This category covers things that relate to the practice of meditation, the experience of learning how to meditate, and some of the resulting insights that meditation has revealed to me. While I learned and practice Vipassana, I use meditation in the broadest sense of the word in an attempt to cover as many related topics as possible. For this reason, “meditation” is any deliberate activity that is undertaken for the purpose of developing the skills of concentration, focus, or attention.
Is the person willing to pay the bill before they start – do they know the value of what they are about to do and do they know why they are enrolling you in their possibility? Are they clear on why it is important to them today and for the person they are going to become? If the answer is yes, if it is obvious that there is only one way forward, success is inevitable and this mutual partnership will work.
When it comes to personal training and basically any type of training, there are two type of clients, those who do what they are told and everyone else. Those who do the work are generally self-motivated. They may not know exactly why they are doing what they do, but when pressed on it they can come-up with a good reason, or two, or more. Intuitively they understand that they must pay the metaphoric bill before they eat the metaphoric meal – the bill is the work and every decision that moves them forward while the meal is the results they are seeking. For me, these clients are moderately interesting to work with and most of the joy comes from the validation that my methods and programs work and from the empathetic joy of seeing someone work hard, get what they earn, and feel good about it. I enjoy the conversations as well because these types of people have a lot to teach and I have a lot to learn.
Everyone else acts like training is a meal at a fine dining restaurant. It’s an experience to have and the bill will be paid at the end after they know that the experience was worth it. These people are a lot more work. There is a different problem to be solved and I may not know the answer because they don’t know the question. They don’t necessarily do what is being asked of them because they don’t really know why they are in front of me, asking for my help, on a journey that they may not even have started. It’s messy with a much lower success rate. The best case is that they actually start the journey and figure out why it is important OR that a light gets shined on the life they are living, the future that this will create for them, and a sense of peace about both.
The truth is that it is much more important to me that they find out what their goals actually are and not important at all that they achieve a goal that was never theirs in the first place.
I like my life and I believe everyone else should like their life too. If I can be of service and guide / help them automate the making of the life of their dreams then all the better. Sometimes they are already living the life of their dreams and just have never taken the time to notice it. They may not realize what is involved with chasing down a goal and that the actualization of the goal can be rather unfulfilling. After you reach your goal you are still you. You may be a leaner, more muscular, faster you, but at the end of the day, you remain you.
I used to believe that everyone should work out and improve their health. This is something that I no longer believe. I know everyone will benefit from moderate exercise, improved nutrition, reduced stress, and a more mindful approach to life, but that doesn’t mean everyone should go after these benefits. Sometimes these benefits actually make people miserable. Having single digit body fat is hard work and requires a lot of sacrifice. Once you achieve it, it requires continuous effort to maintain because it is a possession of sorts. It is now YOURS to lose, and this knowledge can generate a considerable amount of negative mental energy. And regardless of what you do, if you live long enough, you WILL lose it. Everything that arises will pass away, your discipline, your 6 pack abs, your youth, even your earthly existence.
A quick conversation can unpacked that a person just want to feel happier with who they are, the solution for which is meditation. After a few months of twice a day practice is all that is needed for the laws of nature to reveal themselves, and equanimous acceptance is bound to follow.
An effective consultation can reveal that the goal is simply to feel better. The prescription here is simple, improve posture through the use of structural balance movements, core and breath training. When we automate standing up straight when your head back and breathing deeply into our belly our psychological mind set shifts towards confidence, security, and contentment. The experience of pain is reduced and we feel and act more capable.
Cultivating and maintaining mindfulness is very easy and will add tremendous value to your life because of the compounding effect of experience over time. Improving and maintaining posture and appropriate breathing requires 5 minutes a day of work and offers similar compounding lifelong benefits. These things are easy, and anyone can achieve them. And if they are actually what the person is seeking, it is better for everyone in the long run to just go straight for them.
I am not suggesting that someone should not work out to improve their health. They should, most people should, but it is even better if the person actually wants to do it. There is no downside when someone works hard to get what they want AND need. The same cannot be said when someone gets what they need but do not want. Needs and wants are not the same and when they are not aligned who are we to decide what another person needs?
I find this approach helpful when it comes to training and coaching. Is the person willing to pay the bill before they start – do they know the value of what they are about to do and do they know why they are enrolling you in their possibility? Are they clear on why it is important to them today and for the person they are going to become? If the answer is yes, if it is obvious that there is only one way forward, success is inevitable and this mutual partnership will work. Anything other than this is an indication that they do not really know what they want or that they have not taken the time to get clear on why they want it. A simpler solution likely exists for them, one that has them invest a lot less time and allows them to go directly to what they want.
This sounded familiar to me because when I started practicing [meditation], I had the same belief that it would fix things. After years of practice I had come to accept that it did not fix anything. In fact, it does not do much of anything OTHER than make you more aware of what is going on from moment to moment. What will be will be, you just seem to feel it more intensely
If someone was to ask me about that time I said something wise I would tell them about the last full day of my third mediation retreat. But of course I would, because that was a moment when there was no doubt that the words that came out of my mouth were demonstrably truth, wise, and an act of complete compassion.
The retreats that I go on last for 10 days and are silent from 8 PM on the evening before the first day until 9:30 AM on day ten. Basically you meditate as much as possible from 4:30 AM until 9 PM, day after day after day. There are people around you, but you don’t talk to them and instructors recommend that you do not even look at other people, at least not in the eyes. It is just hours on end of you and your mind sitting quietly with your eyes closed, noticing the sensations of being alive. Vegetarian food is made available two times a day, at 6:30 AM and 11:30 AM, and there is a video discourse every night at 7 PM. There are four group sittings each day, three hour long ones at 8:30 AM, 2:30 PM, and 6 PM, and a shorter one from 8:30 to 9 PM. The rest of the time is spend mediating, resting, or looking after personal hygiene or laundry.
It can be remarkably boring, extremely intense, profoundly insightful, or a flat neutral experience. There is nothing to distract you, no phones, no TV, no music, and nothing to read. It is all you all of the time and this reveals the nature of your mind with untempered clarity.
I LOVE it and I HATE it and no matter how many times I go, the experience is never the same but always follows the same sort of pattern. It is kind of like walking along a forest trail at different times of the year. The route or path is the same but the journey is always different depending upon the season.
My wisest moment arrived at around 11:35 AM on day 10. This is the final day and at 9:30 AM the silent portion of the retreat ends. We are allowed to talk to other people if we like and it is presented as an opportunity to slowly re-integrate ourselves into the real world by communicating with the other participants. At this moment in time, each of us have more in common with each other than almost everyone else in the world. By ramping up our conversations with each other, we are in a better position to reengage the world the following morning when we leave the center.
I have no opinion about the accuracy of this and tend to find the elimination of silence to be jarring and unpleasant. As happy as I am to have the retreat wind down, the contrast between silence and people talking is almost too much for me to handle. But so is life from time to time, so maybe that is the point of it.
There tend to be three types of people who go to these retreats. The first are psychonauts. These are the people who have found out about mediation, think it is cool, and relish in the thought of completing a retreat as though it is a badge of honor or an accomplishment of something. The second are the mindful-curious. These are the people who have, for some reason, started to consider the possibility that consciousness is not the thing that they thought it was. They are not sure what it is, but they are interested in finding the true nature of the mind and what existence is all about. The final group is the psychology skewed. These people have, for one reason or another, an internal operating system that doesn’t serve them as well as it could. They are not necessarily, or even likely, to suffer from a psychological pathology that is chemical in nature or for which they need to be medicated. They just engage the world, their mind, and their brain in a way that to some degree less than optimal. This causes them existential difficulties in so far as their life is tougher than it needs to be or is lived with a sense that they are living slight out of phase with the real world.
I am a member of this final group, and I rediscovered mediation when I noticed the thought that life was tougher than it needed to be. I’ll eventually write more about the specifics, but generally speaking, I have a tendency towards feeling anxious and would have labeled my prevailing thought patterns to be those of something approximating generalized anxiety disorder.
The flavor of the conversations you have on day ten will be determined the group that you belong to and your group affiliation will be obvious based on the level and nature of the energy you give off once you begin talking again. Basically it will be one of three things – “I made it” pride, “I realized” curiosity, or “I am like this” acceptance.
I was talking to a guy from the third group on our way back from lunch when he mentioned that he was going to ask the instructor a question at the end of the next group sitting. I asked him if we was willing to tell me what he was going to ask and he mentioned that it was about anxiety. Specifically, when he was younger, about fifteen years ago, he was diagnosed with anxiety because he was having panic attacks at school. The solution was medication to be taken when an attack was starting. It worked in so far as it treated the acute nature of the attacks but it didn’t stop them from occuring. As he got older, they occurred less and less frequently and he hadn’t experienced one in five years since he had graduated from university and started working. However, earlier that morning he had experienced what felt like the start of one during the group sitting. This was a concern because he thought he was cured, so he wanted to ask the instructor how long he would have to meditate for before he would be cured. He believed that after developing and continuing a practice for a few months or years that the brain would clear itself up and he would never have anxiety again.
This sounded familiar to me because when I started practicing, I had the same belief that it would fix things. After years of practice I had come to accept that it did not fix anything. In fact, it does not do much of anything OTHER than make you more aware of what is going on from moment to moment. What will be will be, you just seem to feel it more intensely. You still get angry, you just realize that you are angry sooner and feel the anger more. You still get sad, you just realize it sooner and feel it more profoundly. Mediation helps me because these two things work together to more quickly move me through whatever emotional experience that I am having. The end result is that I feel more and suffer less, which is a positive. I am still the same as I ever was, the same code is running, I’m just a little more in tune with what I am experiencing from moment to moment and this awareness gives me the clarity to not get so wrapped up in it. I react less and more often choose to respond by doing nothing.
So I asked him what he thought the instructor was going to say and then what did he hope they would say? I don’t recall the exact words that he used, but the essence of how he replied was a single answer to both questions. That it is normal right now and that everything will go away completely within a couple of months, and maybe as long as a year.
I try to do things that reduce suffering in other beings, and baring that, I try to avoid doing things that will cause suffering. I did not know how the instructor would answer the question, but I knew how I would answer it, so I asked him if he wanted to know what I thought the instructor might say. He said sure, so I answered. Be aware that by answering the question I was trying to reduce his suffering in the long run but knew full well that the action I was taking had the potential of causing it in the short term.
“I used to want the same thing, but I come to realize that it is never going away. I am prone to experience moments of intense and almost overwhelming anxiety and went on my first retreat because I was almost certain that there was a better way to experience life. And I was right and I was also wrong. The fact of the matter the anxiety is still there and it is probably always going to be, but it doesn’t mean what it used to. It used to be something that I wanted to get rid of, so I’d resist it and approach it as a problem to solve. Maybe there were times when I was able to make it go away, but I always feared that it would come back again. I wanted to be free of it so I could just go about living my life the way I believe everyone else does.”
I paused for a moment to make sure he was still with me and started-up again when I realized that he was.
“But what meditation has taught me is that there isn’t anything wrong with me and there is no reason to actually want to get rid of the anxiety for ever. Most of the time it is just a drag, but some of the time it is actually helpful, so I know my life wouldn’t be the same if it never came back. It’s natural and normal for me, so there is no point in battling with it or labeling myself as defective or less than other people. We are all equally worthless, sentences to live out our live on this planet in the middle of more or less no where. The universe is just so big that my anxiety and your panic attacks can’t actually mean anything in a cosmic scale.”
I pause again and notice that the wheels are starting to spin a little faster in his head.
“I still get anxious. Probably just as often as I used to. It kind of feels worse now than it did before, but there is a big difference now. Now I know that it is going to pass, just like everything else. It is temporary and if I wait long enough it will go away. And you know what, then I’ll be glad it is gone. It’s kind of like the opposite of feeling happy. Happiness doesn’t mean that same thing that it used to any more because I know that it will pass and when it does I will no longer be happy. But just like the anxiety, it will probably come back in the future and I can be happy again, for a moment before it leaves.”
This pause was different, at least what I noticed was different. There was a look of pain in his eyes, and his face wore that heavy weight of the world look. This was the suffering I had anticipate causing.
“All I can do is choose what I pay attention to. That’s it. I can’t control what my brain and body do from moment to moment, at least in terms of a anxiety showing up. But I can choose to be completely happy when happiness rolls in and enjoy it for what it is, just as I can choose to notice what anxiety actually feels like. When I’m anxious I can direct my attention to the sensations on my body and notice what the moments of anxiousness actually feel like, and if I feel them all over, it it feels the same on different spots, and if my noticing the sensations of anxiety change how my brain deals with. I’m free to pay attention to it, to ignore it, or to play around with it and try to think about what it reminds me of. If I needed to act, I would have acted. Since I didn’t, there is no survival trigger for the anxiety so it doesn’t matter very much.”
He was still with me.
“But it isn’t going to disappear, or it might. I hasn’t for me, and I haven’t read or heard from anyone who has eliminated it from their life entirely through meditation. But by paying attention to it as an experience in the moment as it is happening, as opposed to treating it as a problem to solve, it starts to mean something else and this I have found to be a lot easier to deal with. But it isn’t going anywhere and meditation isn’t going to fix you because there is nothing wrong with you. You just get anxious from time to time and you have convinced yourself that it is bad. It isn’t good or bad, it’s just an experience you have from time to time. Be curious about it and teach yourself to notice what it is actually like as an experience as opposed to giving it power by making it into something it isn’t.”
There was a little back and forth, but not much that seemed to matter. I had crushed his dream that mediation was a solution to this problem and obliterated the hope that he was one day going to be free of panic attacks and anxiety in general.
A few hours later, after the afternoon group sitting, I asked him what the instructor had said and he told me he didn’t ask. When I asked why, he said that during the sitting, the anxiety started to fire-up again and he choose to just notice it as an experience as opposed to react to it as a problem. It hadn’t been all that bad. In fact, it was just something that was happening that wouldn’t be happening for very long. It wasn’t that it disappeared instantly, it just seemed to shrink in significance and became the rushing sensation that was his experience of anxiety. I thought this was great, but when he continued, I realized the wisdom of what I had shared.
“If it isn’t going to go away, I’m going to be living in fear that it is going to show up. And that thought is actually one that kind of begins to trigger it. That is unreasonable. I’m either going to be having panic attacks or living in a state of fear that I’m going to be having one. So if I just accept that they will show up from time to time and really make the effort to uncover whether or not they are a problem, I’ll at least know if I need to do something more about them. If that last sit is anything to go on, they are just kind of shittie, like the feeling you get after running up some stairs or trying to catch a train that you’re late for. My heart was going faster than normal, but I was free to direct my mind onto whatever I wanted. I didn’t have to pay attention to it. This didn’t make it go away, but it made it just a thing that was happening.”
I smiled and replied with “that’s cool, and kind of a powerful insight eh?”
The retreat ended the next day and I drove home with the radio off, happy that it was over and excited to be seeing my girlfriend again.
In the days and weeks, and months that followed, as I continued to practice, anxiety still continued to show up, and I think it will always play a role in my life. Most of the time I’m able to just label it by saying “there’s anxiety” and it fades away. Other times it gets a grip and I have a moment of wondering if I ever didn’t feel it or if it will ever go away, but then I catch myself and start to pay attention to the sensation it triggers, or the sensation that triggers it. I notice just how similar it is to excitement, or too much coffee, or to the moments after a tough working set in the gym that causes my heart rate to fly. The key is that after all of the mediation, I’m able to notice when it rolls in and make the decision to do something about it if doing something will help or to just let it be.
I am not cured, and I have very little reason to believe that I ever will be, because there is nothing to be cured from. This is how my brain operates. I’m just free to choose my approach, so by deciding to view myself as normal, and to act with curiosity when it comes along. Because it is going to come along and realizing this fact was a moment of wisdom.
Spending so much time in my head – because I ride by myself so
much – I’ve started to develop an awareness of the moment when my
unconscious moves an idea into my conscious mind. It’s startling to
experience the influence of a past pattern trying to rekindle its
influence and it is wonderful to sense my emotions begin to build as
that influence almost takes hold. I’m starting to be able to observe the
process start as opposed to allowing it to continue, only to reflect on
the poor choices later. Stopping the emotions allow me to return to
logical thinking; which tends to render a much easier and quicker
movement through whatever it was that almost triggered my past to begin
This skill is developing because I’m able to spend a lot of time by
myself, thinking about stuff then thinking about nothing and repeating
over and over again. Hard bike riding is meditative to me because the
intense efforts or challenging terrain make necessary a silencing of the
mind and a shut-down of that audible internal narrative that causes me
to believe I am the center of the universe. It is of practical advantage
because the trail eventually gets easier or I tire from the exhaustive
effort and slow down; both of these things tend to shut off the
meditation, re-empowering the voice to remind me that I am all that
matters. The key thing is, after having consolidated your consciousness
into the present moment, you become aware of things that you had stopped
considering or had not normalized.
For example, my clothes don’t matter when I’m 3/4 of the way up a big
hill. What the guy who cut me off on the way to the gym yesterday
thinks about me doesn’t come into my awareness when I’m about to lock up
my front wheel on gravel just to slow down enough to not launch over
the escarpment fence. This stuff doesn’t exist then because I can’t
manufacture it into existence. And when I’m not so tired or so focused
on not crashing this knowledge carries forward into my conscious mind. I
KNOW it doesn’t matter so it’s much easier to push the thought out of
my head or simple justify them out of existence because I know they are
the creation of something from my past and not necessarily the
reflection of what I want for my future.
That is a summary of course and it represents the evolution of an
aspect of self-awareness that has taken close to 15 years to move from
not being considered, not just as a possibility but at all, to a well
organized reality that I am able to engage, observe and manage.
So what? Well, given that we are pattern matching machines with a
tendency to unconscious automation of anything that requires effort, we
are most likely going to repeat patterns over and over and over again
until we do something to stop repeating them. We KNOW something isn’t
working for us, but we just keep doing it like a mindless computer
following a program that has been written because we are, in many ways,
mindless computers that run programs that were written in the past by
our experiences and interpretations. Given this, one is not likely going
to escape their past (stop running the program) until they accept that
it is happening, which can take a while. They must then learn how to
interfere with the program by preventing it from starting (avoiding the
triggers entirely which is really tough to do) or observing the program
beginning to start and stopping it dead. One gains a tremendous amount
of independence and self-control by learning how and what these these
old programs feel like, so in many ways self-awareness is the solution
while avoidance is a treatment.
Our pasts become our future when we allow old patterns to become
present behaviors. If these patterns are not working for you, you NEED
to break them and you need to gain awareness and feel them before you
are able to stop them. It can take a while to gain this awareness, but
once you have it, you’ll be able to beat back these old patterns and
create your future based on what you decide as opposed to what you did
in the past.
Posture, Breathing, Intention, Aura are the
things that I will meditate to when my attention is not better placed
elsewhere. Each one leads into the next one, building into the
presentation of a purposeful me.
Appropriate posture is absolutely critical for
taping into the energies of your body. When you first feel your body
blend in with the earth’s gravity you will understand exactly what I am
talking about. Gravity seems to pull the hips downward in such a way
that they force the shoulders back, opening up your chest. It’s a
powerful feeling that tells you that you are aligned. As the feeling
builds, your mood and thinking will change to correspond to this
improved state. Your breathing will become easier and deeper.
Once this happens, I shift my attention on to my
breathing. I will be breathing from the belly instead of the chest. My
diaphragm will be drawing air deep into the lungs and the abdominal
muscles will be contracting and forcing it out. This will be a dramatic
change from the normal shallow chest breathing that is more common and
the consequences will be improved oxygen and CO2 exchange, increased
breath size, decreased breathing frequency and a passive massaging of
the organs of the abdomen. As attention remains on the breathing, there
is a building sense of energy and stillness of the mind. Now I direct my
attention to my intention.
When I’m mediating, my intention is to find peace
and unity. I find these things when my mind is silent and they come
about because of the sensation of NOT being ME. Thoughts and feelings of
me being a part of everything, part of the individual global picture
that everything belongs to, are peaceful because I am aware of no
suffering and no isolation. It is within this peace and unity that I
find the power to create and build my intention aura.
My aura is the energy I give off or sum total of
the paralanguage that I radiate. Some people see energy auras radiating
off of other people, others pick up on an energy field that radiates
while others present paralanguage communications that indicate to
everyone around them that they are positive, powerful, confident, at
ease, peaceful and open. These may or may not be the same thing, but in
this deepest stage of my mediation I am attempting to build an aura that
others can pick up and draw power from. I want to beam energy and
positive intention to everyone who sees me and I want to coat myself in a
field of energy that allows me to hold on to this aura for as long as I
can. It may seem unlikely, but people have commented on me looking
different when I do this. They are unable to place exactly what it is
that they are picking up on, so they just say different, and maybe a
I will focus more on aura than anything else because of the four items as it is the only one that you cannot measure.
My practice of aura building goes back to my
university days when I lived with Tony and Beth and was prone to fall
asleep in front of the TV at night. As I feel asleep I would try to
focus my attention on feeling a warmness within my fingers or toes. If
you think about it, other than when you injure yourself or are in some
sort of distress, you are rarely aware of anything existing within your
body – you know there is something inside your head when you have a head
ache, your back when you have back ache, in the muscles when delayed
onset muscle soreness and your stomach when you bring in food or cold
water. But you are, for the most part, oblivious to internal sensations
of your limbs. This makes sense, given that the human perception works
by determining contrasts – when you are not injured or sore, you have no
reason to be aware of your limbs and will quickly and completely
habituate any awareness. My goal with turning my attention towards my
fingers or toes is to tune in to these sensations and try to perceive
It takes a few minutes to feel something but I
slowly become aware of a warmness either in the fingers / toes or in the
hands / feet. My eyes are closed so I imagine that blood is pooling in
the extremities and this is create both a pressure and an increase in
temperature – whether or not this is happening is irrelevant, what is
critical is that I feel it happening. Once I feel the heat, I work at
growing the heat up my arms / legs towards my torso. As the sensation
builds I shift my focus towards my arms or legs, depending on how I
started the aura-nurturing portion of the mediation. The sensation is a
lot easier to generate once the whole thing has been set in motion and
very quickly I feel both my arms and legs and my torso quickly fills up
with feeling. As the awareness takes over my entire body, I reestablish
the connection to my breathing and allow it to keep the sensation alive.
I will try to maintain the feelings for as long as I can, imagining
that there is something radiating from my body. Since my eyes are closed
I visualize a sort of blurry field about 6-12 inches surrounding every
part of me – I imagine that it is like looking at the top of a toaster
that is on when the heat coming off of it makes the air rising from it
look and behave like a liquid. I try to see myself surround in a field
of that. After some time I would fall asleep. Upon waking the next day I
would find myself full of energy and beaming with a social confidence
and I’d be free from anxiety.
The aura building process works the same sort of
way now, except I use the posture, breathing and intention steps to
prime my body and mind and get them ready for it. After a lot of
practice I am able to achieve this state with my eyes open and when I’m
doing other activities like riding a spinning bike, climbing a hill or
cruising a long straight section on a road bike or climbing a steady
section on a mountain bike. With my eye closed I find the sensation easy
to create when I’m doing resistance training. In fact, I credit my
ability to generate this body awareness for big improvements in
isolating specific muscles during resistance training sessions when it
is critical to feel the muscle contracting.
I did say that this is the only item of the four
that cannot be measured so why would I make it the biggest part of my
mediation? Well, because I think there is something happening and I do
enjoy improved feelings when I focus on generating an aura. Even if it
is only psychosomatic, the improved feelings of well-being are worth the
effort. It is also possible that the sensation of heat that I generate
plays a similar role as delayed onset muscle soreness in letting me know
that there is more of me than I am normally aware off. I’d liken this
to the increase in confidence that many body builders experience when
they gain weight. They feel more confident because there is actually
more of them. Regardless of the mechanism of action, I do find an
increased sense of wellness following this type of mediation.
“Posture, Breathing, Intention, Aura” said
repeatedly until I tune into each one of them. It’s a great way to your
attention onto something that will make you feel better.