Don’t wait to meditate

Are you one of the many people who knows that regular meditation is scientifically proven to change your brain structures that improve well being and reduce stress, but you never find time to do it?   Psychology Today backs this up.

Are you also one of many people who get caught up in the “important” distractions of life: business meetings, email or trudging through the La Brea document pits, to name a few?

Are you tired of having stress in your life compromise your well being?

Me too, and here’s a way out: don’t wait to meditate.

How do I do this, you ask?  It’s very simple.  As a matter of fact, you already are doing it.

Breathe:

  1. Focus your attention on your in-breath.  Notice the sensations that come to you when the air flows in in a purposeful way.
  2. Pause, pay attention to the expansion and the feelings of the moment while the breath is held.
  3. Be mindful of the relaxation that comes from a controlled and peaceful release.
  4. Repeat 1

Do this during a business meeting.  Empower yourself in the moment by practicing breathing meditation during a tedious requirements session or budget planning meeting.

Do this to get through chores.  How about when you are going through email?  Returning calls?

When else can you do this?

Tune in, don’t tune out

Breathing meditation is a means to be more present.  You will know that you are doing this right when you become more awake to, and aware of your world.  Being more present to your experiences in each passing moment gives you more information and inner control.

Too simple to be effective?

Nope.  Every breath is an opportunity to connect your focused attention to the present moment.

Am I doing this right?

Stop asking that question and let yourself just focus on your breathing.  Do not load this with expectations for an outcome.  Just be present in this moment to focus on your breath.  This is the most powerful place you can be.

What’s in this for me?

  1. Increased sense of well being
  2. Increased compassion
  3. Improved memory
  4. Improved concentration ability

Just to name but a few benefits.

Why is it so hard to do?

See the answer to “Am I doing this right?”  Take this opportunity to be gentle with yourself.

So, don’t waste your breath anymore.  

Don’t wait to meditate.

More information on how to do quick meditations.

Genius, power, and magic

A friend of mine today had shared with me a bold venture that he is about to undertake.  His words inspired me and stirred up the spirit of a quote that I want to share with you.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back — concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:

that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

~ Goethe

The word “genius” is a particular favorite of mine.   The Online Etymology Dictionary tells that it is from the Latin “genius,” meaning “guardian deity or spirit which watches over each person from birth; spirit, incarnation, wit, talent”

Genius: a guardian spirit.  This definition doesn’t exactly fit within our modern interpretation of genius.  We think of someone whom is exceptionally bright or talented as a genius.  It’s more of a label and less of a spirit now, as is with much of our experience of things it seems.  But, what if it still is a spirit?

What moves you?  What inspires you?  What shakes your frame?  When you connect with these deep inspirations, do they not give you energy and strength?  Do you not stand taller, feeling a bold energy expanding from within?  Does this energy not guard the best parts of who you are?

Connect with what inspires you.  Meet your genius!

What is Ego?

Yogi Amrit Desai has been a Yoga and spiritual leader for over 50 years.  He is the founder of Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.

I found the following definition of the ego by reading the EnlightenNext Magazine’s interview of Yogi Amrit Desai by Andrew Cohen:

The ego is really the inborn sense of “I am,” and that is something that nobody can avoid. The sense of “I am” is an identification that has different expressions through the evolutionary stages. The first experience of “I am” is when we directly identify with the body and is connected with the survival of the body. That’s how it begins. And then I realize that I have a body, but I’m not my body. Then I realize that I have a mind, but I’m not my mind. I have my emotions, but I’m not my emotions. I have my self-concepts, but I’m not the concepts I have about myself. I have opinions, but I’m not my opinions. It’s an evolutionary process, an evolutionary journey of ego. Ego is a sense of “I am” as an individual being, which nobody can deny. Ego is not something that is useless or that should be gotten rid of. It needs to be purified by clearly realizing who I really am.

–Yogi Amrit Desai

This is one of the best definitions of the ego I’ve seen.

What will you do to clearly realize who you really are today?

Meditation changes your brain

Ever hear that your brain is just like a muscle, it gets stronger with exercise?  Researchers have proof that this is true.

A study at Emory University in Atlanta shows that 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation practice, of which mini-meditations are based on, improves the subjects’ response to stress even when they aren’t meditating.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) shows specifically a decrease in activation level of the right amygdala in response to stressful stimuli, supporting that meditation improves emotional stability and response to stress.

Check out this Benson-Henry Mind-Body Institute press release for more information:

http://www.massgeneral.org/about/pressrelease.aspx?id=1520

What does this mean for you?  In just as short as 8 weeks, regular meditation can bring you closer to that flow state where you experience your greatest creativity.  How about better mental performance under pressure?

Why not go for an 8 week mind-makeover?

 

Need to relax? Do a mini.

Feeling stressed and overwhelmed but can’t take yourself “out of the game?” Try a “mini.” Want to calm down and open up a more relaxed blood flow? Try a “mini.” Want to relax and tap in to the resources of creative flow? Try a “mini.”

“Minis,” short for mini-meditations, were developed by the Benson-Henry Institute of Mind-Body Medicine to reduce stress quickly and easily in little time.

What is a “mini?”

A mini-meditation is a short meditation. No need to chant or hum (unless you want to) nor do you have to sit on the floor. These mini-meditations can be done with your eyes closed or open. I prefer my eyes to be open just a little so that my co-workers don’t totally think I’m sleeping. You can do a mini-meditation seated at your desk, on the floor, or lying down. A “mini” can be done anywhere really as long as your posture is aligned and comfortable and when you don’t need to have fully conscious focus on the task at hand, like driving a car.

My first experience doing a “mini” was at The Revolutionary Practice of Mind Body Medicine Training provided by the Benson-Henry Institute. I saw that within 5 minutes of doing a “mini” I was relaxed. I had proof.

Chill out to warm up

Prior to the “mini” they gave out Biodots to put on the fleshy part of our hand between thumb and index finger. http://www.biodots.net/about/ Biodots are thermometers that show the skin temperature changes. When you are stressed blood flow to the hands and feet is constricted. Conversely, skin temperature changes with increased blood flow. Meditative relaxation opens up this peripheral blood flow. The experience was very cool (pun intended.)

When I put my Biodot on it was black. Ugh! That must have been a mistake since I wasn’t stressed. I was at a mind-body conference and we’re all happy. Nope. Black. However, by the time my mini-meditation was done my Biodot smiled blue at me. My hands felt warm. I felt relaxed and calm. All in less than 5 minutes. It took me longer to write this paragraph than the time it took to relax like that. Maybe I should be doing a “mini” right now? So, what are the different types of “mini?”

Types of “minis”

Looking through my notes they suggest 2 basic ways you can reset you mind by doing a “mini:”

  1. Counting
  2. Repeating a phrase

But, before we can go into the specifics of these mini-meditations we have to review the foundation of meditation practice, and indeed the essential requirement of all aerobic life on Earth.

Breathing is important

To do any meditation you first must become aware of your breath. Feel your breathing. Notice it’s pace. Become aware of breathing in. Notice where your body expands while breathing in. Feel the air coming into your lungs. After breathing in feel the pause in your breathing. Feel how your body feels during this pause in breathing. Be gentle with yourself during this experience. Then, become aware of breathing out. Feel the air flowing out of your body. Feel how your body comes back to form.

Counting meditation

A counting mini-meditation is one where you slowly count along with your breathing. It is very simple to do. No special pillows, bells, gongs, chants, or robes required.

Slowly count up from 0 to 10. Each number corresponds with a slow exhale of your breath. Breath slowly. Think about the numbers as you breathe out. Counting is associated with the out breath because of the parasympathetic response of relaxation that happens when exhaling. In short, the exhale is when you relax more.

This is a deliberate and slow process. I don’t know about you but just going through the exercise describing it is making me feel better. It’s only 10 breaths, why not give it a try?

If you’d like to try something different there are variations of this counting meditation. You could count up during inhaling and count down during exhale. For example, while breathing in you could count up from 0 to 4, counting slowly, pause briefly, then count down from 4 to 0 during exhalation. This technique is good if you want to expand your lungs and slow your breathing you could count up and down over a greater range of numbers. This is a nice way to slow down.

Repeating a phrase

Meditating on a phrase can be even easier than counting. Instead of keeping track of the numbers all you have to do is repeat a short, meaningful phrase over the time while you breathe in, and breathe out.

“I am, at peace” is a phrase that Thich Nhat Hanh, a famous Buddhist and meditation teacher, suggests to meditate on. It is one of my go-to phrases when I stop, drop and meditate. This is how “I am, at peace” would be used for a repeated phrase “mini.” On the slow inhale of your breath think of the first part of the phrase “I am.” Pause gently. Slowly breathe out thinking and absorbing “…at peace.” Repeat this 10 times. More if needed.

The phrase you choose should be meaningful to you. It should also invoke a feeling of peace and calm. It is best kept simple. It can be religious or secular. It’s your choice. Try different ones that create deeper spaces of calm for you.

When to do a “mini”

I like to do repeated phrase meditation while on the commuter train.  I don’t have to drive it is a great time to meditate. You can do any kind of “mini” to clear your mind while at work. Hardly anyone would notice if you’re blankly staring at a computer screen, breathing deeply. You can even do mini-meditations while walking to get extra benefits of exercise of walking. Mini-meditations can be done anytime when you don’t need to have fully conscious focus on the task at hand as for instance driving a car would be.

Why not try a “mini?”

If you’ve read this far then you’ve already exceeded the time required to do any one of these different forms of mini-meditations. Why not take another two minutes and try one?

Whiteboard on your desk

Have an idea?  Write it on your desk.  Creating designs?  Write it on your desk.  Think this is nuts?  Write that on your desk.

The challenge of capturing your muse

White boarding is a de facto standard to capture ideas.  Nonetheless, we mostly work on a keyboard at a desk of some sort.  Modeling and drawing tools have come a long way but they still get in the way of you and your idea.

The traditional whiteboard is an interruption to creative flow too.  You have to stop what you are doing, stand up (or turn away to it,) and write in vertical strokes.  I don’t know about you but even in this small amount of time part of my muse has gone bored and the fidelity between the idea and something that works has diminished.  This is unacceptable.

My muse speaks, I draw, no delay

I put a whiteboard on my desk.  Whenever I get an idea or a design in my mind I write it on my desk.  Easy capture, easy erase and easy change.  I then immediately can create these designs, merely looking to my right or left, depending upon where my scribbles are and move on with working software.  Thus, my muse speaks, I draw, no delay.

If my desk runneth over with creativity I use my smartphone to take pictures of these designs and transfer them to my laptop for later recreation.

I started this habit over 10 years ago by writing in pencil on my desks.  Back then they thought I was crazy.  I think sometimes crazy is good.  Thankfully now I have whiteboards!

Try it out

And, to get you started: WallMates has a self adhesive safe-stick whiteboard.  That’s the type I use.  Its the right size for my desks.  If you find better, use that.

Before you start anything, see how it’s finished first.

Remember that first scene from Star Wars where Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han, Chewbacca and the robots were fleeing the Imperial ships in the Millenium Falcon?  A very tense moment.  If they weren’t going to be fried by the laser cannons they were going to be flattened by the galactic clothes irons.  All they had to do was engage that darn hyperdrive.  Funny how that turning the hyperdrive key sounded like my first Chevy starting up in the middle of an Upstate New York winter…

Just when all hope was lost it engaged.  A hundred thousand streaks of light pass by as the faster than light nitrous pack fired up.  Then they were gone!  Whew!  What if they didn’t know where they were going?  That could be ugly.  End up shooting right in to a cosmic brick wall.  Have you ever started your day that way?

Enthusiasm without a harness is amusing at best, but with focus can be a very powerful force.  I’m working on a multi-month project with an M.D. where I’m translating their designs into working software.  Thankfully, she explains and types her thoughts out.  ;-)  And, it’s a Saturday so its time to hunker down and get some work done.

Where to start?

Where to start?  There is a whale of work to do.  How do I even begin today?  I’ve got to get this project done!  We are co-creating this project as we go.  I’ve got the ideas and a clue of their order of priority in my head.  Today it’s all on me to pull down the words and transcribe them into code.  I’ve got caffeine in me.  Fire up the hyperdrive engine and blast through, thats what I’m going to do.

No, that’s not what I’m going to do.  That may be a great idea if you’ve got unlimited money and consequences do not count but in this case pure enthusiasm is poison.  I’m going to begin this day with the end in mind.

Begin with the end in mind

Steven Covey’s second Habit of Highly Successful People is to “Begin with the end in mind.”  ”Everything is created twice”, he said.  First there’s the mental creation then there’s the physical manifestation.  The end product unfolds from it’s DNA blueprint.  Each aspect comes to life in the order it needs to, with the ultimate structure being a derivative of this beautiful unpacking of the design into the product.  Ahhh, how inspiring is that?  I’m glad I’m sitting down.  How do I do that?  (Did I just delay my productive time further???)

I need to figure out how to capture that “end in mind” for today.  Yesterday’s gone.  Tomorrow’s not here.  The project is not due for a couple of months.  Let’s get grounded here.  What to do right now is the key, because “if you don’t know where you’re going, chances are you will end up somewhere else.”

Time box this effort

We are going to answer a series of deductive questions to get a picture of today’s “end in mind.”  We are going to time-box this process.  I invite you to read this post on The Pomodoro Technique to time-box this effort: http://mindfulprogrammer.com/2012/11/07/twisted-tomatoes-or-how-ive-learned-to-love-time-boxed-work-sprints/   Like I had mentioned in that post, Pomodoro time limits are generally 25 minutes but are flexible so you can take between 15 to 30 minutes to ask high quality questions to bootstrap some code slinging.

Before I share my questions here I need to confess that I am a classic “hyperbolic task chunker.”  I am going to create the next Twitter today!  ”Coder, please…”  When it comes to tasks I need to accomplish, I blow things way out of proportion.  How can I reduce the size of the tasks at hand to bites that are do-able?  For someone like myself deductive questions help me get focused, such as the following:

Ask questions to connect with your purpose

What is the mission of this project?  The intention of this question is to inspire the purpose for doing this work.  I like to start here because I like to long for the endless sea.  Take this as an opportunity to be of a higher mind when answering this question.  If your project is not inspiring then ask your soul for it’s purpose.  (Yep, scary, I know.)  Go with that one that gives you a fire to move forward.  Life after all is more than money boys and girls (horror!)

Next, what would delight my user?  This question intends to inspire a connection between what you are about to do and how the product of what you do will be of service to your higher purpose.  What’s the connection with the user?  Working software is used.  Without getting in to the “get off my lawn” school of design there’s always a user for working software.  (On the other hand, if the software doesn’t work, well, the vector is different.)

“Terrain” checks

Where am I along this process and what remains to be done?   This is where you check your map.  Wherever you are along the road in this project you will have some idea of where you are in its manifestation.  You may have a clear sense of what you have done.  You may need to find the map.  Either way look at this objectively.  Don’t panic!  Where are you on the map?  From where I am on this map what are the next 1 to 5 things I can do to move forward towards fulfilling my connection  purpose as they relate to completing this project?

With this list you can rank these 1 to 5 things in order of how valuable and risky they are to the project.  The higher the value and risk the higher the priority of the task to tackle.  If you find yourself in a situation where everything is of highest priority then take notice.  Remember that the clock is ticking on getting though this process so perhaps you need to do some introspection as to why everything is so important?

Next I “check in” with myself.  How do I feel physically?  How do I feel mentally?  How do I feel emotionally?  How do I feel spiritually?  How do these, and other of their kind questions’ answers align with my “map,” “connection” and “purpose?”  Oh, and how is my breathing?  Through these questions I consciously focus on breathing meditation to get through the remainder of this dialectic.

I then follow with more specific questions.  What tools do I have?  What time is it?  What do I have scheduled today?  Is my working environment productively conducive?  Do I need to hang a “do not disturb?”  What does my spouse need?  Do I need to water my kids?  Do I have enough water?  These are what I call “terrain” checks.

However this may be pulling off the road to take in a scenic overlook, let’s find where these “terrain” checks come from.  ”The map is not the territory” said Alfred Korzybski in his book “Science and Sanity.”  (This will help you sleep: http://esgs.free.fr/uk/art/sands.htm)  Korzybski was a cognitive philosopher and mathematician who essentially posited that human beings cannot truly know reality because of the layers and layers of translation it takes to observe and interpret phenomena.

Center yourself with the tasks of your purpose

Because perception gets in the way of observing reality it is important to become centered in the present moment.  Terrain checks help in the centering process.  To become centered in the present moment one becomes more aware of what they really have to work with, the states, conditions, materials, objectives and environment within which they will exercise their purpose.  Now write down answers on how to align these “terrain checks” with the purpose, connection and 1 to 5 tasks.

Not to stress you out either but “tick, tock…”  This is a good time to take a deep breath.  Take another one.  How about another?  Keep breathing, its good for you.

In summary

By this time you’ve either knocked your forehead against the desk, blissed out from breathing meditation or have come to wonder when the point is to come.  Fair enough.  The point is that to begin with the end in mind you have to get as centered in your current reality as you possibly can within a time-boxed period.  Like I said, in 15 to 30 minutes you’ve answered your own questions that will orient you globally and specifically to the purpose of your work down through to your current conditions.  Within this time you’ve also now observed how your current conditions match or not your purpose, connection and map, and most significantly, how you can make your current conditions work for you realistically.  From this orientation you’ve discovered a set of answers to these questions.

You have answered “why am I doing this,” “what are the next 1 to 5 things I can do ranked in order of priority” and  ”how do I enable myself to be more productive?”

Take a break.  Your Pomodoro should be done by now.  Clear your head.  Get some water.  Once you come back, reset the Pomodoro and get to work.

“Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it.…Success is shy — it won’t come out while you’re watching.”
– Tennessee Williams