Oh my god!
A man barely
alive scratching the surface of his potential.
We can rebuild him.
We can make him He can make himself better than he was before.
Better. Happier. Healthier.
In my 2017 “Let’s make Shane into a better version of himself” resolution, this blog was just one of many things I challenged myself to do this year. Another one was to start meditating. I’ll list other ones as I go, but these two are at the top of that list. They have become a part of morning ritual and I’ve found them to be a great way to start the day.
I doubt many people these days question the benefits of meditation. But just in case you haven’t heard much about it and have managed to maintain a level of ignorance on the subject much like I have in my knowledge of anything Kardashian, here is a very small sampling of the benefits meditation gives you:
1. It calms you. It calms you a lot. It slows a racing heart, soothes frayed nerves, and keeps anxiety-causing thoughts from running amok. It works because it is really hard to sit calmly, breath deeply, rest peacefully, and then entertain thoughts about punching someone in the face…you know like that idiot who cut you off in traffic the other day.
2. It helps you concentrate. Concentration is a major reason why I started. Being able to focus on something for longer than just a few seconds at a time is hard for me to imagine. My mind tends to jump from one thing to another like a dog running from tree to tree in a new-found forest. Hundreds of landing spots must be sniffed and analyzed before deciding on the best place to poop. Someday I hope to achieve the kind of laser-like thinking that let’s me see only one toilet-worthy tree in the middle of a great forest. Although when I do, I will have to change the name of this blog to, “On a Straight Line with Shane.”
3. Meditation increases happiness also. Studies have shown that regular meditation increases activity on the left side of your prefrontal cortex which is your happiness center as it decreases activity on the right side (also known as “The Dark Side”). The right side of your prefrontal cortex is where the Death Star of your mind creates all of your fears and doubts which prevent you from having the kind life you want and deserve. Meditation feeds the left side of your prefrontal cortex where the rebel alliance has set up its base. Meditation helps funds X-wing fighters and train the pilots to destroy fears and other targets of negativity no bigger than a Beggar Canyon swamp rat. Simply put, meditation aids the rebellion in keeping hope alive.
Come on! A Star Wars reference when talking about meditation? That has GOT to make you want to try meditation a little, doesn’t it?
OK. So now that I have just motivated the pants off of you to try meditation and you are very impatient and chomping at the bit to get started, I have to say, Whoa there, Nellie. Cool your jets. We’ll get to the good stuff soon. Just relax. Wow. You really do need meditation to learn how to calm down a bit, don’t you?
As I said, I just started meditating at the same time I started this blog in January; meaning I have no idea what I’m doing. So if you are an experienced meditation guru, you might say to yourself as you read this post, “What the hell is he talking about? That isn’t meditating. That’s just sitting on your ass trying not to fall asleep!” But if you have never tried meditation before, who knows, you might just find a word of wisdom or two here.
…Wouldn’t that be something, finding “wisdom” in one of my posts? Yeah. Good luck with that.
Whatever level of meditation wizard you’ve achieved up to this point, read on to see if, at the very least, this post doesn’t put you into a deep state of relaxation that just may inadvertently bring you some zen-like peace of mind.
HOW TO MEDITATE
Advice from people more knowledgable than me
PART 1 Getting Ready
1. Find a peaceful place to relax. Whether you are going to meditate for five minutes or one hour, you don’t want to be disturbed. Some good places to meditate include, your room, an empty office, outside in a field, on the beach, even in a tree. Some places I don’t recommend are at a construction site, in a snake pit, or at a Super Bowl party (closing your eyes and praying for your team to come back does not constitute meditating).
2. Once you’ve found your snake-free meditation zone, get comfortable. That means wearing comfortable clothes. The reason you never see super heroes meditating is because tight leotards and meditation don’t mix. If you are at the office in a suit, do the best you can. Take off your shoes, loosen your tie, undo your belt.
3. Set a time. Start off slow. Don’t decide right off the bat that you are going to sit still and meditate for one hour. You won’t do it. Build up to that. Start with five minutes. Set the timer on your phone to alert you when you’ve gone five minutes. But, make sure you turn the volume down first so it doesn’t scare the shit out of you after you’ve reached a nice tranquil state of bliss. That last bit comes from the voice of experience. Jumping three feet into the air while screaming and peeing your pants totally negates any benefits you may have received from the five minutes of peace prior to the alarm going off.
4. Stretch out before starting. I know you’re not going to do any running or anything physically strenuous, but being loose will help you concentrate on not thinking. …Concentrate on not thinking? Is that a thing? I like it. I think it should be a slogan for something. Can a blog have a slogan? “Welcome to Off on a Tangent with Shane. Concentrate on not thinking.” Anyway as I was saying, if you’ve been sitting at the computer for a long time, stand up and do some stretches. Make sure you stretch out your lower back and your neck. If you’ve just woken up, some stretching will help jump start your mind…and help you not concentrate? If you’re going to sit in the lotus position, stretch your inner thighs. It’s hard to clear your mind when your leg is cramping up.
5. Sit in a comfortable position. What constitutes a “comfortable position” is up to you. Get into the lotus position if you can. If your spine rounds a lot, sit up on a pillow or blanket to raise your bum. Be comfortable. You can sit in a chair or sofa if getting down on the ground seems as daunting as reaching the top of a mountain. Just make sure your head is over your heart and your heart is over your pelvis. Keep your torso straight.
6. Either keep your eyes closed or…if that congers up all sorts of frightening images…keep them open with a soft focus.
PART 2 Different Ways to Meditate.
There is no wrong way to meditate. That is unless you think you can meditate by getting drunk, jumping up on a barroom table, gyrating your hips, and singing along to REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know it” without making a mistake. If that’s your idea of meditating, then I was mistaken; there is a wrong a way to meditate. And congratulations, you have found it.
Don’t get me wrong. The ability to sing all the words to “It’s the End of the World as We know it” is an impressive feat. You have obviously practiced a lot in lieu of accomplishing anything worthwhile. So be proud, but know that drunkenly screaming, “Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn. World serves its own needs, Don’t mis-serve your own needs…” at the top of your lungs is not a form of meditation I’ve ever heard of. I would call that being in a sort of zone…which is another form of zen I might cover at a later date.
Some more widely accepted ways to meditate without making an ass of yourself are to:
1. Get down off of the barroom table
2. Sober up.
3. Clear your mind.
There! That’s basically it. See how easy meditating is? Be sober and clear your mind. Nothing to it. Don’t think of anything and you will easily reach the perfect state of tranquility.
You can’t clear your mind?
Whenever you try, the Staypuff Marshmallow man pops into it?
Really? What’s wrong with you? You’re weird.
OK. OK. If you are one of the 99.9999999% of people on this earth who can’t NOT think of something, here are some other options for you to try. Mix and match these until you find one you’re most comfortable with (let’s restart the count):
1. Focus on your breathing. Imagine a lotus plant in your stomach that opens its pedals wide as you breath in and closes them as you breath out. Or imagine a buoy in the center of your stomach bobbing up on your in breath and back down on your out breath. Those images should be enough to keep your brain busy for a little while.
2. Repeat a word or a mantra over and over again. The most well known meditation word is “om.” I actually did a little research for you so I could tell you the English translation of the word “om.” Aren’t you proud of me? But, geez. For such a small word, it has worlds of meaning behind it. If I tried to explain it here, we’d never get to the end of this post. So let’s just say it’s a pretty good word to meditate with. If you prefer a word you can wrap your head around, try something simple like peace, calm, or tranquil. Just repeat one word over and over again. My theme words for 2017 are hope and happiness. So I’ve been using those.
3. Focus on one object. For those of you who see monsters when you close your eyes, don’t worry. Keep your eyes open and look at one object like the flame of a candle, a flower, the tomato sauce stain on the wall that you should have cleaned up years ago after that infamous spaghetti incident. Whatever you choose to focus on, make sure you don’t have to bend your neck or body in an awkward position to see it. Focusing on a mole in your armpit isn’t the best way to relax. Keep the object in front of you at eye level. Stay comfortable. And, no. Porn is not an acceptable object of focus.
4. Visualize. Take your mind to a peaceful place and explore it. A beach, a meadow, a forest, the mountains, etc… Do you see a theme in those suggestions? Nature. I guess if being in a Las Vegas casino relaxes you, than you could try that also. But, maybe you should first think about getting some professional help. There are groups you can go to, you know.
When you are in your peaceful place, explore it thoroughly. Don’t just imagine things like, “Oh look waves. And, here are some flowers crushed under my heavy boots…” Actually, feel yourself there. Use all of your senses. Don’t only focus on what you can see; imagine the smells that are there. What can you hear? Is there a wind on your skin or sand between your toes? Can you taste the salt air? Smell lilacs? Are your walking? In a hammock? On a blanket in the middle of a grassy field? See it. Feel it. Hear it. taste it. Smell it. Live it. Make sure all the images are relaxing. Again, avoid snake pits, sea monsters, and evil oversized marshmallow men bent on world destruction. Once you’ve created this perfect place in your mind, you can return to it as often as you like whenever you feel the need to relax. But, for God’s sake, take off your boots: those poor flowers.
5. Do a body check. This one is best to do laying down in bed before going to sleep at night. The object here is to focus on and relax one part of your body at a time. Imagine there are fully inflated balloons in your body. Feel them inside of you pushing out and making your muscles and skin tight. Start with the balloons in your toes. Concentrate on deflating all of the air out of them. Once your toes are “deflated,” move up to your legs and on up your body until you feel totally relaxed.
So there you have it: the secrets to meditation. Remember that it is a journey. For a long time, you’re mind is going to wonder off every time you close your eyes and try to meditate. It takes a lot of practice. But, you don’t have to be perfect to enjoy positive results. If someone throws a handful of M&Ms into the air and you try to catch them in your mouth, most will fall to the floor, but you’ll get to enjoy a few of them. That’s what you need to do. Enjoy the chocolate that does end up in your mouth. And, with practice you’ll catch more and more.
Man, that’s a bad metaphor? I apologize. Let’s move on.
So now that you are an expert in meditation…or at least as expert as I am, I’ll tell you about my extensive experience with it. Since I started practicing in January, I can only tell you my winter experience with the practice. I’m sure I’ll develop a different style as the seasons change. But, since I am not some super master meditator yet, the weather does affect me. I’m sure at some point I’ll be able to sit naked in a snowbank during a blizzard and peace out like I’m on a summer beach. But, until I attain that Chuck Norris level of awesomeness, pardon me while I park my butt in front of my heater and let the artificial warmth wash over me.
Houses in Japan don’t have central heating. So the inside of my house is the same temperature as the outside, unless it’s a room with no direct sunlight. Then inside is colder than it is outside. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is check to see if the water in the bottle by my bed is frozen. I find it easier to get out of bed if it’s still in a liquid form. I then reach over to turn on my three-coiled electric heater to high and wait for the room to reach a level of warmth I like to call “inhabitable.” Once I’m certain I can safely come out from under my heavily layered bed without suffering any permanent damage, I put on my socks, slip on my slippers, and get started on those early morning rituals sleeping all night make essential.
Of course in order to accomplish those things, I have to leave my room. And since my little heater has no affect on the rest of the house, the temperature that hits me when I open my door is a nice gentle greeting saying, “WAKE UP, SHANE! IT’S MORNING AND IT’S STILL WINTER!!! HAVE A NICE DAY!!!” So if I did wake up groggy, the polar plunge into the hallway takes care of any residual cobwebs that happen to be left in my brain. Once all bodily functions have been satisfied and my breath is minty fresh again, it’s time to meditate.
I sit down on my extra thick yoga mat right in front of my heater…I mean RIGHT in front of my heater; close enough to feel the heat searing through the layers of clothing I have on, roasting my chest and singeing a few whiskers on my chin, but far enough away to ensure my clothes don’t catch on fire. Once I assure myself that the rising vapors I see is just heat hitting the cold air and not smoke from my burning hoodie, I set my timer to seven minutes…that’s right. You heard me. SEVEN minutes. I’m way advanced from the rookie five minutes I used to do… Then I cross my legs and start meditating. Closing my eyes in a room where the only light is from the heater’s orange coils and feeling its heat wash over me is a very peaceful feeling.
I meditate in the lotus position. But, I don’t rest my hands palms up on my knees like I see many people do; simply because when my knees are spread out wide, they are outside of the heater’s narrow blast zone. And although the coils keep my torso and head nice and toasty when I’m perched in front of it, anything out to the sides is exiled into a tundra not unlike the one Han Solo and Luke Skywalker found themselves in while fighting the Empire on the icy planet of Hoth. My knees are able to suffer through the winter bitterness because they are covered with very special arctic-proof sweatpants found only at your finest survival stores. I got mine at JC Penny’s.
My hands are a different matter though. They are delicate and would never survive out there without a dead tauntaun to stuff them into. So when I meditate I keep them in the heat zone on my lap: a place just as warm as the inside of an animal carcass without the smell.
Yeah. I know what you’re thinking, “But, Shane, if you just rested your hands on your knees, they would eventually get so cold that you wouldn’t be able to feel them anymore. Why don’t you do that?” Sure. You may have a point, but remember I set the timer to seven minutes. I’m afraid in that limited amount of time I could only achieve minor frostbite at best. Maybe when my meditation powers and stamina levels up, I will be able to meditate long enough to turn at least a couple of my fingers blue. Thanks for the advice anyway.
So there I am: in the lotus position, eyes closed. feeling all warm and content, trying to fend off the random thoughts that pop into my brain while trying to reach a new level of consciousness. I have to admit though that at this point in my meditation journey, most of my meditation time is spent mentally dodging those arbitrary thoughts the Death Star keeps shooting at me from the right side of my prefrontal cortex in order to keep me from reaching even the most basic level of zen. I swing and swipe at them with my lightsaber, but I’m still a novice jedi so I miss a lot and those thoughts often succeed in distracting me from my goal.
I take a deep breath in and imagine a lotus flower in my stomach opening up. When I breath out, I imagine it closing. On my exhale I try to expel all of the air in my lungs. I push my navel back to my spine to get them as empty as I can. Often times I do a breathing trick I learned years ago. As you breath in, count how long it takes to fill your lungs. Then multiply that time by four and hold your breath for that long. For example, if you breathed in for five seconds, hold your breath for twenty seconds. Then exhale for twice as long as it took you to breath it in (ten seconds). Then I repeat that 1-4-2 pattern: breath in for one count, hold it for four counts, and let it go for two counts. This accomplishes two things. First, it oxygenizes your blood which is a good thing. And secondly, it gives you something to focus on and keeps your mind off of other distractions (supposedly).
Here’s a glimpse of the inside of my mind as I meditate:
Breath in…one, two, three, four… What do I have to do today at work? Shhhhh. Hold your breath for one, two, three…I really need to wipe that spaghetti stain off the wall. Shhhhh…five, six,…I wonder what that girl I used to date is doing right now?…seven, eight, nine, ten… Is she thinking about me? Focus, Shane. OK…fourteen, fifteeen, sixteen…Did I really eat a whole pack of Oreos last night?…twenty. OK. Now breath out. One, two, three..Why is my computer and bookshelf shaking? Oh crap. That’s an earthquake! Oh. OK. It’s over. It was just a small one. Now back to your laser focus, Shane. …seven, eight, nine… Crap. I’m, going to have to go to city hall and deal with my insurance stuff today....Ten. Breath in. One, two, three… You know if the door handles in “Jurassic Park” were regular knobs, those dinosaurs could never have caused so many problems. Breath out. One, two, three...Chuck Norris lost his virginity before his father did. …nine, ten, eleven…Shane, stop it! Think about the lotus plant in your gut. Not about Chuck Norris jokes…Remember that movie where he kicked a guy through the windshield of a car? I didn’t like that movie very much. Focus on breathing…Where were we? OK. Let’s start again. Breath in one, two, three, four…Those Oreos don’t feel so good this morning. Let’s not eat those before bed anymore. Hold for one, two three, four...OK. No more late night snacks. I have a snack-food hangover. Remember that time in Tokyo when you got really drunk and… wait was it Tokyo? Was that in Kyoto? Anyway…
Wow. Was that seven minutes already? That was a good session. I really did focus on that lotus flower for a few seconds there…Kinda…I think.
So I’m not perfect when I meditate. Sometimes my thoughts do get away from me so when the timer goes off, I realize I had totally abandoned the lotus flower in my soul and had just spent the whole time thinking about the day’s schedule, what I’m having for breakfast, or about someone. I’m not sure if I gain any benefit from those days. But, I won’t give up. I will keep at it every morning because, even when I do spend the whole time jumping from one random thought to the next, I do feel relaxed and better when I’m done.
There even have even been times when…just for a split second…I felt something special; a sense of release or a flow through my body. ...I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a fart. It was a very sudden and brief sense of catharsis. It’s like I’m watching TV and something very wonderful passes outside my window very quickly and I only catch it in my peripheral vision. By the time I turn my head, it’s gone. But, I know it is something that I definitely want to to see again.
So I won’t quit meditating. I believe if I continue at it, I will be able to create that feeling more and more often and have it last longer. It’s a better feeling than eating TWO packs of Oreos…without the junk food hangover age has decided to grant me.
So if you have never tried meditation, please get down on your butt, cross your legs, close your eyes, grab your lightsaber or sideblaster, and fight off those pesky stormtroopers trying to invade your mind.