Six Honest Ways To Create Mindfulness Now.

Mindfulness is an attitude or a way of perceiving reality just like being identified with thoughts and feelings is an attitude or a way of perceiving reality. Just like everything else in life, possessing an attitude of mindfulness is a choice. A choice that ultimately leads to less suffering. Here are six thing you can do right now to create more mindfulness in your life:

 
1) Are you identified with negative judgments right now? Not liking someone or something? Wanting things to be different than how they are? Feeling bad or critical about yourself or thinking that you are right and others are dumb? Being identified with negative judgments is like burning ourselves with a flame. It hurts. As long as we identify with our negative judgments we will be unhappy people. It is not that you will suddenly stop having negative judgments, but see if you can just be aware of them without acting upon them or articulating them. Just leave them alone and notice how when you do this they go away.

2) Are you reacting to distressing feelings? Do you continually try and push away, deny or get rid of feelings of distress? Feelings of distress are as normal as the sun coming up in the morning. If we do not learn how to skillfully deal with our distressful feelings we will suffer. See if you can notice when distressing feelings arise in you and then just welcome them. Even though distressing feelings are uncomfortable, who said life should be comfortable all the time? Why keep fighting against it? How about just letting the feelings of distress be there? Become mindful of your distressing feelings and leave them alone. Notice how the moment you welcome them (rather than react to them) they lose their potency and are no longer as distressing anymore.

3) Are you accepting your life as it is in this moment? Or are you trying to change or fix things about this moment? Make things how you think they should be? Good luck. This is a mountain that no one ever reaches the top of. Life just becomes a continual climb to nowhere. Not wanting to feel what we are already feeling in this moment is the surest way to make what we are feeling worse. See if you can just be aware of where you are at in this moment. Notice how it feels. Now see if you can just accept it. Leave it alone. Let it be. Stop trying to swim against the current. Acceptance is the key which opens the door to a more peaceful and calm life. The trouble is that most of us can’t seem to find the key. I am handing you the key. Here. Accept what is right now. Leave it alone. Alan Watts said, “Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”

4) Are you in a hurry right now? Do you want to get rid of some uncomfortable feeling in your body right away? Do you need to have things the way you think they should be now? Do you have to have everything all figured out and tightened up now? Good luck again. How about being patient? Isn’t patience a fundamental virtue? So just be patient. Leave things alone. Stop trying to change or fix things. Be willing to accept things as they are and then just be patient. Patient requires a kind of faith or trust that everything will work out. When we are patient we are willing to sit with uncertainty and not knowing. We just leave things as they are and find patience in learning to live with the uncertainty. Another way to think about being patient is be willing to be comfortable with the discomfort. This is a fundamental aspect of meditation practice and of living a good life. Life is uncomfortable so it is very beneficial to learn how to be comfortable with discomfort.

5) Daniel Higgs, a poet, wrote, “Anything outside of the present moment is a form of slavery.” Mindfulness is a way of being that is aware of each passing moment. Life is viewed as moments to be lived rather than task after task to be accomplished. As we grow older years seem to pass by in the blink of an eye but moments or even hours seem to maintain a similar duration as when we were younger. When we create so many problems and issues and things to do in our lives we are no longer aware of the passing moments. We are being pulled into the future continually or dragged back into the past all the time. We rarely seem to tend to the passing moments in our lives and then when we reach 40 or 50 or 60 we think, “Wow, my life went by so fast!” Yes it did. You were not aware of the passing moments. Be present. Tend to the moments of your life if you want to live a life that feels longer. If you don’t want to do this, that is fine, but please don’t be surprised when it feels like life went by so fast.

6) Are you lost in your head right now? Thinking about all kinds of things? Judging what I am writing? Thinking about other stuff? What about your body? What is going on there? Our bodies are always present. Our noses, our toes, our ears, our lips, our lungs, our heart, our knees- they all exist in the present. It is only this small portion of our brain that creates thoughts that usually have something to do with some place other than right now. We have been conditioned to be more identified with this very small section of our brain rather than the other 99% of what is going on with our bodies. Being aware of our senses is an incredible satisfying experience. Notice the various sensations in your body. Notice smells and tastes. See if you can pay attention to hearing, breathing and really notice things that are around you. Mindfulness is a way of fully inhabiting the space where our bodies are already at. See if you can be more in tune with the sensory experience that you are having from moment to moment, rather than ignoring all of this because of being too lost in thought. Sometimes we get so lost in thought that a panic attack seems to be the only way our body can get our attention. It doesn’t have to come to this. See if you can tune your mind into being more aware of your sensory experience as you make your way through your day.

And finally, I forgot who said it but I wrote this quote down in my notebook: “If we love the little moments ferociously, than maybe we can learn to live well not in spite of death but because of it. Let death be what takes us, not lack of imagination.”

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How To Radically Improve The Quality Of Your Life Right Now.

The real question for any human being who is struggling or suffering is, “How can you change the here and now rather than needing to get someplace else in order to feel better?” When we practice mindfulness techniques we are engaging in a strategy of mental freedom: the transformation of the negative, habitual and familiar ways of being into more calm, content and self-regulating ways of living.

The main point of mindfulness meditation is to gradually learn how to identify your own habitual, negative, self-destructive thought patterns and then to be able to bring yourself out of them. You are learning how to become aware of when you are lost in habitual thought and then you are learning how to shorten the duration of these negative thought patterns by focusing your attention on the present moment and then letting the thoughts go.

When I teach people this simple technique the most common answer I hear is, “It is so obvious and simple but so hard to remember to do!” It is hard because we are so easily absorbed into our negative ways of thinking. These ways of thinking are familiar and habitual. They are learned when we are kids and most of us reinforce them for our entire lives. Even though these negative thought processes cause us so much pain and suffering, we still refuse to let them go.

It is through the continual practice of mindfulness meditation that we gradually learn that we do have a choice, we can chose to let negative thoughts go. Doing this on a daily basis can radically improve the quality of your life. It really is that simple but you have to be willing to practice it. No one can do it for you and I guess this is what ultimatly makes it hard.

I used to be so deeply identified with negative, habitual thinking. It was never ending. I was angry most of the time, always stressed out and worried about everything. I had a severe anxiety disorder, which landed me in more emergency rooms than I want to admit. I was always angry at my parents and even after years of therapy I could not get the angry thoughts out of my head. (It did not help that they were continually behaving in ways that upset me.) The only temporary “solution” that I found that worked was Paxil and booze. But once the booze wore off and the Paxil kicked back in, I felt sedated most of the time with a low level feeling of anxiety, impending doom and anger just waiting to break through the surface. It was a really unpleasant cycle that I never imagined I would come out of. Fifteen years later and lots of time spent practicing mindfulness meditation- and the cycle has ended only because I am now able to stop it before it gets started.

Through the practice of mindfulness mediation I have cultivated the ability to be aware of when I start to become identified with negative, habitual thinking and 95% of the time I am able to let these thoughts go and return my focus to a more peaceful and satisfied present moment awareness. What a remarkable difference this has made in my overall quality of life! No longer lost in the same, repetitive, negative thought patterns that held me hostage for so many years.

The same old habitual, negative thought processes are still there. I presume they will always be there more or less. It is how my brain developed. But by noticing when I begin to become identified with the negative, habitual thoughts and then by letting them go, I am continually able to change my here and now experience. Where once I would be angry or anxious for hours, days or weeks I am now able to feel calm and at ease in under five minutes (most of the time). I am able to transform my present moment experience so that I experience more well-being and contentment and be much, much less caught up in the drama that once filled my entire life.

This is how we radically improve the quality of our lives right now. It is a continual practice of being aware of and then letting habitual, negative thoughts go. I have trained as a psychotherapist, been through years of my own psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, read immense amounts of self help books. I have been in and out of doctor’s offices and endlessly searched for answers and it is only this simple mindfulness technique that I have found really works when properly applied. It is all we need to do. We just have to be willing to do it. Again and again and again. Day in and day out.

Letting the negative, habitual thoughts go by bring your attention back to right now. What one meditation teacher I studied with calls, “Hearing the birds chirping in the trees rather than being lost in the thoughts whirling around in your tired mind.”

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.

CHAOS and Why You Keep Creating It

Chaos abounds. It is everywhere. Just walk out your front door and you will find it (unless you live in the woods). If you are like most people in our complex and “civilized” society, you probably experience an equal or greater amount of chaos in your own head and relationships, as the chaos that you notice in the outside world. The macrocosm is just a reflection of the microcosm, so the ancient saying goes.

So what can we do about all this chronic chaos in our lives? Can we live chaos free? Why not? After all, the chaos is more threatening to our health and longevity than most of what we eat, drink and breathe on a daily basis. The chaos is equally as addictive as alcohol but like excessive alcohol use, it also creates disease. So it is in our best interest to learn to live without out chaos before we are forced to learn this lesson through tragedy or illness. Those who are already ill, might want to consider listening to what shamans have been saying for thousands of years and devote themselves to a steady course of chaos-free-living, since ultimately this is where healing grows from.

Just like our skin color, our hair, our toes and our height, we are genetically predisposed to chaos. Chaos (behavioral patterns) is passed down through families, just like money and possessions are. Behavioral patterns are partly genetic, but they are also a learned behavior. If chaos was all genetic, it would be impossible to stop creating it. But since creating chaos is also a learned behavior (we learn it in our childhoods from those who are our primary care givers and we learn it from the world we perceive around us), there are alternatives.

First, it is important to realize that 98% of the chaos in your life is self-created. Chaos is what you create because you do not know how not to. At a neurobiological level, your limbic brain is running the show. The limbic brain (lower brain functioning) is focused on survival, and when we are in its grip we see threats and danger everywhere. Childhood traumas (physical and emotional) often activate our limbic brains, causing us to spend a lifetime under threat. When our limbic brain is running the show we are often responding to life like a trapped animal. Raw emotion overtakes us and we become paralyzed with fear, anxiety, worry, anger and rage. Thinking straight becomes impossible. As a result, we continually create chaos.

I could go on and on about this but I often grow bored when reading about neurobiology, so I do not want to bore you. I will say that when we practice mindfulness we are stimulating the neocortex (higher brain functioning). The neocortex is often referred to as “the new brain” because it is that part of our brain which allows us to become more aware, present, creative, focused, curious and open to new learning experiences. When the limbic brain is in charge, it shuts down the neocortex. When we practice mindfulness we might feel good for a bit but the moment that the limbic brain kicks back in, our more aware, present and focused experience flies out the door. This is why it is important to practice mindfulness daily in order to combat a chronically hyperactive and easily stimulated limbic brain.

Chaos is to our limbic brain what peanut butter is to jelly. They go together perfectly. When we practice being mindful, we are strengthen the neocortical regions of our brain, which in turn overrides our more chaos making behaviors. Aggression, emotional withdraw, excessive worry, problem making and other destructive behaviors are quieted down when we are engaging our neocortex brain through mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness practice makes it much easier for us to slip into present moment awareness whenever we notice that we are about to create chaos or are creating chaos. When we are able to experience life through present moment awareness, we are then able to become aware of the numerous resources that are available for us to create a healthier, more creative and chaos free life. It is possible to live a life free of chaos, to live in a world surrounded by chaos but to be free from it (this is what practicle enlightenment is). We just have to make the choice to stop living our life on automatic pilot, to stop allowing learned, habitual and often unconscious behaviors to run the show. It is a choice. A chaos free life is a wonderful thing, but in order to live it we need to be able to cultivate more present moment awareness and less identification with ruminative and often destructive mental chatter. Mindfulness practice is the key.

Give it a try and see if you can spend just one day chaos free.

The Illusion That Is Your Self

It often seems so obvious, but yet it is so easy to forget. Just like we forget where we put our car keys or our wallets- it seems as easy to forget that the self we identify so strongly with is not even really there.

It seems to happen to me more often when I do not meditate. Without a method in place that allows me to step back and just watch how my thoughts are a continual process of coming and going, it becomes much easier for me to believe that there is actually a separate self who is living in my head, thinking these thoughts. When we fail to recognize thoughts as just thoughts, as appearances in our consciousness, we all fall victim to the same illusion.

The habitual identification with thought is without a doubt the primary source of human suffering. As a psychotherapist, I would probably be out of business if individuals were able to not identify with the plethora of thoughts that are continually appearing and disappearing from their consciousness (there would also be much less violence, war, greed, fear and hurt in the world).

Thinking is indispensable to us. It is the foundation for our social relationships, academics, science and cultural institutions. Constructive, engaged and focused thinking is indeed a wonderful thing that I recommend everyone engage in more. But it is the constant and unconscious identification with habitual, ruminative, negative (worry, judgment, remorse) thinking and the failure to be able to notice these thoughts as just thoughts (not realities), that is the culprit of so much, if not all, of our suffering (unhappiness).

To our own detriment we define who we are, we identify our self as being this continual mental chatter that is going on in our heads. Sam Harris, the author of the indispensable book on mindfulness called Wake Up, describes the self as: “The illusory, albeit reliable, source of so much suffering and confusion- is the feeling that there is an inner subject, behind our eyes, thinking our thoughts and experiencing our experience.” Most of us actually believe that our self is this separate and unique person that lives in our heads! Most sane neurobiologists will tell you that if your were able to look into your head you would find that no such person is actually there!

An illusion is defined as a thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses. It is a deceptive appearance or impression. We continually wrongly perceive and interpret our continual stream of thoughts and emotions as coming from a unique and separate self who we believe actually lives somewhere behind our eyes and is the one thinking these thoughts and feeling these emotions! But if you spend more time really looking closely at what is really going on here what you will notice is that the self, ego or what we often refer to as ‘I” is not really there at all. Instead there is just just a continual stream of thoughts and emotions without any tangible self.

The Indian sage Ramana Maharshi said, “The mind is a bundle of thoughts. The thoughts arise because there is a thinker. The thinker is the ego. The ego, if sought, will automatically vanish.” The moment that you just stop and observe your thoughts, without habitually identifying with them, what you will notice is that the person who you normally believe lives somewhere behind your eyes, your self, will vanish. All of the negative thoughts and emotions that you identify so strongly with, will go with it.

When we live our lives identified with an illusion, the end result can only be a tremendous amount of pain and suffering. Henry David Thoreau said: “Most men lead quiet lives of desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Thoreau believed that within all of us there is something much greater that is always waiting to escape. In order to set it free, first we must stop identifying with the very thing that is holding it hostage- the illusion of our self.

Don’t take my word for it. Try it now. Stop thinking so much for just thirty seconds. Focus your attention on your breathing. Notice your feet touching the ground. What does that feel like?Become aware of the sounds that you are hearing. Can you smell anything? Become aware of sensations in your body like tension, pressure, pain, heat, cold and pulsations. Become aware of your thoughts but keep your attention on your present moment experience. Stay here. Notice how your thoughts are just like images moving across a movie screen. They come and go. Same with emotions. Even if just for a brief moment, what you may notice is that the illusory self that you identify so intensely with, drops away (and so much unnecessary pain and suffering goes with it).

As a result, notice how something much greater starts to come out.

A Mindfulness Reading List

At the request of some of the members of our mindfulness community, here is a reading list composed of the books that I have read from over the past two years at the Tuesday Evening Mindfulness Meditation Group. All of these books have been a major inspiration upon my life and work. Maybe some of you have been inspired by a few of them as well.

I hope you will take the time to pick a few books from this list and see how spending time with them can greatly enhance your life and mind.

Enjoy!
From Tuesday Evening Mindfulness Meditation Readings:

The Antidote, Happiness For People Who Can Not Stand Positive Thinking. Oliver Burkeman

The Art Of Stillness, Adventures In Going Nowhere. Pico Iyer

Wish I Could Be There (Notes From A Phobic Life). Allen Shawn

The Mahasiddha and His Idiot Servant. John Riley Perks

The Impact Of Awakening. Adyashanti

The Three Marriages. David Whyte

The Mindful Brain. Daniel Siegel

Waking Up. Sam Harris

The Light Inside The Dark. John Tarrant

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Shunryu Suzuki

Full Catastrophe Living. Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness. Joseph Goldstein

Quiet. Susan Cain

In Praise Of Slowness. Carl Honore

Mastery. Robert Greene

Poetry, Language, Thought. Martin Heidegger

Power Of Now. Eckhart Tolle

Beginning Mindfulness. Andrew Weiss

Learning To Fall. Phillip Simmons

The Dude And The Zen Master. Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman

Notes From The Present Moment, #2

I am home alone. Things are quiet. All around me birds are chirping. The loud leaf blower and lawn mower are gone. For the first time in a week I have the afternoon to be still. To do nothing. I had a stomach ache for awhile but now it is gone. All things pass.

Mindfulness practice has helped me to become fairly adept at becoming comfortable with discomfort. From my practice I have learned through experience that all physical and psychological pain and discomfort are always coming and going, which makes it a little easier for me to be present with what is. I don’t panic or worry about aches and pains like I used to in my more hypochondriacal days. I realize now that pains and discomfort come and go like the wind. I don’t need to freak out about it.

Thoughts and emotions are not as easy for me. In this moment it is easy to be mindful, to just be present with what is. I notice that my mind is active, it seems to be telling me that there is so much to be done, so much to do. “Move it! Get stuff done!” it yells as I sit here on my couch, but I can follow my breath, stay present with sounds, sensations, awareness and let that voice do its thing without needing “to do” much about it. Like the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron recommends- I smile into that rarely satisfied voice in my head, which seems to quiet it down.

I know that the root of the “Get stuff done!” voice is fear. Fear about not doing enough. Fear about not securing my future or present. Fear about not becoming the identity my ego wants to be. Through mindfulness practice and a lifetime of experience, I seem to be getting more adept at learning to make friends with fear. Fear seems to be as apart of me as my blood is and it is through learning how to live with it (rather than trying to pretend it is not there or numbing it out) that I seem to be experiencing more peace and contentment in life. I can see now that fear is just random and habitual thoughts projected onto an always uncertain future.

The afternoon breeze is blowing the wind chimes around. The vibratory bell like sounds are pleasant to hear. Birds are flying quickly around in my garden, playing in the mid-afternoon sun. My two German Shepherds are napping on the backyard wood deck, which thanks to the gardener is no longer covered with fallen leaves and heaps of dog hair.

Agitation, anger and worry. These emotions and the thoughts that come with them seem more challenging to deal with. This morning while I was driving in my car with a friend, who is also a fellow psychotherapist, I noticed that I felt agitated. He would not stop talking and he was talking at such a high speed that I felt agitation growing in my body like water coming to a boil. I find that it is most challenging to remain present when in the company of individuals who are not present at all. Their self-absorption seems contagious. It is always challenging for me to be in relationship with those who are not present, while simultaneously remaining present and non-reactive. This is a work in progress.

As I was driving, my psychotherapist friend was nowhere near where his body and breath were. He was in yesterday and tomorrow land. He was in analyze and judgement land. I forced myself to follow my breath and notice my sorroundings. It felt like lifting a heavy weight. “I am breathing in, I am breathing out,” I repeated silently to myself while trying to keep myself non-judgmentally open to what my friend was saying while also focusing on where I was. The more I followed my breath, the more my agitation became manageable and the less I wanted to tell him to “Just stop! Please take a breath man!”

An hour or so ago, Old Man Bob from the senior center (I pay him to come every few weeks and tend to my backyard), rang my doorbell. I was present as I was sitting on my couch but when I jumped up to answer my door I forgot about my breath. Thoughts like, “Who is it?” “Why is someone at my front door?” caused my heart rate to rise and my nervous system to go into a slight reactive mode. “How are you Randall?” Old Man Bob said with a smile as I opened my front door. “Hey Bob,” I replied with a smile. I told him that I would walk around back, put away the barking dogs and open the back gate for him.

As I walked into my backyard I instinctually slowed myself down. I noticed how becoming reactive had caused me to completely forget about my breath. I became aware of each step that I took and tuned back into the sound of birds and wind chimes. “Mindfulness practice is a practice of continually, again and again, returning our attention back to the present moment,” the meditation teacher Jack Kornfield often says.

It is so easy to stop being present but it takes some effort to return to the present. As I put away my dogs I noticed that the stomach ache I had had all night and into the morning was gone. Aware that I was breathing in and aware that I was breathing out, I mindfully walked over to the gate and was aware of the movements of my body as I pulled the gate open. It felt good to be aware in this moment rather than being absorbed in some future or past place in my head. Again a smile formed on my face.

Old Man Bob was standing there with his lawn mower and garden tools when I opened the gate. He was wearing shorts and a yellow t-shirt that said, “Still Maui Living!” “What a beautiful day to be alive,” he said with wrinkles collecting in the corners of his weathered face. I breathed in and out and agreed.