Tag: mindfulness

The Suffering of Everyday Life

During the time that I was married, I subjected my wife to a litany of jokes involving obscure references to my various interests. I am fairly (but not entirely) certain that this was not what caused our marriage to deteriorate. Over the last year or so of our marriage, one of my go-to comments was to utter the phrase, “this is dukkha” in annoying or unpleasant situations, which would invariably elicit a roll of the eyes. Although I employed it as humor, it was always in a situation where I actually recognized the workings of dukkha in a mundane situation.

four noble truths

The first of the Noble Truths is often translated as, “Life is suffering.” The Pali word “dukkha” is somewhat problematically translated as “suffering” in many places. There isn’t really a perfect translation in English for the word dukkha, but I have seen it translated as “stress”, “unsatisfactoriness”, and “anxiety”, as well as the common, “suffering.” All of these definitions seem to have an element of truth to them, but the full sense of the word is complex, and plays out in our daily lives in several different ways. It is also closely tied to another Pali concept, “tanha,” which is often translated as “craving”, “desire”, or “thirst.”

Everybody Hurts

Some things just hurt. Pain and discomfort of all kinds are just part of the package deal that we get with the gift of human existence. We stub our toe and it causes physical pain. Someone treats us unkindly and it makes us feel bad emotionally. We lose someone we care about or watch an important relationship deteriorate, and we feel sorrow. These kinds of experiences are inevitable, and in the moment we will feel a kind of pain or suffering when we are confronted with them. There is no avoiding this kind of pain.

Where we really begin to feel suffering is through our desire that things be other than they are. We crave pleasant experiences, and we feel aversion toward unpleasant ones. When my wife told me that she was unhappy in our marriage, I naturally felt sorrow and pain. This pain was unavoidable. It was when I wallowed in my desire for things to be different than they were or when I chose to try to avoid the reality of my situation through heavy drinking that I really experienced dukkha. When I reached the point of being able to be mindful of my grief, and accept it, that was when I began to see my suffering diminish somewhat.

The Things That Happen (and the Stories We Tell About Those Things)

Another form that dukkha takes – probably my personal poison of choice – is through the stories that we build on top of our lived experiences. The unpleasant experience that we have had just isn’t bad enough, so we pile onto it with self-recriminations, self-pity, and various other forms of self-torture.

Personally, I have long specialized in a form of this that involves feelings of guilt and shame. I do or say something that I regret, and then proceed to replay the incident in my head over and over, telling myself what a fuck up I am, or that I’m a bad person. I have generally liked to mix in obsessions about what other people are thinking about me, despite the fact that nobody is spending as much time thinking about me as I am.

There are a number of different ways that these mental formations can manifest themselves. Thoughts of anxiety, inadequacy, and judgment all add suffering to our daily lives. We relive uncomfortable events that are sometimes years in the past, or build out anxiety laden scenarios set in the future.

As we practice mindfulness, we can learn to recognize these mental formations for what they are, mere illusions created by our minds. Through that recognition, we can learn to observe the arising of the thoughts, let them play out and pass away, rather than giving them energy to run on a constant loop.

reaching out
Photo freely given by David Monje on Unsplash

You Just Keep Me Hangin’ On

Sometimes our suffering isn’t produced by negative experiences, but by our relationship to pleasant ones.

Everything in and around us is constantly changing. Nothing is fixed. This can become a cause of dissatisfaction when we experience something that we like, and try to cling to that experience. I’ve written about this a little bit previously.

On some level, we know the experience won’t last, but we try to keep it going anyway, and we suffer when it goes away. Not only that, we generally don’t actually enjoy the experience as much while we are in it, because we are so stressed out about the prospect of it disappearing.

This expression of dukkha can show in both insignificant and more meaningful situations. Sometimes it might be something as mundane as enjoying the warmth of the sun on a fall day, then becoming frustrated when clouds move in. Other situations might be more impactful, such as being in the middle of the euphoria of a romantic relationship, only to suffer as you watch that relationship come to an end.

If we can learn to be present in these situations, we can enjoy them while they last, without clinging to them as they pass away. I can say from personal experience that this isn’t easy, but my meditation practice has definitely helped me be more present moment-to-moment, and to cling less. It also helps me to be aware of the suffering that I experience when I do cling, and to pull out of the nose dive more quickly when I do indulge that clinging.

This is Dukkha

Although I am still very much a baby meditator and mindfulness practitioner, I have seen that there is a path out of the suffering that we experience every day. The most important step for me has been learning to identify dukkha as early as possible. Although I have joked about it, that moment of saying, “this is dukkha” is the important one. Recognizing that we have moved beyond the normal pain of an experience, and have entered into clinging, aversion, or harmful story telling; that is the moment when we have the ability to respond skillfully, rather than simply reacting mindlessly.

Practicing mindfulness helps us to be more aware of our internal temperature. We can see when we are starting to feel things going sideways with our disposition and can examine what is going on. Are we desiring something we don’t have or experiencing something we don’t want? Are we clinging to something that is going away? Are we creating movies in our head that are exacerbating an unpleasant situation? Once we’ve recognized the situation, we can accept things for what they really are and let go of the mental baggage that we are bringing into our experience.

This is all part of a growth process. I am more often able to recognize when I am causing myself unnecessary suffering than I was when I started on this journey, but I still find myself often succumbing to it. The more time I spend practicing the Dharma, the more skillful I become. The important thing is to keep practicing, and when I experience periods that feel like failure, accept those as a part of the path and begin again.

On Tyler Durden and Identification With Things

Warning – I wanted to give a heads up that this post includes a couple of f-bombs, in case anyone is offended by such things.

fight club soap

You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis.

Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Identities are a tricky things. The way that we identify ourselves can come from a variety of sources, from genetics and biology, to upbringing and cultural factors, to our jobs, to the identities other people foist upon us. There are countless points of origin for the various pieces that create this person that we view as ourself. I want to look at one specific aspect of this today, and that is the identity that we cultivate based on our things.

For better or for worse, one of the formative works of fiction in my early twenties was Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. I had already begun developing an interest in philosophy when I first read Fight Club, so I was immediately taken by the obvious nods toward Nietzschean nihilism. There’s a lot that I could say here about the fact that me discussing the philosophy of Fight Club in my twenties was also a vehicle for identity creation/reinforcement, but that’s a story for another day.

There are a lot of quotable lines in Fight Club, but the phrase that probably most often runs through my head to this day is, “you are not your fucking khakis.” This line is the punctuation of the longer quote above, and it’s a pretty simple distillation of one of the repeating themes of the book, that the things we own will end up owning us.

If you have read my recent posts, you know that I have been purging a lot of my possessions recently, in pursuit of a more minimalist lifestyle. There are a lot of reasons why I have chosen to do this, but one of the motivations stems from a process that began a little over a year ago, when I began studying Buddhism and started to ask myself questions about this person that I viewed myself to be.

hop tattoo

Early on in this exploration, I began to think about the identity that I was cultivating in my job and with the clothes that I wore. I manage a craft beer and wine bar, and I have always taken a lot of pride in having a carefully curated selection that included a lot of product that I actually drive across the state to procure. I would say that a lot of us take on identities based on our jobs, as they are such a large part of the way we spend our lives. I had definitely begun to build an identity based on the work that I was doing, and would always revel in the moments where people would recognize how hard I worked to bring them beer that they couldn’t get anywhere else. To further state my craft beer bone fides, I had a collection of t-shirts from all of the most hyped breweries in the northwest, and I would eat it up when someone would recognize the brewery and say something that would allow me to explain that I just tapped a keg from them that I drove 8 hours round trip to purchase. I even got a tattoo with hops flowing from a beer tap, lest there still be any doubt about what a beer guy I was.

The more time went on, the more I began to explore my attachment to this identity. Was this really who I was? Was it even really the thing that I wanted to define me? I thought about how hard I was working to maintain this identity. I reflected on how upset I got when one of my competitors got a beer in that I didn’t have, because it challenged my identity as “the guy who brings in beers nobody else has.” I was also spending a lot of time and money on the protection of this identity, which I could have been spending on things that were really more important. I realized that there was suffering and a kind of bondage in the maintenance of this identity.

This was really the contemplation that lead to my original round of minimizing. Several months ago, I went through my closet and got rid of most of my brewery shirts. It wasn’t that I thought that there was a problem with owning them, it was just that I had made the decision to stop basing my identity on this aspect of my life, and I felt like these shirts were not really serving me in this. I kept a couple of my favorite shirts, but got rid of all the rest. Not only did I find freedom in letting go of this attachment to my identity, I also found a sense of relief in the simple act of trimming my wardrobe down.

my book shelf
The tip of my book iceberg

The last couple of weeks, as I have been going through all of my things to decide what I will be taking with me in my upcoming move, I have done a major purge on my book collection. This has been the biggest project thus far in my minimalist journey. We had, literally, 100s of books. I love to read, so over the years I have accumulated a lot of them. My book purchases have covered a number of different phases, from my existentialist philosophy phase, to a brief flirtation with the idea of starting a small scale sustainable farm. As I went through the process of deciding on the handful of books that I would keep, I realized that my book collection had also served to establish an identity. I have always thought of myself as well-read, and having several bookshelves full of books confirmed that to myself, and to anyone who came into my home. Deciding to get rid of most of these books felt like a profound act of letting go. Letting go of maintaining an idea of my self, and accepting a more spacious and meaningful existence.

There is nothing wrong with owning, and even enjoying things. I still find a lot of joy in reading, and even in owning, a nice book. I just believe that we expose ourselves to a lot of unnecessary anxiety and suffering when we create an identity based on our possessions. I have found that paying attention to the relationship that we have with our things is a really important part of living a happy and meaningful life. Are we viewing our things in ways that promote satisfaction and wellbeing, or are we dependent on them to give us meaning? Our things are impermanent, and the satisfaction that they bring is even more ephemeral. Our meaning can never be truly based on such a precarious foundation. We are not our things. We are not our fucking khakis.

Speak the Dharma At All Times

I am guy who immerses himself in his passions. This can be a double edged sword. It has served me well in develop a lot of skills and interests, but it can also make me a little obtuse sometimes when I’m talking to other people. If I’m not mindful, I can rattle on endlessly about whatever I’m into, only to look up at some point and find the person I’m talking to completely checked out or doing the polite nod and smile thing. My contemplation on the Precepts this month has me thinking about this habit from a new perspective.

After my Attachment to Broken Things post earlier this week, I had a person respond to a retweet, defending their attachment to a car they had, and stating their intention to keep an old car that held some memories for them. I had a hard time deciding how to respond to this. First, it was pretty clear to me that they hadn’t actually read the post, as I never advocated getting rid of things just because they had emotional significance. My primary thought, however, was to try to talk to them about the dangers of attachment and clinging. I have personally experienced how much suffering our attachment to all of these impermanent things can cause, and I sincerely want to help other people escape suffering. I typed out and erased several responses, before finally deciding that this person was not really in the market for a Dharma lesson. In the end I just responded with the following –

After this internal wrestling match, I posted one of those tweets that is basically me workshopping my thoughts in front of the Twitterverse, and my friend Duane Toops offered a really great paraphrase of St. Francis of Assisi –

I think this is as beautiful when applied to the Dharma as it was when St. Francis applied it to the Gospel. I think that I was right in deciding that the situation I was working through was not an appropriate time for trying to hammer home a point about the Dharma. In being mindful that my words would not have been useful or timely, I believe that I was acting in keeping with the Dharma. Maybe there was a way for me to illustrate my thoughts on attachment in a skillful way, but nothing came to me that didn’t feel preachy or condescending, so refraining in that moment still seemed like the right move.

One of the ways that I have been working with the Fourth Precept, is to try to listen more and speak less. In my enthusiasm to talk about something that excites me, I have often been guilty of hearing people without listening to them. Engaging in conversation without truly listening to others makes our words self-serving and ineffectual. When we actively listen to the person across the table or screen from us, we become more aware of what words are actually useful. I have also observed an increase in feelings of compassion and empathy toward other people through more purposeful listening. We live in a time where many of us are starved for meaningful connection, which can only be found through being truly present for others.

As I mentioned in my initial Precept Project post on the Forth Precept, speech might be the most challenging Precept to practice. As with all of the precepts, the key is in being more mindful in our day to day life. Speaking the Dharma is largely done by living mindfully, and through that mindfulness we can recognize when it is also necessary to use words.

I’m Making a Minimal(izing) Effort!

There is a lot going on in my life right now. Those of you who have read previous posts on this blog may already know that my marriage of almost 13 years recently ended, so I am currently in the process of preparing to move into a new place of my own. The last couple of years of watching this relationship fall apart have, naturally, lead to a lot of examination of my life. It has been a painful experience, but it has also been a period of some of the most profound growth that I have undergone during my life. Now I am onto a new phase of life, and have decided that some big changes are in order.

I have had an interest in something resembling Minimalism for quite a while, long before I knew to apply that term to it. From time to time during my marriage I would feel the need to “downsize” our life. Get rid of some of the things that we had accumulated over time. We made a few purges over the years we were together, but never really a substantial shift in the amount of things we possessed or the way that we were living.

minimalist clothing rack
Photo freely given by tu tu on Unsplash

Last year I came across a book that started to shift my thinking on the topic. I read a book called Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki, and his descriptions of the relationship he was cultivating with things really resonated with me. As often happens, reading this book led me to seek out more minimalist authors, which lead me to discover The Minimalists, which in turn lead me to a number of other bloggers and podcasters. There were so many overlapping and complimentary themes between my Buddhist studies and what I was reading about Minimalism, that it’s a little difficult to say which influenced my thoughts on specific lifestyle changes. Regardless of where I drew inspiration from, I began to think more seriously about adopting a more minimalist lifestyle.

Given the less than stable state of my home life, I didn’t really push to make any major changes in our household, but I did start to scale back a little on my own personal accumulation of stuff and get rid of a few things. It wasn’t until the decision was made that we were going to be separating that I decided to make any major changes. I have recently located a small studio apartment, and as we pack things up for our mutual moves, I have chosen to dive into a full-scale minimalist project by committing to only taking a minimal amount of things with me in the move. This is made easier by the fact that I first selected a place that only had minimal space to put things in, but it still hasn’t been easy.

Why Minimalism?

There were a number of things that guided me toward adopting a minimalist lifestyle. Some were influenced by philosophical factors, some by ethical, and some by practical considerations. Here are just a few –

Avoiding Attachment and Identification with Things

One area in which I found alignment between Buddhism and Minimalism in is the area of attachment. In Buddhism the goal is to avoid attachments in general. Minimalism is based on the idea that we don’t need things to make us happy, and that attachment to the accumulation of things leads to a lot of discontent and unhappiness. Things break. Things disappoint us. Things require upkeep. Things cause clutter. Things can be useful and can bring us joy in some cases, but attachment to our things sets us up for suffering.

Our things can also end up becoming our identity. We create an image to others, and to ourselves, of who we are, based entirely on the things we own. We begin to define ourselves and find our value in our things. We suffer when our things don’t live up to our aspirations, thinking we aren’t complete as a person if we don’t possess the right things.

minimalist bench
Photo freely given by Bench Accounting on Unsplash

Our Things Have an Impact on Our Planet

From an environmental standpoint, purchasing new things means more things have to be produced. Some items have less impact than others, but none of these things are completely neutral. They require that resources be gathered to produce them, and in many cases they require production methods that might not be beneficial to the environment. There is generally some amount of transport involved, which means they have a carbon footprint. All of this, and then when we get rid of an item, it usually ends up occupying space in a landfill. By being more intentional with the stuff we buy and maintain we are able to decrease the impact that we have on our homes, individually, as well as our global home.

More Time and Energy For the Important Things

One of the things that I have realized in the early stages of this process, is that the things that I have cause me to spend a lot of time and/or money on their upkeep. Having so many things means I have to clean more things, replace batteries, spend money on electricity, etc.

Many of the things I own also cause a distraction from things that are more important. I have seen this played out during my 31 Day Precept Project. I have observed the role that social media, television, and video games play as an intoxicant in my daily life. Even though I might have a plan to work on some design work or a blog post, I decide that I’m just going to watch one show first. Then I decide that I actually feel too tired to work on my projects, so I just keep watching until I’m ready to go to bed.

More Financial Freedom for Experiences and Charity

By committing to owning less things, I will spend less money. This will allow me to eliminate debt, save more, and have more resources for charitable projects and donations. I have always told myself that certain causes were a priority for me, but when it came down to taking action, I showed that my priorities were actually not in line with my values, and that I mostly prioritized the support of the lifestyle I was living.

I have also never really had the money to participate in experience that I have wanted to have. It has always been a dream to travel more, even just camping trips around my local area, but I have never really saved to a point where that was realistic. By minimizing, I can cut my expenses and begin to actually save money for these experiences.

Living a More Meaningful Life Through Minimalism

This effort to minimize can be summed up simply by saying that I want to live a more meaningful life that is based on my relationships and worthwhile experiences, in place of one that is typified by the things that I own. This process is just beginning, but I am excited to see where it leads.

Impermanence in the Park

I felt the weight pressing down on me, the burden of everything that I hadn’t fully processed beginning to hit me. There was no one thing that I could point to that could explain why I was feeling this way. “I’m so sad,” I kept silently repeating to myself. The little stresses that arose at work only made me feel worse. Periodically checking Twitter, only to see another heartbreaking piece of news in my feed, was certainly not helping the mood. “I’m so sad, and I’m lonely.”

I closed my eyes and tried to focus on what I was feeling. My heart felt like someone had tethered a stone to it. My eyes had that not-quite-crying feeling, the pre-cursor of the breakdown that was just waiting for the right shoe to drop before the floodgates rushed open. I sat for a few minutes, telling myself I was just being with my emotions, but really I just wanted the feelings to go away. I decided that I needed to go for a walk.

I locked the door of the shop and walked out onto the trail that winds through the park and into downtown. As I walked, the voice inside continued it’s repetitive mantra, “I’m so sad.” I knew that this wasn’t useful. I turned my attention to my thoughts, observing them as they arose. The phrase came to my mind again, but this time I remembered something that I had heard recently about the fact that we will say, “I AM sad,” when what we really mean is, “I am FEELING sad.” I thought about this for a moment, and realized that I had spent all morning creating this sad and lonely me in my head. “What I feel in this moment is not who I am,” I told myself, “and it doesn’t mean I will feel this way in the next moment, let alone the next day, or week.”

park bench
Photo freely given by Will Paterson on Unsplash

I continued my walk, making my way into the park. I continued to observe my thoughts and feelings as I walked. My realization had not caused my sadness to disappear, but I did notice that what I had viewed as being a steady sadness was actually a fluctuating field of emotions. True, the overall color of my mood had been melancholy, but it changed with the various conditions of the day. I listened to the sound of children playing in the fountain and felt a slight warmth at their enjoyment. There was a group of young musicians, sitting along a brick wall, a makeshift band with two guitarists and a percussionist beating an upside down bucket. I listened for a moment, and smiled. I continued walking and saw an elderly couple, walking hand-in-hand, and felt a bittersweetness at the thought of enduring love contrasted against the ending of my marriage.

I observed each of these internal changes as I walked, recognizing the impermanence of each as they shifted. I thought about the effects of the various causes and conditions that held sway over my mind and heart. I felt a tinge of joy briefly emerge at this moment of understanding, then disappear just as quickly.

Today I met some friends for lunch, and one of them asked me how I was doing. “I’m doing okay today,” I told him. “It just depends on when you ask me. Some days are better than others.” This is true, but it’s not the whole truth. Each moment dies and gives birth to a new one. There are moments of feeling sadness, and there are moments of feeling joy. There are moments of feeling lonely, and there are moments of feeling connected to everything. The important thing is to be in each moment.

Precept Project Day 12 Update

I am currently on day 12 of my 31 Day Precept Project. I have posted a few things that have been related to what I’ve been exploring thus far this month, but I figured I would take a minute to throw out some quick-hits style observations regarding the precepts –

  1. Eating vegan is not an easy transition. I have been doing pretty well on this overall, but I have had a few lapses, mostly involving not paying close enough attention to what ingredients are in whatever food I’m eating. I have actually ordered a butterscotch oat milk latte, not thinking until I was halfway through it that ‘butter’ is in the name. I also heedlessly order a vegetable fried rice, ate half of it, then realized I had been eating egg the whole time. I’m not beating myself up about it, but I am going to refocus on really being mindful of what I’m eating.
  2. I tell a lot of “little” lies. I have caught myself starting to tell a story several times, in which I begin to change a minor detail to make the story less awkward or reveal more than I would like to. This has been an interesting contemplation point, and I have generally caught it early enough to avoid the lie. There have been a couple of times that I didn’t really think about what I had said until later, however.
  3. Also related to speech, I have definitely decreased the amount that I am speaking by catching myself intending to talk about another person in a way that could be considered gossip. I have also realized that I have said something about someone that was not really useful or kind.
  4. I also have also noticed a tendency to interrupt. Often I make the initial interruption and then yield to the other person, but it’s still an interruption.
  5. Speech has been as challenging as I anticipated. Conversations can build a momentum, and sometimes I realize that I haven’t really been mindful of what I am saying, and when and how I am saying it.
  6. I have found a tremendous amount of benefit in avoiding intoxicants in the area of drinking. This is especially true as I am navigating a difficult time in my personal life. I has been nice to deal with a difficult situation from a place of presence and clear-headedness. I am also sleeping better overall (aside from that night that I drank 3 glasses of iced tea.) As far as my seated practice, I haven’t been experiencing the grogginess that I often have in the past, although I would say that it has been replaced by a bit of an overactive mind.
  7. I have definitely observed that I do use various forms of electronic media as an intoxicant. I have found myself compulsively checking Twitter at times. I have also found that I have an issue with moderation when it comes to video games and video streaming. I have grown somewhat better at noticing that I am getting sucked into a multi-hour mind numb fest, but have still managed to check out for hours at a time on a couple of occasions.
  8. I have been working with a mindfulness trick where I notice the urge to check social media and pick up my phone, holding it and trying to be aware of the feel of the weight of the phone and the texture of its surface. Usually the urge passes and I put my phone back in my pocket, but the jury is still out on the effectiveness of this practice.

That’s just a few observations from the last 11 days. I’m planning on focussing some attention of the second precept this week (taking what isn’t freely given,) as I didn’t really have too many observations on that one.

Mindfulness Moment: Sullivan Lake

sullivan lake still waters
The tranquil waters of Sullivan Lake

This spring I spent a weekend camping at Sullivan Lake, a beautiful and peaceful spot about two hours drive from Spokane, WA. I set out on the trip with the intention to practice mindfulness throughout the trip. This effort was aided by the fact that I would be spending 3+ days without any cell phone coverage.

I had been spending my time on the cushion practicing the Anapanasati Sutta around that time, and had been specifically focusing on impermanence. Every morning during my ad hoc self retreat, I would go down to the lake and sit on the beach and meditate before the other campers were stirring. The wind had been blowing pretty hard most of the first couple of days, but I was delighted to discover that all was calm when I went to sit on the third day. I generally meditate with my eyes closed, but I had decided to practice that day with my eyes open, incorporating vision into my field of awareness. After a while, I felt a slight breeze blowing across the hair on my arms and legs. Shortly thereafter I saw slight ripples disturbing the surface, traveling from one side of the lake to the other, and then the water gradually subsiding back into it’s previous serenity.

Still morning waters
Hills reflect on the surface
Ripple with movement

My Sullivan Lake Haiku

As I sat taking in this scene, I realized that my mind was similar to this lake. I have within me a stillness that I hadn’t recognized until about a year ago, when I was constantly being helplessly blown about by various thoughts, desires, and aversions. In my practice, I have found moments of stillness, but I still experience the winds blowing across my surface. These winds arise and they pass, and as they do I am more often able to observe them mindfully. I am by no means free of their push and pull, but I have seen the stillness and know that it is there.

The Backstory

How did I get here?

There is a lot about my life that would have surprised a younger version of myself, but pretty high on the list would be that I would find the 40 year old me pouring over books about meditation and Buddhism, and contemplating the logistics of going on a 10-day silent meditation retreat.

I grew up in a conservative West Texas town, to a conservative West Texas family. Where I grew up, the question wasn’t whether or not you went to church, it was where you went to church. The evangelical church that I grew up in lumped meditation in with listening to Ozzy Ozzborne, having sex outside of marriage, and participating in black masses as signs that you were on the highway to hell. Of course, watching The Smurfs and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were on that list as well, so it wasn’t a very hard list to make.

By the time I found myself approaching my 40s, I had accumulated a massive guilt complex, a mountain of insecurities, and a marriage that was falling apart due to a number of factors, not the least of which was a lack of attention on my part, and the strain of my personal baggage. The voice in my head was a dick who constantly cataloged my inadequacies and failures. Between all of this and an increasingly stressful work life, I had begun to experience a steady stream of anxiety that was punctuated by a series of full on panic attacks. 

I would like to say that I immediately turned toward healthy coping mechanisms for my stress, but that was not the case. I dove headlong into a pattern of self-medicating, which given the fact that my career was in the beer and wine industry, was a pretty easy route to take. I had already been drinking more than I should for some time, but I really started ratcheting that up as I tried to numb myself to cope with a life I didn’t want to face. Things were spiraling out of control, and I was just going along with the downward flow.

In the midst of all of this, I was fully aware (okay, maybe not FULLY aware) that I needed to find a more healthy way to deal with my anxiety and the stresses that I was facing, but I am not really sure what it was that made me think, “maybe I should try meditation.” I probably read an article, or at least the title of an article, that said something about meditation being useful in working with anxiety. To be honest, I barely even knew what meditation was, but for some reason I thought it might be helpful to me. I found some instructions online for basic breath-based meditation (previous programing still had me creeped out by mantra-based practice), and started trying it in 5 minute chunks.

By July of 2018, I had been playing around with periodic meditation for a few weeks when I saw that one of my high school friends had posted a review of 10% Happier by Dan Harris on her Goodreads feed. For those who don’t know, Dan Harris is a news anchor for ABC who had an on-air panic attack, and through a round about journey discovered meditation. He wrote about his experience in a memoir with the full title of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story. I found both the subtitle of the book and my friend’s synopsis intriguing, as Harris describes himself as a natural skeptic, and I was still a bit skeptical myself. I jumped on my Audible account and downloaded the book and started listening to it. I plan to write a post about my experience with the book soon, but suffice it to say, I owe Dan Harris a lot for starting me on the journey I am on now.

10% Happier introduced me to a cast of characters whose work has become instrumental in founding and growing my practice, including Dr. Mark Epstein, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzburg, and others. Additionally, Harris’ candid descriptions of his various struggles in the establishment of his own practice were incredibly useful when I encountered many of the same hurdles on the cushion and in everyday life. 

In the year following my initial experiments with meditation, I have developed a daily meditation practice, and have ventured into studying Buddhism. I have been working with a meditation teacher named JoAnna Hardy, who I discovered on Dan Harris’ 10% Happier app (thanks again, Dan.) I am currently sitting for about 45 minutes every morning, which would have been unthinkable to the me of a year ago, a man who couldn’t stand to be sitting still and silent for 5 minutes at a time, let alone 45. I am doing better in some aspects of mindfulness than others, and I do better at some times than others, but I can say that the old bouts of sitting for hours while my inner critic excoriates me for various misdeeds and shortcomings have almost completely disappeared. Oh, I still hear that voice pipe up from time to time, but I find myself breaking out of the cycle much more quickly, rather than attaching to it and spiraling.

So now you know where I have come from. As I continue to post on this blog, I will share some things that I have learned and experienced in the time since I started meditating, and will be sharing some of my current experiences. This blog is not written by an “expert” meditator, but by someone who is still early in their practice. I hope that reading about my mindfulness journey  will be useful to others, and I hope to also learn from some of you who might find yourself reading my posts. A big part of my motivation for writing this is to pursue interaction with an online community. Feel free to comment below, or you can email me or send a tweet anytime.

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