The Hurry Habit

“Life moves fast enough. Do we really have to hurry it along?” -An anonymous person who lived over 4,000 years ago.

Maybe Monday’s should be renamed Hurry Day? Maybe once a year Mondays could be celebrated as National Hurry Day to bring attention to just how much in a hurry most people are?

It is interesting that Mondays (otherwise known as the first day of the Hurry Week) are proceeded by Sundays. Sundays are a day where most people take it slow. The great thing about Sundays is people seem to be able to just be themselves. They can live in a more relaxed and authentic way, as long as they are not in a hurry.

Mondays involve not only the beginning of The Hurry Week but also is the beginning of the compartmentalization week. All week people embrace a different personality when they are at work than when they are at home. There is a distinct division between who one is at work and who one is at home. This compartmentalized or fractured sense of self not only creates more anxiety and internal discord but can cause us to be in a hurry.

I could be wrong but when we are really being our authentic selves we don’t hurry around much. At least I don’t. The reason is because I am fully content right were I am. Therefore why hurry? It is only when we have to be someone else (compartmentalize) and become unfulfilled in the moment that we end up in a hurry. It is easy for hurrying to become a habit in a society which demands compartmentalization and unfulfillment in the moment. We are continually in a hurry to often catch up with the person we need to be.

Mindfulness is a continual practice of seeing life in terms of moments to be lived rather than tasks to be accomplished. When we live more in the moment the result is that there is less of a fractured sense of self (less of a self that is being pulled towards some future self). When practicing mindfulness we are fully grounded in this moment. This groundedness helps prevent too strong of a pulling towards some future self.

When we are pulled towards a future self all the time (meaning somewhere else that we are in a hurry to get to) we are pulled away from the person we are in the present moment. We are not grounded within ourselves. As long as we are in a hurry, we are like half selves running wild through the hurried world. Our full self is not present and this is often why we feel so stressed out, ungrounded, anxious, reactive, unfulfilled and worn down. When our full self is not present in each moment, stress and exhaustion is what often fills in the empty space.

In order to break the hurry habit it is crucial to be aware of when you are being pulled away from yourself, fractured from yourself because of a need to get to some future self fast (the self that needs to be at an appointment or work). If we are continually hurrying through the day, we are continually sending ourselves a message that right now is not good enough. How do we ever expect to feel good enough if we are continually sending ourselves this message from moment to moment? It is like continually trying to grow a flower out of cement. If anything you might reach a place where you feel so worn out that then you kind of feel good enough. But this is short lived. If you want to break the hurry habit, be willing to know when you are being pulled towards the future and then pull back.

Everyone gets to where they need to be. Sometimes we are late, sometimes we are not but in the larger scheme of things does it really matter that much? Is it really worth hurrying through your life so much that you end up at an older age feeling like you squandered much time because you were always in a hurry to get someplace else?

Trust that you will get to wherever you need to be next when you get there. Everything will work out. And if it doesn’t, that is ok also. Such is life. It is not worth squandering this moment of your life for the next. No way. Be here now even if you have someplace to be next. Notice that you are breathing. Notice that you are hearing sounds. Notice that you are alive now and this realization of being alive in this moment is really as good as it gets.

Mindfulness is a way of pulling back against the habit of hurrying away from yourself towards some future self. Being a fractured self is not a fun way to live. Trust me, I know. Hurrying does become a habit when we are regularly living like fractured people. If you want to live your life with more ease and presence, if you want to be more grounded within your authentic and full self, I recommend pulling back when you notice you are in a hurry. Even if it is Monday.

Confessions Of An Imperfect Mindfulness Teacher

When I began my formal mindfulness training in 1998, it was certainly not to become a mindfulness teacher. This was the furthest thing from my mind. I wanted to work on myself and potentially heal the various physical and psychological issues that I was struggling with. I wanted to find more peace and quiet in a mind that was up until that point filled with worry, panic, anger, uncertainty, confusion and self-judgment. The irony is that today I still practice mindfulness for the exact same reasons that I started practicing almost two decades ago.

I have never had any interest in enlightenment or nirvana. I have never had much interest in transcending my more materialistic or egoic limitations through some sort of spiritual transformation. I have zero problems with other people who are interested in spirituality and religion (unless they try and push their beliefs onto me), these belief systems have just never really been for me. I have always been someone who prefers learning how to be fully right here, right now. My interest is in learning how to be as fully present in my life as is humanly possible, since I realize that my struggles with worry, dissatisfaction and anxiety are mainly a result of thoughts about the future and my struggles with anger and depression are mainly rooted in thoughts about the past.

The more and more that I have cultivated the ability to be fully present, fully right here and right now- the less that I have struggled with anxiety, dissatisfaction, worry, anger and depression. But being fully present, for me, is a daily, moment by moment practice. The more I practice the less tormented I get. The more present I become. This is my practice in a nutshell.

I do find it challenging to be a mindfulness teacher. Like I said, I never set out to teach mindfulness. I was always happy learning mindfulness from and practicing with others who were much further down the path than I was. My wife and I started the mindfulness group in Claremont because after moving to Claremont from the San Fransisco Bay Area, I could find no place in LA to practice mindfulness. I started the group so that I could have a place to practice mindfulness with others, and I feel very grateful for what this group has become.

But I still see myself as a mindfulness practitioner, not really a teacher. When I lead mindfulness individual sessions, groups and seminars I look at it more as sharing my practice with others (rather than instructing others in what they should do). I talk about the things that I am practicing in my own life in the hopes that other people will use my mindfulness practice as a foundation from which to go forward and build their own practice. Mindfulness is a very creative practice. I have found that no two ways of practicing mindfulness are exactly the same. Over time, everyone makes mindfulness into something that is their own if they are doing it right. I suppose this is why I am drawn to mindfulness practice- it is an open and creative practice that only really works for a person if they find a way to turn into into something that is their own creation.

This may be why it is challenging for me to be a mindfulness teacher. I think a lot of self-help, motivational, religious or meditation teachers must struggle with this. There seems to be this unspoken expectation that the teacher is this perfect person that has it all figured out and is going to pass along to the student how they have figured everything out and healed themselves completely. As a result the student will be transformed and fixed. No more problems in life. I am yet to meet a teacher who has no problems or issues (though many will present themselves this way in order to succeed in their position) but I think it is the collective expectation. There is no doubt that the most successful spiritual, self-help, religious and mediation teachers are the ones who present as having it all figured out. Masters at their craft.

I am a flawed individual who struggles with various emotional and psychological issues just like every other human being on earth. As someone who teaches mindfulness I do not want to give off the disingenuous impression that I am a master who has figured it all out. This would be a terrible way to have to live my life- being someone who I am not. And more money in the bank is just not worth it. I want to be a very human mindfulness teacher, one who struggled just like everyone else but applies mindfulness to better manage my daily struggles. This feels more interesting to me.

I try to be as open and transparent as possible about my struggles as a human being so that I can help others to see how I apply mindfulness to better my mental and physical health. This I feel is the most important teaching that I can offer other people. It allows me to continue to feel authentic and truthful in how I present myself to the world. I feel that it is also an important learning opportunity for those who struggle with similar issues. I practice mindfulness for the same reason that everyone else does- I am trying to obtain more presence and peace in my life. I presume that if I ever arrive at a point where I have achieved absolute peace, perfection and presence, I will probably no longer have the desire to teach.

Many people think that mindfulness is a very simplistic practice. What do you mean just breathe when I still have all this anger in me and issues that I need to figure out? What do you mean just breathe and hear sounds when I am really struggling with serious problems that need to be resolved in my life? There are things I really need to figure out! I can certainly relate to this since I at one time felt the exact same way.

Mindfulness may seem simplistic because life is filled with so much suffering and agony. Who knows, maybe we will all go to our graves kicking and screaming but I feel that the pursuit of peace is a very noble pursuit (especially after a lifetime of suffering). Even if a continual state of presence and peace is just not possible in our fast-paced contemporary world, it is the pursuit that is important. And it has been my experience that through pursuing peace and presence, I have experienced a lot more peace and presence in my life. The alternative is more suffering. The most important part of mindfulness practice is a willingness to no longer be as defined by our suffering. Everything else gradually falls into place once we are willing to begin the process of letting it go.

Reflections While Sitting In A Chair

I sit down in my chair. I set my meditation timer for thirty minutes and then place the palms of my hands on my knees. I feel the material of my sweat pants. I straighten my spine, place both feet flat on the ground. I notice my shoulders are constricted so I loosen them down towards the ground. I move my chin slightly in towards my chest. I then close my eyes.

Here I am, sitting in a chair. I am aware of myself as I am in this moment. I can feel the back of the chair pressing against my spine. I notice the bottom part of my body pressing into the seat of the chair. There is the sound of a distant train. Birds are singing their songs.

I follow my breathing as oxygen moves in and out through my nose. I notice my chest expanding and contracting with each inhalation and exhalation. There are a plethora of sensations in my body. Tingling sensations. Pulsations. Pressure. Tightness. A pleasant feeling of relaxation and space.

I am just sitting here doing nothing except being present with life. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. Just sitting.

I pay attention to my breathing as if I were on a walk with a friend. Breathing in and out. I notice that my brain is generating a lot of thoughts. It’s busy upstairs, I think to myself. I notice how I am thinking about many different things. Thoughts that come out of nowhere and go back in to nowhere. I continually let thoughts go by returning my attention to this moment.

There are so many chirping birds out there. Why are they making so much noise? What are they so happy about? Thinking, I tell myself and then bring my attention back to the present moment. In the distance I can hear cars speeding by. There goes a siren. Hope someone is getting the help they need. An airplane moves across the sky. I follow the sound of the airplane until it disappears.

Is that an owl that I hear? Maybe not. what could it be? There is a fly buzzing around the room. I can’t stand the sound that a fly makes as it flies around the room. So much nervous energy! Chill out man! Should I get up and swat it? No just learn to live with it. Let it be there and respect all life. I realize that I am lost in thought again and no longer paying attention to my breathing. I return my attention to following my breathing. Breathe in, breathe out, I repeat to myself. I notice the sensations of my feet touching the ground.

My head has tilted backwards, causing my chin to point slightly up towards the sky. I slowly bring my chin back down towards my chest. Feels more comfortable this way, I think to myself.

A bird flies past my window.

It’s a bit cold in this room. Should I get up and turn on the heat? Just be present with the cold. Just let the cold be there. Ok. Follow your breathing. I notice that I am telling myself this. Thinking again, I say to myself.

There is the sound of a barking dog. What kind of dog is it? Another airplane moves across the sky. I hear a high pitched beeping sound. Maybe it is a truck in reverse? There is a tingling sensation all over my body. I smile as I realize that I am fully aware of the experience that I am having in this moment. Fully present and aware. How pleasant it feels to just be fully here in this moment. It comes on quick and then goes away just as fast.

I notice a painful sensation in my back. Maybe I should move a bit just to lessen the pain? No, just let the pain be there. Accept the pain as it is and just continue to follow your breathing. I notice that I am thinking and I return my attention to following my breathing, hearing various sounds, feeling my feet on the ground, noticing my chest expanding and contracting with each breath. I let the pain be there as it is. The pain becomes tolerable. I can live with it.

Another airplane is moving across the sky. So many airplanes. Humans are so busy, always coming and going and moving at such high speeds. It’s a kind of collective madness. The world needs to slow down! I notice that I am thinking again and return my attention to my breathing.

I follow my breathing as it moves in and out through my nose. Breathing in, breathing out. My dog barks. My head falls back without me even noticing. I bring my chin back down towards my chest. I am aware of my chest expanding and contracting with each breath. How much longer this is going to last? I notice that I am thinking again.

So many other thoughts that keep coming and going. Thoughts about this, thoughts about that- mostly nonsense. It seems as if my brain is moving as quickly as the cars and airplanes out there in the world. I notice all different kinds of thoughts. There is a judgmental thought. There is a worried thought. There is an angry thought. There is a thought about the future. There is another judgmental thought. Thought after thought, like a stream with no end.

I get caught up in certain thoughts. The fearful and judgmental thoughts are particularly sticky. Just being aware that I am thinking allows me to return my attention to the present moment. I let the thought go. Again and again.

This is the only thing I need to be doing right now, I tell myself. I am present with my life as it is right now.

And then there are more thoughts. When is the dam timer going to go off? Hasn’t it been thirty minutes already? I notice that I am thinking again and then return my attention to my breathing. The singing birds are now quiet. An airplane moves across the sky. Busy air travel day, I think. I feel my digestion. I notice a pain in my gut. It could be cancer. It could be an ulcer. You are getting older. There you go again, I tell myself. Just by being aware of the fearful thoughts I notice that the thoughts disappear. I return my attention to my breathing. I feel calm.

There is the sensation of pain in my back. There is a openness in my chest that was not there before. Bird sounds and a ringing sensation in my ears. I am breathing. I am just sitting here in a chair. I notice how good it feels to be present with my life as it is. I am just being. I smile.

Maybe I should meditate again later? I want to keep feeling this way. There is an absence of all anxiety. Thinking again, I tell myself. I notice the sound of truck. There is that fly again. Just let it be.

I sit there. Fly sounds. Cars sounds. Bird sounds. Airplane sounds. My life.

The palms of my hands are still resting on my knees. My chin is pointing up at the sky again. My hands feel cold. There are various pulsations in my fingertips. Is that an owl that I hear or some other kind of bird?

The timer goes off. I open my eyes. I smile.

The Mindfulness Bookmark

If you are anything like me, it is a continual effort to remain present. I have a brain that is constantly looking for the next thing, continually thinking about doing something else, continually worrying about what might go wrong, continually planning, evaluating and judging. My brain is a control freak. It wants to figure everything out. It wants to take care of everything. It wants to think about things that will most likely never happen. My brain seems to only really rest when I watch a movie, stare off into my iPhone, listen to music, meditate or engage in other activities that engage my attention and focus.

My brain is a brain that resists the security, fulfillment and clarity of the present moment.

For whatever reason, my brain is always on duty. Always getting ahead of me. Always judging and resisting. Always pushing away and reacting. Always projecting itself into the future. In psychological terminology this is referred to as hyperactivity or chronic hyperarousal (normally the result of trauma). The diagnosis for this is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a condition that is all too common in our modern world.

My brain always wants to accomplish things. It wants to figure things out. “Go, go, go!!,” it says. After a cup of coffee it really gets going. It judges, it projects, it worries, it imagines. It is fascinating watching my brain do what it does. I don’t need to watch films or television- the activity of my brain is entertaining enough. I don’t want to imagine what it was like for me when I was not able to observe the workings of my brain but instead was just helplessly going along with wherever it took me. It got so bad in my twenties that I needed Paxil, weed and booze to cope. Can not imagine the road I would of gone down without running into mindfulness practice.

Michael Brown, a meditation teacher and author, calls this kind of brain the conditioned, unconscious brain. What is meant by unconscious is that the individual is not aware of how their thoughts are creating their subjective experience. This is often what is meant by “you do it to yourself.” He refers to this unconsciousness factor as the fundamental and all pervasive human illness. It is responsible for more stress related physical illnesses, broken marriages, violent behaviors, accidents, dysfunctional relationships, addictive behaviors, mental health issues and general life dissatisfaction levels than we are even close to being aware of. It is the cause of so many undesirable effects.

In my psychotherapy practice, I see proof of this all day, everyday. The root of the vast majority of mental duress that I see people suffering from (and medicating for) is a brain that is running out of control. The speed at which a person’s out of control thoughts are moving is exhausting their body, causing uncomfortable and sometimes serious physical and psychological symptoms. Their brain is worn down by all the rapid-fire thinking and as a result they feel anxious, depressed, tired and chronically worried. They are often totally unconscious about how their thoughts are creating their subjective experience. The moment these individuals are able to slow things down, to become more conscious and focused in the present moment- it is amazing to watch the uncomfortable mental and physical symptoms that tormented them melt away. The hard part is getting them to come back to this more conscious space when not in my office! How easy it is to be taken over by an out of control brain without any technique in place to slow it down.

For me, mindfulness practice is not about abolishing my ego and becoming an all-loving-enlightened-being. It is not about attaining some spiritual or religious realizations that allow me to live in a space of bliss, love, peace and truth. Not interested in that. I like my ego too much to hand it over. I value the wide range of human emotions I experience and the various creations of the ego such as literature, art, music, film, design and ideas. I use mindfulness as a way to continually bring myself back to the present moment. For me, mindfulness practice is like using a bookmark while reading. I am continually moving forward in my life, experiencing a wide range of emotions, feelings and thoughts- mindfulness practice just allows me to mark the space I am at. To remember the place I am in right now.

I am continually bookmarking myself. This is my mindfulness practice. Bookmarking here, bookmarking there. Bookmarking when I get angry, irritated, anxious, excited, depressed, judgmental, worried, nervous. Bookmarking when I notice that I am in a hurry and when I am in a difficult situation. Bookmarking when I notice that I am worrying about the future or resisting what is happening in the present. I am continually bookmarking myself, again and again and again. It is like I am a reader with ADD, continually starting and then stopping, starting and stopping. As a result of this practice, I am continually coming back to solid ground. I experience more peace and wellbeing. More clarity and calm. A deep sense of confidence, contentment and creativity. I don’t need medications or magical elixirs to calm things down. I can take care of that by using the mindfulness bookmark throughout my day. In whatever situation I am in. Again and again and again, continually bringing myself back to the place that I am in right now. Remembering to pay attention in this moment, to this breath- the only place real sanity can be found.

The Impact Of Anxiety

You are driving along in your car and you can not stop talking to yourself. You are so caught up in mental chatter that you do not even know how you pulled into the driveway.

You stand up from sitting in a chair and do not even recall the process of standing up because you were so busy thinking about what you need to do next.

You are walking up a flight of stairs and you do not remember going up the stairs because you were thinking about something that just happened downstairs (We only become present once we trip and fall).

While sitting on the couch reading a book, you can not enjoy reading the book because you can’t stop thinking about everything that needs to get done. You give up on the book and turn the TV on because it is the only thing that quiets your chattering mind.

The opposite of mindfulness is anxiety. Anxiety is a state of being disembodied. We are so identified with thought (ego), mainly about what we fear happening in the future, that almost everything else gets excluded. Anxiety is irrational (because it is not fully aware of what is occurring now), whereas mindfulness is rational (because it is aware and accepting of what is happening right now). Mindfulness is an aware and embodied state of being. When we are embodied, meaning we are aware of this breath, this step, this feeling, that thought, that sound- we are being mindful. Anxiety only exists when we live from the neck up.
The situations above describe various common states of disembodiment, which all have one cause in common- anxiety.

Anxiety steals our life from us in the same way that an angry partner or parent might steal our joy. When we are anxious we are losing precious time worrying about things that are not happening right now. The simple, embodied pleasures of driving a car, walking down a hallway, sitting and standing, breathing, moving your fingers, seeing, listening to sounds (which are usually only realized to be such fulfilling pleasures once they are lost) are stolen away from us because of our ego’s obsession with the past and future (fantasy). We become detached from this moment and as a result we feel disembodied and unstable. This is the doorway where mental illness sneaks in.

We worry about going broke, getting sick, losing our jobs, having a partner cheat on us, those we love getting hurt, our house burning down, ending up in hell and/or things falling from the sky. Our uncontrolled minds turn small, superficial lumps into giant, solid mountains. Our minds conjure up frightening images of what could happen in the future or what happened in the past, sending our bodies into chronic fight or flight mode. We develop headaches, heart troubles, breathing problems, high blood pressure, sleep issues, stomach issues, panic attacks, relationship disturbances all because we can not stop thinking about what is not happening right now! This is why anxiety can often feel like a kind of psychosis. There is a real division between reality (this moment) and what we are imaging in our heads.

Anxiety pulls us deep, deep, deep into our heads. So deep sometimes that we actually confuse the shadows on the wall for reality. The deeper we go into the shadows (past or future) the more we are becoming disembodied. It is only when we are disembodied that we feel feel like we are losing control. Mindfulness is a tool for pulling ourselves away from the shadows and returning to what is real right now.

When we train in mindfulness, first and foremost we are developing the skill of calling the egos bluff. We learn to laugh at the egos ridiculousness, moment by moment. We become aware of our egos never ending chatter in the same way that a flash light can illuminate a dark space. When we learn how to observe the ego without allowing it to run our minds and bodies into the ground, we notice that our ego is a never ending stream of disconnected thoughts. The ego resists accepting reality in the same way that we might resist the dentist. If we were able to play the thoughts that our ego generate through loud speakers and then listen, most likely it would sound like someone who makes no sense and whom you may not be comfortable leaving someone you care about alone with. And this is what we are allowing to drive our lives? No thanks.

If we chose not to suffer this all too human fate, we have options. One option is that we can continually ask ourselves, “What am I doing right now that is causing me to be mindless?” Often times, just by asking this question we will return to a more aware and mindful state. The anxiety will lose its grip, our blood pressure will settle down, we will notice that we are breathing and then we can make a choice. “Do I want to remain present with my life as it is right now or do I want to let the anxiety take over control again?” Ten minutes might pass and you will notice that you are lost in thought again. Then ask yourself the question again, “What am I doing right now that is causing me to be mindless?” As the day goes on and you continue to ask yourself this question- just notice the results. Notice if you begin to feel less anxious and more embodied. It is something that does not require much effort to do but what you get back in return is often what the impact of anxiety is stealing from you- your life right now.

(My Final Blog Post) Some Go To The Mountains, I Go To The Backyard

This will be my final blog post on mindfulness for some time. I want to begin dedicating my writing time to writing a novel. My hope is that in my past dozen or so writings on mindfulness I have covered a large amount of territory when it comes to implementing mindfulness practice in daily life. This final post is a less instructional/theoretical and a more personal portrait of my own experience with mindfulness practice. It is a bit long but hopefully worth the time. See if as you read it you can remain aware of your breath. Enjoy.

Morning Coffee

In a book I was reading I came across a quote by John Muir, which said: “I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get into the mountains to learn the news.” With my black ink pen, I crossed out the word mountains and underneath wrote backyard.

There is an EXIT sign that hangs on the front of the wooden gate that leads into my backyard.

With a cup of coffee and whatever book I am reading I head into my backyard around 7am. I sit in a wooden chair, which generates a symphony of bending and cracking sounds. I am aware that one morning I will go into my backyard as I always do, sit down with my book and coffee and the chair will split open leaving me in the dirt, covered in hot coffee and the crumpled up pages of a book. I will burst into a fit of laughter. It is only a matter of time before this happens.

I have a difficult time paying attention to the book I am reading. Instead, I normally sip my coffee and look around. I focus on breathing, listening, sensations. I watch the plethora of birds that loiter around in my yard. Their language seems to calm my already over-active mind. I notice all kinds of unrelated thoughts making their way across the screen of my consciousness. I notice squirrels digging holes under the lemon tree. I notice a flock of doves resting in the avocados tree.

Through a large mirror that I placed in the back corner of my backyard I watch the reflection of clouds clearing and reveling an open space so massive and incomprehensible that it puts my worries and pre-occupations into a more meaningful perspective.

Once I am half way through my cup of coffee and grounded by my bare feet resting on the grass, I feel the lethargy clearing enough so that I feel ready to read. Something about caffeine makes even the dullest of books enjoyable.

As I read I pay attention to the cacophony of sounds. Birds, squirrels, planes, leaf blowers, car horns, bees, barking dogs, the neighbors radio, sirens, pulsations in my body. Behind all of the sounds I can also hear the underlying sound of silence. Hindus call this sound Om. I try not to call it anything.

Once I am finished with my cup of coffee I feel as jumpy as the small birds skipping around in the trees. I notice a thought that says: maybe I should stop drinking coffee. Another thought remembers one of my favorite meditation teachers who loved coffee because he said it “wakes us up!” I feel an excitement towards life that was not there before coffee. I am ready to do something beyond just reading. I need to get up and move around or go write. Sitting still is more of a challenge when the coffee cup is empty.

An empty coffee cup marks the end of my favorite time of day.

Afternoon Sun

With my shirt off and no shoes on my feet I become an explorer of my backyard. I look around under the lemon trees and I find areas where I feel most removed from the outside world. I water the community of plants that my wife and I care for like children or pets. With a broom I eradicate uninhabited spider webs and clear dirt and dust from walkways. When I get tired I rest in the sun.

It’s while sitting in the afternoon sun that I feel most present. It is almost as if the sun is a present moment generating machine. There are fears that run through my mind on a daily basis but fear of the sun is not one of them. I live in a time when most people are so afraid of the sun that they are willing to cover themselves in a toxic lather to avoid its harm.

I can’t help think that by avoiding the sun we lose so much of what makes us human. We become more digitalized and dehumanized when we spend most of our time inside. I am convinced this is a deeper, more metaphysical explanation for why we can’t see our computer or phone screens while sitting in the sun.

When people ask me if I have a swimming pool in my backyard I think: No, but I have sun. A good day is when no one comes around, I have nothing to do and I can spend the afternoon in my backyard swimming around in the sun, while floating in a book and in my breath.

Mid-Afternoon Napping

Many years ago I visited a naturopath to try and find a solution for my anxiety and depression. He asked me if I had anger issues. I told him that I did. He told me that I would first have to take care of that before any progress could be made with the anxiety and depression. I asked him how I could do that since so much of what made me angry was out of my control. He told me to take twenty minutes everyday, roll out a blanket on the grass and try and take a nap. His prescription did not make sense to me. How could this do anything for my anger? Wasn’t I just being lazy, which would make me angrier? But I started doing it anyways.

My most irritable, agitated and anxious days are those days when I do not have the time to roll out a blanket and take a small nap on the grass in my backyard. When I am away from home in the afternoon I will sometimes take a ten-minute break and visualize myself resting in the grass. I see myself lying on my back. I can hear the sounds of the birds and bees reporting to me the news of the day. I can feel the earth’s radiation causing my body tingle and warm up. I can feel what neurobiologists refer to as coherence.

Any day that I can take a nap in my backyard for twenty minutes is a day that anxiety and anger seem to be absent. I want to call that naturopath and thank him for the tip, but he has since moved on to practice meditation full-time in Thailand.

Sunset

Thoreau said that the person who watches the sunset, longs for nothing while watching the colors changing in the sky. Watching the sunset is meditation.

It seems that one of my German Shepherds appreciates the sunset even more than I do. When I am home during sunset hours I can feel him telling me that it is time to get out of the confines of my house and venture out into the backyard.

Together we walk through the gate with the EXIT sign on it.

We go into an isolated corner of the backyard, where it is easier to maintain the illusion that I am far off in nature and there are not other people living all sides of me. There are piles of fallen leaves, an orange wheel barrel standing on its side, yellow plastic garden chairs, dozens of empty pots and garden tools. It’s the kind of spot where you could take off all your clothes and feel comfortable that no one else can see.

Next to me my dog sits on his back two legs and keep his front legs and chest straightened so he can see over the plants and up into the clear patch of sky. I sit in the yellow plastic garden chair, which always seems to have a spider or two resting in its web. I feel bad about disturbing their rest so I share the space with them.

For however long into takes for day to turn into night, my dog and I are fully absorbed in what is going on all around. There is an indescribable pleasure and serenity that overcomes a person when the borders of skin and identity that keep us separated from the world, fall away. If boredom is the unpleasant absence of all desire, then watching the sunset in my backyard with my dog is a kind of pleasurable boredom. In must be similar to what Zen Buddhists call satori- a state of clear seeing unobstructed by ego.

It usually takes me a few minutes or so to get into the fully present space. My mind is normally racing with all kinds of irrelevant things. Things I need to do, things I did not do, worrying about what could happen, remembering things in the past. My dog however gets there right away and does not come out of it until it is dark and I get up and say, “lets go.”

A good day is a day that ends in a remote corner of my backyard with my dog and I following the sunset to its end.

Midnight

I don’t enjoy traveling or going away too long from my home. I’m not afflicted with a chronic feeling of wanderlust. As a child my parents “dragged” me all around the world and by the age of eighteen I made the conscious decision to be done- to stay local. These days if the weather is nice and I am away from home for too long, I notice this nagging feeling that I am losing precious time that I could be spending in my backyard.

When I was a child (and there is an aspect to being a child that I hope not to ever lose) I had a hint of what my adult life would be like. I was on a river rafting trip with my then handsome, wanderlust consumed and robust father. As we were gently paddling down a calm section of the river I noticed a small shack made of wood. There were clothes hanging on a clothesline and a chair leaning up against a small shack. I asked my dad what that was since we were in a very remote part of the Sierras. He said, “That is where a hermit lives son.” I immediately responded by saying, “I want to be a hermit when I grow up.” He did not look pleased.

My backyard is the place where I feel most pleasantly alone. Granted it is not the mountains that John Muir wondered in. My backyard is situated in a lower middle class, Los Angeles suburb. There are people, pollution, freeways, telephone polls and other pollution causing human inventions all around. But whenever I am in my backyard with all of the plants, trees and wildlife- the entire outside world becomes irrelevant.

It is especially around midnight that I get closest to what John Muir must of felt in his mountains.

Before bed I like to take my flash light and wonder for a bit in my backyard. I walk along small pathways in the same way that I silently walked along pathways at meditations retreats years ago. I am listening, breathing and moving slow. I look around. The suburbs are asleep and other than a few passing sirens chasing someone’s inevitable personal tragedy, only the more spacious sounds of the midnight can be heard.

No birds, no dogs barking- just the subtle humming feedback loops that midnight makes.

I walk onto the center of the lawn where above me there is nothing but the large sky. I stare into the sky where I can see some stars, some planets and a few passing planes. I watch the spectacle above my head in the same way that I imagine people have been looking up into the sky for hundreds of thousands of years. Sometimes I notice a few tears leaking out from my eyes, sometimes not. But standing there in space, outside of time- I always feel gratitude.

Gratitude for the experience that I am having in that moment. Gratitude for all the experiences I have ever had. Even the shitty ones.

All of the frustrations, worries and other preoccupations that took up a large part of my day seem to disappear. A middle-aged man with a flashlight in his hand, present in what feels like the center of the universe, staring up into the night sky at the beginnings of the twenty first century.

I count my breaths from one to ten and then from ten to one. I turn off my flashlight and head towards bed.