Book Breakdown: Wherever You Go There You Are

This book has been on my to-read shelf for 2 years and I am glad that taking on this habit has finally motivated me to read it.

Kabat-Zinn’s best selling book is broken down into 3 parts focused on defining meditation, practical applications, and the spirit of the practice. The chapters are short and often accompanied by quotes and passages from other works on meditation.

It seemed like every time I picked up this book, I was able to apply the teachings immediately. I read the chapter Patience when I was experiencing a lot of anger and it helped me to detach from the storm of emotions.

This is also the third source that has touted the benefits of early morning meditation. I have been trying to sit first thing in the morning, but it has not been happening with any consistency. The chapter Early Morning has reaffirmed my intent and I will be waking up 15 minutes earlier everyday to listen to a Headspace guided meditation.

Not every idea or anecdote resonated with me. I am not a big fan of chapters ending with the phrase “Get the idea?” especially when my answer is no. But the topics are so varied and brief that the goal must be to get a better sense of meditation rather than to present a step by step guide.

Wherever You Go, There You Are does an excellent job of making the abstract concept of mindfulness accessible. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning the basic principles of meditation.

Would you like your own copy of Wherever You Go, There You Are? Simply leave a comment to be entered into a drawing to win a copy of the book.

Fancy Floating

A few weeks ago a friend told me about the Fadeaway Floatation Center in Des Moines, IA.  I was excited to learn about an alternative meditation technique and after reading through their website I had to find a place to float! The Wellness Center in Minneapolis offered a 90 minute float session for $70 plus tax and fees, and they had excellent online reviews.

FloatTankThe staff at The Wellness Center was very friendly and accommodating. I showed up 10 minutes early for my appointment to fill out the required paper work. There is a special release for the float tank and a lot of dos and don’ts. They walked me through the facility and float process.

I started by inserting the wax earplugs. They stick better if you put them in before you shower, and will keep the water out of your ears once you are submerged in the tank. Then I showered with fragrance free shampoo and body wash (no conditioner) before entering the tank. I entered facing out, and closed the door behind me.

I was very nervous at first. It’s an eerie feeling to not be able to see, hear, and slosh about in an enclosed space. When I felt some air bubbles by my leg I thought, “what if it’s an alligator?!” That made me laugh and relax. I experimented with different positions and felt most comfortable with my arms above my head.

Eventually, my shoulders started to feel itchy. When meditating it is normal for me to feel areas of discomfort, but once I focus on it the feeling fades. This sensation was not going away. A combination of the water temperature and salt caused a heat rash. It got to be so uncomfortable that I ended my session 30 minutes early. The staff said they could lower the temperature of the water, but only by .1 degree, which probably wouldn’t help me.

Even though I will not be floating again, I thought it was a great experience. If you don’t have any skin sensitivity issues, I would recommend giving it a try. There was a guest book outside the room, and all the messages I read were very positive. My favorite comment stated it like astral projection!

Have you ever floated? Please share your experience in the comments!

Book Breakdown: The Art of Living

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time inspired me to start this blog. In it Ferrazzi discusses how a 10-day Vipassana course changed his life. The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation is a synopsis of that course and I thought it would help me cultivate my meditation habit.

William Hart is an assistant teacher to Goenka and he set out to provide an outline of Vipassana as taught in Goenka’s 10-day course. Each chapter is a lesson followed by actual questions and answers from course participants and Goenka and is followed by a parable. The book/course is a progression through the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Each lesson builds on the last to show you that gaining wisdom, ethical conduct, and concentration will provide enlightenment.

There are some assertions in the book that seem fanciful to me. I don’t buy into the idea that the Buddha understood particle physics from meditation, but I won’t invest the time to research further since their scientific credibility isn’t a huge concern for me. I also found it took me longer than normal to absorb the meaning of certain passages. I am a quick reader, but I kept having to reread sentences and paragraphs before I understood the meaning. That might have to do with the number of Pali terms in the book that were totally foreign to me.

I did get some great insights into suffering, intention, awareness, equanimity, and compassion. Chapter 3: The Immediate Cause included my favorite story, “Seed and Fruit.” The following quote provided a flash of insight about karma and how we are make our own future.

“Our difficulty, our ignorance is that we remain unheedful while planting seeds. We keep planting seeds of neem, but when the time comes for fruit we are suddenly alert, we want sweet mangoes. And we keep crying and praying and hoping for mangoes. This doesn’t work.”

I will also give this book high marks for prompting me to entertain the idea of becoming a vegetarian. I’m not there yet, but I have never really entertained the idea until now.

I would recommend The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation to anyone interested in learning more about Vipassana, the teaching of the Buddha, or looking for some insights into the loftier goals associated with meditation.

Do you want to win a free copy of The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation by William Hart? Follow me on Instagram @ppreoccupation to be entered into the drawing! The winner will be announced on Monday.

Asked & Answered: A Dilettante Approach to Meditation

Gabriel Harren and I are both on the Community of Practice steering committee at sdg. At our last meeting we discussed Gabriel’s upcoming CoP presentation about demystifying meditation. The presentation is scheduled after my 66-day challenge so I invited Gabriel to a meditative breakfast. I was excited to discuss meditation with someone who had practical experience, but hadn’t made it their career or become a recluse.

 “Clarity of mind.”

Gabriel indicated that he has always been a little high strung so 4 years ago he started practicing meditation regularly. He currently meditates 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week. His routine consists of coffee, an inspirational quote, the Skimm, and making himself comfortable in a plush chair before listening to a guided meditation from Headspace.

Some of the tangible benefits of meditation he has experienced include lower anxiety, better ability to focus, and clarity of mind. Improved concentration has allowed Gabriel to be more productive and focus on his sales goals.

He has also experienced the intangible benefits of meditation that let him be more engaged with family, friends, and colleagues. His passion for meditation and self-improvement has allowed him to add value in other’s lives. He feels like he is a better listener and more patient.

“Everyone should be doing it.”

Because Gabriel is so willing to share his experience with meditation he has had the opportunity to talk with a lot of people about creating this habit. He maintains he is not a guru, but can certainly help people come up with an action plan. For most it seems like getting started is the hardest part. Change is difficult, but Gabriel recommends trying to understand the why before digging into the how. If you understand your goals and motivation it will be easier to dive into the tactics.

“…enjoying a blissfully balanced life.”

Gabriel’s overall goal is to clock 10,000 hours of meditation, which is the generally accepted benchmark for mastery in a field. By meditating for 1 hour a day in 30 years he could be enjoying a blissfully balanced life. I know that’s something I want!

Pro-Tips

  • Headspace!
  • Get a good night’s sleep and do your sit first thing in the morning,
  • Create a routine of your practice.
  • Recognize the “gremlins in your head” and get your mind out of the way.

Recommended Reading

I had a wonderful time discussing practical applications for meditation with Gabriel and discovering new ways to grow my practice.

What tips discussed here will be the most useful for your meditation practice? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Meditation Monday – The Middle

Top picture from my photo journal.
Top picture from my photo journal.

I halfway done building my meditation habit so let’s take a look at the stats!

Action Plan Progress:

  • 37 of 66 consecutive days of meditating for at least 10 minutes a day.
    • 546.97 meditation minutes logged (~9 hours).
    • Average 15 minutes a day.
  • 37 of 66 daily photos taken of my meditation locations.
  • 1 of 2 books on meditation read.
  • DONE – Connected with 7 of 2 people on meditation.
  • DONE – 3 of 2 classes on meditation attended.
  • DONE – Experimented with 5 different meditation techniques.
  •  5 of 10 weekly blog posts on developing my meditation habit written.

Grade: A+

Lessons Learned:

For the first month of building this habit the photo challenge aspect of my action plan was getting in the way of my practice. I had time to meditate, but finding a space that was visually interesting to meditate in made it harder to achieve my primary goal. I realized this was a problem once I signed up for Headspace.

Headspace has a Foundation Series with 3 levels that are 10 sessions each. They recommend making your practice part of a routine and doing it in the same place at the same time everyday. I didn’t want to abandon my photo journal so I have recently started meditating twice a day. I do my Headspace guided mediation right after I wake up and then I meditate again later in the day in a peaceful space. This way I am working my habit into an existing routine, and increasing my meditative time by practicing more throughout the day.

My meditation practice has improved my ability to focus and the way I deal with stress. When I first started meditating I had a lot of negative-self talk at that beginning of my sits, but that has quieted as I continue to practice. I am very happy with the progress I have made so far, and sincerely hope I can turn this into a lifelong habit.

Follow my Instagram meditation photo journal while it lasts @ppreoccupation!

Multiform Meditation

The idea of sitting still and trying not think originally seemed equal parts foolish and intimidating. To overcome my unease I tried a variety of meditation techniques that could help develop my habit. I have them listed below in order of personal preference.

Walking Meditation

I learned walking meditation (kinhin) at Dharma Field. Standing with your hands in the shashu position focus on your breath, and on your exhale take a half step forward. At first it seemed like too much to concentrate on: following my breath; walking at the right time; not taking a normal stride, but after a few minutes I got the hang of things. The additional focus on my posture and speed really helped me to stay in the meditative state and when my ending bell sounded I felt relaxed and refreshed.

I will be incorporating this in my regular practice by doing walking meditation at the end of my sit. This will be a great way to bring myself back to an awakened state gradually, and it will allow me to extend my sessions by incorporating different techniques rather than sitting for longer.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

11931135_1632250123704341_1948719911_nI tried two different hand poses for alternate nostril breathing, and I preferred the one with the index and middle finger folded down (bottom picture). When I had those fingers resting between my eyebrows I found it hard to relax and not to press them into my skin. Once I settled into the timing of movement the time flew by! I was focused and my mind seemed to wander less because I was aware of my breath and body.

This is an easy technique to pick up, and I would suggest that everyone give it a try! I will be starting my daily sits with 1 minute of alternate nostril breathing before a 10 minute session. This will afford me better focus as I start my sessions.

Tai Chi

Tai chi is a form of moving meditation similar to yoga. Since I suck at yoga I was glad to find an alternative. Tai chi is low impact, and much better aligned with my fitness and flexibility levels. I found an excellent tutorial video, but it has a lot of pop-up adds. I have not counted the time watching the video and practicing tai chi toward my daily habit because I don’t feel like I am in a meditative state while learning.

I am hoping that once I learn some of the basic forms I can take a class on tai chi or find a meet up group. I know I’ve seen groups of people practicing in the park, now I just need to find them. This is definitely a technique I am interested in pursuing.

Mantra

I had a lot of fun ideas for my mantra, like Stuart Smalley’s positive affirmation, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me” or “let that shit go.” Ultimately, I decided to stick with my goals and picked “salud.” It means health in Spanish and is a toast my grandmother always makes.

I repeated my mantra silently on my exhale for the first half of my sit, and then switched to chanting it during the second half. I had a neutral experience. It wasn’t overly distracting, but it didn’t seem to help me focus any better than sitting silently. I thought that since my love language is “words of affirmation” I would really benefit from a mantra, but this not a practice I will stick with.

Candle Staring

11376399_1622897171318699_1420930732_nThe first time I tried candle staring I used a guided meditation. There was an interesting point during the session where you close your eyes and focus on the negative image of the candle, but overall this technique did not seem particularly helpful. I felt more distracted and had trouble letting my thoughts pass.

I tried this method a second time without the guided meditation. It was slightly better than my first attempt but at the end of my session I spilled hot wax on my hand and that was the end of my foray into candle staring. All the angry cursing probably negated the benefits of that session.

I’m glad I expanded my horizons and tried various techniques. I am sure walking meditation, alternate nostril breathing, and tai chi will help me grow my meditation practice.

Have you tried any of these techniques before? Please share your experience in the comments!

Inspiration and Implementation: Meditation

InspirationBoard_Meditation

My friends are sharing some great meditation resources with me, and my own research is turning up a number of great books, sites, videos, and imagery. I have created a Pinterest account dedicated to my new habits that will house all of the various media I am collecting so that I don’t lose track of anything. Listed below are the Top 5 Meditation Resources I have found so far.

  1. The Honest Guys

I have been following the Honest Guys for a few years now and they consistently produce high quality guided meditations. I really enjoy the guided meditations that have a purpose like Deep Relaxation or Breathing Exercise. However, their crowning achievement is their Middle Earth Meditation series. 10 guided meditations that transport you to the Shire! It really helped me to get into meditation last year because it was a unique experience, and I still felt relaxed and refreshed afterwards.

2.  Andy Puddicombe’s TED Talk: All it takes is 10 mindful minutes

This presentation really helps to demystify meditation, and his juggling analogy is wonderfully accessible. A friend from work sent me this link, and after I watched it I realized I had seen it before. It was even better the second time around.

3.  Fulfillment Daily

I am cultivating this habit for the practical benefits to my overall health and well-being. When I was researching different studies that objectively analyzed the benefits of meditation I found an article written by Emma Seppala who is the founder of Fulfillment Daily. The site was created “to inspire you with tools for a fulfilling life through science-backed news you can trust.” This is exactly the type of information I was searching for, and I have really enjoyed browsing through their posts.

4.  Insight Timer

This is the meditation app that Glenna, from the open meditation session I attended, shared with me. I have used this app almost daily for my meditation practice. The paid version of the app is well worth the $3 I spent. The bells are a great way to recenter, and I have started to dabble in the guided meditation section as well. Another neat feature allows you to see all the other people using the app around the world. Currently, there are 496 people meditating worldwide with Insight Timer.

5.  Let That Shit Go

This is a fun print that I found on Pinterest that really captures my goal for my meditation practice. I will be adding the shirt version to my incentive and plan to buy it after I hit the 66 day mark!

I hope you have found these resources as useful as I have! I will be sure to keep adding to my Meditation Monday board as I find new and interesting tools for my practice so be sure to follow along!

Lessons Learned: Planning a Give Away

Pro tip: Test out your brilliant blog ideas before you share them with the world.

So a funny thing happened to me on my way to the Stats page today. My Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life post has garnered 32 views and 21 shares on Facebook. That surpassed all of my expectations, so I was excited to start compiling my list of people for the drawing. I am fairly tech savvy, but I couldn’t figure out how to see the names of the people that shared the post on Facebook. Imagine my horror when I googled “people who shared my wordpress blog,” and found out 30 seconds later that you cannot, in fact, get to that information.

As I skimmed through the forums I realized I’m not the first person to make this assumption, and I probably won’t be the last. Some of the tips said to just pick someone at random without acknowledging the error, but this blog is all about personal growth and learning so I think it’s important to share my failures too.

Apology time for all the people who have already taken the time to share my blog post with their friends. Sorry! I really appreciate your time and effort, and I am sure you are excited for a chance to win the book. I am going to amend my previous post and ask that anyone who has shared it to please leave their name in the comments. This seems like the best way to make sure I can still do a drawing.

If you have a problem with this alternate method of selection, please leave a comment below and you will still be entered into the drawing. 🙂 The winner will be announced on Wednesday.

Hopefully, we’ve all learned something from this. The next time I try to give something, I will be sure to test out my method of award.

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”
L.M. Montgomery

Crash Course on Meditation

I found 3 meditation centers in my area that offer free instruction and open meditation. My prefered method of learning is in the classroom so I thought these classes would be a great foundation for my meditation practice. I have reviewed each class in this post and listed them in order of personal preference.

Dharma FieldDharma Field – Meditation (Zazen) Instruction

  • Twice monthly class on poses and etiquette
  • Formal class
  • Recommended for beginners
  • Donations welcome, but no suggested amount listed for this class
  • Open meditation offered Wednesday evenings

Paul was my instructor and he taught me proper etiquette for entering and exiting the Zendo; standing, sitting, and kneeling postures; and different meditation techniques like swaying, controlled breathing, and walking meditation. I was the only student to attend this class so I got a lot of personalized instruction. For example, Paul noticed that I am fairly inflexible and showed me modified techniques for the equipment so I would be comfortable for extended periods of kneeling.

Dharma Field is a Zen Buddhism center, but they have pared it down to the bare bones of the teachings. There is also a large library in the lobby filled with books on meditation and Buddhism which is a win for me! I will definitely be attending their open meditation on Wednesday nights to meditate in a shared space full of like minded people.

I would recommend this class to anyone looking for formal meditation instruction because they take so much time to focus on the forms as well as different tips to keep your awareness and focus during your sit (period of meditation). We did a short breathing exercise where you count to 1 on your inhale and 1 on your exhale, then 1 on your inhale and 2 on your exhale, continuing the pattern to 10. This is exactly the type of instruction I was looking for.

Bhakti Wellness Center open meditation.

Bhakti Wellness CenterOpen Mediation at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community Center

  • Tuesday evenings
  • Informal group meeting
  • Recommended for beginners
  • Suggested donation: $5

Their website indicated that the session would be led by a meditation instructor but the responsibility is shared among a group of regular attendees, and each week a different person will lead the open meditation discussion. They break the hour into 4 parts:

  1. 10 minute discussion on meditation
  2. 1st 20 minute sit
  3. 10 minute rest and reflection
  4. 2nd 20 minute sit

There were 3 other participants, who were very welcoming, and I was the only new person. In the first 10 minutes we discussed our motivations for incorporating meditation into our daily lives, various tips, and general guidelines. We did not discuss any specific forms or alternate meditative techniques. They just recommended sitting in a comfortable position, focusing on your breath, and noticing your thoughts but not getting carried away by them. Glenna, the leader for the evening, also showed me the meditation app, Insight Timer, that she used to time our sits. The paid version has a variety of bells you can set at intervals during your sit to help keep your focus. It is infinitely better than the stopwatch on my clock app.

I thought my second sit went much better than the first, even though I was concerned about staying focused for 40 minutes. The break seemed to really help because it made the first sit seem like a warm up. I will start incorporating breaks in my daily meditation as I work up to meditating for longer periods of time.

I would recommend this group meeting to anyone new to meditation who is looking for some general tips given in a very laid back atmosphere. You will not get much in the way of specific instruction, but it is a pleasant space with well intended people.

Minnesota Zen CenterMinnesota Zen Meditation CenterZen Forms & Etiquette

    • Monthly class on poses and etiquette
    • Formal class
      • Recommended for beginners
    • Suggested donation: $10
    • Open meditation offered Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings

This class is designed to help prepare people for the retreats offered by the center. Bussho, a priest at the center, was our instructor and there were 12 people in attendance. The vibe was a little off-putting as I tried unsuccessfully to engage others in conversation and found this center to be much more focused on the sacred.

We learned various standing and kneeling poses; etiquette for entering and exiting the Zendo and Buddha Hall; and etiquette for interacting non-verbally with others in the center. There were a lot of rules to try to absorb, but the focus of the class was to try and make people feel as comfortable as possible when attending their meditation sessions. I did not gain a lot of insight on how to improve my meditation practice, but more on how to flourish as a member of this center.

I would recommend this class to anyone looking to join a community with a focus on tradition and Buddhist philosophy. Learning more about Buddhism is not one of my goals in developing this habit, so I will not be attending their open meditation.

Attending these classes provided excellent insights into how other people in my area practice meditation. I came away with 6 interesting new acquaintances, 1 cool new tool, and a plethora of advice to continue to cultivate my daily habit.

Follow my 66 day meditation photo journal on Instagram and please share your own meditative photos!

Meditation Monday – The Start

In the fall of 2013 my husband, Clayton, and I did the 8 Weeks to Wellness program through our chiropractor’s office. While our results were not as spectacular as his, I did come away with a lot of healthy habits. It was also my first foray into meditation and I would love to make the habit stick this time around.

Habit: Meditate for 10-30 minutes everyday for 66 days.

Start Date: Sunday, 08/09/2015

Projected End Date: Tuesday, 10/13/2015

Action Plan:

  • Keep a daily photo journal of the various locations where I meditate.
  • Read two books related to meditation.
  • Reach out to two people who can provide insights about meditating.
  • Attend two meditation classes.
  • Experiment with different meditation techniques (walking meditation, candle staring, etc.).
  • Post weekly progress updates on Mondays about developing my meditation habit.

Incentive: When I meet my goal of meditating everyday for 66 days, my reward will be a half to full day meditation retreat!

Lofty Goal: Attaining enlightenment & being healthy!

It is becoming generally accepted that meditation can have many health benefits. I can certainly spare 10-30 minutes a day to help improve my concentration and lower my stress levels. Also becoming centered and finding inner peace seems like a great place to start when trying to become more enlightened.

Do you have any great tips on meditation? Please share your experience in the comments!