Learning How To Meditate: Part One

I want to share a bit of guidance that was extremely useful to me when I received it. I hope that it comes at the right time for at least one person that reads this.

I became interested in learning how to meditate after listening to talks given by somebody who I felt had a lot of wisdom to share on the topic of emotional self-regulation and clearsighted decision making. He seemed to me to be someone who embodied qualities that I wanted to bring into my life. Naturally, I tried to get a sense of what his secret was. I read most of the material on his blog, and decided that I would try meditating according to his instructions. By being introduced to the practice and being motivated to learn more about it, I was introduced to a vast reservoir of teachings that always seemed to be tailored to my specific needs, probably because they just had so much to teach. This is the video he chose to introduce the topic, and I think its a timeless talk for anyone who wants to know more about what meditation is and how it can be a resource in their own life:

If you haven’t seen it, I recommend taking an hour or so for yourself, getting comfortable in a personal space, and watching or listening to the video in its fullness.  I listened to about 20 minutes of this video this morning (from about the 25 minute-45 minute mark) as a part of my daily sitting practice. The act of putting aside time to be with your own experience and observe it directly and openly is infinitely valuable. It acts as an important declaration, if nothing else, that you are willing to invest time and energy into yourself.  At the least, it is an acknowledgement that you are willing to take the time to listen, even if that is uncomfortable, to the reality of what you’re life is and be open to what it has the potential to be.

Full minute-back guarantee. Every time you meditate you will get that time back by increasing the quality of the rest of your day. I always feel like my day is made longer, no matter how long my meditation is.

It Is Always Now

I want to share a 5-minute snippet from Sam Harris in his lecture “Death in the Present Moment”

I think Sam Harris expresses this truth exceptionally well, and it is more useful to take another listen than to hear me expound on it. However, I will say I think Sam Harris is right, in that there is probably nothing more important to understand about your mind than this if you want to be happy in this world.

I will also add that the ability to drop your problem and appreciate the intrinsically good experience of life moment to moment is a skill that can be honed, like any other, and the benefits of learning and developing this skill are unique in terms of how fruitful they can be in our day to day lives.

Five Things That I Would Ideally Never Forget

I once heard Tommy Angelo say that “there are some things in life that we can never be reminded of too many times”. I think I always felt that to be true but I had never really thought about it until I heard Tommy say it, and the funny thing is that there are a whole lot of Tommyisms that fit in to that category of “things that are worth remembering over and over again”.

So I decided to start making a short list of things that I’m better off remembering. On one level, it’s feels good to remember them as concepts and say them to myself, but that doesn’t really do them justice. Ideally I want to be able to feel these ideas.

1) “If you don’t get it here you won’t get it anywhere”  (footnote at bottom)

In other words, the only real moment is the present moment. We have all these ideas of what happened in the past or what might happen in the future, but the past and the future can only ever exist in a different “now”, and it can be useful as a reference sometimes, but usually it takes you away from the “now” that is right here.

If I think that I’m finally going to be able to be at peace in the “future” i’m probably forgetting that the future is going to be a “now” just like the one I’m having at this moment. While I’m in that future “now”, I’m almost definitely going to have another idea about the “future” after that or the past before that, no matter how good my life situation is. It’s basically a cycle like this and if I can’t get myself to experience the now right now then I won’t be able to experience it later either

2) Mind your surroundings (zoom out)

We’re surrounded by an extremely vast amount of space. First we can feel ourselves, sitting right here, in the room we’re sitting in, surrounded by all the things that we’re looking at, the furniture in the room, the things outside our window, then we can feel the empty space around us, the space that needs to exist for all of those pieces of furniture and things outside to have a place to rest in. If we keep zooming out, seeing our neighborhood, our city, our state, our country, our planet, and then switch our perspective back to our body, it can feel really pleasant to know that all that space is out there and we just exist within it

3) Nothing is ever permanent

It’s hard to live your life and feel this at the same time, but when you can, then you’re seeing clearly and you feel more alive. Everything is changing, nothing is ever staying the same. This includes my body, my mind, my feelings, my ideas, my beliefs, and everything around me, and my state of mind, which is one of the reasons I want to write this blog post, to help myself remember

4) Why am I doing this?

I want to be able to remember to ask myself why I am doing things. Especially things I’m doing a lot of the time. Sometimes I’ll have a good reason and sometimes I wont. Usually it takes a series of questions to get to the root of the answer, and if the end of the chain of questions doesn’t make me realize that the thing i’m doing either makes me happy or something else would make me happier, I’m definitely not going deep enough with the “why” questions.

For example: Why do I play poker? I play to make money. Why do I want money? I want money to give me the freedom to do the things that I like to do. Why don’t I do something else to make money? Because poker gives me more freedom during the workday than other things could. Why do I want freedom? I want freedom to do things I like to do. Why do I want to do things I like to do? Okay, I’m done with all the questions, these are getting stupid

5) There is no “right” or “wrong” way to be

Aspiring to be “right” to act “right” to act the way you “should” act in a situation instead of the way that comes the most naturally to you is largely a fruitless task when it comes to your happiness. There is no “right” that goes beyond how you feel. It can take a lot of unnecessary energy to try and live up to your definition of what the “right way to be” is.

 

Thanks a lot for reading this. Let me know if you thought it was too short or too long or you liked it or didn’t like it or you want to talk more or anything like that.

(footnote: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rP2ISUThbcQ taken from a good dialogue outro at 3:15.. Arrow of God by Cyne, which definitely gets honorable mention on my top 100 favorite hip hop songs by the way..)

 

Arriving in Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

I’m writing the beginning of this on the plane again; a wise man once told me that he only reads during the first and last 20 minutes of plane rides. Not his wisest words but it’s a pretty funny concept. We just left Dubai and Oman. I really liked the beginning of our travels. It was a good mix of spending time with family, meeting new people, discovering the city, and enjoying it. While I was there I took a lot of time to read, reflect and meditate, probably because the internet wasn’t working (which is almost always a blessing in disguise)… I’m probably on my computer too much for my own good. Anyways, I got really enticed by an idea and as usual I assumed that my whole life would change overnight if I implemented it into my day to day life (it don’t work like that keed). It was a mix of inspiration from Haseeb Qureshi (ex-poker player’s) blog www.haseebq.com, and my interpretation of concepts from meditation and this book I’m reading called Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh. I recommend both of the those.

Haseeb wrote on the subject of “trusting in the process” in poker and in life. Making the best decision over and over in the moment and then just trusting without gauging or checking that you will be rewarded in the process. He compared poker to climbing a mountain and wrote

“You start climbing, scrambling, kicking and scraping your way up this treacherous mountain with your eyes fixed on the peak, because that’s where you want to be in the end. But that’s not how you climb a mountain. The only way to climb a mountain, as any climber will tell you, is by looking where you are. By finding a rock to reach for, another for footing, and one by one, moment by moment, to climb. To climb, and to throw yourself into climbing. Looking up or down is irrelevant.”

Haseeb’s metaphor is drawn up for poker but I think the concept is good for everyday life and general happiness. Sometimes I find myself going through things and focusing on the finish line instead of the stretch of concrete in front of me, and it takes me out of the moment, making me susceptible to being resistant or irritable when the flow leading up to an event is interrupted or different than I expected. Sometimes consciously or subconsciously, I think we project what the memory of an event is going to be before we even fully experience it. But that isn’t how good memories are made. It’s best to be focused on the present, moment by moment and let the rest flow naturally.

I was reminded of all of this while I played a game of golf here a couple of days ago, and I think I like it better as an example than the one about climbing a mountain, especially because it focuses on a target that you want to hit over and over rather than a goal that you can either reach or not reach.  Let’s say you’re golfing and you’re teeing off on the first hole of the course. If you want to play your best, you can’t look at the hole while you shoot, even though that is the target you’re aiming for. You should know where the hole is but you really need to shift your focus to hitting the ball right in front of you now and getting closer to where you want to be. Now let’s say that you made it on the green in x number of shots. It’s not going to do you any good to think about how many shots it took to get there or how many it might take to get in the hole. The only thing worth focusing on is putting right now. Now let’s say you’re teeing off for the last hole of the course and you want to know your score. It does you no good to check your results and avert your attention. You might see your score and think, “okay I just need to make par on this next hole and I can still tie” or something of that matter, but the way to play your best and score your best is to be focused on doing your best in the present moment, and to trust in the process along the way.

Poker forces me to think about stuff like this, which is probably one of my favorite parts of the experience, but for anyone completely uninterested in poker I hope this helps with your putting.

Banana Day

It’s been a strange Christmas day. I woke up this morning at dawn, after a short one-hour nap, to the thought of spending the next 15 hours dressed up as a banana, surrounded by people I didn’t know and would likely never meet. This thought actually energized me to get out of bed, probably because it was so out of the ordinary.

Last night, as Asad and I were getting ready to pack up and fly to Dubai, I jokingly brought up the suggestion of wearing a banana costume for the duration of the trip. Pretty standard for us to joke about something like this, most of our humor revolves around absurd ideas and imaginary situations. Asad responded, as he sometimes does, with a wager or self-sacrifice in an attempt to make this imaginary situation into his future reality. He offered to buy my flight from Dubai to Malaysia if I went through with it and never took off my banana hood (unless it was mandated for security reasons). I barely thought about it and snap accepted, it was clearly a great deal.

Here’s Asad’s documentation and captioning of the whole event:

Excitement

Excitement

Boredom

Boredom

Fatigue

Fatigue

Shame

Shame

Success

Success

Looking back, I might have done it for free. This is fun. I use the present tense “this” because I’m still sitting in my banana suit as I write this (the plane is about to land). There are a couple of nice and unexpected lessons to take away from today. Firstly, on the surface, I learned that there’s no reason to not do silly and dumb stuff like this. It cheers people up and surprises almost everyone and reminds you that there’s no reason to not do silly and dumb stuff. To go a bit deeper, I learned that it’s nice to be put into a position where you get looked at differently. It reminds you that you can always be yourself without having any sort of reaction to the thoughts or reactions of others. You don’t even need to react to the thoughts or reactions of yourself. I was confronted with a lot of positive, negative, and even neutral reactions to the way I looked, and I found it especially easy to remember that other people’s immediate thoughts, and your own, are just thoughts. They are snippets of brain activity that are constantly springing up all over the place about a million different topics. There is no need to do any more than to observe them with a half smile.

My favorite parts of the experience were that I frequently forgot I was in a banana suit, I easily disregarded the fact that I might look ridiculous to some people, and I constantly felt that I could act naturally and have fun while wearing a banana suit for no reason other than to have fun while wearing a banana suit. Ain’t nothin wrong with that.

Merry Christmas (or Chrimbus) to all.