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Keep out Experiment in Progress

Living Life as an Experiment

Are you “living life as an experiment?” I finished reading the amazing book Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron last week and loved it so much, I went back through it and wrote down several pages of notes. As I was reading through them this morning over coffee, one jumped out at me as I try to live life as an experiment…

LIVING YOUR LIFE AS AN EXPERIMENT – adopt an attitude of “I’m not sure what will help in this situation, but i’m going to experiment and try this.”

As I re-read my notes, I realized how powerful this idea has become for me. As it turns out, I spent years and years doing things that felt like life or death – certain jobs that made me crazy, with people that made me crazy, doing things that made me want to jump out the window. I made huge life decisions not with the mindset of experimentation but with almost a life or death feeling.

As it turns out, I’m very good at living inside my own head and getting totally lost in a task, to the point of forgetting to be present and mindful of my entire life experience. As I’ve grown older and started to focus on my experiences, I’ve started to realize that that while being in “flow” is good, being ignorant to the world around me is not – it’s quite literally been keeping me from having a mindful, present life.

I recently took a step backward and asked myself “Okay, I’m living life as an experiment, then what’s an experiment?”

According to Wikipedia: An experiment is an orderly procedure carried out with the goal of verifying, refuting, or establishing the validity of a hypothesis. Experiments provide insight into cause-and-effect by demonstrating what outcome occurs when a particular factor is manipulated.

I’ve started to realize that I’ve allowed myself to not have an explicit hypothesis for anything. I’ve allowed myself to assume there are good reasons for doing things. All those have been subconscious and I’ve allowed myself to live a life where I’m not asking the conscious questions, nor am I living life as an experiment. And if I am, I’m a sloppy excuse for a scientist!

When I read that quote from Living Beautifully, I think something clicked and I started to write down and consciously think about what experiments I’m currently running and have pledged to gain insights into my thinking – and gain control of my life.

My most recent career experiment was to try to define the sort of work I want to do, on my own terms and to put myself into a small company or start up to validate if I actually like the chaos and uncertainty it brings. In the past I had flirted from job to job looking at each new challenge as an opportunity to make more money or find a new challenge to keep me excited. Instead, now I’ve got a working hypothesis that I’m testing in real-time.

I am also running an experiment with this blog and site as I try to connect with others struggling with living a conscious, present life. The hypothesis is that there are a ton of people, just like me who are struggling to wake up, they know there is more out there, but it feels awkward and scary to consider a totally different way of living.

With both these experiments, I’ve felt myself slipping back into being asleep, and have had to remind myself that I’m in the middle of an experiment! It’s a weird, uncanny feeling to be honest, but I’m pretty sure I’m on to something. I’m documenting the results and adjusting my experiments on a regular basis.

I’m wondering, does this resonate with you, are you running any experiments? How are you living life as an experiment?

Accountability

A Meditation on Personal Accountability

A big part of the inspiration for this blog was this vague idea I had of personal accountability. It’s a phrase that I’ve struggled with in so many areas of my life. It’s so easy to say, it just rolls off the tongue. It’s like promising yourself you’ll only watch 1 more episode of Breaking Bad, or that this weekend you won’t drink. Then you wake up at 3am on Sunday, with an 16 empty cans of beer and hazy memories of Walter White. It happens, I know.

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The Meditation Diaries – Questions Volume 1

QuestionsIn a previous post, I mentioned a bunch of questions I had during my first 30 days of meditating. I had never committed to actually meditating before, and while I’m still new at it, I learned a lot about myself and about the practice and art of meditating.

If you have questions, please let me know your thoughts me at or post them below and let’s talk about them!

Without further adieu, here is Meditation Questions, Volume I

Am I meditating or am I just sitting here talking to myself?

I hadn’t thought much about this until I was listening to Sam Harris on a podcast talk about his early days of meditating. I had never thought about it this way – and started thinking about this a lot. I’m not sure how to answer the question because clearly, some (most?) of my time meditating was spent lost in thought, or sound asleep. As a novice, it’s good to simply remember to keep coming back to focus and to not give up. For me, the answer is both – sometimes I am literally just sitting there talking to myself. Other times, I can say happily that I was deeply meditating

Do I have to sit crosslegged on the ground?

I fought this for a few days and got tons of advice from friends and people on Reddit. Tilt this way or tilt that way, sit on a pillow, sit up straight, use a chair. You name it and I was told to try it. In the end, I made the decision to sit however the hell I want to, close my eyes and focus. That’s it. Simple. Maybe one day I will be ready for some sort of advanced meditation techniques, but for now all that matters is that I actually meditate. So the answer is for me, I sit how I want. That said, I can’t lay down while meditating because that’s called sleeping.

Why does my back hurt so much when I meditate and why can’t I just sit in my comfy chair?

I have no idea, see the question above. Some people are built for sitting cross legged on hard floors with a straight back. I am clearly, not. Yes, sit in your comfy chair, close your eyes and meditate. No points off.

Why is it so hard to stay focused?

You tell me! For me, I can’t stop thinking about the past and the future. I spend so much time living in the past and the future that I am hardly present in my life. It’s hard to stay focused because I’ve managed to not be focused on anything except multi-tasking for years. Thanks to my smartphone, the Internet, Youtube, Netflix and a pile of books, I am a poster boy for distraction. Meditating has helped a little, but even as I write this I’m checking my Twitter and email. What should have taken an hour is taking two because I can’t focus. The more I meditate, the calmer I get and the more I can focus. It’s like doing curls or sit-ups, I need to train my focus muscles.

Do I need incense?

No. Stop it. Same goes for crystals or goofy music.

Can I meditate while exercising?

I’m not entirely sure of the official answer to this one, but I did try to walk on the treadmill one day while staying completely focused on my breath, and then on my arms swinging. It was an interesting experience for sure. Not sure it counted as meditating, but I did 20 minutes of walking this way in any case. I’m going to say yes, you can meditate while exercising, but it’s an intermediate or advanced power move. I’m sticking to sitting for now.

What questions do you have about meditating? Have started the 30 day challenge? Let me know how it’s going by contacting me or leaving a comment below!

The Meditation Diaries: 30 Days Later, Can you #win Meditation?

Constant low-grade panic

This post is all about the last 30+ days, my trials, tribulations, insights and challenges through my experiment in meditation.

As you may have read, I took a self-imposed 30 day meditation challenge in an attempt to find focus, allow myself to hear myself thing and because it has some noted health benefits. As I outlined in my challenge, I gave myself some rules to follow:

  1. I must meditate every day for at least 5 minutes, 10 is better, 20-30 is best
  2. I am allowed to use any guided meditation I want, or none at all. But no music or other sounds.
  3. I must follow the directions of the guided meditation at all times
  4. I must do this for 30 days in a row, if I miss a day, I must start over!

Before I go into detail, let me summarize by saying that I have a completely new outlook on meditation. I had resisted for years because I thought it required special gear, or the ability to sit cross-legged on a hard floor. Or that it was for religious people. Or Monks. I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, and had never bothered to really look into it. I’d have to say, I didn’t think I was going to love it as much as I do. You mileage may vary.

I’ll be publishing a follow up blog to this that starts to answer some of my own common questions about meditating, stuff I didn’t know about before I started, along with some additional insights I gained while talking to people who meditate, and from some articles and papers that have been written.

First and foremost though, I really love it. I love taking a moment, in the middle of my day, or in the morning and literally just shutting it all down in favor of being quiet and breathing. For the pat 30 days or so, I’ve done guided meditations that I’ve downloaded from iTunes. I’ll post the two different podcasts at the bottom of the post. These guided meditation “tours” really helped me a lot in keeping me focused and because they are so well done, often gently reminded me to “come back” to focus when I drifted off into the past, or the future. Or when I fell asleep, which happens frequently. I plan on continuing to meditate daily and have already experienced missing a day and feeling like I was missing something important.

As for the experience, I’d classify myself as a drifter. What I mean by that is even after 30 days of meditating, I can still only really focus for a few minutes without my brain taking me places, back to odd memories, or to my task list for the day. However, within just a few sessions I was starting to see how fast my brain was racing and doing everything but staying focused. I’d be happily focused on the guided meditation and suddenly have a vivid memory of a childhood experience, or start thinking about an upcoming meeting or e-mail I needed to send. Thankfully, the guided meditations always remembered to remind me to come back, to focus on my breath, or on a specific part of my body – my shoulders, arms, legs or fingers.

Apparently, that’s the key – it doesn’t matter much what you focus on, but you have to focus singularly. It’s freaking hard. And can be frustrating. And I fall asleep. A lot. I don’t know why, but the sleep sometimes literally overcomes me in a wave and bam, I’m sleeping just like that. I think that I’ve fallen asleep at least 60% of the time while meditating, usually for just a moment or two.

One of the most important discoveries I made happened about a week or so into the 30 days. I started to focus on my body parts, looking, scanning for tension or any sort of sign of pain. After a few minutes of this deep body discovery, I realized I had what I call a “headband” across the top of my head – a sense of pressure covering my skull. As I focused on it, it would literally go away, I could feel it dissolve as I focused on it and it felt amazing. I can’t explain it exactly, but I am pretty sure it’s important.

Sometimes, while mediating I’d get super itchy and try to focus on the itch. Sometimes the itch would go away, but other times, it would be so frustrating that it would break my ability to focus. So I’d just freaking scratch. And then try to refocus.

“I feel like most of my time meditating was in fact, me realizing that I was in my own virtual world, and then trying to refocus.”

I almost quit after just 3 days because I was in so much physical pain. For the first 3 days, I sat on the floor, legs crossed sitting up straight. After a minute (it may have been 30 seconds), I’d be unable to sit up straight. I figured maybe I needed to do some stomach crunches or somehow get into shape for meditating and googled around a bit to see what I was doing wrong. I didn’t find anything useful to help me and finally talked to some friends about my problem. I found out that it doesn’t matter much if you are on a comfy couch, your favorite chair or hell, lying down in bed. The point is focus, not good posture. That was a huge, massive relief for me for some odd reason. I believe that I’d have quit because of the discomfort, but instead, now I grab my comfy chair, or just sit on the couch and get to it.

So now that the challenge is over, I am really pleased that I did it, and that I stuck with it. There were even days when I did 2 sessions! I felt consistently like I had a burst of energy after a session, and that I was much more focused, and creative in thinking for the few hours following meditating.

I’ve also been able to tap into this ability to “feel” my body at some new level. The “headband” thing was just the beginning, my latest efforts have me focused on my shoulders and letting them “release” tension by just focusing on them. It’s an odd feeling, I feel like Magneto or some superhero – simply focusing on a body part makes it somehow, come alive. Hard to explain, but easy to feel.

I also get this sense of my breath that I never had before. I can feel that I am breathing differently, deeper, somehow fuller on a regular basis. I’ve even been able to self regulate my breathing during stressful times at work which can be super helpful in terms of maintaining my composure in stressful situations.

One misconception I had about meditating was that it was a way to tap into big ideas and that I’d emerge from these session with big, or new ideas about things. But instead, what I emerge with is a sense of calm and a feeling of being centered.

I captured my meditation notes and thoughts on coach.me and wanted to share the full log here with you to get a sense of how I was feeling during the 30 days. Excuse the crappy grammar, spelling and any confusing remarks.

2/10/15 1
2/11/15 2
2/12/15 Accepting sometimes my practice stinks, fell asleep twice and was unable to relax today. Meditation on a commuter train can be hard. 3
2/13/15 4
2/14/15 5
2/15/15 Very short 10 min guided by Sam Harris from his podcast 6
2/16/15 7
2/17/15 Stop falling asleep but love this 8
2/18/15 9
2/19/15 Was doing well until the last 5 min of a 35 guided session when I either fell asleep or got caught in the future 10
2/20/15 Today was ok. Fell asleep shortly while meditating. Guy behind me laughing like a schmuck. Wondered what to do with it and just tried to hear him and let him go. It was annoying. What is he watching anyway? 11
2/21/15 Really good session despite falling asleep for a moment. 12
2/22/15 Short and so sweet. This felt so good. Don’t know what if anything change but, I really enjoyed that session. 13
2/23/15 Hard time staying focused but had a few really good moments today. My breathing is shallow, stressed. 14
2/24/15 10 excellent minutes- was having a really really negative self hating day and was surprised I was able to stay mostly focused on my breath. 15
2/25/15 On the train and really got into it. I opened my eyes and someone I knew was starting at me! I sensed that I was being looked at. Odd. 16
2/26/15 Meditation on a commuter train can’t be ideal. Got smacked in the head today by the arm of a coat. 10 minute Sam Harris guided meditation. 17
2/27/15 Awesome session even though I slept a little bit in the middle part. Feel like this is really making a subtle difference in my daily life. Calmer. Feel like I can step back and look at life with some perspective. Maybe. Let’s see what happens next time something bad happens 🙂 18
2/28/15 19
3/1/15 Literally cannot believe it has been 20 days. Wow. 20
3/2/15 Short and sweet. Too much caffeine. Mind and heart racing. 21
3/3/15 Awesome, almost fell asleep but had a really peaceful, quiet moment and felt some how transported. Was odd and different. Like. 22
3/4/15 Double meditation today. Just did another 10 min and loved it. Focused on a heavy feeling in my head and really felt calm. Odd feeling. Almost fell asleep but didn’t. 23
3/5/15 Sminreally love the Tara brach guided meditations. 20-25 min and themed. Great today on happiness. 24
3/6/15 Wow great until then end of 25 min and I got lost in some thoughts about work. Resized it just as the end of the session bells went off and realized I was half meditating and half nappingz 25
3/7/15 Tried to meditate while jogging today by focusing on my breath and arms moving, was interesting. Followed up with 25m guided and really invited the moment. The more I do this the more I like it. 26
3/8/15 Gentle 10 minutes mid day got me feeling less stressed. Ok, now I am good. 27
3/9/15 Fell asleep a few times. 28
3/10/15 Really good, found space to meditate on the question of my purpose. Something I have been sorely lacking. No real answer other than… I want to make the world a better place. 29
3/11/15 Double shot today 2x meditation and feel good after a very lousy night sleep 30
3/12/15 Woke up at 3:30 am so I knew I was gonna sleep for part of today’s mediation… And I did! About half. The em rest was really pleasant. 31
3/13/15 First time meditating on a flight. Had to do it. Great session all alone in my little world 30k feet up. 32
3/14/15 Guided + 2 minutes of affirmations on my own 33

So mark the challenge as complete! And a new habit is formed…

Do you mediate regularly? For how long? What kind? How do you sit? Leave a comment here, or email me at searchingforsuthin@gmail.com.

Resources

  • Tara Brach has some incredible guided meditations that range from about 20-30 minutes.
  • Sam Harris has a great 9 minute, short meditation, and a longer 25 minute one that are excellent.

The Meditation Diaries – My 30 Day Meditation Challenge

I resisted meditation for years. I had tried it a few times on my own or with different apps, books and tutorials but I guess I wasn’t ready for it. A few months ago, I used “Headspace” an app on my iPhone after reading about the benefits of mindfulness. The benefits seem too good to be true, and I really thought there was either a catch or it was bullshit. You can read a great article about the benefits of Meditation on here.

I guess my earlier efforts weren’t serious, because I did try. Last summer I meditated using the Headspace app for 10 days straight and felt good about it. But for some reason, I was also hating it. I found that I was unable to be quiet and focus at all. I struggled to keep doing it on a regular basis and always found excuses, or reasons to not meditate. I was too tired, or thought that exercise, or reading was a more important activity. I also felt weird about when and where to meditate. I wasn’t ready to tell anyone, and didn’t want my family to have a laugh at me as well. Needless to say, I dropped the idea.

About 3 months ago as of this writing I started a course called “The Artist’s Way” to help me regain a sense of my creativity. Part of that course was something called “Morning Pages” which are 3 pages of writing first thing in the morning. Morning Pages themselves are a of meditation. I’ve been doing them since December 30th, 2014 and haven’t yet missed a day. I set eggtimer for 20 minutes and write down literally whatever comes to my mind. I focus on the thoughts themselves and write. No filter. No editing. Just writing. Whatever comes out. And sometimes it’s odd. Sometimes it is inspiring. Sometimes it’s cringeworthy. Sometimes I just complain and other times I’m a poet.

Focusing on my thoughts… hey – isn’t that meditation?

So I was sort of meditating but wanted to try the real thing again. Increasingly, I was feeling like my internal voice was trying to tell me something important. I was hating my job and hating my life. And didn’t know why or what was bothering me. My coach told me one day that part of my problem is that my brain never shuts up. That I literally am never being quiet. I thought about it and after reading yet more articles about meditation, I decided it was time to give it a real go. But I had to make it into a game or I know I’d give up too easily.

The rules of the meditation game I set up for myself were:

  1. I must meditate every day for at least 5 minutes, 10 is better, 20-30 is best
  2. I am allowed to use any guided meditation I want, or none at all. But no music is allowed.
  3. I must follow the directions of the guided meditation at all times
  4. I must do this for 30 days in a row, if I miss a day, I must start over!

I’ll be posting the results of the challenge next week. If you’d like to follow the journey, or read my daily specific comments, join coach.me and add me as a friend “Searchingforsumthin

So how did it go? I can’t share yet because I’m not quite done… But here’s a sneak peek:

  • March 9th: “Fell asleep a few times.”
  • March 2nd: “Short and sweet. Too much caffeine. Mind and heart racing.”
  • February 19th: “Was doing well until the last 5 minutes of a 35 minute guided session when I either fell asleep or got caught in the future.”

As I’ve started to meditate regularly, I’ve also realized I have a ton of questions about the practice. Some of which maybe you’ve asked yourself as well…

  • Is this meditating or am I just sitting here talking to myself?
  • Do I have to sit crosslegged on the ground?
  • Why does my back hurt so much when I meditate and why can’t I just sit in my comfy chair?
  • Why is it so hard to stay focused?
  • Do I need incense?
  • Can I meditate while exercising?
  • What counts and what doesn’t count as meditation?

The Meditation Diaries posts will feature my meditation journey. I will also be writing a Meditation FAQ for noobs like us that include answers all my own questions, and any you send in as well. I’m writing it now, send in your tips!

Do you meditate? How do you like it? How do you do it? Leave some thoughts in the comments or email me at searchingforsomethin@gmail.com