Sitting and Breathing: Day 29

I know, I know – it was supposed to be a 28 day program, but I didn’t do anything yesterday so here we are. Happy Valentine’s Day to those who celebrate it.

As the photo here shows, I occasionally let my dog play too rough. I have fun, he has fun, but often I get a little damaged. That photo was taken about a week ago, right before I found out I was getting the barbacking gig at the fancy place (my first day is today, by the way). Since then, I’ve been careful to only use his tug-of-war rope so that my hand had time to heal. For the most part, it worked very well and he was very cooperative.

Then I got home from work last night, and after walking him around the block, where he both peed and pooped, I returned to my room to find a large poop in the middle of the floor. Now, I move my bed out of my room and lock up all my things each time I leave the house so he has a decent space to play in, and also to account for his mishaps. So really, this is kind of par for the course. But yesterday I was really looking forward to coming home, putting my bed back in my room, and getting a good night sleep in preparation for today’s shift, which I’ve been a little nervous about.

The poop in the middle of my floor meant that I had to clean the floor, but the smell clearly meant I was sleeping on the couch, and that pissed me off. I punched the wall and opened up two of my knuckles in the process. So now, not only was I not going to get a good night’s sleep, but my hand also had two fresh wounds on it because I couldn’t control my anger in that moment. I did not go to sleep in the best of moods.

I also did not wake up in the best of moods. The couch just isn’t as comfortable as my bed, and it smells like dog, and of course, Maximus woke me up like fives times this morning asking to go outside.

So! I finished reading the last bits of Real Happiness, and sat myself down for some good ol’ breathing. Holy crap did I need that. In the last bits of the book, she discusses how the point of continual meditation practice is not to become better at meditation, but to become better at life. I don’t sit and breath so that I can master sitting and breathing, I do it so that it connects me on a deeper level with myself, my emotions, and the events, people, and dogs in my life.

My practice itself hasn’t improved much over the course of the last month. I still get easily distracted, I still get washed away by torrents of emotion, I still get bored and restless just like I did on day one. But I will say that minus punching the wall yesterday, I have a much different way of interacting with my emotions. Meditation has, of course, made me no less of a human being – no less prone to the ups and downs of my own mind or less likely to experience positive and negative occurrences – but it has given me a powerful tool when it comes to my perception of those things.

So ends my series on Sitting and Breathing, but my journey on the road to better understanding the intricacies of my world feels like it’s just beginning, or at least beginning anew. Next up on the reading docket is Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Enlightenment by Joseph Goldstein. I will keep you abreast of what I learn there, and regale you with more tales of my nonsense going forward.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read about my journey thus far, and I look forward to continuing it with you.

Reaching for Ten Percent

I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I listen to them while I’m driving, while I’m walking the dog, while I’m on the train or bus, while I’m doing dishes… You get it. I listen to them a lot. A little over a year ago, I stumbled upon a book called Stealing Fire, which looks at the potential therapeutic value of altered states of consciousness (as brought about by psychoactive drugs, exercise, meditation, watching TV, etc.). It’s great – I strongly suggest you check it out on your own.

I was so intrigued by their research, that here I am a year and some change later, and I’m revisiting it with the intention of pursuing higher learning in the same vein. I want to know what these people know. I want to be responsible for teaching them some of the things that they don’t know. So where do I start?

Well, I went to their website, and shot them an email outlining my plan and asking if there were any institutions already actively engaged in this type of research. I don’t expect to hear back any time soon, but while I was on their website, I took the liberty of reading what they already took the time to type up. They (not exactly sure who “they” is in this instance) recommended that someone with my particular set of ongoing foibles check out 10% Happier, written by Dan Harris.

In line with my impulsivity and hunger for information of this ilk, I downloaded the book for immediate consumption. It chronicles the TV journalist’s journey through the Woo Woo world of conquering one’s inner demon’s by striving toward “enlightenment.” You get the narration of a skeptic as he chats with leading self-help gurus, religious figureheads, psychologists and neuroscientists, and peppers them with questions driven by his own quest for inner peace (he’d probably object to some of that verbiage). I love and strongly recommend this book, as well.

As a result of this book (and probably partly as a result of me choosing not to drink alcohol for the remainder of January), I’ve decided to embark on some meditative shit. Dan did a video with meditation expert Sharon Salzberg, giving me the chance to do a quick trial run before making this choice. So what did I learn in my very first session?

I’m angry. I’m not sure exactly what I’m angry about. It comes out as anger at my cousin for not doing the dishes, or anger with my dog for being distracted by squirrels and conveniently forgetting that we went outside because he had to poop, which he doesn’t remember until we’re back at the top of the stairs and in the apartment. Max (my dog) barked within the first minute and a half of starting the meditation session, prompting me to get up and put him in his kennel so I could start over.

Other than that, I’d say it went well. As they say in the video, the whole point of meditation is repeated failure. You’re supposed to continuously be distracted by whatever, then refocus your attention on your breath. Each time you catch yourself, and bring your consciousness back to your breath, it’s the equivalent of a brain-bicep curl. I enjoy regular bicep curls and the idea of conquering my wandering mind, so this all seems like a good fit.

Goal time: I’ve ordered Sharon Salzberg’s book, which includes a 28 day program of guided meditation. I’m gonna do that. Why? Hopefully I’ll be able to shed some light on why so many people I respect seem to really dig it. Hopefully I’ll gain some insight as to why I have a tendency to fly off the handle about little shit in my life. Hopefully I’ll be able to eek out a percentage point or two while I’m reaching toward that 10%.

Like Mr. Harris, I’m skeptical, but I’m approaching it with an open mind. After just my first attempt, I can see how this might be tough at the get-go, but how it’s ultimately doable. Oh, and I’ll tell you about it. And probably some other things I’ve been meaning to tell you. We’ll see.

Namaste, motherfuckers.

Purposefully Lost

I try to make a habit of getting lost whenever I’ve got some free time. Years ago, I’d drive around the back roads and farmlands of California, turning whichever way the wind took me, and enjoying the scenery before making an effort to find my way back. Now, I spend time walking my dog along different paths as often as time will allow. The best part about being lost comes when you allow yourself a bit of presence.

There you are, not entirely sure where, subject to a completely new environment filled with sounds and sights and smells that in all likelihood, are familiar to you, but with a subtle tinge of newness.

Just the other day I stopped at a house that I was captivated by. I had never seen that color of door, that type of wreath, that arrangement of stones, those hearts painted on its staircase, and that sign telling me that they were glad they were my neighbor (not in the photo, sorry). It was striking, and had I not had my head on a swivel, I would’ve missed it completely.

On a similar route recently, a middle-aged woman with short, salt-and-pepper hair and high-end winter gear nodded at me with a smile as my dog barked frantically at three dogs in a window above us. I took precautions and went around her, but something in her eyes told me she had something to say, so I pulled out my headphones, too.

As it happens, she also had a rescue dog that was quite reactive and around one year old when she got him. He’s a bully breed, so she was able to sympathize with the kinds of looks I get when my dog gets loud. She also saw past that, and remarked about the “special connection” he and I clearly shared. She also complimented him on his vigilance. We talked dog books for a few minutes, then she thanked me for stopping and we said goodbye.

The wondrous thing about being lost is that it affords you so many opportunities for discovery. It allows you the chance to dwell on how beautiful or interesting something is just for the sake of doing it.

Many of you are aware that I’ve felt lost lately. I’d go so far as to say it’s concerned you. Given the discomfort most people feel when they’re lost, that’s a pretty fair emotional conclusion. But this is me we’re talking about, and I thrive when I feel lost.

I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect with my sense of wonder and mysticism. I’ve had the chance to solemnly reflect on my immediate surroundings, and take in the positive parts of them, and glean information from them that I wouldn’t have if I had been ceaselessly moving forward, head down, headphones blaring.

I am a passionate person. I am, therefore, passionate about a lot of shit. So, instead of fighting that, I intend on using it to propel me forward. I intend on taking all of the parts of my past that inform the person I’ve become, and turning it into a whole that I’m excited to tell you about. Comedy is a part of it. Design is a part of it. Writing is a part of it. Psychology is a part of it. Sales, politics, service… You get the idea. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve found myself, more that I’m learning to appreciate being lost with a purpose.

I’m an advocate for consciously losing yourself. Take turns you don’t normally take. Have a heart to heart with a total stranger. Take a deep breath and enjoy the vibrancy of the world around you by staring at a door instead of your cell phone. You might find some peace in the minutia, like I did.

Dammit! I forgot to be funny again.