Taking your mind for a walk


Our dog Mosley is “spirited”.

Taking him on a walk when he was a puppy was an ordeal. He would pull at the leash, stop suddenly, veer off course constantly, sniff everything he came upon, get agitated if we came across any other dogs, and totally freak out if he saw a cat anywhere. (Cats… they drive him to barking fits like nothing else does.)

But, over time, he began to settle down for our walks. He still gets a little frantic at the start of a walk, but he quickly calms himself and gets into a smooth flow with me. Unless he spies a cat, of course.

I’ve been meditating somewhat regularly over the past year. Some weeks I sit for ten to twenty minutes every day. Other weeks I may sit only once or twice. 

But I’m not very good at it when I do make the time to sit. My mind is like the puppy version of Mosley. It won’t stay still and pulls and veers and gets so easily distracted. Some days it settles enough to flow smoothly along with my breath for at least a few minutes. Most days it tugs at the leash the whole time. 

I’m sticking with it, though. I’m clearly still in the puppy phase of my mindfulness practice. But I know my mind and my emotional well-being need at least a portion of the attention and discipline I focus on my physical body and my work.

I’m even more aware lately that humans “were built to be effective animals, not happy ones”, and it’s on me to upgrade my own operating system if I want more happiness and peace and wholeheartedness. Mindful calm is not our default state. 

Tim Ferriss recently interviewed the meditation teacher Tara Brach. It’s an interesting conversation which included this big statement:

“Meditation is evolution’s strategy to bring out our full potential.” –Tara Brach

Certainly, if more humans were better able to master their minds and their emotions, we would be a lot further along as a species.

This is a hard practice, but if even a little of the benefits spill over into my life and the way I interact with my family, my friends, and anyone I encounter, it will be worth persisting in the effort. 

I want to see reality more clearly and embrace whatever comes without resistance.

Maybe I’m a slow learner with this—even a perpetual puppy. I will keep giving it a go and just see how often my mind will let the leash draw some slack and flow along.

Even if there are cats. 

Merry freaking Christmas!


One Thanksgiving morning years ago when our oldest child was a newborn, my wife and I were struggling to get our act together and get out the door for a drive across the state to a family gathering. We were late. Really late. And figuring out how to get things done with a baby in our life complicated everything.

As we finally got in the car and started down the driveway, my wife, with her frustration finally spilling out at the end our frantic scrambling, looked at me and said, with some intensity: “Happy FREAKING Thanksgiving!” She wasn’t smiling.

I didn’t laugh. On the outside. Until about an hour into the drive.

And then, after a safe time for cooling off had passed, we had a good laugh together. Yes, we were really late to the family Thanksgiving gathering. But the dinner ended up being delayed by a faulty oven (for a very long time, actually), so we didn’t miss anything.

Ah, the holiday season. A time of love and joy and peace on Earth. A time for family and friends to reconnect and annoy each other. And spend money. And travel and decorate and undecorate and toil in the kitchen and spend more money on things that often bring little delight to the recipient or the giver.

Humbug, you say?

No. Me, neither. I mostly love this time of year. But as I count down the final weeks of the year I’ve come to the point where plans for Christmas have swallowed almost everything else in our lives. There is little down time without a to-do list occupying actual attention or tugging subconsciously and invisibly leaking life energy drip by drip.

I will end up loving the season, though the only holiday music I’m tuning in willingly at the moment is the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas, which is a delight no matter the season.

The year ends in a rush of activity and distraction unlike any period in the previous eleven months. It takes some effort to maintain discipline and stick with your habits. But I’ve been keeping at it. So far. (I’m about to go take a 10 p.m. walk just to check off my daily mile habit. I don’t want to break the string.)

What if we embraced the chaos of the season, the good and bad deviations from routine, and found opportunities to grow and get stronger. Sticking to a habit when you’re tempted to use the excuse of the busyness of the season to ditch it will give you greater strength for the rest of the year when routines are more consistent.

This holiday season, why not face your family and friends as you never have before? Be as present as you can. Engage in meaningful conversations. Sit at the kids’ table. Ask great questions of the often ignored senior citizens in the family. Try to get the hipster teenager to crack a smile.

Stress will come. Don’t beat yourself up about it, though. Just try to observe and notice it and bring yourself back to the present moment, to some perspective about the stillness of the enduring now, where all is always merry and bright.

Stay strong in these final two weeks of the year. Stick to your good habits. Keep bringing your focus back to how you want to finish this year.

And if you’re on the verge of a George Bailey-esque meltdown. Don’t even think about jumping off a bridge.

“Merry freaking Christmas!” to you all.


Blue sky every day


I have been following Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace meditation program for two weeks now, and I can see how beneficial this practice is. Andy regular refers to meditation as “training the mind”, and I’m getting that sense of it, of training and practice and skill development, from just my two week habit.

I have already found myself occasionally directing my attention during daily activities to what I experience when I meditate, noticing the busy-ness and distraction of my mind and bringing the focus back to my body and my breath.

Mindfulness teachers talk about the blue sky always being there even when obstructed by clouds. If you were in a plane you could fly above the clouds and see that the blue sky is there and unaffected by whatever clouds are below it.

Even when your mind is full or anxious or clouded with discouraging thoughts, the blue sky is still there. Wait and watch. The clouds will pass, if even for a moment, and you can see the blue sky. There it is, every day.