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Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

100-Day Game completed! Wow, lots of great experiences, results, and insights these past 100 days. I haven’t blogged much about it because I was more focused on living it, but here are some of my first thoughts and reflections:

1. My “emotions” aren’t always emotional

By bringing more consciousness to my choices, I started to discern subtleties in how I feel emotionally and physically. One example is when I’m feeling emotionally down or low. In the past I just thought this must be who I am — a sad person — because I so often feel low. What I discovered, though, is that many times it’s a physical low, a tiredness or dip in my physical energy level, that I misinterpret as emotional. And often it can be solved by a short nap or meditation.

Another example: I’ll notice that I’m feeling anxiety and can’t figure out why. It’s not like there’s something specific I’m worried about. Then I remember that I had caffeine earlier and realize that the “anxiety” is actually a physical experience that I’m misinterpreting as an emotional one.

In short, I’m tuning into my physical triggers that create emotional-ish experiences.

2. The best thing to do is nothing (a.k.a. Full-stop for inquiry)

One of the biggest lessons I learned during this Game was that I don’t need to tolerate bad feeling thoughts. If I’m writing, for example, and I start to feel negative about it (I’m judging the writing as bad, or I’m telling myself I won’t meet the deadline, etc.), then more of the same is not going to make me feel any better.

The solution is to simply stop. But not stop and avoid the feelings. Stop and listen to the feelings; experience them so that I can understand them. It’s what I’ve started referring to as a “full-stop for inquiry.”

The path to a better feeling thought is not to tough out the bad feeling thought. The solution is to stop, inquire, listen. Then when I do feel better, I can resume what I was doing from that better feeling place.

3. Redefining “difficult”

One day I found myself avoiding/procrastinating a writing job, and it was creating a lot of suffering for me. So I did my full-stop for inquiry. I put everything on hold, I turned off my phone, and I sat and meditated on what I was feeling to discover the beliefs that were fueling that pain.

I discovered I had a series of beliefs that were causing these uncomfortable feelings. I’ll call this my Old Belief Sequence:

  1. If something is difficult, it means I’ll fail
  2. If you know you’re going to fail, don’t do it (that’s only logical)
  3. The process itself has no value; only the result has value

This was quite shocking, actually, because I think of myself as a person who really values process. “Life is a journey” and all that. So no wonder I was suffering. I had this belief system causing me to feel and act in a way that was in direct contrast to one of my deepest values.

So as a result of this inquiry, I chose to rehearse a new set of beliefs that are more consistent with my values. I’ll call this my New Belief Sequence:

  1. If something is difficult, it means there’s an opportunity to learn/grow
  2. It’s my choice to decide if I want to learn or grow in this way
  3. If my choice is yes, the task is worth doing for its own sake

This feels so much better, so much more open. I have options, possibilities. If I choose to do something challenging, it becomes an exploration, an experiment.

And as you might imagine, after I made this mental this shift during that first inquiry, I couldn’t wait to write! 🙂

4. Small actions repeated consistently produce big results

Part of the reason I included a physical challenge in this 100-day experiment was to test my theory that small actions repeated consistently will produce big results over time. My favorite illustration of this is how water carved the Grand Canyon.

Even after just 100 days, I can see a change in my body shape. The pushups and pullups have given my chest and back some nice definition. If I were to add some exercises that worked my shoulders, I’m sure that would make the change even more pronounced. [My intention is to maintain and build on these physical gains with a new Game I haven’t defined yet. I’ll post here when I do.]

On a longer time frame, I’ve also seen a shift in how my mind operates. Through weekly conversations with a good friend and weekly support group meetings, I’ve spent the past 2 years rehearsing a more optimistic outlook on life. And within these past 100 days, I experienced a qualitative difference in how I’m perceiving the world.

For example, my mind spontaneously anticipates positive outcomes. And if multiple outcomes are possible, my mind spontaneously defines them all as positive so no matter what happens, I feel like I won.

For someone who thought he was doomed to be a sad person his whole life, this is both exciting and terrifying — like the Kingda Ka at Six Flags! I find myself wondering, am I becoming a happy person? And if so, what does that mean? I’ve gotten quite comfortable being sad. Giving up that comfort is scary.

This all brings me back to the theme of these 100 days: conscious choice. I choose to continue, physically and mentally, on this uncertain path. Despite the fear, life feels so much better than what was. And I trust it will feel better still.

Summary of Physical Challenges

Here’s the final tally for the 100 days:

10020/10000 pushups (100% of target)
starting max: 41
ending max: 60

1002/1000 pullups (100% of target)
starting max: 4
ending max: 10

1500/1500 burpees (100% of target)

5/5 hrs plank (100% of target)
starting max: 220 seconds
ending max: 240 seconds

3.6/20 hrs sitting meditation (17.9% of target)
This was the weak link in the chain. I’ll give it more attention in my next Game.

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When it comes to making conscious choices, the question arises: What standard will I use to guide my choices?

The one I’ve currently been exploring is the “follow your excitement” model. (Joseph Campbell’s version was “follow your bliss”.) In other words, I strive to choose the option that brings me the most joy.

But by that standard, wouldn’t we all just choose pizza or masturbation most of the time? As attractive as those options might be in any given moment, that’s not the kind of life I want. So I need go deeper than simply immediate gratification / hedonism.

Consider this phenomenon: I sometimes find that I resist doing certain things that, once I’m doing them, I genuinely enjoy. Just a few examples:

  • Writing
  • Going for a walk
  • Meeting up with friends
  • Working out
  • Sitting in meditation (especially near water)

I genuinely enjoy these things, yet I resist doing them. For example, it’s very rare that I find myself saying, “You know what I’m really excited to do? Write!” Yet, not 10 minutes into a writing session and I’m typically enjoying myself and happy I made the choice.

How do I explain that? Where do those options fit into this model of “follow your excitement”?

I think it comes down to one’s answer to the following question: Do you think of your options as events or paths? Or to use a mathematical metaphor, do you think of each option as a data point or a vector?

If you think of your options as singular events that are unconnected to what comes next, then following your excitement could likely mean choosing the most hedonistic options that bring instant gratification.

But if you think of your options as paths or vectors, then following your excitement means choosing options you may or may not enjoy initially, but you do enjoy from a wider frame of reference.

The question that remains is this: Why in the world would we resist things initially that we ultimately enjoy?

I think it has to do with one’s current belief system. In other words, I may have an unconscious rule or judgment that makes the idea painful when the actual experience is enjoyable. Thinking about doing it is harder than actually doing it.

In the case of writing, the rule could be something like “I should only write when I feel inspired” or the belief something like “I’m not a good writer.”

I find that I can get around this resistance with the question, “Have I ever regretted making this choice?” For most of the things on my list above, the answer is an emphatic “No!” I’ve never regretted writing, going for a walk, meeting with friends, working out, or sitting in meditation.

Now back to the question of how to follow my excitement…

I think the answer is in the word “follow.” It implies a path, not an end point.

So my standard to guide my choices is this: Follow the path of joy.

Update

Here’s my tally as of June 10:

4107 pushups (100% on track)
324 pullups (79% on track)
619 burpees (100% on track)
2 hrs plank (98% on track)
1.37 hrs sitting meditation (17% on track)

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In my research on weight-loss, I discovered that loneliness is one of the biggest risk factors for weight gain. So it’s no surprise to me that when I feel lonely (often), I crave comfort foods (often).

What prompted me to write this post today is that I was just now feeling low energy and a bit discouraged with my lack of progress on some projects. So I chose to let myself feel those feelings. And a sadness came over me to the point of tears. Why am I crying? And the answer was clear. I’m lonely. And my next thought was: Go get junk food and/or beer. But I know that’s not a sustainable solution. Fuck it, who cares anyway? It doesn’t matter.

And so loneliness becomes hopelessness. Loneliness is my trigger for hopelessness.

The other side of this is that even when I’m with people, I often struggle to be present with them. Some people are very easy for me to engage with, to feel connected and present with. But with others, I get lost in my head no matter how strong my intention to be present is. I feel separate from them, and lonely even in their company.

On a related note, I’ve been neglecting the sitting meditation component of this 100-day experiment. Until today, that is. I sat for 10 minutes this morning. It’s time to emphasize my practice of presence, by myself (through sitting meditation) and with others.

I will also make an effort to socialize more regularly. And I will schedule more of my writing sessions outside of my house, at the library or at the coffee shop.

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Emotional state today: Up

Today is the final day of these 100 Days of Fitness. What began as a question (“Can I really do this?”) was answered in the affirmative by simple day-by-day persistence and commitment. To celebrate, I’d like to summarize in today’s post what I’ve learned and achieved.

Diet & Exercise

My intention when I began was to create a new, healthier relationship to food and exercise. I believe I have indeed achieved this. Most of the time I don’t miss the foods that I’ve cut out of my diet, and when I do miss them there’s a clear emotional need behind the craving. I only remember 4 “cheats,” all of which I’ve documented here: naan and a lassi at an Indian restaurant, homemade chocolate and bread that was a gift, a single beer (also a gift), and the 1 pretzel nugget and 3 jelly beans I had the other day.

I can feel that there’s been a shift in my eating habits, and I’ve decided that I want to continue eating this way at home. When I go out to a restaurant or friend’s house, I will have the option of loosening my guidelines, but I want that to be a conscious process. I believe this is a healthy next step for me.

Regarding exercise, I focused primarily on Vic Magary’s 31-Day Fat Loss Cure “Beginner Home” workout. I did not advance to the later workouts like I thought I would. I’m okay with that because even after 100 days, there’s still room for growth for me with this first workout routine. My intention is to stick with it until I complete the maximum sets/reps for each exercise. Then I will move on to the “Beginner Gym” routine.

Here’s a quick tally of various stats:

  • Weight lost: 6.6 lbs.
  • Burpees, max: In one workout, 92; consecutive, 50
  • Body squats, max: 125
  • Body lunges, max: 90
  • Squat jumps, max: 200
  • Pushups, max: 197
  • Workouts completed: 5 out of 7 (all but Workouts A and C)

I also learned that my capacity for intensity is a lot higher than I thought it was. The lesson I take from this is that I am capable of giving (and getting) more than I think I can, as long as I’m willing to do what’s uncomfortable.

Emotions

Underlying my intention to create a new relationship with food and exercise was a desire to confront some of the painful thoughts and feelings that lead me to make unhealthy choices. This was probably the biggest victory for me. I feel so much more capable of identifying what I’m feeling and why I’m feeling it, as well as how to shift that feeling to something “better.” By “better” I mean more aligned with my values and goals.

Just today I had two experiences that I noticed were sending me into a downward spiral of mood. One involved an interaction with a stranger that I was giving too much meaning to. I recognized this, asked my sister for some help to support me, and together we turned my mood around 180 degrees in probably 15 minutes or so. The second instance involved an interaction with someone very important to me. I noticed what was happened and chose to look at the situation differently and to play a different role, and all of the “problems” vanished as a result.

I’m also seeing just how closely productivity and mood are related to me. I define productivity as “the feeling you get from making progress on the things that are most important to you.” When I spend my time on things that are not important to me, I don’t feel good about life. I feel like I’m avoiding life, just like how I’ve avoided life by resorting to comfort foods. All of this stuff is connected, and I’m seeing those connections so clearly now.

Emotional State

Since I started tracking my emotional state, I’ve had 15 “up” days, 7 “down” or “very down” days, and 17 “not down” days. This blows my mind. 82% of the days were “not down” or “up.” This is a great life! And a stark contrast to the sad story I’ve been telling myself about my life. I think the key was realizing that the old story was based on the assumption that if a day wasn’t “up” it must have been “down.” This isn’t true. With that old story, I would have experienced 61% of my days as being “bad” days, versus 82% as being “good” days. That’s a huge difference. This tracking of my emotional state is an important tool that I plan to keep using.

In fact, the three most valuable tools I’ve discovered that will further my growth here are tracking my emotional states, using my “positivity playlists” on my iPod, and sitting meditation.

Sitting Meditation

Another one of the most important lessons from these 100 days is that sitting meditation is my clear priority in life. It’s the single most important thing I can do for my personal growth. And I’m starting to believe that by extension, it’s also the single most important thing I can do for the benefit of others.

I will keep sitting first thing in the morning. I’d like to create a habit of a solid 7 AM start time, but I’ve been struggling with getting to bed early enough for that to happen consistently. That’s my edge, and I’ll continue to focus on it.

A quick tally of my sits: I added sitting meditation to these 100 days on Day 65. In those final 35 days, I sat in meditation 35 times. There were days I did not sit, and there were a few days I sat twice.

Conclusion

I am so grateful for all of the people (including me!) and opportunities that have conspired to make this 100-day experiment possible. I’ve done this many times, and this has been the most valuable one yet.

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Emotional state today: Not down

I felt drowsy during my sit this morning because I stayed up late last night. I must remember that the quality of my sit is affected by how much sleep I get. My practice of meditation does not live in a vacuum. This is a holistic perspective of my life.

I did not workout today. I had an opportunity early this evening to do some pushups when I got home from my meetings, but I got distracted from that thought, and so half forgot and half blew it off.

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Emotional state today: Up

Triumvirate complete: Sat for meditation, wrote, worked out. Stark contrast to yesterday. I felt good about things today.

Today was Workout E, seven sets each of 10 lunges and 10 burpees. I completed the full workout in 21 minutes, the same amount of time as last time. But this time it felt easier. I probably could have pushed myself to a higher level of intensity, but I was being very attentive to my knee so that there would be no pain.

I had a very intense conversation (argument?) with a friend today. What was great about this is that I usually avoid conflicts like this at all costs. And when I can’t avoid them, they make me extremely uncomfortable, to the point where I get flustered and can’t think straight. But today I was able to maintain an intensity of style without the intensity of emotion. I felt relatively detached. I still cared very much about my argument and felt it (and the relationship with my friend) was worth the intensity and energy, but I didn’t feel that my sense of self was being threatened. This is maybe the first time I’ve ever experience conflict like this.

I can’t help but think that this experience is the result of the shifts I’ve made in these 100 days.

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Emotional state today: Down, ending not down

No meditation, no workout, skipped yoga class, no writing. Lots of anxiety, verging on panic. The feeling of “the day is getting away from me” kept getting stronger and stronger, and I almost stayed paralyzed and did nothing all day.

At about 3, I went for a walk with my iPod and cleared my head. I got back and was productive for an hour or two, and my mood went up.

My mood is definitely affected by my feeling of productivity, which is really a subjective assessment of how focused I am on things that are important and meaningful to me. And I’ve noticed that I seem to experience a mood/productivity momentum for the day. If things get going on a productive path, they seem to continue to get better from there. If things get stalled early, they get harder and harder to jumpstart as the day continues. Or so it seems. Today was an example of just how quickly I can turn things around.

The whole idea of a “day” is a story anyway. There’s no such thing as a “productive day” or an “unproductive day.” There’s just the question: How productive am I being right now?

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