Is Your Mind Worried About Becoming Jobless and Homeless (or What is Meditation?)

A few mornings ago I didn’t feel like meditating. So I went to Youtube, where I get some of my favorite meditation videos, and typed in ‘Meditation when you don’t feel like meditating.’

What came back were a series of videos about what meditation is. A few of them were created by monks, and were quite interesting. I always love when people talk about what meditation is and is not, because I sometimes get asked this question and I can’t think of the answer exactly- not off the top of my head .

Anyway, this Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Mingyur Rinpoche, had a 5 minute video that really clarified a lot of things for me about meditation. I’ll summarize his video here.

First, the problem most of us have with meditation is that there are a ton of thoughts racing through our heads as we’re meditating, and we feel like we’ve ‘failed’ if we can’t quiet them.

But, as Mingyur Rinpoche says, and as many of the best meditation teachers say, meditation isn’t about forcing your ‘monkey mind’ to stop.

We are trying to block all thoughts and emotions and to think of absolutely nothing.

But meditation actually isn’t about blocking thoughts and thinking of nothing.

Or can meditation just about blissing out and being peaceful and open? Why can’t I do that? Why can’t I bliss out and be peaceful and open, dammit? What is wrong with me?!

But meditation actually isn’t about doing that anyway, so relax.

Another problem many of us have with meditating is that our minds will start telling us stuff to do during a meditation, such as “I have to call Zach, I have to buy detergent, I can’t be wasting this time- I have to put my expense report together” etc.

But meditation isn’t about following each and every demand of your monkey mind.

So what the heck IS meditation all about then? If meditation isn’t about saying ‘hey GET OUT!’ to your mind and your thoughts… And it’s not about saying ‘okay, yes sir!’ to your mind.. then..?

Meditation is about making friends with your monkey mind.

So what does your mind like and want? AND what do YOU want? These questions need to have the same answer…Because you don’t want to just give your mind what it wants while you miserably follow (i.e I have to miserably think the same depressing thoughts over and over beccause I have NO CHOICE BECAUSE THAT’S JUST WHAT HAPPENS UGHHHHHHH WHYYYYYYYY.)

But screaming at your mind to STOP THINKING STUPID THOUGHTS GODDAMMIT  JUST STOP IT STOP IT RIGHT NOW doesn’t work either. Your mind doesn’t like being yelled at or told to go away or to stop thinking- and it will sometimes royally disobey and do the exact opposite of what you’re screaming at it about.

So what does your mind like? It likes to have a job. “Without a job your monkey mind thinks it’s jobless and will soon become homeless” -Mingyur Rinpoche

Your mind is always active and wants a job. So when you give a job to your monkey mind, it’s a win-win situation. Your monkey mind is happy because it has a job, and you’re happy because you’re the boss. Your mind is your employee and you are the employer-not the other way around. And in this way, you’re free. You liberate yourself from the monkey mind.

So what does this mean????!!!

Meditation is giving your monkey mind a part- time job.

Just tell your monkey mind, “okay mind, we’re going to meditate, let’s do a job right now, let’s watch our breath.” or “let’s repeat these mantra words.” Don’t give your mind a full-time job…a few minutes a day of meditation is enough.

Also, don’t “punish” your mind if it doesn’t follow the ‘job’ all the time…just simply bring it back to it’s job. Your brain isn’t going to stop thinking just because you’re meditating, but when you give your mind a job and step back, you’ll be able to see those thoughts clearly and let them pass by. Mingyur Rinpoche says it best: In muddy water you can’t see anything, but in still water you can see all the fish swimming around.

So get still. And slowly, slowly, your mind WILL become more peaceful and pliable. And meditation really will bring you to a place where YOU are in charge and are friends with your mind…plus you may start to see some added benefits of newfound love, compassion, and clarity.

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Breathing in the Present Moment in Your Thirties

Whenever anyone talks about being centered and in the present moment, they talk about noticing your breath. I find this disconcerting sometimes, and I recently realized that my inner 12 year old is sabotaging my efforts.

I was around 12 when my family and I were on a trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania. Now, Hershey isn’t super far from New York City, but a lot of Pennsylvania is the opposite of NYC, filled with farmland and fields. While driving to Hershey, I remember noticing how spaced out the houses were from one another and how many cornfields there were instead of houses. So. Much. Nature.

When we arrived, I remember how the air quality was different than in New York City- how it was cleaner, something we city dwellers aren’t used to. We all remarked on this “different air.” All of a sudden, after mulling this air quality thought over for a few minutes, I found it hard to breathe. When I focused on my breath, my awareness shifted to the laboriousness of breathing in and out. “It’s so much harder to breathe when you think about it than when you don’t,” I pondered. I secretly worried I was going to have an asthma attack (I don’t have asthma), or a heart attack (hopefully clean air wouldn’t give me a heart attack.) I didn’t know what to do.

Now, if you know me, you may know that I’m extremely sensitive to talk about medical conditions. I could never be a healthcare professional because hearing about what ails people makes me ill. It kind of sounds funny, but I wish I was joking. Nausea races through my body and the potential of fainting is near when I’m told about the details of someone’s insulin pump or what’s really happening when bruising starts. Conversations about surgeries or bones peeking through skin from open wounds will hasten the likelihood of me sinking into unconsciousness.

So I guess it’s no surprise that thoughts about not being able to breathe correctly, even at 12, sent panic attacks (not real ones, thankfully) through my mind and lack of breath filled up my senses.

I ended up calming myself down by shifting my thoughts AWAY from my breath. I made a conscious effort from then on to NOT to think about breathing. So when I trace back a strange dislike of concentrating on my breath, I come back to very early moments.

Luckily, consciously thinking about my breath no longer makes me feel ill or panicky. I’m just aware of how strange and new it is to WANT to concentrate on breathing. I’m able to be aware of my breath now, with my blockage from childhood fading away every day, because I’m aware that this was a choice I made once that doesn’t work for me now.

Imagine how many strange dislikes we have now that come from very early choices. Question where your ideas and preferences come from. Some choices may have been important at the time, but do they actually serve you anymore? Or do they hold you back?

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You Don’t Have to Go Far to Go Far

Going to Japan last year was one of the best trips of my life. I wrote about Japan a bunch in the posts Must Do’s for a Two Week Japan Trip as well as Working Easy In Your Thirties and  You Can Actually Do That Crazy Thing In Your Thirties. This year everyone asked me where I was going to go next – like I don’t travel enough for work… but they meant travel for fun. I’d love to go on another insane (good insane) major international trip like Japan, but this year I’ve decided to stay in my home city. This is mainly because I travel so much for work and I feel like I need a thorough spring and summer in New york this year. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t have some of the same sensational experiences I had in Japan.

I went to Japan solo, and that was part of the magic of the trip- I really got to spend time with myself and explore all the places I wanted to see. Walking for 12 hours a day? I have no problem with that- but other people might. Skipping lunch and eating a beautiful, fancy vegan dinner every night? That wouldn’t fly for everyone but that’s how I scheduled almost every day of my Japan trip. Meeting cool strangers at Airbnbs in Tokyo and Kyoto? I excitedly researched each place I stayed at and ended up loving all of my hosts.

So when I booked work in Boston this week, I decided to make the work trip more fun by applying a bit of my Japan attitude to a city I’m extremely familiar with. I’d never been to Japan before my last trip but I’ve been to Boston countless times. So I decided to go somewhere in Boston that I’d never been before- The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It’s the site of the most famous art heist in the world.

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The Gardner museum is also a simply gorgeous museum. I had no idea how incredible it was until I saw it for myself.

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Wondering the halls of the museum solo, I felt the same wonderment and solitude that I felt in Japan. I remembered the Edo Museum I’d gone to in Tokyo, as well as multiple temples in Kyoto and Koyasan I’d been inside that filled me with reverence and awe. I came into Boston extra early the day before work in order to have this time to myself and it was time well spent.

And both nights I was in Boston I took myself out to luxurious vegan meals (extra opulent for me because I really only eat dinner out alone on special occasions – like when I’m traveling for fun. Neither of the meals were very expensive- they were at traditional Indian and modern Chinese food restaurants- but to me they were indulgent and lovely. I could have been traveling solo in an unexplored asian country and I might have had similar moments of solitary contemplation.

I also stayed at a fantastic Boston Airbnb with a wonderful Ukranian host who had spent the last 8 months in India, living in an ashram and teaching autistic children yoga. She practiced hour-plus-long meditations, and told me incredible stories about her last 10 day vows of silence, the guru (teacher) she had in India, and various meditation retreats she’d been to and wanted to go to. She taught me some breath work she learned in India that helped with her meditations, and shared her vegan yogurt with me (she’s a vegetarian as well). I really feel like I met a kindred!

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The gorgeous cat, Lunca, at my Boston Airbnb

So although I’m obviously a big fan of travel, I don’t think it’s necessary to go very far to experience the intoxicating high of traveling. You don’t have to spend much money or even leave your neighborhood to travel away from your normal routine. If you can’t travel right now, try something new you haven’t tried before instead. Take yourself to a new place for dinner or explore a different area. Talk to someone you’ve never talked to before. Investigate a new museum and see how you feel when you’re alone with just your thoughts and your spirit.

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Lessons From a Fever in Your Thirties

I was traveling for work for the last 25 days, and for most of that time I was well- physically at least. Mentally, I was exhausted at times, from both the amount of travel and the sheer magnitude of people and bustle and noise constantly surrounding me at most shows.

But the mental and the physical are intertwined, and during the last week of my travel, I developed a fever while working in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s funny how illnesses sometimes sneak up on you, and my weakening muscles deceived me into thinking that I had always felt so unsteady. I tried to furtively stretch while still on the work floor, but every tendon in my body ached, and it felt more agonizing by the minute to simply stand up, never mind give infinite presentations and answer the slew of questions coming at me. Plus, my stomach was wrestling with my mind as well- telling me it was utterly starving one minute and then agonizingly full the next- right after I’d eaten only 3 bites of something.

My coworkers said I had The Cleve- a mythological disease known to strike first-timers to the Cleveland area we were in: the airport area of despair. You see, almost everyone who’d worked this particular show fell deathly ill at some point at least one of the years they’d worked it. Why? Who knows. The lighting is yellow and dim- sort of despairing. The convention center used to be a military facility, if that adds anything. I googled whether there was something up with the water supply in the area but my search returned nothing. No offense to any of you who may be from/live in Cleveland. The downtown area seemed awesome, but alas we weren’t ever near there.

Somehow I made it to the end of the work day that day, and with the help of lots of zinc and rest that night was able to make it back to work the next day (sick days are unheard of in my field during a show). Even though my muscles ached less and my stomach was slowly starting to unclench, I ended up taking it extra easy on myself for the remainder of the show…and even into this week. I probably should always be taking care of myself so thoroughly, if not more so.

This week -and last- I put myself to bed earlier and sleep in when I can. I eat and chew extra slowly in case my stomach turns on me. I lie in bed and bask in the sheer bliss of a few moments of extra meditation. Sometimes I’m not even meditating- just staring at the ceiling, feeling smooth sheets underneath me. I drink less- well, I drank less last week anyway. We had a Cleveland bowling onesie costume party one night, and somehow I got through that without touching a sip of alcohol. I allowed myself to go very slow as I packed for the next trip. I ran outside extra carefully this week. I spent a few lovely  moments staring out of the airplane window or watching a movie as opposed to trying to accomplish tasks. I let myself breathe. I give myself room.

And as I do, I feel healthier, but I also feel more loved. I’m taking care of myself as if I love myself and as if I’m treasured. And as I do that, all of those things are true to me.

But you don’t need to be sick to treat yourself with love.

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The Feeling of Being In Your Body In Your Thirties

Maybe it’s the meditation. I’ve been practicing for almost two years now so perhaps changes are happening that I don’t even realize. But sometimes, suddenly, in the middle of the day, or late at night, I’m suddenly very aware of the way I’m holding my stomach. My breathe is so shallow it barely reaches below my shoulders, and I’m walking around with an extreme amount of tension. And sometimes, suddenly, I let it all out. Do you ever feel like that?

Do you ever feel, suddenly, amazed to be in your body? I feel like this especially after recovering from being ill or from being hurt in some way- that’s the easiest time to feel it. If you’ve ever had a headache for forever, you might know the grateful feeling after the pain is gone. If you’ve twisted an ankle, or injured your knee, the sudden happiness that comes over you when you start to walk and feel better can be akin to nirvana.

But sometimes I feel this way randomly, without warning. I feel the walls of my apartment- bumpy on my fingertips, the wood floor underneath my feet-cold and indented.  Sometimes when I’m outside I feel a nervous pang as I let my stomach go, realizing I’ve been holding it in for awhile. And then I feel my breathe rush deeply into my entire ribcage.

It’s kind of fascinating and strangely new to feel my body, even though it’s always been there. I’ve already had 32 years with my warm shoulders, my darting eyes, my bony feet. Yet it’s taken this long to scratch the surface of unfurling my numb senses and letting myself be.

Does any of this sound familiar to you guys? Do you also feel you’ve just scratched the surface of “being aware of what your body feels like” or does that not sound familiar? Are these sensations important to you? Have you been working on becoming aware of how you feel in the moment? It’s one of those things that was never a priority for me before, so I’m wondering how others feel about it. Do you feel like awareness is something that’s come to the surface more in your thirties? I definitely do…I wonder if it’s because in our twenties we’re way more consumed outward appearances to others and not nearly as concerned with how we feel within ourselves…

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What Happens When You Start Feeling Empty?

I guess it can happen when you least expect it.

At the end of a very productive week, after sweeping through almost everything on my to do list and checking it all off, and getting a crazy amount accomplished and even feeling quite together and on top of things, I started to feel empty inside.

I wouldn’t usually write about things like this, because I don’t know if hearing about emptiness is helpful to people. Also, I’m usually an extremely positive and driven person, so it’s kind of hard to talk about feeling suddenly empty in the middle of an upswing for no determinable reason.

However, I was thinking that if I’m feeling this way now, I’m sure there are others who are feeling this way too, and maybe it’ll help to talk about it.

Emptiness is a weird feeling, and completely annoying, because when you try to shake it, it only clings on harder. It came upon me this week after meditating almost every day, and feeling pretty good about things, so it was pretty random seeming. I guess it can come from anywhere at any time. It just felt hard to feel, if that makes any sense. It was hard to feel grateful and hard to feel peaceful for sure.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night with the empty feeling slathered all over me, like an unsettling grey cloud. It led to almost immediate fear thoughts about how even when I’m on top of things and feeling quite good, I can still feel this horrible lack. Just writing about this now kind of brings the fear thoughts back. Since I don’t exactly know the answer to how to proceed with feelings like this, I will only state some theories I have:

  • Feelings of emptiness come and go. There’s probably something I should pay attention to, instead of just pushing the feelings away.
  • Although I’m afraid of the feeling of emptiness, or not being able to feel peace and gratefulness, I think I’m afraid because I feel like no matter how hard I work, my feelings might not always be peaceful, and I can’t accept that.
  • I need to accept that my feelings won’t always be peaceful, and that sometimes I will feel empty and afraid. I won’t always feel this way, but it doesn’t help to pretend that I never feel this way.
  • The empty feelings and fear feelings that pass through me don’t define who I am.
  • Those same “bad” feelings (which I’m going to take the “bad” label away from now) can be present even while I forge ahead with my life. Their presence doesn’t need to set me back, though I always feel that if I feel empty and fearful, it must mean I’ve backtracked.

This has a lot to do with what I wrote about in the post It Hurts, So What? Sometimes I’m afraid to do something because I know it will hurt. For example, in that post I talked about being afraid to speak up because I knew the outcome probably would be painful anyway…but I needed to speak up. And I did, and it was very painful..but that was okay. Because so what? Sometimes things will be painful. It’s uncomfortable but it’s alright.

So perhaps I’m relearning the lesson of ‘It hurts. So what?” again and again. It’s okay to be afraid of the empty feeling, at the same time that it’s okay to be afraid of being afraid. It’s not a about being ‘beyond’ those feelings. It’s about letting them happen..because so what? Those feelings aren’t who I am.

Here are some articles I read about the empty feeling that made me feel a bit better and a bit less alone:

The Real Cause of Inner Emptiness (And What to Do About It- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaret-paul-phd/inner-emptiness_b_869421.html

‘I Feel Empty’: How to Overcome Feelings of Emptiness- http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/i-feel-empty-how-to-overcome-feelings-of-emptiness-1112145

Allowing things to

arise: http://www.buddhanet.net/4noble19.htm

Hope this helps someone out there. Remember, feel free to reach out to us if you feel sad or empty. You’re not alone!

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The Beauty of Following in Your Thirties

I’m concluding my last night in Miami and it’s been a great trip. Tomorrow’s gonna hurt because I have an 8am flight to my next job in LA, so I’ll try to keep this short.

I’ve been to Miami before, and I’ve had both good times and bad here. The bad times consisted of blurry clubbing alcoholic nights that I felt forced to partake in. I had one trip here where I was dragged out to a club practically every night, and I had to buy a whole new clubbing wardrobe at the Miami H&M. If you know me, you’ll know I’m not a clubber- so I was following the crowd because I wanted to make friends and not function in complete isolation.

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This is the first time the city was really amazing for me, and it’s because I followed through with what I really wanted to do. The show that I worked was late-shifted, so there were days I started work at 4pm and got out at 11pm. This allowed me to go to sleep at 2 am and wake up at 10am, still getting 8 hours sleep while remaining a night owl. I was able to enjoy my free hotel breakfast outside in the heat of a sunny outdoor patio, and then meditate and then go running on the beach afterwards. I was able to rent bikes and swim and see the city and walk for hours by myself. I was also able to go out to nice dinners with close friends, and see some family I have nearby. I also didn’t end up drinking a drop of alcohol during this particular trip in Miami, for no other reason than I wasn’t around other drinkers. Instead, I had one of the best slices of carrot cake I’ve ever had in my life. In short, this trip was the anti-party. My visit had quite the goody two shoes, squeaky clean feel for a Miami trip…but it was exactly what I needed right now.

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And I loved this Miami. I loved it because it’s here that I really feel like I’ve gotten a small percentage of the feel of giving zero fucks about what people think (something to strive for always, but especially in your thirties). I hung out with the people I loved and enjoyed and was nice to the acquaintances, but didn’t go out of my way to follow what they were doing. Instead I followed my yearning for being with myself and the beach and talking to my closest friends. I fell into a nice healthy rhythm and felt amazingly self-sufficient, yet socially happy for a long stretch of time. It was an amazing balance.

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It gives me hope that you can follow what you really want to do and not have to be swept along by others….and even by the scary, uncertain parts of yourself. Sometimes my own feelings get in my way and I feel like I can’t trust myself or find balance. But here I just followed what I really wanted to do, while staying in touch with the people I cared about, and things fell into place. Maybe it’s the warm weather or the beach or the movement. Or maybe it’s something else.

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