Good morning and welcome to your sixty-seventh mediation. Do you have any beliefs or values that seem to make others uncomfortable? We’re not talking about actual harmful beliefs like those based on misinformation or racist ideologies, but just the opposite. We’re talking about beliefs or values founded on an informed determination to make the world a better place for everyone. Indeed, an example could be a will to anti-racism. There is no place for racism in a schema where every life matters, in a world where humans measure our success based on the success of the collective. It is abundantly clear that we do not live in that world. Therefore, it is impossible to contest, with even an ounce of reason, that racism does not exist. And yet, people often behave in a way that wilfully ignores its existence. They are loath to talk about it. They see the very mention of it as an affront to their sense of themselves as a “good person”, to their sense of pride in their community or country, to their worldview. When people feel the fragility of principles so fundamental to their identity, they feel threatened. When they feel threatened, they get defensive. When they get defensive, sometimes they attack. Any attack needs a target, and that target is often the person who brought up the uncomfortable subject matter in the first place. 

But we need to talk about racism. Just like we need to talk about climate change, and genocide, and human rights abuses, and all the other issues that exist alongside – and often within – our daily, individual struggles to live well, be good, and know happiness. 

So how do we do it? How do we discuss these pressing issues that we know should be front of mind for everyone in a way that doesn’t simply result in antagonizing our interlocutors? This is a really difficult question, and opinions on how to answer it vary widely. But here are a couple things to consider: Firstly, everyone is just trying to make it work. Have respect for the fact that most people are trying to be good in whatever way they know how. Trying to engage reluctant individuals on a subject will rarely convince them to switch their thinking on it. Secondly, be demonstrative, not evangelical. This concept is related to the classic quote usually misattributed to Gandhi: “be the change you want to see in the world”. Do what you’d like to see others do rather than telling them to do it. You may be surprised how many minds you can change just by living righteously. Third, don’t overvalue the significance of changing the minds of individuals. With systemic issues, it’s the system itself that needs to change. So perhaps the time you spend trying to persuade your resistant friend or family member of your views would be better spent lobbying, protesting, boycotting, making art that supports or advocates for your cause, or setting up programs that help to educate your community and actively engage with the issues at hand. Finally, you are not responsible for protecting the fragile egos of those who feel threatened by your righteousness. You can do everything in your power to avoid antagonizing people, and yet they will insist on being antagonized and that is beyond your control so you have to let it go. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your sixty-sixth meditation. In the past couple years, amongst lockdowns and limitations on our social mobility, many of us have found ourselves with more time on our hands than before. It may not always feel that way because time does seem to have a way of magically evaporating. But whether we’ve noticed it happening or not, the time many of us used to dedicate to socializing or other activities that have not always been available to us in the same way over the last couple years, has been replaced by something. Maybe you get more sleep now; maybe you have had to parent more; perhaps you’ve taken up a new activity like learning a language or woodworking; or maybe you spend more time doom-scrolling on social media. Indeed, more isolated than ever with less access to friends and family, many of us have spent more time consuming media of one sort or another. And often the range of media that we engage with is narrower than in times when we are talking to more people, receiving frequent recommendations and taking in information that we might not otherwise take in. This kind of narrowing of your scope of interests can be a wonderful way to focus your attention and really dig into a given subject matter. You can stand to learn a lot about something that interests you, and that information can help you make important decisions about how you want to live your life. 

However, just because we may not be receiving as many recommendations from friends doesn’t mean that we are the sole, or even the primary, curators of the media we consume. No no. There are algorithms for that. Algorithms that are engineered to the sole purpose of keeping us online and that are evidently indifferent to the moral corruption, falsehoods, and degradation of our mental and physical health that they disseminate. It follows, then, that we must a) be very cautious about what media we consume; but, more importantly, b) we must exercise a degree of skepticism in how we consume information. This includes an awareness of and skepticism of your own prejudices that you bring to the table (i.e. never being wholly convinced you know anything).

This approach becomes especially important when actively taking up a cause. In such an instance, instead of assuming you know what is right or what is wrong, what is true or what is false, try asking yourself these questions: Does my stance on the issue and my actions that proceed therefrom help or harm myself? Does my stance on the issue and my actions that proceed therefrom help or harm other people? Do they help or harm the environment? Locally? Globally? And finally, is there a cause that might help myself, others, and the environment more than the one I am currently engaging with?

Of course, there’s tons of grey area. Many acts simultaneously help and hurt. To answer these questions you have to arrive at your own definition of what to help and to hurt even mean. But to ask these questions, at the very least, is to infuse your views and actions with a little more mindfulness, sensitivity, and empathy – qualities that one would have a hard time arguing do more harm than good. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your sixty-fifth meditation. Do you have kids in your life? You should. Don’t worry, this podcast is not going to be like those parents who insist that you owe them a grandchild, or those friends whose sanctimoniousness about their parenthood is alone enough to turn you off of ever wanting kids yourself. This podcast is not about parenting at all. It is simply about what can be gained from spending time with kids, whether as a parent, an aunt or an uncle, a babysitting neighbour, a teacher, a community leader, a grandparent, etc. So what can be gained by hanging out with these little humans? A lot. Too much, in fact, to cover here. But here’s a small list:

Spending time with kids reminds us of our own childhood and what it was like to be one. This is so important because, as we grow older our minds tend to narrow. Through experience we convince ourselves that we know a few things, and part of that is knowing what to avoid. We become “realistic”. We arrive at ideas of what we are capable of and what we are not. We become more set in our likes and dislikes. We become proud and awkward and embarrassed in ways that kids seldom are. We have difficulty changing our opinions. We learn to direct and focus our attention in ways that blot out that which we’re not engaging with. By attending to one thing, we miss everything. Maybe it’s the sound of a distant airplane in the sky, or the birds in a nearby tree, or the colour of the stray thread on the floor, or the pattern of the crack in the wall, or the feel of the rug on the soles of your feet. But children notice these things. They teach us a different kind of attention… if we let them. Children experiment. They try and fail and try again, or they change the rules of the game. They take risks and are unembarrassed by their mistakes. They are silly and they laugh and they play. 

Of course, we can’t all just become like children. The world needs responsible adults. Children need responsible adults so that they can feel safe and secure and cared for so that they can be free to be their kid-selves. But there is no doubt that we can learn a lot from them. We can learn to be more open, to cast the net of our attention more widely, we can learn to be more imaginative, and to look at things from different angles. We can learn to let our egos relax, to stress less – and be less stressed by – goal-oriented thinking and productivity. We can learn to enjoy the process of doing without any need for specific outcomes. We can learn to play. Scratch that. We can remember how to play. Because we all had this knowledge once, and all still do inside us somewhere to varying degrees. We may just need a little help from the younger generation locating it.So, if you have the opportunity, hang out with kids. Observe them. Pay attention to them. We owe it to them to teach them what we think we know, but we also owe it to ourselves to let them teach us what they know. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your sixty-fourth mediation. Are you listening to this right now? Of course you are. But are you really listening? In other words, are you dedicating a degree of your attention to listening that allows you to comprehend everything being said, to generate your own ideas around the topic, and to even predict what will be said? Or are other unrelated thoughts invading your listening experience, making it hard for you to focus? Are there external stimuli interrupting the experience? Maybe you are checking your phone to see if you have any messages, or maybe the TV is on, or maybe there is a baby crying in the other room. Maybe you’re just tired. Being present, or in the moment, is a challenge for all of us, probably now more than ever. We have access to too much information and to too many people – it’s hard to settle on just one at any given time. Not to mention, most of us work jobs where we are expected to check our email constantly, which disrupts whatever workflow we might have had if we were encouraged to keep work and communication about work separate. But even in those rare moments when we manage to free ourselves from external distractions, it can still be difficult to remain focussed and just do whatever it is you are doing. That can be frustrating, especially when you’re making a deliberate effort to be more present. And like all desires, the desire to be present can itself be the very force that sabotages your ability to be in the moment. But don’t worry! That’s all fine. Getting distracted is a necessary part of the process of learning how to be present. The key is to be able to identify when you are distracted, acknowledge that distraction, and then gently bring yourself back to a place of focus. This is the exercise that we must continually perform in order to strengthen our ability to be attentive. But in order to focus, you must have clearly determined what it is you are focussing on. You must have an aim. This could be anything from painting a picture to going for a walk to focussing on your breath. Some target at which you can aim your attention. And when you lock onto that target, you become fully immersed. You get lost in the activity. Thoughts of past and future as well as of other places cease to exist. You are in the here and now. The now and here. And then, often imperceptibly, you slip back into thinking about that borderline offensive thing your friend said to you the day before, or about that report you have due, or about how uncomfortably cold you are and how you’re due for a vacation to somewhere warm. It always happens. None of us can focus forever. We get hungry. The phone rings. It’s fine. Just notice. Notice that your attention has wandered and gently usher it back to the bullseye. This is a skill that you can practise and improve on. You won’t eradicate distraction, but it will set you back less and less, you will be able to retrieve your focus sooner, and you will be able to enjoy a more immersive and satisfying experience of whatever it is you are doing at any given moment. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your sixty-third meditation. Imagine life as a medieval king or queen. You are surrounded by servants. If you ever want a certain kind of food, you send someone to fetch it for you. If you want information you send someone to fetch it for you. If you want entertainment you send for it. You may not get what you demand instantly, but you’ll get it, so long as your servants can figure out a way to provide it. Now compare that life to that of the average person living today. We don’t even have to be super-wealthy, let alone, royalty, to enjoy these privileges. We can order food to our doorstep, we can learn about whatever we want on the internet, we can entertain ourselves with movies, TV shows, sports, music, podcasts, etc. on demand. The difference between us and medieval royalty is that we can get this stuff pretty much instantly, we have access to a far wider variety of it, and we have plumbing and electricity. Plus, we generally don’t have to worry about anyone trying to overthrow our kingdom. You know the expression “live like a king”? Weighing the realities of the two situations, most of us would likely prefer to live like a middle class person today.And yet, we still struggle to be satisfied. We still always struggle to be happy. Now this could be a podcast about how we all need to stop whining and appreciate everything we have. And maybe it is, a little bit. It is at least worth considering how the entire history of humankind has worked and suffered to minimize our suffering in this current moment. That fact probably deserves some acknowledgement and gratitude. Added to that, the fact that we just happened to have evolved on the most perfect paradise of a planet, which provides us with everything we need. Also worth noting. But what this meditation is really about is the fact that if all those ways of living like royalty to which we have such easy access still don’t make us happy, then perhaps we should stop looking to them to provide us with happiness. Perhaps happiness is not something that can be provided. No matter how well our algorithms know us, they can’t possibly give us happiness because happiness cannot be given. Perhaps happiness is a verb, not a noun. An action, not an object. Viktor Frankl says, “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue”, i.e., it cannot be chased and captured, rather it happens. So, in order to be happy, maybe we should focus more on doing than obtaining. Maybe we should take the time to make more meals instead of having them made for us like a king would. Maybe we should relish eating those meals instead of consuming them in a distracted state (see last week’s podcast). Maybe we should focus more on enjoying the process of learning than the information or skills that we may or may not obtain from that process. And maybe we should think more about creating our own entertainment. Write our own stories, act our own plays, play and sing our own music, invent our own games. Of course, TV and movies and ordering in are all great and can definitely enrich our lives. And the people make those things are professionals for a reason. But perhaps, in order to be happy, we need to take matters a little more into our own hands, even if those hands are only capable of amateur work. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your sixty-second meditation. How do you eat? You may think this question involves only what you eat and how much, but it’s actually much more complicated than that. Many of us have extremely complex relationships with food, and to discuss the types and quantities of food we consume is to only just scratch the surface of this issue. Some other questions we may want to ask on the subject that will likely be far more revealing and helpful are: why do I eat the types of food that I eat? Am I making a conscious choice about what I am eating, or am I guided to that food by habit or convenience or compulsion? Why do I eat this or that amount of a given food? Am I afraid of becoming fat if I eat more? Or am I afraid, on whatever level of consciousness, that it may be a long time before I have access to this food again, and, as a result, feel the need to eat as much of it as possible? What am I feeling before, during, and after eating? Do I feel excitement, relish, and then satiety? Or do I feel sneaky, a loss of control, and then guilt and shame? What am I thinking while eating? Am I focussed on my food? On the flavours and textures? Am I aware of my hunger becoming satisfied? Or am I distracted, on my phone, or watching TV, and barely aware that I am eating at all? And how do I view food more generally? Is it a source of joy? Is it fuel and a means to an end? Is it a source of anxiety?

We all have to eat, whether we like it or not. So we might as well like it. But how? If we regard food as the source of so much worry and guilt and shame, how do we reverse those attitudes that we have been practising every day, sometimes for years? In her book Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole tells us first off that dieting is not the way to establish healthy relationships with the food we eat. She explains that by making certain types of food or certain amounts of food verboten we imbue those foods with power – power that can easily dominate us. Take the example of a child who is told that he is never allowed to eat cookies. Well what do you think the first thing he will do is when he gets to his friend’s house? Head straight for the cookie jar, right? And he’s going to eat as many cookies as he can because he doesn’t know when’s the next time he will have an opportunity to do so. And, of course, it has nothing to do with the cookies themselves. It has to do with the power they’ve been imbued with by his parents who forbade them. And wouldn’t you know that if we deprive ourselves of food that we want or are hungry for – i.e., if we diet – we increase our risk of developing eating disorders. And guess what else? We increase our chance of weight gain. That’s right. According to Tribole, research shows that “the most consistent predictor of weight gain is dieting”.So now we know what not to do if we want a healthy relationship with the food we eat. But what can we actually do? Tribole’s answer is that we pay attention. Pay attention to what you eat. Taste it, feel it. Pay attention to your hunger levels. If you’re hungry, eat. If your body wants carbs, eat some carbs. Just pay attention to the food and your body’s response to it as you eat it. Don’t make macros your primary focus, stop counting your calories, forget about your weight. Pay attention to what is happening inside your body, and not only will this naturally lead you to a healthy diet, it will lead you to a healthy relationship with the food that you eat. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your sixty-first meditation. Last week’s meditation was about making resolutions and how to carry them out. Today we’re going to talk about when to carry them out. And you likely won’t be surprised by the answer to this question. Now. The answer is now. Now you may say “But I’ve got all year. And things are very busy right now. I will just wait until this or that quiets down and then I’m on it. And as long as I fulfil my resolution by December I’m good, no?” Wellll, in theory this is true, yes. And perhaps if you schedule a very specific start date that makes sense with your schedule and you hold yourself to that date, then you will indeed be successful. The trouble is most of us don’t do that. We put it off and put it off and keep on telling ourselves that we will get to it when our schedule clears. And, of course, it never does. You’ve likely heard the cliche “there is never a good time”? It’s a cliche for a reason. Because it’s true. The circumstances you are handed at any given time are never ideal. It’s up to you to make them work in spite of that. 

Secondly, if you resolve to do something and don’t start working on it now, you are conditioning yourself to view that goal as less important. Maybe it truly is less important. Maybe you are busy with your job, making enough money to support your family, parenting, etc. and you need to prioritize all of these duties over your goal of learning Spanish, which seems frivolous by comparison. But if you can turn it over in your head and decide that this resolution is a true priority for you, something that you really want for yourself, then what are you doing waiting to get started? Every day we are living our lives, yes. But we are also practising how we want to live our lives. We are simultaneously performing and rehearsing all the time. The more we live a certain way, the more we become accustomed to and comfortable with that way of living, and the harder it is to live differently. That means that the longer we don’t do the things that we know will fulfil us in life, the more we practise living a life absent those things, and the less likely we are to ever do them. If it is important enough to you, your kids or your spouse will understand that you need that half an hour a day, or however long it is, to yourself. And even if they don’t, you will be modelling qualities such as self-care, ambition, and motivation for them. So even if it may seem a bit selfish, you are in fact demonstrating important values and cultivating a domestic environment where everyone’s needs matter. That sounds like good parenting, doesn’t it?

“But I may be moving in six months”, “But I have to wait for my friend who I promised to do it with”, “But I’m not ready!”. It doesn’t matter. Just get started and if you need to correct your course later, then do it. Whatever you lose by having to do so will pale in comparison to how much you gain by living a life where you are always in the act of practising obtaining what is important to you. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your sixtieth meditation. What should your New Year’s resolutions be? Some of us will have a very clear idea of all the wonderful things they want to accomplish this year, while others may be uncertain. But, whatever you do, don’t miss this opportunity to make a resolution or two. It’s easy enough to think that the practice of making New Year’s resolutions is both arbitrary and hackneyed, and to opt out of it on these grounds. But instead of critiquing this institutionalized form of self-improvement, why not just take advantage of any available opportunity to lead a more deeply considered and deliberate life?

So now that you’ve established that you will indeed make a resolution, what then to resolve? To figure that out, you have to figure out what it is that you want. And to figure that out you have to let your mind go free a bit. Get in a comfortable place where there are no distractions. Put your phone away and out of sight. Have a pen and a pad handy. Take some slow, deep breaths, close your eyes, and imagine your ideal life. Don’t be judgmental of any of your desires at this stage – there will be plenty of time to edit later. Just let those desires flow freely, however ridiculous or unrealistic they may seem.

Next step is to pick one or two or three of the elements of that image you created of your ideal life that, upon more scrupulous reflection, are of chief importance to you. And then, for each element of the fantasy, think what you could be doing right now to begin working toward that goal. Imagine yourself at the end of this year being a year closer to it. How did you get there? What did you have to do? What did you have to stop doing? If your goal is to buy something that seems way out of your price range, make a budget and a timeline based on how much you can afford to put away each month. Let’s say the thing you want most in the world is a grand piano worth $20,000, but you can’t imagine ever affording that. Well, let’s break it down. Let’s say you can manage to save an extra $300 a month by cutting down on the ordering in and expensive coffees. According to this budget, you would have your dream item in around five and half years. That’s not a lot of time to wait for the item of your dreams. What felt like a fantasy now seems very realistic. Now you just have to find a place to put it. A goal like learning the piano, or a language, is obviously much more difficult to quantify. And yet, you can use a similar approach. The Foreign Service Institute judges that it takes approximately 480 hours for a native English speaker to reach basic fluency in a language like French or Spanish. That means that if you can free up one hour each day for your fantasy goal of learning Spanish, you could be speaking Spanish in about one year and four months. 

Of course, just because New Year’s is a time when many people make resolutions doesn’t mean you have to confine your resolution-making to this date. Resolutions are an ongoing process and can and should be made and revised at any time. But this New Year, why not get started early? Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your fifty-ninth meditation. Many people believe that they are not creative. Maybe they think that they didn’t get into any creative pursuit early enough, or that they quit too early, and that it’s too late and their days are too filled up to start learning one now. Often they think that there is a portion of the population whose role in society is to be creative, and that they simply do not belong to this bracket. As though personality types were so clean-cut. And this misconception is fueled by an appellation like “creatives”, which simultaneously, and paradoxically, banalizes and accords an inaccessible mystique to those to whom it refers.

There are two main problems here. The first is the notion that there is an expiry date on creativity if it goes unused. So you quit piano lessons when you were young. Why would that have any bearing on your ability to be creative now? It is perfectly possible to pick up piano at any point in your life and use that as a medium for your creativity, and meanwhile it is equally possible to take piano lessons throughout childhood into adulthood without any real creative inspiration. Playing piano is not tantamount to creativity; it is merely a channel for it. And there are limitless channels like it, which brings us to the second problem. This is the idea that creative people are somehow separate from everyone else. That so-called normal people can’t access creativity because they don’t play an instrument or paint or dance. Remember that these very specific skills are merely the trappings of creativity. They are stereotypical incarnations of what it means to be creative. The truth is, we all use our creative faculties all the time. We engage in improvised conversation; we contrive questions and responses on the spot; we make decisions on the fly, and problem solve; we care for each other in creative ways that allow those whom we love to feel supported; we develop opinions and figure out ways to express them. We all do these things. Every one of them requires a high degree of creativity to do well. And being an artist does not automatically signify that one will be particularly adept at any of them. Although it may help. What will not help is to simply assume that you are not creative, and, by doing so, actively shut down certain pathways where your creativity might otherwise flow. So whoever you are, whatever you do, acknowledge your creativity. Foster it and encourage its growth. If that means picking up that instrument that you always wanted to learn, great. And if it means recognizing that you have a skill for making people feel comfortable, fantastic. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your fifty-eighth meditation. It happens sometimes. You’re weeding the garden and that especially stubborn little plant, after much cajoling, finally, and suddenly, releases itself from the earth, sending you falling backward onto your wrist. You’re hiking and your foot doesn’t land flat on the ground and one side of your ankle is the unwilling recipient of your entire body weight. Or maybe you’re not doing much of anything, reaching up to get the cereal out of the cupboard, say, but that much-used tendon in your shoulder has simply had enough and gives way. There’s no doubt that getting injured is a setback. No one likes to be in pain, and it can be really frustrating suddenly being incapable of certain movements that before you had taken for granted. However, getting injured is simply part of living life, and it’s better that we accept that fact than to either live in fear or in regret of it.

Every time we do anything there is an element of risk involved. You leave your house in the morning trusting that the tree in your front yard won’t fall on you the second you’re out the door; and yet, it could happen. And if you think you’re safe inside the home, think again. The CDC tells us that around half of all injuries suffered by Americans occur in the home. So, although a rugby player might be significantly increasing their odds of injury compared to the average person, opting out of aggressive sports won’t save you. We all get injured.

And even if we may not welcome injury, there are some distinct benefits to getting hurt. One is a reminder that we are not invincible. Most of us spend so much of our lives taking our health for granted, and this is a wonderful privilege. However, getting injured is an opportunity to take a moment to be humbled by our own vulnerability, and to appreciate the incredible service our bodies offer us every day. A corollary of this is that injuries are our opportunity to witness the body’s incredible healing power in action. The fact that we can cut open our skin and our body, of its own accord, will direct all the necessary energy to healing and sealing up that wound is astonishing. In this respect, getting injured teaches us to be grateful for the seemingly miraculous power of our bodies, while also a reminder to respect their fragility. It is also a reminder to try to always be present. Many injuries occur due to distraction, and so serve as a warning regarding the potential consequences of an unfocussed mind. And since they tend to slow us down, physically, injuries afford us the chance to slow the mind down as well by way of meditation, which is precisely what a distracted mind requires. Finally, injuries make for a good story. Since we are all vulnerable humans, we are fascinated by the infinite ways that we can get hurt, and so are inherently interested in hearing about the injuries of others. And for this reason, an injury becomes something of a badge that we wear, even after it has healed. We are proud of our injuries. They are the sign that we have lived, that we have survived living, in our own unique way; and for this, we ought to be proud. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.