Highlights from all books

Eat a Peach by David Chang

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  • Lobsters grow by molting. They shed their old shell to reveal new, soft shell that will eventually grow and harden around them. By the time they're done, there's no sign of the lobster they were. It's an exhausting, dangerous process. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and leaves them exposed and vulnerable while they're in the middle of it.

  • Be a fool. For love. For yourself. What you think MIGHT possibly make you happy. Even for a little while. Whatever the cost or good sense might dictate.

    — Anthony Bourdain
  • I've found that the cooks with the brightest prospects are the ones who are hardest on themselves. The trick is to direct that dissatisfaction to your advantage. Every day as a cook can be a fresh start. There are no lingtering effects from the previous bad service. Yesterday's mistakes are gone. Resolve to be better today. Just know that in three or four months' time when you move to a new section, it's all going to feel freshly impossible again.

  • Every dish and service is an opportunity to collect data. It's only a mistake if you don't learn from it.

The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh

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  • Then Allen said, “I’ve discovered a way to have a lot more time. In the past, I used to look at my time as if it were divided into several parts. One part I reserved for Joey, another part was for Sue, another part to help with Ana, another part for household work. The left over I considered my own. I could read, write, do research, go for walks. But now I try not to divide time into parts anymore. I consider my time with Joey and Sue as my own time. When I help Joey with his homework, I try to find ways of seeing his time as my own time. I go through his lesson with him, sharing his presence and finding ways to be interested what we do during that time. The time for him becomes my own time. The same with Sue. The remarkable thing is that now I have unlimited time for myself!”

  • …I suggest to those who come to the meditation sessions that each person should try hard to reserve one day out of the week to devote entirely to their practice of mindfulness.

  • The feeling that any task is a nuisance will soon disappear if it is done in mindfulness. Take the Zen Masters. No matter what task or motion they undertake, they do it slowly and evenly, without reluctance.

  • At lunchtime, prepare a meal for yourself. Cook the meal and wash the dishes in mindfulness. In the morning, after you have cleaned and straightened up your house, and in the afternoon, after you have worked in the garden or watched clouds or gathered flowers, prepare a pot of tea to sit and drink in mindfulness. Allow yourself a good length of time to do this…drink your tea slowly and reverantly, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves—slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life. Don’t be attached to the future. Don’t worry about things you have to do. Don’t think about getting up or taking off to do something. Don’t think about “departing”.

  • If you cannot find joy in peace in these very moments of sitting, then the future itself will only flow by as a river flows by, you will not be able to hold it back, you will be incapable of living the future when it has become the present. Joy and peace are the joy and peace possible in this very hour of sitting. If you cannot find it here, you won’t find it anywhere. Don’t chase after your thoughts as a shadow following its object. Don’t run after your thoughts. Find joy and peace in this very moment.

  • Find a photo of yourself as a child. Sit in the full or half lotus. Begin to follow your breath. After 20 breaths, begin to focus your attention on the photo in front of you. Recreate and live again the five aggregates of which you were made up at the time the photo was taken: the physical characteristics of your body, your feelings, perceptions, mind functionings, and consciousness at that age. Continue to follow your breath. Do not let your memories lure you away or overcome you. Maintain this meditation for 15 minutes. Maintain the half smile. Turn your mindfulness to your present self. Be conscious of your body, feelings, perceptions, mind functionings, and consciousness in the present moment. See the five aggregates which make up yourself. Ask the question, “who am I?” The question should be deeply rooted in you, like a new seed nestled deep in the soft earth and damp with water. The question “who am I?” should not be an abstract question to consider with your discursive intellect. The question “who am I?” will not be confined to your intellect, but to the care of the whole of the five aggregates. Don’t try to seek an intellectual answer. Contemplate for 10 minutes, maintaining light but deep breath to prevent being pulled away be philosophical reflection.

  • Sit in a dark room by yourself, or alone by a river at night, or anywhere else where there is solitude. Begin to take hold of your breath. Give rise to the thought, “I will use my finger to point at myself,” and then instead of pointing at your body, point away in the opposite direction. Contemplate seeing yourself outside of your bodily form. Contemplate seeing your bodily form present before you—in the trees, the grass and leaves, the river. Be mindful that you are in the universe and the universe is in you: if the universe is, you are; if you are, the universe is. There is no birth. There is no death. There is no coming. There is no going.

  • Contemplate the image of the person who has caused you the most suffering. Regard the features you hate or despise the most and find the most repulsive. Try to examine what makes this person happy and what causes suffering in his daily life. Contemplate the person’s perceptions; try to see what patterns of thought and reason this person follows. Examine what motivates this person’s hopes and actions. Finally consider the person’s consciousness. See whether his views and insights are open and free or not, and whether or not he has been influenced by any prejudices, narrow-mindedness, hatred, or anger. See whether or not he is master of himself. Continue until you feel compassion rise in your heart like a well filling with fresh water and your anger and resentment disappear. Practice this exercise many times on the same person.

  • …take the situation of a country suffering war or any other situation of injustice. Try to see that every person involved in the conflict is a victim. See that no person, including all those in warring parties or in what appear to be opposing sides, desires the suffering to continue. See that it is not only one or a few persons who are to blame for the situation. See that the situation is possible because of the clinging to ideologies and to an unjust world economic system which is upheld by every person through ignorance or through lack of resolve to change it. See that two sides in a conflict are not really opposing, but two aspects of the same reality. See that the most essential thing is life and that killing or oppressing one another will not solve anything. Remember the Sutra’s words: “In the time of war / Raise in yourself the Mind of Compassion / Help living beings / Abandon the wil l to fight / Wherever there is furious battle / Use all your might / To keep both sides’ strength equal / And then step into the conflict to reconcile” —Vimalakirti Nirdesa. Meditate until every reproach and hatred disappears, and compassion and love rise like a well of fresh water within you. Vow to work for awareness and reconciliation by the most silent and unpretentious means possible.

  • Detachment: sit in the full or half lotus. Follow your breath. Recall the most significant achievements in your life and examine each of them. Examine your talent, your virtue, your capacity, the convergence of favorable conditions that have led to success. Examine the complacency and arrogance that have arisen from the feeling that you are the main cause for such success. Shed the light of interdependence on the whole matter to see that the achievement is not really yours but the convergence of various conditions beyond your reach. See to it that you will not be bound to these achievements. Only when you can relinquish them can you really be free and no longer assailed by them. Recall the bitterest failures in your life and examine each of them. Examine your talent, your virtue, your capacity, and the absence of favorable conditions that led to the failures. Examine to see all the complexes that have arisen within you from the feeling that you are not capable of realizing success. Shed the light of interdependence on the whole matter to see that failures cannot be accounted for by your inabilities but rather by the lack of favorable conditions. See that you have no strength to shoulder these failures, that these failures are not your own self. See to it that you are free from them. Only when you can relinquish them can you really be free and no longer assailed by them.

How to Do Nothing by Jenny O’Dell

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  • We still recognize that much of what gives one’s life meaning stems from accidents, interruptions, and serendipitous encounters: the “off time” that a mechanistic view of experience seeks to eliminate.

  • When people long for some kind of escape, it’s worth asking: What would “back to the land” mean if we understood the land to be where we are right now?

  • The point of doing nothing, as I define it, isn’t to return to work refreshed and ready to be more productive, but rather to question what we currently perceive as productive.

  • I propose that rerouting and deepening one’s attention to place will likely lead to awareness of one's participation in history and in a more-than-human community. From either a social or ecological perspective, the ultimate goal of “doing nothing” is to wrest our focus from the attention economy and replant it in the public, physical realm.

  • When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book—to open the page and let the stories crawl in by themselves.

    — John Steinbeck, Cannery Row
  • My mom has only ever spoken English to me, and for a very long time, I assumed that whenever my mom was speaking to another Filipino person, she was speaking Tagalog…bBut my mom was only sometimes speaking Tagalog. Other times she was speaking Ilonggo, which is a completely different language that is specific to where she's from in the Philippines. The languages are no the same, i.e. one is not simply a dialect of the other; in fact, the Philippines is full of language groups that, according to my mom, have so little in common that speakers would not be able to understand each other, and Tagalog is only one. This type of embarrassing discovery, in which something you thought was one thing is actually two things, and each of those things is actually ten things, seems like a simple fuction of the duration and quality of one's attention. With effort, we can become attuned to things, able to pick up and then hopefully differentiate finer and finer frequencies each time.

  • When Samuel Gompers, who led the labor group that organized this particular iteration of the eight-hour movement, gave an address titled “What Does Labor Want?” the answer he arrived at was, “It wants the earth and the fullness thereof”.

  • I consider “doing nothing” both as a kind of deprogramming device and as sustenance for those feeling too disassembled to act meaningfully.

  • If the law is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.

    — Henry David Thoreau
  • Differences in social and financial vulnerability explain why participants in mass acts of refusal have often been, and continue to be, students. James C. McMillan, an art professor at Bennett College who advised students when they participated in the 1960s Greensboro sit-ins, said that black adults were “reluctant” to “jeopardize any gains, economic or otherwise,” but that the students “did not have that kind of an investment, that kind of economic status, and, therefore, were not vulnerable to the kind of reprisals that could have occurred.”

  • If you hump away at menial jobs 360-plus days a year, does some kind of repetitive stress injury of the spirit set in?

    — Barbara Ehrenreich
  • In her piece on the Prejudice Lab, [Jessica] Nordell speaks with Evelyn R. Carter, a social psychologist at UCLA, who tells her that “people in the majority and the minority often see two different realities” based on what they do and do not notice. For example, “white people…might only hear a racist remark, while people of color might register subtler actions, like someone scooting away slightly on the bus.”

  • Similar to many indigenous cultures’ relationships to land, bioregionalism is first and foremost based on observation and recognition of what grows where, as well as an appreciation for the complex web of relationships among those actors. More than observation, it also suggests a way of identifying with place, weaving oneself into a region through observation of and responsibility to the local ecosystem.

  • I thought about how it’s possible to move to a place without caring about who or what is already there (or what was there before), interested in the neighborhood only insofar as it allows one to maintain your existing or ideal lifestyle and social ties.

  • Compared to the algorithms that recommend friends to us based on instrumental qualities—things we like, things we’ve bought, friends in common—geographical proximity is different, placing us near people who we have no “obvious” instrumental reason to care about, who are neither family nor friends (nor, sometimes, even potential friends).

  • …when I hear a song I unexpectedly like, I sometimes feel like something I don’t know is talking to something else I don’t know, through me.

  • …I worry that if we let our real-life interactions be corralled by our filter bubbles and branded identities, we are also running the risk of never being surprised, challenged, or changed—never seeing anything outside of ourselves, including our own privilege…if we don’t expand our attention outside of that sliver, we live in an “I-It” world where nothing has meaning outside of its value and relation to us. And we’re less prone to the encounters with those who turn us upside down and reorganize our universe—those who stand to change us significantly, should we allow it.

  • Our idea of progress is so bound up with the idea of putting something new into the world that it can feel counterintuitive to equate progress with destruction, removal, and remediation. But this seeming contradiction actually points to a deeper contradiction: of destruction (e.g. ecosystems) frames as construction (e.g. of dams). Nineteenth-century views of progress, production, and innovation relied on an image of the land as a blank slate where its current inhabitants and systems were like so many weeds in what was destined to become an American lawn. But if were sincerely recognize all that was already here, both culturally and ecologically, we start to understand that anything framed as construction was actually also destruction.

  • …a Japanese farmer named Masanobu Fukuoka experienced this Copernican shift when he invented what he called “do-nothing farming”. Inspired by the productivity of an abandoned lot that he saw filled with grasses and weeds, Fukuoka figured out a method of farming that made use of existing relationships in the land. Instead of flooding fields and sowing rice in the spring, he scattered the seeds directly on the ground in the fall, as they would have fallen naturally. In place of conventional fertilizer, he grew a cover of green clover, and threw the leftover stalks back on top when he was done. Fukuoka’s method required less labor, no machines, and no chemicals, but it took him decades to perfect and required extremely close attention. If everything was done at precisely the right time, the reward was unmistakable: not only was Fukuoka’s farm more productive and sustainable than neighboring farms, his method was able to remediate poor soils after a few seasons, creating farmable land on rocky outcrops and other inhospitable areas.

Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

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  • Being more productive didn’t mean I was doing the most important work; it only meant I was reacting to other people’s priorities faster.

  • Something magic happens when you start the day with one high-priority goal.

  • …change comes from resetting defaults, creating barriers, and beginning to design the way you spend your time.

  • Every day, you’ll choose a single activity to prioritize and protect in your calendar…Your Highlight might be something you don’t necessarily have to do but want to do, like playing with your kids or reading a book…Asking yourself “What’s going to be the highlight of my day?” ensures that you spend time on the things that matter to you and don’t lose the entire day reacting to other people’s priorities.

  • None of us can be perfect eaters, perfectly productive, perfectly mindful, and perfectly rested all the time. We can’t do the fifty-seven things bloggers tell us we’re supposed to do before 5 a.m. And even if we could, we shouldn’t. Perfection is a distraction—another shiny object taking your attention away from your real priorities.

  • We want you to begin each day by thinking about what you hope will be the bright spot. If, at the end of the day, someone asks you, “What was the highlight of your day?” what do you want your answer to be? When you look back on your day, what activity or accomplishment or moment do you want to savor?

  • Research shows that the way you experience your days is not determined primarily by what happens to you. In fact, you create your own reality by choosing what you pay attention to.

  • The first strategy is all about urgency: What’s the most pressing thing I have to do today?…look for projects that are time-sensitive, important, and medium-size (in other words, they don’t take ten minutes but don’t take ten hours, either).

  • At the end of the day, which Highlight will bring me the most satisfaction?

  • Look for activities that are not urgent. Instead, consider projects you’ve been meaning to get around to but haven’t quite found the time. Maybe you have a particular skill you want to put to use, or maybe it’s a pet project that you want to develop before sharing it with the world. These projects are super vulnerable to procrastination, because although they’re important, they are not time-sensitive, and that makes them easy to postpone. Use your Highlight to break the “someday” cycle.

  • When I reflect on today, what will bring me the most joy?

  • You only waste time if you’re not intentional about how you spend it.

  • A good rule of thumb is to choose a Highlight that takes sixty to ninety minutes. If you spend less than sixty minutes, you might not have time to get in the zone, but after ninety minutes of focused attention, most people need a break.

  • It’s never too late in the day to choose (or change) your Highlight. Recently, I had a really lousy day. In the morning, I’d planned to make my Highlight editing 100 pages of the Make Time manuscript. But all day long I was randomized by everything from a plumbing problem to a pounding headache to unexpected dinner guests. In the afternoon, I realized I could change my Highlight—and my attitude. I decided to scrap my editing goal for the day and instead focus on enjoying the dinner with friends. When I made that choice, my whole day turned around. I could let go and enjoy.

  • Make writing down your Highlight a simple daily ritual. You can do it at any time, but the evening (before bed) and the morning work best for most people.

  • There are lots of great reasons to repeat your Highlight: If you didn’t get to your Highlight, it’s probably still important. Repeat for a second chance. If you started your Highlight but didn’t finish it or if your Highlight was part of a bigger project, today is the perfect day to make progress or start a personal sprint (#7). Repeat to build momentum.

  • Make a list of the big things that matter in your life. Choose the one most important thing. Consider what’s most meaningful to you, not what is most urgent. Once you’ve chosen the most important thing…choose the second, third, fourth, and fifth most important things. Rewrite the list in order of priority. Draw a circle around number one. If you want to make progress on your number one priority, you’ll need to make it your focus wheenver possible. Drawing the circle reinforces this prioritization…

  • Bundle up the small tasks and use batch processing to get them all done in one Highlight session. In other words, make a batch of small things your big thing. For example, one day this week, JZ’s Highlight will be “catch up on email” or “return phone calls”.

  • Whenever you begin a project, your brain is like a computer starting up, loading relevant information, rules, and processes into your working memory. This “boot up” takes time, and you have to redo it to a certain extent every time you pick up the project. This is why, in our design sprints, teams work on the same project for five days in a row. Information stays in people’s working memory from one day to the next…

  • [Sprints aren’t] just for teams; you can run a “personal sprint” yourself. Whether you’re painting the living room, learning to juggle, or preparing a report for a new client, you’ll do better work and make faster progress if you keep at it for consecutive days.

  • I’ve seen this effect with my writing. The first day after a long break is hard. I may not write much of anything, and I get frustrated and cranky. The second day is still slow, but I feel I’m starting to boot up. By the third day and fourth day, I’m in the zone—and I do whatever I can to keep the momentum.

  • The best way to get out of low-priority obligations is never to accept them in the first place.

  • Could you squeeze in a new project but worry about giving it the proper attention? “Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to do a great job on this.”

  • Invited to an activity or event that you know you won’t enjoy? “Thanks for the invitation, but I’m not really into softball.”

  • Our friend Kristen Brillantes uses what she calls the Sour Patch Kid method when she says no. Just like the candy, Kristen’s answers are sour at first but sweet at the end. For example: “Unfortunately, my team won’t be able to participate. But you might ask Team X; they’d be perfect for this kind of event.” The key, says Kristen, is to make sure the sweet ending is authentic, not an empty add-on…Something as simple as a “Thank you for thinking of me; this sounds really fun” goes a long way.

  • To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.

    — Mary Oliver
  • You don’t need to follow the daily news. True breaking news will find you, and the rest isn’t urgent or just doesn’t matter…we suggest reading the news weekly. Anything less frequent is likely to make you feel like you’re at sea, unmoored from human civilization. Anything more frequent and you’ll feel fogged in, able to focus only on what’s in front of you.

  • Small distractions create much larger holes in our day. We call these holes “time craters,” and they work like this: Jake posts a tweet. (90 seconds) Over the next two hours, Jake returns to Twitter four times to see how his tweet is doing. Each time, he skims the newsfeed. Twice he reads an article somebody shared. (26 minutes) Jake’s tweet gets a few retweets, which feels good, so he begins mentally composing his next tweet. (Two minutes here, three minutes there, and so on) Jake posts another tweet, and the cycle begins all over again.

  • A late night watching TV might cost you an hour of sleeping in and a whole day of low energy.

  • Fake wins get in the way of focusing on what you really want to do.

  • A 2014 study by the University of British Columbia found that when people checked their email just three times a day (instead of as often as they wanted), they reported remarkably lower stress.

  • Maybe more surprising, checking less often made the participants better at email. During the week when they checked three times a day, people answered roughly the same number of messages, but they did so 20 percent faster. Checking email less often measurably made time!

  • Instead of checking your email first thing in the morning and then getting sucked in and reacting to other people’s priorities, deal with email at the end of the day. That way, you can use your prime hours for your Highlight and other important work. You’ll probably have a little less energy at the end of the day, but that is actually a good thing when it comes to email: You’ll be less tempted to overcommit by saying yes to every incoming request and less likely to bang out a multipage manifesto when a simple reply would do.

  • To help establish a new end-of-day email routine, try putting it on your calendar. Yes, we want you to literally add “email time” to your calendar.

  • A lot of email stress comes from thinking you need to constantly check and immediately respond to every new message. But you’re better off treating email like old-fashioned paper letters—you know, the kind with envelopes and stamps. Snail mail gets delivered only once a day. Most letters sit on your desk for a while before you do anything about them. And for 99 percent of communications, that works just fine. Try slowing down and seeing your email as what it really is: just a fancy, dressed-up, high-tech version of regular old mail.

  • Above all, taking control of your inbox requires a mental shift from “as fast as possible” to “as slow as you can get away with.” Respond slowly to emails, chats, texts, and other messages. Let hours, days, and sometimes weeks go by before you get back to people. This may sound like a jerk move. It’s not…They have questions about their priorities—not yours—when it’s convenient for them—not you. Every time you check your e mail or another message service, you’re basically saying, “Does any random person need my time right now?” And if you respond right away, you’re sending another signal both to them and to yourself: “I’ll stop whatever I’m doing to put other people’s priorities ahead of mine no matter who they are or what they want.”

  • As Jake with his fiction-writing projects, if you’re constantly exposed to other people’s ideas, it can be tough to think up your own.

  • Instead of reacting to every twitch, write your questions on a piece of paper (How much do wool socks cost on Amazon? Any Facebook updates?) Then you can stay in Laser mode, secure in the knowledge that those pressing topics have been captured for future research.

  • You know the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest…the antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.

    — Brother David Steindl-Rast
  • Daily habits are easier to keep than sometimes habits.

  • To put it in technical terms, walking is really, really darned good for you. Reports from Harvard and the Mayo Clinic (among others) show that walking helps you lose weight, avoid heart disease, reduce the risk of cancer, lower blood pressure, strengthen bones, and improve your mood through the release of painkilling endorphins.

  • When cortisol is high, caffeine doesn’t do much for you (except for temporarily relieving your caffeine addiction symptoms). For most folks, cortisol is highest between 8am and 8am, so for ideal morning energy, experiment with having that first cup of coffee at 9:30am.

  • The tricky thing about caffeine is that if you wait to drink it until you get tired, it’s too late: The adenosine has already hooked up with your brain, and it’s hard to shake the lethargy…Instead, think about when your energy regularly dips—for most of us, it’s after lunch—and have coffee thirty minutes beforehand.

  • To keep a steady energy level throughout the day, try replacing high doses of caffeine (such as a giant cup of brewed coffee) with more freuent low doses. Green tea is a great option.

  • Studies show that meditation increases working memory and the ability to maintain focus.

  • I keep a list of “energy givers” in my phone’s notes app: people who put a bounce in my step every time I see them.

  • Sleeping late on weekends is basically like giving yourself jet lag: it confuses your internal clock and makes it even harder to bounce back from the original deficiti.

  • The research on light exercise and the brain is pretty amazing. For example, a 2016 study at Radboud University in the Netherlands found that exercise boosted short-term memory, even when the information being recalled was learned hours before the participants exercised.

  • Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

    — Howard Thurman
  • Eventually, a funny thing happened. The more I made time for writing, the more I wanted to write. Finally, I decided to try doing it as a full-time job. This major shift in my priorities didn’t happen overnight. It was like a snowball rolling downhill, growing with every revolution. It took seven years from starting to make time for writing in the evenings back in 2010 to becoming a full-time writer in 2017.

  • For much of our own careers, we were too distracted, scrambled, busy, and exhausted to make time for the things we cared most about. First, Make Time helped us find control. Over time, it helped us start those classic “someday” projects we had been putting off for years and could have continued putting off indefinitely. When you create a practice of setting your own most important priority, daily life changes. Perhaps you’ll find your inner compass perfectly aligned with your current work, in which case you’ll now be that much more capable of identifying and acting on the most important opportunities. Make Time could provide a long-term sustained boost to your career. Your hobbies and side projects, strengthened with Make Time, could be a perfect complement. But it is also possible that those side projects might gradually take on a life of their own. A new and unexpected path may emerge. And you may find yourself ready to follow that path and see where it goes.

Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

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  • When it comes right down to it, wherever you go, there you are. Whatever you wind up doing, that’s what you’ve wound up doing. Whatever you are thinking right now, that’s what’s on your mind. Whatever has happened to you, it has already happened. The important question is, how are you going to handle it? In other words, “Now what?”

  • Like it or not, this moment is all we really have to work with.

  • Meditation may help us see that this path we call our life has direction; that it is always unfolding, moment by moment; and that what happens now, in this moment, influences what happens next.

  • “Be a light unto yourself.”

  • Buddhism is fundamentally about being in touch with your own deepest nature and letting it flow out of you unimpeded.

  • A good way to stop all the doing is to shift into the “being mode” for a moment. Think of yourself as an eternal witness, as timeless. Just watch this moment, without trying to change it at all. What is happening? What do you feel? What do you see? What do you hear?

  • The funny thing about stopping is that as soon as you do it, here you are. Things get simpler. In some ways, it’s as if you died and the world continued on. If you did die, all your responsibilities and obligations would immediately evaporate. Their residue would somehow get worked out without you. No one else can take over your unique agenda. It would die or peter out with you just as it has for everyone else who has ever died. So you don’t need to worry about it in any absolute way.   If this is true, maybe you don’t need to make one more phone call right now, even if you think you do. Maybe you don’t need to read something just now, or run one more errand. By taking a few moments to “die on purpose” to the rush of time while you are still living, you free yourself to have time for the present. By “dying” now in this way, you actually become more alive now. This is what stopping can do. There is nothing passive about it. And when you decide to go, it’s a different kind of going because you stopped. The stopping actually makes the going more vivid, richer, more textured. It helps keep all the things we worry about and feel inadequate about in perspective. It gives us guidance.

  • TRY: Stopping, sitting down, and becoming aware of your breathing once in a while throughout the day. It can be for five minutes, or even five seconds. Let go into full acceptance of the present moment, including how you are feeling and what you perceive to be happening. For these moments, don’t try to change anything at all, just breathe and let go. Breathe and let be. Die to having to have anything be different in this moment; in your mind and in your heart, give yourself permission to allow this moment to be exactly as it is, and allow yourself to be exactly as you are. Then, when you’re ready, move in the direction your heart tells you to go, mindfully and with resolution.

  • Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are. Perhaps its value lies precisely in this. Maybe we all need to do one thing in our lives simply for its own sake.

  • Remind yourself that acceptance of the present moment has nothing to do with resignation in the face of what is happening. It simply means a clear acknowledgment that what is happening is happening.

  • Is it possible for you to contemplate that in a very real way, this may actually be the best season, the best moment of your life?

  • The best way to capture moments is to pay attention.

  • Look at other people and ask yourself if you are really seeing them or just your thoughts about them.

  • Stress is part of life, part of being human, intrinsic to the human condition itself. But that does not mean that we have to be victims in the face of large forces in our lives. We can learn to work with them, understand them, find meaning in them, make critical choices, and use their energies to grow in strength, wisdom, and compassion. A willingness to embrace and work with what is lies at the core of all meditation practice.

  • People who don’t understand meditation think that it is some kind of special inner manipulation which will magically shut off these waves so that the mind’s surface will be flat, peaceful, and tranquil. But just as you can’t put a glass plate on the water to calm the waves, so you can’t artificially suppress the waves of your mind, and it is not too smart to try. It will only create more tension and inner struggle, not calmness. That doesn’t mean that calmness is unattainable. It’s just that it cannot be attained by misguided attempts to suppress the mind’s natural activity.

  • It is possible through meditation to find shelter from much of the wind that agitates the mind. Over time, a good deal of the turbulence may die down from lack of continuous feeding. But ultimately the winds of life and of the mind will blow, do what we may. Meditation is about knowing something about this and how to work with it.

  • I love a broad margin to my life.

  • The flavor and the sheer joy of non-doing are difficult for Americans to grasp because our culture places so much value on doing and on progress. Even our leisure tends to be busy and mindless. The joy of non-doing is that nothing else needs to happen for this moment to be complete.

  • Non-doing has nothing to do with being indolent or passive. Quite the contrary. It takes great courage and energy to cultivate non-doing, both in stillness and in activity. Nor is it easy to make a special time for non-doing and to keep at it in the face of everything in our lives which needs to be done.

  • But non-doing doesn’t have to be threatening to people who feel they always have to get things done. They might find they get even more “done,” and done better, by practicing non-doing. Non-doing simply means letting things be and allowing them to unfold in their own way.

  • Effortless activity happens at moments in dance and in sports at the highest levels of performance; when it does, it takes everybody’s breath away. But it also happens in every area of human activity, from painting to car repair to parenting. Years of practice and experience combine on some occasions, giving rise to a new capacity to let execution unfold beyond technique, beyond exertion, beyond thinking. Action then becomes a pure expression of art, of being, of letting go of all doing—a merging of mind and body in motion. We thrill in watching a superb performance, whether athletic or artistic, because it allows us to participate in the magic of true mastery, to be uplifted, if only briefly, and perhaps to share in the intention that each of us, in our own way, might touch such moments of grace and harmony in the living of our own lives.

  • TRY: During the day, see if you can detect the bloom of the present moment in every moment, the ordinary ones, the “in-between” ones, even the hard ones. Work at allowing more things to unfold in your life without forcing them to happen and without rejecting the ones that don’t fit your idea of what “should” be happening.

  • After all, if you really aren’t trying to get anywhere else in this moment, patience takes care of itself. It is a remembering that things unfold in their own time. The seasons cannot be hurried. Spring comes, the grass grows by itself. Being in a hurry usually doesn’t help, and it can create a great deal of suffering—sometimes in us, sometimes in those who have to be around us.

  • Patience is an ever present alternative to the mind’s endemic restlessness and impatience. Scratch the surface of impatience and what you will find lying beneath it, subtly or not so subtly, is anger. It’s the strong energy of not wanting things to be the way they are and blaming someone (often yourself) or something for it.

  • …things unfold according to their own nature.

  • We don’t have to let our anxieties and our desire for certain results dominate the quality of the moment, even when things are painful. When we have to push, we push. When we have to pull, we pull. But we know when not to push too, and when not to pull.

  • TRY: Looking into impatience and anger when they arise. See if you can adopt a different perspective, one which sees things as unfolding in their own time. This is especially useful when you are feeling under pressure and blocked or stymied in something you want or need to do. Hard as it may seem, try not to push the river in that moment but listen carefully to it instead. What does it tell you? What is it telling you to do? If nothing, then just breathe, let things be as they are, let go into patience, continue listening. If the river tells you something, then do it, but do it mindfully. Then pause, wait patiently, listen again.

  • Fear that I’m not good enough, that bad things will happen, that good things won’t last, that other people might hurt me, that I won’t get my way, that only I know anything, that I’m the only one who doesn’t know anything. We tend to see things through tinted glasses: through the lens of whether something is good for me or bad for me, or whether or not it conforms to my beliefs or philosophy. If it is good, I like it. If it is bad, I don’t like it. If it is neither, I have no feelings about it one way or the other, and may hardly notice it at all.

  • See if you can be in touch with a core within you which is rich beyond reckoning in all important ways. Let that core start radiating its energy outwardly, through your entire body, and beyond. Experiment with giving away this energy—in little ways at first—directing it toward yourself and toward others with no thought of gain or return. Give more than you think you can, trusting that you are richer than you think. Celebrate this richness. Give as if you had inexhaustible wealth. This is called “kingly giving.”

  • At the deepest level, there is no giver, no gift, and no recipient…only the universe rearranging itself.

  • The impulse frequently arises in me to squeeze another this or another that into this moment.

  • But in the Western cultural mainstream, you will find precious little support for choosing such a personal path of discipline and constancy, especially such an unusual one involving effort but non-doing, energy but no tangible “product.”

  • If you hope to bring meditation into your life in any kind of long-term, committed way, you will need a vision that is truly your own—one that is deep and tenacious and that lies close to the core of who you believe yourself to be, what you value in your life, and where you see yourself going.

  • The ways in which we need to grow are usually those we are the most supremely defended against and are least willing to admit even exist, let alone take an undefended, mindful peek at and then act on to change.

  • If you believe in love, do you manifest it or just talk a lot? If you believe in compassion, in non-harming, in kindness, in wisdom, in generosity, in calmness, in solitude, in non-doing, in being even-handed and clear, do you manifest these qualities in your daily life?

  • TRY: Asking yourself why you meditate or why you want to meditate. Don’t believe your first answers. Just write down a list of whatever comes to mind. Continue asking yourself. Also, inquire about your values, about what you honor most in life. Make a list of what is really important to you. Ask yourself: What is my vision, my map for where I am and where I am going? Does this vision reflect my true values and intentions? Am I remembering to embody those values? Do I practice my intentions? How am I now in my job, in my family, in my relationships, with myself? How do I want to be? How might I live my vision, my values? How do I relate to suffering, both my own and others’?

  • If your life were a book, what would you call it today? What would you entitle the chapter you are in right now? Are you stuck here in certain ways? Can you be fully open to all of the energies at your disposal at this point?

  • You cannot imitate somebody else’s journey and still be true to yourself. Are you prepared to honor your uniqueness in this way?

  • TRY: The next time you feel a sense of dissatisfaction, of something being missing or not quite right, turn inward just as an experiment. See if you can capture the energy of that very moment. Instead of picking up a magazine or going to the movies, calling a friend or looking for something to eat or acting up in one way or another, make a place for yourself. Sit down and enter into your breathing, if only for a few minutes. Don’t look for anything—neither flowers nor light nor a beautiful view. Don’t extol the virtues of anything or condemn the inadequacy of anything. Don’t even think to yourself, “I am going inward now.” Just sit. Reside at the center of the world. Let things be as they are.

  • So, at the beginning, you might want to stay with the breath, or use it as an anchor to bring you back when you are carried away. Try it for a few years and see what happens.

  • TRY: Setting aside a time every day for just being. Five minutes would be fine, or ten or twenty or thirty if you want to venture that far. Sit down and watch the moments unfold, with no agenda other than to be fully present. Use the breath as an anchor to tether your attention to the present moment. Your thinking mind will drift here and there, depending on the currents and winds moving in the mind until, at some point, the anchorline grows taut and brings you back. This may happen a lot. Bring your attention back to the breath, in all its vividness, every time it wanders. Keep the posture erect but not stiff. Think of yourself as a mountain.

  • It is doubtful that we came to feel undeserving on our own. We were helped to feel unworthy. We were taught it in a thousand ways when we were little, and we learned our lessons well.

  • TRY: Sitting with dignity for thirty seconds. Note how you feel. Try it standing with dignity. Where are your shoulders? How is your spine, your head? What would it mean to walk with dignity?

  • Practicing over and over again embodying dignity, stillness, an unwavering equanimity in the face of any mind state which presents itself, especially when you are not in a grave state of distress or turmoil, can provide a solid, reliable foundation for maintaining mindfulness and equanimity, even in periods of extreme stress and emotional turmoil. But only if you practice, practice, practice.

  • Although it is tempting to do so, you can’t just think that you understand how to be mindful, and save using it for only those moments when the big events hit. They contain so much power they will overwhelm you instantly…

  • Try sitting with your hands palms down on your knees. Notice the quality of self-containment here. To me, this posture speaks of not looking for anything more, but simply digesting what is. If you then turn both palms up, being mindful as you do it, you may note a change in energy in the body. To me, sitting this way embodies receptivity, an openness to what is above, to the energy of the heavens.

  • It can be quite helpful at times, especially in periods of turmoil or confusion, to emphasize receptivity in your sitting practice.

  • TRY: Bringing awareness to how you end your meditations. Whether they are lying down, sitting, standing, or walking, zero in on “who” ends it, how it ends, when it ends, and why. Don’t judge it or yourself in any way—just observe, and stay in touch with the transition from one thing to the next.

  • The sincerity of your effort matters far more than elapsed time…

  • TRY: Being aware of all the times in meditation when the thought comes up: “Am I doing this right?” “Is this what I should be feeling?” “Is this what is ‘supposed’ to happen?” Instead of trying to answer these questions, just look more deeply into the present moment.

  • Rarely do we contemplate our life with this degree of probing. How frequently do we linger in such basic questions as “Who am I?”, “Where am I going?”, “What path am I on?”, “Is this the right direction for me?”, “If I could choose a path now, in which direction would I head?”, “What is my yearning, my path?”, “What do I truly love?”…Contemplating “What is my Way?” is an excellent element to inject into our meditation practice. We don’t have to come up with answers, nor think that there has to be one particular answer. Better not to think at all. Instead, only persist in asking the question, letting any answers that formulate just come of themselves and go of themselves. As with everything else in the meditation practice, we just watch, listen, note, let be, let go, and keep generating the question, “What is my Way?”, “What is my path?”, “Who am I?”

  • The intention here is to remain open to not knowing, perhaps allowing yourself to come to the point of admitting, “I don’t know,” and then experimenting with relaxing a bit into this not knowing instead of condemning yourself for it. After all, in this moment, it may be an accurate statement of how things are for you.

  • By becoming the mountain in our meditation, we can link up with its strength and stability, and adopt them for our own. We can use its energies to support our efforts to encounter each moment with mindfulness, equanimity, and clarity. It may help us to see that our thoughts and feelings, our preoccupations, our emotional storms and crises, even the things that happen to us are much like the weather on the mountain.

  • TRY: Keeping this mountain image in mind as you sit in formal meditation. Explore its usefulness in deepening your capacity to dwell in stillness; to sit for longer periods of time; to sit in the face of adversity, difficulties, and storms or drabness in the mind.

  • Can you see some subtle transformation occurring in your attitude toward things that change in your life? Can you carry the mountain image with you in daily life? Can you see the mountain in others, and allow them their own shape and form, each mountain uniquely itself?

  • Water also has the enchanting quality of receptivity. It parts to allow anything in, then resumes itself.

  • To practice using the lake image in your meditation, picture in your mind’s eye a lake, a body of water held in a receptive basin by the earth itself.

  • When you have established a picture of the lake in your mind’s eye, allow yourself to become one with the lake as you lie down on your back or sit in meditation, so that your energies are held by your awareness and by your openness and compassion for yourself in the same way as the lake’s waters are held by the receptive and accepting basin of the earth herself.

  • TRY: Noticing the difference in how you feel and how you handle stress in periods when you are into the discipline of daily meditation and yoga practice and in periods of your life when you are not.

  • We resonate with one another’s sorrows because we are interconnected. Being whole and simultaneously part of a larger whole, we can change the world simply by changing ourselves. If I become a center of love and kindness in this moment, then in a perhaps small but hardly insignificant way, the world now has a nucleus of love and kindness it lacked the moment before.

  • Start by centering yourself in your posture and in your breathing. Then, from your heart or from your belly, invite feelings or images of kindness and love to radiate until they fill your whole being. Allow yourself to be cradled by your own awareness as if you were as deserving of loving kindness as any child. Let your awareness embody both benevolent mother energy and benevolent father energy, making available for you in this moment a recognition and an honoring of your being, and a kindness you perhaps did not receive enough of as a child. Let yourself bask in this energy of loving kindness, breathing it in and breathing it out, as if it were a lifeline, long in disrepair but finally passing along a nourishment you were starving for. Invite feelings of peacefulness and acceptance to be present in you. Some people find it valuable to say to themselves from time to time such things as: “May I be free from ignorance. May I be free from greed and hatred. May I not suffer. May I be happy.” But the words are just meant to evoke feelings of loving kindness. They are a wishing oneself well—consciously formed intentions to be free now, in this moment at least, from the problems we so often make for ourselves or compound for ourselves through our own fear and forgetfulness.

  • You can also take the practice further. Having established a radiant center in your being, you can let loving kindness radiate outwardly and direct it wherever you like.

  • You can direct loving kindness toward anybody, toward people you know and people you don’t. It may benefit them, but it will certainly benefit you by refining and extending your emotional being. This extension matures as you purposefully direct loving kindness toward people you have a hard time with, toward those you dislike or are repulsed by, toward those who threaten you or have hurt you. You can also practice directing loving kindness toward whole groups of people—toward all those who are oppressed, or who suffer, or whose lives are caught up in war or violence or hatred, understanding that they are not different from you—that they too have loved ones, hopes and aspirations, and needs for shelter, food, and peace. And you can extend loving kindness to the planet itself, its glories and its silent suffering, to the environment, the streams and rivers, to the air, the oceans, the forests, to plants and animals, collectively or singly.

  • When you can love one tree or one flower or one dog or one place, or one person or yourself for one moment, you can find all people, all places, all suffering, all harmony in that one moment.

  • Practicing in this way is not trying to change anything or get anywhere, although it might look like it on the surface. What it is really doing is uncovering what is always present. Love and kindness are here all the time, somewhere, in fact, everywhere. Usually our ability to touch them and be touched by them lies buried below our own fears and hurts, below our greed and our hatreds, below our desperate clinging to the illusion that we are truly separate and alone.

  • We have only to flip a switch when the outer light begins to dim. We can light up the world as brightly as we want and keep going with our lives, filling all our waking hours with busyness, with doing. Life gives us scant time for being nowadays, unless we seize it on purpose. We no longer have a fixed time when we have to stop what we are doing because there’s not enough light to do it by…we lack that formerly built-in time we had every night for shifting gears, for letting go of the day’s activities. We have precious few occasions nowadays for the mind to settle itself in stillness by a fire.

  • Nature’s harmony is around us and within us at all times. Perceiving it is an occasion for great happiness; but it is often only appreciated in retrospect or in its absence. If all is going well in the body, it tends to go unnoticed. Your lack of a headache is not front-page news for your cerebral cortex. Abilities such as walking, seeing, thinking, and peeing take care of themselves, and so blend into the landscape of automaticity and unawareness. Only pain or fear or loss wake us and bring things into focus. But by then the harmony is harder to see, and we find ourselves caught up in turbulence, itself containing, like rapids and waterfalls, order of a more difficult and subtle level within the river of life.

  • The virtues of getting up early have nothing to do with cramming more hours of busyness and industry into one’s day. Just the opposite. They stem from the stillness and solitude of the hour, and the potential to use that time to expand consciousness, to contemplate, to make time for being, for purposefully not doing anything. The peacefulness, the darkness, the dawn, the stillness—all contribute to making early morning a special time for mindfulness practice.

  • If you can begin your day with a firm foundation in mindfulness and inner peacefulness, then when you do have to get going and start doing, it is much more likely that the doing will flow out of your being. You are more likely to carry a robust mindfulness, an inner calmness and balance of mind with you throughout the day, than had you just jumped out of bed and started in on the call of demands and responsibilities, however pressing and important.

  • I especially try to make time for formal practice, if just for a few minutes, on days when momentous events happen, happy or distressing, when my mind and the circumstances are in turmoil, when there is lots to be done and feelings are running strong. In this way, I am less likely to miss the inner meaning of such moments, and I might even navigate through them a bit better.

  • TRY: Making a commitment to yourself to get up earlier than you otherwise might. Just doing it changes your life…You don’t want to fill this time with anything other than awareness. No need to go over the day’s commitments in your head and live “ahead” of yourself. This is a time of no-time, of stillness, of presence, of being with yourself…Also, at the moment of waking up, before getting out of bed, get in touch with your breath, feel the various sensations in your body, note any thoughts and feelings that may be present, let mindfulness touch this moment. Can you feel your breathing? Can you perceive the dawning of each in breath? Can you enjoy the feeling of the breath freely entering your body in this moment? Ask yourself: “Am I awake now?”

  • The romantic notion is that if it’s no good over here, you have only to go over there and things will be different. If this job is no good, change jobs. If this wife is no good, change wives. If this town is no good, change towns. If these children are a problem, leave them for other people to look after. The underlying thinking is that the reason for your troubles is outside of you—in the location, in others, in the circumstances. Change the location, change the circumstances, and everything will fall into place; you can start over, have a new beginning. The trouble with this way of seeing is that it conveniently ignores the fact that you carry your head and your heart, and what some would call your “karma,” around with you. You cannot escape yourself, try as you might.

  • Sooner or later, the same problems would arise if in fact they stem in large part from your patterns of seeing, thinking, and behaving. Too often, our lives cease working because we cease working at life, because we are unwilling to take responsibility for things as they are, and to work with our difficulties. We don’t understand that it is actually possible to attain clarity, understanding, and transformation right in the middle of what is here and now, however problematic it may be.

  • You can even blame yourself for it all and, in the ultimate escape from responsibility, run away feeling that you have made a hopeless mess of things, or that you are damaged beyond repair. In either case, you believe that you are incapable of true change or growth, and that you need to spare others any more pain by removing yourself from the scene.

  • It doesn’t matter whether you are using drugs or meditation, alcohol or Club Med, divorce or quitting your job. There can be no resolution leading to growth until the present situation has been faced completely and you have opened to it with mindfulness…

  • This, then, really is it…this place, this relationship, this dilemma, this job. The challenge of mindfulness is to work with the very circumstances that you find yourself in—no matter how unpleasant, how discouraging, how limited, how unending and stuck they may appear to be—and to make sure that you have done everything in your power to use their energies to transform yourself before you decide to cut your losses and move on. It is right here that the real work needs to happen.

  • TRY: To use ordinary, repetitive occasions in your own house as invitations to practice mindfulness. Going to the front door, answering the telephone, seeking out someone else in the house to speak with, going to the bathroom, getting the laundry out of the dryer, going to the refrigerator, can all be occasions to slow down and be more in touch with each present moment.

  • Eating is another good occasion for mindfulness practice. Are you tasting your food? Are you aware of how fast, how much, when, where, and what you are eating? Can you make your entire day as it unfolds into an occasion to be present or to bring yourself back to the present, over and over again?

  • [CW: suicidal ideation] Buckminster Fuller, the discoverer/inventor of the geodesic dome, at age thirty-two contemplated suicide for a few hours one night at the edge of Lake Michigan, as the story goes, after a series of business failures that left him feeling he had made such a mess of his life that the best move would be for him to remove himself from the scene and make things simpler for his wife and infant daughter. Apparently everything he had touched or undertaken had turned to dust in spite of his incredible creativity and imagination, which were only recognized later. However, instead of ending his life, Fuller decided (perhaps because of his deep conviction in the underlying unity and order of the universe, of which he knew himself to be an integral part) to live from then on as if he had died that night. Being dead, he wouldn’t have to worry about how things worked out any longer for himself personally and would be free to devote himself to living as a representative of the universe. The rest of his life would be a gift. Instead of living for himself, he would devote himself to asking, “What is it on this planet [which he referred to as Spaceship Earth] that needs doing that I know something about, that probably won’t happen unless I take responsibility for it?” He decided he would just ask that question continuously and do what came to him, following his nose. In this way, working for humanity as an employee of the universe at large, you get to modify and contribute to your locale by who you are, how you are, and what you do. But it’s no longer personal. It’s just part of the totality of the universe expressing itself.

  • Fuller never thought of himself as special in any sense, just a regular person who liked to play with ideas and with forms. His motto was: “If I can understand it, anybody can understand it.”

  • Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession…. Do that which is assigned to you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.

    — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
  • In a way, that’s all any of us do when we teach. As best we can, we show others what we have seen up to now. It’s at best a progress report, a map of our experiences, by no means the absolute truth.

  • We might appreciate life more, people more, food more, opinions more, moments more, if we perceive, by our own looking more deeply into them, that everything we are in contact with connects us to the whole world in each moment, and that things and other people, and even places and circumstances, are only here temporarily. It makes now so much more interesting. In fact, it makes now everything.

  • Do you sometimes find that you are hard on yourself and put yourself down? Remember ahimsa in that moment. See it and let it go.

  • Do you push yourself beyond your limits with no regard for your body and your well-being? Ahimsa.

  • It is easy to relate with ahimsa to someone who doesn’t threaten you. The test is in how you will relate to a person or situation when you do feel threatened.

  • The willingness to harm or hurt comes ultimately out of fear. Non-harming requires that you see your own fears and that you understand them and own them.

  • We might begin by taking things a little less personally. When something happens, try to see it without the self-orientation, just for fun. Maybe it just happened. Maybe it’s not aimed at you. Watch your mind at such times. Is it getting into “I” this and “me” that? Ask yourself, “Who am I?” or, “What is this ‘I’ that is claiming ownership?”

  • Notice, too, that the self is impermanent. Whatever you try to hold on to that has to do with yourself eludes you. It can’t be held because it is constantly changing, decaying, and being reconstructed again, always slightly differently, depending on the circumstances of the moment. This makes the sense of self what is called in chaos theory a “strange attractor,” a pattern which embodies order, yet is also unpredictably disordered. It never repeats itself. Whenever you look, it is slightly different.

  • TRY: Watching your reactions in situations that annoy you or make you angry. Notice how even speaking of something “making” you angry surrenders your power to others. Such occasions are good opportunities to experiment with mindfulness as a pot into which you can put all your feelings and just be with them, letting them slowly cook, reminding yourself that you don’t have to do anything with them right away, that they will become more cooked, more easily digested and understood simply by holding them in the pot of mindfulness.

  • Can you allow this state of affairs to be okay and neither make yourself right or wrong?

  • Can you see how this practice might lead to knowing yourself in new ways, and freeing yourself from old, worn-out, limiting views?

  • Then you might go around thinking, maybe even saying, that you have gotten somewhere, that the meditation practice “works.” The ego wants to lay claim and take credit for this special feeling or understanding, whatever it is. As soon as this happens, you are no longer into meditation but into advertising. It is easy to get caught here, using meditation practice to support the self-inflation habit.

  • There is nothing wrong with feelings of boredom or staleness, or of not getting anywhere, just as there is nothing wrong with feeling that you are getting somewhere and in fact, your practice may well be showing signs of becoming deeper and more robust. The pitfall is when you inflate such experiences or thoughts and you start believing in them as special. It’s when you get attached to your experience that the practice arrests, and your development along with it.

  • All too commonly, some things are thought of as spiritual while others are excluded. Is science spiritual? Is being a mother or father spiritual? Are dogs spiritual? Is the body spiritual? Is the mind spiritual? Is childbirth? Is eating? Is painting, or playing music, or taking a walk, or looking at a flower? Is breathing spiritual, or climbing a mountain?

  • Mindfulness allows everything to shine with the luminosity that the word “spiritual” is meant to connote.

  • The great geneticist Barbara McClintock, whose research was both ignored and disdained by her male colleagues for so many years until it was finally recognized at age eighty with a Nobel Prize, spoke of “a feeling for the organism” in her efforts to unravel and understand the intricacies of corn genetics.

  • Perhaps ultimately, spiritual simply means experiencing wholeness and interconnectedness directly, a seeing that individuality and the totality are interwoven, that nothing is separate or extraneous. If you see in this way, then everything becomes spiritual in its deepest sense.

  • how easy it is to sleepwalk through and therefore miss much of our life, telling ourselves nice stories of who we are and where we are going, along the way to some deluded fantasy we may never reach and might never recover from were we to arrive.

  • The meditation practice itself is timeless, and it is deeply gratifying to see it taking root so deeply in our society at a time of such great inner and outer turmoil and confusion, and at a time of such ferocious time-acceleration, driven by the advent of the digital age and feeding our capacity for getting more and more done in less and less time, thereby dramatically increasing the risk of never being present with and for ourselves, of losing touch almost entirely with the domain of being. Nothing like this has ever been seen in the entire trajectory of humanity. The species itself is at a critical juncture, a tipping point, and mindfulness, our innate capacity for wakefulness and open-hearted presence and clear seeing, has never been more critically important.

Mindset by Carol Dweck

Cover of Mindset
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  • So I brought children one at a time to a room in their school, made them comfortable, and then gave them a series of puzzles to solve. The first ones were fairly easy, but the next ones were hard. As the students grunted, perspired, and toiled, I watched their strategies and probed what they were thinking and feeling. I expected differences among children in how they coped with the difficulty, but I saw something I never expected. Confronted with the hard puzzles, one ten-year-old boy pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and cried out, “I love a challenge!” Another, sweating away on these puzzles, looked up with a pleased expression and said with authority, “You know, I was hoping this would be informative!” What’s wrong with them? I wondered. I always thought you coped with failure or you didn’t cope with failure. I never thought anyone loved failure. Were these alien children or were they on to something? Everyone has a role model, someone who pointed the way at a critical moment in their lives. These children were my role models. They obviously knew something I didn’t and I was determined to figure it out—to understand the kind of mindset that could turn a failure into a gift. What did they know? They knew that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, could be cultivated. And that’s what they were doing—getting smarter. Not only weren’t they discouraged by failure, they didn’t even think they were failing. They thought they were learning.

  • What are the consequences of thinking that your intelligence or personality is something you can develop, as opposed to something that is a fixed, deep-seated trait?

  • Robert Sternberg, the present-day guru of intelligence, writes that the major factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement.”

  • Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character—well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.

  • I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves—in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?

  • This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

  • Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.

  • Even though they [people with a growth mindset] felt distressed, they were ready to take the risks, confront the challenges, and keep working at them.

  • When we (temporarily) put people in a fixed mindset, with its focus on permanent traits, they quickly fear challenge and devalue effort.

  • We often see books with titles like The Ten Secrets of the World’s Most Successful People crowding the shelves of bookstores, and these books may give many useful tips. But they’re usually a list of unconnected pointers, like “Take more risks!” or “Believe in yourself!” While you’re left admiring people who can do that, it’s never clear how these things fit together or how you could ever become that way.

  • If, like those with the growth mindset, you believe you can develop yourself, then you’re open to accurate information about your current abilities, even if it’s unflattering. What’s more, if you’re oriented toward learning, as they are, you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively. However, if everything is either good news or bad news about your precious traits—as it is with fixed-mindset people—distortion almost inevitably enters the picture.

  • People with both mindsets came into our brain-wave lab at Columbia. As they answered hard questions and got feedback, we were curious about when their brain waves would show them to be interested and attentive. People with a fixed mindset were only interested when the feedback reflected on their ability. Their brain waves showed them paying close attention when they were told whether their answers were right or wrong.

  • “When you’re lying on your deathbed, one of the cool things to say is, ‘I really explored myself.’"

  • She won the spot for her weight group on the U.S. Olympic team and came home from Athens with a bronze medal. And what was next? Yale Law School. People urged her to stay where she was already on top, but Miranda felt it was more exciting to start at the bottom again and see what she could grow into this time.

  • The plot is about to thicken, for in the fixed mindset it’s not enough just to succeed. It’s not enough just to look smart and talented. You have to be pretty much flawless. And you have to be flawless right away.

  • They granted one test the power to measure their most basic intelligence now and forever. They gave this test the power to define them. That’s why every success is so important.

  • …people who believe in fixed traits feel an urgency to succeed, and when they do, they may feel more than pride. They may feel a sense of superiority, since success means that their fixed traits are better than other people’s.

  • …lurking behind that self-esteem of the fixed mindset is a simple question: If you’re somebody when you’re successful, what are you when you’re unsuccessful?

  • Malcolm Gladwell, the author and New Yorker writer, has suggested that as a society we value natural, effortless accomplishment over achievement through effort. We endow our heroes with superhuman abilities that led them inevitably toward their greatness.

  • People can also have different mindsets in different areas…We’ve found that whatever mindset people have in a particular area will guide them in that area.

  • In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail—or if you’re not the best—it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome.

  • Richard Robins and Jennifer Pals tracked students at the University of California at Berkeley over their years of college. They found that when students had the growth mindset, they gained confidence in themselves as they repeatedly met and mastered the challenges of the university. However, when students had the fixed mindset, their confidence eroded in the face of those same challenges. That’s why people with the fixed mindset have to nurse their confidence and protect it.

  • Think of a time you were enjoying something—doing a crossword puzzle, playing a sport, learning a new dance. Then it became hard and you wanted out. Maybe you suddenly felt tired, dizzy, bored, or hungry. Next time this happens, don’t fool yourself. It’s the fixed mindset. Put yourself in a growth mindset. Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn. Keep on going.

  • How do you act when you feel depressed? Do you work harder at things in your life or do you let them go? Next time you feel low, put yourself in a growth mindset—think about learning, challenge, confronting obstacles. Think about effort as a positive, constructive force, not as a big drag. Try it out.

  • Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but were afraid you weren’t good at? Make a plan to do it.

  • Bloom concludes, “After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.”

  • Actually, she informs us, they are not drawing skills at all, but seeing skills. They are the ability to perceive edges, spaces, relationships, lights and shadows, and the whole. Drawing requires us to learn each component skill and then combine them into one process. Some people simply pick up these skills in the natural course of their lives, whereas others have to work to learn them and put them together.

  • After the experience with difficulty, the performance of the ability-praised students plummeted, even when we gave them some more of the easier problems. Losing faith in their ability, they were doing worse than when they started. The effort kids showed better and better performance. They had used the hard problems to sharpen their skills, so that when they returned to the easier ones, they were way ahead.

  • Research by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson shows that even checking a box to indicate your race or sex can trigger the stereotype in your mind and lower your test score.

  • When they’re little, these girls are often so perfect, and they delight in everyone’s telling them so. They’re so well behaved, they’re so cute, they’re so helpful, and they’re so precocious. Girls learn to trust people’s estimates of them. “Gee, everyone’s so nice to me; if they criticize me, it must be true.”

  • “The strength for that sixth jump came from my assorted heartbreaks over the years…I’d collected all my pains and turned them into one mighty performance.”

  • For those with the fixed mindset, success is about establishing their superiority, pure and simple.

  • In 1981, McEnroe bought a beautiful black Les Paul guitar. That week, he went to see Buddy Guy play at the Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago. Instead of feeling inspired to take lessons or practice, McEnroe went home and smashed his guitar to pieces.

  • “When you can’t control yourself, you want someone to do it for you"

    — ?
  • “The minute a leader allows himself to become the primary reality people worry about, rather than reality being the primary reality, you have a recipe for mediocrity, or worse.”

    — ?
  • Winston Churchill set up a special department. Others might be in awe of his titanic persona, but the job of this department, Jim Collins reports, was to give Churchill all the worst news. Then Churchill could sleep well at night, knowing he had not been groupthinked into a false sense of security.

  • Herodotus, writing in the fifth century B.C., reported that the ancient Persians used a version of Sloan’s techniques to prevent groupthink. Whenever a group reached a decision while sober, they later reconsidered it while intoxicated.

  • David Packard, on the other hand, gave an employee a medal for defying him. The co-founder of Hewlett-Packard tells this story. Years ago at a Hewlett-Packard lab, they told a young engineer to give up work on a display monitor he was developing. In response, he went “on vacation,” touring California and dropping in on potential customers to show them the monitor and gauge their interest. The customers loved it, he continued working on it, and then he somehow persuaded his manager to put it into production. The company sold more than seventeen thousand of his monitors and reaped a sales revenue of thirty-five million dollars. Later, at a meeting of Hewlett-Packard engineers, Packard gave the young man a medal “for extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty.”

  • The growth mindset says all of these things can be developed. All—you, your partner, and the relationship—are capable of growth and change. In the fixed mindset, the ideal is instant, perfect, and perpetual compatibility. Like it was meant to be.

  • One problem is that people with the fixed mindset expect everything good to happen automatically. It’s not that the partners will work to help each other solve their problems or gain skills. It’s that this will magically occur through their love…

  • Relationship expert Daniel Wile says that choosing a partner is choosing a set of problems.

  • …change isn’t like surgery. Even when you change, the old beliefs aren’t just removed like a worn-out hip or knee and replaced with better ones. Instead, the new beliefs take their place alongside the old ones, and as they become stronger, they give you a different way to think, feel, and act.

  • …cognitive therapy helps people make more realistic and optimistic judgments. But it does not take them out of the fixed mindset and its world of judgment. It does not confront the basic assumption—the idea that traits are fixed—that is causing them to constantly measure themselves. In other words, it does not escort them out of the framework of judgment and into the framework of growth.

  • When they do think about what intelligence is, many people believe that a person is born either smart, average, or dumb—and stays that way for life. But new research shows that the brain is more like a muscle—it changes and gets stronger when you use it.

  • …they were taught that when they studied well and learned something, they transferred it from temporary storage (working memory) to more permanent storage (long-term memory).

  • When people hold on to a fixed mindset, it’s often for a reason. At some point in their lives it served a good purpose for them. It told them who they were or who they wanted to be (a smart, talented child) and it told them how to be that (perform well). In this way, it provided a formula for self-esteem and a path to love and respect from others. The idea that they are worthy and will be loved is crucial for children, and—if a child is unsure about being valued or loved—the fixed mindset appears to offer a simple, straightforward route to this.

  • …it’s not easy to just let go of something that has felt like your “self” for many years and that has given you your route to self-esteem.

  • …it’s not as though the fixed mindset wants to leave gracefully. If the fixed mindset has been controlling your internal monologue, it can say some pretty strong things to you when it sees those counters at zero: “You’re nothing.” It can make you want to rush right out and rack up some high numbers. The fixed mindset once offered you refuge from that very feeling, and it offers it to you again. Don’t take it.

  • Research by Peter Gollwitzer and his colleagues shows that vowing, even intense vowing, is often useless. The next day comes and the next day goes. What works is making a vivid, concrete plan: “Tomorrow during my break, I’ll get a cup of tea, close the door to my office, and call the graduate school.” Or, in another case: “On Wednesday morning, right after I get up and brush my teeth, I’ll sit at my desk and start writing my report.”

  • Think of something you need to do, something you want to learn, or a problem you have to confront. What is it? Now make a concrete plan. When will you follow through on your plan? Where will you do it? How will you do it? Think about it in vivid detail…These concrete plans—plans you can visualize—about when, where, and how you are going to do something lead to really high levels of follow-through, which, of course, ups the chances of success.

  • It’s amazing—once a problem improves, people often stop doing what caused it to improve. Once you feel better, you stop taking your medicine.

  • These changes have to be supported or they can go away faster than they appeared.

  • The second step is to become aware of your fixed-mindset triggers. When does your fixed-mindset “persona” come home to roost?…It could be when you’re thinking about taking on a big, new challenge. Your fixed-mindset persona might appear and whisper, “Maybe you don’t have what it takes, and everyone will find out.”…What about when you encounter someone who’s a lot better than you in the very area you pride yourself on? What does that fixed-mindset voice say to you? Does it tell you that you’ll never be as good? Does it make you hate that person just a little?

  • Each week I give them a different assignment for a short paper: Find something important about yourself that you’d like to change and take the first step….Do something outrageously growth mindset in the service of what you’d like to change…

  • this year I asked them [Dweck’s students] to identify their fixed-mindset triggers and to give their fixed-mindset persona a name. It was fascinating. Not one student claimed to have no triggers or persona. All of them were able to write eloquently (and painfully) about their fixed-mindset persona, its triggers, and its impact.

  • Understanding that everyone has a fixed-mindset persona can give us more compassion for people. It allows us to understand their struggles.

  • Every one of us has a journey to take. It starts by accepting that we all have both mindsets. Then we learn to recognize what triggers our fixed mindset. Failures? Criticism? Deadlines? Disagreements? And we come to understand what happens to us when our fixed-mindset “persona” is triggered. Who is this persona? What’s its name? What does it make us think, feel, and do? How does it affect those around us? Importantly, we can gradually learn to remain in a growth-mindset place despite the triggers, as we educate our persona and invite it to join us on our growth-mindset journey. Ideally, we will learn more and more about how we can help others on their journey, too.

  • Every day presents you with ways to grow and to help the people you care about grow.

Upstream by Mary Oliver

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  • In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed.

  • When the chesty, fierce-furred bear becomes sick he travels the mountainsides and the fields, searching for certain grasses, flowers, leaves and herbs, that hold within themselves the power of healing. He eats, he grosw stronger. Could you, oh clever one, do this? Do you know anything about where you live, what it offers? Have you ever said, “Sir Bear, teach me. I am a customer of death coming, and would give you a pot of honey and my house on the western hills to know what you know.”

  • With growth into adulthood, responsibilities claimed me, so many heavy coats.

  • May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream.

  • Give [the children] the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit.

  • Attention is the beginning of devotion.

  • I learned from Whitman that the poem is a temple—or a green field—a place to enter, and in which to feel. Only in a secondary way is it an intellectual thing…

  • They have one responsibility—to stay alive, if they can, and be foxes.

  • I did not think of language as the means to self-description. I thought of it as the door—a thousand opening doors!—past myself. I thought of it as the means to notice, to contemplate, to praise, and thus, to come into power.

  • You must not ever stop being whimsical.

  • And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.

  • …having chosen to claim my life, I have made for myself, out of work and love, a handsome life.

  • And that I did not give to anyone the responsibility for my life. It is mine. I made it. And can do what I want to with it. Live it. Give it back, someday, without bitterness, to the wild and weedy dunes.

  • Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once.

  • But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself…

  • I am, myself, three selves at least.

  • Every day, twelve little bins in which to order disorderly life, and even more disorderly thought.

  • …in art as in spiritual life there is no neutral place.

  • The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.

  • The water was deep and luminous and ever moving; the sky clean and distant; the mood more suitable for slow, long-limbed thoughts than for taking from even the simplest husk of body its final thimble of breath.

  • Just where does self-awareness begin and end? With the june bug? With the shining, task-ridden ant? With the little cloud of gnats that drifts over the pond? I am one of those who has no trouble imagining the sentient lives of trees, of their leaves in some fashion communicating or of the massy trunks and heavy branches knowing it is I who have come, as I always come, each morning, to walk beneath them, glad to be alive and glad to be there.

  • She [a turtle] sees me, and does not move. The eyes, though they throw small light, are deeply alive and watchful. If she had to die in this hour and for this enterprise, she would, without hesitation.

  • All his wildness was in his head—such a good place for it!

  • Poe claimed he could hear the night darkness as it pour, in the evening, into the world.

  • For whatever reason, the heart cannot separate the world’s appearance and actions from morality and valor, and the power of every idea is intensified, if not actually created, by its expression in substance. Over and over in the butterfly we see the idea of transcendence. In the forest we see not the inert but the aspiring. In water that departs forever and forever retrurns, we experience eternity.

  • Little by little, one or two, then a dozen, begin to drift into a wider constellation—toward the floor or the stair wall—spreading outward even as the universe is said to be spreading toward the next adventure and the next, endlessly.

  • Hope, I know, is a fighter and a screamer.

  • Through these woods I have walked thousands of times. For many years I felt more at home here than anywhere else, including our own house.

  • After Luke died, I crossed and recrossed the Province Lands, wherever we had been, and wherever I found her paw-prints in the sand I dragged branches and leaves and slabs of bark over them, so they would last, would keep from the wind a long time. Then overnight, after maybe three weeks, in a dazzling, rearranging rain, they were gone.

  • Now I think there is only one subject worth my attention and that is the precognition of the spirtual side of the world and, within this recognition, the condition of my own spiritual state.

  • I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. The farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves—we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny.

  • For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.

The Nature Fix by Florence Williams

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  • People are happiest when they are well enmeshed in community and friendships, have their basic survival needs met, and keep their minds stimulated and engaged, often in the service of some sort of cause larger than themselves.

    — summarizing happiness data findings according to George MacKerron
  • The difference in joy respondents felt in urban versus natural settings (especially coastal environments) was greater than the difference they experienced from being alone versus being with friends, and about the same as doing favored activities like singing and sports versus not doing those things.

  • As the writer Annie Dillard once said, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

  • We don’t experience natural environments enough to realize how restored they can make us feel, nor are we aware that studies also show they make us healthier, more creative, more empathetic and more apt to engage with the world and with each other. Nature, it turns out, is good for civilization.

  • What I didn’t fully realize that evening the semi [moving truck] slid away with our worldly goods was how much the mountains had become my tonic. Nearly every day I was in them or on them or looking at them, often alone.

  • The idea with shinrin yoku [“forest bathing”], a term coined by the government in 1982 but based on ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices, is to let nature into your body through all five senses.

  • …one of Japan’s forty-eight official “Forest Therapy” trails designated for shinrin yoku by Japan’s Forestry Agency. In an effort to benefit the Japanese and find nonextractive ways to use forests, which cover 68 percent of the country’s landmass, the agency has funded about $4 million in forest-bathing research since 2003.

  • [E.O.] Wilson didn’t actually coin the word “biophilia”; that honor goes to social psychologist Erich Fromm, who described it in 1973 as “the passionate love of life and of all that is alive; it is the wish to further growth, whether in a person, a plant, an idea or a social group.”

  • [Yoshi-Fumi] Miyazaki points out that naturalistic outdoor environments in general remain some of the only places where we engage all five senses, and thus, by definition, are fully, physically alive. It is where our savanna-bred brains are, to borrow from John Muir, “home,” whether we consciously know it or not. By contrast, Muir wrote of time not in the wilderness: “I am degenerating into a machine for making money.”

  • He [Miyazaki] and his colleague Juyoung Lee, then also of Chiba University, found that leisurely forest walks, compared to urban walks, deliver a 12 percent decrease in cortisol levels. But that wasn’t all; they recorded a 7 percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity, a 1.4 percent decrease in blood pressure, and a 6 percent decrease in heart rate.

  • If you have time for vacation, don’t go to a city. Go to a natural area. Try to go one weekend a month. Visit a park at least once a week. Gardening is good. On urban walks, try to walk under trees, not across fields. Go to a quiet place. Near water is also good.

    — Qing Li
  • While the Japanese researchers understand our draw to nature, many American ones seem preoccupied with our pull away from it, our distractions, inertia and addictions. They want to know if resisting that pull and turning toward nature can enhance our productivity. Perhaps this cultural difference is what Miyazaki was explaining over his plate of sting ray: oneness versus me-ness. Americans want to know what can nature—that stuff over there— do for us? More Beowulf than Basho, the Americans want to slay the dragon and get back to the mead hall. They prefer to use delineated spurts of nature to optimize their success.

  • Among his dozens of influential studies are those showing that exercise causes new brain cells to grow, especially in areas related to memory, executive function and spatial perception. Before [Art] Kramer’s work, no one really believed physical activity could lead to such clear and important effects. Now people everywhere are routinely told that exercise is the single best way to prevent aging-related cognitive decline.

  • “Most of the time your brain can filter things out,” said Strayer, driving the black 4Runner over an increasingly rough dirt road. “It’s a strategic process. If traffic is heavy, your brain literally stops listening to NPR.”

  • As Stanford neuroscientist Daniel Levitin points out in The Organized Mind, our brain’s processing speed is surprisingly slow, about 120 bits per second. For perspective, it takes 60 bits per second just to understand one person speaking to us. Directed attention, or voluntary attention, is a limited resource. When it flags, we make mistakes; we get irritable. Moreover, task-switching, which is something we do an awful lot of these days, burns up precious oxygenated glucose from the prefrontal cortex and other areas of the brain, and this is energy we need for both cognitive and physical performance.

  • The way Strayer sees it, moving through any environment engages three main networks in the brain. There’s the executive network, which includes the intellectual, task-focused prefrontal cortex and does most of that stimulus and behavioral inhibition. There’s the spatial network, which orients us and does what it sounds like. Then there’s the default network, which kicks in when the executive network flags. They are yin and yang, oil and water, working only in opposition. You can only engage one or the other at any point in time. The default network is our free-ranging, day-dreaming, goal-setting, mind-wandering white noise that James so bemoaned for luring us from the real work to be done. But it is also the charismatic, elusive flower child of the brain. There’s much discussion these days about whether the default network is profligate, undisciplined and troublemaking, or the very stuff that poetry and human nature is made of. When people are overly ruminative, depressed, self-involved and self-critical, the default network is blamed by psychologists. Yet it is also credited with producing empathy, creativity and heights of insight. Attention scientists worship at the altar of this network, because “it gives us our most human experiences, our deep aesthetic sense, our ability to do the deep things that are unique to us,” as Atchley put it. That sounds exalted, but there’s another important and more pragmatic reason they like it: it allows the executive office of the brain to rest, all the better to rebound at top performance.

  • It would appear that when we have a positive nature experience, it engages what’s good in the default network without allowing us to wallow too much in what’s problematic.

  • Although we can’t always do much to turn off the barrage of stressors in our lives, we can try harder to get the restorative reprieves—from quick nature doses to longer ones—that give our thinking brains a chance to recover.

  • Beginning in the early 1980s, Stephen and Rachel Kaplan at the University of Michigan noticed that psychological distress was often related to mental fatigue. They speculated that our constant daily treadmill of tasks was wearing out our frontal lobes.

  • What leads to brain-resting? I had asked her [Rachel Kaplan]. “Soft fascination,” she’d said. That’s what happens when you watch a sunset, or the rain. The most restorative landscapes, she said, are the ones that hit the sweet spot of being interesting but not too interesting. What leads to brain-resting? I had asked her. “Soft fascination,” she’d said. That’s what happens when you watch a sunset, or the rain. The most restorative landscapes, she said, are the ones that hit the sweet spot of being interesting but not too interesting.

  • In Korea, one of the most powerful spirits is the sanshin, the mountain spirit. Trees, too, have long been venerated as guardians of people and villages.

  • The quietest place in the country, [Gordon] Hempton discovered, is a spot in the Hoh Rainforest at Olympic National Park. If you want to hear the earth without us, it’s marked by a red stone on a moss-covered log at 47-degrees 51.959N, 123-degrees 52.221W, 678 feet above sea level. But get there early; by midday, even there, you can hear overflights a dozen times per hour.

  • In the largest and scariest study to date looking at noise pollution and children’s cognition, funded by the European Union and published in the Lancet in 2005, researchers followed several thousand children attending elementary schools near major airports in the U.K., Spain and the Netherlands. They found significant impacts on reading comprehension, memory and hyperactivity. The results were linear: for every 5-decibel increase in noise, reading scores dropped the equivalent of a two-month delay, so that kids were almost a year behind in neighborhoods that were 20 decibels louder (results were adjusted for income and other factors).

  • Once upon a time in Finland, there were little forest spirits who could put spells on people who were too noisy or who treated the forest with disrespect. The victims would experience a condition called metsänpeitto, which translates as being “covered by the forest.”

  • [Kalevi] Korpela has become known for studies about “favorite places” and their positive influence on mental health. In his studies, when he asks respondents to name their favorite places, over 60 percent describe a natural area such as lake, beach, park, garden or woods.

  • Clearings. That’s what I needed. Slowly my brain righted itself into spaces unused for months.

    — Helen Macdonald
  • The landscape here, as in Finland, is a unifying force, rooted in the bones of people who grew up with it. It’s also rooted in the Gaelic language itself. There’s the word weet, to rain slightly, and williwaw, a sudden, violent squall, and wewire, to flit about as foliage does in wind, and that’s just the W’s. How perfect is this: crizzle, “the sound and action of open water as it freezes”?

  • To you, clerk, literary man, sedentary person, man of fortune, idler, the same advice,” he wrote. “Up! The world (perhaps you now look upon it with pallid and disgusted eyes) is full of zest and beauty for you, if you approach it in the right spirit! Out in the morning!

    — Walt Whitman
  • Lisa Nisbet at Trent University was sending over 9,000 people out into the verdure for the May-long “30 x 30 nature challenge”—30 minutes a day of walking, for 30 days in a row).

  • According to [Edmund] Burke, for something to be truly awe-inspiring, it must possess “vastness of extent” as well as a degree of difficulty in our ability to make sense of it.

  • The word “awe” derives from Old English and Norse words for the fear and dread one felt before a divine being.

  • Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.

    — John Muir
  • In schools with conventional urban playgrounds, the boys tend to run around more than the girls. But studies in Sweden show the exercise gap between boys and girls narrows in more naturalistic environments. Nature levels gendered play.

  • Tim Beatley, who runs the Biophilic Cities Project at the University of Virginia, promotes a concept called the nature pyramid…Inspired by the ubiquitous food pyramid, Beatley places at the base the daily interactions with nearby nature that help us destress, find focus and lighten our mental fatigue. These are the birds and trees and fountains in our neighborhoods, our pets and our house plants, public and private architecture that allow for daylight, fresh air and patches of blue sky and naturalistic landscaping. These are our daily vegetables, and Singapore, laser lights and all, has it nailed. We should all be so lucky. Moving up the pyramid are weekly outings to parks and waterways, places where the sounds and hassles of the city recede, places that we should aim to imbibe at least an hour or so a week in the Finnish fashion. These might include wilder, bigger city parks if we’re lucky, or regional parks that we can travel to fairly easily. Moving up higher still are the places that take more effort to get to: the monthly excursions to forests or other restful, escapist natural areas along the lines of what Japan’s Qing Li recommends—a weekend per month—for our immune systems. At the very pinnacle are the rare but essential doses of wilderness, which Beatley and scientists like Utah’s David Strayer think we need yearly or biyearly, in intense multiday bursts.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

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  • He [Jack Gilbert] told them that they must live their most creative lives as a means of fighting back against the ruthless furnace of this world…Without bravery, they would never know the world as richly as it longs to be known.

  • So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you? Look, I don’t know what’s hidden within you. I have no way of knowing such a thing. You yourself may barely know, although I suspect you’ve caught glimpses. I don’t know your capacities, your aspirations, your longings, your secret talents. But surely something wonderful is sheltered inside you. I say this with all confidence, because I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure. I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

  • She asked herself when was the last time she’d felt truly light, joyous, and—yes—creative in her own skin. To her shock, she realized that it had been decades since she’d felt that way. In fact, the last time she’d experienced such feelings had been as a teenager, back when she was still figure skating. She was appalled to discover that she had denied herself this life-affirming pursuit for so long, and she was curious to see if she still loved it. So she followed her curiosity. She bought a pair of skates, found a rink, hired a coach.

  • A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.

  • I finally realized that my fear was boring.

  • I had fixated upon my fear as if it were the most interesting thing about me, when actually it was the most mundane. In fact, my fear was probably the only 100 percent mundane thing about me. I had creativity within me that was original; I had a personality within me that was original; I had dreams and perspectives and aspirations within me that were original. But my fear was not original in the least. My fear wasn’t some kind of rare artisanal object; it was just a mass-produced item, available on the shelves of any generic box store. And that’s the thing I wanted to build my entire identity around? The most boring instinct I possessed?

  • Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome.

  • …this is the other side of the contract with creativity: If inspiration is allowed to unexpectedly enter you, it is also allowed to unexpectedly exit you.

  • The idea of an external genius helps to keep the artist’s ego in check, distancing him somewhat from the burden of taking either full credit or full blame for the outcome of his work. If your work is successful, in other words, you are obliged to thank your external genius for the help, thus holding you back from total narcissism. And if your work fails, it’s not entirely your fault.

  • The gods and the mysteries fell away, and suddenly we put all the credit and blame for creativity on the artists themselves—making the all-too-fragile humans completely responsible for the vagaries of inspiration. In the process, we also venerated art and artists beyond their appropriate stations. The distinction of “being a genius” (and the rewards and status often associated with it) elevated creators into something like a priestly caste—perhaps even into minor deities—which I think is a bit too much pressure for mere mortals, no matter how talented. That’s when artists start to really crack, driven mad and broken in half by the weight and weirdness of their gifts. When artists are burdened with the label of “genius,” I think they lose the ability to take themselves lightly, or to create freely.

  • But such thinking assumes there is a “top”—and that reaching that top (and staying there) is the only motive one has to create. Such thinking assumes that the mysteries of inspiration operate on the same scale that we do—on a limited human scale of success and failure, of winning and losing, of comparison and competition, of commerce and reputation, of units sold and influence wielded. Such thinking assumes that you must be constantly victorious—not only against your peers, but also against an earlier version of your own poor self. Most dangerously of all, such thinking assumes that if you cannot win, then you must not continue to play…What does any of that have to do with the quiet glory of merely making things, and then sharing those things with an open heart and no expectations?

  • …in the end, creativity is a gift to the creator, not just a gift to the audience.

  • The most important thing to understand about eudaimonia, though—about that exhilarating encounter between a human being and divine creative inspiration—is that you cannot expect it to be there for you all the time. It will come and go, and you must let it come and go.

  • No genuine book has a first page. Like the rustling of the forest, it is begotten God knows where, and it grows and it rolls, arousing the dense wilds of the forest until suddenly…it begins to speak with all the treetops at once.

    — Boris Pasternak
  • …the British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington’s memorable explanation of how the universe works: “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.”

  • The earliest evidence of recognizable human art is forty thousand years old. The earliest evidence of human agriculture, by contrast, is only ten thousand years old.

  • Keep in mind that for most of history people just made things, and they didn’t make such a big freaking deal out of it. We make things because we like making things. We pursue the interesting and the novel because we like the interesting and the novel.

  • To even call somebody “a creative person” is almost laughably redundant; creativity is the hallmark of our species.

  • When I asked her once how she could allow her body to be marked up so casually with permanent ink, she said, “Oh, but you misunderstand! It’s not permanent. It’s just temporary.”

  • you will never be able to create anything interesting out of your life if you don’t believe that you’re entitled to at least try…creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that—merely by being here—you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.

  • Without this arrogance of belonging, you will never be able to take any creative risks whatsoever. Without it, you will never push yourself out of the suffocating insulation of personal safety and into the frontiers of the beautiful and the unexpected.

  • often what keeps you from creative living is your self-absorption (your self-doubt, your self-disgust, your self-judgment, your crushing sense of self-protection). The arrogance of belonging pulls you out of the darkest depths of self-hatred—not by saying “I am the greatest!” but merely by saying “I am here!”

  • I’m talking about the nasty dialogue that goes like this: “Who the hell do you think you are, trying to be creative? You suck, you’re stupid, you have no talent, and you serve no purpose. Get back in your hole.” To which you may have spent a lifetime obediently responding, “You’re right. I do suck and I am stupid. Thank you. I’ll go back in my hole now.” I would like to see you engaged in a more generative and interesting conversation with yourself than that. For heaven’s sake, at least defend yourself!

  • This proclamation of intent and entitlement is not something you can do just once and then expect miracles; it’s something you must do daily, forever.

  • The older I get, the less impressed I become with originality. These days, I’m far more moved by authenticity. Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has quiet resonance that never fails to stir me…If it’s authentic enough, believe me—it will feel original.

  • Oh, and here’s another thing: You are not required to save the world with your creativity. Your art not only doesn’t have to be original, in other words; it also doesn’t have to be important.

  • It’s okay if your work is fun for you, is what I’m saying. It’s also okay if your work is healing for you, or fascinating for you, or redemptive for you, or if it’s maybe just a hobby that keeps you from going crazy. It’s even okay if your work is totally frivolous. That’s allowed. It’s all allowed.

  • Whether you are young or old, we need your work in order to enrich and inform our own lives.

  • of course it’s difficult to create things; if it wasn’t difficult, everyone would be doing it, and it wouldn’t be special or interesting.

  • Nobody ever really listens to anybody else’s complaints, anyhow, because we’re all too focused on our own holy struggle, so basically you’re just talking to a brick wall.

  • I have felt the way my self-pity slams the door on inspiration, making the room feel suddenly cold, small, and empty.

  • I told the universe (and anyone who would listen) that I was committed to living a creative life not in order to save the world, not as an act of protest, not to become famous, not to gain entrance to the canon, not to challenge the system, not to show the bastards, not to prove to my family that I was worthy, not as a form of deep therapeutic emotional catharsis…but simply because I liked it. So try saying this: “I enjoy my creativity.” And when you say it, be sure to actually mean it.

  • I certainly don’t ever want to confidently announce that this person is destined to become an important artist, while that person should give it up. How do I know? How does anyone know? It’s all so wildly subjective, and, anyhow, life has surprised me too many times in this realm. On one hand, I’ve known brilliant people who created absolutely nothing from their talents. On the other hand, there are people whom I once arrogantly dismissed who later staggered me with the gravity and beauty of their work. It has all humbled me far beyond the ability to judge anyone’s potential, or to rule anybody out.

  • I beg you not to worry about such definitions and distinctions, then, okay? It will only weigh you down and trouble your mind, and we need you to stay as light and unburdened as possible in order to keep you creating. Whether you think you’re brilliant or you think you’re a loser, just make whatever you need to make and toss it out there.

  • pigeonholing is something people need to do in order to feel that they have set the chaos of existence into some kind of reassuring order.

  • never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing (or even their comprehension) in order to make your own creative work. And always remember that people’s judgments about you are none of your business.

  • …what W. C. Fields had to say on this point: “It ain’t what they call you; it’s what you answer to.”

  • If I am allowed to speak my inner truth, then my critics are allowed to speak their inner truths, as well. Fair’s fair.

  • The paradox that you need to comfortably inhabit, if you wish to live a contented creative life, goes something like this: “My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me (if I am to live artistically), and it also must not matter at all (if I am to live sanely).”

  • I simply vowed to the universe that I would write forever, regardless of the result. I promised that I would try to be brave about it, and grateful, and as uncomplaining as I could possibly be. I also promised that I would never ask writing to take care of me financially, but that I would always take care of it—meaning that I would always support us both, by any means necessary. I did not ask for any external rewards for my devotion; I just wanted to spend my life as near to writing as possible—forever close to that source of all my curiosity and contentment—and so I was willing to make whatever arrangements needed to be made in order to get by.

  • It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.

  • It’s never too late.

  • …your education isn’t over when they say it’s over; your education is over when you say it’s over.

  • I found that if I just stayed with the process and didn’t panic, I could pass safely through each stage of anxiety and on to the next level. I heartened myself with reminders that these fears were completely natural human reactions to interaction with the unknown.

  • Mark Manson, who said that the secret to finding your purpose in life is to answer this question in total honesty: “What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich?”…every single pursuit—no matter how wonderful and exciting and glamorous it may initially seem—comes with its own brand of shit sandwich, its own lousy side effects.

  • “Everything sucks, some of the time.”

  • I held on to those other sources of income for so long because I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life.

  • Most individuals have never had enough time, and they’ve never had enough resources, and they’ve never had enough support or patronage or reward…and yet still they persist in creating.

  • The writer Rebecca Solnit puts it well: “So many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.”

  • Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes—but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work. Perfectionists often decide in advance that the end product is never going to be satisfactory, so they don’t even bother trying to be creative in the first place.

  • Too many women still seem to believe that they are not allowed to put themselves forward at all, until both they and their work are perfect and beyond criticism. Meanwhile, putting forth work that is far from perfect rarely stops men from participating in the global cultural conversation. Just sayin’.

  • I’ve watched far too many brilliant and gifted female creators say, “I am 99.8 percent qualified for this task, but until I master that last smidgen of ability, I will hold myself back, just to be on the safe side.”

  • No matter how many hours you spend attempting to render something flawless, somebody will always be able to find fault with it. (There are people out there who still consider Beethoven’s symphonies a little bit too, you know, loud.) At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is—if only so that you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heart.

  • It has taken me years to learn this, but it does seem to be the case that if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind).

  • We all need something that helps us to forget ourselves for a while—to momentarily forget our age, our gender, our socioeconomic background, our duties, our failures, and all that we have lost and screwed up.

  • Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are.

  • “We all spend our twenties and thirties trying so hard to be perfect, because we’re so worried about what people will think of us. Then we get into our forties and fifties, and we finally start to be free, because we decide that we don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of us. But you won’t be completely free until you reach your sixties and seventies, when you finally realize this liberating truth—nobody was ever thinking about you, anyhow.”

    — Anonymous 70-something woman
  • People are mostly just thinking about themselves. People don’t have time to worry about what you’re doing, or how well you’re doing it, because they’re all caught up in their own dramas…While it may seem lonely and horrible at first to imagine that you aren’t anyone else’s first order of business, there is also a great release to be found in this idea. You are free, because everyone is too busy fussing over themselves to worry all that much about you.

  • Done Is Better Than Good

  • You do what you can do, as competently as possible within a reasonable time frame, and then you let it go.

  • Look around you, the evidence is everywhere: People don’t finish. They begin ambitious projects with the best of intentions, but then they get stuck in a mire of insecurity and doubt and hairsplitting…and they stop. So if you can just complete something—merely complete it!—you’re already miles ahead of the pack, right there.

  • Creative living is stranger than other, more worldly pursuits. The usual rules do not apply. In normal life, if you’re good at something and you work hard at it, you will likely succeed. In creative endeavors, maybe not. Or maybe you will succeed for a spell, and then never succeed again.

  • …the goddess of creative success may show up for you, or she may not. Probably best, then, if you don’t count on her, or attach your definition of personal happiness to her whims.

  • When it’s for love, you will always do it anyhow.

  • Even if things work out for you in the arts, parts of your career will likely always remain crap…Trust me, if you want to complain, you’ll always find plenty to complain about, even when fortune appears to be shining her favor upon you.

  • The first question is: “Do you love nature?” Every hand in the room goes up. The second question is: “Do you believe that nature loves you in return?” Every hand in the room goes down. At which point Robin says, “Then we have a problem already.”…These earnest young world-savers honestly believe that the living earth is indifferent to them. They believe that humans are nothing but passive consumers, and that our presence here on earth is a destructive force. (We take, take, take and offer nothing of benefit to nature in return.) They believe that humans are here on this planet by random accident, and that therefore the earth doesn’t give a damn about us…Our ancestors always operated with a sense of being in a reciprocal emotional relationship with their physical surroundings. Whether they felt that they were being rewarded by Mother Nature or punished by her, at least they were engaged in a constant conversation with her.

    — Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s environmental bio clas at SUNY
  • What you produce is not necessarily always sacred, I realized, just because you think it’s sacred. What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.

  • My favorite meditation teacher, Pema Chödrön, once said that the biggest problem she sees with people’s meditation practice is that they quit just when things are starting to get interesting. Which is to say, they quit as soon as things aren’t easy anymore, as soon as it gets painful, or boring, or agitating. They quit as soon as they see something in their minds that scares them or hurts them. So they miss the good part, the wild part, the transformative part—the part when you push past the difficulty and enter into some raw new unexplored universe within yourself…Whatever it is you are pursuing, whatever it is you are seeking, whatever it is you are creating, be careful not to quit too soon.

  • You don’t need to conduct autopsies on your disasters. You don’t need to know what anything means. Remember: The gods of creativity are not obliged to explain anything to us. Own your disappointment, acknowledge it for what it is, and move on. Chop up that failure and use it for bait to try to catch another project.

  • Einstein called this tactic “combinatory play”—the act of opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another. This is why he would often play the violin when he was having difficulty solving a mathematical puzzle; after a few hours of sonatas, he could usually find the answer he needed.

  • What do you love even more than you love your own ego?

Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright

Cover of Why Buddhism is True
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  • Sometimes understanding the ultimate source of your suffering doesn’t, by itself, help very much.

  • We spend more time envisioning the perks that a promotion will bring than envisioninng the headaches it will bring. And there may be an unspoken sense that once we’ve achieved this long-saught goal, once we’ve reached the summit, we’ll be able to relax, or at least things will be enduringly better.

  • Natural selection doesn’t “want” us to be happy, after all; it just “wants” us to be productive, in its narrow sense of productive. And the way to make us productive is to make the anticipation of pleasure very strong but the pleasure itself not very long-lasting.

  • One thing I occasionally do when I’m feeling very sad…is sit down, close my eyes, and study the sadness: accept its presence and just observe how it actually makes me feel.

  • One of the take-home lessons of Buddhist philosophy is that feelings just are. If we accepted their arising and subsiding as part of life, rather than reacting to them as if they were deeply meaningful, we’d often be better off. Learning to do that is a big part of what mindfulness meditation is about.

  • Feelings are designed to encode judgements about things in our environment.

  • True, pure enlightenment, in this view, is like what mathematicians call an asymptote: something you can get closer and closer to but never quite reach.

  • The idea of self is an imaginary, false belief which has no corresponding reality, and it produces harmful thoughts of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism, and other defilements, impurities, and problems. It is the source of all the troubles in the world from personal conflicts to wars between nations. In short, to this false view can be traced all the evil in the world.

    — Walpola Rahula
  • So too with perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. Are any of these things really under control—so completely under control that they never lead to suffering? And if they’re not under control, then how can we think of them as part of the self?

  • If you followed the Buddha’s guidance and abandoned the massive chunks of psychological landscape you’ve always thought of as belonging to you, you would undergo a breathtaking shift in what it means to be human. If you attained the state he’s recommending, this wuold be very different from having a self in the sense in which you’ve always had one before.

  • separate the act of observation from the act of evaluation

  • Think of yourself as having, in principle, the power to establish a different relationship with your feelings and thoughts and impulses and perceptions—the power to disengage from some of them; the power to, in a sense, disown them, to define the bounds of your self in a way that excludes them.

  • …sit down, close your eyes, focus on your breath, and then, once you start failing to focus on your breath (which shouldn’t take long!), try to focus on the things that are keeping you from focusing on your breath. And I don’t mean just focus on whatever thought is distracting you—I mean see if you can detect some feeling that is linked to the thought that is distracting you.

  • …brain scans are showing that a curious state of mind involves activity in the dopamine system, the system involved in motivation and reward, in desire and pleasure.

  • [Judson] Brewer said the basic idea is to not fiht the urge to, say, smoke a cigarette. That doesn’t mean you succumb to the urge and light up a cigarette. It just means you don’t try to push the urge out of your mind. Rather, you follow the same mindfulness technique that you’d apply to other bothersome feelings—anxiety, resentment, melancholy, hatred. You just calmly (or as calmly as possible, under the circumstances) examine the feeling. What part of your body is the urge felt in? What is the texture of the urge? Is it sharp? Dull and heavy? The more you do that, the less the urge seems a part of you; you’ve exploited the basic irony of mindfulness meditation: getting close enough to feelings to take a good look at them winds up giving you a kind of critical distance from them. Their grip on you loosens; if it loosens enough, they’re no longer a part of you. There’s an acronym used to describe this technique: RAIN. First you Recognize the feeling. Then you Accept the feeling and its relationship to your body. Finally, the N stands for Nonidentification, or, equivalently, Nonattachment.

  • The bad news is that you don’t exist; the good news is that you’re everything.

  • Nothing possesses inherent existence; nothing contains all the ingredients of ongoing existence within itself; nothing is self-sufficient. Hence the idea of emptiness: all things are empty of inherent, independent existence.