Rule #1 – Start the day right
My life has drastically changed in the last few years, but, one of the most positive influences has been my change to a morning routine. In this post I’d thought I’d write about what I do, why I do it, and how it has affected me.
About 3 years ago I started to read – or, more accurately, listen to – books by Jack Kornfield. Kornfield is an interesting guy – an aging hippie but also one of America’s preeminent writers on Buddhism, mostly based on his own personal (and amazing!) life experience of training as a monk in Thailand and Burma in the late 60s and early 70s.
Kornfield writes about a lot of stuff, but one of the things that struck me was his writings about meditation. Now, I’ve been around new age people a long, long time (like, 30 years!) so I’m no stranger to hearing people wax on about meditation. But, either because of my changing life circumstances or my old age, this time I listened.
No amount of meditation, yoga, diet, and reflection will make all of our problems go away, but we can transform our difficulties into our practice until little by little they guide us on our way.
— Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life
I think one of my barriers to meditation had always been that I just had no idea what to do. And no one seemed to give the straight poop on it. It was always some elusive thing, that was different for everyone so no one wanted to tell you what to do. Or, in the case of Transcendental Meditation, they wanted a LOT OF MONEY to tell you.
Kornfield talked about the simplicity of it. I came to realise, like much in my life, I was over-thinking it.
And then, about a year ago I saw a video interview with this guy Peter Sage. Sage is a businessman, but, also a progressive looking into self-improvement. And he talked of doing meditation every morning.
Then I saw an interview with photographer, youtuber and founder of CreativeLive, Chase Jarvis. And HE talked about doing meditation. I finally realised it was not just a new age thing.
So I bit the bullet and decided to give it a try. Peter Sage talked about just sitting for 20 minutes, doing a mantra (WTF!?!) and also letting his mind wander into areas of gratitude (WTF?!?!?) and positivity.
Ok. I cheated. I found a site that listed the mantras handed out by Transcendental Meditation. Seems they have a formula based on your age and other stuff. Basically, I just picked one. It’s a two syllable thing – one on the breath in, one on the breath out. I know some people say their mantra out loud, but I do this silently. Most mornings I do my mediation sitting in a chair. Which is kind of ironic because here in Japan chairs are in short supply and the ‘normal’ thing would be do to it sitting on the floor! I always have to be a contrarian.
Gratitude, like ‘Mindfulness’, is one of those words that sets off my bullshit alarm faster than my radiation detector on a trip to Fukushima. So, here’s what I do: during my 20 minutes, if (er, when) my mind wanders from my mantra I try to push it into thinking about the positive aspects of whatever it’s gone off to. If that’s not possible, or I’ve exhausted the positive possibilities, I then go back to the mantra.
At first it was very hard not to spiral off into thinking about what I was going to work on that day, or how I needed to check customer support emails or something. It got easier over time.
I read ‘Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being‘ by Martin Seligman recently. He’s like the father (or grandfather) of Positive Psychology. In his book he talks about the model of happiness and the 5 factors that go into it. As we can do nothing in this life without creating an acronym, he came up with PERMA
- Postive Emotions
I found I was pretty lacking in P + M (and, because I am a bit of a shut in, R). Doing these ‘gratitude’ (shudder!) exercises has given me a boost in the P department.
I’m a nerd! I use this cool app called ‘Untime’ on my ancient (1st Gen) iPad as a timer. It doesn’t show you the countdown and it makes a funky bleeping sound cascade when it’s done.
After my 20 minutes I try to get in 30 minutes of walking. I love to walk and I’ll do 30 minutes at least twice a day. Luckily, I live at the edge of town and I can get in some pretty Japanese scenery as I do this.
To paraphrase Jack Kornfield, after the meditation and the exercise comes the coffee.
One year later I can tell you that all of this has dramatically changed my moods. I used to be very manic-depressive and quick to anger. I think the meditation has calmed that somewhat. I enjoy life more. The people around me also notice that I am not as crazy as I used to be (?!) and I credit doing the meditation with my changing attitude towards my work as well – I no longer feel the need for utter control, and I am working on the ‘one man band’ syndrome that has crippled me for years.
As humans, we seem to have a need for routine, but there is no law that says that routine has to be one of going to the office. Find what works for you.