A year and a half ago, during one of the most difficult experiences of my life, I attended one of your live events. My friend drove me there and parked on the street, and after getting out of the car I immediately threw up. Once inside the venue, I went to the bathroom and cleaned myself up, then sat on the floor near the door while my friend held our place in line. I wanted so badly to learn how to love this–my nausea–but there was nothing inside of me that felt any amount of love. I just had no strength left. I wanted to talk to you after the meeting to ask you what to do, but I didn’t. Instead, I overheard a woman behind me telling her friend that she asked you what to do about her depression. You told her to “Be the best depressed person you can possibly be.” I didn’t understand this then, but I never forgot it, and I think I’m starting to understand it now. Can you tell me what you meant by this statement?
Matt: Using that example, I was pointing someone towards embracing the circumstances of depression, instead of being in opposition to it. In order for us to make peace with depression and use it as an evolutionary catalyst, it cannot be wrong to be depressed. It certainly isn’t comfortable or convenient, but the moment it isn’t wrong to be exactly as we are, we create space for a deeper reality to shine through. In the same way, your nausea isn’t preferred, but it’s here to be welcomed, honored, and respected for the role it plays in your journey. We don’t have to love the experience of nausea, in order to recognize how the one who feels so helpless, tired, and disempowered is the one who needs our loving support the most. From this space, we are no longer lost in our opinions about things, so we may be the best supporters of however our experiences unfold. This is the heart of true acceptance.
Mollie: What do you tell people who simply cannot love what they’re experiencing right now?
Matt: I say that we only think we cannot love because we don’t feel love as an emotion. Instead of thinking of love as a feeling to conjure or capture, it begins as a willingness to support ourselves or others no matter the details in view. Love is a response of empathy; when we see how deeply other people or even ourselves tend to hurt along our healing journeys, the awakening of love is a response of greater support to those in need. The more often we support ourselves and others in moments that matter most, the more supported we feel by the Universe, which at that point, manifests the feelings of well-being that everyone yearns to feel. Love is a willingness to be the most helpful person to the parts of you that hurt the most. This is the first bold step in cultivating heart-centered consciousness.
Mollie: So really walk me through this. You’re sitting there really not loving what is arising. Maybe you have chronic pain or a broken heart. Then you consciously shift your thoughts to “I love this, I accept this, This is what is meant to be, This is good.” But you can’t hold that thought for long, so soon your mind wanders back to thoughts of hating your circumstance. What then? I find there are only so many times I can think the thought, “This is good” before I just get bored and a little annoyed at myself for repeating this stupid mantra, and more than a little annoyed that I am annoyed. What then? Do I try to just switch to a different subject in my mind?
Matt: The trick is not trying to love the circumstance or feeling, but embracing the one who feels exactly as they do. We love the one who judges and hates, even though we may not love the act of judging or hating. Even the one who hates to judge is only here to be loved. The confusion is when someone is trying to love their experiences, instead of embracing the one having experiences. This is the crucial distinction that transforms self-love from daunting and dogmatic into an authentic and uplifting heartfelt communion.
Mollie: Can you tell me about a time in your life when you weren’t able to love what was in front of you–at least not at first–but then successfully shifted that feeling? How did you do it?
Matt: I’ve never tried to love what was in front of me because that would be denying the realism and honesty of my subjective human experience. Instead, I witnessed my feelings, beliefs, desires, and conclusions as parts that were waiting in line to seen through the eyes of acceptance and honored for being a unique aspect of my soul. I always knew the invitation was to love what arises within myself, while honoring any external play of circumstance as the perfect sequence of events to remind me where to send love in myself next.
Mollie: Lately, when I am not loving what I’m experiencing, I’m often able to shift my attitude quite a bit by reminding myself that this feeling or circumstance is my greatest teacher, the absolute best way for me to learn what I need to learn on this earth. For example, when I notice sadness, I remind myself to feel the sadness, to welcome it, because it is with me for some reason that I might not understand quite yet. Is loving what arises more about loving what comes of the pain, rather than about loving the experience of the pain? Or is it preferable to try to shift the painful feeling as well?
Matt: Loving what arises is about steadfast companionship. To welcome the pain, curiosities, worries and concerns, along with each and every insight that is birthed in the aftermath of loss or change allows us to be the parent we may never have had, the partner we are waiting to encounter, or the reliable friend who is always here to remind us how deeply we matter. When we take the time to befriend our feelings, the Universe steps forward to serve the evolution of our highest potential.
Mollie: Is your life hard? Is life supposed to be hard? At least sometimes?
Matt: My life isn’t hard. It’s exciting, sometimes exhausting, but its simply a matter of the balance I keep throughout my life. Life is hard when we forget its a process. A process is a chain of events that only unfold in time. So if we are not at peace with time, we rarely have time for the processes that matter most, which is the evolution of our soul. As we begin living on life’s terms and conditions by allowing the process of spiritual growth to be embraced throughout our day, we find deeper perspectives opening up, where a life that once seemed so difficult is now exciting at every turn. The difference between the two is how open we allow our hearts to be.
Mollie: You have mentioned something called “karmic clearing,” noting that we all need to feel negative feelings at times in order to clear them from the world. Why is this? What is the theological explanation? I would love to believe this is true–that my suffering has practical value for the world–but I’m skeptical.
Matt: Any notion of individual healing could only be our individual experience of clearing outdated patterns of ancestry as our personal contribution towards healing the collective. Our experiences may seem individual in nature, but it is always our unique experience of healing the whole that reveals astonishingly global implications through our willingness to heal. Additionally, perhaps the skeptical one is only using skepticism to request more loving attention, appearing to need answers and information, when it’s just an innocent way to request the gift of your attention.
“I am incapable of meditating,” admitted a friend of mine just the other day. “It ends up being just me silently agonizing over my to-do list.”
I totally get it; meditation is difficult. It’s definitely not a practice you’ll excel at right away. Just like you can’t pick up a golf club for the first time and expect to make it to the Masters Tournament next year and get that green jacket.
Okay, maybe that’s exaggerating, but you get the picture. The art of meditation can take years to learn, and you may never achieve perfect bliss, but it’s all about the practice.
And just like golf may not be your sport, certain styles of meditation may not be your cup of tea either. It takes some experimenting to find what works for you.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a deliberate practice and one that requires your most quiet, mindful state. The word is tossed around a lot, but you may not exactly know meditation’s actual meaning or function. If asked, I would initial picture Yoda summoning the Force. Perhaps this is a form of meditation, but we’ll leave that for the galaxy.
Though mediation varies and splinters off into different styles of practices, it begins with one specific application—calming your mind. It also (hopefully) ends with a similar goal—restoring balance. The in-between is where you can customize your practice.
As with most new endeavors, it’s helpful to be educated on the subject before you jump in. That’s why we’re here! In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn about the types of meditation, the benefits of meditation, meditation postures, and even some apps that will help you get in the zone. Then we’ll answer some common questions about meditation and silence any skeptics out there.
So what are some meditation techniques and tips to help you begin this transcendental journey? Stay tuned!
Types of Meditation
Vipassana meditation (observation of reality)
Vipassana is one of the most ancient forms of meditation. It originated in the Theravada vehicle of Buddhism (the school of thought used by southeastern Asian countries) and is said to use certain concepts from the Buddha himself—the refinement of mindfulness and searching within.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of meditation—concentration and insight. Concentration style meditation have you clear your mind or focus on only one thing. Vipassana is virtually the opposite, inviting you to unearth things about yourself.
Unlike these practices which discourage the movement of the mind, Vipassana meditation allows its students to explore and gaze at their thoughts from afar. You would then train your mind to reflect on your life experiences and view them objectively. Peeling them away layer by layer, you would ultimately be able to walk logically through your thought processes.
How to begin:
The simplest way to begin Vipassana meditation is to observe your breathing. Imagine your thoughts coming and going with the breath. Do not allow the thoughts to linger or be developed further beyond that one breath. This practice helps to relieve anxiety because anxiety is sometimes a result of thoughts being fleshed out to an irrational point.
This practice takes a lot of control. The mind’s natural tendency is to wander and see thoughts to fruition, but Vipassana asks you to allow thoughts to come and go like waves. Detached observation is often difficult for beginners.
Float tank (sensory deprivation)
Floating is a form of sensory deprivation. Its popularity is definitely arising because it can accommodate many abilities. Floating is done in a small tank filled with roughly 10-12 inches of water. The water contains around 800 pounds of Epsom salt, making it more buoyant than the Dead Sea.
In a float center, eliminating stimulus is the primary endeavor. The water is the same temperature as your body, so you don’t experience being too hot or cold. The room is completely dark, and the sound is nonexistent. Floats are usually done in 60-90 minute increments.
Remember the friend I told you about who said she was incapable of meditating? For her birthday, I surprised her with a 90-minute float. Honestly, I thought she would balk. Thankfully, I was wrong! She described the experience like floating in space, not being able to differentiate between water and air.
The benefits are medicinal in many ways. The calm sensory environment aids concentration, but the zero-gravity effect can help with back pain and stimulate sleep that’s equal to 4 hours of REM cycle sleep.
How to begin:
Obviously, you’ll need to find a facility that specializes in floating. The first visit is the most difficult because your body will take to allow the salts and sensory deprivation to relax your mind. Once you fall into a dreamlike state, though, then you’ll be able to implement your own specific practice.
Floating is expensive. Cost is usually not an object of meditation, so this alone could prevent you from experiencing floatation. Even if you could afford a float or two, meditation is recommended to be practiced often, so consistency would be difficult. Another downside (for Stranger Things fans only): unless you are Eleven, you’re not promised a visit to the Upsidedown dimension.
Guided meditation (instruction & response)
Guided meditation is probably the best practice if you’re a beginner. Most times you’ll have a narrator lead you through a practice. Whether the practice is about breathing or self-esteem, the scripts are designed to give your mind specific tasks that will reign in excessive thought.
When our brains create thought, we are also creating neural pathways. The more reinforcement we give to those pathways, the more likely we are to live into those thoughts. Our brains are programmed to absorb information and react to certain environments based on previous experience. How amazing that we hold the key to reformatting our minds to think more positively.
How to begin:
Getting started with guided meditation is simple. First, it’s important to choose an objective for your meditations. Since there is a vocally programmed aspect, you’ll want to feel that your script is beneficial. Are you wanting to quell anxiety or increase positivity?
Stay tuned for the segment later in the blog where we cover meditation apps that might assist you with guided meditations!
Guided meditation requires some outside resources like a program or application on your phone. Other options may include group meditation, but you might feel that this will prevent you from complete relaxation.
Check out this guided meditation to help with over-thinking.
Chakra meditation (personal inventory)
Chakra is an Indian form of thought which breaks down the body into a column of energy centers, each signifying a different color and trait. The 7 chakras correspond to our physical, emotional, and spiritual processes and, according to ancient Hindu healers, can become blocked.
Meditation and yoga are two of the most common ways to realign and unblock your chakras. Before I introduce you to a Chakra balancing meditation, let’s learn about each energy segment, starting from the bottom.
Red — The Root
The lowest chakra is at the base of the spine or the pelvic floor and is associated with concepts which ground you—basic instincts like shelter, self-preservation, and safety. Blockages in this chakra result in colon issues, lower back pain, and fear/anxiety
Orange — The Sacral
The next chakra is located between your navel and pelvic bone and is associated with your sexual nature—passion, joy, and complete wellness. Blockages in the sacral chakra include aversion to change, sexual dysfunction, or addiction.
Yellow —The Solar Plexus
The yellow chakra is located in your belly just below the ribcage and connects you to self-control and power. Blockages in the solar plexus result in moods of self-deprecation, poor time management, and digestive issues.
Green — The Heart
As it indicates, this chakra is located in your chest and is centered in love. The chakra, at its best, promotes goodwill and absolution. Blockages in the heart promote anger management issues, inability to cope with grief, and grudges.
Blue — The Throat
This blue chakra symbolizes communication and your ability to express yourself clearly without inhibition or fear of your own honesty. Blockages could result in trouble speaking your truth, shoulder/neck tension, and attention issues.
Indigo — The Third Eye
Located between your eyes, this chakra represents your brain and your vision. The purple energy dictates your ability to perceive and fine tunes your intuition. Blockages create poor judgment, erratic decision-making, and headaches.
Violet — The Crown
The crown chakra, like its location, is the highest energy and is related to spiritual connection. In its purest form, the violet chakra is fully conscious and aware of the universe. Disconnected, the crown chakra could make you feel isolated. Meditation is said to be most helpful for this energy source. During these times of mindfulness, your 7 chakras are at total, clear alignment.
How to begin:
The best way to begin Chakra-style mediation is to be familiar with the 7 chakras. Study the energies. What color holds your insufficiencies? What colors are your strengths? Once you underwent the colors and their connection to your mind and body, listen to a guided Chakra meditation for help navigating the blockages (see below).
As information-rich and enlightening as Chakras are, they are also abstract. Studying Chakras may be something you want to tackle down the road in your meditation journey. No sense in overloading your mind when you’re trying to silence it!
Forest bathing (gentle wandering)
What do you think of when you hear forest bathing? When I first heard it, I thought, You mean just being in the woods? Well, I go trail running, so this is nothing new to me. Who’s profiting from this glorified hiking class?
Then I took some time to research. Developed in the 1980’s, this Japanese form of healing helps converge nature and mindfulness in its students. It incorporates a slow walk through quiet woods, breathing exercises, and observation. You’re invited to use all your senses to connect with nature—seeing the green, hearing the birds, feeling the textures around you. (Another common misconception debunked: it’s not a bath, so you don’t need swim trunks).
Think about the objective of a hike or a trail run. The goals are finishing or having a defined destination. These add an element of rushed urgency to something that we assume is peaceful—not to mention, high elevation hikes or runs take a lot of conditioning. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel very peaceful when I’m out of breath.
How to begin:
Forest bathing can be as simple or as complex as you’d like. There are some programs and retreats you can attend which educate and guide you through the process. Another option is just to walk trails on your own and connect with your senses.
Some city dwellers may not have easy access to a forest. That’s okay. Find any green space or park. It may not offer the quietness you need, but the main thing is surrounding yourself with green.
Meditation teaches chronic worriers to quiet an active mind. Training yourself to halt the broken record of your mind’s worst case scenarios is not easy. It’s definitely not relaxing at first. But keep trying. The results outweigh the effort.
One of the main components of meditation is the self-awareness. Practices may be different, but a common thread is the attention it brings. Whether you’re tracking your breathing, guiding your thoughts, or listening to birds in the forest, you’re making an effort at awareness.
Meditation, in all its forms, calls for slow movement—unhurried, gentle thoughts as well as heedful physical movements. This world revolves around quickness and convenience these days, so it’s no wonder that the simple act of slowing down can improve your grasp on the nuances of life.
Mindfulness creates control
Our minds are hardwired to absorb tons of sensory information and interpret it. Not many moments go by when your mind isn’t working, worrying, planning, or wandering—except for when you’re meditating, that is. You already know that control is difficult. Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried dieting. I see you.
The willpower involving food choices is tough, but at least these actions and reactions are slower (i.e. grocery shopping, ordering at a restaurant) Thoughts appear and vanish instantly, so controlling this traffic successfully creates a master of control.
Being present in our bodies helps us appreciate its function
Meditation asks you to dive deep. Listening to your breathing and the rhythm of your heart can only be a rote part of the process for so long. But when you really begin to investigate your vessel through mediation, you may find yourself grateful and amazed.
Gratitude can be a wonderful focal point during concentration meditations. The Chakra mediation we covered earlier is the perfect application for this type of appreciation. The presence of mind you’ll have while exploring your Chakras will help you learn a lot about your physical and spiritual qualities.
Quarter Lotus (Burmese)
The quarter lotus is a fancier name for sitting with your legs crossed (or as my preschool teacher would say—criss cross applesauce). For added comfort, I would recommend sitting on a folded towel to elevate your hips. This will relieve pressure on your knees and ankles.
Full lotus position is probably the 2nd most common association with meditation behind chanting ooommmmmm. It’s the pose we all envision. Instead of crossing feet under the knee, you pull your feet up to rest on your thigh.
Since the full lotus is intermediate to advanced, I only recommend you try this one if you already have pretty loose hips or your only plan on short meditations. If you have knee injuries, definitely avoid this pose.
Seated in Chair
This may not be the most picturesque pose, but it works for some people. If you think sitting down with your legs crossed will cause pain or discomfort, definitely choose the chair method. The point of mediation is to not fixate on distractions, so if your legs fall asleep due to poor circulation, that won’t exactly propel you toward deep relaxation.
For chair pose, sit up and don’t let your back rest against the chair. Your chest should be lifted and your feet planted firmly on the floor.
There’s some controversy around horizontal mediation positions because it could tempt you to fall asleep. Although sleep is positive (definitely means you’re chill), it’s not exactly the goal of meditation. If you have the self-control to remain conscious, try these yoga-inspired poses.
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
This is my favorite yoga pose. Of course, you’re probably saying, because it’s lying on your back doing nothing. Well, you’re partly right, but in my defense, it’s not as easy as it looks. Sure, you can be stretched out on your back, but what is your mind doing? You’re either asleep or worrying if the chicken will be thawed by dinner time.
Corpse pose could be the most difficult to master. It’s not about the position as much as your consciousness while in savasana. You’re lying horizontal, palms facing up. You’re breathing with intention, eyes closed.
Supta Baddha Konasana (Bolstered Hip Opener)
This one’s a mouthful, but here’s what’s up. Also a horizontal position, this pose is often done in restorative yoga practices. You’ll be on your back with your legs in a butterfly position (soles of your feet together, heels pulled toward your groin) with a bolster pillow under your shoulders. I’ve taken part in a restorative yoga session before, and I really liked this pose.
This position opens your hips and aligns your spine. Pop quiz: which Chakra would you be using in this meditative position? (Hint: orange)
Is movement a position? Not necessarily, but because meditation has evolved, so must posture. Think about forest bathing. Though it’s perfectly okay to sit and bask in nature, the specific forest bathing technique requires slow wandering. I think this is just another way you can be present in your body and be aware of subtleties of movement.
Using apps on your phone may seem like it’s defeating the purpose of detaching and focusing, but I’m liking this option. I need the incentive to stay on task and build a habit. Whether that’s a monthly payment or simply seeing the app button on my home screen, I think we could all use a boost.
For sake of brevity (there are hundreds of apps out there), I’m gonna categorize them based on some specific factors. Here you go:
10% happier (for the skeptics)
This app was created to combat the skeptics who think meditation is sitting cross-legged on a mountain ledge at dawn chanting in Sanskrit. Phew! Good thing I’m here to change your mind! You could be missing out on some real ambient chill.
10% Happier addresses the science behind the ooommmm. There’s a lot of commentary, explanation, and basic practices to get you started.
Price: Free with limited features, $11.99 per month
Buddhify (for the indecisive)
To me, this program is the most aesthetically pleasing and is seemingly user friendly. The app opens with a color wheel inviting you to select your mood. Instead of stressing yourself out scrolling through options, just let your mood select the style. There are also a ton of guided meditations if you need some help navigating your thoughts.
Smiling mind (for the budget conscious)
This app is free! Are you sold yet? If not, check out these specs: the app chooses meditations based on your personality/career and tracks your progress. It was developed by psychologists and other healthcare professionals, so it’s free and trustworthy. Can’t beat that.
Headspace (for the best of everything)
This is the most compressive app of all. Forbes named this app one of its top choices, and for good reason. Tons of categorized meditations are available for your ever-shifting days and moods. There’s even an SOS feature for, particularly rough days. You can even have accountability check-ins with other app users!
Price: Free with limited features; $12.99 per month
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are meditation and prayer the same thing?
A: This is a tricky question. A lot of people get confused or hesitant about starting any meditation practices because it seems associated with religion. Although its roots are in Asian culture and religion, no one is forcing you to submit or pray to a higher Being if you don’t choose to.
What meditation can offer is a vehicle or shell for your prayer. The seated posture, the inward-looking, and the quiet focus all lend themselves to great prayer environments no matter your faith. Faith-based guided meditations are a great way to incorporate both relaxation and religious practices into one sitting.
The largest difference I notice between prayer and meditation is where control is delegated. In non-prayer meditation, you are usually coached into being your mind’s own master—you and you alone are governing your sensory perceptions. Oftentimes in prayer, there is a submissive nature which relinquishes power to a higher Being.
Q: When is the best time of day to meditate?
A: Depending on the goal of your meditation, any time of day could work. If you need to channel energy and positivity, morning is a great choice. If you’re attempting to diffuse anxiety or a tough situation during the day, maybe a few minutes on your lunch hour. If relaxation is what you’re after, try meditating before bedtime as a sort of sleep prep.
Q: How long should I meditate?
A: Don’t set yourself up for failure. Don’t jump in and attempt to quiet your mind for a whole hour. That’ll probably be the last time you meditate. Try 10 minutes at first to see how your body and mind react. Once you’ve mastered this timeframe, you can move up slowly.
I consider an average meditation to be around 30 minutes. With life as busy as it is, it’s hard to fit any more time in—especially since you’ll need to incorporate exercise and vigorous activity in at some point as well. Damn you, self-care!
A: This is an excellent question and one that boils down to preference and how you react to stimuli. Though closing your eyes is most common and seems to promote focus, it can easily allow the mind to wander or drift off (to a rabbit hole of thought or to sleep!)
If you chose to practice with your eyes closed, you must find something to focus on—a consistent sound, your breathing, or the wind against your cheek.
With open eyes, it seems obvious that you might get distracted. Squirrel! But it might be simpler than you imagine. The key is to fixate on a focal point. Don’t place yourself in a visually busy spot. Find a consistent landscape, like a forest edge or a sunset. If you’re inside, focus on the collection of four-leaf clovers in a jar. Bottom line: understand how your mind works and what would allow you to focus.
I hope this guide has given you some insight into this therapeutic practice. For the skeptics, I hope you’re convinced that meditation is more than Yoda and lots of ooommmm. For seasoned meditators, I hope this has given you more tools and more angles to mix up your practice.
For the slackers like me, I hope this has reignited your energy toward bettering your mind. I don’t know about you, but after this post, I’m going to tend to my blue Chakra and stare at some trees.
The other week at my (awesome) Unitarian church, a woman I met during greeting time said this: “You have three kids? So you pretty much deserve the hero award just for waking up.”
It was sweet. Really sweet. I appreciated the compliment. But I didn’t know how to respond.
I tried this: “No, not at all. It’s not that bad, really.”
She said, “I have two kids, and parenting is the hardest thing I do,” and then my humility in disregarding her praise turned into hubris, right before my eyes. (This happens to me a lot.)
“That isn’t my experience,” I said cautiously. “So far, I like this job the best.” I wanted to say more, but the minister resumed the service.
I would love to talk to her again. And maybe I will. But for now, let me get something off my chest.
Parenting is hard. Super, super hard. Mostly because I don’t have a lot of free time. But here are some other things I don’t have: A set schedule; a time clock; work clothes; spreadsheets; deathly boredom; rush-hour traffic; a commute; meetings; pointless busywork; the feeling that I’m not making a difference; replacibility; burnt coffee; meetings; sitting in the same room every day, all day; office politics; dealing with people every day that disrespect me; customers; deadlines; sales pressure; fake smiles; the need to pretend to be busy; carpel tunnel; lack of creativity; lack of autonomy; lack of passion; hours and hours of socialization while on the clock; Sunday evening dread. And finally:
So let’s take a moment to appreciate the bus drivers, office workers, clerks, managers and salespeople of the world. Especially that garbage man that always waves to my kids.
This is my first winter with three children, and here is what I’ve learned about the mathematics of coats.
To find the total square footage of your home that you will need to devote solely to winter wear, use the following equation.
For each child in the family, add two lightweight jackets or sweatshirts, one point five heavy coats, one snowsuit, one rain suit, plus gloves, boots and hats.
For each adult in the family, add five to ten lightweight jackets or sweatshirts, one fancy coat, one rain jacket, one heavy coat, plus gloves, boots and hats.
For each adult bicyclist, motorcyclist, skier, scuba diver or other athletic type, add one pair of specialty pants and one point five specialty coat per sport. Because the volume of each of these items is almost double the average volume of other items, multiply this number by two.
Thus, if your family has five members (as mine does), you will need approximately eight thousand items of winter wear in your collective wardrobe.
After determining the total number of items, measure the square footage needed per item. This will vary depending on how much space between items you require to access them. Now multiply this number by your number of items.
If you did the math right, you will likely come up with a figure that will make it necessary to buy a second home. Or at least a Pod.
Seriously, though. Our coats take up two entire closets right now. And my kids are still tiny.
Summer, please come back soon.
(I’m off to buy a Pod.)
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1. Men don’t freak out over criticism. The other week, my babysitter quit. She said our parenting style was too “laid back.” (She was being nice, of course. She could’ve said my kids are brats.) After I read the email, I consulted with two friends at length, seeking ways to validate my choices and to work through my embarrassment. My husband, on the other hand? He read the email, made a single statement (which I won’t repeat here), then placed it all in a file and red-stamped it. Case closed.
2. Men are willing to take a backseat. My husband’s greatest joy in life is his mostly happy, mostly loving family. The role he chooses to play in keeping it that way is to support my parenting decisions as well as my self-care. He helps in any way he can, and doesn’t micromanage. Most of all, he realizes that the one who makes the plans is the one who gets to decide how to carry them out. (For more on gender differences in family decision making, see Tara Parker Pope’s discussion of household management in For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed.)
3. Men deeply appreciate real women’s bodies. Men love fat women, thin women, tall women, short women, beautiful women, plain women, dressed-up women, casual women, Barbie women, Martha Stewart women, soft women, angular women, curvy women and everything in between. Their tastes are much more wide-ranging and forgiving than the women they love often realize. (For evidence, see A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships by Ogi Ogas.)
4. Men are Zen. I once saw a video recording of a spiritual conference in which the audience was mostly made up of women. During the question and answer session, one of them asked the speaker if women are more spiritually evolved than men are; after all, they’re the ones who come to these events the most. The teacher responded that there may have been good reason that more men weren’t there. “Maybe they don’t need to read as many books and go to as many conferences, since they’re already practicing these principles without realizing it.”
I, for one, think she was right. If Zen is define as living in the moment, appreciating the little things and not obsessing over the bad, men as a whole are way more Zen than women are.
5. Men are great conversationalists. I love girl talk. Mom talk, especially. But I also can’t live without a weekly debate regarding philosophy, news and/or politics. And for that, my dad, husband and other male friends are my go-tos. With them, it’s not personal. I can be as opinionated as I want to be. Friendly debates really feel … friendly. (I have had a few girlfriends who don’t mind the inevitable disagreements that come up, but not many.)
6. Men are honest. I like the emotional support I get from my girlfriends, but every once in a while, if I’m full of shit, it’s better just to be told straight up. One of the greatest compliments I’ve even received–maybe the very greatest–came from my husband, who said, “You have the best personality of anyone I know.” If this had come from a girlfriend, I would’ve deeply appreciated their kindness. But since it came from a person who as far as I know has never, ever lied to me–even a so-called ‘white lie’–I will treasure it forever. (I’d give you a few great examples of his brutal honesty, but that probably isn’t necessary. Just trust me.)
7. Men communicate clearly. Here’s a typical scenario: my husband and I in our living room, cleaning up after our dinner guests. “Did you catch that comment?” I say. “The one about the laundry?”
“Maris was hinting that Niles didn’t appreciate her. You didn’t see it? Oh, I love you, Hon. You’re so great.”
When I tell my husband, “I’m stressed out. I need a break,” he gets it. When I say, “Will you do the laundry?”, he says yes or no. However, when I say, “I hate everything right now,” he has no idea what that means, or what to do. This is a major advantage in our relationship. David teaches me how to be direct. (I’m not all the way there yet, though. Only been with him for eight years. These things take time.)
8. Men appreciate the beauty of silence. When I was in high school, my dad opened a window into male psychology for me–a small one, but it let in a surprising amount of light. He said, “The person you can sit with, and say nothing, but still understand each other–that’s the person you want to marry.”
But I love talking, I thought. I want to marry a great conversationalist. Later, though, I understood what he meant. Men love talking sometimes, too. But what they truly need is respectful, peaceful, loving, companionable … quiet.
Like I said: a window.
9. Men are sexy. Enough said.
10. Men are smart. Obviously, women are every bit as talented and intelligent as men are. But it’s been a while since I’ve heard someone say, “Men have done so much good in the world, haven’t they?” A similar comment about women comes my way every three hours or so. So let’s all take a moment to acknowledge the many achievements of male-kind, even if you don’t appreciate every single one of them. (Personally, I’m not a huge fan of cars. But the birth control pill and sidewalks? Two thumbs up.)
BONUS #1: Men are funny first, serious as needed. My husband plays with my children differently. And his discipline style is often more lighthearted than mine. A common caution of his is, “It seems like you need tickles. Do you need tickles?” It’s beautiful. Humor is one of the most helpful conflict management strategies I know.
BONUS #2: Finally, when people use the term “white men” or just “men” in a negative context, men don’t usually complain. Often, they even welcome it. Some even consider themselves feminists. They like us women that much.
Much, much love to the men in my life who have debated with me for hours, told me the unvarnished truth, and shown me how neurotic I (occasionally) am.
P.S. Happy birthday to my amazing older son, who turns five very soon. Could not be prouder.
P.P.S. Kudos to Philadelphia for celebrating International Men’s Day today.
So, it occurred to me today that I have no idea what Jesus would do. Ever. This may be due to a lack of information or just my inability to synthesize the available information. However, after reading just a couple of books on monks of various times, places and faith persuasions (The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton and Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda both leap to mind), I have a decent feel for what they would do in most sticky situations. (Hint: It usually involves a wan smile and a non-committal retort such as “Is that so?”)
And so, I’m going to have my own bumper sticker made. It’s going to say “What Would a Buddhist Monk Do?”
Something different for you today: a poem I wrote during my first year of being a mom.
We expect our children to share everything they own. But do we share everything we own?
We expect our children to enjoy sleeping alone. But do we enjoy sleeping alone?
We expect our children to realize they’ll be okay immediately after falling down. But do we realize we’ll be okay immediately after we fall down?
We expect our children to let other people decide what they will wear, what they will eat and where they will go. We expect them to always eat their vegetables and to go to school for eight hours a day. We expect them to sit still, play quietly, contain their excitement and never, ever show they’re mad. But are these things always such a good idea?
We parents don’t always go to bed on time. We don’t always manage our money wisely. We often argue, or even refuse to work out our disagreements at all.
We don’t always keep our rooms clean, stick with our first decision or get ready on time. We don’t always do the math right.
We don’t always follow the rules.
We expect our children to behave like adults while so often, we behave like them. Maybe, then, we should expect a little less of our children—and a great deal more of ourselves.
1. Would I rather have clean carpets but constant carpet maintenance and a strict no-shoes, no dirty feet policy … or would I rather have stains on my carpet and a lot less hassle? (Or is there another solution, like dark brown carpet?)
2. Would I rather have a clean house with constant maintenance … or would I rather have a messy house but be able to let my kids do arts and crafts inside; let kids get head-to-toe dirty outside then track it in; not have to nag about chores all day; get less annoyed by kids being kids; let kids learn how to prepare their own food; let kids learn how to feed themselves; and not to mention spend a lot less time cleaning. (Or is there another solution, like teaching kids to do chores and exchanging chores for privileges?)
3. Would I rather have a nicely manicured lawn that I have to maintain weekly … or would I rather garden and rake when it brings me pleasure and exercise, and have lots of pine cones, leaves and dead grass in my yard, all of which are pretty in their own way? (Or is there another solution, like moss and clover instead of grass?)
4. Would I rather keep all bugs out of my house at all times but have to constantly nag the kids to shut the door … or would I rather leave the door open all day in the summer without a screen so that the kids are encouraged to go outside more often throughout the day? (Or is there another solution, like a screen with a magnetic closure that automatically closes behind you?)
5. Would I rather save time on cooking by going to a restaurant, then spend time driving, parking, ordering, waiting, paying, and driving … or would I rather spend the effort to throw together something at home, then linger after dinner at the table with the family?
6. Would I rather spend $30 extra for a restaurant meal … or spend $20 for an extra hour of housekeeping or nanny time?
7. Would I rather spend $1,000 on French doors for my patio … or use that money to buy 50 hours of household or nanny help?
8. Would I rather spend $3-5,000 on a family vacation to Mexico for a week … or $1,000 on a nice staycation for a week that includes long evenings with kids at the babysitter’s?
9. Would I rather buy and store a gas-powered lawnmower … or would I rather use a small push mower that I rarely need to sharpen and never have to buy gas for, and is much quieter and more pleasant to use and gives me some exercise?
10. Would I rather have a large variety of appliances that make various tasks easier and faster … or would I rather have a smaller kitchen with less cluttered cabinets and save time and hassle finding what I need?
11. Would I rather have a large, expensive house with high heating, cleaning and repair costs … or a house in a prime location with just enough room for the family to live closely and with less stuff?
12. Would I rather have three kids and spend more quality time with each … or would I rather have four kids and bring another life into our family and the world?
13. Would I rather make sure my kids go to several sports, clubs, or classes each week … or would I rather let my kids figure out how to overcome boredom on their own at home?
14. Would I rather clean up the food my kids spill under the table and move on to the next thing more quickly … or would I rather teach them how to clean up after themselves by taking away their food and waiting for them to clean it up before their next meal?
15. Would I rather drive my kids to the library … or would I rather walk them there?
16. Would I rather let my kids have three hours of screen time per day … or would I rather sit with them in the living room while they play and I read a book, not allowing them to interrupt me unnecessarily?
17. Would I rather buy a new fire truck for my child … or give him a box of recycled materials and help him make one?
18. Would I rather pick up all of the toys one by one when I need to clean the floor … or sweep them all into the corner with a push broom?
19. Would I rather spend an hour a week driving to and from a playdate that I don’t particularly enjoy … or would I rather find an activity for my kids that is within walking distance?
20. Would I rather pack the kids up in the car and take them to the park every day … or would I rather sit in the backyard for an hour to encourage them to join me?
21. Would I rather commit to doing a favor that doesn’t feel good to me … or would I rather take the opportunity to practice saying no?
22. Would I rather buy the new furniture that we supposedly need … or would I rather let the kids continue to destroy the old stuff and wait to get new stuff when they’re older?
23. Would I rather leave my cell phone in the bedroom till evening and miss a few messages … or would I rather be tempted to check my messages or to-do list several times per hour during family no-screen time?
24. Would I rather prepare all my kids’ food every day and prevent messes and wasted food … or would I rather teach them how to open the fridge, get a cup, pour the milk and put it away, then help them clean up the mess later?
25. Would I rather continue to change poopy diapers every day … or deal with potty misses a few times a week?
26. Would I rather help my kids resolve their every argument … or would I rather help them only when they ask me to and they are choosing to use their words?
27. Would I rather keep the family on a strict bedtime schedule and hectic morning routine in order to get them to school … or would I rather homeschool them and keep the schedule we choose?
28. Would I rather make my young kids do homework every night at the expense of family and free time … or would I rather let their grades slip a bit and let them play more?
29. Would I rather keep everything in my garage that I may need someday … or would I rather risk having to rebuy an item–either a new one or a just as good or better used one off Craigslist–in a few years?
30. Would I rather stand underneath my children on the monkey bars every time … or would I rather relax on the bench and let them fall once in a while?
These are just some of the ways I have rethought my cultural upbringing in the years since having children. Just an off-the-top list; I’m probably missing some big ones. The important thing isn’t how I answer these questions, of course. The important thing is that I ask them.
Thanks to a hunch and a great title, I purchased Sex, Drugs and Meditation on Amazon–and liked it even more than I expected I would. So I wrote the author, Mary-Lou Stephens, to ask if I could interview her for this site and for an upcoming book of mine. She kindly agreed. (And she was even willing to challenge my beliefs below, which I loved!)
Mollie: Right now I’m working on a book about examining and questioning deeply-held beliefs. The top spiritual beliefs I’ve found within myself so far, which are explained further in the book, are: spirituality is good; life is a game; there are no rules; people are holy; absolutes are fine, but certainty is not; happiness is the truth; God is simply reality–nothing more; and acceptance is “where it’s at.” What do you think? Agree or no?
1. Spirituality is good.
To quote Shakespeare, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I don’t think spiritual people are better than non-spiritual people or vice versa. Many people live good, happy and useful lives without any sense of spirituality.
2. Life is a game.
Life is what it is. It’s what we make of it. We get to chose what it is through how we think about it. The word “game” to me is too loaded with meaning. It’s possible to cheat when playing a game, and there are winners and losers. Also, to me, a game is too impersonal, too superficial. Life is an ever-unfolding wonder. Sometimes games are involved. I love playing Scrabble, but life as a game? No, that doesn’t resonate for me.
3. There are no rules.
I believe in boundaries, good healthy demarcations, but are these rules? No. I believe in working out what makes life better for me and those around me and living within that paradigm. As I mentioned before, when I was growing up in a Christian household I thought I had to obey all the rules to be worthy of love, and there were a lot of rules. I didn’t feel loved, no matter what I did. In 12-step programs I discovered that working the steps made my life a whole lot better so I was happy to keep working them again and again. Working those steps made my life work. With meditation I have found that life flows a lot easier. I don’t work the steps anymore. I have no schedule of spirituality I have to adhere to. I just live.
4. People are holy.
I do believe that God is in everyone. We are all part of the One. But once again, “holy” is a loaded word so I’m going to disagree with this one, too!
5. Absolutes are fine. Certainty is not.
There are no certainties, no absolutes. Everything changes, all the time. It’s the nature of the Universe.
6. We have power.
Yes, we have power. We have the power of choice. We can choose what we say, how we respond, how we spend our time, how we treat others. This is power.
7. Happiness is the truth.
Totally disagree with this one. Happiness is a fleeting feeling. The truth is everlasting.
8. God is reality—nothing more.
God is a paradox, everywhere and nowhere, everything and nothing, immeasurable and infinite. God may not even exist. But there is a strong sense within me that s/he does.
9. Acceptance. It’s where it’s at.
Yep! I love acceptance. it gives me so much more space and time to do the things I love to do. I’ve stopped fighting. It was all useless anyway. In the end, even the victories I had mean nothing. Acceptance brings me joy.
Lately I’ve been noticing that the term “spiritual enlightenment” has lost some of its exclusivity. People–friends of mine, and a few authors I’ve read–define it in a multitude of ways: peace. Calm. Positivity. Joy: smiling joy, constant joy, childlike, carefree joy.
Right now, I like this definition: happiness.
Isn’t that the best definition of spiritual enlightenment there is? It’s not knowing God; as I am part of God, I already know her. It’s not something you do; doing is not ultimately important in this life. It’s not having the ability to meditate for hours on end, though clarity of thought is a very wonderful thing.
It’s just happiness.
Happiness is the truth of life, and happiness is enlightenment.
And when you put it that way, suddenly enlightenment feels much more attainable; I know I can get it because, after all, I’ve gotten it before—a little.
Even recently I’ve gotten it. As I have tried to discipline myself to think positively on a continual basis, especially regarding my body, I have felt the happiness that I desire to feel all the time to some (heretofore small) degree.
Still reading Conversations With God, Part Three, and still loving it. Today read a passage in which the God character discusses people who’ve had near-death experiences. He says that even though these experiences are incredibly powerful and life-changing (like the spiritual awakenings that many of the rest of us have had, only much more extreme), after a time the person usually forgets what they’ve learned.
“Is there a way to keep remembering?” Walsch’s character asks God.
God replies that there is. He says that we must remember that the world we see around us is really an illusion, and that instead of acting based on what we see and experience here and now we must act according to what we know is really true, in the world beyond this temporary physical place. Because in the world of the spirit, everything is perfect, everything is beautiful, everything is right, and there is no sin, and no pain, and no fear and no struggle, nor will there ever be.
And that is of course my true goal in life, my challenge—the challenge not just of losing weight, but of achieving enlightenment, and of finally being truly, deeply happy. Not just fulfilled—not just pretty happy.
But really, really, truly, smiling, singing, spreading-it-around, happy.
I have never experienced this feeling on a continual basis, but I have gotten glimpses of it—recently quite a few, actually. I’ve known what it’s like to be able to hold on to my understanding that it is all much bigger than this visible world, with its longing, its pain, its perceived desire—even one as huge and consuming as the desire to be thin—and that it is all truly well with my soul, and with the world, and it always would really be.
Reading the wonderful Matt Kahn’s book, Whatever Arises, Love That. (Great title, eh?) So, the main message is to send love to whatever comes up in your experience, which is what Eckhart Tolle, my friend Leta Hamilton, and many others agree is one of the most useful spiritual practices you can do.
And man, I super suck at it.
I don’t love a lot of things. A whole lot of things. My ego is just always–right–there. I can’t let go of my opinion long enough to love what is, even though I know that doing so is the core definition of humility.
I really don’t know how to be humble. But I’m working on it.
Ever since getting into this New Thought/New Age spirituality thing, I’ve been confused about something: If God isn’t God as I once thought him to be, but instead the substance of all that is and ever will be, who should I be praying to? I’ve been praying to God, since presumably the message still gets through. But it doesn’t feel quite right. Well, earlier this week, I remembered some advice from Kryon to talk out loud to the many angels and guides that surround us constantly … and so, that is what I did. I imagined a group of real beings with individuality and personality listening to me and going to work on my behalf (since, again, presumably that’s what they do). Beings who know me, like me, and are like me–not some ethereal love-fluff in the air.
At a playdate the other week, one of my sons hit another kid. The playdate wasn’t with just one other family; a whole big group of us was there.
Sometimes, when something like this happens, I have a moment of, “Okay. How do I handle this situation calmly but effectively, in a way that makes me look like a good mom?” I didn’t know the others well, so this response may have been even more likely–normally.
That day, though, wasn’t a normal day. That day I was “in the zone.”
In You’re Getting Closer, I discuss this phenomenon–this state of continuous meditation, during which everything you do feels inspired. That morning, I decided this would be one of those days; I’d listen for guidance on what to do–even the little stuff.
And so, when I saw what happened, I knew without hesitation what to do. I talked to my son, and gave him the choice to either apologize or to leave the playdate.
Then, we left the playdate.
It’s so, so nice to have that feeling of clarity, of knowing exactly what to do and how. I don’t have it nearly often enough.
A while back, I resolved to learn how to accept what is, give up compulsiveness, in order to become more, you know, Buddhist monk-like. The only part of this resolution that stuck, however, was cleaning my house less often.
Right now, I’m sitting in a comfy spot on our playroom floor, drinking coffee and watching the baby eat baked apple slices. It’s morning and all the noises are soft ones: distant bird calls, faint refrigerator whirring, the sound of my hand sliding across this paper. Soon, my older son—the not-so-quiet one—will wake up. And all I can think is, Am I ready?
What can I do with this precious hour before the real work begins? What feels most useful, most inspired? Should I meditate a while longer? Read a book? Get some writing done? How can I best “go with the flow”?
In You’re Getting Closer, I talk about my daily effort to live in The Zone—to do only what feels most inspired. Times like these, though, I can’t seem to figure it out, not even when it’s quiet and calm. How, then, will I be able to do so the rest of the day, when distractions (like my older child) are everywhere?
Going with the flow sounds easy enough. But it sure takes a long time to learn.