Category Archives: Corporate Mindfulness

The Importance of Truth In An Age of Alternative Facts

Since the presidential election, it seems as though the very idea of truth is under assault. In an ever more volatile and uncertain world, many people choose to live in media bubbles that reflect their biases and the mental habits that keep them in their comfort zones. Resisting complexity, many curate their realities by focusing on certain viewpoints while ignoring others. Fictional news stories take on the status of facts and are weaponized across social media, while actual facts are ignored or labeled false. Across vast swaths of the U.S. population, in fact, expertise is routinely downgraded and demeaned, so much so that the ability for Americans to agree on a consensus reality seems more and more difficult to achieve. This of course has tragic consequences for our civic and political lives. If we no longer value facts, it means that both the rule of law and democracy itself are in grave danger. So truth becomes an especially important topic for us now – because the possibility of justice in our country, and our world, depends on it.

Upon reflection, this assault on truth has been slowly building for years. But it took the election of Donald Trump to make frighteningly clear the civic consequences of living in a world in which the truth is not respected. But a community denial of truth — which is what we can call it when millions of people, on the political left and right, choose to believe patent falsehoods — this community denial of truth can only happen if we, as individuals, are also denying the simple, basic truths of our own lives. So I’d like to explore the idea of the importance of holding to the truth by linking a mass denial of truth with the personal tendency we all have to value or follow that which is not true.

In this context I’ll reference a famous expression from Jesus – ‘the truth will set you free’. Such a timeless and profound expression that directly connects to the practice of mindfulness. Because when it comes to mindfulness, it’s all about becoming free by seeing the truth. One of the things we can say about the teachings and practices of mindfulness is that they are designed to help us live in alignment with the truth, and by doing so, awakening us to that truth at ever deeper levels.

So if you think about awakening as the realization of truth, then abiding by what is not true, worshipping “alternative facts,” is the opposite of awakening, or unawakening. So to the extent that we value what is false, is the extent to which we are moving in the direction of darkness, unconsciousness, and suffering.

As individuals there are many ways that we value illusion over truth. These are the very common tendencies that we all have as fallible human beings. Tendencies that may keep us from awakening to reality – whether that’s the reality of global warming or the reality of our own mortality.

Years ago when my hair started to turn gray I resisted the fact. I wasn’t ready to have gray hair! So I dyed it. I loved what I saw in the mirror. Suddenly I looked like my old self. My friends told me they liked my new dark hair. It was great. I was in denial about the natural aging of my body and I was loving it! Then one day my girlfriend told me, “Bill, your dyed hair looks really fake.” I was outraged that she felt that way. I objected vigorously, pointing out that all my friends had told me my hair looked good. And she replied, “They’re just lying to make you feel good.” Suddenly it hit me: she was right. My hair did look bad. Gradually over time I let go of the need to maintain dark hair.

Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with dying one’s hair. But for me, I saw the way in which I wasn’t living in alignment with the truth of my own aging, the truth of my body’s changes….and there was suffering in that denial. My desire to maintain dark hair revealed a tension in my psyche about needing to appear another way…a tension that fell away when I allowed my hair to be just as it was. When I let my hair turn gray, that was a moment of freedom. That was a moment of living in alignment with truth.

Then there are the ways that we curate experience to promote an idea, a product, or ourselves, by highlighting certain facts and withholding others. In this regard I think of the way the term mindfulness is now being used in our world. Especially in the corporate world. Although mindfulness is essentially about recognizing the truth of reality with clear comprehension and wisdom, in the corporate world those lofty goals are pretty much sidelined in favor of a key management deliverable: greater focus and productivity. Yes, mindfulness can help you achieve greater focus, but the purpose of that focus has always been intended for the work of awakening, not for the bottom line. Also, mindfulness cannot even really take place unless there is a baseline of ethical conduct on the part of the practitioner of mindfulness. Yet how often do secular mindfulness programs talk about the importance of ethical conduct? Will you ever get a discussion of, say, sexual misconduct in a corporate mindfulness class focused on performance? Probably not.

The problem with the selective editing of mindfulness is that when it is divorced from ethics and wisdom it quickly loses its context and its meaning as a powerful tool for personal transformation and becomes just another useful training technique.

Getting even more granular about the ways we live apart from the truth is the idea of lack of presence. Lack of presence is a common ailment in our hyper-connected 24/7 media-obsessed world. Being so preoccupied by blinking notifications on your phone that when you descend a flight of stairs or walk down a street you’re not really experiencing it. The truth of the situation, the physical sensations, the way your hand reaches out for a door knob…the simple, basic aliveness of a routine moment…We’re not present for those moments so much of the time. And not just because of social media. But mostly because of the storms inside our own minds. So in a sense by not being present for the routine moments of our lives, we’re predisposing ourselves to living in a virtual reality composed of our habitual thoughts and deep-seated tendencies. Living in a world of our own personal alternative facts. And you could say that to the extent that we’re present, landed in the actuality of the here and now, is the extent to which we are living truthfully.

In fact, I’m convinced that if everyone could open a door or descend a flight of stairs with complete presence, we would have a totally transformed world politically and in all other ways.

When there is so much pressure in our world to chase after what isn’t true, to mesmerize ourselves with alternative facts, or myths that are self-serving – from what our politicians embody to the urgency of getting ahead in our corporate worlds to our routine lapses of presence  with everyday reality – how do we resist this powerful tendency to step away from the truth?

Resistance is what it’s all about. Collectively, there is a beautiful resistance that’s been happening throughout our country to the regime that took power in January. A beautiful resistance consisting of marches, calls, donations, organizing, lawsuits, and judges reasserting the primacy of the constitution and the rule of law. Private citizens and some great people in Congress are actively resisting. These are all examples of honoring the truth, of resisting alternative facts. As individuals, our daily mindfulness practice is critical in resisting the denial of daily experience by losing our presence. By practicing every day, we are more likely to be present for what it feels like to grab a door handle, walk down a flight of stairs, or have an engaged conversation with a friend. Our mindfulness practice helps us live in alignment with the truth of our bodies, minds, and hearts, moment by moment, so that the possibility of awakening is never far behind.

Waking up with the truth is not a static event that happens on Monday and can then be ignored the rest of the week. Waking up is an activity, and it’s an intention. It’s something that we need to keep doing…until we’re completely woke.

Why Mindfulness Really Sucks Sometimes

There are literally thousands of ways of meditating. There are many traditions and many paths. But perhaps the most fashionable form of meditation these days is the practice of mindfulness and the industry of mindfulness spawned by it. This is a trend that began more than a decade ago and is still very much current. We’ve all seen the magazine covers of stories on mindfulness featuring a blissed out meditator – often a young, white woman – in a perfect lotus pose, looking calm and transcendent. As if this is a typical outcome when meditating (or that young, white women represent the kind of people meditation is for).

Then of course we hear about the latest findings from science. The studies that show how mindfulness can decrease stress, delay aging in the brain, increase the immune response or strengthen the ability to focus and be productive at work. In our age of collapsing spiritual traditions, science is often viewed as a secular religion, and when secularists hear about the positive science surrounding mindfulness they get downright giddy. And interested.

With so many blissed out people on glossy magazine covers and so much edifying hard data about benefits, it seems like you’d be crazy not to practice mindfulness!

The truth, though, is more complex. The goal of mindfulness, when properly understood, practiced and taught, is not, ultimately, about achieving some alpha state of mental performance, or about feeling blissed out or radiantly calm (although these states can and do result from regular intensive practice). Another way of saying this is that mindfulness is not supposed to be fun, easy, or calming. It is not about having no pain. In fact, mindfulness – when it is practiced with even a small amount of depth – is all about meeting pain – raw, human, everyday pain – with honesty, openheartedness, and clarity.

I got up early one morning and began my routine of sitting in meditation. All things seemed normal as I settled onto my bench. But within a minute I noticed that my stomach was feeling unsettled. Soon that feeling in my stomach intensified and became queasiness. After a few more minutes I noticed that my shoulders were hot and my face felt flushed. I became overheated all at once, which then intensified my stomach distress. I took off my sweatshirt in response and soon felt the morning air from the window start to cool me down and provide relief.

After about 10 minutes, I began to yawn frequently. I had not gotten a great sleep that night, but the yawning – deep, loud yawning – seemed not connected to being tired. Then I remembered that frequent yawning is often a sign of anxiety. This was an odd realization for me, because I didn’t feel particularly anxious when I woke up. Am I anxious? I asked myself. As I sat there over the next few minutes I found an answer to that question by sensing into my chest, slowing down my thought processes, and noticing what I noticed. I soon realized that I was, in fact, feeling quite anxious. About 20 minutes into my sit and after repeatedly yawning, I began moving my hands along my thighs in a sign of restlessness. Another aspect of anxiety. At 25 minutes in I started to fidget constantly, scratching itches on my head or face and yawning every few seconds, my body amped up and charged, as I realized ever more immediately the extent of my anxiety. My distress had been hidden, embedded in my body, and was now unfolding as a result of practice. My whole body felt uncomfortable now, my focus was totally shot, and yet I continued to sit on my bench, simply being with my discomfort, acknowledging it without judging myself for it. By the 45 minute mark I recalled saying to myself, “This really sucks. I don’t like it. Ugh!” I sat with my dislike of the discomfort and continued noticing my reactions. I spent an hour feeling like crap, but without resisting it.

When I stood up from my bench after an hour of very un-calm, un-blissful practice, I was feeling far more alive, far more connected to myself, and far more in touch with my own doubt and pain. But I was also far more connected to my own resilience and strength for being with it all. My Yawning Meditation had not been fun at all, nor did I ever feel a sense of pleasure or wisdom the whole time I was doing it. Yet wisdom was manifesting itself simply by my being willing to experience my reality exactly as it was revealing itself without feeling like I should have been having more fun or being more “productive.”

Mindfulness, above all, is about being with the truth and seeing it clearly. Not the cliched, superficial magazine cover truth – but the very messy truth of our lives.

Acting Out of Being, Not Doing


There are two primary modes of living: being and doing. The default way we act in the world is in the doing mode. This is the mode of getting things done, of planning, thinking, figuring out, meeting people and communicating, as well as knocking off items on our to-do lists. When we get busy “doing” things, there’s a little hit of pleasure that enters the brain. That’s actually a neurological reality. In fact, it can be quite addictive to be busy. There is also something about the way we’re wired that makes us more likely to engage in incessant activity. Through deep neurological conditioning, our brains tend to focus on threats – in modern life, instead of those threats being about the possibility of getting eaten by the local woolly mammoth, they’ll be more about surviving in the workplace, making a living, succeeding in the world, feeling safe and on top of things. The crazy busyness of modern life ensures that we are highly likely to operate in the doing mode most of the time. But the doing mode is also stressful and anxiety-filled. Adrenaline and desire are its main fuels. When people operate in the doing mode all the time – even to the point of “doing” their leisure activities – stress can become chronic. And when stress becomes chronic, life becomes very difficult, for a whole host of reasons, including the diminishing of personal effectiveness as well as health problems. Personal happiness is the greatest casualty when stress hijacks our lives.

The doing mode is about effort, striving, managing threats or opportunities through our strengths and weaknesses. The being mode is completely different. When we are in a state of being, there is no need to accomplish anything, no need to be the best at something, no need to strive or figure things out. We are simply allowing ourselves to be. Just as we are. With all of our simple and profound aliveness, with our emotions, thoughts, body sensations, and our precious breath. The being mode is about stopping the treadmill of busyness and simply letting ourselves be alive. When we do this kind of stopping, mental activity doesn’t stop — mental activity continues but, since we are no longer fueling it with the actions of doing, our mental patterns tend to clarify and unwind. This clarifying in our minds helps us see more clearly what is needed with our challenges. Stopping also helps us let go of striving to be anything and rest, refresh, and recharge ourselves. This relaxes the nervous system, bringing greater ease and peace to the body. Stopping and letting ourselves be also puts us in touch with what’s happening in the body – we notice pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral sensations. We are sensitive to joy and sorrow, and we are tuned in to intuition and creative breakthroughs.

Our default actions come from the doing mode – the habitual monkey-mindedness of human life. But our wisest actions come from the being mode. The place of stopping, of honesty, clarity, and stillness. However, it would be a mistake to think that being and doing are mutually exclusive states. Both are important. Both are connected. But since we tend to overvalue doing and ignore being, even a little bit more being in our lives will make us happier and healthier. With more being time in our lives our actions will be more influenced by stillness and wisdom rather than the autopilot reactions of the doing mode. So a regular daily dose of being is what’s needed. Perhaps that means lying in a sauna for a half hour, going for a walk, or sitting in a chair and focusing on your breath. Whatever you do, give yourself the gift of your own being. You deserve it.

Wise Resistance

The word resistance has been getting a lot of attention lately, in light of the U. S. presidential election and its aftermath. Resistance is actually a necessary way of being engaged, both politically and in other ways. But if there is something we dislike or feel is unjust that we feel compelled to resist, how can we practice that resistance in a wise way?

Resistance can take many forms. Resistance as it unfolds in big events like marches. And also the way resistance plays itself out among people we know, our friends and family, and colleagues. The types of messages we see on social media. The retweets, the status updates, the links to insightful articles about…how to resist.

During the last few months I’ve also observed my own tendencies around resistance. I watched my state of my mind in the days after an election whose outcome was not what I expected. I noticed the cortisol levels starting to impact my body as soon as I’d wake up in the mornings and remember the election and groan in anguish.

But how does resistance look through the lens of mindfulness? How can we practice wise, non-reactive resistance? Of course, the very question implies that there are forms of resistance which are not wise – or not as wise. What follows are some thoughts.

I’ll start by citing a very famous quote from the Buddha:

“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”

And one of the most notable things I’ve observed about how I experience resistance in myself and others is the tendency to indulge in hatred. Hatred is kind of like the mind’s way of having clarity in a difficult situation. Have you ever noticed that? That when you hate something or someone, there’s a certain cutting to the chase power? Or maybe hatred is a way of feeling in control…or a way of defeating our fears.

So this is one major way that resistance plays itself out. People get angry and they project that anger outward. There’s a lot of projecting of anger in our politics…anger placed on politicians, on people in Congress, on our friends or relatives who maybe voted differently than we did. A horrible law gets passed or an executive order gets signed, and people are up in arms with understandable outrage.

But the problem with all this hatred and ill will – which I’ve certainly expressed many times myself over the years – is that, as the Buddha said, hatred does not cease by hatred. But only through love. If you are an activist, or even not, that is a very challenging point of view to take on.

So hatred does not end other forms of hatred, it just leads to more hatred. And yet we are compelled to act against what we believe is not just. This is what activism is all about. But activism is kind of based on righteous indignation, isn’t it? On the left and the right. And there’s the paradox. And the proposition that I’m going to make is this – that political activism will burn itself out when its primary driver is hatred. Hatred is not sustainable. And yet it seems to drive so much in our politics and culture wars.

Lately I’ve been speaking with my fellow teachers and we came up with something that I think is quite simple and quite wise which may be helpful…especially in our current moment.

So much of how we mobilize our resistance is around what we don’t want, what we hate, what we’re against. But the question my colleagues and I were recently discussing was, what would happen if instead of focusing on what we’re against, we focused on what we’re for? What do we believe in, what do we value? And how do we express those values? If we could engage in protest about what we’re for, would we need to have an enemy to mobilize us?

I’m reminded of the teaching of the two arrows here. We experience pain. That’s the first arrow. Then we have a mental reaction to the pain which often makes the pain worse. That’s the second arrow.

And this two arrows teaching is expressed beautifully in a kind of a modern teaching paradigm that’s sometimes used in coaching, organizational consulting, and so on. Which goes like this: Suffering equals pain times resistance (S=PxR). And the idea is that pain is a part of life, and suffering is what we add to pain through our mental reactions. And usually that has to do with our resistance to the pain.

And so the idea from an activism perspective is that the more we can be with the pain of events consciously – in other words, the less we resist the pain of political events internally – then the wiser our external response will be. Thus the more effective our resistance becomes because we won’t be eating ourselves up with hatred.

To put it another way, when we learn not to resist our pain internally, it may help us resist externally with greater effectiveness and more sustainably.
So for me there are two kinds of resistance.

There’s resistance with aversion – focusing on everything you’re against, using hatred as a motivator; and there’s resistance with love or non-hatred, focusing on your values and what you stand for as a motivator.

So I propose that when we resist with love, we’re more oriented to focusing on what we’re for rather than what we’re against. We’re not focused on having and demonizing an enemy. We’re focused on justice. We know what’s causing suffering and we act with fierce compassion…but not with hatred. Because we are motivated by love and what we value, we live to fight another day, month, and year.

Mindfulness is Not Rocket Science


As you read these words, sense your body and notice your breathing…

Mindfulness has certainly become a buzzword these days. For people like me who are passionate about mindfulness and know the freedom it can bring, that’s really good news. More importantly, it’s good news that this simple yet profound practice of presence is making its way into the mainstream and into the lives of everyday, ordinary people. Twenty years ago mindfulness scarcely registered in popular culture. Now there is a global mindfulness movement featuring mindfulness classes in schools, universities, and prisons, and at corporate workplaces and board rooms. And mindfulness is being taught to just about every type of person. There are mindfulness courses for therapists, leaders and teams, pregnant women, young children, teens, addicts, people with depression, lawyers and doctors, and social justice activists.

Yet a danger lurks in all this good news — the danger of the fad. People will hear about mindfulness, have an idea about what it means (“Oh, you mean living in the moment? Sure, that’s a good idea!”) then dismiss it without ever being curious enough to try practicing it. While it is true that the word “mindfulness” has an established place in our lexicon, it is still often a misunderstood concept. People have all sorts of ideas about what it means to be mindful, as in, “I forgot to bring my book. I guess I wasn’t being mindful.” Well, yes….but no.

Here’s the thing: mindfulness is not rocket science. It isn’t some new belief system or technique. Mindfulness isn’t a belief system at all. It is simply a focused, non-reactive awareness. This awareness already exists in each and every one of us. Everyone can be mindful because everyone has the capacity. Not only that, everyone already is mindful. We all know how to stop and pay attention when something is really important to us. And all of us have experienced those accidental epiphanies of presence when the whole world, if just for an instant, seems to stop and show itself in high relief. The practice of mindfulness is simply the cultivation of this wonderful quality of non-judgmental awareness that each of us already possesses. The purpose of training oneself in mindfulness is to make it our default way of responding to our life and its challenges instead of leaving it to chance.

Mindfulness is as natural as breathing, and with the world becoming ever more complex and challenging, it may soon become as necessary to our survival as the breath itself.

Plenty has been written about mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. Most texts rightly treat it as an aspect of Buddhism (like Analayo’s riveting but technically dense Satipatthana), while some treat it as a research-validated and purely secular method for reducing stress (like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living.) My desire in writing this book is to present a clear, straightforward guide for cultivating mindfulness in life’s daily situations and to help people decrease the stress in their lives. It is mostly free of research (you can always get Full Catastrophe Living for stats or else Google them). It is also almost entirely free of references to Buddhism or spirituality. Yes, mindfulness derives from the wisdom of the ancient East and to the supreme spiritual genius of the man known as The Buddha. But you don’t have to believe in anything to cultivate mindfulness: it’s the birthright of every human being, whether that human being is a Buddhist, a Christian, an atheist, or Other.

There are two kinds of mindfulness practice: formal periods of mind training while sitting, walking, and moving, and the informal practice of mindfulness available to us in each moment of our daily lives, whether we’re managing our emails, holding a meeting, planning our day, having a conversation, navigating change, commuting to work, shopping for groceries, walking to catch our bus, or reclining in a dentist’s chair. I tend to emphasize mindfulness in ordinary moments because they make up the majority of our lives. Most of us are not formally meditating most of the time, nor do most of us live in secluded monastic conditions that provide the simplicity and silence to support the deepening of our awareness. For most of us, our lives are composed of non-exotic moments of doing. Moments that are easy to dismiss. Yet it is the attitude we embody in these “dismissable” moments that shapes our very destiny and determines whether or not we will be overwhelmed by our challenges or able to transmute them to deepen our experience of life. These ordinary moments are really the fabric of our lives. If we miss out on them, we aren’t really living. When we start paying attention to our ordinary moments, we start inhabiting our lives fully.

That being said, the best way to train oneself to become more mindful during these ordinary moments is to engage in regular periods of formal practice, which is the equivalent of going to the gym and building your mindfulness muscles.

Adapted from Moment by Moment by Bill Scheinman, available for purchase on Amazon.

The Wisdom of Letting Go

What do you have a hard time letting go of? Perhaps it’s letting go of the little time-honored personal rituals that you enact in your life. Like always grating your cheese or chopping onions a certain way. Or always listening to a certain program or reading certain publications to get on top of current events. Or making sure you always get to a movie early enough to watch the trailers. Or perhaps it’s the idea that you always need to be the best at something, the smartest person in the room? Or that you always need to be right? Or that your body should always look a certain way? Or that only certain people are worthy of your consideration? Maybe it’s hard to give up a plan, or an ideal, or a relationship. But think about this. When we talk about letting go, what exactly are we letting go of? What’s behind the letting go of, say, the idea that you always need to be right, or chop your onions in a certain way?

What we’re letting go of is really a habit. And a habit is really all about clinging. But when we cling to a habit, what are we clinging to? We are clinging to what we know. We’re clinging to the known world. To what is familiar and comfortable.

Buddhism always talks about not clinging….that’s because to cling is also to suffer. As spoken of the diligent practitioner who practices mindfulness, it is said, in the refrain to The 4 Foundations of Mindfulness sutta, “And he abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world.” That phrase is said over and over again in that teaching. And the value of not clinging, of letting go, is mentioned countless times in Buddhist writings.

Even the word nibbana, which we usually translate as enlightenment, implies non-clinging. The word literally means extinguishing the flame. What does the flame cling to? It clings to its fuel.

So, there’s a big emphasis on clinging as a cause of suffering, and not clinging, or letting go, as the gateway to freedom.

But what’s wrong with clinging? Why do we suffer when we cling?
Because everything is impermanent. If you cling to what can’t actually be clung to, you’re setting yourself up for suffering. For loss and heart break. And for cycles of reactivity that only lead to more suffering. Buddhism is really oriented towards realizing that impermanence is a fundamental aspect of reality. And letting go of the idea of permanence is what allows the new and unknown to emerge. It’s also what allows us to transform ourselves, to learn, to love, to deepen our experience of life.

And when we practice, there are many ways that we express the intention to let go.
Even with ethics. We’re letting go of ways of relating to the world that maybe aren’t ethical. When we experience wisdom, we’re letting go of ignorance.

And certainly in our meditation practice we’re practicing letting go all the time. Just to sit on your bench or your chair or cushion. Just doing that represents a huge act of letting go. I mean, what is a typical morning habit? You know, we wake up, and our minds start thinking about things. Maybe it’s…my god, this meeting I have today. How’s it going to go? Or maybe it’s, my god, I can’t believe that person is our president. The cortisol starts entering the bloodstream. By habit we want to get up, get our coffee, have breakfast, check our phones, hear the news, get started. Step onto the treadmill of the day’s routine. But if instead of doing that you sit down for 30 minutes and just try being with your breathing, that is a radical act of letting go…of the habit of the morning treadmill. Or maybe you sit at night. And maybe you would ordinarily have your glass of wine after work. But instead of doing that you’re sitting and being with yourself. That’s a letting go. It’s profound.

And in the act of meditation itself. We’re essentially practicing letting go all the time. We try focusing on the breath in our practice. You sit and you feel your breath coming in, and you feel it going out. And you take another breath. And another. But before you know it, even though you’ve continued to breathe, you’re actually thinking about getting plane tickets for a trip you need to take in a month. Or your son’s soccer game. Or your portfolio or bank account balance. And then you recognize that you’ve lost the breath. So, what do you do? You redirect your attention to the breath. You come back. And by doing that you’ve let go of whatever thought was worrying you. In the moment that you came back to the breath you’ve practiced letting go of worry. And then you’re with the breath again. A few moments later, you realize you’ve been fantasizing. Maybe having a fantasy of delicious food, or sex, or an exotic city. You’ve lost the breath again. So you come back to the breath. And what that means is that in that moment, you’ve practiced letting go of desire. In your meditation you are constantly practicing letting go of these mental states of desire, aversion, and delusion, just through the simple fact of being in the here and now with your breath. In the process you are transforming how you relate to yourself and the world. You are letting go of your unconscious habits and making the conscious choice of being here.

When you’re on retreat and you’re practicing intensively, you might begin to discover that your body’s in a lot of pain. Maybe you discover parts of the body that are wounded that you didn’t realize were wounded. And eventually you learn to meditate with the pain. You figure out how to do it. You’ve let go of the idea that your meditation practice has to be pain free. And to learn how to be with discomfort and pain in the body, also conditions us to be with discomfort with other things, with people, relationships, situations in our lives. So we learn about discomfort. And we learn about how to respond to discomfort rather than react to it. We cultivate wisdom just by making the conscious choice to return to the breath.

In our meditation practice we also learn to let go of the stories we tell ourselves about self/others: Our heads are full of such stories, and we see this when we practice. And we learn to let go of these stories. We practice this again and again. And eventually something becomes free in us, we don’t believe our stories so rigidly. And we realize that our thoughts are just events in consciousness, not facts. Like passing clouds.

Our practice helps us let go of emotions. It doesn’t help us get rid of our emotions. Rather the act of mindful awareness helps us metabolize our emotions so that we are able to let them pass through us and learn what we need to learn from them.

Our practice also helps us let go of the need to be in control. One of the most common delusions in life is the idea that we can control external events. It’s true that we can control some events, but most events big or small are beyond our control. And letting go of the need for that control is a great relief.

Part of what we want to control is the idea of perfection – that we can somehow become perfect. Which means that we are always seeing ourselves as a project – as somehow tweakable enough to attain an immutable state of excellence. Again there’s a tremendous relief when we can let go of this delusion.

And letting go of being perfect has a lot to do with the idea that we are a fixed and separate self in the first place. Mindfulness practice, especially when it gets deep, shows us clearly that human experience is in a constant state of impermanence and flow, and that if we can let go of the idea of being a solid “thing” and align ourselves with that flow, what we can become and be is boundless.

To let go is to admit that what we’re letting go of is not the source of a permanent happiness. It should be said that letting go is not about getting rid of something. Pushing something away aversively is just another form of clinging. Letting go is simply the habit of clinging starting to relax and fall away.

Is letting go an act of will? More often than not, letting go is not willed, you don’t do it, it does you. It arises naturally in the course of a daily practice. In fact, if we try forcing ourselves to let go it won’t work. We need to live through the experience, not avoid it, and letting go happens naturally as a result of being awake with that experience. We find the grace to let go because we’ve been willing to open our hearts to holding on. If we’re not willing to hold on, to make ourselves vulnerable by exposing our hopes and fears, we won’t learn how to become free.

How is it that letting go happens naturally? It’s because there’s something in each of us which wants freedom and recognizes it.

Commuting is a Great Opportunity to Train Your Mind

Commuting can be stressful, can’t it? The anxiety of catching the right bus at the right time is sometimes matched by the suspense of whether you’ll even get a seat. Want to pound that steering wheel when you’re stuck in traffic? Go ahead, it won’t make a difference. Wish you could stretch out your legs fully in that cramped commuter airline seat? You’re not alone. Commuting also takes a lot of time. According to data from the Census Bureau, Americans spend 1.8 trillion minutes commuting each year, with a daily average to and from time of more than 50 minutes. And extra-long commutes are steadily growing throughout the country.

But commuting is also a great opportunity for cultivating awareness of the present moment. The following suggestions can help transform your commute into a time for cultivating presence and self-care, two important things as we prepare for our work days or after work family lives.

Driving
We identify with our cars. They become an extension of our ego-driven selves. Because of this identification, when something happens on the road we don’t like, it feels like a personal threat. Getting caught in a traffic jam, or getting cut off by another car, can be a real cause for the fight or flight stress response. A lot of the anxiety we feel when we drive is because we’re distracted. We’re distracted by thoughts of the meeting we’re trying to get to or some other challenging situation at work. We may also be distracted by the very distressing world news we’re listening to on our radio. In fact, when the radio is on, demanding our attention, our focus is inevitably split between the content of the news and the road. That split in attention makes us more agitated and more likely to get frustrated while driving and more likely to act out of that frustration. So one suggestion is to realize that you have a choice about having the radio on. Sometimes it can be a wonderful experience to just drive. For mindful driving, turn the radio off and focus on the physical sensations of driving. Feel your body sitting in the car seat, feel your feet on the gas or the clutch pedal, feel your hands gripping the wheel. And notice your breathing. Just be aware of the road and let yourself be as you are, without needing to add any other stimulation. The road itself can be quite stimulating! Many students have told me over the years that turning the radio off and tuning in to body sensations while they drive completely transformed their experience of driving, lead to much greater calm and ease on the road, and helped them feel completely relaxed by the time they arrived at work. This doesn’t mean NEVER having the radio on. It means that there are times when it is useful to just drive with awareness and no other distractions. Mindfulness helps us tune in to what we need and make the wisest choice.

Walking
We walk all the time. We walk to the bathroom in the morning, to the kitchen to make our breakfast, to the bus stop, from the train station to work. While at work we walk down hallways – sometimes very long ones – and out of one office and into another. But although we walk with great frequency, we are often not paying attention when we do so. Again, tuning in to physical sensations is very helpful for connecting us to the present moment. The human body in motion is never in motion in the past or in the future – it is always in motion NOW. When we pay attention to that fact, we are automatically aligned with the now. Many people walk with headphones on ensconced in their media bubble – again, nothing wrong with that. But realize that you do a choice in the matter. Because you are walking AND listening to your favorite podcast or musician at the same time, where is your attention really? Are you really paying attention to the music? Or are you really focused on that dent in the sidewalk that might make you stumble? The 5-minute walk from the bus to your work may be a great time to simply walk and know that you’re walking. By doing so, you are building up reserves of presence and connection that will help you at work.

Bus or Train
Instead of ruminating about your first meeting of the day on your bus or train ride, try practicing some mindfulness. For the first five minutes of your commute, do some awareness of breathing to collect your attention. Do another 5-minute session just before you arrive at your stop. Book-ending your commute ride with some mindful breathing establishes a strong sense of presence and awareness in the midst of what is often a very disorienting and mentally scattered experience.

Air Travel
Traveling by plane is wonderfully convenient, and can be incredibly draining as well. Cramped seats and bodies frozen into unnatural shapes for hours at a time is bad enough, but breathing recirculated in a constantly distracting environment makes it very difficult to stabilize the mind. If we are able to work on the flight, we may be even more drained of energy by the time we land. A very helpful rule of thumb that I have found to be extremely helpful for air travel is this: for every hour you are in the air, practice 10 minutes of awareness of breathing. By the time you arrive at your destination, you will feel much more refreshed than if you hadn’t trained your attention during the flight.

One of the reasons that people find commuting stressful is that there’s a tendency to think of commuting time as wasted time. It’s dead time that needs to be filled with something. But moments spent on the train are not dead moments – they are life. And if we can remember to use these gifts of down time to keep the mind focused and alert it will not only make our commutes more enjoyable and less stressful, but it will keep our mindfulness more continuous and help us bring a more relaxed presence to our work and personal lives.