I want to share a few videos from a talk I gave recently at a job-seeking group. I’ve revamped my “Transcending Procrastination” presentation to add some more techniques and ideas, and these videos offer some samples of the new content. I hope you find them useful and fun.
In this first video, I talk about how to develop a longer attention span, and thus get more done in a single sitting in your work, by practicing holding your attention on your breathing or an object:
In the next video, I talk about how being able to say “no” to requests is an important part of staying focused and motivated in our projects. Often, this is a matter of getting comfortable with the intense sensations that can come up when we refuse a request:
Here, I answer a question about dealing with job interview-related anxiety, discussing how useful it can be to find the place in your body where you’re feeling the nervousness or tension, and breathe into that place. This can be helpful for anxiety in other situations as well:
I can’t believe it was nearly a year ago that, on this very blog, we had our fascinating discussion about the productivity challenges readers are facing, and how mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga can help us move through those challenges. It was an inspiring chat for me, and I’ve re-read it many times.
Last time I re-read the post, it proved to be more than just a source of nostalgia — it gave me the idea to put out an audio program dealing with the questions people asked in the comments, and in the many other settings where I’ve spoken to people about Inner Productivity.
I now have voluminous notes about what I’m going to say in the program, and I’ve started recording it. Before I release it, I want to check in with you to make sure I’m not leaving out any concerns you may be dealing with in your working life, whether it comes to focusing, staying motivated, letting go of anxiety, actually enjoying what you do, or something else. Simple as that.
So, I want to throw the floor open to you. Maybe “throwing the floor” isn’t the most coherent figure of speech, but you get the point. I want to know what you’d like to hear me address in the program, and if you let me know I’ll do my best to cover it.
To get the creative juices flowing, here’s a list of some common issues people raised in our earlier conversation:
Self-Starting: “I’m working from home, and it’s hard to stay on task when no one’s keeping tabs on me.”
Overwhelm: “I feel overwhelmed when I see a lot of items on my to-do list.”
Perfectionism: “I struggle with a sense that I’ve got to do everything perfectly, or not do it at all.”
Inadequacy: “I have trouble starting the project I want to do, because I worry that it’s not going to be good enough.”
Image Consciousness: “I’m having difficulty doing the work I want to do, because I get too concerned about what others will think of it.”
“I haven’t done enough”: “I keep getting to the end of the day, and feeling like I didn’t accomplish enough.”
Resentment: “I get bogged down in resentment, because it seems like people are asking so much from me in my work.”
Distraction: “My mind keeps jumping around to all kinds of different ideas when I’m trying to focus on something.”
How about you? What issues would you like to hear about in the program?
I didn’t predict that I’d write a third part in this series, but as I continue thinking about this book (Robert Masters’ Spiritual Bypassing), more and more important awareness comes up that I want to share.
I think one of the most important points Robert makes is that we suffer a lot less in life when we stop “expecting spirituality to make us feel better.” But spirituality isn’t the only area where it’s helpful to drop that expectation, Robert says. We’ll also reduce our suffering when we release our careers, relationships, and basically everything else from the obligation to “pick us up when we’re down.”
The Painful Pursuit of Pick-Me-Ups
This way of looking at life was hard for me to wrap my mind around when I first came across it. It’s very alien to the way we live in our culture. I think most of us learned, practically from birth, that life is all about looking for “pick-me-ups.”
You “feel bad,” we’re taught, when you aren’t making enough money, you haven’t “found the one,” you haven’t “obeyed” “Rule #1 for a flat stomach,” or you don’t have some other person or thing. But if you try hard enough, the story goes, you’ll acquire the “right” people and things, and you’ll never “feel bad” again.
This isn’t true only when it comes to jobs and relationships. Most of us also think this way when it comes to “minor” pursuits. Take blogging. How many of us are in the habit of surfing blogs looking for a “pick me up” — for inspiring words, snark, or grammatically challenged kittens to “make us feel better”?
To many of us, I think, this model of “life as a perpetual quest for pick-me-ups” seems like the only possible way to live. It doesn’t occur to us that anything else is available. But what Robert, and spiritual practice at its best, offer us is a radical challenge to the conventional wisdom.
A “Veggie Connoisseur” Approach to Living
What if, instead of scouring the blogosphere for pick-me-ups whenever we’re “feeling bad” — tense, sluggish, sad, or something else — we chose to sit and get intimate with that feeling? What if we got in the habit of turning our attention toward those unwelcome sensations, rather than seeing them as a problem and frantically grasping for the mouse when they arise?
This practice, I think, is somewhat like becoming a “connoisseur” of emotions and sensations, as if they were different kinds of wine. Each feeling that comes up in the body has its own unique “bouquet” — whether it’s tart, sweet, sharp, “dusky,” or something else. Of course, it’s a little different from wine tasting, because we don’t get to choose the sensations we feel. But that’s all part of the variety.
Another good analogy would be Patricia’s story about getting random baskets of vegetables from her agriculture co-op. Sometimes, she can’t even tell what kinds of veggies they are. But being an adventurous spirit, she eats them anyway.
This sounds more fun to me than eating asparagus, or even something exotic-sounding like bok choy or jicama, every week. What if we did the same when it comes to our emotions — welcoming each of them as if it were an intriguing new veggie that just arrived on the doorstep?
When we let go of our need to “fix” our “bad feelings,” I think, and instead learn to savor every experience that comes our way, we’re doing spiritual work in its highest form. As Robert puts it, “spirituality ultimately means no escape, no need for escape, and utter freedom through limitation and every sort of difficulty.”
For a long time, I harbored a belief that came from reading and listening to spiritual teachers. The belief was that, when I feel upset, the best practice is to just “sit with the feeling” — to tune into the sensations in my body, and just let them pass away. Don’t “react” to the upset by immediately lashing out at someone.
This kind of practice has done wonders for me when I’ve used it in meditation. It’s helped me understand that, when I’m doing something solitary, I don’t need to run away from my task whenever a difficult thought or feeling comes up. However, it was actually harmful for me to practice this while talking to another person.
Why? Because my natural tendency, since long before I did any spiritual practice, has been to hold back my hurt or anger when I’m with someone, and try instead to understand what they’re going through.
I’d tell myself I was doing this out of concern for the other person, and sometimes this was true. But sometimes it wasn’t — instead, it was because I was afraid of how they’d react if I told them how I felt.
When I discovered the spiritual practice of “not reacting,” I started using it as an excuse for my habit of avoiding conflict. “Oh, it’s not because I’m afraid of hurting them or making them mad,” I’d tell myself. “I’m just ‘sitting with the feeling,’ like I would in meditation.”
In other words, spirituality — at least, in this case — actually enabled my immature way of relating to the world, instead of helping me let go of it.
Anger Can Be Compassionate
A major theme of Spiritual Bypassing is how spiritual practice can sometimes enable unhealthy behaviors, and actually retard our personal growth. The story I just told is a good example of what Robert calls “blind compassion.”
“Those of us who practice blind compassion,” writes Robert, “generally spiritualize our misguided tolerance and aversion to confrontation, confusing being loving with putting up with whatever anyone does and never judging them, no matter what.” Not only does this allow others to abuse us, but more importantly, it isn’t really compassionate toward them.
Sometimes, as Robert points out, we need our anger to get a compassionate message across. If I’m yelling at you and putting you down, for example, it may not help me for you to respond in a soft, understanding way. If you tell me “it sounds like you’re angry, and I get where you’re coming from,” I may decide — in my self-righteous rage — that I’m “winning,” and press the attack.
But suppose, says Robert, that you instead “meet me with a force of equivalent intensity, stopping me in my tracks with a ‘Stop!’ that is as fiery as it is caring.” If you do this, “you might not appear caring,” but “I can feel it as you interrupt my neurotic ritual.”
In other words, the intensity you bring can actually help me see how much you care, and snap me out of my old habit of being mean to control my environment.
So What’s Left?
This isn’t to say that spiritual practice is always harmful. In my view, spirituality, and maybe personal development generally, are really about getting intimate with, and getting access to, all parts of ourselves – what Robert calls “the cultivation of intimacy with all that we are.”
If we’re afraid of our anger, for instance, our spiritual practices can help us to fully allow that fear and speak our truth, rather than fleeing from the fear as we usually would. Some people, on the other hand, have no trouble getting angry, but expressing affection feels “weak” or “cheesy” to them — and spiritual practice can help them to fully allow that feeling of cheesiness and give somebody a hug.
I’d definitely recommend this book, especially if you’ve wondered (as I have) how to integrate your spiritual practice into the rest of your life in a healthy way.
You may recall I wrote a while back about my recurring “critic fantasy,” which involved a man getting up while I was giving a talk, and yelling that my book had nothing to offer.
Well, last week, a man actually did approach me after a speaking engagement and tell me my work had nothing to offer! Oops — perhaps I attracted this situation by “putting it out to the universe” on my blog! (More on the law of attraction in a moment.)
I didn’t find myself freaked out by the odd synchronicity, although I did feel a mild irritation at being misunderstood. This was because the man’s rant didn’t seem to deal with what I actually said, but instead with his preconceived notions of what people who talk about “spiritual” stuff say.
Roughly, his complaints went like “all this stuff about ‘making yourself happy’ and ‘creating a Rolls-Royce by thinking about it’ and so on is garbage.” However, I didn’t talk about either of those. First of all, I only teach about manifesting Lamborghinis — if you want a Rolls, you need a different guru.
No “Magical Manifesting Mastery” Here
Just kidding — I don’t talk about “manifesting” anything. In fact, I later realized I was, in a (limited) way, thankful to the man for helping me clarify what my work is really about. The work I do is about relating to the thoughts and sensations that are already there in our experience, not attracting or creating something to take their place.
One of my biggest inspirations in following this path has been the work of psychotherapist Robert Augustus Masters. Some might say this inspiration borders on obsession — I even flew from California to Boulder, CO to take Robert’s workshop. Robert, if you’re reading this, don’t worry — I don’t have your home address.
But here I am joking around, when I’m actually here to review Robert’s latest book, Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters (not an affiliate link).
What Is Spiritual Bypassing?
Spiritual bypassing, to Masters, means “the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.” Basically, when we learn that getting the “right” job, relationship, car, or something else isn’t going to heal our pain, we turn to spiritual practices, hoping they’ll quell our “bad feelings” at last.
Often, unfortunately, we don’t find the relief we’re looking for. For example, some people (as I used to do) think meditation is supposed to involve feeling peaceful and perhaps even blissful.
But if they get deeply into it, they discover that it isn’t like that at all — in fact, when we switch off all the noise we’re usually surrounded by, and sit quietly, the pain we’ve been shutting out often comes through loud and clear. And that’s when we start griping that meditation “doesn’t work.”
On the other hand, some of us do find tranquility in meditation and similar practices, but then we start using those practices to shut out emotions and sensations we don’t want to be with – as Masters puts it, to “find a safety from the more brutal dimensions of life that we crave.” If we feel angry, for instance, and we see anger as a “negative emotion” we “shouldn’t be having,” perhaps we’ll meditate to numb the feeling.
The trouble is that feeling angry can serve us at times in life. If we need to protect ourselves against an attacker, or say a firm “no” to someone who’s demanding a lot of our time and energy, anger can fuel us to take decisive, effective action. Thus, sedating our anger and other “bad feelings” with spirituality (or anything else) can be harmful.
What’s Spirituality Good For?
This isn’t to say that spiritual practice has no benefits. In fact, says Masters, spiritual practice can serve us by helping us get more comfortable and familiar with our pain, rather than running from it. “Contrary to what we tend to believe,” he writes, “the more intimate we are with our pain, the less we suffer.”
This kind of statement was hard for me to believe before I experienced the truth of it myself. Like many people, when I began meditating, I felt really bored, and when the boredom got intense enough I’d simply stop. Eventually, inspired by teachers like Robert, I focused my attention on the boredom and just allowed it to arise.
As I did this, the boredom became easier and easier to be with — and, as I often describe, this had practical benefits in my life, such as helping me focus on a project I was doing for a long period of time even if I felt bored.
And on that note, look at the word count! Looks like I’d best put the rest of my review of this important book into a second post. Stay tuned!
Do you ever notice yourself doing “spiritual bypassing”? What feelings do you use spiritual practice to get away from?
Human beings exist on at least two levels, and I think we’re happiest and most fulfilled when we stay conscious of both of them. The two levels I’m talking about are:
1. Everything Matters. On one level of reality, lots of things in life matter a lot. You are a body that needs constant care and feeding. It’s extremely important that you succeed in your career, relationships and so on. You have a nearly infinite number of wants and needs.
2. Nothing Matters. At another level, nothing is important. You are not simply a body, because the distinction between “you” and “the rest of the world” is arbitrary and artificial. You are everything that is, and you are changeless and eternal. The idea that you could “need” or “want” anything is meaningless.
Most of Us Live at Level 1
I suspect we’ve all experienced, at one point or another, these two levels of reality. However, most of us feel uneasy acknowledging that Level 2 — where nothing matters — exists, so we shut it out.
After all, if we admitted there’s a sense in which nothing matters, what would that do to our work ethic? Perhaps we’d kick back on the couch with a beer and the remote, and never get up again except to buy more beer. Or maybe we’d take a more “spiritual” tack, and spend the rest of our lives handing out flowers in airports.
There certainly are people who live this way. In many cultures, people who live entirely in the changeless, eternal realm, where nothing matters, are common and accepted.
If you travel in India, you’ll likely see saints who have freely chosen to give up their belongings and live as beggars. Russia has a long tradition of “holy fools” in deep communion with God but incapable of basic daily tasks. Unless you want this kind of existence, living entirely at Level 2 probably isn’t for you.
The Laments of Level 1 Living
On the other hand, going through life as if Level 2 doesn’t exist also has a cost. Spending our whole lives feeling incomplete, constantly wanting this and needing that, keeps us exhausted and fearful.
The most painful part of this way of living is that, because there’s always more we can have, we’re never satisfied. I’m reminded of some wealthy ex-neighbors whose house was under constant remodeling, and whose yard was eternally full of bulldozers and mounds of dirt — yet no amount of landscaping seemed to please them.
It’s All Good
I see my work as meant to help people stay conscious of both levels of reality as they walk through the world. Because most people in the U.S., I think it’s safe to say, are wrapped up in the level where everything is a huge, stressful deal all the time, I tend to focus on helping people acknowledge the level where nothing’s that important.
For instance, if someone feels paralyzed with anxiety each time they sit down to work on an important project, I may invite them to do exercises to get back in touch with the level where nothing, including the project, is important. Perhaps I’ll have them breathe deeply, and sense the pressure of their feet against the ground, and the feeling of stability that sensation can bring.
The paradox is that, when we keep ourselves aware of both levels, we actually function better in the day-to-day, humdrum, routine world. If we see a project as a matter of life and death, it makes sense that working on it will be a scary experience. But if we stay conscious that a mistake or setback in the project won’t destroy us, we find more ease and even joy in our work.
So, yes, there’s a way in which nothing really matters — and I think that’s a wonderful thing.
Just wanted to keep you all updated on the state of play here at Edgar HQ and on Edgar Force One — I can’t say which one I’m at right now for national security reasons:
New Bay Area Meetup
I’ve started a Meetup group in San Jose, California, which I’m using to offer free evening events on finding focus, motivation and peace in your work. I’m excited about the next meeting, which will be on Monday, June 28, because yoga teacher Rosy Moon, who co-leads my full-day intensive workshop, will be joining me.
We’ll be talking about how yoga can help us accept and even embrace the tension, frustration, fatigue and so on we feel in our work — and, of course, doing some yoga with participants. We’ll also demonstrate how the deep inner work we do in our workshop can help people let go of the blocks that have them avoid truly giving their gifts to the world.
If you’re in the Bay Area, I encourage you to drop by — you’ll definitely learn a lot and have fun!
Inner Productivity Intensive
I think I’m still digesting how powerful an experience the last Inner Productivity Intensive was. My friends are like “okay, time to finish processing and feel happy about it already!” :) Not only did Rosy and I have a blast, but we got some incredible feedback — here’s a sample:
“I wanted to let you both know how much I enjoyed the workshop. It was a great experience – I learned a lot and actually enjoyed most of it! It may be the best single day workshop I have attended in my professional career.”
- Aidan C., San Francisco, California
“The Inner Productivity Intensive Workshop was amazing, maybe even transformational. I’ll use some of the practical techniques I learned pretty much every day for the rest of my life. At the same time, I also gained deeper insights into myself and my relationships that were incredibly valuable.”
- B.P., San Francisco, California
Almost as soon as the last participant left, Rosy and I were talking about scheduling another one. If I procrastinated about putting it together, that would make me a big hypocrite, and I didn’t want that. So, I wasted no time in setting up the next workshop for August 15, 2010.
If you’re ready to get conscious, and let go, of patterns of thinking and behavior holding you back from giving your deepest gifts to the world, this is the workshop for you. You can find out more about it and register here.
Some Great Recent Interviews
I had the privilege of appearing on two wonderful radio shows recently — both hosts had read and deeply appreciated the book, which led to discussions that were educational and fun. I’ll post the links to them below.
* Welcome Changes Radio with Velma Gallant, June 2010
* Good Vibrations Radio with Solarzar and Kyralani, May 2010
I hope I get the chance to meet more of you in person, and I’m looking forward to more opportunities to help the world make working enjoyable and meaningful.
“I teach people how to use mindfulness practices, like meditation and yoga, to focus while they work. I help them bring these practices into their in-the-moment experience of working — to go beyond just using them on the yoga mat or the meditation cushion.”
This is a correct description of what I do. Unfortunately, it also tends to make people’s eyes roll and/or glaze over.
I know this all too well, because I delivered this “elevator pitch” many times. What’s more, for many months, I kept describing what I do in this way, even though I knew it was boring and confusing people.
Why did I keep saying this to people, despite its obvious soporific effect? The answer is that lots of resistance came up inside when I thought about changing it. Because I found the resistance uncomfortable, I left my pitch unchanged so I wouldn’t have to feel it.
Welcoming My Resistance
I finally started getting traction around this issue when I decided to re-read my book and take my own medicine. Rather than fleeing from the resistance, I chose to sit with it. I got intimately familiar with its contours — where I felt it in my body, whether it manifested as a tingling, pulsing, tension, or something else, and so on.
As I’ve experienced so many times, putting my full attention on the tightness in my body actually dissolved it. My solar plexus, where the most tension was, relaxed, and I sighed with relief. And, as usual, with that relaxation came helpful insight. What I saw was that I was clinging to this dull description of my services because, in my mind, it made me sound intelligent and unique.
After all, even if people didn’t buy my book or take my workshop, at least they wouldn’t see me as just another rah-rah jump-up-and-down-to-”Simply-The-Best” motivational speaker. At least they’d know I don’t spout self-help cliches like “take action! Think happy thoughts! Like attracts like!” You see, I use sophisticated words like “mindfulness,” and that makes me different!
In other words, I recognized through self-exploration that I was afraid of looking average — and, most importantly, that I was allowing that fear to control my business decisions. I was letting concerns about my image get in the way of actually delivering value to people.
Allowing My Averageness
Getting conscious of this fear also helped to liberate me from it. After all, I realized, what’s really going to happen if someone sees me as average? Will I disintegrate or spontaneously combust or something? Probably not.
What’s more, I recognized that, no matter what I accomplish, there are many ways in which I’m forever doomed to be average. Studies have shown, for example, that I share approximately 99.999999% of my DNA not only with you, Dear Readers, but also with orangutans and mandrills. Why go to such lengths to conceal my built-in averageness?
Armed with this new awareness, I came up with a much more clear and concise summary of what I do. It goes a little something like this:
“I help people get focused and motivated at work.”
I’ve noticed that this produces a lot less nodding off, and a lot more purchasing of my stuff, among potential customers.
What about you, Dear Reader? How are you letting image-consciousness get in the way of giving your gifts to the world?
I just published a new guest post at The Change Blog called “Procrastination and the Art of Allowing.”
Normally, when uncomfortable thoughts and sensations come up as we’re working, we tend to run away from them by playing FreeCell or chasing some other distraction — and, voila, we have procrastination. But when we simply relax our bodies, continue breathing, and let those sensations pass away on their own, we start developing the ability to choose to move forward in our work instead.
For those who haven’t read Inner Productivity, or my “Transcending Procrastination” special report (which you can download by signing up at the upper right hand corner of this page), this will serve as a helpful introduction to my work. I hope you enjoy it!
If you spent a moment without thinking, would you cease to exist?
As I mentioned earlier, when I give talks about using mindfulness practices to focus on your work, at least one person usually tells me they “can’t meditate” because they can’t seem to force their mind to quiet.
But often, if I get the chance to dig deeper into what’s going on for that person, what I discover is that they don’t really want their mind to be silent. They’re afraid that, if they stopped thinking for a moment, they wouldn’t be able to start again. And if that happened, they’d become stupid or comatose, or perhaps even disappear.
Their solution, then, is to keep up a constant stream of thought. One problem with this approach is that the clutter in their mind creates distraction — particularly when they’re trying to do a task at work. Also, as I’ll bet you know from experience, much of the thinking we do is repetitive and unpleasant.
Relaxed Body, Relaxed Mind
Many people think emptying the mind takes hard work, which is why I get questions about how to “force my mind to empty.” But over time, what I’ve discovered in meditation is that it’s more a matter of, if you will, taking a break. In fact, thinking is what takes work — mental blankness simply happens when we relax.
To experience what I’m talking about, next time your mind feels cluttered, take a moment and notice whether some part of your body is tight. For example, one thing I usually observe when my mind is teeming with thoughts is that my jaw is tense. When you notice where you’re holding onto tension, see if you can relax that area.
What I’ve noticed in myself, and in others I’ve worked with, is that relaxing those tight muscles actually helps relax the mind. It’s as if we need to tense up to produce a constant stream of thought, and letting go of that tension helps us drop the compulsive thinking.
I think this is one reason why yoga, bodywork, and other methods that help loosen up those tight spots can bring such peace. When constricted places in the body open up, it’s as if the mental storm abates and the sun peeks through the clouds. I had a striking experience like this last weekend (in a workshop by Robert Masters, whom I highly recommend), when tight spots I wasn’t even aware of in my jaw and throat unraveled, and my mind became blissfully clear.
Thinking Versus Insight
But if we let our minds empty, how do we come up with the ideas we need to do our projects? This is where, for me, the difference between thinking and insight comes into play.
Thinking, as I said, seems to require effort to produce. Insight, on the other hand, seems to arise without effort — in those moments where “inspiration strikes” without warning.
My sense is that, when our minds are clear, there’s more space for insight to enter. But when they’re clogged with ceaseless thinking, there’s no room for inspiration. It’s no surprise to me, then, that my most powerful ideas have spontaneously come up during meditation.
I think this is one meaning of the story you may know about the professor who visited a Zen monk. The monk served the professor tea, but he kept pouring even after the cup was overflowing.
“You are like this cup,” said the monk. “I cannot show you Zen until you are empty.”