at it than others. There’s “I’m going to just have this one pizza” versus “I’ve just invested my parents’ life savings in Enron stock.

When I’m talking about self-sabotage and love, mind you, I’m not just talking about romantic love. Parents self-sabotage around children; friends do it with each other; we quite often simply do it with ourselves, with that weird super-ego and id battling it out inside our brains.

Much of the popular understanding of self-sabotage boils it down to six main reasons we deliberately put obstacles in our own way:

  1. Self-Worth: Stop me if you’ve heard or said this one: Why would anyone love someone like me? It’s a funny kind of egotistical statement; what you’re really doing is saying I don’t trust this person to make their own decisions about who they love, so I’m going to make it for them.
  2. Controlled Breakups: This is a classic in relationships: I’m going to break up with you before you break up with me. There’s a little of the egotism in that, too, but it’s also rooted in fear – the fear of being hurt, so you’re going to strike first! Unfortunately, in this case you’re striking out at the relationship, which means both of you end up hurt. But at least you weren’t blindsided, right?
  3. Impostor Syndrome: This is closely related to that self-worth step as well, but this is when you’re doing well – but you’re convinced that any minute now people are going to realize that you’re not the person they think you are. The deeper into the relationship you go, the more that fear of being called out as a fraud becomes, and so you deliberately try to minimize your profile or even pull back.
  4. The Comfort Zone That Isn’t: This is a real danger, and possibly the sneakiest one. Simply put, if you’re used to being in a bad or abusive relationship, a good relationship – or even just good relationship habits – won’t feel right. My partners and I have run into that more than once in the last couple of years, as our relationships have stabilized and we get to stop working on them quite as much and get to just enjoy them. It feels weird at first, and you have to really work to convince yourself that this is not wrong, it’s just different.
  5. Convenient Excuse: This one is rooted in pessimism, or (as some people call it) a grasp on reality. It’s when you deliberately stack the deck against yourself so that when things go wrong you can blame the circumstances, not yourself. Anytime you deliberately do something you know would be damaging to your relationship you are possibly trying to create an excuse for trouble that avoids a deeper, less obvious problem. Those deeper problems take work, though, and self-reflection, and it’s so much easier to just avoid them by causing superficial crises.
  6. The Thrill of It All: There’s a phrase common in polyamorous circles: NRE, or “New Relationship Energy.” It’s kind of related to that Comfort Zone, in that people (including me) can mistake the thrill of a new relationship for the way love is supposed to feel all the time. The thrill is great, of course, but when it fades – and hedonic adaptation means it will – we can make the mistake of thinking “the thrill is gone! and translate that into a Convenient Excuse for a breakup, so that you can get back in the Comfort Zone of NRE. It takes a while to figure out that it doesn’t “fade” as much as “change” – and that there are a whole bunch of new delights that comes with a partner who is not new, who is well known to you and who you can explore a more deep love with.

The Simple, One-Step Instant Cure for Self-Sabotage

…doesn’t exist.

Sorry. Frankly, all of these are rooted in cognitive fallacies that are, for the most part, either hardwired into our biology or else enculturated into us by growing up in Western culture. Guilt, shame, the Judeo-Christian work ethic, Capitalism, romance, consumerism, it all combines to make it almost impossible not to self-sabotage. It’s designed that way, because then people who want power over you or money from you (or both) can offer you what looks like a solution…and sometimes it will help, and sometimes it simply masks the self-sabotage for a while.

There are, however, a few things you can do to reduce your tendency to self-sabotage. I can’t say that they are especially fun, or that they are going to cause any instant (or even rapid) changes. However, they are 100% effective if done long enough.

How long is that? Well, if you’re still self-sabotaging, then you’re not done yet. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Journaling: One of the tropes of habit change: you can’t change what you can’t measure. Keeping a journal of your days enables you to look back at the things that you have done, and begin to notice patterns of behavior (Huh, every time I have a fight with my boss at work I end up binging on ice cream…). That’s when you get to start changing them.
  2. Meditation: I’m not talking guided meditation, I’m talking about the kind of meditation where you sit there and just watch your thoughts. Where you see the wild paths and distractions your brain comes up with to distract you from whatever you’re afraid to think about. You might want to dive into that stuff, or you might just want to acknowledge that it’s there; either way, just sitting is the best way to learn how to step outside of instinctual reaction and start making deliberate choices.
  3. Pay Attention: I could make this a fancy term like “mindfulness” or “gratitude practice” but really it’s just a matter of noticing the good things. Stop and look at the one you love. Let yourself really feel that quick hug; listen to their voice, take a moment to laugh with them at a joke only you will get. Anyone you love is someone that you have a deeper connection to – so revel in that intimacy, rather than letting it get into the Comfort Zone of taking it for granted.

How about you? What ways have you sabotaged your love? More importantly, since we are creatures of habit: what steps have you taken to break that cycle and find the new horizons of connection that are there when you aren’t tripping yourself up?

You can always comment here or email Gray directly at gray@lovelifepractice.com . If you found this article useful, how about sharing it with others? This blog is supported by patrons at http://patreon.com/lovelifepractice ; if you’d like to help out, we’d really appreciate it!

The Life of Shadows

…they are spending their time in pursuit of things that don’t make them happy so much as they serve as a temporary relief from what makes them sad and exhausted.
– from a “Pep Talk” via Kameron Hurley’s excellent Patreon

Is there anything scarier than being alone with your own thoughts?

Little in my life has ever been so terrifying as when a friend of mine – a spiritual leader, author, and general Person-Smarter-Than-Me – suggested that I stop the frenetic need to do things, to get better, to adopt a new system of productivity and just sit there in the dark.

It was terrifying because I had, up until that point, been doing a pretty good job of distracting myself from the fact that the “dark” even existed. Jung would have called it “the shadow”, and it’s all the things we didn’t get as kids. It’s a bundle of “no”, of frustrated desires and unmet needs and shattering disappointment at the fact that we don’t always get what we want.

Doesn’t that sound like fun? No wonder so much of our worlds are oriented around trying to ignore that darkness.

The Shadow Will Be Heard

Like your actual shadow, it’s there whether you notice it or not. It manifests itself in shame, in overreaction, in overwork. It will rear up in the form of nightmares that wake you up and brain weasels that keep you awake, until you will literally do anything to get away from it.

That’s where the trap is: being the good person you are, you might decide that the way to avoid that shadow is simply to keep yourself so busy that you don’t notice it. You keep running until you literally are too exhausted to continue – and then you collapse in sleep, only to be woken again by nightmares. The shadow will make you pay attention, one way or another.

One of the ways to occupy your time is personal development, of course, and that’s where we can stretch the metaphor a little further: it’s easier to see your shadow when you shine a light on yourself.

The good news is that while it’s not pleasant, facing the shadow, it’s also not very terrifying. For most people it’s basically a neglected and scared part of themselves that just needs some nurturing, some attention, because ever since the first time you were denied something you thought you needed – food, affection, self-esteem, whatever – that shadow has been alone and scared. It’s been trying to get your attention, in whatever way it can.

It Gets Better, But Weirder

When I did start looking into the darkness inside my mind – through meditation, through journaling, through therapy – it was often hard. There were realizations of things I had successfully distracted myself from, and things that I just never expected to find. Insecurities and fallibilities and fears, oh, so many fears. I looked at them, I witnessed them, I even grew to understand them – and while they didn’t exactly disappear, they lost some of their power. I still woke early in the morning, but instead of feeling the need to get up and do something I could lay there, floating in the sea of the night, letting my thoughts roam and play.

The nightmares became weird dreams, like the one last night where corporations had started releasing life-size holograms as alarm clocks and Natasha and I had chosen a glowing mermaid as our wake-up call. But weird dreams are a vast improvement over nightmares, don’t you think?

Here’s the question I would ask, if you dare: why do you work so hard at keeping busy? Is it doing the things that you find joy and purpose in? Or is it a desperate attempt to never be alone and quiet with your thoughts?

And when you get your answer…is there anything you might want to do about it?

Guest Post: THE 3-STEP MINDFULNESS CHALLENGE

I welcome Natasha Bounds from Intention at Home to the Love Life Practice team, and this is the first of what I hope will be regular contributions!

No, this is not a post about setting up time in your schedule or doing certain exercises for the next 30 days. It’s not that kind of challenge. This challenge is more cerebral. I am going to ask you to challenge the way you perceive mindfulness in everyday life.  I am going to ask you to think about how you can incorporate mindfulness in a way that doesn’t feel like something separate or extra.

We all live busy stressful lives and there is a lot going on the world right now that may be adding to your stress level. Mindfulness gives us an opportunity to slow down and enjoy life.  It doesn’t have to look like getting up everyday and meditating or sitting cross-legged in a field of wildflowers chanting. That would be easy. It isn’t that…obvious.

What it looks like is being present. It looks like slowing down to eat a meal, maybe even putting away your phone and turning off the television.  There was a time that we would sit down at a table and actually enjoy our food and talk to one another.

Weird, huh? I am not asking you to change your whole life around, just asking you to try to shake it up a little. Eating slowly helps your digestion and having actual conversations with people about how they are doing helps us get out of our heads.  I spend way too much time thinking about what I need to get done, what do we need in the house, how am I going to get ALL THE THINGS done?

The problem I find when I am up in my head that way is that it becomes very difficult to sit down and actually do any of cleaning, work, or relaxing I have been obsessing about!

So, how can you become mindful about these things?

  1. Stop. Yes, stop.  I want you to take a breath. It really can be as simple as just stopping what you’re doing and slowing down your breathing. When we start trying looking at everything we have to do we can become stressed or panicky.  This, for a lot of us, means shallow quick breathing which does nothing to help the feeling. There is most likely nothing so urgent that you can’t just stop and slow your breathing down.
  2. Focus. What needs to be done first? Do it and then move on to the next task.  I know we all think we do this a lot more than we actually do it. It’s next to impossible to complete multiple tasks simultaneously and have them done well. Figure out the steps and then do each one in order not worrying about the next one until the current one is done. This is being present.
  3. Gratitude. Have an end time and congratulate yourself for the things that you WERE able to accomplish. It does us no good to sit and think about everything we didn’t get done. We can’t create more time and things did get done.  All you can do is step away from it, congratulate yourself what you have accomplished and move on to the next part of your day.  Doing these things then gives you the opportunity to sit and enjoy them.

See there ? Little steps and you didn’t even have to pull out your meditation cushion or burn any incense.  

You should try and let me know how it goes.  I want to hear about what works for you.

You can read more of Natasha’s thoughts and suggestions at http://intentionathome.com . Image is used courtesy of Nickolai Kashirin.

Bubble Wrap and Chrome

"Shifting from mindful to mindless work gives the brain time to process complex problems in a relaxed state and also restores the energy necessary for the next round of mindful work.

… you need to challenge the worries that keep you reacting compulsively instead of engaging consciously…

Can we just give ourselves a bit of a break, and acknowledge that there is no such thing as wasting time?

In a world focused on productivity, on doing more more more with less less nothing, there is this strange idea that we need to squeeze every moment of every day. A friend of mine during a Mastermind meeting recently talked about his day, where he had taken his children to the doctor, moved furniture, dealt with legal issues – and then felt like he’d “gotten nothing done all day!

Let’s try a different metaphor:

Sometimes You’re Bubble Wrap; Sometimes You’re Chrome

There is little that satisfies as much as a sheet of bubble wrap. I’m betting that even mentioning it has some of you pressing your index finger and thumb together. It’s a simple and pure action/reaction, and we get a little neurochemical jolt of satisfaction as it goes “pop”.

Sometimes our thoughts are like that – whether it’s playing a game of Dots, or washing the silverware, or knocking our desks. It’s a limited-time engagement, and when we’re done, there’s not a lasting effect – the screen you solved is replaced by a new unsolved one, your son grabs a fork, or you pick up that notebook from the right-angle it’s set at.

Here’s the bit of self-love and compassion to try and wrap your head around: That’s a totally valid use of your time.

In fact, it’s less like bubble wrap and more like chrome – or leather, maybe, if you prefer that metaphor. Those moments you spend enjoying yourself are like rubbing and polishing and making the material of You shiny, supple, beautiful. Now, there is certainly such a thing as polishing chrome or leather too much, and there are some things that work better than others. Dots may work to calm the mind, but maybe a quick yoga routine will work better. Maybe the ultimate way to organize your desk is actually to konmari it and have nothing there.

That’s all matter for a Practice post. This post is about Love, and specifically the self-love that stops berating you about “wasting time.” You’re using time, sure, but if you’re using it to polish the chrome, that’s ok.

Shiny!

3 Reasons Mindfulness Won’t Work for You

Recently my partner and I were startled by a tweet, popularly reposted by several of our friends, that suggested that there needed to be an article along the lines of 18 Ways to Punch the Next Person Who Suggests I Try Mindfulness. While I was aware that there was some critique of businesses that were using mindfulness training to get more productivity out of their workers, I sort of put that in the same category as businesses putting in heaters, air purification systems, or indoor plumbing – yes, it did make their workers more productive, but that didn’t mean that the systems themselves were bad. It just meant that businesses would try anything to maximize profits (and in other news, water is wet).

However, in lieu of being arrested for battery, I thought I would do the public service of giving you three reasons that mindfulness will not work for you.

img_0340

  1. The Vizzini Fallacy aka “You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. The fact is, there are a lot of things out there that claim the label “mindfulness” but are really missing the point. At the risk of falling into another fallacy (“No true Scotsman…) there’s a very simple test to figure out if That Thing the person is calling mindfulness actually qualifies: is it bringing your attention to the here and now? If it’s not, then it’s not mindfulness. It may be something else that’s good – nothing wrong with a little escapism or distraction or entertainment. But mindfulness is about learning to be in the present moment in an aware state of mind. That’s it.img_0341
  2. The Violet Beauregarde Fallacy aka “But I want it now! Mindfulness is physical therapy for your state of mind. In other words, it sucks. It is painful, and especially at the beginning of your practice you will fall flat on your metaphorical face and be very frustrated because the Stupid Exercise doesn’t seem to be helping at all. Some people quit, then, and prove themselves right. Others stick with it because they believe that others who have said it’s worthwhile might actually know something – and those are the people who suddenly realize, months or weeks later, that the incremental progress has added up to amazing things. But if you’re in it for the quick fix? Sorry, mindfulness is not that. If you’re waiting to feel peaceful or enlightened or something, just forget about it. Try hot yoga or something – that will give you results you can smell almost immediatelyimg_0343
  3. The This Is Fine Fallacy aka “It’s not me, it’s you!” The reason mindfulness sucks is because it slowly takes away our ability to be distracted by all the things we use to hide our lives from ourselves. As I’ve said before: this sucks. It is painful. It often results in changes being made, in new neural pathways and behaviors and sometimes even a new hairstyle or a tattoo. If you don’t like change – if you want to stay comfortable in the state of mind that gives you plenty of things to complain about – then you should definitely not try mindfulness. Very few teachers of mindfulness suggest that you punch people in the face, for example, so if that’s your thing, stay away!

There was a part of me that wanted to ask the critics “So, what, we should try to cultivate the opposite, and be mindless?” The funny thing is, though, that whatever you choose to call it, mindfulness has a way of sneaking up on you. A recent article in Tiny Buddha talked about how “Mindfulness didn’t work for me…” and then concluded with this description of what did work for him:

…we come into the present moment and foster a sense of inner calm. It’s not about changing our thoughts. It’s about learning not to attach to them and diminishing their power over us. Once you’ve made friends with exactly where you are, even with your negativity, a regular practice…will make you less likely to be taken by those storms of negativity in the first place.

He was talking about “meditation”. And that’s great! I’m a big fan of meditation, too. It’s a big part of how I try to become more mindful. If you are engaged in trying to be a better person in any way you have to start by paying attention to the person you are at the moment – and you can call that whatever you want. I’m pretty sure mindfulness doesn’t mind.

Two Unexpected Benefits of Meditation

I’ve talked a lot about the many benefits – both personal and reported – of meditation. It’s one of the few lifehacks that both lives up to the reputation and has been relatively simple to do consistently.

Soto zen meditation, as I’ve mentioned, is not very fancy. You don’t get to chant, you don’t get to visualize, you really aren’t even supposed to focus on the breath (though that is kind of the “training wheels” version of sitting when the monkey brain takes you off the rails.

Instead, you’re expected to Just Sit There – to experience the world exactly as it is, no filters, no assumptions, no baggage. Of course, you don’t actually get there – even the “enlightened” tend to say they only experience satori for a moment – but the view of the world does change.

Resilience Fuel

Over the past few weeks the feeling I’ve gotten from meditation was that it was a refueling of my resilience. Kind of like the Green Lantern charging his ring at the the Power Battery, every morning that fifteen minutes of sitting was fifteen minutes of not stressing about money, about work, about deadlines or relationships or blog posts – my job, for that fifteen minutes, was just to be sitting there.

Recently I realized that the feeling was actually even more than refueling. I was experiencing the world a bit more directly, stepping outside of the set of assumptions I call “My Life” and the thought came to me: I can handle it. For some reason all of the hectic things and hopes and disappointments seemed…bearable. It felt, as I “experienced” my world, for just that moment, that I could meet and survive any obstacle that might come my way.

Self-Defense

Of course, shortly after that thought – the same day, in fact – I ran into some stresses that I did not handle well. In fact, I behaved rather spectacularly badly, hurting people I cared about with some thoughtless words and emails. At first there was a lot of recrimination, beating myself up – but after a surprisingly short time the you suck, Gray! inner monologue was replaced with Did you do what you could to mitigate the damage? Yes? Then try not to do it again. And like coming back to the breath after a monkey-mind detour, I came back to trying to live my life with the solid understanding that I am human and just as capable of thoughtless mistakes as the next hominid.

So those were the two unexpected benefits of meditation I found this week: One, Life doesn’t seem so overwhelming. You get the feeling that you can handle it, even with some grace.

And two, when you’re wrong and you don’t handle it gracefully at all, you don’t beat yourself up about it quite as much.

How about you? If you meditate, has there been anything that has surprised you, positively or negatively? And if you don’t meditate…what do you think might change if you did?

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The Battle of Wills

courtesy Jamie Henderson via Flickr CCThere’s a conflict that rages every morning the moment I first drift into waking consciousness.

It first manifests by my social media (aka the Gravy Hose) craving, when I wonder What have I missed in the last seven hours?

My hand reaches almost automatically towards the bedside table – where my phone isn’t. No, my phone is charging out at my standing desk, about as far from where I am as you can get in our apartment.

Fine. I don’t get to check social media, and I know what I should be doing: my morning protocols. Which consist of the following:

  1. A short 15-minute yoga routine;
  2. 15 minutes of meditation.
  3. One page of journaling (with coffee)
  4. A light breakfast while watching something inspirational (usually a TED talk).

Sure, that’s what I’m supposed to do. But it’s not what I want to do. What I want to do is skip right to the coffee. Every morning I have an argument with myself as I stumble into the living room.

C’mon, you were absurdly productive yesterday. Why not give yourself a break?

(as I turn on the light, I see the yoga mat in the corner. Automatically my hand reaches for it.)

Yoga? Again? You don’t need yoga. You’ve been working out a lot – you should give yourself rest.

I unfurl the yoga mat on the living room floor. The voice in my head changes tactics.

Like this little 15-minute routine you stole from Tara Stiles is actually doing you any good. What, you expect to look like Rodney Yee or something? You’re probably not even doing it right, since you don’t even have an instructor. Why are you bothering?

By then I’m doing the cat/cow stretches, and usually my brain stops for a little while. Then I reach for my phone – where it’s two clicks to the meditation app, vs. three levels to the social media app. It’s early, and my finger manages to stumble over the Mind App, with a neat little ratcheting sound as the electronic timer winds to 15 minutes. That’s when the voice in my head really hits stride:

Oh, look at you, all meditating! Fine, might as well use this time to think about your day –

Come back to the breath.

Did you see what Bruce wrote online yesterday? Can you believe that? Here, let’s compose a new entry in response, since you’re not doing anything useful.

Back to the breath.

You realize you’re 46 years old with almost zero net worth? Why are you wasting your life? Other men are successful. Plus they’re more attractive. They do more than yoga. You are wasting your.

BREATH.

Don’t you think it’s been a long time? You probably didn’t set the phone right. You’re gonna be late, because you’re too dumb to check your phone. Come on, just look. It won’t hurt.

I breathe. I wait, and finally hear the three soft chimes that tell me the meditation is done. I get to my feet and for a while the battle is over; I have finally reached the Sanctuary of Coffee, my reward for being able to write in my journal – and better yet, what I write in my journal is the voice in my head. It suddenly has an outlet, to write about hopes, anxieties, happiness and sadness and anything.

And did I mention I get coffee then, as well? Mmm. Coffee.

Then I grab the fruit, or make a little Memphis toast, and grab a glass of water along with it as I settle in to my iPad, where again the TED app is easier to get to than Twitter or Facebook. I find a short talk and let my brain get primed. Sometimes the talks are silly first-world elitists, sure, but I find it pretty easy to just find incredible people, as well, and even if the ideas are pie-in-the-sky, well, I find that the sky tends to look a little better with pie in it.

With that, the protocols are done. I look at my schedule, and the voice in my head smugly announces Yes, those protocols make your day better, without fail. You really need to do them every day, no matter what. A really good personal-development writer would certainly do it. Hope you have the willpower to do it tomorrow; you have a tendency to be lazy, you know, and want to just slack off.

My brain is not helpful in the mornings. So I’ve chosen the ground in which the conflict occurs, and it makes my path to victory that much easier. Not assured, mind you – but easier. Much more likely to happen, and that makes the rest of the day that much better.

What’s your morning look like? Does your environment support it? If not, you might want to look at a little optimizing.

And if you have a voice in your head, too, I’d love to hear how you quiet it down. Mine’s telling me, simultaneously, that I should write two more posts and that there’s a whole season of Daredevil on Netflix, and I’ve been working all weekend, and surely you deserve a break, Gray.

Sigh.

No. BREATHE.

 

Creating Your Own Lover’s Day

Sad lover sitting on red heartIt’s about three weeks until that dreaded Hallmark consumerfest known as “Valentine’s Day.” Some of my consumer clients for whom I write newsletters have already begun to use the holiday as an excuse to get people to buy Buy BUY! There’s nothing wrong with that inherently; I’m a firm believer in capitalism, and after all, if someone provides a service or consumable that you use, you’d want to pay them for it, right? I thought so! That’s why I have the Patreon Page, after all (just joking) (well, mostly).

But the idea behind Valentine’s Day – the idea of a day spent with a focus on the feeling of love – is a pretty neat one. Why not? We have days for patriotism, days for giving, days of remembrance for all sorts of things. The thought of a day dedicated to love is actually kind of neat.

Let’s speculate: if we were going to use the next twenty-one days to get ready for our own love celebration, how might we divide up our time and efforts?

Week 1: It’s About You

I’d spend time getting to know my own relationship with love, first. I’d spend time looking at photos of myself and my loved ones, both past and present. I’d read my own journals, go through my music collection, pull out all the old Love posts from the past like this one and this one and this one. I’d take the time to remember what it feels like to experience the different kinds of love, and start to get an idea of what my own Lover’s Day would look like. Maybe it’s familial; maybe it’s romantic; maybe it’s communal, filled with volunteering for the community and doing random good deeds.

I’d spend time meditating, listening to what my monkey mind had to say about love. Seeing where the fears were, where the blocks came, where I was avoiding facing something. And maybe, perhaps, I might want to think about using Lover’s Day as a send off for that.

Next week we’ll tackle part 2 (working title: It’s About Them). But meanwhile, if you had a magic wand and could turn February 14th into the Lover’s Day that you wanted…how would you start? What kinds of things do you keep inside that might want some attention on this one day in February?