Orienting to stillness, orienting to motion

I started this blog to document meditating every day in 2010. My blog posts got kind of boring and I ended up broadening the topic, but before the year ended, I had made some big decisions, changing my approaches to work and home that resulted in living a more authentic, self-realizing life.

Selling my house and quitting my job with no clear path ahead were not changes I would have undertaken had not my meditation practice compelled me to make them for my own well-being and trust that the Universe and my own capabilities would come through. There was uncertainty along the way, and luck, but I figured I could always rent a room and do temp jobs to support myself, and that gave me courage. (I rented a room and did a few temp jobs on my path!)

However, I really wanted more than that for myself: I wanted to own an affordable, paid-for home in Austin, Texas, and I wanted to do work that I really loved. And I got those things.  Meditation helped me understand that not living authentically was no longer possible for me, and I’m happy with those decisions.

Since then I’ve divorced my meditation practice from any religion. I’ve occasionally slacked off for weeks at a time, and I’ve meditated irregularly and half-heartedly. I have not worked with another teacher.

Instead, I have groped my untutored way around stillness and silence, acutely aware of my vata monkey-mind, wondering if I have a touch of ADHD (other family members do), and occasionally stumbling upon states of pervasive bliss, being literally held by a higher power, being breathed, feeling currents moving in and through me, and experiencing brief moments of exquisite clarity. All with no idea how to return to any of those states. The birds ate my bread crumbs!

In August 2016, I discovered the Insight Timer app (iOS) for recording my meditation practice sessions, and my desire to meditate every day grew. As of today, I’ve meditated 188 consecutive days since September 26. You gotta love an app that gives you a gold star for meditating 10 days in a row.

In January, I had a breakthrough in a body/energy work practice, Biodynamics, that I’ve been studying for four years now that is mostly perception, and this also renewed my commitment to meditation, especially for doing longer sits of an hour when my schedule allows.

Feeling more committed, I signed up for a 10-day vipassana retreat in August, which is a good month to be away from work in an air-conditioned room, meditating my ass off with a bunch of Hindus and some other English-speaking people. Vipassana has been on my bucket list for years, and it’s finally going to happen.

So my love for meditation has been rekindled. Most mornings I wake up and can’t wait to meditate.

Out of this scenario, I feel like I have some things to say that might be helpful to new meditators and stalled meditators and meditators looking for inspiration. Because meditation is such a nonverbal realm, I’d like to make an attempt to put some words to it and make some suggestions that you can take or leave as you please.

We can’t notice everything at the same time. (Or at least not until/unless we are way advanced, as far as I know now.) This bird calling draws our attention, there’s the hum of the refrigerator, the faint smell of honeysuckle, the sensations of my feet being hot, the impulse to take my shoes and socks off. Pause. A chakra opens, a stuck place in my body makes itself known, oh should I have said that?, I can taste the cheese I ate earlier, that was a really satisfying breath, what’s for dinner?

We filter information about our experience in bits, and at the beginning of a session, it often changes quickly, like a slideshow on fast-forward. It would be overwhelming to experience all that simultaneously, not to mention hard to appreciate.

We can use our natural filtering capability to develop skills in orienting, which means setting a direction for what you intend to notice. It helps slow the monkey-mind slideshow down considerably.

Two ways of orienting that you may come to value are orienting toward stillness and orienting toward motion.

In orienting to stillness, notice the pauses between your inhalations and exhalations, and between your exhalations and inhalations. Notice the gaps between your thoughts. Notice your mind at rest. Nothing happening, nothing to see here, just…emptiness.

Ironically, in stillness, you may notice all kinds of subtler experiences, such as energy dancing across your face or even the beginning of a thought.

The other polarity is orienting to motion, such as your breath, which you’ve tuned into many times. Notice more about it. What moves in your body when you inhale and when you exhale? Do you feel a sense of with your inhalations? Do your exhalations help you y? Put your experiences into your own words if you can.

What about your heart, beating in your chest? Can you feel it pumping away, keeping you alive? You have pulses located all over your body. Can you sense them?

There’s a more subtle, slower rhythm, the rhythm of cerebrospinal fluid expanding your cranial bones ever so slightly and then receding, which you might even feel all the way down your spine. And there are even more subtle rhythms that are perceptible.

Stillness and motion are not opposites. There’s a bit of stillness in motion, and a bit of motion in stillness. Developing your perceptions of motion augments your perceptions of stillness, and vice versa.

Notice what you notice each time you meditate, and know that your next session will offer you new gifts of perception. Play with it!

I hope these suggestions inspire you to experience more deeply the human being that you are. May you have breakthroughs!

Seeing differently, peripheral awareness, Carlos Castaneda, joy, lessons

This post is to let you know that I’m doing a short presentation entitled “Seeing Differently” at Austin’s first Free Day of NLP tomorrow. The event will take place at Soma Vida, 1210 Rosewood in East Austin from 9 am until 4 pm. You can come and go as you desire.

I’m on at 2 pm. If you’re on Facebook and want an invitation or to see the whole schedule, send me a message!

Because I only have 10 minutes, we’ll do some exercises so attendees can experience seeing differently rather than go into the science and history of it. Afterwards, I’ll be available for questions and insights.

The basic premises are:

  1. Although we humans have two ways of seeing, foveally (focused) and peripherally, our peripheral visual capabilities are underused and can be developed.
  2. These two ways of seeing have different neurological wiring and create different states/experiences of awareness. Thus using peripheral vision creates peripheral awareness.
  3. Developing peripheral awareness can result in natural altered states of consciousness in which we experience less anxiety and more joy.
  4. Practicing peripheral awareness gives us more resources in life, whether it’s seeing a bigger picture than customary, feeling more centered/grounded/solid in your body, enhancing your other senses, being better at sports and martial arts, and finding your way around in the dark!

I believe this is what Carlos Castaneda was getting at with the following quotes:

Everybody falls pray to the mistake that seeing is done with the eyes. Seeing is not a matter of the eyes. Seeing is alignment and perception is alignment. Seeing is learned by seeing.

When you see, there are no longer familiar features in the world. Everything is new. Everything has never happened before. The world is incredible!

To perceive the energetic essence of things means that you perceive energy directly. By separating the social part of perception, you’ll perceive the essence of everything. Whatever we are perceiving is energy, but since we can’t directly perceive energy, we process our perception to fit a mold. This mold is the social part of perception, which you have to separate.

I first encountered peripheral awareness in my evolutionary NLP training with teacher Tom Best, who learned it from the master, Nelson Zink. Katie Raver (creator of Free Day of NLP) and I co-ran a meet-up in Austin a few years ago in which we taught people to do peripheral walking.

The way I teach it, there are three parts: peripheral awareness, peripheral walking, and night walking.

I’m now offering lessons combining peripheral awareness and walking in my private practice, teaching 1-3 people at a time how to do it, using downtown trails. You can book a lesson online at http://thewell.fullslate.com.

Public speaking: how to get over your fears with warmth and ease

I used to have terrible stage fright. Having to give my first speech in the required junior high speech class was something to be endured, and when I finished, I didn’t care how well I did, I was so glad I had gotten through it and would never have to do it again.

If I recall correctly, I read it aloud and (this is embarrassing) stood with my legs crossed, as if I was holding it in. I’m pretty sure my voice shook. Afterwards, I slunk back to my seat. The topic may have been “seashells.”

I did not fail, to my surprise. The teacher gave me a C. The content was good, but my presentation needed work. (I am a writer.)

I watched the kids who presented well. I remember a girl who showed us how to make “hors d’oeuvres” (including how she “about died” when told how to spell it).

Then she passed them around. She’s probably a politician now.

That was a long time ago. Over many years, classes, jobs, and activities, I got more used to speaking to groups and felt more confident that I had something worthwhile to contribute. Sometimes it even happened on the spur of the moment, and afterwards I realized I’d been so absorbed, I’d forgotten to be afraid.

Several years back, I participated in “the Alan Steinborn experience” back when Alan lived in Austin. I cannot remember now what he called these gatherings, but he hosted people in his home where part of the experience was standing in silence in front of people (most of whom were strangers), not doing or saying anything, just standing there with all eyes on you for several minutes. People applauded before and after, and in between, whatever happened happened. Some were visibly petrified and gradually relaxed. Some were comfortable the whole time. Most were in between.

It was wonderful to get up there, breathe, relax, and experience connecting with others. It became a sort of communion where fear fell away. I became curious, looking into the eyes of each member of the audience.

Also in recent years, I’ve taken a two-day class in public speaking through Austin Community College, for work. The class had a lot of lecture and required three brief presentations…and the main thing I recall now is the professor exclaiming (after my first presentation, in front of everyone) about my “charisma”.

I still don’t know exactly what charisma is and whether to be pleased or embarrassed about it. But perhaps my experience with Alan’s gatherings had something to do with that.

After all, if you can be comfortable standing silently in front of an audience, you’ll probably be okay speaking.

Recently I’ve been considering developing my public speaking skills. I could talk about health practices to counteract sedentary jobs, the benefits of massage and bodywork, self-care for massage therapists, trauma and recovery, meditation — you know, the topics that I’ve blogged about that are so close to my heart.

It’s not that I’m bad at public speaking any more. I deliver good material, include some fun stuff, and connect with the audience.

But I could be even more at ease.

A few weekends ago, I attended a workshop called “Authentic Public Speaking” from NLP Resources Austin. The presenter, Keith Fail, is a friend and teacher of mine. I’ve studied and later coached/assisted at NLP training that he co-taught, taken advanced NLP classes that he taught, and heard him speak at the NLP meetup multiple times (indeed, when I served as program chair and a speaker didn’t show up, he was able to wing it with ease, he’s that good). I’ve hung out with him and his wife, Katie Raver, a lot. We’ve traveled in Maui together. They are ohana to me: family of choice.

Keith is a warm, friendly, lovable, perceptive, smart man. He is familiar with Alan’s work and includes it, adding his own substantial and unique stamp to offer a public speaking class like no other.

He’s also an accomplished public speaker. Keith shared a story that illustrated his aplomb with public speaking even while in high school. It involved walking in just as he was being introduced and needing to pull up his zipper, with all eyes on him. Ask him about it! The man just knows how to tell a good story!

This class is not an NLP class. You don’t need any NLP training to attend, although a few of my fellow students and I had training in it. If it’s new to you, you will come away knowing more about NLP as it applies to public speaking. You may then be drawn to take NLP training — who knows?

The 11 students met in a comfortable North Austin home. (One student couldn’t make it; class size is limited to 12, and it usually fills up.) My fellow students came from a variety of backgrounds — software engineer, entrepreneur, new board member, several in real estate, insurance adjuster, academic adviser, musician/hypnotist/coach — all with an interest in improving their public speaking skills.

Our time was spent on a good mixture of Keith sharing information and stories, exercises with partners, feedback and discussion, a worksheet, a little homework, several very useful handouts, and, of course, getting up in front of everyone several times.

Yes, everyone does get up in the front of the room and stand in silence, and Keith will share how to make this easy. One woman (who said her business partners made her attend) balked at doing it, but she decided to do it anyway and was glad she did. By the end of the class, she was giving good presentations with apparent ease.

We did extemporaneous speaking illustrating one of our values. Whoa. That makes it sound very formal. Let me rephrase that: We got up and told a story about something important to us, and after everyone had spoken, we discussed what worked.

On the second day, Keith talked about the different energies that speakers experience and utilize. Keith led us through some experiential work developing and drawing on these energies. This was delightful and new to me in this context, and very useful.

Toward the end of the class, Keith pointed out that rather than being just a class about public speaking, it was actually training in perception and attention.

Keith videotapes your last presentation and afterwards, he emails it to you. Then does a follow-up call with you.

All I know is that by the end of the class, we students all felt much more at ease with each other and in the front of the room, thanks to Keith’s personal warmth and well-developed teaching skills.

It might even have felt like love, acceptance, and compassion for ourselves and for each other.

Just imagine. I will have that to draw on the next time I give a presentation. I can hardly wait!

If you are interested, Keith offers this class several times a year. You can get the details at NLP Resources Austin.

Color, culture, and language: be warned, this is weird and fascinating!

The crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains (part I) | Empirical Zeal.

The NLPer/cultural anthropology nerd in me was fascinated by this article, which looks at the names for colors among various cultures. In NLP, we say “the map is not the territory,” meaning we live through our maps of the world, not so much through the actual world, and language is a huge part of our maps.

Did you know that some cultures have only two words for colors, words that mean light and dark? All light and warm colors—white, reds, yellows, oranges, pinks—are called by the word meaning light, and all dark, shadowy, cool colors—blues, greens, browns, black—are called by the word meaning dark.

The Japanese language did not distinguish between blue and green until the 20th century, and only did so with American influence. (English recognizes 11 colors. It’s a colorful language.)

In studying words for colors across multiple cultures, researchers came up with algorithms for determining exactly where a color fits in with the shades in a color group. (Remember the 64-crayon box that had yellow-green and green yellow? Barely distinguishable, but one was slightly more yellowish and the other was slightly more greenish.)

The blog, Empirical Zeal, that published this publishes posts from several sources and all posts are written using primary sources. (Unlike my blog, obviously. I’m not a scientist, but I can appreciate science sometimes, and I really just like to share some of the amazing stuff I find out there on the inter webs. I think maybe “humanist” is a good description for my angle.)

The spectrum has no natural boundaries, it would seem, and the perception of color is not universal. Languages also change over time, and many have followed the same route. Since most languages have two to 11 names for colors, scientists have determined that the first two color terms will be light and dark, or white and black. The third will be red, and the next will be either green or yellow. Once both those distinctions come into use, green splits into two, and you now have blue. (The Japanese word for blue green is midori. Author’s note: Thanks to Tim for correcting me on this.)

The research done on native speakers of 110 different languages using 400 color tiles was called the World Color Survey. Further research used algorithms to distinguish color groups. The algorithms were fairly predictive of how actual cultures grouped shades.

The picture that’s emerging is that colors aren’t quite random slices of the visual pie. They’re somewhat basic categories that humans from different cultures gravitate towards, and must have to do with how the biology of how we see the world. In other words, rainbows have seams. We can distill a rainbow into its basic visual ingredients, and a handful of colors come out.

If you get to the end of this, click the link for Part Two, about how naming colors messes with our brains!

Regret, distortion, aging, what’s real, going forward

This quote today from Tricycle Daily Dharma resonated with me fiercely today. I’ve been resuming my sitting practice:

One of the main things that happens when you meditate is that regret starts to surface and you start to think about your life. Meditation neutralizes denial after a while and opens up the circuits and things start to flow in, and then you begin to realize that regret is a distortion of what’s real. What’s real is that this is your life, and it happened, and there’s no going back. There’s only altering your attitude and perception about it so that you can go forward.

The author is Lewis Richmond in Aging as a Spiritual Practice.

Regret is about the past. There’s no going back. You can just be here now and move forward.

I would add that forgiving and accepting yourself are important for letting go of past regrets.

But if you talk candidly to older people, I think they have an intimation that there’s something precious and new about growing old. 

But I don’t think anybody would trade their mind. I think that life is cumulative, and if I look at who I was at 35, it’s clear I know more now. I’m a deeper person. I have a deeper appreciation of other people. I’ve just lived a life—a full life. 

There’s some point in your life, early or late, when it hits you that you and everybody else that you care about and love are not going to be here eventually, so now what? That’s the gate. And when you’re at that gate, life changes on you. It has a different coloration. It’s more precious. It’s more serious. You feel a loss of innocence.

A lot of us nowadays will live to be 90, so part of the gate is, “Yeah, I’m getting old and I’ve got a lot of time left, so what am I going to do?” Play golf?

It’s [meditation is] good for knowing what’s real and what isn’t, and that takes time to emerge. There’s a tremendous actual liberation in knowing what’s real, and increasingly you can discern that in situations, through your meditation, “Well, this is just my stuff.” Or, “This is solid. This is real.”

Regret is the ego trying to distort what is unchangeable, and we have various words for how that happens. One of them is denial, which is very powerful. Research shows that it is largely neurological. The neural circuits simply don’t fire. The brain arranges to protect you from the pain; it’s like you literally can’t get there, and you arrange not to get there in terms of remembering, but I think transforming regret into appreciation is one of the main values of meditation.