I guess you could say that I’ve always been a flinger. I don’t sit around on my hopes like eggs waiting for them to hatch: I try stuff, and see what works. I massage them. I incubate them. I try prayer and meditation. When that doesn’t work, I start tapping on the shells. Eventually, I might throw them against the wall and watch them crack, and though I realize this isn’t progress, I feel better.
I fling. I’m a flinger. And when it comes to my problems, I fling even harder and with more conviction.
Depression isn’t an egg, of course. (Oh, how I wish it was.) Depression is a wall—one much stronger than I. Standing in front of it, though, I do what comes naturally. I pick up any tool nearby, and have at it. I make cracks. I wedge the cracks. I break the wedge. Then I try again. My efforts are formidable, but so far, they haven’t been enough. Since early childhood, depression has been part of my life–the “black dog” Churchill referred to, though in his case the dog came and went a lot whereas for me, the dog stays. It stayed through elementary school, when no one seemed to know anything was wrong with me, including myself. It stayed through middle and high school in spite of my self-diagnosis and plan for change. It stayed all the way through college and through my early relationship with my husband–times that should’ve been the best in my life. It stayed as my career matured and as my babies were born, and today, after years of medication and spiritual and physical effort, it is still with me. Relief has not been relief except by degrees, and mostly, I’m okay with that. Acceptance of my condition doesn’t seem to be my problem, exactly. A high degree of drivenness and a suspicion that the condition is curable might be.
The dog is just a dog. It’s familiar. It’s not crazy-making. It bothers me, but I can still function. At forty-one I realize that roughly half my life is over, and what I’ve done already I can do again. I’m strong. I have resources. I’m better by far than I used to be. But some people are good at taking their wins and taking a break. I am not.
Which is why I’m back at the wall, flinging even more. Working up a list of stuff I haven’t tried, or tried enough, and making preparations. In this book, I share my personal history of depression, but more interesting than that is the main storyline: everything I’m doing this year to treat the problem. Following my three other self-improvement memoirs that also use a one-year theme, Fling Therapy is the story of the year that I tried the hardest to overcome or further alleviate my depression. Some of the things I write about aren’t new to me: brisk walks, cognitive therapy, meditation. Others are: energy healing. A full counseling program. New medications. For a while I even quit coffee. There’s also a lot in here about something that still scares me a bit: psychedelics. Will I try them? If I do, will I write about it?
In addition to the journal, I share relevant research, a comprehensive-as-I-can-get-it list of depression treatments and several interviews with people who have had some success with their depression battles. My hope in writing this book was, of course, that my renewed efforts would yield significant, positive results. But I also wanted to highlight what I’ve already done that’s been helpful. Though as I said before I’ve had depression since childhood, for the past decade or so, I’ve been mostly well. Some might contend that this is mostly due to medication, and they wouldn’t be wrong, exactly; medicine works pretty well. But it’s not everything. Living well is the rest. And that is what I try to do every day.
My black dog–a heaviness in my chest–is always there. No one would mistake me for an ebullient person, but I’m stable, functional and grateful. The word that best describes me today is content, and that’s pretty good, though I’d prefer “at peace.” Eventually, I’d like to be truly happy some of the time, understanding that times of pain are important, too.
Overall, though, happiness isn’t what I seek. I used to say that I wanted bliss, but I don’t anymore. I just want to not be at least a bit depressed all the time. I want to be able to enjoy the things I’ve worked hard to obtain: my stable marriage, my happy kids, my fulfilling work, my beautiful home. I want to be able to sit the yard I care for, listening to my children play and feel … light. At peace. Not heavy, at least sometimes. If I can achieve that, it will be worth a good deal of flinging.
I’m doing it again: setting aside of year of my life to work on a single self-improvement goal. Past goals have been more spiritually-focused, but this one is arguably even more important: I’m throwing every treatment I can find at my depression, and seeing what happens.
Medications. Exercise. Spiritual practice. Alternative healing methods. Therapy. And more. I’m attempting each, and writing about what helps, what doesn’t … and what might be of help to other people.
Between my month-by-month account, I offer an as-comprehensive-as-possible list of depression treatments. I share my research in the great hopes that others out there will find what works for them, even if it’s not what works for me.
Stay tuned to this blog for my series, Fling Therapy: One Year of Throwing Everything I Can Think of at My Persistent Depression.
This summer, I signed a contract with Creativia, an excellent small publisher who is taking on Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby. Working with them has been an awesome experience so far, and guess what? There’s an audiobook version in the works, too. Stay tuned for details on how to get your new, improved version of the book.
After Rachel and Matthew had their first child, they had a couple of fights. Well, okay, more than a couple—they fought for over three years. They fought about schedules. They fought about bad habits. They fought about feeling unloved.
They even fought about the lawn mower.
And besides actually having their child, it was the best thing that could’ve happened.
Chronicling their greatest hits, from the Great Birth Control Debate to the Divorce Joke Showdown, Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby is a post-partem story with hope. It offers true stories from the field, nitty-gritty advice and, most important, a nuanced understanding of what it takes to be married with children.
Contributor: Subhan Schenker, who runs the Osho World of Meditation in Seattle.
Mollie: When someone is fully enlightened, do they feel psychological pain?
Subhan: I have heard that enlightened people feel physical pain but not psychological pain. They may have some awareness that there is a mind that has pain, but it’s very far removed; the mind has dropped into the basement.
Mollie: What do you do when the mind makes a judgment and tries to nudge you—sometimes not so gently—to do something, change something, or at the very least, abhor something about yourself or your life, which then separates you from that feeling of connectedness?
In other words: How do we react to the monsters in our heads?
Subhan: You don’t. It’s not about getting rid of anything. It’s about watching, noticing what’s there. Becoming aware of how the mind functions is tremendously helpful. You’ll be able to experience how parts of the mind push and pull you; that there are so many judgments–about you, about everyone else, about everything! This watchfulness becomes more and more available. And the distance between “you” and the thoughts starts to grow.
Mollie: Where do the monsters go?
Subhan: Once this dis-identification starts happening, the thoughts aren’t perceived of as monsters. They are simply the way the mind functions, and they don’t have to be taken too seriously! They lose their power over you.
I can’t explain it. I can’t intellectualize it. You have to try it for yourself. When you have a thought you don’t like, notice it, remind yourself that it’s not you. I tell people to step back just one-twelfth of an inch from the mind. That doesn’t seem too hard, does it?
Mollie: I do that. It doesn’t always work.
Subhan: No, it doesn’t always work. The mind is tremendously powerful. It can process an unbelievable amount of data in a mere second. It is a miracle that we have the ability to step back from it at all. The only reason we are able to is that what is behind it is indestructible. And usually, we only obtain just a flash of true silence. Maybe for ten seconds you are in silence, and those ten seconds can be life-changing.
Mollie: Why is this the way it is? Why is it so hard to detach from mind, from pain? It doesn’t seem fair.
Subhan: Maybe awareness isn’t that cheap. Maybe awareness has to be earned.
The truth is, though, it’s hard because it’s hard. Because this is the nature of the mind. Asking “why?” is a game of the mind, the one it plays a million times a day. Why can’t I have this? Why can’t I do that? Why can’t I be there, feel that way?
D. H. Lawrence was a very intelligent man. One day he was walking with his nephew in the woods when his nephew asked: “Why are the leaves green?” Lawrence didn’t answer right away; instead, he thought about it for a time, wanting to give an answer that was the truth. Finally, he said, “I know the answer, but you are not going to like it. The leaves are green because they’re green.”
Your mind is not happy with this answer. But your inner being is.
The leaves are green because they’re green. Asking “why” leads to a never ending work game!
“They’re green because of chlorophyll.” But why does chlorophyll create GREEN? “Because of the chemical reaction in chlorophyll.” “But why does this chemical reaction create GREEN and not RED?”
(Once a children learn the “why” game, they can keep adults over a barrel forever!) Ultimately the only real answer we can give is that leaves are green…because they’re green…!
Mollie: So what about when you really do want to change something about yourself or your life? Maybe your life is going pretty well, and you already have a lot of what you want, but you would just like to tweak something just a bit. What next?
Subhan: Well, the first thing I’d say is to watch that desire. Notice your perceived need to change things. Ask yourself what this tweaking is all about. That desire is the mind, and by accepting its ideas, you’re identifying yourself with it. But the truth is, you are not your mind. You are much bigger, much grander than it, and within the real you there is no idea of “lacking.”
What is the point in identifying with a lacking? Don’t. Don’t allow there to be a split between the reality of the person you are and the ideal of the person you want to be. Because whenever you have something called the ideal, you will be in conflict with the real. And if you’re in conflict with the real, you will never arrive. There will never be a time when the mind doesn’t want something different, or something more. Never. So, it’s better to sacrifice the ideal for the real!
Mollie: Then how do we ever change anything, do anything, get anything done? If we’re all perfectly content with things just as they are, won’t we end up sitting around and meditating all day like you?
Subhan: I don’t meditate all day. I am in constant contact with people. I do counseling sessions. I write. I teach classes at the college. I lead four meditation sessions a week at our center. I do numerous weekend workshops.
You see, the mind tells us that if we stop listening to it, and stop being in conflict, we won’t get anything done. But all you have to do is look at the great spiritual masters to see that isn’t true. Buddha, Lao Tzu, Christ, Rumi … They all accomplished a lot and many things change around them.
Subhan: When I am in acceptance of who I am, Existence does the changing!
Mollie: How? Let me slow down and look at this process you’re talking about because there’s obviously something I’m not getting here. So, there you are in a state of meditation, disidentified with the mind, blissed out. Then the mind comes up with another judgment—say, “My child is misbehaving, and I want him to stop.” This is the moment we’re really talking about—the moment that repeats itself all throughout the day. This is when you decide to either reidentify with the mind and become the one who is judging, or to not accept the judgment, and just notice it instead. But when you decide to just notice the judgment, isn’t that also a decision the mind is making?
Subhan: No. I don’t decide. We are part of an Intelligence so vast our minds are useless compared to it. When we are in a state of meditation, it is not our minds that do the deciding, but this Intelligence within us.
Mollie: But if you don’t use your mind, how do you speak? How do you carry out the instruction of this Intelligence—say, to hug the child, or to correct them, or to comfort them?
Subhan: For verbal and physical responses like these, you do use the mind and body. They are tools that allow us to be part of the physical world—to speak, to move our bodies. The key is to respond rather than to react. When you react to your child rather than responding, you’re not using your mind; it’s using you.
Mollie: Ah, I see. So you can still speak, talk, respond to the situation without using your mind to do so? Maybe we are defining mind differently. So there is the mind that’s the ego, the monster, the monkey, the neuroses, and there is the mind that’s a simple, useful tool, a tool we use to translate what is going on in our larger Intelligence? And so is the body, when we hug the child rather than yelling at him?
Subhan: Yes, that’s right. The mind is a fabulous tool … but a crappy boss!
Mollie: So how does a spiritual seeker, someone who is committed to becoming disidentified with the mind, make this switch? In that moment when the child is so-called misbehaving, how does she learn how not to react as the mind would like and to instead suspend thinking, then receive and act upon Intelligence, all without using her mind? This sounds like quite the skill. How does she learn how to accept a situation she finds unpleasant, without “making it into a problem,” as Eckhart Tolle says?
Subhan: Meditation. Meditation that really works, really functions, allows you to, for a moment, to be completely separated from the mind. This doesn’t happen overnight! So it’s best to start with simpler things and situations. Practice watching the thoughts whenever you remember to do so, in simple settings that aren’t triggering emotions and control issues, etc. You slowly build up the knack of watching – in your meditation, in simple situations, and then, ultimately in more “difficult” situations.
Mollie: Then what?
Subhan: Then, acceptance comes. And wisdom comes, the wisdom that is right for that moment.
Mollie: Then what? I will ask it again: How do we end up getting what we want out of life, if we’re always just listening to Intelligence and doing whatever it tells us to do?
Subhan: We try to force Existence to give us what we want, but this is ridiculous, totally futile. It’s like we’re playing the greatest cosmic joke on ourselves: We are buddhas, capable of extraordinary things, even peace and enlightenment, and instead we’re acting unconsciously. We pretend to have all kinds of self-imposed limitations, including a mind that has no clue what to do most of the time, that’s creating many more problems than it’s solving. It is our nature to be a buddha. Anything else is going against the flow. To paraphrase Osho: “The miracle is not when we obtain enlightenment. The miracle is when we conceal it.”
Mollie: So if we want to be truly happy and free of mind, we have to let Intelligence give us what it deems best for us, no matter what that may be?
Subhan: That sounds like the mind talking, not wanting to give up its control to a higher intelligence that resides within us. One we step back from the mind, it loses its control and the intelligence is THERE, waiting to be of immense service!
I tell people to ask for 100 percent of what they want, then let the Universe decide, because it will!
Mollie: So would you say that the main purpose of meditation is to teach us acceptance of whatever the Universe deems best for us?
Subhan: The purpose of meditation is to disidentify with the mind. Acceptance comes naturally after that.
Mollie: Then what? What happens after acceptance?
Subhan: Acceptance and gratitude, and peacefulness and fulfillment become real once there is the disidentification from the mind. I had an early experience of this before I became a meditator. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had dropped into meditation. When I was a young man I was driving my mother’s car when it slipped on some ice. In the ten seconds between starting to slide and hitting the car in front of me, I had my first experience of the meditative state. The mind understood that there was nothing it could do, no role for it to play in that moment, and it said, “I’m out of here. You’re on your own.” Those ten seconds felt like an hour. They were bliss. And the silence was so serene, so “palpable!”
Then I hit the car, and the mind said, “Oh, I can deal with this.” And it started in again: “What is your mother going to say, how much is this going to cost,” etc. It was much later that I realized that when the mind disappeared, something extraordinary emerged. And later still, it became clear that this space had something to do with an essential nature that is always there, although covered by the minds overthinking.
Mollie: I see. And yes, that bliss is what I want. But should I make it a life goal of mine to obtain it? Should happiness be something I strive for? Because it seems the more you try to get happy, the more neurotic you become.
Subhan: You’re right! Anything you desire is a product of the mind. And it will create misery around it. Do not make happiness a goal. In fact, do not make anything a goal. All goals keep you stuck in the mind. Life will give you what you truly need.
Mollie: So—and I realize that I’m really trying to pin you down here—would you say that if I practice meditation regularly, and practice living in a state of meditation and acceptance, I will certainly become happy?
Subhan: I will say that if you stay with it, there is every possibility that you will have more moments of feeling loving, feeling grateful, feeling at peace. And that’s assuming that you are doing a meditation that works for you. Because as I said, a lot of people are doing meditation techniques that don’t really work for them.
Also, be really careful because the mind that asks that question is more interested in the goal than the process. As long as you have a goal to your meditation it will keep you locked in your mind, evaluating whether or not your meditation session was “successful.” Every time the meditation happens the mind will judge it based on whether or not it has achieved that goal. The mind is very crafty. Instead, be there sincerely, without the notion of getting somewhere.
The mind doesn’t want you to be happy. How many times have you experienced a moment of joy and the mind has tried to throw you out of it, using every complaint, seeing every shortcoming, predicting every future bad result it could?
The mind doesn’t want you to be happy, because if you are it is no longer needed.
Mollie: And how long will it take for me to get there? How much meditation would you recommend that I do?
Subhan: There is no way for anyone to know that. There is no formula to it. It is a quantum leap. But after a while, you will notice that you don’t take life so seriously, that you have moments of greater clarity, and that you even feel more gratitude, just for being alive. These are clues that the meditation process is working.
Mollie: Is just meditating and noticing the workings of the mind enough? Is there anything else I need to do?
Subhan: Watching the mind is essential. But you can also find people on this path of discovery who can share their experiences and understandings with you. They offer workshops and sessions that can be of great assistance to you in coming back to your inner, essential nature!
Mollie: No mantras? I love my mantras.
Subhan: If you enjoy mantras, then use them! Some mantras can help you go deeper inside. Just remember, the point of meditation is to disassociate yourself from the mind.
Just watch the mind. A thought comes, and you watch it. Nothing more. This is the only real meditation. Saying mantras may be a good and helpful practice, but it may not lead you to the state of meditation, which is awareness, relaxation and no judgment.
Now, let me ask you a question. Have you had enough of what you don’t want yet?
Mollie: I would have to give that some thought.
Subhan: If you have to think about it, you haven’t. When someone is being physically tortured, and they’re asked if they’ve had enough yet, there is not a single instant of reflection. The answer is yes.
Mollie: That is true. I am getting there.
Subhan: I would hope you get there as fast as you can.
Recently Matt Kahn agreed to an interview. I know: how lucky am I? I got to ask him anything I wanted–anything at all. So of course I thought of the hardest questions possible. Enjoy.
Mollie: What spiritual practices do you keep up with regularly? How strict are you?
Matt: I am not strict at all. I meditate, breathe, send blessings to humanity, and love my heart on a daily basis, but only when I get the intuitive nudge to do it. I maintain a daily practice not only to continue my life-long exploration, but to practice for those who need it most, but aren’t in a position to open their hearts just yet.
Mollie: Do you practice self-inquiry, such as Byron Katie’s The Work? If so, is this an important practice for you? Do you recommend it?
Matt: I ask very intriguing questions, but only because my exploration is how I download new teachings to offer. Self-inquiry can be very beneficial, but it has a short shelf-life. The best approach to any process, including self-inquiry is to prepare to be without it. If not, you are subconsciously asking life to continually give you things to work out through your inquiry. If you can engage inquiry from the stand point of always moving beyond it, it can offer benefit. Especially knowing, it is not the inquiry that heals you, but the amount of attention you are offering neglected and repressed parts of yourself that represent the true keys to inner freedom. Undivided attention is the grace of love in action. It is life’s eternal liberator. Self-inquiry merely gives you a framework to face yourself directly.
Mollie: I’ve heard you mention the law of attraction and note that at some point we focus less on “moving around the furniture of our lives”–improving our outward circumstances–and more on increasing our inner joy instead. Is this true for you? At some point did you stop striving to improve the outward circumstances of your life, and focus only on internals instead, or do you still do some of both?
Matt: In each and every moment, life shows us exactly what each moment asks of us. If spending too much time waiting for things to be different, we overlook the fact that anything attracted into reality could only be a catalyst of our highest evolution. This is why I wrote, “Everything is Here to Help You”. While we should always envision greater circumstances for ourselves and others, it is our willingness to ask, “how is this circumstance giving me the chance to face my most vulnerable parts and shine even brighter?” that determines the trajectory of our soul’s evolution. Simply put, life only appears to not give you what you want while preparing you to have things beyond your wildest imagination. With faith in life’s cosmic plan and a willingness to love ourselves throughout it all, experiences deeper than loss and gain are given permission to be.
Mollie: I’m a hard worker, a doer by nature. I love lists, plans and goals. You seem more laid-back. How do you feel about striving toward goals? Is this something you recommend we do, given that our goals are healthy and peace-promoting? Or would you rather we wing it and let the universe take us somewhere we might never have planned to go?
Matt: It’s a balance of both. I have goals but I go about them from a peaceful space of being. Out of the being, the doing can be done with gentleness, precision, and ease. When we are solely focused on the outcome, we are not fulfilling each task in alignment with our soul, but attempting to outrun the hands of time to capture what we fear we were never meant to have. If it’s meant to be, it will come, which requires destiny along with our participation in taking inspired deliberate action.
Mollie: Do you listen for divine guidance for your actions–say, when to go wash the car or feed the dog? What is the terminology you use for this?
Matt: My intuition is always active and flowing. For me, there is a perfect time for everything and when I get that message, I follow through without hesitation. Like stomach grumbles that remind you when to eat, my intuition guides my every move without me having to micromanage anything. It’s just the joy of following the flow of each instinct. It’s a visceral flow of inspiration, not a mental calculation of any kind.
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.
In the year 2081, Francie lived in a small village called Gallitia. It was simple. It was peaceful. It was beautiful. But there was one problem. Francie couldn’t leave.
Oh, and then there were the people that wanted to bring electricity and change everything. And the boy with the very red hair, who Francie suspected was somehow part of this change. The question, then, became: Will Francie change, too?
And now, I leave you to it. But first, the final special Byron Katie section of this serial: A Byron Katie Q and A. Here, I take on some of the hang-ups people experience while doing the Work and some common difficulties in understanding the process itself. Note that the questions are mine and the answers are, too.
Q. Byron Katie says that all “should” statements are inherently not true, because everything that is, should be. So why does the Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet specifically instruct us to write “should” statements? Isn’t that sort of stacking the deck?
A. Technically, yes. And if you don’t actually have a “should” thought, don’t write one down. But the reality is that most of us do. And the Work isn’t only for the thoughts that are logical. It’s for any stressful thought–even the ones we already know aren’t true. Because they’re there, hiding just beneath the surface and affecting us more than we realize. By working on them, we bring them into the light.
Q. What about when someone really should do something differently? For their own good, and all that?
A. This one is easy. Byron Katie often reminds us to stay in our business and let others stay in theirs. “Do you really want God’s job?” she asks. So sure, offer advice. Give them a friendly suggestion. Just don’t get attached to the results. Spend your energy doing the Work on your thoughts about the person instead.
Q. Byron Katie says it’s best not to have any goals regarding the Work as we’re doing it–not even the goal of feeling better, finding emotional relief. What is the reason for this? And is it even possible?
A. Every single time I do the Work, I have a goal: I want to get rid of that ugly thought. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing the Work at all, would I? I suspect if you’re at a certain so-called “level,” spiritually speaking, you know what Byron Katie means by having no goal. I suppose you’re able to comprehend the idea of total acceptance of all outcomes, all negative thoughts, all of what comes into your experience, even suffering. I’m not quite there yet. In one video I watched, Katie says that if your Work has goals, your Work will reflect those goals and, I suppose, yield results that are less honest. I see how that could happen. I’m not sure if it happens to me or not.
Q. We’re supposed to love our negative thoughts? Why?
A. Stressful thoughts are like alarm clocks, Katie teaches. They wake us up to reality, take us out of the dream. This is an important function, and if the thought isn’t lovable for it, it can still be worthy of appreciation.
Q. Byron Katie teaches us that stressful thoughts are never the truth. But how can we know that assumption is true? As long as we’re questioning things, shouldn’t we question that?
A. I don’t claim to know how Byron Katie would answer this question. It is a hard one for sure. My best guess is that she’d say that stressful thoughts always involve a story, an interpretation. No matter what happens to you, it’s the story that causes the stress, not the situation itself. If there is no story, all we’re left with is our true nature, which is to love what is. Two quotes on this that relate:
“Love is not a doing. There is nothing you have to do. And when you question your mind, you can see that the only thing that keeps you from being love is a stressful thought.”–I Need Your Love–Is It True?
“The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear, what is is what we want. If you want reality to be different than it is, you might as well try to teach a cat to bark. You can try and try, and in the end the cat will look up at you and say, ‘Meow.’ Wanting reality to be different than it is is hopeless.”–Loving What Is
Q. The Work isn’t as simple as I thought it would be. There are a lot of tricks to it. Why is that?
A. Such an interesting question. Again, my answer is just a guess, but here’s what I think right now. The Universe is such an amazing thing–so simple and at the same time, so complex. We look at the human brain, for example, under the microscope and all we see are clumps of cells operating on simple principles of biology and physics. But what those cells do is beyond our comprehension. No one understands what makes them work.
In the same way, the Work is simple yet complex and profound.
Q. Why does Byron Katie recommend that we only do the Work on other people, not on ourselves, until we’re more experienced with the process?
A. I hate this rule. It bugs me. I don’t have a ton of judgments about other people. Mostly, I have general negativity. My stressful thoughts usually have to do with slight annoyances that are no one’s fault or stuff about myself, usually bad feelings. When working on these thoughts, I sometimes write about them in the third person. It helps.
That said, there’s a decent argument in favor of this guideline. Other people serve as mirrors into ourselves surprisingly often. Also note that TheWork.com suggests that if you want to start by working on thoughts about yourself, you can call an experienced practitioner. (There is a free service available through TheWork.com.) Also not a bad idea.
Q. What if The Work doesn’t work?
A. How do you know it didn’t? The change in your thoughts and feelings can be subtle, and can take time to make themselves obvious. Try not to get too wrapped up in your preferred outcome. Trust there was an effect, and if the thought comes back, do the Work on it again and again–as many times as it takes. Another of my favorite Katie quotes: “No one has ever been able to control his thinking, although people may tell the story of how they have. I don’t let go of my thoughts—I meet them with understanding. Then they let go of me.”
Q. Regarding the JYN worksheet and the four questions: Do you have to ask the questions in the order given?
A. No. Use your intuition. Byron Katie recommends not skipping straight to the turnarounds, especially if you’re new to the process. Elsewhere, though, she says that you could spend a long time just in question one, and at other times the Work will be almost automatic. Generally speaking, when in doubt, go through the process step by step. But don’t feel boxed in by that rule.
Q. Byron Katie sometimes suggests we make amends to those we’ve hurt–for our own good, not for them. What if the person is gone or dead?
A. There are many ways to make amends: not repeating the action; asking for forgiveness, even if they aren’t there to hear you; offering some sort of material recompense. My favorite, though, is Katie’s suggestion that we do random acts of kindness every day–and if someone finds out it was us, it doesn’t count. I love it.
Q. What if I really, truly want to change myself, to become a better person in some way, but I can’t? I try and try and just fail?
A. What you can’t do, you don’t need to do, Byron Katie says. No matter how important that thing seems to be. In one video Katie tells a man who thinks he’s not successful at his career that he should be glad that the work is getting done without his help. It’s getting done and he didn’t have to do it. Interesting.
Q. I have so, so many negative thoughts. How can I do the Work on all of them?
A. To this, Katie might say, “Do the Work on the one that comes next.” However, I’m too much of a planner for that. I like to keep a list of thoughts to do the Work on. I also like to play with them a bit till I find the one that packs the biggest emotional punch. Neither technique is wrong, and either way it’s the doing of the Work, not the specifics, that matters. The more you do it, the more automatic the process will become, until one day you realize you’ve fully downloaded the program. When stressful thoughts come, the four questions meet them immediately and without much conscious effort. When this is where you’re at, everything gets easier–even the stuff you haven’t worked on yet. It becomes habitual, ingrained.
Here, I might also suggest a non-Byron Katie-approved technique, which I’ll call the Quick Stop. As soon as a stressful thought comes, something like “I am so sick of doing the dishes,” take just a second to tell the thought to stop. Then find one reason–any one reason–the Universe is bringing you this inconvenience. Maybe the dishes are teaching you to slow down. Maybe they’re giving you an opportunity to serve your family, show appreciation, or contribute. Maybe they’re revealing to you that it’s time to do the Work on your stressful thoughts again, or teaching you a bit of patience. Maybe doing them allows you to experience anew the pleasure of a clean kitchen. Maybe the dishes give you an excuse to avoid other work or a chance to watch the birds out the window. Or maybe they simply remind you to get some more soap next time you’re at the store. Maybe you’ll have an important insight during this time, or a short mental break. Any reason your perceived inconvenience is working for you, not against you, is fine. No need to list more than one or two.
I know, I know. Being an optimist is such a pain. But it’s worth the effort, I swear.
Q. What if I don’t want to let go of a stressful thought since if I do, I will lose the motivation to act?
A. The final question, and for good reason. It’s one of the most common, and a particularly difficult one. I mean, Katie’s answer isn’t complicated. She says that we won’t lose motivation to do anything that is good for us and others that we’re meant to do. Our nature is love, she reminds us. If your child is hungry, you’ll feed her. If you need money to live on, you’ll go to work every day, and if you need a good friend, you’ll be one. So what about the other stuff, you might wonder. The stuff you don’t need to do, but should do? Katie would say, If you’re meant to do it, you will. But if you’re like me, that answer isn’t good enough.
I should play with my kids every day. I should drink more water. I should jog. I should read instead of watch TV. All these thoughts stress me out for sure. But do I really want to give them up?
Because I haven’t found my answer to this question yet, I’m going to leave it unanswered. Something for you to think about on your own.
After a difficult first year of parenthood, overwhelmed suburban couple Sam and Alex decide they want more kids, more help, more love and more friendship. Their solution: a second wife, sometimes known as a unicorn.
Soon, their quest is underway. They share laughs, adventures and sex club antics until finally they meet Cassidy, a good match.
Or is she?
Unicorn is one of my first complete works of fiction. It is novella size–a fun read.
Several years ago, I decided to keep an eating journal, partly as an attempt to lose weight I didn’t need to lose. I recorded the times I binged and the days I starved, and one day, I had a moment of truth.
Holy crap, I realized. I have an eating disorder.
It was the first time I knew for sure that it was true.
Not long after that, I joined a recovery group for food addicts in an honest, committed way and started on the path to recovery. Then, a few years later, something happened that I can only describe as a miracle: The day before my birthday, right in the midst of yet another evening binge, I decided to do something very special for myself: I decided to give up overeating—and not just overeating, but dieting, fasting, counting calories, counting carbs—even using artificial sweeteners.
I decided to finally be sane.
As it turned out, it was the best birthday gift I’d ever received. Since that day, I have not binged or overeaten to the point of discomfort even once—and as a result, today I am thinner than I was before. Every pair of pants that I own fits me every day, but better than that: I like the way I look—I really, really like it. I like my soft curves. I like my flat stomach (which is flatter now that there is less food in it). I love even my flaws.
It’s weird how these things happen, isn’t it? One day you think you’re fine, and the next you realize you have a problem. And then, because you finally admitted it, you allow your moment of grace to occur–the miracle that finally heals you.
And you know what’s so cool about recovery? It’s actually pretty fun. And even when it’s not that much fun, it’s still so much fun, because as long as I’m on the path, I have hope.
And so, to those of you out there who still suffer—and “suffer,” I know, is no exaggeration—here is my advice for you: pray. Meditate. Seek the help of your God. Do whatever you have to do to get in touch with the Source—even if at first, all you can do is ask to lose weight.
After that, follow your intuition. If you feel that reading inspiring books may help, read some inspiring books. If you feel that starting a program will help, start a program, by all means. If your heart is telling you to see a physician or counselor, please do so right away.
Take the steps you need to take—and as you do so, know that as long as you’re engaged with the process, moving down the path, there is hope for you, too.
“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.
A few years back, I read a little-known book by Neale Donald Walsch called Questions and Answers on Conversations With God. In it, a reader asks if the author knows any way to speed up one’s process of reaching enlightenment—you know, kind of like a shortcut. Not surprisingly, Walsch says that he does. He advises the reader to write down in great detail what her highest and grandest vision of herself would look like—then to begin to act as if that was who she was right now.
I thought this was great advice, and since I’d never actually made a list like this before, recently I decided to give it a go. Then, I decided, I’d assess which of the changes I could take on, and which I would have to save for later.
Here is what I wrote.
I am a woman who:
•Smiles when she looks in the mirror.
•Does not criticize herself or others over superficialities.
•Does not believe she is superior to others.
•Does not have any negative thoughts at all; is relentlessly optimistic.
•Takes full responsibility for her choices.
•Is honest with others whenever possible, and always with herself.
•Wears only comfortable clothes.
•Does not spend a great deal of money, time or attention on her physical appearance.
•Spends time every morning in prayer and meditation.
•Frequently practices the activities that she’s passionate about.
•Takes her time. Enjoys the small moments of her day. Does not rush. Pays attention to people. Does not crowd her schedule.
After completing the list, I looked it over, and realized something: I was already most of the way there. I also realized that everything on the list–every last thing–was achievable, not just for me, but for anyone.
Sometimes, spiritual-minded people like us start to get mired in self-doubt. We hear about a new spiritual practice, a new technique, and we think, If only I could do that, I’d get enlightened. Today, I ask you to consider not where you’re going, but where you’ve been. How far have you already come on your spiritual journey? I encourage you do make a list like mine, then appreciate how close to your highest self you already are.
Are you a good mother? A good partner? A good friend? Do you practice kindness, give to charity?
My guess is that you do.
And so, maybe–just maybe–we’re further along than we think. Maybe enlightenment isn’t the mystery it’s made out to be.
So, I get that tons of people will disagree with me on this. And I’m fine with it. Personal preferences, and all that. But when there’s a TV show that addresses the One Question—or at least one of the One Questions—namely, what happens when we die . . . well, that show should be pretty well-known. Like, more well-known than “Survivor.”
Well, as it turns out, there is such a show, and ironically, the name is similar. It’s “I Survived . . . Beyond and Back.” It recounts the experiences of near death experience (NDE) survivors, albeit in much less detail than one might prefer.
And it’s not really that popular. Go figure.
In any case. For me, discovering the show was a solid three-star experience. In other words, a pleasure less than a day at the beach and greater than a great meal. (Also a full star less than a single smile from a baby, but that’s not a fair comparison.) It was before I had kids, when I could take half a day off from adulthood pretty much whenever I wanted, so that is what I was doing. I turned on the TV, and got hooked by the premise. And from there it only got better.
The show is made in that classic TV documentary style, complete with dramatic reenactments and black-backdropped narratives by the real-life participants. Three stories mixed in together: First, a teenage SCUBA diver who gets decompression sickness after his suit malfunctions. Then a bedridden patient who dies due to a hospital error and finally, a bus driver who has a heart attack during her rounds. All three enchanting, and horrific, and consequential. But it was the second one that really got me.
The SCUBA diver–he looked like a nice guy. Could’ve been religious. When he dies he has a positive experience. Then the bus driver–a woman. She sees her ex-husband and is overcome by how pure he looks. She floats toward some bright lights, but is told it isn’t her time. She’s disappointed; she doesn’t want to come back.
Then there is Barbara, the bedridden patient.
She’s just had spinal surgery, which has gone well. Then she’s put on a respirator, which doesn’t. It malfunctions, and internal swelling stops her blood flow and her heart, and before the error can be corrected, she is gone.
Barbara moves over her body. At first, she feels at peace. Then suddenly, she becomes confused.
“But the next thing I knew,” she says, “I was in total darkness.”
That can’t be good.
Cut to commercial. The perfect time. Two happy TV endings, one hook.
Holy crap, I thought. I have got to finish this. No snack. No phone. Just wait.
At the time, see, I was still in limbo–that am-I-still-a-Christian phase I described earlier. I had David, and I loved my life, and I’d found a way to bring meaning to it. I no longer truly believed the salvation story. And yet, I hadn’t yet made a clear pronouncement regarding my new faith.
Can I call myself a non-Christian? Yikes. That sounds . . . scary. Maybe this show can help me overcome this fear.
Yeah. I took TV a little too seriously. (Still do.)
The show came back from commercial, as these shows do. And the ending was appropriately predictable. The darkness again. Then, slowly, Barbara’s actress representative reappears, and she is happy–even radiant.
In the narrative overlay, Barbara says that for a moment, she wondered what was happening. Then she realized what it all meant. It was dark because her face . . . was buried in the bosom of her grandmother.
Yes, you heard that right.
It was a bosom.
I’m not one for tears. Really wish I were. Maybe I could’ve had a nice cathartic reaction. Instead, I muted the next commercial and just sat there in the quiet, contemplating the ramifications a bit.
Of course she didn’t go to Hell. What was I thinking? They’d never show that on Lifetime. But she didn’t mention Jesus. None of them seemed religious. Maybe it’s okay to just . . . let . . . go.
Then again, I already had. I just hadn’t totally admitted it yet.
It is one of my first books, and still receives great reviews. Here’s a recent one from Amazon:
“The day I got this book I literally sat in my car after getting off work at 1am and read up to 42% complete. Wow, what really strikes me is how much like Glennon Doyle you write about the beauty and tragedy that makes up life, and how important perspective is in the quality of a person’s life. This quick read was hard to put down and invoked feelings of gratitude, humility and a desire to be as authentic and intentional about life both in the peaks as well as the valley’s of life. Very touching!!”
The Statement: Life is a game. There are no rules.
Is it true? Yes.
Can I absolutely know it is true? No.
How do I feel when I think the thought? I feel at ease. I feel less pressure to be perfect, to perform, than I do when I don’t reflect on this idea.
How would I feel if I were unable to think the thought? I would take life much too seriously. I would be too hard on myself.
The Turnarounds: Life isn’t a game. Life is serious. Life is consequential. There is only one set of rules in life and they cannot be chosen or changed; they’re set in stone. This is the belief that many people hold, and their belief isn’t any more or less valid than my own.
So again, is it true? Yes. It’s true for me. The only rule is that there aren’t any rules, as the kids say. But no, it is not true for everyone. Life is not a game for everyone.
I love the belief that life is a game, even though there’s no objective evidence that it’s true. As much as I’d like to hold my ideas as lightly as Byron Katie does, I’m definitely not there yet. I’m not even sure I’m headed that direction.
The belief that life is a game doesn’t cause me any suffering that I know of. Still, I’d love to get a glimpse of Katie’s clear-headedness, her total detachment from certainty.
Here are some other thoughts I did The Work on this month and last:
1. M. embarrassed me.
2. M. made me question and doubt my parenting style instead of showing sympathy and support.
3. M. acted badly because she wanted an excuse for not wanting to be told what to do.
4. M. is a lower-level human being who blames, criticizes and condescends rather than being honest with herself.
5. M. is condescending, insecure, judgmental, authoritarian, terrible with children, uncaring, unenlightened, a victim of her religion, easily annoyed, lazy, unhappy, mean, dishonest with herself, entitled, controlling and superior.
6. My husband isn’t helping me with the kids enough.
7. I’m sick of holding the baby.
8. My life is boring.
9. I hate mornings.
10. I am working too hard. I’m going to burn out.
11. My life is not relaxing enough.
12. I don’t have enough time to write.
13. I’m not getting enough done.
14. I have to get all my books done in case I get a long case of writers’ block or die.
15. If I could just catch up on my writing, I’d be happy.
16. If I don’t take enough long walks, I’ll get depressed.
17. My face is too round.
18. N. screwed me over by not showing up to work.
19. Dave should not have gotten rid of the vacuum.
20. I can’t remain in a meditative state.
I also did a mental excavation as follows using the method previously described. This time I examined the thoughts behind the thought “I have depression.”
1. If I didn’t have depression, I wouldn’t take care of myself with long walks, close friendship and much more.
2. Without depression, I wouldn’t know who I am.
3. If I didn’t have depression, I would have to face other scary feelings that I’ve been suppressing like anger, grief, fear and even joy.
4. No one wants to be friends with a happy-go-lucky Pollyanna type. If I didn’t have depression, I would be a more emotional person and embarrass myself.
5. Depression makes me a better writer.
6. If I didn’t have depression, I wouldn’t do spiritual practice.
7. Depression gives me an excuse for being weak and imperfect.
8. If I didn’t have depression, I wouldn’t feel compelled to do my writing.
9. Depression gives me a challenge and a purpose.
10. Depression helps me stay in control of my feelings.
In September, I worked through fifty-three stressful thoughts and limiting subconscious beliefs. In October, I worked through twenty-six. So I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me too much that as I come to the end of this month, I feel the best I’ve felt in over a year.
I’d even say I’m in the state of meditation.
In the previous books in this series, I discuss this phrase at length. Briefly, it’s the feeling you get when you’re listening for your inner guidance moment by moment, when you’re accepting what is and when you’re pretty much at peace. Lately, there have been times when I’ve tried to come up with a stressful thought to work on but can’t, which I consider an interesting marker of progress. And this despite several major parenting challenges. Triggered by whining, I screamed at my four-year-old (twice, I think). The baby cried inconsolably for several days. My exuberant two-year-old found a million creative ways to wake a sleeping baby. And yet–yeah. State of meditation, here I am.
It’s astonishing, really, how consistent my results have been with the Work. And yet, I still have quite a way to go. As you may or may not have noticed, several of the thoughts on this month’s list aren’t new; there are about five or so that I’ve dealt with several times each month since starting this process. I’m not surprised by this, nor particularly discouraged; some thoughts are more stubborn than others. Often this is because I’ve practiced those thoughts more. Other times it’s due to who they’re about. In my experience, the closer you are to someone, the harder it is to let go of a negative judgment against them. You’ve spent more time on the thoughts, gathered more evidence for their veracity. Plus, you just have so much more invested. If your friend or acquaintance is miserable and mean, it doesn’t affect you so much. But when your kids or your partner does something you think is unfair, it feels like your happiness is on the line.
“I can’t be happy if they aren’t treating me well,” we think. But is that the truth? Of course not. If Byron Katie’s husband didn’t help her as much as she preferred, or if her baby cried to be held all day long, she’d just sit back and enjoy it.
I am looking forward to being able to say the same for myself.
As I said: Maybe someday.
Meanwhile, I’ve decided to choose several thoughts to pay special attention to this year and to report on regularly. They are: “I’m not getting enough done,” “Motherhood is difficult,” and “I have depression.” I would absolutely love to make a huge dent in any of these this year and for me, doing so would really prove the value of the Work.
If the Work works on my biggest thought monsters, it definitely does work.
A few years back, I got an unexpected, though common, gift. That gift was simply an Inkling.
I’m not sure who gave it to me, exactly. Maybe God or my Higher Self, or maybe just age and wisdom. Wherever it came from, this inkling—this distinct feeling in my gut—was that soon, I’d come across an excellent job opportunity, and I was supposed to take it. Along with this thought came the phrase “one year.”
I considered the idea. But I’m a stay-at-home mom, I reasoned. I had this all figured out.
And yet, over several weeks, the feeling persisted, so I stored the idea in a safe place in my mind.
Soon after that, at my first child’s six-month checkup, the doctor and I were discussing working and I told her I’d finally made the difficult decision to sacrifice the extra income and stay at home. She nodded approvingly.
“I stayed home with my baby for one year,” she said. “That was just about right for me.”
When she said this, the words sounded different than words normally do. They stood out, became almost three-dimensional. I knew what was happening: I was getting another Inkling.
Dawn will be a year old in November, I realized. Maybe that’s when this job opportunity will come.
A few months later, my husband heard about an excellent weekends-only position, and he encouraged me to apply. I hadn’t told him anything about my prediction, and I still didn’t; I just let him convince me.
“The job is perfect for you,” he said. “I mean, it’s nothing you’ve done before. But you could learn. And you could make a lot of money. It couldn’t hurt to try it out.”
As he spoke, that feeling returned.
“Do you think I could really do it?” I asked.
“I really do,” he said, though he was fully aware of my inexperience in this field.
“Who is going to teach me what I need to know?” I asked.
He said he would, and soon after that, we began.
This happened in September or so, and knowing that I had until November to learn everything I needed to know, progress at first was slow.
Then November came. Sometime in the middle of the month, my husband got a call from his job agent.
“You know that job that your wife is going to interview for?” he said. “Well, the salary just doubled.”
Here’s the thing: The pay was really good before. Now they were considering adding a few extra responsibilities—rolling two very part-time jobs into one slightly less part-time job. When my husband told me what he just heard, I almost didn’t believe it. And yet, somehow, I did.
“There is bad news, too,” he said. “Now you have competition.”
See, my ace-in-the-hole before was that no one else really wanted a two-day a week, weekend-only job. With the pay increase, they surely would. I had to start taking this interview a little more seriously.
The weeks that followed took on a quality that I can only describe as cinematic. All day, every day, the number that represented the amount of money I’d be making per year if this interview went well looped through in my mind. And all day, every day, I studied.
After re-reading the books the agent provided me with and taking two or three times as many notes as I had the first time through, I still felt unprepared. I asked my husband if there was anything more I could do or read. He didn’t think there was, but I knew better. With two weeks left before the interview, I went to the library and checked out two armloads of books. I didn’t just study computer security, though; I studied all of the basics of computer science: the way operating systems worked, computer networking and more. Each morning after changing the baby and making my coffee, I sat down at my reading station in the playroom and took up where I left off. And other than a walk or two and a Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house, that is where I stayed—for an entire week straight.
The following week was much more relaxed. I spent the time reviewing my notes (the third or fourth iteration as I added to them and rewrote them during the course of my reading and my long explanatory conversations with my husband, who was more useful to me by far than any book). I peeked at the subject heading of a page, then attempted to recall out loud everything that was written on that page. By the day of the interview, I felt that I was not just prepared—I was overprepared.
And as it turned out, I was right.
The interview took place on a weekday between Thanksgiving and Christmas when it is very cold and foggy outside and everything takes on that special holiday quality, even mundane activities related to work. Two days earlier I had selected the perfect outfit: not too dressy, not too casual, not too black. I had also tried on the nicest pair of pants I own, the ones that are sometimes (okay, most of the time) just a little too tight—and they fit perfectly. They looked on me just like the saleslady would’ve wanted them to.
And then there was my hair. Being of the medium length and fast-growing variety, my hair is most often either too short (right after the haircut) or—seemingly just a few weeks later—too long and starting to get shabby. The week of the interview, however, I was smack in the middle of one of those rare moments when it was as Goldilocks would have celebrated it.
It was just right.
And so, I looked good. I was mentally prepared. I was fairly confident—though nervous, I wasn’t actually shaking. I knew that a big part of pulling this off would be to give the solid impression that I did not doubt myself in the slightest.
And that is what I did.
When the interview began, I channeled all of my nerves out of my brain and face, right down into my neck. In so doing, I injured my neck. But my facial expressions were calm and relaxed, and my answers were, too. Once in a while, after a particularly hard question, an alarm would go off in my head that went something like: “You don’t know the answer. You don’t know the answer.” But remembering that poise was more important than anything, and that whatever happened it was okay and would work out in the way is was meant to work out, I squashed those alarms in my head with a quickness. Then I remembered the answer.
The only question I flubbed was the last one, and by then I had already subtly complimented the person I knew would be my immediate supervisor twice and made the whole room (there were three interviewers) laugh at least once.
Leaving the room, I knew I had done well.
When it was over, I went to my car and waited for my agent to meet me there. He took a long time. Finally, he did arrive. Then he asked me how I thought it went.
“I aced it,” I said, stretching my neck in every direction, wondering how I could injure it so painfully while barely making use of any muscle in my body except those that allowed me to sit up straight. “It was almost too easy. I wish it had been harder so that the other two candidates would have less of a chance.”
“Well, that won’t be a problem,” my agent told me. “They’re not going to interview anyone else. You got the job.”
It was five days before my neck returned to normal.
At the steakhouse where my husband, my agent and I went after the interview to celebrate, the agent told us that the second part of the job may or may not come through, depending on a couple of internal decisions yet to be made. He also said that due to my inexperience in the field I barely squeaked by in the interview, and that they were hiring me on a trial basis.
Hearing this, I smiled. “I’ll do great,” I told him. “And I’ll get that extra pay as well.”
And that is what I did.
Later I realized that the week that I started my intensive study for the interview was the week that my baby turned one year old.
One of my favorite stories about viewing life as a game is also one of the most well-known.
In 333 B.C. Alexander the Great was just twenty-three years old, just starting his campaign for domination of the known world. He was still fresh, still optimistic, still sober–well, semi-sober–and his soldiers were still in awe of their leader. So when he commanded them to veer off course and stop by the legendary Gordian Knot, an intricate knot that held a historically important ox cart to a post, they presumably complied easily.
Alexander had hubris. Lots and lots of it. What better test for him, then, than this fabled knot? According to the tradition, the person to untie it would someday rule Asia. (Didn’t happen, but he got pretty close.)
When Alexander arrived, he tried several ways of untying it. Predictably, however, he failed. And so, he took matters into his own hands. He stared at the great historical and religious artifact for a moment. Then he took his sword . . . and cut the knot.
He cut the knot.
Following this incident, Alexander tore through the Hellenistic world, enacting ingenious plan after ingenious plan to take new lands for Macedon. Often outnumbered and seriously low on provisions, the army was nevertheless seemingly unstoppable. By the time exhaustion, disillusionment and distrust finally set it, the army was in India. They were getting trampled by elephants, but that doesn’t change the fact that they were the most successful warriors the world had ever seen.
And Alexander was the greatest king.
The man knew how to play his own game, how to break the rules.
One afternoon, I was taking a walk with a friend I’ll call Julie. Julie is beautiful, out and in, and I think highly of her. Despite this, we have a problem: sometimes (okay, more than sometimes), I feel compelled, almost beyond my ability to control it, to give her advice. (She is not the only person I have this problem with.)
On the day in question, Julie was upset, which to me is a wide-open invitation. Walking is a great activity for conversation, and that afternoon, a secondary benefit didn’t escape my notice, either, namely: the person you’re with is basically trapped.
You’re walking already. What’re they gonna do, run?
So, Julie was upset, and I was talking and talking, trying to come to some useful conclusion. Then suddenly, it hit me: this time, she had real problems. Problems I had no idea how to help with. So I stopped mid-oration, and tried to listen instead.
It was her job, she said. She hated it but she’d hated all her other jobs, too. She didn’t know what she wanted to do. Plus, she was broke. And her roommate was annoying her, and she disliked her apartment, and last week she’d run out of her medication.
It was rough.
As she continued to describe the situation, we passed the last stand of trees and I realized that soon, we’d be at our cars. I wanted to say something, offer something—anything. So, I threw out the only relevant remark I could come up with.
“There’s no right way to do this, to figure out what you want to do, you know? There is no blueprint for life. Life is like a game. You just try shit, and see what works. That’s it. You try shit, and see what works.”
I don’t know what effect the words had on Julie. But I do know what effect they had on me. Right after I said them, a bunch of my memories rearranged themselves in my brain, memories like the night in Bogota with Dave. I thought, too, about the spirituality books I’d been reading since my deconversion, books like Conversations with God and The Power of Now, and even some law of attraction stuff.
That’s it, I realized. Life is a game. There are no rules. You just try shit, and see what works.
And with that thought, my new life philosophy had words.