Finding the Right Practice

Ten minute talk, and then a 25-minute guided meditation. I recorded this on Feb 23, 2018, at a class in Costa Rica. It reflects my latest thinking about what practice is, what it means, and how we find the right practice for us.

Main points:
  • Aristotle: “You are what you repeatedly do.” There is no neutral setting in life – most existing is a doing, a doing that is changing you and deepening both healthy and unhealthy habits
  • Meditation practice – and all “spiritual,” artistic, and body-based practices – train how you want to exist. They are acts of deliberately choosing what habits you want to train and reinforce. Thus they are very empowering.
  • What matters in a practice are the qualities of mind and heart and body that we are training. The qualities we explore in this meditation are: concentration, clarity, equanimity and friendliness / intimacy
  • We can make this work for us based on our natural interests. Everyone is different. YOU DO NOT NEED A SITTING PRACTICE. If you don’t like sitting, choose a movement practice. You can practice the above qualities in slow deliberate movement, and that’s what we do at the end of this guided practice. This is how we bring meditation into life anyway – we make life our practice. This is good news for people with ants in their pants.
  • We can also let our interests guide what we want to pay attention to. That’s the other bit of good news. The breath is one option among many. There are other options that may be more appealing to us. Interest in a particular option / object is our anchor. We use our interest to slingshot ourselves into the practice, into the training. As we get more experience, we learn to let go of our anchor, let go of the form. This is what it means to bring our practice into life.

Concentration 101

This is the first meditation in the book Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, coauthored by Dan Harris and Carlye Adler. This and the dozen or so other meditations can be found – with video and extra stuff – on the 10% Happier app.

Concentration is the foundational skill of meditation. It stabilizes the mind, and eventually it can make things more peaceful inside. It’s only when we get a break from our endless mental churn of obsessions and exuberances that we realize how completely exhausting our so-called normal state can be. The mind may solve problems, but for many of us, it spends even more time finding and making problems! As the mind begins to settle, there are fewer problems. Sometimes it really is that simple.

What is a Thought?

An exploration into the human thinking process, guided in a moving car, with my stressed out friend Dan Harris as meditating subject. This meditation and others can be found on the 10% Happier app.

Most of us think of “thinking” as something diffuse and non-specific. But thinking is actually quite trackable and tangible. In this practice, we investigate two components of thinking: inner imagery and inner talk. A complete picture of thinking goes even further than this, and includes emotional body sensation, subtle motor tugs, and subterranean flickers of idea and intention.

Much gratitude to my teacher, Shinzen Young, who first taught me to tease apart my inner talk and imagery, thus freeing me for all time from its terrible tyranny .

Do Nothing

This meditation is about letting go of the need to control our experience. It’s about learning how to disengage from frantically doing all the time, and being ok with just being. Just like in all the meditation cliches. The idea is that as we learn to let go of our need to micromanage every moment – to constantly prove ourselves and improve ourselves – we paradoxically open ourselves to resources we may not find otherwise. It can lead to a quite beautiful sense of relief and acceptance and belonging. Because you are allowed to exist without having to do anything.

This is the final meditation in the book Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, coauthored by Dan Harris and Carlye Adler. This and the dozen or so other meditations can be found – with video and extra stuff – on the 10% Happier app. Thanks to my teacher Shinzen Young for the inspiration.

The Reasonableness of Loving-Kindness

The practice of “mettā” is central to Buddhism, and versions of it can be found in all religious traditions. If some Buddhist meditations are about deconstructing the self – peeling back the different layers, dis-identifying – this is about reconstructing a better self: friendlier, more compassionate. Some say it’s the most important technique you can explore.

This audio begins with a short intro; you can skip to the actual guided meditation at 2:23.

The Space Between Commands

10% Happier asked me to write this meditation for Apple employees. They took my script and recorded it in the voice of the iPhone. Personally, I think the voice should be slowed down by a third, to make it more hypnotic and meditative. The meditation “object” here is the sound of silence, the “space between commands.” If you do the practice, really try to direct your attention in this vague direction: the ambient hum of space, the thick absence of silence itself.

Calmland

Something a bit different. I created this meditation for kids, aged 5 – 10. It is a meditation designed for kids, not adults, complete with cool sound effects and animated vocals and continuous appeals to the imagination. The idea of Calmland is to help kids move from hyperactive agitation to a more relaxed and self-regulated state. Should they wish to! They may not; it’s their choice. Calmland is a companion to Colourland, which helps them move in the other direction.

This track is one of many I’ve created with my friend Kirsten Chase at  Kid Evolve.  Our plan is to build an app to teach kids mindfulness and other social-emotional skills. Children’s minds are enormously powerful and open to suggestion; in many ways, they have the capacity to guide their own development and healing.

Colourland

Something a bit different. It is a meditation designed for kids, not adults, complete with cool sound effects and animated vocals and continuous appeals to the imagination. The idea of Colourland is to help kids move from the low energy blahs, to more optimistic and cheerful bounce. Should they wish to! They may not; it’s their choice. Colourland is a companion to Calmland, which helps them move in the other direction. This track is one of many I’ve created with my friend Kirsten Chase at  Kid Evolve.

Gratitude – Talk and Guided Meditation

This is a recording of a short talk and a guided meditation on the theme of gratitude, with a short detour through the challenges of having ADD. If you want to go straight to the meditation, it starts around 13 minutes. My audience consists of forty or so Canadian and American teens, at the 2017 ibeme teen retreat in Ontario. With me are fellow teachers Jessica Morey, Rod Owens and Dawn Mauricio.

I love doing these retreat with ibeme. An amazing non-profit organization that teaches meditation, mindfulness, and basic emotional regulation to young adults.

Mindfulness Muscle Groups

This meditation was recorded with musician Josh Groban and Dan Harris in the podcast studio at ABC news in New York. Josh wanted to learn how to meditate, so for this practice I guided him and Dan and however many listeners through the four most important mental skills (or muscle groups) that we being build up in a mindfulness meditation practice: concentration, clarity, equanimity, and enjoyment. Much gratitude to my teacher, Shinzen Young. This meditation is also on the 10% Happier Meditation app.