In this podcast episode, I will discuss some of the exercises and introspective questions that I believe can lead to a more mindful way of living. These are exercises that are published in the new book “The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journal.”
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Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 84. I am your host, Noah Rasheta and today I’m talking about how to practice mindfulness daily.
Before I jump into that, keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice to not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are. Now on the past couple of episodes I’ve been talking about the four noble truths with the acronym ELSA, as a reminder to apply those as tasks, the eight-fold path was the last episode and today I wanted to talk a little-bit about some ideas and tips and exercises regarding how to actually practice mindfulness in our day to day living.
Now I wanna bring to your attention something, with the eight-fold path it can seem like there’s this structured way of trying to go about living and that can seem to contradict other episodes where I’ve talked about the idea of living artfully and I had a recent message from a Podcast listener who brought up this point and said, with concepts that I share from time to time, the idea that when you try the trying has lost the whole point or teachings like the gate-less gate to at times some Buddhist’s concepts and teachings can seem contradictory and their implications of what’s being taught with trying to do something and having effort vs not trying to do something and just going with the flow and in that case, why even try?
So what I explained as a response to this email, was the idea that effort is something that we exert at any given time for many different reason, it’s always happening. So the idea again, is to be more skillful in where we exert our effort. You can think of this, the analogy I gave in the email. I don’t know if it’s the best one but it was to visualize the events taking place on the Titanic in those final hours as it was sinking. There was a lot of effort being exerted to accomplish certain things. I’m sure in the… I don’t know what they call it but where the captain and all the officers are, there was a lot going on there. We know that on deck there was a lot of effort being made to keep the band playing music.
I don’t know I’m sure somewhere in the kitchen somebody may have been exerting effort to put away the dishes or to clean them. I don’t know but the point is to be able to pause and say, where’s the most skillful place to exert my effort and in the case of the Titanic it would have been to get as many people on the lifeboats as possible in the quickest amount of time and we know that’s not how that went down unfortunately.
So it’s kind of like that. It’s being able to pause and take inventory in our own lives with whatever the situation at hand is. Am I exerting the most skillful effort in the most skillful direction. That’s kind of the point here, it’s not saying that we shouldn’t have effort, that we shouldn’t do thing that we shouldn’t try to be better. It’s saying, try to understand why do you feel the need to be better in the first place because when you understand yourself you can be more skillful with where you exert that effort.
Which brings me to the point of this episode, this is why I wanted to talk about why even practice mindfulness? What is the point of being more mindful and I want to emphasize what I’ve echoed before in previous episodes. Which is that you don’t need to be more mindful. This content is relevant information for people who want to be more mindful. It’s the saying that goes, “Ignorance is bliss.” That’s true up until the point where ignorance isn’t bliss. Ignorance can be bliss in some circumstances and some instances and for certain amount of time but then life changes just like the game of Tetris, a new shape shows up and suddenly you are living a new set of circumstances where the ignorance isn’t bliss.
It’s causing yourself and those around a lot of unnecessary suffering and I think this happens a lot. This is certainly what happened with me in my own life with experiencing going through changes of events in life that caused me to suddenly be experiencing a lot of suffering and lot of my suffering was passing onto others around, those closest to me and there came to be this moment where I didn’t wanna feel that way anymore. I wanted to understand the nature of my emotions and my thoughts and my feelings and that path, that allowed to me exert more effort to be more mindful and others to learn more about myself and that’s something I cannot emphasize with this entire discussion and journey about Buddhism and mindfulness and all of this stuff, it’ll never give you the answers to life’s big questions, the mysteries of the cosmos.
It’s not about that. It’s going to unlock something that I believe is incredibly more mysterious and profound which is the nature of your own thoughts. Why do you think and say and do the things that you do? Only you can discover that about yourself and that’s the whole point of mindfulness as a practice. Now it’s important to recognize, you cannot force yourself to be more mindful. It’s not like i can just sit here and will myself to be more mindful in the same way that I cannot force myself to be more smart.
If I want to learn something, it’s gonna take time, it’s gonna take effort. I’m gonna have to pick up a book, read about this subject or topic that I wanna learn more about. Get a study manual, highlight things in the manual, watch tutorials and educational videos online about it. It takes effort on my part to learn about a new subject, it does for all of us and it’s the same way when it comes to learning more about ourselves. If you want to be more mindful and aware of yourself, well guess what? It’s gonna take some time and you’re gonna have to spend some time studying and observing yourself and in that sense, that’s where mindfulness as a practice comes in. It’s something that you continually work on and you can continually get to know yourself and the game doesn’t end because of the nature of things being impermanent, the you that you’re getting to know is a changing you. So if you think you finally figured yourself out, well guess what? The game keeps going because you’re always a new you.
So that’s something to keep in mind in all of this. Now when we typically talk about mindfulness, the most Buddhist schools and traditions, they would mention that mindfulness has essentially two layers; it’s being in the present moment and I think this is the most important part, having a none judgemental awareness of being in the present moment. For example, if I am sitting with the experience of being angry. I’m allowing myself to feel angry because that is the natural thing that I’m experiencing, that’s the first layer. The second layer is experiencing anger and not judging myself for having the experience of feeling angry.
So it doesn’t mean that we’re eliminating the stories that give rise to these emotions. It’s more about changing the relationship we have with our stories. It’s about no longer believing our stories, recognizing that our stories are just stories and one of those stories in this example I just gave is that, it’s wrong to be angry. So as long as I have the story “it’s wrong to be angry” now I experience anger and I’m adding a more complex layer because now I’m angry that I’m angry. So that’s something that we start to dissect in this whole process of exploration of trying to be more mindful and keep in mind that mindfulness is not just about feeling good. Although, you can feel really good about being mindful and practicing mindfulness.
It’s more about being good at feeling because you will feel everything that arises, the instances of discontent and anger and sadness and all of it. You’re going to be really good at feeling. So this is why I recently wrote my newest book is, the Five Minute Mindfulness Journal, that was my goal was what I’ve encountered over and over as I meet other people who either listen to the podcast or practice meditation or mindfulness of some sort, something that seems to be common that I encountered in my own path with trying to be more mindful is how do you actually do it? How do you spend time to become more insightful and understand yourself better.
Sure I can sit in meditation and I can watch my breathe for what seems like eternity but how is that gonna… What starts actually to help to get to know me and I wanted to share some of the exercises and things that have really worked for me in my own mindfulness practice but present them in a way where they’re easy to put into practice in your own day to day life. I think I’ve echoed this before as well that a consistent practice is far more beneficial then a deep or long or profound practice.
Sure you can go sit in a forest and spend a ten day meditation and it’s going to do a lot of great things that it may or may not but a lot of people report that things like that are beneficial but lets just bring us to the average day to day life, the average person, if you’re like me, we’re probably not gonna go sit in a mountain monastery for ten days or a month or years. We are busy with jobs, raising children, dealing with spouses and dealing with the traffic, driving to work. Is there a way for the average person to also experience these profound benefits of mindful as a practice and for me the resounding answer is, absolutely yes because I’ve experienced this in my own life all while carrying on the ordinary day to day tasks of being a son and a father and a spouse and a sibling and a coworker and a boss and an employee and everything else that I am.
So with that in mind I wanted to share some of the ideas and exercises that I think have worked really well. So the book is full of these but I’m going to share a few of them with you in this podcast episode with the goal of giving you a taste of what daily mindfulness practice can be. So take a moment an pause, you may be driving or doing something where you cannot do this. The way it’s intended in the journal, the journal is intended to be written in. So if you’re in a position where you can do this go ahead and do this but you can ask yourself, what do I feel right now and take inventory. Label the feeling, it can be hunger, tired, excited, rushed, whatever it is, take inventory of how you feel right now and once you have a label or a few labels ’cause most likely you feel several things right now.
Then spend a moment and try to ask yourself where does this feeling come from? what gives rise to this feeling? For example I feel X and it’s probably because of Y, write those down, “I feel X and I feel it because…” and write that down and once you have this little list you can pause the podcast at this point and work on that but once you have this list then the invitation is to dig deeper, “I feel this because of this but now lets look at that Y. Why do I feel that?” And you can you can do this many, many layers and I’ll give you an example in my own life.
Before I had ever gotten into mindfulness practice or even knew what Buddhism was, I hadn’t experienced at work once and my wife and I both worked at the same place and we were in cubicles and it was a really big building. So we would communicate through instant messenger on our computers and I had this bright idea. I can’t even remember what it was but I have this bright idea according to me and I was texting my wife explaining my bright idea. Which was something along the lines of I’m gonna this vacation time that we have. We didn’t have kids yet and I think if I recalled this correctly, she was pregnant. So we were gonna have a little-bit of time before [Rye ko 00:13:32] was born and I had amassed some time with, I think vacation time or sick time at work and same with some money and so my bright idea was this, I’m gonna use my time and before [Rye ko 00:13:47]’s born. She had no interest in ever going to visit Antarctica but I did.
So I thought, why don’t I get that trip our of the way ’cause it’s a bucket list item for me and I’ll go visit Antarctica. It’ll be a one or two week trip and then when I come back then i’s a few more months then the baby’s born and then we carry on with life but I will have achieved this bucket list item and to me in my mind it all sounded brilliant. So I share all this with her in this text message and then I can’t remember the exact order of events but I think I rethought it and then sent her this message saying, actually no maybe that’s not a good idea.
Maybe it wouldn’t work ’cause of blah blah blah and then she replied to my message with this long elaborate text that was clearly not meant for me saying, “Oh he finally just changed his idea. I’m so glad he realized what a dumb idea it was man because blah blah blah.” And going off on telling somebody else what I had just told her and the way she painted it made it seem wow, what a horrible idea and I’m glad he saw that it was a horrible idea, so I didn’t have to tell him.
And I felt so offended. First of all, I felt mad that I was like, “Why wouldn’t she just tell me. Why does she have to confide in someone else about what a bad idea this is?” So I replied away and I was like, “I don’t think you meant that for me.” And acting all indignant, right? Because, she criticized my idea. So to me that was one of those instances of, I feel X and it’s probably because of Y.
So in my case, I feel upset because my wife just called me out… well I guess not directly to me unintentionally, made me appear a fool to someone, to whoever she meant that message to go through and I was just really angry with that. It wasn’t until much later that I could, sit with the emotion and I learned this whole process of introspection and I replayed several instances in my past, this is one of them where I thought, “Why did that bother me so much when I got that text? When I got that message that totally shot me down as a crazy person with dumb ideas.” And what I realized was from from my perspective, my idea didn’t seem crazy but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t crazy.
It very well may have been and it certainly was to her based on her perspective and perhaps I would’ve needed to have it elaborated a little-bit more on why I was thinking what I was thinking but so anyway, what I discovered the deeper thing for me in that whole example was the realization that I have a story about myself and that story is that I come up with good ideas. I always have ideas that of course to me they’re good ideas and I was being confronted with this harsh reality that my great ideas aren’t great to everyone and here was someone close to me that I thought would certainly see my brilliance of my ideas and she didn’t and I realized she actually thought it was actually a dumb idea.
So it was my reality of me being someone who has good ideas, was being confronted with the harshness of reality which is that, no not all your ideas are good or at least not to everyone and that created conflict in me ’cause I had to maintain my story of, well no the problem has to be her, it’s not me and my ideas ’cause I have good ones that’s part of my story. So anyway what I wanted to get at was the digging deeper. How did I feel? why did I feel and why did I feel what I felt?
So I was going through a few layers that revealed in my instance, in my example, it revealed something about me to me. Which is I have a story that when confronted with reality at times will run into problems which is, if someone doesn’t think my idea’s good, I’m going to have problems with that. So again, with time that allowed me to realize, okay I can accept a new reality which is, no not all of my ideas are good, at least not to everyone else. Even if they’re good ideas to me doesn’t means they’re gonna be good ideas to others.
Okay I kinda went on a tangent with that. So lets go back to this concept of thinking. As an exercise you can ask yourself, is thinking something that I do or is it something that’s happening to me and in fact, the very fact that I just asked this question has probably sent your mind on a new trajectory that you are not able to control. What did you immediately think after I asked you that question? Is thinking something that you’re doing or something that’s happening to you or any question?
Anytime someone ask you a question and you’re thinking of an answer, can you help the fact that, that answer is what popped into your head? That, that specific thought or idea is what arose in your mind, can you help that? I don’t think that you can and in terms of interdependence, everything is influencing our thoughts at all times and marketers know this. This is why we’re always being bombarded with messaging that tries to influence us and when a thought arises, oh I need to have this or that. I gotta have it, whatever that is. Were you really able to help it? I don’t think so.
I don’t think we’re in control as much as we think we are. So and then there’s the problem of the inter-narrator. Our brain is wired in a way that gives rise to the narrator of our thoughts and part of what we want to achieve with mindfulness practices, understanding the nature of our mind, getting to know the inter-narrator and ultimately befriending or at least having a more skillful relationship with the inter-narrator and I’ve mentioned this before but that voice in our head, that is the narrator. We all have one.
Most likely your inter-narrator sounds a lot like you. It’s like you’re hearing your own voice. It’s the one that probably laughs at your own jokes and, or it’s the heckler in the crowd that makes fun of everything that you’re trying to do. For some that voice can be downright mean and nasty but it is the voice and it’s the one that even now, some people may be listening to this saying, “No I don’t have a voice, there’s not a voice inside my head.” Well that’s it that’s the inner-voice. Meet your inner-narrator.
So here’s an exercise that you can do when it comes this process of understanding and meeting your inner-narrator. You can ask yourself, what are some of the characteristics of my inner-narrator? Is it mean? Is it nice? Is it a bold voice? Is it a shy voice and think about it and just write down some of the characteristics that you would attribute to this inner-narrator and you can ask yourself, “Well why do I even want to get to know this inner-narrator?”
Well I said before for many of us, the inner-narrator is mean and cruel, it can often make our lives feel miserable. It can be demanding, it’s always saying, “I want this and I don’t want that.” And it has this whole list of wants and it has this whole list of things to avoid, right? This is kind of the Buddhist concept of the three poisons there. The desires are the things the inner-narrator is saying, “I gotta have that.” And then there are the eversions, the things that the inner-narrator saying, “No get away from that, we don’t want any of that in our lives.”
And it can be super controlling. It’s a control freak. So here’s another exercise, I want you to take a moment and think about what is the meanest thing you’ve ever said or done to someone and, or that you’ve seen someone do to someone else and try to recall, how did that feel as you were witnessing or experiencing this? You can just write it down, it’s a quick journal entry, a memory and ask yourself, what was that experience like? Just think about that for a moment and then what we’re gonna do for this exercise is reflect inward and the question you’re gonna ask yourself is, what is the meanest thing you’ve done or said to yourself and how does that feel?
And this may be a past experience but it may be a current, a present experience, an ongoing one. Something that you continually say or do to yourself and just pause and reflect, how does it feel to treat yourself the way that you do and the inner-narrator isn’t always mean. It’ll do nice things to, part of its job is to protect us, right? We’re hardwired as a species to survive. So a lot of the harshness that comes from the inner-narrator is done coming from a place of love you could say. A place of instinctual survival. It says, don’t wear that you look like an idiot because ultimately it’s trying to protect you because if you look like an idiot you may be ostracized from the group, if you’re not in the group you’re gonna be cast out and if you get cast out we’re gonna die, right?
That’s the thinking that’s going on that’s underneath the meanness at times of this inner-narrator and I think that’s important to know. So what we want to try to spend time with is imagine that you’re meeting the inner-narrator and I want you to think of five compliments that you could give your inner-narrator. It may be difficult to conceptualize this as you meeting your inner-narrator. A quick easy way to do this is just to imagine that you are meeting yourself from yesterday.
That you of yesterday is meeting the you of right now and what would be five compliments and perhaps five complaints if you wanna have a frank discussion with yourself, what are five things you like about yourself and five things you don’t like about yourself and try to analyze these things through that lens of introspection of, you the inner-narrator trying to protect yourself often from things you don’t realize are the hidden motives of why you are or the way that you are to yourself.
So just keep that in mind and look at this list of the five complaints and five compliments and see I don’t know, what insight arises out of that. Another exercise you can do is think of a good friend. What are some of the characteristics of a good friend. What is it that makes a good friend, a good friend and write down some of these qualities or attributes. Again, this is what separates a friend from a good friend. So everyone’s list is gonna be a little-bit different but think about what that entails for you.
What makes your good friends, your good friends and look at look at that list and now imagine what would it be if you were that good friend to yourself? How would your life be different if you were a better friend to yourself and list five things that you can start doing right now, to be a better friend to yourself and this exercise works even when you’re thinking of others to. If you wanna just be a better friend in general, how can you be a better friend to others? How can you go from being a friend to a good friend to someone else that you care about?
So this kinda has a two part thing where it can benefit you as far as your relationships with others but it’s meant to really start with the core. Which is you befriending yourself. So think about that and write those things down and remember there’s this quote that says “You, yourself as much as anybody else in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” And I want to end this kind of on that note.
This is why I wrote the five minute mindfulness journal as a process. A place where you can visit. Literally it takes five minutes or less everyday looking at some of these questions and exercises and the book is packed with them. I gave you what, three or four? The book is packed with them and it’s broken into various sections. Section one is you are not your thoughts. Two is the inner-narrator. Three is befriending your inner-narrator. Four is finding peace in the struggle. Next is self acceptance, then gratitude and then the last section of the book is exercises around cultivating love and kindness.
So again the way this book is structured as a journal. It’s meant to be a book that you read and that you write in the book and these exercises that you work on and the things that you write are meant to give rise to insight and wisdom into the nature of yourself, your own mind. Your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions, the things that you say and think and do. It’s a journal about you. It’s about you getting to know you, having a better understanding and ultimately changing the relationship that you with yourself.
I can guarantee you there’s nothing mysterious that you’re gonna gain in this about the cosmos or about life. There will absolutely be ah-hah moments when it comes to understanding you and yourself. Which I think is incredibly more profound at least in my opinion but again as I mentioned earlier in this book, who am I to think that my ideas are good? Obviously, to some people that are not but I haven’t gotten to Antarctica yet but it’s still in the works and now that I talked about this and recalled that story, I think I’ve rekindled the desire to get that one crossed off my bucket list and go to Antarctica.
Hopefully my wife will think it’s a good idea. Hopefully she’ll wanna come with me now that this is ten years after that. We’ll see. I guess you’ll know when you hear about it if and when I go, if she comes with me, you guys will all be a part of that inside joke knowing that story about us and our past and her thinking what a dumb idea it was for me to wanna go to Antarctica.
Okay so that’s all I have for this episode. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the sequence of thoughts and ideas from the past three episodes, starting with the four noble truth, the eight-fold path and then this one, the invitation to start to apply practices where you sit and get to know yourself. I can promise you that one of the most impactful changes that you’ll have on your life is the change in the dynamic, the relationship that you have with yourself, with your own thoughts, with your feelings and with your emotions.
To be able to be skillful in where you exert this effort of controlling who are and how you wanna and the things that you wanna do. So that’s the invitation with this podcast you can pick up the book it’s available now on Amazon. It’s called The Five Minute Mindfulness Journal.
Again if you wanna learn more about these concepts, you can check out the other book, No Nonsense Buddhism For Beginners and I think that will compliment this one pretty well now. That one is the teachings and ideas and this one is practices and exercises. You can learn more about that on Everyday Buddhism or secularbuddhism.com and as always if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, please feel free to share it with others, write a review, give it a rating on iTunes. You can join the online community secularbuddhism.com/community, it’s just a Facebook group and if you’d like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast please visit secularbuddhism.com, click the donate button and that is all I have for now but as always, I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon.
Until next time.