Person Contemplating Clouds

Meditation Brain Headbands And Wrong Effort

Focusing until it hurts doesn’t work with meditation. Yet, I understand people want feedback in their meditation practice.

Have you heard that phrase, “Focus until it hurts?” Focusing until it hurts on purpose is a bad move.

If you try to focus too hard, you’ll just end up giving yourself a headache. It’s not sustainable. It’s better to just gently apply your focus on something and keep coming back to it when you’ve lost focus. It’s the Flow Like Water finger in my Five Fingers of Freedom.

Muse Headband

What other feedback options exist? Have you heard of brain signal reading headbands like Muse? Muse is touted as a “brain sensing headband” that makes meditating easy.

There are reviews like the Wearable Review that almost got me buying it. There are also videos like the Muse Brain Sensing Headband from TechCrunch:

From the how does muse work page,

Muse gives you feedback about your meditation in real time by translating your brain signals into the sounds of wind.

So, it sounds great. However, I am concerned about the potential set up for a longterm failure. Before I go into that, I need to share my respect for what they are trying to do with Muse.

In that video above, we see CEO and Founder of InteraXon, Ariel Garten. I respect Ariel Garten’s mission and have followed the company’s journey for over five years. As Ariel said in a Ted Talk titled Know thyself, with a brain scanner:

My goal, quite simply, is to help people become more in tune with themselves.

Although I have seriously considered buying Muse, real time feedback sounds like it could potentially encourage what is known as wrong effort. A strong desire to get results immediately generates an energy that is counter productive.

Wrong Effort By George Mumford

About fourteen minutes into the session titled “Change the Mindset” of the 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics meditation appGeorge Mumford captures the concept of trying too hard and over-monitoring well:

When that energy is driving you to the point to where you’re always looking to see how you’re doing, you’re not present to what you are doing.

As a side note, George Mumford impresses me so much! The 10% Happier app has really helped distilled his concepts into a concise format. To get access to the concepts, you need to get the 10% Happier app and then subscribe to get past the free introduction material. I’m a huge fan.

If you want to read something instead, you can get the book George co-authored called The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance. Another option is that I cover George’s concept of how negative self talk feeds the “fear wolf” in Lose Negative Self Talk By Losing Yourself.

Is Realtime Feedback Useful?

Although I haven’t purchased Muse and seen for myself, I haven’t decided if using Muse is a good idea or not. It didn’t help that Arial said in the Muse Brain Sensing Headband video above:

And it’s your job to quiet the wind and quiet the mind.

When you’re mind is distracted while wearing Muse, you receive the noise of wind. Well, trying to quiet the mind head-on seems incorrect. As a meditator, your job is to observe your thoughts. It’s not to force your thoughts to go away. However, it’s possible she has to say something like that in order for people to frame the conversation quickly in their minds.

As I wrote in Meditation Journey is Simple, you don’t want to force your attention on the breath. You want to just notice that you’ve lost your focus and begin again. Recognizing you’re lost and beginning again builds up the mental focus muscle.

Listening further, I can tell she correctly understands the overall concept. She then says something interesting I had not considered before. In the context of a mental fitness gym, using Muse is where:

You get to do more reps in a single session.

That sounds very compelling. However, there is still a question here. Specifically, which part exercises ones mental focus? Is it the recognition that you’re lost in thought or the act of bringing your focus back on to the object? In other words, is it recognition or refocusing that makes your ability to focus stronger?

Where to Find The Answer?

It’s at this point where I feel fortunate that I have the 10% Happier app. I can literally send a text message to my coach in the 10% Happier app and see what they say. In fairness, they may not know because without Muse or a product like it, one recognizes they are lost in thought and brings their focus back onto the object of focus. Therefore, one is doing both activities of recognizing and refocusing. So, it wouldn’t be a burning question for those who don’t use brain reading headbands.

Although the name escapes me, there is also someone in the 10% Happier podcast that Dan interviewed who might know the answer. Unless you know of other possible sources, I am left with nothing else other than googling for the answer.

Applying This For Work

Having clear answers as to what really works is essential. Forward thinking companies are always looking for ways to increase the production capabilities of its employees. My positive experiences from working at CARFAX such as when they helped pay for a Fitbit, gives me hope that in the long run companies will support employees going after the benefits of meditation / mental-focus exercising.

However, a tool like Muse can’t be recommended until benefits are clear. Until then, recommending an app like the 10% Happier meditation app is a safe and enjoyable solution.

Cloud in a Blue Sky

Selflessness and Mindfulness Where Y O U are the Target

Selflessness. Free from suffering. Free from the continuous dissatisfying aspects of life. These are the things you end up hearing about when deeply exploring meditation and mindfulness. Selflessness is an advanced and confusing topic. So, what’s so great about selflessness and what do we mean by selflessness?

The great thing about selflessness is you realize there’s not as much at stake in life as you thought there was. As the phrase goes, you don’t take things personally. On a related note, there’s a good Psychology Today article, “Don’t Take It Personally.” The common thought with the phrase “don’t take it personally” is that you are not the intended target. Someone is not zeroing in on trying to hurt you..this time.

Even with keeping things in perspective with the “don’t take everything personally” frame of mind, there are still some things that could be taken personally. If you don’t know how to loosen up, you are an easy target for your enemies and careless people. To spell it out, that target’s name is Y. O. U., Your Own Universe, your self.

“I want to live and don’t want to get rid of myself!”, you might exclaim. Don’t panic. I understand. We’re not talking about your destruction. There’s more than one concept of self and you’ll get a small flavor of it here.

What’s so Great about Selflessness?

For the sake of discussion and to move things forward, pretend you’re like Casper, the friendly ghost. Just like a sentient cloud, pretend the thing that is really you, your consciousness, cannot be hurt no matter what.

Cloud in a Blue Sky

However like Casper the ghost, you can interact with things when you need to and have an impact on the world. That’s really useful, right? You can make a difference and you have nothing to lose.

Steve Jobs tried to get across this notion of “nothing to lose” in his Stanford commencement address. You can checkout the text of what he said in the Stanford news article ‘You’ve got to find what you love,’ Jobs says. A sample is available in the video Steve Jobs talking about Big Choices in life – Stanford Speech 2005 as shown here:

Thanks, Mr. Steve Jobs. Although potentially grim, that’s helpful. However, we can do even better than that. It’s time to describe what we mean by selflessness.

What is Selflessness?

If you want to go deep into this, there is a podcast episode to listen to called The Path and the Goal, A Conversation with Joseph Goldstein. If you jump straight into it on YouTube (“Waking Up with Sam Harris #4 — The Path and the Goal” (1:15:50), you will hear a remarkable conversation between two friends who are highly experienced meditators, Sam Harris and Joseph Goldstein. Sam has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA. Joseph Goldstein is a meditator instructor, cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society, and helped bring meditation into the USA in the 1970s.

Sam Harris lays out the concept of a meditator (he uses the term yogi) trying to continuously take note of everything around him or her. The meditator notices when they get lost in thought and then goes back to observing phenomenon aka all-the-things.

There are a couple of insightful lines plus followup discussion about one hour and 17 minutes into it. Here’s a quote of Sam Harris from the podcast:

Consciousness actually isn’t harmed by whatever crappy experience you were just having dualistically a moment ago before you were mindful. The moment you actually pay attention, there’s just consciousness and the energy of its expression.

That is so powerful! It’s the secret to how one can thoughtfully respond to events as opposed to thoughtlessly reacting.

He goes on to point out that mindfulness is the “remedy” to suffering. In this context, suffering is also sometimes known as the dissatisfying aspects of life. The sensation of being angry, feeling ill, or sadness doesn’t disappear, but it doesn’t have the same kind of impact when one is in a state of selflessness.

Joseph Goldstein supports that mindfulness can help one get into that selflessness state. Sam’s further reality check with Joseph and using the experience of sadness helps to explain further (1:18:43):

..if you are being mindful of sadness say and in that moment sadness is still a problem, that’s not mindfulness. Mindfulness contains its own equanimity. If you’re going to spend two seconds of truly being mindful, those are going to be two seconds of relief from the suffering.

Joseph Goldstein absolutely agrees. With that said, they go on about how not to attain selflessness. I encourage you to listen to the podcast past the quote to truly understand. The whole two hours of the podcast is also definitely worth it. However, how to obtain the state of selflessness is out of the scope of this article.

Taking a step back, this is advanced stuff. If you are just starting out, this is just a glimpse into what’s possible by having a serious commitment to the practice of mindfulness and meditation. Experiences such as selflessness are real. The scientific causes of these experiences and their impact on the brain are being studied.

Scientists are continuously uncovering interesting things about the effects of mindfulness on the human brain such as this 2017 article titled Buddhist researchers seek to reveal link between heart, mind and my blog post from a couple years earlier titled Meditation Yields a Better Brain.

So we’ve given you a glimpse into selflessness and why one might care. Regardless of your feelings about selflessness, there’s no doubt that mindfulness meditation can improve your life and the lives of those you interact with. I wish you well on your journey.

Holy Lovingkindness, Batman!

Holy Lovingkindness Batman!

Batman is the common man with an uncommon mental discipline. While others turned to evil, Batman grew from deep trauma. As the article Develop The Mindset of a Superhero puts it, “Batman has a mind of steel because of the journey he has undertaken,..”

Everything Bruce knew about safety and security was stripped away when his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, were killed by a criminal right before his eyes. Although traumatized to the core, Bruce Wayne became the superhero we know and love as Batman.

Not limited to superhero stories, Post-traumatic growth is a real thing. First introduced to me by Jane McGonical, it’s possible to frame and train your mind in such a way that you are more likely to grow from severe trauma.

In Seven principles of building personal resilience: practical ways of growing through adversity, Rod Warner outlines ways of approaching life that makes one more resilient, able to recover, and actually thrive from adverse events. An essential piece for handling overwhelmingly negative thoughts and emotions was shared in the “Generate Positive Feelings” section:

Strategies to deal with strong personal negative emotions include deep breathing, taking time out, positive self talk (although recent studies have indicated that simply reciting affirmations can in some cases do more harm than good) and meditation [emphasis added].

This seemingly contradictory “positive self talk” and yet “simply reciting affirmations can..do more harm than good” can be confusing. If you look deep into the “Seven principles..” link shared above, you see they talk about writing in a journal daily and reflecting on your good deeds. Although that works for some, it was often too much overhead for me.

For me, there’s a way that’s much easier. It’s called lovingkindness meditation. Here’s a funny, wonderful, and pragmatic introduction to lovingkindness meditation given by Dan Harris and Sharon Salzberg which is expanded on in the 10% Happier app:

An article that hosts this video and associated text is How Compassion Leads to Success.

From my decades of mediation, I think that applying lovingkindness meditation has a better chance of success than the “positive self talk” approach mentioned above.

Why? I think trying to generate positive thoughts is not sustainable and creates its own stress. As Andy Puddicombe says in I’m plagued by negative thinking:

It’s almost like a form of denial if we are feeling unhappy and really being honest with ourselves, to sit there and repeat “I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy,” fearful that the not-so-happy thoughts might arise.

If we adhere to the spirit of the “positive self talk” and couple it with meditation, we get lovingkindness meditation. With that, here are the “Seven principles..”steps distilled down:

  • Breathing deep
  • Schedule a time and place to recharge
  • Do lovingkindness meditation

As a sentence it could be:

Schedule in your day some lovingkindness meditation and take some deep breaths.

Sounds like a simple prescription for building resilience and growth, doesn’t it? Admittedly, the non-simple part can be finding a place to do this during the day. I’m fortunate that I work at CARFAX where they actually have rooms for recharging, reflecting, or whatever else you need to do in solitude. Find such a spot and do it, meditate! It’s scientifically shown to be worth it.

As said in the video above, this lovingkindness approach is backed by science. From episode number 81: Sharon Salzberg, ‘Real Love’ author of the 10% Happier podcast, the science shows that seven minutes of lovingkindness meditation will change your brain! Since no-one is an island, this change effects everyone you meet and everyone they meet.

Just like Batman achieved his “mind of steel” through meditation, personal growth, and support from Alfred, we can do the same through lovingkindness meditation. There’s a strength in lovingkindness that supports our heroic selves.

To sum up, I believe one can flourish in life by meditating. Based on the science shared above and my own experience, lovingkindness meditation can serve one extremely well. It’s powerful, nourishing, and life changing. In tribute to Adam West, who died on June 9, 2017, I say: Holy Lovingkindness, Batman!

Holy Lovingkindness, Batman!

Lose Negative Self Talk By Losing Yourself

Daily, I remind myself that the negative self talk ends now. Even though it’s common to hear people be “tough on themselves” and think that it helps, it serves no-one in the long run.

As George Mumford taught in the 10% Happier app in “The Yips” section, negative self talk feeds the fear wolf. Even though it adds a sense of urgency, it drains you and causes you to procrastinate long term. In a related article written by SM Athletic (with a few cuss words mixed in), this concept is covered in ‘FEEDING The Wolf’.

So, pull yourself together and champion your noble cause. Lose yourself in the cause. Since you came from the earth which came from the stars, you are nothing and also everything. You can let the energy flow through you and be like water. Go for your aspirations and joyfully lose yourself in your journey.

 

Meditating on a Stressed Out Stomach With Insomnia

Insomnia by Jacob Stewart

Have you ever felt a tightness in your stomach when worried? Ever have that at night? For me, it’s like you’re lying in bed and someone has their hand on your belly and is squeezing.

You tell yourself that you accept everything with equanimity. Just let go and sleep. Yet, your stomach is not having any of that. It wants you to do something, now! Yet, it’s time to just be and sleep.

When one is concerned about an upcoming event, the tightness in the stomach is natural. There’s uncertainty and your stomach is sending a message saying get ready. When the message happens at night, one wishes they could kill the messenger ..or at least make it quiet.

Focusing on Something Else

Gently laying your focus on something else other than the event, may be just the thing to do. Focusing on how the sheets feel or gently rubbing your belly may do wonders. Since others have told me that reading a book, going for a walk, or doing something self-nurturing before trying to sleep is helpful, I shall experiment with that as well.

Getting Up

For me one night at 2:30 am, the answer was to get out of bed and start my morning routine. Crazy, right?

Part of my morning routine is to slowly jog and meditate. My friend, Dr. Wayne Buckhanan, playfully calls it jogitating. Once I was done jogitating, I was more in tune with my body. I felt more relaxed. I went back to bed and could sleep for a few more hours.

Write It Down

Another technique is to write down the item on my mind, leave it on the table by my bed, and promise that I will deal with it once I am up. That’s a promise to the stomach that I won’t forget. It’s similar to reassuring a friend that you care and that you will follow-up on the item as soon as the time is right.

Know Your Sensations

One technique I learned from a wonderful coach named Rae in the 10% Happier app was a technique similar to what I had learned before for handling pain. The goal is to really get to know the raw sensations in the tense and non-tense parts.

The technique starts by gradually feeling out where the boundaries of the tightness exist. Feel the calm outside of the tightness. Really zone in on the calm and then gradually shift your focus towards the boundary of the tightness. Does the tightness change its shape? What does the raw data of sensation feel like? Is it feeling different over time?

I can move in and truly get to know the raw sensations without adding a story or narrative to it. Just observe the raw data and see if there are any changes. If a thought pops up, I can note it and go back to exploring the sensations.

Next, I can pull back and observe the whole body, both the areas of tension and calm. Observing the specific areas and then pulling back and observing it all. Ideally, I would even do this exercise during the day before I need to go to sleep.

A Little More Exercise

Since I also jog as part of my morning routing, I also make sure that I job an extra 1000 steps. Fitbit helps me track that. Those extra steps make a world of difference.

Summary

The tightness in the stomach is like a little worried kid asking for some extra reassurance and attention. Reassuring, distracting, exploring, and extra exercise are all great ways for giving that kid a hug and saying that you’re here for them. What works for you? Feel free to tweet to me at @FinneyCanHelp on Twitter and let me know!

Meditation Journey is Simple

Woman Breathing Clean Air

The meditation journey is simple. The final destination seems remote and hard.

Beginning with a single step is easy. That step is to focus on the breathing. Stay with it a half breath at a time. When you get lost, begin again. Consistency is the key. Credit goes to George Mumford who explains it well on the 10% Happier with Dan Harris show. As he puts it, the reward is to be “in the moment.” You can slip into the zone easier. You can be Bowl Bottom Centered. As opposed to a heads-on push, it’s a slide into position kind of effort.

It is not about forcing the attention onto the breath. It’s about letting go and beginning again. You let go of the frustration, pain, anger, self hate, and place your attention again on the breath.

Finally, the final destination or goal is to keep going. There is no end point. Just like dividing one by two forever, you are making a difference. Yet, striving for zero is not the point.

The method is simple. The journey is simple. One step at a time will keep you on the path and zone ready.

Scary Brain Power

In our lifetime, we will have more control over our brain than ever before. That may delight and scare you. The reason why it might scare you is because you may not know exactly what to do with such power. People may think they want to always have total happiness and ecstasy.

Eternal ecstasy and pleasure are not sustainable. What we want to do instead is go for balance, ease, and peace. Proactively, insight meditation can help you know what your brain is all about. You should find out about this before Elon Musk makes it so we can hook up computers to peoples’ brains. You’re also going to want to learn about motivation, habits and addiction. This is all important. With great power comes great responsibility. More than ever before, you are responsible for your mind.

Brain by dierk schaefer

Bowl Bottom Centered

There is an easy approach to relaxing into focus and thus calm. It’s a concept I created called Bowl Bottom Centered.

Imagine a curved bowl. The center of the bowl is balance. It’s the calm and focus you seek.

As George Mumford says in the 10% Happier app, the goal of mindful meditation is to be “Resting in the body. Resting in the breath.” It is to slip into focus.

If you see yourself off track and off task as George might say, observe that you’re crawling up the side of the bowl and out of focus. You’re not in the bottom of the bowl. So, let it all go. Begin again.

Allow yourself to slide back down the side of the bowl and be centered. Observe yourself sliding down the side of the bowl into the center. Be in the center.

Everything slopes down to the center of the bowl. Harmony, goodness, peace, tranquility, and focus is in the bottom of the bowl. Let it all go and rest. Be “Bowl Bottom Centered.”

Bowl by Rebecca Siegel

FinneyCanHelp Five Fingers of Freedom

The FinneyCanHelp Five Fingers of Freedom framework empowers one to take action and live with freedom in one’s heart.

FinneyCanHelp Five Fingers of Freedom

  1. Feel Freedom – Choose to see this freedom.
  2. Flow Like Water – This was inspired by a Bruce Lee quote.
  3. Fantasize about the possible – We’re only limited by our imagination.
  4. Forgive yourself and others – Lose the emotional luggage.
  5. Faith – Have faith that there is a lawfulness to the universe. This was inspired by George Mumford. See George Mumford: “The Mindful Athlete” | Talks at Google video and the 10% Happier app that has George Mumford in it.

We choose to see by AM Renault

How to Mindfully Take Risks and Joseph Goldstein

Oh, Joseph Goldstein. I wish I knew him decades ago. He always generously shares his wisdom about mindfulness, meditation, and living a good life. Recently, I finally got to thank him!

I first encountered Joseph in the Waking Up With Sam Harris podcast episode titled The Path and the Goal. Listening to that podcast episode and a followup episode titled Questions Along the Path, led me to the iPhone app known as Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by 10% Happier.

How ironic that 10% Happier made it possible to thank Joseph!

10% Happier holds video events and in March they had the Joseph Goldstein Live Q&A by 10% Happier event. (Logistical side note: If you don’t have a Crowdcast account, you can create one for free and then see the video using the link.)

Since this was a Q & A event, I felt it proper to ask a question on my mind first. 50:10-ish into the event, I asked “How does one mindfully take risks?” In other words, how do you take big leaps of faith in a career or elsewhere with “right action” in mind? His generous wisdom flowed forth.

My takeaways from Joseph were to explore:

  • Fear – Relationship of oneself to fear. He has worked with fear a lot. Favorite phrases of his are “If this fear is here for the rest of my life, it’s OK. It’s OK to feel this.” It’s important to work with the fear.
  • Letting go of attachment – Act without attachment to the outcome. There are too many variables at work in life. So, work with what you have, try your best, and accept the outcome.
  • Checking the motivation – The value in the action is based on the motivation behind the action. As he said, “Is this a wholesome motivation or not?”

So, if you deal with the fear, let go of outcomes, do a motivation check, and they all checkout OK, you can “go for it!”

At the end, I gave him the FinneyCanHelp thumbs up of approval which made him chuckle. That’s from the heart. If all of humanity took his lessons to heart, the world would be a better place.

Finally, I was able to share my gratitude with Joseph. I said:

I just want to conclude by saying it’s an honor and thank you for everything you have done.

His lessons and the lessons of other wonderful meditation teachers are in the 10% Happier app. I recommend you download the iPhone app and give it a try. Subscribe if you want to explore it further. Use the coaching feature!

No iPhone? You can go to 10percenthappier.com and checkout the Web App.

My 10% Happier subscription is the best ROI I have ever had! If you have any questions about my personal experiences or just want to share your excitement, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter at @finneycanhelp. Also feel free to checkout my other posts about 10% Happier and meditation.

Update: You can now see the specific video segment where I ask how to mindfully take risks in a video titled Mike asks Joseph Goldstein a question during 10% Happier Subscriber Q&A

Cold Dark Eerie Fear