A Moment of Mindfulness

Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. – Nadine Stair

Every Friday I take a Lyft down to the VA medical center to sit in a circle with a half-dozen other people and focus on mindfulness meditation. I’ve tried many, many, many times to create a practice for myself without any particular support or guidance and I’ve always burnt out. That doesn’t seem to be happening this time around.

I’m three weeks into the eight-week course and I’ve managed to create time to sit and meditate nearly every day for at least 20 minutes. Sometimes that meant I had to set the alarm for 20 minutes earlier or not watch an episode of Numb3rs on Hulu, but it has been worth it. Those struggling moments of silence where I try to live in the moment have been way more beneficial than a few minutes of sleep or mindless tv.

While I find the time I set aside specifically for meditation to be beneficial, I think that the way it is creeping into my daily life is even more impactful. I find myself remembering to live in the moment in day to day tasks and it has made my life richer.

When walking the dog I notice the details of the street and trees more. I am trying to remember to leave my phone at home when I go outside. Instead of listening to music or podcasts or whatever I am trying to really take in my surroundings and empty my mind of thoughts about the future or past or fantasies or aspiration or fears (Spoiler: I am rarely able to do this for more than a few seconds at a time, but the attempt is worth it).

When eating food I focus on the smells, taste, and texture in a way that I never have before. Do you know what it is like to sit down to a meal with no tv, phone, music, or distractions and focus on every bite of that meal? I didn’t until I started trying to live more mindfully. Eating is a much more intimate and complex process than I ever imagined and I am learning things about my body that surprise me. A nice little side effect is that I’m eating a more healthy amount each meal. Just taking the time to lift the spoon to my mouth, savor the smell for a moment, put the food in my mouth, set the spoon down, and enjoy eating for a few seconds has helped prevent me from eating more than my body needs. I get distracted all the time and probably only truly mindfully eat one bite out of every five, but it is still progress.

Just recently I was sharpening my kitchen knives and I found myself noticing the subtle smell in the air, the warmth of the sharpener, and the complex sounds of the blade grinding on diamond. I had never really noticed that all before, it was a symphony of sensations that brought back a memory from deep in my past.

When I was in the Army I served in Afghanistan as a SAW gunner. Every day I would sit down, take apart my weapon, and give it a good cleaning. This daily maintenance wasn’t necessary but I enjoyed doing it. I am not really a gun enthusiast. I don’t find them to be particularly interesting or important, I don’t collect them or read about them. I own one handgun because I think it is important to take personal responsibility for our own safety, but the most I’d ever own is three weapons (a handgun, a rifle, and a shotgun) because they can each serve a unique protective purpose. But, to be honest the rifle and shotgun are more of a “post-apocalyptic zombie the world has descended into chaos” weapons. So, I’m in no hurry to get them.

Anyway, one day my team leader came over to me and mentioned that he thought I must love cleaning my weapon. I tried to explain that wasn’t the case, that I did it because there was something peaceful and calming about the process. I realize now that I was actually entering a state of mindful meditation. My mind was fully wrapped into cleaning dust out of all the small crevices and each day was a new exploration. I was accidentally employing the seven foundational attitudes of mindfulness (these are taken from “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn).

Non-judging: Close attention to the moment-to-moment experience without getting caught up in opinions, likes, or dislikes. I didn’t think about whether I was doing a good job cleaning or if I liked cleaning, I was just cleaning.

Patience: Realizing that things happen in their own time and rushing them is rarely beneficial and often harmful. I wasn’t in a hurry to get my weapon cleaned up, if I was I would likely miss key parts that could cause the weapon to fail when used.

Beginner’s Mind: Living each moment and pursuing each task as if it is the first time you’ve ever done it, because in many ways it is. Each experience you have is different than the ones before because you are different. Each day I worked on my weapon I found new places that dust hid or that needed attention, each day the weapon and I were brand new and that cleaning was the first (and only) that would happen.

Trust: Realizing that our own intuition and our own authority have value. I cleaned my weapon daily because it was what I knew to be right for me, even if those in command didn’t make that a standard practice.

Non-Striving: Doing a task without a goal in mind. This one doesn’t really apply to my example and it is the one I struggle with most during my practice. I find myself striving for peace, calmness, inspiration, etc. instead of just practicing to be in the moment.

Acceptance: Seeing things as they actually are in the present.  My body is the way it is and I can’t really move to improve it until I accept that.

Letting Go: This is really non-attachment to our thoughts, lives, relationships, experiences, and everything else. It is natural for our minds to try desperately to hold onto certain things because they give us pleasure or pain.

I would love to find a task today that I can naturally fall into with such intention. But, if I can’t find one then I will keep working on applying mindfulness to my daily life. Each run, each glass of water, each orgasm, each shower, each floor swept is an opportunity to pay attention to life. Life is only lived in the moment, it is all we have, the future and past do not exist and they are not worthy of our time.

I’ll end with more from “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

When it comes right down to it, the challenge of mindfulness is to realize that, “This is it.” Right now is my life. This realization immediately gives rise to a number of vital questions: “What is my relationship to my own life going to be? Does my life just automatically ‘happen’ to me? Am I total prisoner of my circumstances or my obligations, my body or my illness or my past, or even of my to-do lists? Do I become hostile, defensive, or depressed if certain buttons get pushed, happy if other buttons are pushed, and anxious or frightened if something else happens? What are my choices? Do I have any options?”

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail about life in general?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

On The Periphery

There are certain things in my life that always seem to have been floating around the peripheries. Philosophies and ideas that I never quite got motivated enough to research or spend time contemplating. Habits and practices that I never really dedicated myself to developing. Pursuits and creative endeavors that I never quite made time for. These floating possibilities provide different ways I can shape my life, different paths I can take as I explore this (probably) one beautiful life that I have. The pursuit of any of these things with seriousness could shape how I view the world and how the world views me.

Meditation is one of these things.

I’ve long been convinced of the benefits of a meditative practice. I’ve read a few books and heard testimonies from high performers, but I’ve never really been able to make it work. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the most productive, healthy, fit, and happy periods of my life involved meditation. But was I meditating because I was in a productive phase or was I in a productive phase because I was meditating regularly?

I’ve tried a variety of tools like guided meditations online, the Headspace app, and my own failed attempts to just use my willpower, but nothing seems to stick. I try, and I fail, over and over and over again. I don’t really notice any tangible results, it never really got easier. I suck at it… but still it sits, floating seductively on the edge of my consciousness luring me to try it again because maybe, just maybe, this time it’ll stick.

So, I’m going to start giving it another try. But this time, I’m going to get some help. I’ve recently realized that I need professional help to thrive in the way I’d like. My fitness is benefiting from a personal trainer, my mental health from a therapist, my career from a coach, and my overall life from bi-monthly Skype sessions with two dear friends (who in a way are also mentors). I’ve decided to start attending group meditation sessions with the local Buddhist community, Bhavana Community of Coastal Carolina.

I was really inspired when I finished reading (well, listening to), “Hardcore Zen” by Brad Warner. The way the author spoke of zazen has me itching to stare at a wall. We will see how it goes. I’m sure I’ll fail, but I’m equally sure I’ll get back up and keep following the siren-call of silence.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail about life in general?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

The Next Chapter

Since posting about my annual “failures” last week I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I want to move forward. By next July do I want to have accomplished the things I didn’t last year? Or are they things that are no longer important to me and I should quit? Are there other things I want to commit to accomplishing? Last year’s failures fell into six basic genres that each require a different response.

  • Author – My book isn’t an audiobook yet, but I can change that. Starting today, I am going to make this my priority. I’m going to record every single day until I have a recorded draft of the book. It may not be a perfect recording, but good now is better than perfect never. Once complete, I’ll listen to it (shudder), make any major changes or re-recordings, and then submit it to Audible. During this process, I will also be able to give my book another look for any potential edits. I will also start working towards “going pro”, which is going to require a shift in mindset as well as some practical changes in my life.
  • Fitness – I’m going to keep running daily and working out regularly. I think implementing a monthly “glutton weekend” can help prevent me from entering major periods of sloth. I’ve got an 8-week workout plan I’m using and this October I’m going to start seeing a personal trainer. I also have some running goals that will get me to the 100-mile run level. Oh, and I’m committed to a mountain climb next year which is motivating me to stay in shape so that I don’t die.
  • Finances – I’m getting into a pretty good groove when it comes to saving money and earning money. For the next year, I’m going to keep working on cutting out waste and increasing passive income to get to the point where I could stop working (I won’t because I love my job and the people I work with) and still maintain my lifestyle.
  • New Practices – I am not sure how to integrate new practices in my life that I know are valuable but I also find difficult. I never regret yoga or meditation or language practice after I accomplish them, but it is difficult to motivate myself to do them. I think part of the problem is that I’ve committed to too much and maybe I need to focus on just one thing to get into and prioritize it above all else. I need to jump into it first thing in the morning when my mental fuel tank is full and I’m less likely to justify skipping it. I don’t need a lot of mental energy for work, the gym, or running because I know I’m going to do those regardless of what other circumstances are going on, but by the end of the day it is difficult to get the mental energy together to do something like meditate, so I need to do it first thing in the morning (well… maybe after a cup of coffee)
  • Facebook – The biggest time and energy suck of them all. I’ve come to accept that I have a bit of an addiction and my use of it is generally unhealthy. I’m going to schedule reasonable time for Facebook (probably 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening) except when I am posting a blog post. I’m also going to only check Facebook Messenger once a day. I need to constantly ask myself “is what you are doing at this moment helping you accomplish your dreams?” and when it comes to Facebook the answer is almost always “No”. Sharing articles of interest and talking with people is great, but scrolling mindlessly or getting in stupid debates with people I’ve never met is a waste. I would be better off reading, writing, cooking, gardening, exercising, working, masturbating, yoga, cleaning, meditating, etc.
  • Vegan – I think I’ve found a workable solution to my temptation problem, at least for the situations in which I can prepare for. I’m going to start eating my largest meal of the day directly before going to places where temptation is going to be and I’m going to carry a bag of almonds with me. Hopefully, this will keep both my physical hunger and my psychological oral fixation at bay to provide support for my ethical strength.

So I guess that is where I stand for the next year. I’m not sure the exact path I’m going down for each of these goals, I imagine it will vary with each one and many of them will have a bunch of sub-goals and reward systems to help move me up the mountain. I wonder if it would be beneficial to break down a proposed system for each of these six sections, maybe I’ll do that tomorrow in another blog post. I find writing things out to be helpful but I don’t want “being busy” to replace “being productive”. Oh well, I guess I’ll burn that bridge when I get there.

I haven’t answered any questions or comments lately and would love to hear from you. So, if you’ve got a thought or question submit it to me anonymously at  www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH and I’ll respond. 

But, what if it sucks?

I was recently SnapChatting with a friend and former colleague of mine when the subject of sex came up. The fact that the conversation went that direction is not really much of a surprise. She and I have a flirtatious history and many people (including us) thought that we would hook up at some point. But, alas, circumstances never really matched up for us bang but we remain good friends (and still occasionally sext).

As we discussed whether we would eventually hook up (I think it is likely) we talked about whether it would be good or not and, in particular, what would happen to our friendship if the sex was bad. I don’t think it would be bad… we are both friendly, generous, fun-loving people… but if it was bad I don’t think that would be a big deal. A bad sexual experience is something that we would just laugh about because our self-confidence isn’t based on something with so many unknown variables like a great sexual experience. A friendship that can’t handle bad sex or the awkwardness that comes from getting naked together isn’t a very strong friendship.

Besides, it probably wouldn’t be bad. Realistically, I don’t think it would be mind-blowingly great either. People (at least in my experience) are generally kind of awkward and weird the first time they hook up. There is an excitement in exploring a new body and new sensations, but there is also a lack of knowledge about what will pleasure the person. There is a learning curve that doesn’t exist with a regular partner. I think sex with my partner is amazing and I wouldn’t trade it for a new experience (luckily, I don’t have to) but new experiences also bring variety and a fresh perspective.

The truth is, if/when she and I hook up it’ll probably be “pretty good”. Our minds tend to live in extremes, everything will be absolutely terrible or absolutely wonderful, but reality is kind of mediocre. We put special events like sex, weddings, and vacations on this pedestal that can’t help but be a bit of a letdown when our fantasies collide with reality. And we assume certain terrible things will destroy our lives, whether that be the death of a family member, losing your job, becoming paralyzed, etc. but we actually recover quickly if we allow ourselves too. That is part of why I have found so much strength in mindfulness meditation and the Stoic philosophy, they allow me to live in the moment and see reality for what it is, and to only worry about what is under my control.

But, maybe the sex would suck. Maybe it would be terrible. Maybe neither of us feel a lick of pleasure or joy or satisfaction. Instead, we fumble around uncomfortably and lose all sexual desire for each other. Well, that would be okay. She is a dear friend and I’m not keeping in touch with her as a sort of investment where I expect sex later. Nobody is a sexual Roth IRA that you plug time into monthly and expect to withdraw an orgasmic payoff down the road. If the sex is bad, we will laugh about it, drink a beer, and go about our lives with one less thing to be curious about. It is better to have a few bad experiences than spend your short life wondering “what if”.

Hey! I’m always looking for things to write about. Have you got a question or comment for me? Feel free to submit anonymously to my SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH). No subject is off limits (just see some of my previous questions here to get a feel for what people ask about… it is mostly sex)

Yesterday

Sometimes, the most difficult thing for me to do is let go of yesterday. I know that yesterday is gone and shouldn’t determine what I do today, but it is difficult sometimes. All the mindfulness meditation and Stoic philosophy that I absorb points to living in the moment and not allowing my mind to be bogged down with things that are outside of my control (and is there anything more outside my control than the past?), but I can’t help it sometimes. Yesterday can become a weight that seems to drag me down a predetermined path, destroying my productivity and making me feel like a failure.

This weight upon today usually takes one of two forms. The first seems positive, but that is deceptive. Whenever yesterday was good and productive I tend to justify taking today off. Maybe I got a lot of work done, cleaned the house, went for a run, spent an hour doing yoga, and did some reading. Maybe I also avoided bad things like Facebook, sugar, alcohol, and weed. A perfect yesterday is a fertile ground for an imperfect today. That shouldn’t be the case, the good I did yesterday does not excuse doing bad today.

The other form is when I have a bad yesterday. Maybe I slept in, skipped the gym, didn’t do any writing, and ate a bunch of garbage. That bad day becomes a momentum killer. Undoubtedly, when I skip one workout it quickly leads to skipping two, then three, then ten. A bad day becomes a rut that drags me down, particularly if there are not any immediate negative consequences. That is the worst scenario, when nothing really bad comes of my slacking. Maybe I don’t work out and eat garbage but don’t gain any weight. Or maybe I don’t meditate but I still feel mentally strong. It becomes easy for me to think, “Well, nothing bad happened yesterday so why should I put in the effort today?” That mindset leads to failure and destruction.

I don’t know what to do about these traps. Every morning is a struggle to develop good habits and accomplish things. My passion to create and the satisfaction I get from having a good, productive day are always at odds with the evolved drive to do as little as possible. Procrastination, slacking off, and being lazy are in our genes, it is one of the features that allowed our species to thrive. But, like many (most?) of the traits that took us out of the trees, they aren’t necessarily good in today’s world. IN fact, they may be harmful.

So, I struggle on. Each morning requires a refocus and hard work, and it requires forgiving myself for bad yesterdays and suppressing my ego after good yesterdays.