In the Very Here and Now

Something is off with me today. I don’t know what it is. I’m more critical than usual. Nothing has happened to make me angry, but I am afraid the smallest thing could set me off.

I am struggling to enjoy the present moment. I am thinking about the past. I am getting frustrated about a future that has not even happened. My mind is a whirlwind struggling to stay grounded in the now. I don’t like who I am right now, this person who cannot discipline his mind.

I am reminded of this Buddhist saying: Do not pursue the past. Do not lose yourself in the future…look deeply at life as it is, in the very here and now.

It is so easy for me to give advice to others suffering from depression. I can look at their pain and what they have lost objectively, thinking that it does not affect me. But I have been there before, I am partly there now, and I will certainly be there again in the future. It is a part of being human. We suffer because we do not have what we desire.

How often did I pursue the past? Instead of learning the lesson, I went back and revisited it over and over. Can I change it? Can I bring back the dead, undo a wrong, or make a decision that would bring less suffering to the present? I cannot, so why do I stay in this place in time that I have no business dwelling in? Why do I lock myself into this misery that is no more?

Do I know what this future will bring? Do I know how I will die? Will it be on own terms? I am reminded of a friend who thinks she will pass in the same way as other members of her family. They all died at an early age, and it gives her much anxiety. As an outsider unaffected by this family condition, I am not completely empathetic to her worries. Why worry about something outside of our control? Oh, the fool that I am! Maybe I don’t consider how I will die in the same way she does, but I allow myself to get upset about something that may or may not happen later in the day. I grow anxious about the problems of tomorrow and what may come around the corner next year. Am I not the same as she?

I am reading Eckhart Tolle’s Oneness with All Life. I read a chapter of this book at night before bed. It is a beautiful book that is really speaking to me. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 7’s Becoming Present:

We can learn not to keep situations or events alive in our minds, but to return our attention continuously to the pristine, timeless present moment rather than be caught up in mental movie-making. Our very Presence then becomes our identity, rather than our thoughts and emotions.

Only Presence can free you of the ego, and you can only be present Now, not yesterday or tomorrow. Only Presence can undo the past in you and thus transform your state of consciousness.

It is not an easy thing to be present. Yet all is not lost, we can learn to be present. That is a beautiful thing because it gives me hope that I can stop pursuing the past or lose myself in the future. It gives me the opportunity to do what needs to be done now. Being locked into the present, I can give my full attention to being a good husband and a father. I can give my full attention to being a good man, a good human.

There are those I care about whose suffering is only in their mind. Yet their suffering is so great that it is affecting their bodies. Maybe it is you or maybe someone you know. We can remember our past. We can remember and love the ones we have lost. We can acknowledge our mistakes with the hopes of not repeating them. But what has happened has happened. We cannot go back. We cannot change it. The only thing we can do is go forward. And yes, we go forward into an unknown future. We do not know what will happen. There will be uncertainty, and there will be hardships. But there will also be joy, and there will be love. Whatever happens will happen, but we cannot lose ourselves in it before it happens. We must live today. We owe it to our friends and family, to our parents, our spouses, and our children. We owe it to ourselves.

Take a breath. Be aware of the breath. It is the only thing that matters in the very here and now. That breath. The breath you took before it is no more. The breath you take next doesn’t matter if you don’t take the breath you have now. One breath through your nose into your belly extending upwards to your chest. Don’t be afraid, breathe it all in. Pause at the top, savor the moment. And then, let it all out. This is freedom, and now you are free to take the next one, to move forward.


Feature photo by RKTKN on Unsplash

Hardwired

My Fitbit begins to vibrate. The time is 3:29 a.m. I have one minute before the alarm goes off on my phone. This is about as gentle as a wake-up as I can get. Oh, and if I turn my phone alarm off in time, I won’t wake up my wife. Later, I will check my Fitbit app to see how I slept. If I am lucky, I will have gotten close to six hours hitting all the key metrics except for the stage the says “AWAKE.” That is if I am lucky, but chances are, I am not. Right now, it does not matter, I must get going. There is not a lot of time to waste, so I get dressed, drink water, and head to the refrigerator where I retrieve the cold-brew coffee I prepared the day before. The coffee is bitter and cold, exactly what I needed.

3:45 a.m. I am in the garage setting up. My heart rate chest strap is on and connected to both the Polar Beat app and to the Concept 2 rowing machine. The water bottle and the towel are both in their places. The program is set and now it is time. It is time to settle in and row.

Most days the program is set for one steady, keep your heart rate low, hour. I was approached by someone on Twitter (@jjtron83) about this regimen. It sounded different, so I did the research. The credit goes to the East Germans in the late 1960’s. I had big goals and no solid plan to reach it. “Why not,” I told myself. At the worst it could only cost me a couple of months.

Hardwired for Success

In the early days of giving this a try, my body gave me some excellent feedback. I had a few form issues I needed to iron out. The biggest one was one of consistency. One moment I would be sitting tall in the saddle like a seasoned fox hunter. The next moment I would be slumped over like a seventy-year-old lifelong desk jockey. But as I put in the hours, the better my consistency in maintaining my form and posture. Don’t get me wrong, I have a long, long ways to go before this is where I want it to be, but it is starting to improve.

Another issue I was dealing with was timing. What does one stroke every three seconds look like? And much like posture, this is all about keeping focused. It doesn’t take long for me to go from intentional rowing to a Sunday paddle in the virtual pond. If I lose my focus, which I do often, my stroke rate goes all over the radar and my efficiency begins to suffer.

When it comes to mastering a skill, time is the magic ingredient.

With practice, and this is certainly a practice, everything is starting to improve. Rowing is becoming a part of my fitness identity. It is becoming a part of my DNA.

Seeing Everything

Back to those first few sessions…

With this program, there was a lot to monitor: stroke rate (set at 18 strokes per minute), 500 meter splits (this is more about establishing consistency than it is about the actual time), and heart rate (no higher than 145 beats per minute). I had a hard time settling into a rhythm because my focus was everywhere. I also had the television on. I figured this was grueling work, and it would be nice to have a distraction. A distraction was the last thing I needed. I needed focus, a hyper awareness of what was going on within my body. I am reminded of the words of my favorite samurai/philosopher Miyamoto Musashi who said, “If you know the way broadly, you will see everything.” I was not paying enough attention, and therefore I was seeing too little.

The mind is no longer mired in the details, but can see the larger picture. It is a miraculous sensation and practice will lead you to that point, no matter the talent level you are born with.

Once again it comes down to practice. It is like the veteran race car driver. Every lap and all the small details are important. But if he cannot see the big picture and does not have a competitive car that can make it to the end, he is not going to be successful. You must know the way broadly so you can see everything. With practice, you can go beyond the minor details and move on to the big picture.

A Breathing Meditation

I was a bit afraid of the boredom and that was why the TV was on in the first place. But I found something worse than boredom, I found an unnecessary distraction. Boredom is a killer for many. We have trained ourselves to be always engaged. Remember when kids used to be bored when they had nothing to do? But these days, this is a rarity. Now they have their phones, tablets, games, and the latest streaming platform. They are always engaged. And it is not just them. We have trained ourselves to be always engaged.

My rowing buddy, who introduced me to this program, calls his early morning sessions a breathing meditation. Over the last few years, I have been making meditation a practice, one that I continue to struggle with today. Once again, it is not easy to quiet an overly stimulated mind. But this practice of meditation teaches us one important lesson. It teaches us to be in the present. No past, no future, only here, in the now. Rowing without distraction is exactly that. You are in the present moment with every stroke, every recovery before the next stroke, every breath, and every beat of the heart. Nothing else in that moment matters. It is a perfect meditation practice which can only help throughout the day to get past the distractions and get into mindfulness.

The only real impediment to this is yourself and your emotions -boredom, panic, frustration, insecurity…The boredom will go away once you enter the cycle.

We don’t always have to be engaged. Having nothing to do is fine. It is good to take a moment and do nothing. We can use that time to say a prayer of gratitude, feel the sunshine, and enjoy the present moment. We can be at peace in the present moment, free of regret (the past) and anxiety (the future).

Faith in the Process

I believe with every fiber of my being, that this program will make me a more powerful and efficient rower. I believe that the wisdom, courage, and discipline I develop through this sport will make me a better person in other areas of my life, where those virtues can be applied.

Faith in the process. It is another lesson I am learning that goes beyond the rowing machine. It is another concept I am bringing to life.

The italicized words in this post come from the book Mastery by Robert Greene.  It is an excellent book that I highly recommend and will become part of my stable of go-to books to read again in the future. The following paragraph is from page 77:

When it comes to mastering a skill, time is the magic ingredient. Assuming your practice proceeds at a steady level, over days and weeks certain elements of the skill become hardwired. Slowly, the entire skill becomes internalized, part of your nervous system. The mind is no longer mired in the details, but can see the larger picture. It is a miraculous sensation and practice will lead you to that point, no matter the talent level you are born with. The only real impediment to this is yourself and your emotions—boredom, panic, frustration, insecurity. You cannot suppress such emotions—they are normal to the process and are experienced by everyone, including Masters. What you can do is have faith in the process. The boredom will go away once you enter the cycle. The panic disappears after repeated exposure. The frustration is a sign of progress—a signal that your mind is processing complexity and requires more practice. The insecurities will transform into their opposites when you gain mastery. Trusting this will all happen, you will allow the natural learning process to move forward, and everything else will fall into place.

I would like to thank my rowing partner Jean-Jacques (@jjtron83).  He introduced me to this plan and held me accountable by including me in his posts. He is a phenomenal rower and to me an insightful mentor/coach. He is a part of the good side of Twitter where positivity and uplifting others reign supreme.

Current Meditation Practice: Think, Then Act

It has been awhile since I did a guided meditation. Honestly, I don’t think they were working for me. More often than not, I was falling asleep listening to the voice of the guide.

Over the last month, I have begun a new habit that has been serving me well so far. When I wake up at four in the morning, I get dressed to work out. I go into the living room and lay down on the floor. I set my timer on the Insight App for ten minutes and begin my meditation. My preference is to lay on the floor rather than sit up. I think it helps to align my spine a little better to be on the hard floor.

During those ten minutes, I think about the workout I am going to do. I visualize myself doing the exercises. How hard, how long, and anything else I can think of. I try to maintain good breath control, but that is not my primary focus. When my mind wanders to other things, I go back to thinking about my workout. After the bell rings, I get up and walk to my home gym in the garage. My workout is intense and focused. What I pictured in my mind, I complete in reality. It works.

On the days that I work, I try to get to the parking lot 15-20 minutes early. I park at the back of the lot where there is less distraction and once again set my meditation timer for another ten minutes. I picture my day at work. I think of the tasks I have to do and the places I have to be.  More importantly, I think about my interactions with my coworkers. I visualize having a good and productive day. More often than not, the things I picture in my mind, I complete in reality. Again, it works.

Visualize it.

Bring it to life with action.

Enjoy your day.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become. –Buddha

Meditate on the Good

Justice 5/1/2019

The more man meditates upon good thoughts, the better will be his world and the world at large. -Confucius

There is so much truth in these words from Confucius. When my mind is right, so is everything else.

It is easy with the news. You see that horrific clip and can’t get the image out of your mind. It is followed up with more horrors: tragedy, scandals, and corruption. It shapes your outlook while dampening your spirits. Meditate upon these thoughts and your mind will darken your viewpoint of the world.

Seneca said, “Virtue alone raises us above hopes, fears, and chances.” If you meditate on these thoughts, you will see the world brighten around you. You can hone your wisdom, become more disciplined, and have greater courage. You can live a righteous life filled with faith, hope, and charity. You could be the example for others to follow thereby improving the world around you. It begins with the thoughts in your mind.

The Virtue of Justice

What does it mean to live a just life? If right thoughts and right actions equal righteousness, can we be righteous? Our hope is that others treat us with justice. This of course is no guarantee, but it does not change our responsibilities. It is our responsibility to be honest in our deeds and in our words, and that we treat others with justice.

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Meditation: On Pride

I know I need to meditate more. Yesterday was day one. Ten minutes in the morning before leaving for the gym to meet a client. 10 minutes again sitting in the car before walking into work. Later that evening, I lost my focus and subsequently lost my temper. Now I am on the second day, and it needs to be better than the first.

I set the timer for 15 minutes. It is dark outside as I sit in my car in the parking lot. 15 minutes to meditate and then 5 minutes to walk into work. I close my eyes and sit. I try to center myself, but something is missing. Oh yes, my breath. In. Out. Why did I get angry last night? I should have known better. I should not have fell into the trap. In. Out. Pride. It was my pride. My pride was injured. It wanted to retaliate. My pride is me. Not some separate embodiment acting of its volition. My pride. My ego. I own it. No one else is to blame. Blaming others is the easy path. The wrong path.

My thoughts begin to drift. I think about work, about the things I need to do today. Something is not right. My breath. Focus on my breath. In. Out. Back to pride. Back to anger. How do I eliminate it? How do I become stronger? This pride, my pride, is a weakness. When it is in control, I am more prone to anger. Anger is bad. It leads me down the wrong path. It leads to stupid and rash decisions. It leads to thoughtlessness. Chaos.

What will I do this weekend? What will I read? Write? This is not the time to let the mind wander. Concentrate on the breath. Breathe in. Take in the oxygen, the life. Exhale the breath. Expel the pride. Like the Om, expel the pride. When the anger comes, the walls crumble. My defenses are weakened. A city unprotected. My walls are my strength. My protection.

In. Out. Courage. It takes courage to be strong. It takes courage to overlook a perceived offense. It takes courage to not retaliate. Courage, not pride. With courage is strength. Pride is weakness. Anger is weakness.

In. Out. The timer goes off. My mind is now focused on courage. My prayer is to have the strength to be courageous. The strength to put away pride and anger. One last breath in and then exhale. It is time to walk to work.

A city breached and left defenseless are those who do not control their temper. –Proverbs 25:28