A Quirky Way to Meditate

"The practice of Zen is forgetting the self in the act of uniting with something." -- Yamada Koun

 

In a roundabout way, I've discovered a meditation portal that might be useful for anyone out there who wants to meditate but has found it too difficult. 

And I know you're out there!

Meditation is not easy, more so for those who especially need it. The simple act of maintaining stillness and silence for a short, predetermined period of time can be deceptively tough.

And yet we know from study after study that there are measurable health benefits, brain benefits, sleep benefits from meditating -- an approach to wellbeing that has no side effects, requires no travel, no special equipment, no expense -- only commitment.

How I discovered this meditation gateway was by starting to take some online typing tests. As a freelance transcriptionist entering the marketplace, I naturally want to increase my typing speed, so I've incorporated a series of typing tests into my early morning routine.

As anyone knows who's ever taken a typing test, no matter how fluent you are on the keyboard, your mind can really get in the way. If you make one mistake, you're more error-prone going forward. I was irritated right away by the little messages that would show up after the test with my typing stats: "Remember to strive for accuracy," "relax" and "sit up straight."

I'm a yoga teacher, for crying out loud. I know all about relaxing and posture!

Except that I didn't, at least when it came to typing. Slouching while transcribing has been a big issue for me. I love transcribing yet it seems the more engaged I am with the material, the more my posture gets sacrificed. I catch myself, I sit up tall again … and again … and again, and still the tendency to slum and scarcely breathe takes a toll on my productivity: over time the shallow breathing and tensed, caved-in upper body become physically uncomfortable and then the joy seeps out of the job, and I become more error-prone and anxious to finish.

So I thought, what if I flip this. What if what I'm testing is my ability to take full, rhythmic breaths while sitting like I'm proud of myself and my work -- and the speed and accuracy scores at the end of the test are simply feedback on how committed I was to mindfulness moment by moment? What if I keep my focus on good posture and conscious breathing, and leave my unconscious in charge of the typing?

So that's what I've been doing. That's what I'm suggesting. Use an online typing test as a way to test your presence, your ability to manage sitting tall while relaxing, your ability to provide plentiful oxygen to the task at hand.  And take your typing speed and number of errors as feedback on how conscious you were. Errors that occur while typing even function like a kind of biofeedback -- oh, right! My shoulders were up around my ears. I wasn't breathing generously.

Maybe that practice will carry over beyond the typing tests into your other keyboard and off-keyboard moments. Learning how to breathe efficiently and without inhibition no matter what's going on, learning to focus on that accepting, uplifted state more than the external stuff you are responding to, can literally change your day, dare I say, life.

And, although you might not be sitting on the floor with your eyes closed, this is meditation as far as I'm concerned. The art of being fully here and now. If you can manage to sit and breathe in a healthy, relaxed way while taking on a graded challenge, you can certainly succeed at the meditation where you do nothing but maintain stillness while focusing on calm, deep breath and upright posture.

If this idea intrigues you, you can find links to two of my favorite online typing tests in the TRANSCRIPTION tab on this website.

Good luck -- and I would love to hear from you if you try this experiment!

Feed the thing you want

You can't take sides against anything. If you would just leave the "against" part out; if you would just be one who is for things - you would live happily ever after...

                                                                                                                               -- Abraham Hicks

 

photo credit: Deepak Chopra https://chopra.com/

Imagine more, act less

                                         

Nothing in his life

became him like the leaving it. He died

as one that had been studied in his death

to throw away the dearest thing he owed,

as t’were a careless trifle.

 

-        Macbeth, Act I, scene VI

 

The play, Macbeth begins and ends, like bookends, with a conversation between the young prince, Malcolm and an older relative, about a recent death. 

The first conversation comes as a challenging rebellion against the crown has been decisively suppressed. Malcolm reports back to his father, the king, on the execution of a trusted advisor who had, it turns out, sided with the rebels.  Malcolm describes how stoically and admirably the traitor died, as if his whole life merely served to prepare him for that moment of greatness.

This conversation is echoed at the end of the play when young Malcolm, again at a moment of triumph, has, with his Uncle Siward’s 10,000 troops, defeated the usurper, Macbeth, reclaiming his father’s dynasty. However, Siward’s young son, who dared to battle one-on-one with the experienced warrior-king, Macbeth, was killed.  Though prince (now King) Malcolm and the soldier who brought the news both express condolences, Siward brushes these off and stoically declares his son “parted well and paid his score.” Knowing that the boy died “with his wounds before,” ie, facing the foe, not running away, Siward keeps his personal feelings to himself and declares that he’s proud of the boy and it’s enough that God will take care of his son.

Now, granted, it is the job of rulers and the soldiers who protect them to uphold patriotic death as the noblest sacrifice.  But clearly the repetition of this theme at the beginning and end of the play signals that Shakespeare is trying to tell us something.

Was it: Live so that you have no regrets at the moment of your death?

Or: The worthiness of your whole life can be demonstrated and measured by how you conduct yourself at the moment when you recognize that death is coming?

Or: Face life as responsibly as you would face your death, so you never forget your mortality and squander the precious gift of time?

Or: Live life fully and be willing to face the consequences for everything you do (and neglect to do)?

No matter what questions seem to fit, the first answer that comes to mind is: meditation.

I’ll end this train of thought with another quote, and see my earlier blog posts for more encouragement to start or continue meditating.

 

Leverage your time more by spending a little more time every day imagining and a lot less time every day doing. Do a little more imagining and a little less doing. Until eventually most of what's happening is happening in the cool, calm, anticipatory state. Just imagine yourself into the successes, and watch what happens. Imagine a little more and act a little less.  

                                                                                                  – Abraham Hicks

 

http://www.chopra.com/about/the-chopra-center#sm.000ttt12z15rue7e10wbode90t43p

 

 

Four Timeless Keys to Happiness

The oldest existing how-to manual for yoga practitioners that we know of, was written long ago – hundreds of years B.C. – so, it’s often startling how helpful and relevant those ancient words still are today. This text is called The Yoga Sutras, sutra meaning “thread,” or “sentence,” as it was a custom at that time and place to learn by memorizing and chanting knowledge, line by line.

This manuscript explains that the purpose of practicing yoga is to attain happiness in this lifetime by getting command of our minds.  (Yoga for “fitness” or “stress” is a more modern, Western idea).  Then, the Yoga Sutra goes on to spell out specifically how we can cultivate happiness in our lives and lose the bad habits that get in the way.

Book 1, Sutra 33 is a powerful and often-quoted passage in the Yoga Sutras that speaks very specifically to how we habitually think about other people. Yes, think about other people – this is about gaining control of our minds!  After all, thoughts, sooner or later, produce actions, which produce consequences, so yes, being responsible for our thoughts is a gateway to a happier life. In fact, most of the time when you drop a negative thought and replace it with a kinder intention, you will notice that you immediately feel better.  What we wish on others inhabits our very cells.

This teaching has four parts, and I’m saying this in my own words:

1.      Attempt to always think well of people you love, who put a smile on your face, who are friendly to you, who love you unconditionally.

2.      Whenever you see or think of people who have it worse than you – who are sick, living in a war zone, stuck in self-defeating patterns, etc, open your heart and feel compassion

3.      Instead of feeling threatened or competitive, be happy for people who are more successful or recognized than you.  (Hmm – a little harder!)

4.      And here’s the last key, a real doozy!  Attempt to always wish people well who are morally corrupt, who do harm in the world, who excite righteous criticism in you.  The personal quality we’re looking to cultivate here is Equanimity – extending well wishes impartially without a lot of emotional judgement or "getting up on your high horse."

To clarify, this 4th key doesn’t mean we never stand up to wrongdoing, but it does mean that we wish EVERYONE well, human to human, at all times, no exceptions.

The personal benefit from these mental habits occurs when we deliberately practice them until they become automatic. Staying aware moment by moment, carving new grooves into our brains. 

Just another technique for getting out of your own way so obstacles to inner peacefulness dissolve, and we can live, fuller, more meaningful lives.  It’s not easy, in fact, if you lived inside my brain you would notice how many times I start to think something mean or petty and have to switch gears. It’s a mental workout of sorts, like pushups, or heavy housework. But new practices take root when we make them habitual.

And this Sutra works.

 

 

 

For you Meditators and Meditator-Wanna-Be’s:

When I first started meditating, it was hard, because my cat always wanted to interrupt me. She always seemed to need attention, or maybe she wanted to play, since I was down on her level – which was distracting, and often an excuse to end my meditation early. Ironically, now that my meditation practice is more consistent, I notice my cat seems to calm down, herself – which makes it easier to keep a consistent meditation practice! I sit near a window in the morning, and she sits near me, and she seems to treasure those 20 minutes when I’m not racing around, a little quieter. I have no doubt whatsoever that my cat likes me better when I’m meditating.

For those who are not familiar with Deepak Chopra’s teachings, his website is http://www.chopra.com/. He offers a free newsletter, occasional free webinars, and twice a year, a free 21-day meditation course. Deepak has a lot of inspiring information on YouTube, too. I learned something from his recent webinar, The Modern Meditator, that I thought I’d pass on to you, since he dispels a big myth about meditation: the myth that something earthshaking or at least insightful, is supposed to happen while you are sitting in meditation. Or, that there’s a right way and a wrong way to meditate! I transcribed the recording, and here’s the quote:

 

Just do it.  If you’re doing it, that’s enough.  You put in the time.

The best benefits of meditation are not in meditation, they are outside of it.   You feel more energy, more clarity, you start to lose your addictive behaviors, sleep better, your biology begins to transform….

These things happen outside meditation. Inside meditation, there’s usually nothing dramatic, other than stress release mostly, but outside meditation, your life begins to transform, and it’s a very joyful journey.

 

Here’s to a happier, healthier you in 2017!

 

- Carlotta

 

WHAT ABOUT HAVING IT ALL?

"I'd like to have an orderly, peaceful home but I'm too busy."

“We can’t be safe without killing terrorists.”

"I love to travel but I get so exhausted."

"I’d like to be wealthy but most of all I want to be a good person.”

“Taking care of my family member with dementia is ruining my health”

         What if we re-word these equations and say--

I can have an orderly, peaceful home AND plenty of time to enjoy it.

We can have a world without terror AND make a commitment to be peaceful in everything we do.

I'm going to travel in such a way that I am invigorated.

My family member is going to get all the care they need, AND so will I, AND on top of that, our relationship will improve.

I can be wealthy AND use my money to make the world a better place, and me a better person

Perhaps by now you are noticing your own objections as you read the statements above:  yeah, but where's all that money going to come from?  Where are the resources going to come from for BOTH the family member with dementia and the run-down caregiver?

If you have a meditation practice, then you'll understand that thoughts are just thoughts, not truths by any means, or commands.  Yoga teaches us how to override the mind's anxious churnings and fluctuations and stay focused on, and committed to, a vision that is positive and beneficial.  Stay alert throughout the day and in meditation, for limiting beliefs like the ones above, reword them and reset the vision in your imagination.  You may be surprised at the results.

See link below, to interview with Dr. Martin Luther King, about his understanding of Mahatma Gandhi's practice of nonviolent activism.

https://www.thequint.com/videos/2017/01/15/watch-martin-luther-king-jr-on-mahatma-gandhis-non-violence-teachings-birth-anniversary-civil-rights

 

7 Life-Changing Things I Learned in 2015

  • Don’t wait till you’re ready” before you commit to whatever calls you.  This is my motto for 2016.  Now, I don't mean that careful preparation is unnecessary!  But, we can sabotage our dreams if we get stuck trying to “figure out how” something amazing could happen.  When you are deciding to reach for something bigger than you think you’re ready for, you will have the most amazing experience if you just reach out and commit yourself.  When this is the right choice for you, the details often work themselves out in ways you could not have predicted.  How you prepare for it is to stay focused on what you're trying to create in your life, and let yourself feel and act if it has happened already.

    In 2015, I left my cubicle job for a life of joyful self-employment, and this is how I did it.  True, I “wasn’t ready” in terms of doing all the math about how I was going to make it financially on my own, but a deeper truth was that I had been more than ready to leave that job for years and I was never going to work out my options clear-headedly as long as I was still employed there.  I credit Karen Mozes for teaching me that “how” is not a helpful question to ask, when you are choosing to do something extraordinary.   Being able to live a life you had only dreamed of, means that when you feel called, and make a commitment, and trust in "the universe" to work out the details, the path will be made clear.

  • You can accomplish amazing things, including really daunting challenges, or tasks that you have been procrastinating forever if you commit to small steps in the right direction, every day, consistently.  I credit Jeff Olson’s book, The Slight Edge for this discovery.  See http://www.slideshare.net/bright9977/7-principles-of-the-slight-edge -for more.

  • In his book, The One Thing   Gary Keller asks the intriguing question:  "What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?"  http://www.the1thing.com/  I find this is a helpful question to ask when looking at where I'd want to be at the end of this year, this month, this week, and as today comes to an end.   What I'm finding is that often, the answer to that question is NOT something on my to-do list but something more fundamental and nourishing - like going for a walk, meditating, reviewing my vision for this year, recording affirmations, or other things that support my spirit and mental wellbeing.

  • Look BACK at 2016.  Imagine that it's one year from now, and you are looking back on the past 12 months, at all you've accomplished, and the specific blessings that have come into your life.  This is better than writing down a vision that takes place in the "future," because you are envisioning all these positive changes as already accomplished.  I actually put some of my vision for this year on my 2016 calendar - though I have no idea now, how these things might materialize.  I thank Karen Mozes for this unusual approach to visualization. 

         The last three tips from 2015 have to do with how we relate to TIME.

  • We don’t need long lists of to-do items, we just need the right list for us.  Checking off a bunch of things on a to-do list doesn’t necessarily mean we are moving any closer to our most heart-felt goals, it just means we’re feeling really busy!  See The One Thing for more.

  • Multitasking leaves us feeling more scattered, pressured and off-game - and it's an illusion that doing two things at once saves time.  Confession, I still multitask now and then, and find it much easier to give this advice than to do it consistently myself.  It's something ingrained from 17 years doing administrative work in a busy city hospital, that I brought home with me.  But now, when I do try to do more than one mental activity at a time (reading email while listening to a webinar, for example) I notice the stress in my body.  Which is not on the list of things I want to create in my life! 

What's much more productive is to block out chunks of time for what really matters and give that your full attention.  You might be amazed.  I use music designed to enhance concentration, and set a timer so I'm committing myself to keeping it short and snappy, or else building up my stride, depending on what the job is, and how long I have to work on it.  For one music-plus-timer option, see focus@will.com.

  • You always have more than enough time for what really counts.  See the chapter on “Einstein Time” in The Big Jump by Gay Hendricks.  Besides being crystal-clear about your priorities, slowing down time by meditating can make a huge difference.  Invest your time strategically so that you add more value to your precious time! 

April, 2016: Experimenting with the same principle described above I auditioned this past January for a role in "Hamlet," something I certainly "wasn't ready" for since I hadn't performed onstage for a couple of decades, and never in a Shakespeare play, so this was a real stretch.  Literally a stretch, since the company doing this performance was a 6-hour round trip away, and I don’t own a car!  So even if I got the role, it didn’t seem practical. 

However, instead of brushing off the idea that was calling me, I put it into action, rented a zipcar, drove to the audition in the foothills of the White Mountains, and had a wonderful time.  The audition was more like a collaborative workshop than a competition, and I liked how we were working together, so now I wanted to be in this play even more.  

AFTER the audition, I began memorizing the script for the part I wanted as if it had been confirmed already, reciting the lines every day, pondering the character's motivations, reading everything I could about Hamlet.  I realized I would need to go live there for a month if I was going to participate in daily rehearsals, so I also began looking for subs for my classes and a place for my kitty to stay in my absence – everything that would need to happen at this end in case my desire materialized.  I ended up being offered the role, and THEN I was ready!  A room in a local home materialized at the last minute, and so did my refund check from the IRS which covered the cost of the rental car.

Several days into rehearsals, I woke up and thought to myself, "I am inhabiting my wildest daydream!"  I've never been on a month-long vacation, and this lifestyle of focusing my day around memorizing lines and working closely with a team and bringing this old story to life felt like a real vacation to me!

Is there some far-fetched wish that’s been pulling on you, but you shrug it off because it’s not practical or you’re “not ready”?

*   *   *

I hope you've found something here that energizes you or guides you in a positive direction.  If you are trying any of these suggestions, I'd love to hear how they are working for you! 

Here's to all of us and our most positive intentions for 2016!!

—Carlotta

 

“for I have promises to keep…”

“I’ll light a candle,” I casually told my friend.

I had been doing some desk work, when this friend texted me:

I have sad news, the text began.  The father of a mutual friend had just died suddenly.

I was close to the bereaved man, and since he's a professional with a very demanding schedule I couldn't imagine how he was going to absorb this loss and keep functioning.

I was having trouble processing this news myself, and the easy thing was to text back:

I’ll light a candle.

Except that I didn’t.  It wasn’t until I stepped away to make more tea that I realized I had done nothing with a candle.  The matches were –where?  

Oh well, I thought.

But wait!   Skipping the candle was out of alignment with something I’d realized earlier that week. 

It had to do with how our dreams can come true when we take them seriously.  I thought about how trust between people starts with making promises that you keep, small ones at first, and then bigger ones -- and making your furthest dreams come true works the same way.  You make a little promise to yourself, like how long you will meditate that day, and each time you keep that promise to yourself, your self-confidence grows until you can make adventurous affirmations like I attract only positive, successful people, or I have lost 30 pounds and look terrific, or I’m in Bali for 3-week vacation.  And how you make those affirmations or commitments come true is by taking tiny steps every day, as if you were the person in your daydream.  Building that trust.  That’s how it works, I had decided!  The better you are at keeping big and little promises to yourself, the more the universe provides. 

So I didn't want to sabotage myself, did I?  Never mind that I owed the departed that simple candle-lighting, now that I had made the statement!  And what was happening with satya, the #2 principle in yoga philosophy: Speak the truth?

But how easy it is to disrespect a little promise.   

I lit the candle.    May he rest in peace.    

—Carlotta