Mindful Place OF Calm
About the Author After half a lifetime in the field of electronics—as university lecturer and design engineer—in 2004 Paul had the opportunity to take a four-month sabbatical from work, during which he was led down a path of personal growth, an experience that utterly changed his life. The study and practice of hatha yoga and meditation led to trainings and certifications in the area of self-development and many years’ exploration of meditation, yoga, energy work, and therapy techniques. In 2005, he established The Sanctuary of Asclepios in San Jose, California. Drawing from his work with survivors of domestic violence, Paul is passionate about helping people to empower themselves and connect with the beautiful soul inside. Paul has been practicing yoga and teaching meditation for over thirteen years and is part of the RYT-200 teaching faculty at Mind Body Zone in Fremont, California. He runs Meditation and Self-Awareness workshops, teaches Health Education courses in the Psychiatric department of a local hospital, and has private therapy sessions.
Llewellyn Publications Woodbury, Minnesota
The Mindful Place of Calm: Find Your Way into the Space Between Thoughts & Actions © 2019 by A. Paul Miller, PhD. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including internet usage, without written permission from Llewellyn Publications, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. First Edition First Printing, 2019 Cover design by Shira Atakpu Llewellyn Publications is a registered trademark of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Miller, A. Paul, author. | Pond, David, writer of foreword. Title: The mindful place of calm : find your way into the space between thoughts & actions / A. Paul Miller, PhD ; foreword by David Pond. Description: First edition. | Woodbury, Minnesota : Llewellyn Publications,  Identifiers: LCCN 2019029651 (print) | LCCN 2019029652 (ebook) | ISBN 9780738761848 (trade paperback) | ISBN 9780738762517 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Mindfulness (Psychology) | Peace of mind. | Meditation. Classification: LCC BF637.M56 M55 2019 (print) | LCC BF637.M56 (ebook) | DDC 158.1/3—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019029651 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019029652 Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd. does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business transactions between our authors and the public. All mail addressed to the author is forwarded but the publisher cannot, unless specifically instructed by the author, give out an address or phone number. Any internet references contained in this work are current at publication time, but the publisher cannot guarantee that a specific location will continue to be maintained. Please refer to the publisher’s website for links to authors’ websites and other sources. Llewellyn Publications A Division of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd. 2143 Wooddale Drive Woodbury, MN 55125-2989 www.llewellyn.com Printed in the United States of America
Other Books by A. Paul Miller, PhD The Power of Your Perceptions: The Choices You Can Make and How to Make Them
Dedication To my soul, I can certainly say to you, “Well that was not a boring life and I did not see any of that coming!” To my wife Kate who has supported and encouraged me over so many years. Bless you to the moon and back. To all of you who walk on your path of self-growth not knowing where it’ll lead but are prepared to trust the lantern’s light.
More powerful than the truth are your perceptions
Contents Foreword … xvii Introduction … 1 From Electronic Engineering Department to Psychiatric Department / 4 The Messages in This Book / 8 Who Is This Book For? / 9 How Important Is Self-Compassion? / 11 The Structure of This Book / 12
Creating Your Foundation for Inner Peace with Meditation Chapter 1: Creating Awareness … 23 Who Am I? / 24 Willingness, Tenacity & Fortitude / 26 Where Do We Find Who We Really Are? / 30 Roles We Play / 30 What Stops Us from Changing? / 33 Building the New Foundation—The Meditative Feeling / 36 Candle Meditation—Try It for Yourself / 39 The Elephant Trainer—A Story with the Master / 42 Considerations for Your Daily Practice / 45 What Is a Grazing Meditation? / 48 Creating the Meditative Reservoir / 49 Coping with Arising Thoughts—Breaking the Chain / 51
The Boulder in the Stream—A Story with the Master / 54 The Lens of Perception / 57 Deepening Our Distorted Perceptions / 59 The Ironing Boards in Our Life / 62 How Does the Lens of Perception Work? / 63 The Scalpel of Objectivity / 67 How Is the Lens of Perception Formed? / 69
Chapter 2: Acting on Our Awareness … 73 Finding the Space between Thoughts/Feelings and Actions / 76 Nose-Breathing Meditation—Try It for Yourself / 77 Holding the Space / 79 Hands Meditation—Try It for Yourself / 86 Finding the Space between Thoughts and Feelings / 88 The Meditative Feeling Helping to Reduce Anxiety / 94 Chapter 3: Change: Tracking Your Personal Growth … 101 Tracking Makes It Fun / 102 The Pickpocket—A Story with the Master / 106 Setting SMART Goals to Track Your Personal Growth / 108 Journaling to Track and Observe Your Progress / 113 How Will I Find the Time to Meditate? / 115 The Frozen Lake—A Story with the Master / 117
Wisdom Insights to Shift Your Perceptions Introducing the Wisdom Insights / 124 Wind, Earth, Fire & Water / 126 Becoming an Observer / 133 Your History Does Not Mean Forever / 135 Giving Your Heart / 138 Doing the Work Yourself / 141 Your Voice Is Your Consciousness / 143 Stillness in the Universe / 148 Energy / 149 Change / 151 Moon and Stars / 154 Biopsy of a Thought / 156 Heart of God / 163 Meditation / 164 What Is Sacred Ground? / 166 Offense / 168 Lifeâ€™s Trials / 170 What Is Spirituality? / 172 Limiting Yourself / 174 Awareness / 176 Becoming a Mirror / 178 Acknowledgment Does Not Mean Forever / 180
Grow Your Love / 182 Living a Spiritual Life / 184 Owning Our History / 185 Finding Self-Worth / 188 Trying / 190 Growing Your Insights / 191 Judgment / 193 Behavior / 195 Detachment or Retreat / 196 Building Your World / 198 Inside Change / 201 Finding Peace / 202 Revenge / 202 Complacency / 203 Greatest Sacrifice / 204 Buddhas all around Us / 208 Finding Your Voice / 210 Higher Than Forgiveness / 212 Faith / 216
Conclusion … 223 Appendix … 225 Recommended Resources … 227 Glossary … 229 Acknowledgments … 235
Foreword A meditation teacher was talking with his students about the benefits of the mindless state of awareness achieved with meditation. One of his students asked many questions during the talk and finally asked how to stop his mind from thinking. The teacher calmly responded, “Do you know that place that can be sensed just between one thought ending and another beginning?” “Yes,” the student responded. “Widen the gap.” Paul Miller’s book, The Mindful Place of Calm: Find Your Way into the Space Between Thoughts & Actions, is a wonderful handbook with insights and exercises to “widen the gap.” Miller’s book adds fresh insights and techniques to achieve what he calls the Meditative Feeling within five minutes, and then how to extend and prolong the feeling into the day. Miller also shares what he calls the Wisdom Insights that he received from his meditation practices. The Wisdom Insights are presented as sutras, pithy poems of guidance on staying aligned
with the truth of your higher self. His discussions on each of the Wisdom Insights reveals how the teachings can be applied in everyday reality. The benefits of mindfulness meditation practice are wellresearched and documented. Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the meditation classic, Full Catastrophe Living, pioneered introducing mindfulness meditation into a medical setting in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He introduced the meditation practice as part of the patientâ€™s healing regime and was able to help the patients manage the pain and discomfort associated with their illness, minimizing their need for medication and enhancing the healing process. Mindfulness meditation training is now practiced in over 200 hospitals worldwide as a further testimony to its effectiveness. Meditation training actually can rewire the neural patterns within the brain. We are not hardwired to always and forever respond as we always have with fear, anxiety, and uncertainty driving us more than we wish. A regular meditation reduces the size, function, and neural pathways to the amygdala, the fear-making gland that amps up the fight or flight response to anything uncomfortable. The Mindful Place of Calm is a fresh and welcome addition to our collective understanding of the practice of mindfulness. It can inspire and teach you how to listen to your own Wisdom Insights that can come from meditation. Reading this book will
inspire you to utilize the techniques you will learn to enhance, not only your meditation practice itself, but also its application in your life. David Pond, author Llewellynâ€™s Little Book of Meditation, Chakras for Beginners, Astrology and Relationships January 2019
Introduction Recently I was watching the movie Matrix Reloaded and there was a scene in which the Oracle says to Neo: We can never see past the choices we don’t understand. Hearing those words was like someone waking me from the deepest sleep and I thought, Wait, what was that—what was just said? I instantly paused the movie and then replayed that part of the scene. This was the underpinning of what I have been sharing with people through my meditation, yoga, and therapy practices. Our actions are all about choices—giving impetus to those that we can see clearly and searching for those we had no idea existed for us. We can attain any goal by applying our strength of will to whatever we choose to do. Visualization, for example, is one effective way to do this. You simply visualize what your future would look like having achieved a particular goal, and keep this clear image in mind as you work to achieve the goal. Athletes do 1
this. At the start of a race, runners visualize themselves crossing the finishing line first. This helps them focus all their energy on the task at hand—winning. Another way to do this is to set a specific intention, and then keep it at the forefront of your mind to put your will—your complete energy—behind it. But these practices do not address how we can make choices that we don’t know that we have, or deal with the choices we’ve made that we don’t understand, such as the choice to stop feeling like everything bad happens to you and you have limited or no control over your life. When dealing with situations that provoke such deep-rooted negative emotions governing our actions, we most often don’t even consider that there is a choice. It’s like you’re traveling down an endless one-way street with no control over the speed or where you are going to stop. In such situations, you need to create a fork in the road that seems indelibly engraved within you, thereby putting yourself in a position to choose another destination and take control. There is always a choice within our power to make. Sometimes it can seem impossible to think that there is a choice in a challenging situation. Then, there are those challenging situations (often recurring) in which we don’t even recognize that our natural reactions are detrimental to us, and that if we chose to react differently in that moment, the outcome could lead us down a whole new path of positive, happy consequences. Even when we are aware of how that familiar road does not lead us to the joy we seek, it can seem extremely difficult to come up with other choices. How much more alluring is the devil we know than the one we do not? An example might be how we retreat inside our-
selves when faced with someone who is being confrontational. From the experience when we were younger of facing an angry person we learned to retreat within rather than stand our ground; the retreating became an instinctive reaction, one that we know we are making but feel unable to stop. Of course, we will experience some trepidation when forging a new road in these situations. It’s at this crucial point that we begin to heighten our awareness by examining how we have truly felt in those particular situations. You can start by asking yourself, “Is this really what I want out of my life? If I were given a choice to do something different—to choose a more fulfilling road to travel—but it required more effort to get started, how crazy would I be not to take it?” This is how we begin to create a fork in what seemed to be a one-way road. To create a fork, you have to do something to step out of your daily flow—your usual way of doing things—to a place where you can begin to construct a new road. You need to take a mental time-out. For example, during very intense work meetings in which a pivotal idea or solution isn’t forthcoming, someone usually calls for a break—to get coffee or just stretch one’s legs by walking around the building. This provides the time and mental space for a new perspective to come to mind. The challenge, however, in making new life choices and changes is how to step out of self-judgment or low self-worth to find that space where new perspectives can begin to flow. How do we step out of an intense situation when it’s inside us? This book provides relatable ways to create space for your internal time-outs so that you can begin to come up with choices that lead to the joy and peace you seek in life. My background as
an engineer has helped me create practical techniques that can be integrated into our busy lives. I also incorporated within the techniques a process that has probably been the most valuable thing I learned during my time in corporate America; it’s called setting SMART goals—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. I found that this simple concept can be applied to all aspects of our lives, and based on that, I’ve developed a way to create, track, and observe self-awareness goals. It makes the journey more fun and attainable.
From Electronic Engineering Department to Psychiatric Department It is said that every cloud has a silver lining. This was never so true as in November of 2004 when I got laid off from my electronic engineering job in the heart of Silicon Valley. Of course, generally speaking, we never see the silver lining at the time as we are all too busy looking at the dark cloud. Also, if the silver lining is not apparent at the time, then the wait for it to show itself can be very frustrating. When it does appear it might not be so obvious and can be a new direction so unexpected that it does not seem to be recognizable as the silver lining. At the risk of sounding clichéd, getting laid off truly was the best thing that could have happened to me, and it led to a major, positive turning point in my life. After being laid off, I was so stressed that only the years following my divorce seemed worse. I realized, however, that in order to get through this challenging time, I had to bring my stress down to a normal level—if stress should even be considered a normal part of our daily lives. I decided to take a couple of
months off to decompress and reduce my stress before looking for another job. To do this, I turned to the only thing that I knew would helpâ€”working out in the gym for several grueling hours a day. This is what I had done all those years ago after my divorce as a way of physically exhausting myself, helping me to release the mental and physical tension, to the extent that I could hardly stay awake in the evenings. I was getting lazy after the workouts and not stretching so decided to take half an hour of stretch yoga to force myself into stretching. I asked my yoga instructor to write down a set of simple yoga poses that I could do at home each morning. Then, every morning for about twenty minutes, I would play the strange yoga music that I had become quite accustomed to and do those poses. I did this five times a week. About two weeks into this new morning routine, I became aware of a new inner calmness and decided to start practicing one of the meditation techniques that I had learned many years earlier. The technique I started with was to meditate on a candle flame. I explain this technique later in the book. After meditating I began to notice a very different set of feelings inside me, a feeling of peace, calm, and stillness. These were all very strange to me as I had spent most of my life either studying or working and was in one degree of stress or another. I started calling these new feelings my Meditative Feeling. I enjoyed this new state of being and found that while it seemed like my mind was moving slower, I was actually more efficient; I did not spend so much time chasing my tail or trying to tame my racing mind.
Like a good engineer I asked myself, â€œWhat now?â€? I noticed that I still made judgments of myself and others, still had discordant thoughts that lead to discordant feelings, that of course would take away from my Meditative Feeling. I had a burning desire to become a better human being, but how could I do it? I wanted a structure that would help me to hold onto the Meditative Feeling and then use it to help me to make permanent changes in how I saw myself and the world around me. It was this desire to become a better human being that caused the Wisdom Insights to suddenly come to me. They rarely occurred during meditation but more commonly while I was doing something else, which meant that I had to scramble for pen and paper to write them down before I forgot the exact wording. I quickly realized that they were higher level perceptions of how to see myself and the world around me in a more enlightened way. I was to use them in conjunction with the Meditative Feeling for permanent change in myself. I collected them over many many years using them as my guidelines. Some were easier to integrate into my awareness than others but that did not matter, as I felt that I had been given guidance so I could actively strive into who I wanted to become. Being a good engineer I created a structure within which I could incorporate the meditative practice, the Wisdom Insights, and a method where I could create and track goals for myself to see the change happening. I knew that if I did not see changes happening quickly I would soon lose the motivation for change. At the same time that I was starting my post-gym meditation practice and the Wisdom Insights had just started to occur,
a sequence of events happened in my life that I could not explain within my engineering world view. Each time an event would happen I would put it down to coincidence and ignore it. Each time I ignored it something bigger would happen that I could not explain. Eventually an event so big happened that I could not ignore it and could not explain it. It was at that point I realized that I was not meant to stay in engineering. By this time I had found a place called Delphi University and had decided to start my new life direction by retraining as a RoHun transpersonal therapist. I pursued the training though to the Doctorate level and then started working with clients to help them work through their issues. The people who came to me had been in traditional therapy for some time and had found that they had made either only little progress or had gone as far as they could and hit a block. My entire world seemed very surreal, my whole life up to that point had been around physics and engineering and here I was working in an environment that was 180 degrees in the opposite direction. By all accounts I should have been struggling but I found that it all came to me effortlessly. Where had this part of me been all these years? Why hadnâ€™t it shown up in any other ways, academic or literary? I would ask myself those questions for many years afterward, getting frustrated with not understanding why. I must confess it is only recently, after many years, I look at myself and realize that my perceptions of who I am and the world around me would not be as they are without having walked that path I had walked. Yes, I have finally made peace with why I spent most of my life walking in a direction 180 degrees to what I am doing now.
The Messages in This Book We can make a real change in our lives. Real change is achievable. The benefit of very small goals can be seen in a week or two, slightly bigger goals perhaps a month or two, and bigger ones a bit longer. The key concept here is the Meditative Feeling. Without it, everything becomes a mind game, a battle of wills, or what you’d like to do and what your mind is used to doing. Without the Meditative Feeling as your foundation, it would be like trying to ski without the skis. Just imagine someone stands at the top of the ski slope ready to go down, making all the correct body moves with the ski poles but with no skis to slide on. They would not make much progress. Another important message is that anyone can meditate anywhere. I have included three practices for people who do not already have a routine. One of these will resonate with you more than the other two and that is the one you should strive to do regularly. This will enable you to reacquaint yourself with your inner feeling of peace, stillness, and calmness. Once you can say to yourself, “Wow so this is what it feels like,” you can then try creating that feeling in other ways, perhaps by either taking a deep mindful breath anywhere, or by staring out of the office window at nothing in particular for a moment. My wife catches me doing this a lot, just staring out at the trees outside my window while working on my computer. She often wonders if I have drifted off to dreamland, but I am just staring without thinking, without observing, and connecting deeper to the Meditative Feeling. The important thing is not what you do to create the feeling but that you can do it as a regular practice or on demand in the spur of the moment.
Who Is This Book For? The five considerations at the forefront of my mind while writing the book were to keep the content inspirational, accessible, practical, verifiable, and realistic. I imagined someone coming to me and saying, “I want to change, and I really mean it.” It is with that type of person in mind that I wrote this book. On the surface, that judgment might seem a bit harsh; after all, if people are doing something to try to change, then doesn’t that say that they really mean it? Not necessarily. I have found in my experience that generally there are three types of people. I admit that this is a big generalization, but it’ll help to prove my point. I have met people who have been in therapy for many years and I asked them why have things not improved for them. After listening to them, I suddenly realized that they had become attached to their stories and have used them to define who they are. They just need their therapist to be a listening, nonjudgmental ear, but they are not willing to do what it’ll take to make any change. The second group of people are ones who have had the tenacity to keep trying and in doing so have resolved many issues, but they couldn’t find that last bit of courage to face that final painful hurdle. Perhaps they might choose not to see what’s right in front of them, akin to denying seeing the elephant in the room. Then there is a third group: people who have spent most of their adult life, over twenty years in some cases, trying to understand a particular self-destructive behavior. Within two days of finally understanding the cause of their behavior, their perceptions
of themselves and the world around them change completely, their courage and tenacity finally rewarding them by giving them a brand new life. In their own words, Nothing worked until I faced my trauma. My mind blocked it my whole life. I worked through the trenches. I got excruciatingly uncomfortable. I showed up. I did the work. I still show up. I still do the work. I am proud to say I am at peace finally. I donâ€™t consider myself any labels, titles, or so on. I was just a human carrying too much heavy weight in my soul. Do I still feel anxious? Depressed? Angry? A little, sometimes. But it is always situational and I know the source. Never stop your growth. You are worth it. Peace is worth the fight. I remember reading a book by Anthony de Mello called Awareness. Anthony was an Indian Jesuit priest, a psychotherapist, a spiritual teacher, writer, and public speaker. In his book he says: Even the best psychologist will tell you, that people do not want to be cured, what they want is relief, a cure is painful.1 Again, on the surface this might seem a bit harsh; however, in my own personal experience, I can vouch for the painful aspect and that peace is worth the fight. From my own and otherâ€™s experiences I have found that the three qualities we need to walk our healing path are: willingness, tenacity, and fortitude. I talk more about these later but wanted to take a moment to introduce them here.
1. De Mello, Anthony. Awareness. United Kingdom: Collins Fount, 1990.
I believe many people are looking to change but look for results too quickly and when they do not get them or fail to see them, they lose heart and give up. Just reflect on how our watching methods have changed from waiting for a DVD to be mailed to us, to just clicking a button on Netflix or Amazon and there instantly is our program. Another example, with Amazon, we can order something online and get it delivered to our doorstep–the same day! We are being spoiled, if we want something, we get it almost straight away. When you train for a marathon, you know it will take a year. When you go to university, you know it’ll take three years, but to be told that changing yourself can be an openended path, this can almost put you off before you begin. So, if there are small goals achieved along the way it becomes fun and we can see progress, which encourages us. An important point I’d like to draw the reader’s attention to is that while the techniques in this book can be used in a self-help modality, there are symptoms where a therapist’s help is invaluable and in that case these techniques would be a great complement to a traditional therapy session.
How Important Is Self-Compassion? Self-compassion is something that everybody needs. In this hectic life where so much is demanded from us, whether it is from within our families or our work environment, it can be a big struggle to stop ourselves from either completely emotionally shutting down or getting so overwhelmed that we become anxious, stressed, or worse. Self-compassion is vital. When we stop and take an objective look within ourselves at our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, asking why, we are subjecting ourselves to
another environment that could add to an already stressful one. Using the methods described in the book to work on ourselves is giving us a very effective and incisive process to look at ourselves. If it is not handled with care (self-compassion) then you could end up being more self-critical, making your life worse than when you started on your internal healing quest. Remember, it is the balance between critically looking at oneself and just letting everything go … this middle ground is where the self-compassion come in. I get asked how we can show ourselves self-compassion. It is easy to say take the middle ground, but how do we know when we are there? The simple answer I give is, “We show ourselves self-compassion when we dampen the self-critical voice in our heads.” Notice I said “dampen” and not “eliminate.” That was deliberate. If I told people to eliminate it, then every time that critical voice came up not only would they feel its sting but also feel like a failure for allowing it to happen. By telling ourselves that we are going to dampen it, taking the middle ground, you will see then we are allowing ourselves to sometimes succeed, sometimes fail, and sometimes to just reduce its intensity.
The Structure of This Book You’ll find that this book is broken down into two parts. Part 1 addresses the mindfulness system broken down into three parts: Awareness, Action, Change. Each of these three parts makes up its own chapter in part 1. Awareness of some basic concepts. Action, how to watch your thoughts, feelings, and behavior, and implementing actions discovered from your new awareness.
Change, tracking your changes in a quantifiable way so that you can see yourself changing. Part 2 of the book is connected to the “Action” step of part 1. It is in this step we find the space that is mentioned in the sub-title of this book. Having said that, there is not one space between thoughts and actions but two. Throughout the book I assume a sequence that thoughts lead to feelings which lead to actions. From this we can see that there are two gaps. The first is between feelings and actions and the second between thoughts and feelings. Let’s talk through an example and then be able to see just how part 2 fits into this sequence. Let’s suppose that I am repairing something around the house and after finishing it I step back and reflect on how it looks. Now in that moment of reflection I judge the work to be not good enough. That thought could lead me to feeling unhappy and dejected because I had just spent all that time for something I consider not good enough. My subsequent action could then be to just leave it promising myself to work on it another day, but knowing I never will. Potentially every time I look at it, I could feel useless and wonder why I bothered at all. In this book you will learn how to find the space between feelings and actions so that rather than just having a knee-jerk response we create a space where we can choose a more enlightened action. However, that means while our actions have become more enlightened, we still have the discordant feelings inside us. Generally speaking, when we have feelings that are unpleasant, we either push them down or deny them, and neither of these options are good. So, how do we change our unpleasant feelings? A better question might be how do we stop them from occurring in the first place? Well, if thoughts lead to the creation
of feelings then we will need to change our thoughts. Going back to our odd job around the house, let’s assume that I still have my initial thought of the work not being good enough but now I insert another thought, a less judgmental one, something along the lines of, “I did the best I could and while there is room for improvement, it has got the job done.” While this thought might not make me want to open a bottle of champagne, it will stop the creation of any discordant feelings. This idea of inserting a more enlightened thought between an initial discordant thought and the possible generation of associated unpleasant feelings is where part 2 comes in. The Wisdom Insights in part 2 are high level perceptions of ourselves and the world around us. When we notice that we are thinking in a non-enlightened way we can use a relevant insight to change our thought direction, thereby stopping the creation of any discordant feelings. Of course, there is more to it than just selecting a Wisdom Insight and expecting change—if it were that easy, then all the Facebook memes that get reposted should have changed the world! The insights are to be used in conjunction with the Meditative Feeling, which I cover in part 1. The mindfulness system described in this book is the one that I developed over many years using myself as the guinea pig and then once I had it refined, started sharing with others. I remember the excitement I felt when in my professional therapy practice I first started showing people how easy it was to meditate and to create the Meditative Feeling. Initially in the meditation group that I lead and then later in my Awareness, Action & Change workshops. Of course, this feeling was not new in the world of mindfulness and meditation, I simply brought a different focus to it. People quickly realized that one of the techniques that I shared
gave them easy access to this feeling, and that they could actually meditate. It was not as esoteric or as challenging as they had heard or had experienced. It was wonderful to see the realization appear on their faces. The best part was still to come. I would then guide them through another meditation, I call it the Life Meditation. They could relive a mildly unpleasant event from their own lives, seeing how the outcome could be favorable for all involved if they had held the Meditative Feeling during the interaction. There it was. In thirty minutes, they had proven to themselves that they could meditate and how, by using their Meditative Feeling, they could make a change in their life. All they had to go and do now, was play with it. Yes, changing your life can be fun. The secret is to take baby steps and tackle small goals, proving to yourself that the techniques work, all the while building up oneâ€™s confidence in them. The most important realization that came to people after doing the Life Meditation was that they had a choice in their behavior. So many people do not realize that they have a choice in how to behave, think, and feel. That was the keystone realization in their awareness. They had a choice and a method to find those choices. In 2017 I had the opportunity to join the psychiatric department of a hospital teaching their Behavioral Health Education courses (BHE). While there was so much to learn about mainstream therapy concepts there was so much that was familiar. Many of the concepts that I had been using within my own workshops were either the same or very similar, using different words and seen from a more meditative perspective. Mindfulness was
not so strongly emphasized within the BHE courses but there was latitude to insert it. So, I started to introduce many of my mindfulness concepts that were in synergy with the material being presented and found that they resonated with many people. I found that I got amazing results in a very short time period for those people that really connected with the blending of mindfulness and the material in the courses. When I reflect back on my path, I would never have guessed that Iâ€™d go from someone who just focused on caring for and connecting with his family and circle of friends to helping complete strangers find more peace and fulfillment in their lives. While the path has not been a walk in the park in many aspects, the ability to connect and empathize with others has been effortless. The bottom line for me is that I love who I am and would not change who I am now for the world. It has not been easy, but I really feel that I have found myself, and through this work, I hope that you find yourself, too.
Creating Your Foundation for Inner Peace with Meditation
In part 1, I introduce the foundational concepts for how we can change our lives. These concepts come under the aegis of a system I call: Awareness, Action & Change. They are not individual unrelated concepts but are parts that form the jigsaw pieces of a much larger picture. These jigsaw pieces are not esoteric in nature or founded in some heady western or eastern philosophy but are based on common sense and a little awareness. Why common sense and a little awareness? The concepts Iâ€™ll present to you are not from years of academic study or sitting at the feet of some guru or teacher but are from my many moments of selfcontemplation. Very early on when I started to walk my new path of self-awareness, I attended many retreat centers of established teachers and signed up for a few correspondence courses. I did not find any connection to any of them. Almost with resignation I decided to carve out my own path of self-healing and selfâ€‘awareness. I read many books. They did not give me answers to my questions or guidance on what to do next, but I found that the knowledge contained within opened up opinions on the subject that I never knew that I had. These opinions and ideas then guided me along my path.
The four considerations that I kept at the forefront of my mind when writing the book were: inspirational, accessible, practical and verifiable. These have been my own guiding considerations for each step that I took. Inspirational, was an easy one to consider. After all, if you create something then there has to be inspiration behind it. Whenever intuitive knowledge arose to help me understand myself and the world around me, I would run it though my filters of accessible, practical, and verifiable. If it did not pass any of these, then I would revisit the concept and work out how to adapt it to make it work. Paracelsus was a Swiss physician, alchemist, and astrologer living during the sixteenth century. He was a great proponent of observation in combination with intuitive wisdom. He had many areas of interest and is considered to be the father of toxicology. I believe that a saying by him beautifully summarizes my view. True knowledge is attained two ways, both are completely interdependent. These are intuition and experience. The purpose of intuition is to reveal certain basic ideas which are then tested and proven by experience.2 Iâ€™ll be honest: there were many times when I would have given anything to have a teacher just tell me what to read next or what to do for the next step on my path. In the end, I had to carve my own path. The disadvantage? Many times, too many to remem2. Hall, Manly P. Paracelsus, His Mystical and Medical Philosophy. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society, 1990.
ber, it was hard and very exhausting. The advantage, the furrow that I carved out behind me is very deep and very well-defined. The furrow contains the concepts that I share with you in part 1.
Creating Awareness As we browse through books, the internet, or greeting cards, we occasionally find a quote that stirs something deep inside us. We relate to it, we might write it down, or print it, and then perhaps hang it on the fridge or a cubicle wall, or we share it on Facebook or via email … but then what? Most of the time those deeply meaningful words just become either a memory or part of the wall. Why is it that we do not act on these words that inspire us? How can we act on them to cause a permanent change? As I mention in the introduction, after receiving several of the Wisdom Insights, I wanted a process that allowed me to feel, to own, and to use these words—to make them a part of me—not just to treat them as some poetic saying that I relate to in passing. I felt the same way when I thought about sharing them with others. If I just put them out there in the world, what would happen to the people who were briefly touched by the insights?
I wanted them to be more useful than a quaint quote. I wanted them to be enablers for people to change their lives. In this chapter, we consider life situations, behaviors, societal influences, and other factors that redirect us from the many types of change that could bring about a more peaceful and fulfilling existence in all areas of our lives.
Who Am I? Weâ€™ve been asking this question for centuries. As our belief systems change and scientific knowledge grows, the answer changes. A current scientific view is that we are the result of various chemical reactions in our body that control our moods and behaviors. The moods range from feeling a bit down for a day, to severe persistent depression, to joy and happiness at a birth or marriage. Our behaviors range from personality quirks to antisocial behavior. Psychologists and psychotherapists, on the other hand, tell us that we are formed by an accumulation of experiences that begin in early childhood. Then there is the spiritual viewpoint that each of us is a soul whose qualities are compassion, wisdom, and discernment, surrounded by a personality called the ego. This viewpoint says that it is through the ego that we interact with the world outside of us and perceive ourselves and others. When asked, most people admit that they would like to change something about themselves. Most can even point out a behavior that they would like to stop, like the tendency to date the wrong type of person, continually feeling overwhelmed, or feeling like they are trying to survive life rather than live it. How-
ever, even with this level of self-awareness, many decide with resignation that it is just who we are and to just live with it. In my therapy practice, however, most of my clients not only want to change something specific about themselves, but also have been putting a lot of concerted effort into making even greater changes which go beyond what others normally see. They are trying to identify who they don’t want to be as they ask and search for answers to Who am I? Unfortunately, generally they are not focusing on what needs to change to have a positive effect on a particular aspect of their lives. In these situations, they are actually causing a different set of issues. For example, one man is trying so hard with his children not to be like his father that he has become a slightly different version of his father, causing a different set of issues for himself and his children. More often than not, fear blocks our ability to see what it is that we really need to address in ourselves to bring about a desired change. We accumulate many different types of fear over our lifetime that limit us from reaching our potential and prevent us from making important changes in ourselves. I call these our self-limiting fears, which we often don’t identify as fears or as self-limiting. Some examples might be: • If I were to focus on changing this undesirable aspect of myself, would it just become a much bigger issue than I ever imagined and seem overwhelming? • If I change this one part of me, will a whole new set of problems emerge? (Hence the expression “opening a can of worms.”)
Willingness, Tenacity & Fortitude There are three factors that determine whether or not someone can face discordant behaviors that stem from self-limiting fears and bring about lasting change. The first is the person’s fortitude, courage in the face of adversity, to examine and address the discordant behavior, the second is the person’s willingness to view the issues that provoke the discordant behavior from a different perspective, one that might seem initially very strange, and the third is the person’s tenacity to keep going, no matter how difficult or how bored they might get. I chose the word tenacity carefully because to make a conscious change takes consistent effort over a sustained period of time. With the right techniques, the effort should not be like pushing a huge bolder up a hill day in and day out as the mythical Sisyphus had to do. It will be more like the effort required to pay attention to the road as you drive to work on a Monday morning in very fast-moving, heavy traffic. The willingness to view the issue provoking the discordant behavior from a different perspective and the fortitude to uncover and deal with even the most difficult self-discoveries are just as important as the tenacity required to bring about the change. It comes down to whether we are willing to make a resolution to look closer at the issues that surround the aspects of ourselves that we would like to change. Once we’ve resolved to do this, we begin by creating a separation within ourselves from our thoughts and feelings that are associated with the issue provoking the discordant behavior. This separation is similar to the common problem-solving advice to step back and look at the big picture. It’s great advice, but how do we do this when we want to look
inward—at ourselves? Where do we step back to and what is it that we step back and look at? Later in the book, I explain ways to create this separation—this internal space—and provide simple techniques that you can use along with your fortitude, willingness, and tenacity to bring about the personal changes that reflect who you truly are. With regard again to the current scientific and psychological models, if we agree with this mind-set, we are pretty much defined by our behaviors—we are what we do. It is safe to say that for most people, their behaviors define them in the outside world and to themselves. Why else would many of us say things like, “That’s just the way I am.” People have been saying this for at least as long as we have been recording life events with the written word. Our behaviors can be compassionate, wise, and full of discernment, or destructive to ourselves and others. The destructive behaviors can be brief, lasting a day, a week, or a month, or can be very slow and lingering, lasting months or years. Behaviors can be continuous or cyclic. Many of us accept our good and discordant behaviors as simply different aspects of ourselves, and lead our lives the best we can coping with all aspects. If our discordant behaviors interfere with our daily activities, then we may turn to medication or seek therapy to work through the issues or at least mitigate them. Sometimes we can find out the root cause in therapy, but not always. If not, then the therapist or the medication becomes a regular relief in our life, holding the discordant thoughts and feelings in check while the therapist slowly chips away at the issues through the psyche to come to an understanding and devise a treatment plan.
If our discordant behaviors don’t seem to interfere with our work or our ability to get through each day, why would we want to change anything about ourselves? We all know that in certain situations, we feel or react in ways that we either believe that we cannot help or just plain do not care to change. However, our discordant reactions and feelings in these situations can be detrimental to ourselves and others. Think for a moment about a situation in which you felt drained, tired, angry, helpless, or frustrated. Then, think of another person who was in the same situation, but did not seem to be affected—in fact, the person almost seemed immune to the same situation. Perhaps this person even thrived in the situation. Did you ever consider why this person was not affected? What was it about this person? And why couldn’t you be like that? The easy answer is that this person is not you, and has not walked a mile in your shoes. That is a valid answer, but it does not have to be your final answer. One of the most self-debilitating things we can say about ourselves is, “That’s just the way I am.” But the questions remain—why did this person react differently, and how could you behave in a way that didn’t negatively affect you or others? We often see a similar type of duality when observing two people’s reactions to the same situation—how each person reacts according to their individual perception of the situation. Some people can easily shift their perception in a negative situation from a self-limiting one to one that does not impose restrictions on their choices or actions. Other people find this shift difficult or even impossible. For these people, it is almost as though a lever and fulcrum are needed to change their perception. However, everyone is capable of learning how to change
a discordant perception and make a beneficial life choice in any situation. When contemplating whether our perceptions help or hinder us and others, we also need to determine whether these perceptions are in our conscious or unconscious mind. If we cannot find a basis or reasoning for the perception in our conscious mind, then the perception most likely comes from our subconscious— the unconscious mind. I liken the perceptions that live in our subconscious and hinder us in particular life situations to invisible stones that we carry in an invisible backpack, which we wear all of the time. The reason I call it a backpack (as opposed to simply a bag) is because on our back it is out of our direct line of sight, like our subconscious thoughts and feelings. The stones represent our discordant thoughts and feelings, and of course the weight of the stone conveys the amount of self-sabotage caused by the thought and associated feeling. Imagine that we have had this backpack with us from the day we were born, and we put stones in it throughout our lives without realizing that we are doing this; over time, some of the existing stones become heavier and new ones are added. When the stones in our backpacks get to be so heavy that they prevent us from finding that inner peace and happiness, we just assume that the lack of success is normal for us—much like we assume that the reactions that hinder us are just the way that we are. It is not until a stone is removed and the pack feels lighter—whether through therapy or something that triggers our self-awareness—that we understand we have been carrying something that is not really a part of us.
As we examine who we are, we need to understand that it’s our perceptions that cause us to behave in a manner that either hinders us or helps us. Our challenge, therefore, in making a lasting change in ourselves, is that while we are consciously aware of some perceptions, others are hidden from us in our subconscious.
Where Do We Find Who We Really Are? Years ago I heard a story that has stayed with me over the years, though I forget the origin. Four angels are sitting around with God trying to decide where to put the secret of who we are. They all agree that for such a great prize, a great goal must be achieved. The first angel says, “Let’s hide it on the tallest mountain.” The others disagree, saying that sooner or later humans will learn to climb this mountain. The second says, “Let’s hide it at the bottom of the deepest ocean.” The others disagree, pointing out that eventually humans will learn to go there as well. The third suggests, “Let’s hide it in the furthest reaches of space,” but they all agree that even there, humans will go one day. The fourth suggests, “Let’s hide it inside humankind itself,” and they all agree that of all of the places, this will be the last place someone will think of looking, and when they do, it will be the most difficult to conquer. The few who have found the answer to the question Who am I? tell us that they looked inward. Still, most people continue to search for the answer outside of themselves. If the answer can be found inside us, what will we see when we look inside ourselves?
Roles We Play Are you the person who has to go to work each day just to put food on the table and keep the roof over your head? Are you the
person who has to get the children ready for school each morning? Are you the person who wonders how you are going to survive your familyâ€™s dramas? Are you the person who goes out with your friends to off-load when things get difficult? Are you the person who just keeps plodding along, accepting that this must be your lot in life, or perhaps thinks that this difficult time will not last forever? Actually, the truth is that you are none of those people. Those are roles that we play, but not who we are. Like actors, who are not actually the people they portray, we play many different roles in our lives. Examples include the roles of parent, coworker, friend, sibling, American, partner, artist, engineer, and commuter. Without realizing it, many people define themselves by these roles. For instance, sometimes an actor will become so identified with a role when filming a particularly intense movie that the actor will stay in character between filming scenes. Likewise, we can become so caught up in our roles that when we look in the mirror, we only see ourselves as these characters. Consequently, we can experience a sense of great loss and something of an identity crisis when we are no longer in a particular role. During my work at a nonprofit organization I worked with a woman who had been laid off for a short period of time due to lack of funding. When she was rehired, she told me that during her unemployment, she found herself feeling that she did not know who she was without the job. Most people do need a sense of purpose to define themselves. These roles are not the essence of who we are, but are instead the responsibilities we must carry out. We also define ourselves and each other by the way that we behave in our roles. Since our behavior is a major aspect of how
we view ourselves and others, our behaviors therefore become part of our particular roles; some behaviors we are aware of, but others we are not. Some of these behaviors may become so familiar that we don’t even associate ourselves with them, but we often act on them. For example, it is easy to gossip about someone else; we may think that we’re just expressing an opinion or repeating something that we have heard, never considering that we are gossiping. Even though we are conscious of a behavior pattern, we may not realize the detrimental effect it creates in our life situation. On the other hand, we may realize it and not care, or not believe we can change it. For example, most of us know someone who always seems to provoke a negative reaction in us. Every time we interact with this person, we lock horns. This is a conscious behavior; we know that we are going to react negatively in response to this person, and yet, we do nothing to change our reaction. The same thing happens when we eat one more slice of pizza even though we already feel full. We think it through, and then consciously make a poor decision. Behaviors that we are not consciously aware of—those fueled by distorted perceptions buried deep in the subconscious—are difficult to recognize in ourselves and consequently require us to be open to acknowledging and changing them. These behaviors are hidden from our awareness, and in some cases, have become instinctive reactions. For example, prejudice toward different ethnicities, or homelessness, or drug addiction may be based on harsh ideas overheard as a child, or on a very biased view that we heard and adopted as our own belief. Perhaps we had a bad
experience with one of those groups, which then reinforced the judgment and made our perceptions seem justified. All types of prejudice toward others come from distorted perceptions that we may not even know we have, but that we act on. Consider this personality trait as another example: do you know someone who goes to any extent to get attention or get their point across, rudely interrupting or making gestures such as rolling the eyes while someone else is talking, or seeming to talk at you rather than with you? We often write off this seemingly instinctive behavior as characteristics that make us individuals. Yet, those characteristics can cause discordant feelings and may be detrimental to our lives and those around us. We can all discover who we are, do what brings us joy, and experience a fulfilling existence every day. I am talking about achieving things inside yourself, which result in inner peace, joy, and working with your life rather than feeling like you are trying to fight it or just survive it. Inner accomplishments will lead to a higher quality of life in the outside world.
What Stops Us from Changing? Most of us at some point try to change something about ourselves. It might be our weight, some other aspect of our appearance, or our career. Some brave souls are making an effort to change and improve their lives by working through a particularly traumatic event in their past. Some do not stop there, but continue their healing by changing fundamental aspects of themselves that affect how they see themselves and the world around them. There is no doubt that people want to feel joy, peace, and
contentment, so why aren’t there more people doing what it takes to make that change? Let’s consider some reasons why we try to change ourselves and fail. We find a technique, use it, and start to experience change. However, after a period of time, we regress. Why did the technique stop working? There are several possible reasons. One I have found is that it takes a consistent effort over a sustained period of time to effect change. A supertanker traveling at a full speed of fourteen miles per hour takes nearly two miles and fourteen minutes to stop. That’s a lot of effort required to stop going in the same direction. Comparatively, imagine how much force our discordant thoughts and feelings have after all of those years of dictating our behavior—day after day, hour after hour! This is why it takes consistent effort to change a discordant thought and associated feeling. Another reason may be that the technique failed to evolve. The person may have diligently and consistently followed a technique, but there weren’t any additional levels for further development. People in these situations start changing but never achieve the desired result—a full change—so they become complacent with the slight differences in themselves, and sometimes even regress. These techniques are like having a car that has only one gear rather than four or five. The first gear gets the car moving, but the other gears are needed to attain the speed to get to your destination. For example, I was talking with someone who diligently meditates every day, when they suddenly said that while they feel the inner peace that comes from a regular practice they were finding that they did not know of a way to use their practice to face and release their inner discordant thoughts. These
thoughts were initiating unenlightened feelings, which they would then have to deal with. They wanted to go within and actively stop the thoughts from arising by understanding why they were there in the first place, not just keep pushing them down. Some of us do succeed in changing for a short time but end up regressing and are unable to do anything about it. These people have successfully changed their perception and behavior, but have not changed the underlying foundation on which they based their perceptions, reactions, decisions, and feelings. I had a friend who knew that there were parts of himself that he needed to change. He had a very kind heart, generous nature, and his friends all thought that he was a wonderful person. So, what needed to be changed? He defined himself by his material possessions. He was always striving for more. He knew that he needed to be saved from his inner demons but hoped that he would find the solution outside of himself, by being in a relationship. Eager to change, he had bought himself a self-help book and followed its precepts. For several months, it helped him. Eventually, the old discordant thoughts and feelings returned. He then bought another book with a different technique that again helped him for several months, but in the end, the old thought patterns and feelings resurfaced. He wasnâ€™t experiencing any change in the foundation underlying his perception of his life. It was like he was trying to build a new office block on an old foundation of a farmhouse. He needed a new internal foundation on which to build a new him, for example a meditative and spiritual foundation. When we are trying to change ourselves, we are building a new selfâ€”requiring a new foundationâ€”which takes considerable effort and continuity in self-awareness.
We all have a spiritual alarm clock inside us that goes off many times during our life. Each time, one of several things can happen: We are sound asleep and do not hear it; we hear it, hit the snooze button, and roll over to go back to sleep; or we get out of bed, still groggy, but know that we need to be someplace and get something done, so we keep moving. In reading this book, your spiritual alarm clock has just gone offâ€”what are you going to do?
Building the New Foundationâ€” The Meditative Feeling A foundation is always needed before anything new can be built, whether it is a concrete platform for a building or a basic skill set before a more advanced set is learned, there is always a starting point. In Awareness, Action, Change the foundation is called the Meditative Feeling which takes the form of two aspects. A static aspect, which is always present just like a foundation, and an active aspect that I call the Wedge of Awareness, covered in the next chapter. In this section we will focus on creating the static foundation. The Meditative Feeling is a name used to describe three feelings that are created during my meditative practice. They are peace, calmness, and stillness (others might say quiet or clarity instead of stillness, but it is the same thing). Why is it important to identify and label these feelings? In our very busy daily lives we rarely, if at all, get to feel these feelings, and I have found that in teaching people to meditate, they do not get to experience them, or if they are feeling them, then they do not remember the words to describe them as it has been so long since they identified them. I have also found that many people who have been meditating
for many years had not thought to notice the Meditative Feeling, which did make me wonder what had they been doing in their practice and what they had been getting out of it. Helping practitioners to connect the feelings with the words answers the question that I get asked many times: “How do I know when I am meditating correctly?” Now I can say, “When you feel the Meditative Feeling.” Of the three aspects of the feeling, a very significant one is stillness. We will only feel still inside when our mind is not racing. In this day and age how often do we find that our mind is not racing? Generally speaking, how we create the Meditative Feeling is not important as long as we know what the feeling goal is. I use three techniques to help people connect to these three components. The three techniques that I share in this book have one thing in common, they all have a physical component. I have found over the years I have taught mediation that the most effective way to create the Meditative Feeling is to bring the mind to a single point of focus and that focus should be a physical feeling. The reason that I have three is because not everybody is the same. What works for one person will not work for another. For example, in teaching someone the nose meditation, I found that it did not work for them, that is, after my five-minute trial period (yes, that is all it should take!), they could not create the Meditative Feeling. Once they were shown the hand technique, they were completely engaged and within the five-minute testing period created the feeling. The same went for the candle technique. This works for people who are particularly visual, as it turned out, like myself. In deciding which technique is the best suited for someone, I would ask them to consider applying these three criteria to the
meditation technique. The first, how easily they can get their mind to focus on the physical sensation; the second, how engaged could they stay on the physical sensation before their mind wandered off; and the third, how easily they could bring their mind back to being once more engaged in exploring the physical feeling. As previously mentioned, how the Meditative Feeling is created is not important, it is the creation that is the goal. I use these three techniques in my workshops because I know that I can get people to create and experience the three aspects of the Meditative Feeling that I am trying to show them. Once they know what it feels like then if they can get the same feeling by walking in nature, stroking their cat, walking the dog, painting, or reading, it is not important. However, whatever technique is used ideally needs to be something that can be done daily, preferably in the morning and at night. Also, the technique needs to be something that they can dip into, complete, and then get on with the rest of their day. If it takes too long to set up (because they are driving for an hour to their place in nature where they like to walk) then reasons for not doing it could surface, such as being too busy, or having an intention to do it but getting sidetracked. We have been systematically trained to ignore our feelings. To push them down and ignore them as they muddy our thoughts and then take away from our focus and concentration. To get the most out of life we have to be able to create the feeling that gives us what we want from life. The Meditative Feeling transforms how you show up in the world, which then transforms how the world shows up to you. The Meditative Feeling changes what your existence feels like.
I would like to share with you now the candle meditation technique. This was the one that got me started. It is particularly good if you are a visual person, that is someone who when trying to understand something or remember something works best with images. While the candle meditation would have to be done at home, the nose and the hands could be done anywhere and at any time, so are useful during the working day. Let’s take a look at the candle meditation now.
Candle Meditation—Try It for Yourself I found that doing this meditation in the dark, or a quite dark room, was the best setting for me, but if you prefer light in the room, that may work best for you. One is not necessarily better than the other, just personal preference. Before getting started, what you’ll need
A taper candle. Get a taper candle; you don’t want to use the fat, wide pillar candles because you may be drawn to the wax when you are looking at the flame. The flame should be your focal point. With taper candles, the flame just seems to sit at the top of the slender stick of wax, which is ideal for this meditation. A plain background. Behind the candle, you’ll need a plain background so that your eyes aren’t distracted by anything when trying to focus on the flame. This is another reason that I prefer a darkened room. When I began practicing this meditation I had thick, solid-colored curtains, which made a good background. You could also put a piece of poster board or cardboard behind the candle.
If possible, choose an area of the room that is easy to set up for your meditation every time. I believe it’s important to meditate in the same place so that you set the expectation for your mind, body, and spirit that this is where you are going to connect to the calm feelings and look inward. Create a sacred space for yourself in preparation for the meditation—play soothing music, light another candle, and/or burn some incense. By consistently setting up a pleasing ambience for your meditation, your mind and body begins to respond as if something special is going to happen and you almost instinctively feel calm before even starting the meditation. Make sure the flame is at eye level and about twelve inches away from your eyes. This is not critical but you do want to have the flame fill a good proportion of your view. You do not want to be looking up or down at the flame. Set the height of the flame so that when you open your eyes during the meditation, you are looking right at the flame. You can put the candle on a pile of books or something that enables you to adjust the height easily as needed. If you use a pile of books, as the candle melts you’ll need to put more books under the candle to keep the flame in your line of vision during the meditation. Make sure you are in a comfortable sitting position that you can maintain for thirty minutes—most often it will take less time than that. However, there will be those magical times when you’re completely absorbed in the meditation and the time flies by; we want to plan for those moments.
When I first started meditating, my thoughts were frenetic, even first thing in the morning, so I’d burn incense and play some of the soft music that I was introduced to in the yoga class. By doing these little rituals, you are setting an expectation for yourself that something special is about to happen, and each time you’ll find that your mind will slow the racing thoughts in less time than the previous meditation. I call this creating a sacred space and I still do this today. Plan time in your morning routine to do this meditation four or five times a week as soon as you wake up. Yes, that means before you’ve checked your email, cellphone, or updates on Facebook! I knew that once I had started to read my emails, I was doomed. I’d get drawn into answering just one or two and then that would lead to something else and then the next thing I knew I would be sucked into the day’s routine. So, to avoid that temptation, I would get out of bed, sit on the floor with my back against the bed, put the candle on a small box, and meditate right in that moment before I even left the bedroom—before I was near anything devilishly electronic and tempting! I meditated every morning, Monday through Friday. It’s best to meditate on the same days each week; you will start to see a difference even only meditating three days a week. Let’s get started
• Stare at the flame for about one minute, trying not to blink too much, but do not make your eyes uncomfortable. It is almost as if you are trying to burn the image onto the back of your eyes.
• Once you have that clear image of the flame in your mind’s eye, close your eyes while trying to maintain or recall the image. You won’t recall a photographic reproduction of the flame, but you should be able to visualize a rough shape of the flame. This is similar to when we look at the sun for a moment and then close our eyes. We see a small round dot that was the after-image of the sun. • In the beginning, the image of the flame might remain in your mind’s eye for only a few moments, but as you practice more, you will be able to hold that image in your mind longer—it’s fascinating when this happens. • Repeat this exercise of staring at and recalling the flame until you are bored with it. My students always ask how long they should meditate for. My reply is always, “Until you get bored.” Some days it’ll be for a few minutes, and on other days, twenty minutes will just fly by. • The important thing (apart from seeing how long you can recall and hold the image of the flame in your mind’s eye) is not to put yourself under any expectation or pressure. Your mind, body, and soul will find their own rhythm.
The Elephant Trainer— A Story with the Master I would like to take a moment to raise a point for you to consider. It is related to why I push the Meditative Feeling so much as a foundation for change. The concept is that you can fake your thoughts, but you cannot fake your feelings. Consider for a moment when you are feeling fed up, stressed, frustrated, or
something else: you obviously do not want to have those feelings running around in you. What can you do about it? You create a positive thought, something like, “I am sure that everything will be okay” or “Why am I thinking like this? It is just exhausting.” Stop for a moment and think, which one will win? The enlightened thought or the feeling? I am not saying that a positive thought can have no influence, but when we have a discordant feeling and try to have a positive thought, it’ll be the feeling that will win most of the time. Let me elaborate further on the relationship between thoughts and feelings. To explain some of my concepts I created stories to help illustrate what I mean. The stories are based around a Philosophy Master and the students he teaches. The Master was walking around the grounds of the school admiring the mountains as they arose from the nearby plain forming a spectacular backdrop for the school. He was just contemplating the beauty of nature when a student came up to him, interrupting his rumination. “Master, we have just completed a class on the connection between thoughts and feelings and I am unclear on the relationship that was portrayed, can you please elaborate?” “Yes, of course. Here is a story I think will help,” said the Master. There is a small boy whose job it is to use his elephant to move the cut logs around from one part of the village to another where they can be processed further. He sits on the elephant and guides it with his feet and a stick. The small boy represents your thoughts in that they are profuse and relatively weak. The elephant represents your feelings; they are not as profuse as thoughts but are so much more powerful. If the boy asks the elephant to go and
pick up a log and the elephant does, then everything is great. This represents your thoughts and feelings in alignment. Now, suppose the boy wants the elephant to go pick up a log from somewhere else, but the elephant wants to go hang out with his elephant mate and talk about the quality of the bananas they are getting. There is nothing the boy can do; the elephant will do what he wants. This represents your thoughts and feelings not being in alignment. Of course, if your feelings are good and a negative thought comes along, then the feelings will stop the thought from gaining traction within you and it’ll just float away (unless, of course, you choose to focus and ruminate on the discordant thought causing the good feelings to go, which sometimes we all do). The aspect we are interested in is if you have a discordant feeling—that is, the elephant is not going your way. If you try to change the mind of the elephant, then most likely you’ll not succeed. We can see that the power in this situation is with the elephant. Now imagine that the boy tells the elephant to go “over there,” then quickly changes his mind and then a moment later changes his mind yet again. At some point the elephant will get frustrated and say “Dude! (It is a Californian elephant.) Make up your mind.” This represents what it is like inside you for your feelings when you mind is racing all over the place. Now imagine that the elephant regularly practices meditation; if the boy’s mind is all over the place and giving conflicting instructions, the elephant will be immune to the erratic mental wandering. Eventually the boy will just give up with his mental wandering and settle back down to being calm like his elephant, which is not listening to him anyway, so why waste time with all the erratic instructions? This is
the relationship and relative strength between your thoughts and your feelings. Now, sometimes students ask me, “Isn’t it possible to have a positive thought and focus so much on that that you are able to create positive feelings?” Yes, that is true, and if you want an idea of how difficult that may be, imagine yourself behind the elephant pushing it and cheering it on to go in the direction you want it to move in, but it either refuses to move or very reluctantly takes a step then pauses while it thinks about whether to take another step. While it is not impossible, take a moment to think about the effort involved. Isn’t it so much easier to have control over the peaceful, calm, and aware elephant and let it guide the little boy in how to work best as a team? “Does that help explain it?” asked the Master. “Yes, thank you, much clearer,” replied the student. Here is the important part. If your feelings can guide your thoughts and actions, and if you have a way to choose your feelings through your meditation practice, then we have a means to control the elephant. If we can keep the elephant in a calm and peaceful place, then our mind will be more focused and clear and see things from a much more beneficial perspective, perhaps considering solutions we might never have considered before.
Considerations for Your Daily Practice When I first started trying to meditate many moons ago, I struggled not only to quiet my mind but to stay awake. It did not matter what uncomfortable position I put myself in to try to stay awake, I would drop off to sleep. With the inability to stop my racing mind, I gave up. It was not until many years later that I discovered not only the technique that worked for me but the
preparation that I needed to do before starting the meditation. I call this preparation setting up the Sacred Space. Nowadays I do not have to set it up to meditate but I do it because I enjoy the preparation and it is fun. Of course, there are times when I am traveling and unable to have the opportunity to set things up and I just have to sit down and take a few moments to fall into the practice. Let’s take a look at some things that can be considered. At the same time that I was starting to meditate I had discovered yoga, not a too-physical practice as I had the gym for that, but a very slow simple stretching routine. The reason I started to practice yoga was because I was not being diligent with my stretching after working out, so thirty minutes of stretch yoga twice a week after working out at the health club was just enough to help keep my muscles from stiffening up. I would also do ten minutes of daily home yoga practice each morning, just very simple stretches, to keep supple. By sheer coincidence, I found that those ten minutes really helped me get ready for my meditation practice. Consider doing this yourself before starting your own meditation practice. A question I get asked many times is, “Is there a particular position to meditate in?” For me the answer is no. There are, however, two criteria that will make it easier for you. One is a position where you do not have to fidget because you are uncomfortable, that is a distraction that you do not need. The second is a position where you are so comfortable that you fall asleep. In the beginning I would meditate while sitting on a cushion on the floor with my back against the bed for support. I still prefer my back to be supported but am able to quite happily meditate on a cushion without any support if there wasn’t one available.
Another important consideration in trying to develop a regular daily practice is to find a place that feels conductive to meditate or one that can be made to feel conductive. Later, I moved my meditation place down to my favorite chair in my sitting room. Once you have found a place to meditate, make that your go-to meditation place. Do not keep shifting around. Your mind, body, and spirit will start to automatically get prepared when you settle into that place along with the other preparations that Iâ€™ll talk about now. I love the smell of incense and would light an incense stick as I prepared the space. During the thirty minutes of stretch yoga sessions the instructor would play her yoga music, some of which I could not wait to finish and others that I felt a great connection with. Iâ€™d ask her the names of the tracks that I liked and download them from iTunes creating my own playlist. By the time I had done my ten minutes of yoga, lit the incense, lit the candle, put on the music and sat in my favorite place, my body and mind were almost jumping with excitement to get into the meditative space. Try these tips for yourself. Be patient, itâ€™ll take a little time for you to develop the routine, perhaps two or three weeks. Oh, one final note on patience before I leave this section. There will be days when you sit down and do your practice and at the end of the allocated time you will not want to stop. This happened to me just the other day. Since I did not have anything planned afterward, I just carried on meditating enjoying the stillness that I had created. Then there will be days when your mind will just not stop and try as you might, the practice is just not working for you. This happened to me this morning just before I started to write this
section. When that happens do not force yourself to sit there and try to “push the wet noodle up the hill,” for want of a better expression. Just admit to yourself that this was not going to be a good meditation day and get up and on with the rest of your day. Take the pressure off yourself. Otherwise all that will happen is that you’ll get more and more frustrated and rather than coming out of the practice feeling better than when you started, you’ll be worse off. Allowing yourself to have good days and bad days without any recrimination is part of self-compassion. In these situations, I remind myself of the Wisdom Insight: Whether a meditation is successful or not is based on a single criterion: Whether you meditated or not.
What Is a Grazing Meditation? Grazing meditation is about making a moment to create a connection to the Meditative Feeling outside of any formal practice that you do daily. Why do I call it grazing? Imagine a cow that is grazing in a field. It might take a mouthful of grass at one spot and then just move onto another spot for no other reason than it is there and take another mouthful from another area. We can do something similar as we go through our daily lives. The idea is when we have to stop for a moment, perhaps while waiting for something else, we take a moment to connect to the Meditative Feeling. Some examples where I use it include the following: in line waiting for my coffee, at a stoplight, at a supermarket checkout, or in an elevator. As you can see, there are many opportunities to take a grazing mediation moment. I like to call my daily sit down meditation practice my “booster shot” and the grazing moments the “top up” moments.
By taking the opportunity to graze as often as possible, not only am I keeping the Meditative Feeling topped up, but I am training myself to be able to make an â€œon demandâ€? deeper connection. This is really useful if something happens out of the blue that is unpleasant, and there is a possibility that I might suddenly reduce my connection to the Meditative Feeling, I find that I am able to suddenly make that deeper connection. I encourage you to graze a lot even if you feel as though nothing is happening. Later on in the book I share a story about the Master and the frozen lake. That will explain the benefit of doing something even if it appears to have no immediate benefit. For now, just play with your grazing and practice doing it without making it an end-of-the-world scenario if at first you do not feel any benefit. Before I move onto the next section, take a moment to think about where in your daily life you can practice your grazing. You do not have to come up with a slew of options, just one that you can start off on while you are getting the hang of it. Remember, you are not just looking for a moment to stop and smell the roses but to connect to the Meditative Feeling that is your inner feelings of peace, calm, and stillness. When you feel these feelings, you have hit your sweet spot.
Creating the Meditative Reservoir In the last section, we talked about building our new foundation based on the Meditative Feeling. In this section we talk about building up an enduring reservoir of the Meditative Feeling. Why am I talking about a reservoir when in the last section I just talked about a foundation? The problem with a foundation is that it
implies something that once laid down just remains there. However, the Meditative Feeling foundation can start to evaporate if it is not regularly “topped up.” If there is a large quantity of the feeling inside you then the evaporation is negligible compared to the amount there. If there is not much there, then the evaporation is more significant. So, let’s explore this further. What do I mean about a reservoir? Imagine that you have a very large plastic barrel—let’s make it a two hundred gallon one, that should be good enough for our imagination. Now on the side at the bottom of the barrel is a small hole that leaks. When we meditate, creating the Meditative Feeling, we pour that feeling into the barrel. The hole is small enough that it is only a slow leak, so the more we meditate, the more gets poured into the barrel and the level is not changed much. However, if we stop meditating, say over a week or several weeks, then the level is going to be affected and will lower. Okay, so now we have the concept of the more we meditate then the more of the Meditative Feeling will reside within us. Imagine that you have this barrel and it has a little water in it. You try to push it over, and because it does not contain much water it is easy to push over. The more water that is in it, the harder it is to push it over. Let’s take this metaphor a step further. The water is your Meditative Feeling, and the person trying to push represents a discordant event outside of yourself or perhaps your own discordant thoughts and feelings. So the more of the Meditative Feeling that is stored in your internal reservoir, the harder it’ll be for something to move you out of your inner peace, calmness, and stillness. Why is this metaphor so important? Apart from giving us an understanding of why a daily regular practice is important, it also means that we might never be aware from day to day
just how beneficial a daily routine is, that is until something tries to push our reservoir over and suddenly we find that a situation in the past that might have stressed us or sent us into a tailspin does not effect us or is just mildly annoying. Either way, we are very much able to handle it with the grace that we have always wished we had.
Coping with Arising Thoughtsâ€” Breaking the Chain When we meditate, thoughts cannot help but float into our awareness. With practice they will become less and less and those that do arise we will be able to watch and not attach to them. This is what is meant by just watching your thoughts float by. I remember when I first started to learn to meditate, I was told to either just watch my thoughts float by or empty my mind of thoughts. Of course, I was not told how to watch them float by or where to find the tap on my mind to empty it. In the beginning and for some time afterward, thoughts will pop up and be a serious means of distraction. In a previous section, I mentioned that one way to stop them from pulling you out of the Meditative Feeling is to focus with greater intent on the physical feeling you are meditating on. Here is another technique that I also used to help meâ€”it is almost fun. In itself, the first thought that comes into your head will not distract you, it is the subsequent related chain of thoughts that end up distracting you and possibly worse, pull you away from the Meditative Feeling and replace it with frustration, anger, or whatever the thought chain is about. Here is an example:
• I am at work, about to go home, I realize that I do not have enough gas in my car. • I remember that I left my credit card at home. • I’ll have to ask a coworker if I can borrow some cash, again. • The gas station is two miles out of my way. • The traffic in that direction is hell, I’ll be thirty minutes late getting home. • By the time I get home I’ll miss that start of my favorite TV show. You can see that what started as an observation point ended up with disappointment, frustration, and a little anger. The further along the chain we got, the harder it was to stop the subsequent thoughts and stop the end from happening. Once the chain has been formed in our awareness, then what might happen is that we could start to play it over and over again ruminating on it. This, of course, will make any feelings generated by getting to the end of the sequence more intense. The trick is to stop the chain from forming. How do we do that? By inserting an unrelated random thought after a thought we suspect will lead to a discordant chain. Here is an example: • I am at work, about to go home, I realize that I do not have enough gas in my car. • I wonder what my cat is doing right now at home. If the chain wants to restart, keep inserting random thoughts after one of the chain thoughts, like this:
• I am at work, about to go home, I realize that I do not have enough gas in my car. • I wonder what my cat is doing right now at home. • I remember that I left my credit card at home. • I wonder if it is raining in England right now? What will happen is that by breaking the chain, any thoughts that could lead to a chain forming will end up just floating by out of our awareness. This is how we train ourselves to just watch our thoughts float by. This technique can also be used out of a meditative practice. Here is an example of it happening in real time: • Why has my boss given this assignment to me at the end of today and asked for it by tomorrow morning? • I’ll have to stay late and by the time I finish, the traffic will be dreadful. • By the time I get home I’ll be exhausted again. • I’ll miss my favorite TV show (you can see a pattern here). • I won’t have time to prepare myself a healthy meal. • I’ll have an hour before it’s time for bed. • I hope that there’s some chocolate at home to help me unwind. By inserting random thoughts into this chain, we can stop ourselves from creating those discordant feelings that we know will be waiting for us at the end of the sequence. In addition, we can pull in our Wedge of Awareness and help ourselves hold a Meditative Feeling. Try this for yourself right now. Think of an initial thought that you know will lead to some discordant end
feeling and practice inserting random thoughts to stop the chain from forming. Have fun with it. If you are just reading this for the first time, then itâ€™s possible you have not set up your regular meditation practice; see how you get on with just using your mind to stop any chains from forming.
The Boulder in the Streamâ€” A Story with the Master Isnâ€™t the Meditative Feeling just another form of detachment? I get asked this question a lot and yes it can be. Many people search for a way to detach from the craziness that seems to be rife in our world and in their quest for an escape, end up floating in esoteric la-la land. This is one of the biggest concerns that I hear from many people. They want to reduce, if not eliminate completely, their anxiety and stress, but do not want to swing to the other extreme and suddenly find that they do not function in the real world. It is not that moving into an abstracted realm is wrong but if it becomes a way of escaping from the material world, then we are not helping ourselves or the people around us. We are very much alive and present in this world and we have to live and function in it. We have jobs and families that we are a part of, we cannot retreat and detach from them. So, what are we to do? I share with people my personal philosophy that we have to keep our heads in the clouds but our feet firmly planted on the ground. It is the balance that we must achieve. The Meditative Feeling gives me a way to keep my head in the clouds but making sure that my feet are firmly on the ground.
The Master is back with another story. Here is one now that I call “The Boulder in the Stream.” A Master and a student were walking next to a stream when the student turned to the Master and asked him about a fellow student. “Master, there is another student who is always trying to aggravate me. He goads and insults me in front of the others students. I do not know what to do.” “What do you feel your options are?” asked the Master. The student, very confused, said, “If I confront him and give as good as I am getting, then I am no better than him. If I walk away, then I feel as though he wins and may perceive myself as weak and afraid.” The Master guided the student over to the edge of the stream and asked if he could see the lone boulder in the middle of the stream. “Is it rolling up into the stream trying to push back with the same amount of force as is impinging on it?” “No,” the student replied. “Is it being pushed down the stream by the force of the water with no control over its path?” “No,” the student replied. “What is it doing?” asked the Master. The student thought for a moment and then said, “It is just being there and letting the flow and the force of the water move around it, but how am I supposed be like that?” “What is it feeling?” asked the Master. “Nothing. It’s a rock,” the confused student replied.
The Master sighed, “You are thinking your feelings, not actually feeling the rock. Try to project yourself into the rock and tell me what it is feeling.” As the student imagined himself moving into the rock, the Master quietly guided him to feel the river bed beneath him and ask himself what that felt like. Then he asked the student to imagine the water just flowing around him—cold, clear, and refreshing. Gently, so as not to make the student lose his concentration, he asked, “What is the boulder feeling?” In a voice filled with deep connection the student whispered, “Peace and stillness. A detachment from the flow and yet a part of the world of the river around it.” “Good, and when do you feel like that in your daily life?” the Master asked. “When I am meditating.” “Exactly,” said the Master, “and that is how you should be with the other student’s discordant attitude. He is giving you a gift, a training place with which to hone yourself to be like the boulder.” The story is about being in our calm peaceful place but not being detached from the world around us. This is how we can keep our head in the clouds but our feet on the ground. One point before I move on from the story. You cannot think yourself into being the boulder, you must feel yourself being the bolder. When Luke Skywalker from Star Wars was about to go into a dark cave during his Jedi training with Yoda, he asked what was inside. Yoda did not tell him to Google the answer or think about it, he told him to trust his feelings. Of course, since he was
training to be a Jedi, his feelings would be of peace, calm, and stillness. In other words, Yoda was telling him to be the boulder and what he saw and how he behaved would be guided by his feelings. My advice to you is to be the boulder, feel the boulder.
The Lens of Perception To paraphrase Michelangelo, he said that he did not carve a sculpture out of a block of marble; he said that the sculpture was always there, and he chipped away everything that was not part of the sculpture. Our perceptions are like the marble that needs to be chipped away to expose the beautiful sculpture underneath, which is our true self. Understanding our perceptions and their origins is essential in developing the self-awareness required to bring about lasting life changes. Physiologically, we use our five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell to gather information from our external world, and then use our physical actions and voice to interact in the world. The senses pass information through a halfway house that filters and shapes the information before allowing it into our minds. In my therapy practice, I use this halfway house as a metaphor for what I call the Lens of Perception. This has become a key concept that I use when my clients are ready to start bringing about fundamental changes in their lives. Unlike a glass lens, which is inanimate and allows light to pass through, the Lens of Perception is an animate part of our consciousness, which is responsive and can be altered. It filters and distorts the information that our senses gather from the outside world.
In the Lens of Perception, there are flaws that are created throughout our life when we experience something unpleasant, have misunderstood something, or find something that is misrepresented. When information passes through one of these flaws, the information is distorted and selectively changed. The flaws therefore represent distorted perceptions that originated from unpleasant, misunderstood, or misrepresented life experiences. The degree to which the information is distorted as it passes through a flaw in the Lens of Perception is proportional to the number of times we reacted in the same way to similar life experiences based on our original distorted perception. An example might be, when you were a child one of your parents shouted at you most of the time. You could not defend yourself verbally so you learned to just retreat into yourself and not even try to defend yourself. As an adult you still behave in the same way if someone shouts at you, even though you are capable of defending yourself on equal terms. The flaw in your lens is that shouting makes you retreat into yourself. The more often we do the latter, the more the distorted perception becomes our reality. A distorted perception of one life event can affect how we respond to many different but related events later in our life. Though phobias, like arachnophobia, are not always pinpointed to one life experience, many of our fears and self-limiting beliefs stem from distorted perceptions that relate to traumatic or distressing occurrences. I use this concept of the Lens of Perception to show that these perspectives, while they are a part of us, are not permanent, and we can change the perspectives, reducing or eliminating them. In the same way that a distortion can be more deeply ingrained in our subconscious through life experi-
ences, it can also be reduced or eliminated by acknowledging it and consciously replacing it with an enlightened one.
Deepening Our Distorted Perceptions Let’s look at how a perception can become more distorted when it is repeatedly reinforced over time, and how we can become accepting of the resultant behavior, even when it’s unpleasant for us. Suppose one day you decide to sort out your household food waste by type, creating piles in your backyard. In the beginning, you might have some meat in one pile, some fish in another pile, and vegetables in another. Each pile represents a different behavioral flaw in the Lens of Perception. At this point, the piles are small and barely noticeable, giving off very little smell—the neighbors have not started to complain yet. A few weeks later, the piles are bigger and the smell has started to permeate beyond the borders of your yard. The neighbors have asked if you have noticed a strange smell in the neighborhood. After a few months, however, the piles are big and the secret is out— the neighbors know that you are causing the smell. Suppose that at this point, you don’t really care what the neighbors think and just keep piling more and more waste onto the piles. This sorting activity has become a habit now, so you just keep making the piles bigger and smellier. Then, after much time has passed, you become accustomed to the piles and their smell to the extent that they have become a feature of your backyard and you do not really notice the smell any longer—you even wonder what everybody is concerned about, as it all seems quite normal to you. Let’s take the example above and apply it to us and our behavior. Since we are talking about waste in our backyard and that
is something that both ourselves and others can see, we need to select a behavior that hurts us as well as others. Anger is one that we can all relate to. I do not mean incidental anger, but a more chronic anger that seems to just run continually through us. We might have first learned about how effective it can be by watching one of our parents always get their way by using it. So, we tried it. It was successful. That moment becomes our first pile of waste in our backyard. Over the following years we used it again and again in many situations, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. However, overall it worked for us. It became a part of our nature. It morphed into other aspects of our nature, for example, being judgmental of others, not suffering fools gladly, or only accepting othersâ€™ opinions if they align with our own, irrespective of whether they are worth considering or not. While not obvious as a source of anger, take a moment to think how we would react if something was to push back against these morphed natures. Weâ€™d get angry. Remember, there are degrees of anger from mild to very severe, so just where on the spectrum weâ€™d be would depend on how hard we got pushed and just how prevalent the subliminal anger is. As stated, many of our distorted perspectives and the behaviors fueled by these perspectives relate to early emotional experiences. A distorted perspective not only grows from experiences that validate and reinforce it, it also becomes so ingrained that we view all situations that relate to the distorted perspective with the same unhealthy attitude. Suppose as a teenager you dated someone for a period of time, and when you broke up, you felt as if this person had let you down, which may or may not have been the reality of the situa-
tion. Then, the next romantic relationship you have with a person ends the same way, and again you feel let down. At that point, a very small seed of thought starts to grow inside your consciousness, telling you that people will always let you down in intimate relationships. Our minds love to find patterns, especially when we are under stress, and the pattern, once it has been established, now wants to prove that it is right. So, the pattern creates roots that you are not consciously aware of—because the root cause is now in your subconscious. The effect of these roots is to control your persona and your countenance to the extent that, in this case, you only seem to attract people you will almost certainly end up breaking up with, or have an unpleasant time dating, reinforcing the feeling that people will inevitably let you down in romantic relationships. Each time you feel let down in this situation, the roots grow deeper, become stronger, and are more ingrained in your subconscious. This faulty pattern then seems to be a part of you and not the parasite that it is, embedding itself into your being. I choose the word “parasite” deliberately because it implies something that is alive and is feeding off us. Another perception might be to think of these conscious and subconscious thoughts as habits or unconscious beliefs; however, that description does not carry the gravity of what these patterns are. Imagine this, you are blindfolded and walking around where you live. Now and again you might bump into something like a chair (that was closer than you expected) or into a door that you forgot was closed when you thought that it had been open. This scenario represents habits or unconscious beliefs. In other words, it represents things that you stumble into, like falling back into old and familiar patterns that do
not serve you. Now, imagine that the chairs actively move to be in front of you, or the door that was open now closes just as you get to it. That is, they were actively trying to get in your way and to harm you, but because you were blindfolded you had no idea that you were initially okay and might think that everything had been normal and you had just forgot where these objects were. That is how parasitic our discordant thoughts and feelings are inside us.
The Ironing Boards in Our Life Let’s consider a lighter, more superficial example of something becoming blocked from our awareness because of our attitude toward it. One day, only because I was running out of clothes to wear, I decided to do all my ironing that I had been neglecting. I got a few cans of beer and a DVD to watch—good distractions while doing something tedious like ironing. I then started to look for my ironing board. I looked in the kitchen, in the closet under the stairs, upstairs in the bedrooms, in the garage, but it wasn’t in any of these places. I was running out of ideas and my frustration started to grow—mind you, I hadn’t even opened a beer yet. Having run out of the obvious places and the places where it should not have been, I started to wonder if I had forgotten that I had lent the ironing board to someone but quickly thought, who borrows an ironing board in this day and age? So, I went back upstairs, looking in all the bedrooms and their closets, and worked my way back downstairs, searching everywhere in the house until I decided to open a beer and go back into the kitchen. This was my third time in this room now. And lo and behold, there the ironing board was, leaning against the kitchen wall. As I chuckled and thought about my actions over the past
twenty minutes, a realization came to mind. The reason that I had not seen the ironing board was because it had been in that spot for so many weeks that in my awareness, the ironing board had become a part of the wallâ€”at some point in time, the ironing board moved from my awareness to my unawareness. This realization led me to think about a couple of things. How we often do not see the good that is always around us, like the things we take for granted, and also how we may not see our discordant thoughts and feelings in different life situations. Instead, these discordant thoughts and feelings have become such a part of our stream of consciousness, that we do not acknowledge their existence, and lose the ability to make the separation between ourselves and them. They instead become part of ourselves. This also reinforces the distortions in the flaws in our Lens of Perception. Considering again the analogy of the piles of waste in the backyard, if we are going to get rid of the smell, we first need to become aware of the source of the smell, and then we can make a consistent effort to break the habit of adding to the piles. After that, we can start slowly removing pieces from the pilesâ€”one at a time. This is how we begin to reduce and remove the flaws in our Lens of Perception that are distorting our perception of the reality of related life situations.
How Does the Lens of Perception Work? To a certain extent the Lens of Perception behaves like an advertiser, a politician, or even a journalist, putting a spin on information received before passing it on. A simple way to think of this is to reflect on two people observing the same situation,
but perceiving it differently. They both saw the same event, but because each has a different Lens of Perception, they will tell themselves slightly different stories about the event. Have you ever heard a friend tell a story about a situation that you also witnessed, and you said to yourself or the person, “No, that’s not what happened; this is what happened …”? Assuming that neither of you were being deliberately misleading, this is an example of two people viewing a situation through their own Lenses of Perception, each different from the other’s, so each spins the event differently. Or, have you ever described someone as an idiot, and the person you’re talking with corrects you, saying, “Oh, he’s just going through a difficult time.”? You perceived someone with a character flaw and passed judgment; whereas, the other person saw someone struggling with a problem and exercised empathy. Again, there are two people interacting with the same person, but because each has a different Lens of Perception, they perceive this person differently. The flaws in our Lens of Perception are of varying density. As described in the last section, when it passes through a flaw, the information from our senses is distorted; the denser the flaw, the greater the distortion. The flaws therefore represent a skewed view of something or a situation, which is the result of a traumatic, challenging, misrepresented, or misunderstood event that we experienced at some point. As we have seen, every time we experience a similar event through this skewed perspective, we validate it until it becomes who we think we are, what we believe our lot is in life, or what we hold as true. The density of the flaw represents how much the distorted perception is entrenched in us. The densest parts of the flaws are therefore the deeply ingrained,
distorted perceptions in our subconscious—we most likely aren’t even aware of these ingrained perceptions and how they create a false view of related life situations. Some people have core values that are based on distorted perceptions—of course, not realizing that the perceptions are severely distorted. An extreme example of acting on a severely distorted perception is the honor killings that take place in some cultures. Not too long ago there was a major news story on an honor killing in India. The father who killed his young daughter and her boyfriend truly believed that it was an act of honor not to allow this inter-caste relationship to happen. Many people in other areas of the world were outraged by this in the belief that there is no honor in killing for any reason. This story shows two extremely different Lenses of Perception—one person’s view of honor is another’s view of murder. To change deeply ingrained perspectives and determine their level of distortion, we need to be willing to question our core beliefs, even those that have been upheld as sacrosanct in our families and cultures. Another example, a young boy, let’s call him Tom, is reflecting on how much he is getting pushed around at school and unable to defend himself. He is obviously not happy and is feeling despondent about his situation. This is where an initial flaw in his Lens of Perception develops. Over the years at school, a deep-seated feeling of helplessness sets into Tom as he finds again and again that he is not able to stand up for himself. This takes the form of the flaw developing a denser core to it. Helplessness is such an overwhelming feeling that to be connected to it on a daily basis can lead to severe medical and mental problems. A way to distance ourselves from such a powerful feeling is to push it down,
but out of sight is not out of mind. As we have discovered above, just because we are not aware of it does not mean that it is not influencing our lives. Tom is now an adult in a job, and as we all do, interacts with his coworkers. Over the preceding years, Tom created a coping mechanism to distance himself from the daily feelings of helplessness that were created from not being in control with respect to being pushed around at school. The coping mechanism created an additional layer around the flaw with its dense core. This layer has been formed to stop feelings of helplessness from arising when it seems like he is not in control. This additional layer is about being in control, but not in a healthy way where he is now standing up for himself. Rather, he has become the very thing that he hated most, a controller of others, now making them feel helpless and not in control. The expression â€œThere is no wrong way or right way, only their wayâ€? describes Tom as he has become. Helpless and controlling are opposite sides of the same coin. So, for someone to let go of their controlling nature they would have to go within and understand and release that initial kernel of helpless. There can be many layers to a flaw in the Lens of Perception. This layering represents the extent to which the distorted perception is ingrained in us. In our discussion thus far, we have seen that each layer is a life occurrence or absorbed information that reinforced the original skewing of a particular thing or situation by a traumatic, challenging, misrepresented, or misunderstood experience at an earlier point in your life. In order to bring about lasting change for a peaceful existence, we need to look at each layer to understand how it contributed to the distorted percep-
tion, and then acknowledge and remove that layer, much like peeling away the layers of an onion.
The Scalpel of Objectivity As I mentioned in the introduction, many texts written by those who attained an enlightened state of being describe many hours of profound self-reflection to gain a deeper understanding of their conscious and subconscious and to address unenlightened thoughts and feelings. I refer to this as using a psychological scalpel to dig deeper during their self-examination. In a similar way, I think of using our meditative self-reflective objectivity as a scalpel to dig deep within ourselves and gain an understanding of each layer of the flaws in our Lens of Perception. This enables us to remove the discordant feelings and thoughts in that layer that validated and reinforced the distorted perception. I call this using the Scalpel of Objectivity. As we use the scalpel to understand and remove a layer of our distorted perceptions, the underlying layers become more apparent, but we must continue to peel them away to effect even more change. Though we can remove many of the layers by using techniques like those that I provide in this book, we may need the viewpoint of an insightful and objective person like a therapist to reveal those deeper ingrained perceptions. When we begin examining the layers of a flaw in a distorted perception, the outer layers may seem to us like a justified response to a particular situation. So in order to start peeling away the layers, we need to question the feelings and thoughts that our reaction provoked in the situation. We need to look deeper within ourselves for the answers. Letâ€™s consider a simple example:
suppose you dread having to drive in traffic because it makes you angry and frustrated. Now, reflecting on a particular drive, you might think of how angry you felt when someone cut in front of you on the freeway. Letâ€™s analyze this further. If the other driver had put you in danger of an accident, then anger might have been the appropriate reflexive response. However, if you hold onto that anger for the remainder of your commute, or if in fact, the other driver did not put you in danger and you have an angry outburst every time someone cuts in front of you, you must consider why you are feeling angry in that situation. Letâ€™s explore this further. Anger is always a surface feeling. In this example, you may discover that you feel in danger of an accident when another driver cuts in front of you because you sense that youâ€™re no longer as in control of the driving situation around you. So, the surface feeling is anger, but the deeper feeling is a lack of control of your surroundings. Further self-examination may even reveal a general sense of potential helplessness in your life. This may seem like a generic example, but for people who suffer from severe road rage, their anger and behavior is most likely the result of a deeply ingrained distorted perception. Additionally, the anger associated with feeling a lack of control may manifest in other aspects of our lives. It may, for example, lead to having a controlling nature, and behaving in that way can add many new layers to the original distorted perception. When negative feelings associated with distorted perceptions manifest in other areas of our lives, we most often experience other detrimental feelings that prevent us from experiencing joy; in this example, a controlling nature
can provoke those underlying feelings of helplessness in certain situations. In the next chapter, Acting on Our Awareness, we will look at simple techniques to use the Scalpel of Objectivity to dig into each layer of our distorted perceptions. It is possible to remove many of the flaws in our Lens of Perception if we approach the work with tenacity, willingness, and fortitude. Some flaws will be easy to acknowledge and remove. But even as we work on those deeply ingrained distorted perceptions, we will experience more joy and peace in our lives as we peel away each layer of distortion.
How Is the Lens of Perception Formed? Letâ€™s assume that weâ€™re born with a clean Lens of Perception (no flaws) and we begin to affect it at the developmental age, that is, when we start to understand and interact in a controlled way with the world around us, communicating our thoughts and feelings to others in an intelligible way. As we grow from babies into children, and through the teen years and into adulthood, our Lens of Perception is altered by our experiences and our reactions to those experiences. At eight years old we start to cement ideas of who we are and what the world is like around us. By the time we are eighteen, 95 percent of our perceptions of ourselves and the world have been cemented into our consciousness and subconsciousness. Although I use the word cemented, a better choice would be the word placed. Cemented implies fixed and immovable, while placed implies changeable. That is a very important distinction. Who we are today does not have to be who we want to be tomorrow. We can change. Some things
will be easier than others but not impossible. Remember that the words willingness, tenacity, and fortitude were not chosen idly. Many other words were thought of before the essence of what was required was distilled down into those three words. The opinions of others, generally starting with our parents and siblings, contribute greatly to how we alter our experiences and reactions. When we enter our first school environment, we discover that our friends’ views are often exactly what we hear their fathers, mothers, or caregivers say. How many times have you said something to a child, friend, or coworker, and realized that what you just said was what someone, a parent perhaps, said to you as a child? If you reflected on what was said in those moments, do you think you’d truly believe what was said, or would you realize that it was someone else’s point of view, which you had inadvertently adopted as your own over the years? Think about how this point of view has affected areas of your life. I can recall many times when I realized what I had said or done was a reflection of my father. As I became self-aware, I questioned the thoughts and feelings associated with these perceptions that were my father’s. In those moments, I would ask myself, “Is that who I want to be now?” Similarly, when I was in my late twenties, I started to question my religion, and I remembered my father taking me to church every Sunday. Were these beliefs ones that resonated with who I am or who I want to be, or was this just how I was raised? I still recall realizing the irony of my self-reflection on this, as I considered that many of the religions we believe in today were created by people who ignored
the beliefs of the day and forged their own way to connect with the divine. Our experiences at school can make significant changes to the Lens of Perception that we developed within the influence of our families prior to attending school. At school, we observe and are involved in various behaviors, like bullying or being bullied, that impinge on our Lens of Perception, forming new layers on our distorted perspectives. In my experience with clients, those who had been bullied found out at some point that the bully had had a similar negative experience; for example, the bully had problems at home, and the only outlet for the pain was to inflict pain on others. Isn’t it interesting that a painful interaction in one person’s life creates more flaws or thickens existing flaws in two Lenses of Perception—in this example, the bully’s and the one being bullied? As we become more integrated into the discordant behaviors of society, we create new layers on our distorted perceptions, which relate to the views impinging on us from our peers, television shows, newspapers, the internet, magazines, politicians, and so on. The list of influences is endless and the information is always communicated as if it’s valuable and correct. We are also influenced by views from our civic environment and/or geography, be it city, state, or country. Just by being born in the north or south of a country, or in one country or another, we develop opinions about the people in the other areas. How often are your views formed from direct experience? Most of us form opinions based on something we heard or saw in the media—television
and social media in particular have a powerful effect on us. Most of the information we receive from the media has been edited and to a lesser or greater extent skewed to conform with the view of the person presenting it. When we consider all of this hand-me-down information that has formed our views, how do we decide who we are?
Body, Mind & Spirit / Meditation
Bring More Peace & Fulfillment into Your Life by Creating an Internal Space of Tranquility Transform how you react to stressful situations by building a calm mental space to unpack your thoughts and emotions. Your inner place of calm lies in the gap between negative thoughts and actions, and once you reach it, you can turn tension into lasting joy and peace. With hands-on exercises, techniques, and examples from his professional practice, A. Paul Miller shows how to cultivate deep inner wisdom that will sustain you long after your meditation session has ended. He guides you through a personalized system of awareness, action, and change that leads to the meditative feeling of tranquil centeredness. The Mindful Place of Calm teaches you how to achieve this feeling wherever you go and whenever you need it.
ÂŠ RYAN K. PHOTOGRAPHY
A. PAUL MILLER, PhD, is a therapist and meditation teacher who has been working with clients for the past fourteen years. He teaches his methods to a wide range of people, from children to yoga teachers to people in corporate America. He lives in San Jose, California. Visit him online at www.ToolsForYourLife.com.
Learn how to find the gap in your negative emotions and create a place there to successfully practice mindfulness that can be carried effect...
Published on Sep 16, 2019
Learn how to find the gap in your negative emotions and create a place there to successfully practice mindfulness that can be carried effect...