Thursday, July 15, 2021

What is my first goal as I begin meditating?

 Beginning meditation students’ often struggle with clearing their mind of thoughts. They report getting anxious and wanting to get up and do something. 

The first goal of meditation is to sit still and watch the mind. Don’t engage with it. Just watch what’s going on. Notice what your mind does. 

So, you’d think the first thing to do would be to sit down. But first, we have to prepare. 

If we don’t prepare, there are going to be distractions. If you sit at the kitchen table, you’ll be distracted by the coffee and the dishes (among other things). The kitchen is normally a high traffic area; so, on certain days, people are going to be traipsing through and asking you what you’re doing. You get the idea. 

So, the first thing is to find where and when you will not be distracted. The bedroom is great, and the closet is better. If you can disappear into a no-traffic area of the woods, garden or park, that would be great on fair weather days. Find a time when everybody is normally gone and won’t be looking for you. Master meditators meditate around 2 to 4 a.m., but you may not be ready for that yet. Pick your best place(s) and time(s). 

The next distraction is your own body. Set up your meditation space so you’ll be comfortable. You can meditate standing or lying down, but neither is ideal. Standing adds the task of keeping your balance. Lying down invites you to fall asleep. If you need to sleep, prepare by taking a nap before you meditate. It’s okay to fall asleep, but that’s not meditation. 

Sitting is ideal in that you can relax while remaining alert. You’re not going to fall over, and you’re not going to fall asleep. You can sit on the floor with legs crossed or in a chair. You may notice the little aches in your body, so prepare by doing some warm-up exercise and loosening your body. Check the temperature in the room, which is cooler near the floor. I sometimes meditate wrapped in a blanket. 

As you sit, you’ll notice other things that are distracting you, and you’ll be able to prepare for them before your next meditation session. 

Okay, so you prepared, and now you’re sitting comfortably. 

Your mind is a thought-generation machine. Ever since our ancestors were hiding in caves, the brain was alert to what was going on around us, and inventing scenarios of what could be a threat. That’s the brain’s job, to help you stay safe. The difference is that now there are no threats or outside distractions. Just thoughts: Inside distractions. 

As a beginning meditator, your job is to watch your thoughts. As you watch your thoughts, choose which of them is important here and now, in this moment of meditation. If you have decided to meditate, you have already chosen. None of those thoughts are important right now. 

You have a long list of chores that need to be done, but you’ve already chosen that you are not going to do them during this time. So, when car repair rises in your mind, notice that it is there; and let it float away because you are not going to do that just now. You want a club sandwich; and just let the thought fade away. 

It’s a continuous flow of thoughts, one after the other. It’s normal. It’s natural. It’s okay. Just watch them come and go. 

You’ll feel antsy, like you have to get up and do something … anything. That’s because that’s what you’ve always done. Stay busy. It distracts you from your self. 

Okay, let’s use distraction to our benefit. As you sit there watching your thoughts rise and fade, notice your breath. Breathe into your heart and exhale. Sometime breathe into your heart and down into your belly … and exhale. See what we’re doing here: You changed your attention from watching thoughts to intentional breathing. Your focus changed. You distracted yourself from thoughts to breath. 

You can also put your attention on sitting upright, so your spine is not compressed or unnaturally curved. That’s a good one that will benefit you as you advance. Or you can put your attention on rocking your body gently forward and back, or side to side. Gently! 

After you do any of these intentional distractions for a while, you’ll notice that your thoughts have come back. There they are! Normal and natural, streaming by, and fading away. 

If you want, you can pick a thought and hold onto it. You can think about it and consider what you’d do if this or if that. When you work with a thought, this is called contemplation. You can do that if you want, but it’s not meditation. Meditation is watching your mind, not using it. And just as easily as you put your attention on one thought, you can release it, and allow the next thought to come and glide by. 

You’re just watching your mind. That is the first goal of meditation. Practice that for about nine months. 

Or, when you feel ready, you can move to another meditation exercise. I know you’re anxious. You want to be good at meditation right now. Release that thought. Release the urge to be busy. 

Just be present in the here and now. Watch your mind. The thoughts come and go. The brain does its job. Just sit and watch. 

Sit quietly now for five minutes. 



Thursday, March 25, 2021

We know how to reduce gun deaths by at least 50% in one year

For “gun rights advocates,” let me say up front: I'm not anti-gun. Anybody who tells you that “they coming to take your guns away,” is lying to you. That is propaganda spread by the National Rifle Association, which was taken over by a radical right-wing political movement in 1977. Their industry-backed propaganda hasn’t changed.

Neither has their error. The right to bear arms is guaranteed under the Second Amendment, and it would take a Constitutional Amendment to even begin to deny private gun ownership. Only one member of Congress wants to rewrite the Second Amendment.

I'm for sensible gun regulation as allowed by the Second Amendment and affirmed multiple times by the Supreme Court over two centuries, including conservative Judge Antonin Scalia in the 2008 Heller decision. The "gun rights" argument is not what you think. 

Learn the history of "gun rights" here. https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/radiolab-presents-more-perfect-gun-show

Right now we have leaky, ineffective gun regulations. Strike One. Enforcement of gun regulations has never been fully funded. Strike Two. People keep committing mass murders. Strike Three. This is wrong. It reflects a lack of character on our part. We need to step up and do something. 

All sensible people agree that we need to close the gaps in gun regulations and enforce the law better, including adequate funding for law enforcement. I’m for actually and fully funding enforcement, which has never been done. Instead, we fund assault vehicles for the police. 

Yes, this would be inconvenient to gun owners: That's called "being responsible." Unless you have a pre-teen mind, you crave responsibility.  

So, if you’re not a right-wing extremist who protects the rights of violent criminals and the mentally ill to own and operate guns, here is what we can do to restore gun sanity (like we had until 1977, only an updated version).

Main Goal #1: Create a national database accessible by law enforcement at every level. Cross-reference three data sets (1) A list of all guns and owners. (2) A registry of people with a record of violent criminal activity, including domestic violence and engaging in street/bar fights. (3) A list of people with mental health issues who are at risk of doing harm to self or others.

By cross-referencing these data sets, we can pinpoint when violent or mentally ill people are in proximity to guns. Laws and law enforcement should ensure no access to guns by these people. This used to be the law in the United States until the NRA went radical.

Yes, make gun owners responsible to secure their guns and report them missing. Failure to do so should be criminal.

Every gun owner should be required to be trained and licensed just like we do with car drivers. Training would include an hour on identifying people with violent tendencies or mental health issues. It's called "being responsible." This is a national safety issue.  

Those who own a weapon that can be used in combat should be registered with the state or local militia so they can be trained in combat and recalled in time of need. This camaraderie alone would stem virtually all weapon abuse.

Main Goal #2: Since suicide constitutes the majority of gun deaths (with homicide a strong second), pass legislation to counteract the Root Cause of mental illness, drug use and most crime. The Root Cause is when an individual experiences a sense of social isolation or familial rejection, of not being heard and cared for. Yes, it's a weakness; but instead of kicking a person while they're down, we should give them a hand up. Implement proactive outreach programs in local communities to identify people who are struggling with mental health and violence issues, and to ensure clear connection points for them, including at schools, churches, jobs, and clubs. Shouldn't this be happening already? 

Main Goal #3: Ensure these Goals are properly funded. (1) Until 2015, about half of gun registrations were on paper stored in boxes in the halls of the ATF. Computers and staff to manage them have never been properly funded. Industry lobbyists have blocked funding. (2) In Indiana alone we spend $1 Billion a year on drug treatment programs in prisons, just to turn convicts back out onto the streets into the same situations they came from with minimal community programs or support (according to my local county sheriff. Spend that same money on gun violence prevention, we could minimize violence and stem most crime.

Everybody knows: An ounce of prevention …  But these days we have people who have their opinions handed to them, who oppose common sense. It's way past time for the sensible majority to stand up and speak out. 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Switch from Consumption to Production

The biggest change we need to make is from consumption to production. 

Instead of eating up Facebook posts, we need to journal/blog our own ideas through to their ridiculous conclusion. "What if ... And then what if ...?" 

And stop eating up what is sweet and packaged pretty, and use a knife to chop up freshly harvested food that you and your neighbors grow. 

Stop going to church to get that spiritual feeling, and practice aligning with God in meditation three times a day. 


In short, stop accepting whatever comes to you, and go out and get what you really need and want.

Monday, March 8, 2021

How to be strong when sin is making you weak

Regarding the discussion of sin we had during men’s group …

“I want to quit, but I can’t.”

I want to lose weight, but first I have all this food in the house that I have to eat. I can’t just throw it out.

               Instead, I start from abstinence. I fast until I’m actually hungry, then I eat. I make sure my stomach isn’t uncomfortable because of gas, or because I’m too full, or because I ate something spicy, or because I had an argument with someone, or some other stress. I make sure my “hunger” isn’t thirst by drinking plenty of water. I make sure I’m not just eating out of habit by distracting myself and doing something constructive. Thus, I discern if I’m truly hungry. If I’m truly hungry, I let my wife know. As a last resort, I might even “cook” for myself.

I wanted to go to grandma’s house, so I walked down to the end of the block; but I wasn’t there yet, so I turned around and came back.

Blowing smoke like a pro
               Instead, I calculate what it’s going to take to get there. Grandma lives 15 miles away. That’s quite a hike. Maybe I should drive the car. Do I really want to go to Grandma’s house, or am I just trying to justify why I can’t get there.  Am I using the right vehicle? Do I know how to use it? Do I know the way? Maybe I should get somebody to help me find the way. If I make a wrong turn, they can say, “Wait! Isn’t the whore house down this road? Aren’t we going to Grandma’s?”

So, your good intentions aren’t enough. You have to train yourself to do what is required. To master yourself, practice often. Build your muscles. It is immensely helpful to have a partner to help you stay on The Way … on Target.

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.  Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” Matthew 12 

               If you’re trying to “clean your house,” be sure to put some good angels in it. Otherwise, the same old relatives will move right back in with you. 

“No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.” Luke 11 

               You are in charge of you. Your mind doesn’t want to do what you say. It wants to stay comfortable and avoid all work and struggle. It wants the thrills, and will trick you if you don’t exercise your power. Tell your mind, “I decide, we do.” Your mind obeys you if you take action. All your mistakes have been forgiven, and it’s up to you to stop being less that who you really are. If you truly are a child of God, you have infinite power available to you. If you don’t know how to access that power, ask somebody who knows.

In the New Testament, the word “repent” does not mean “to stop sinning;” it means “to change.” Change your mind. Change the way you think. Switch paradigms. Stop thinking of your life in terms of “sin,” and start thinking of life in terms of “love.” Stop thinking in terms of what you need to do to survive; and start thinking in terms of what God can do through you. Don’t let your mind lead you: You lead your mind. Don’t let your body lead you; you lead your body. Change your habitual sins by replacing them immediately with a pre-planned, constructive activity. You trained yourself in the habit of sin; now replace that by training yourself in the habit of good works. Stop settling for cheap thrills, and seeking after minor blessings. Be the blessing! God is not weak, and neither are his kids.

 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Hardcore: Teaching children to clean up their own messes

A mom asked how to get her kids to clean up their own messes when "they don't give a fuck." (Get the desperation?) Here's the answer summarized, short and ... well, hardcore.  

  1. Start very young. When they're 7-years-old, you'll be happy. When they're teens, you'll be delighted. 
  • Remember: Parenting means “Training kids to become responsible adults and problem solvers.”
  • Parenting is not fixing their problems for them (like cleaning up after them).
  • Parenting is very hard work. (Remember to take a respite when you need it.)  
  • Don’t train them that you clean up after them. (If you’re reading this, it’s probably already too late. You think it’s just easier to do it yourself. You’re training your kids to be slobs and dependent on others. If you’re serious, Skip to 10.)
  • Train them that they are included in all cleaning (except dangerous things: but they can and must watch!)
  • All attempts are worthy. Praise them for every attempt, not for success.
  • Expect incremental, continuous improvements. Settle for no less.

2. Make it fun: Never work or struggle. Work and struggle happen for four reasons:

  • You’re in a rush.
  • You are not setting the example.
  • You are not explaining and teaching.
  • You expect perfection.
  • It’s easier to do it yourself.

3. Get rid of ALL junk.

  • Have the kids put all “their stuff” on their bed. Whatever is left laying around is junk. Get rid of it NOW.
  • Then, have each child hold each item on their bed to their heart. If it doesn’t feel like joy, get rid of it. You set the example. Do this as OJT (4. Below)
  • If the item doesn’t feel joyful, it’s junk. Teach them to distinguish between “clinging to something to fill an empty heart” and “this makes me feel joy.”
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: https://www.amazon.com/Life-Changing-Magic-Tidying-Decluttering-Organizing/dp/1607747308/

4. OJT: On-the-Job Training (Progressive ability) Teach them HOW to create order.

  • Prepare: Break all chores into simple steps: Write them down as a Master Task List.
  • Each step must be so simple that success is guaranteed.
  • Make a chart of the steps you are CURRENTLY training them in.
  • Give lotsa praise for best efforts. (Success comes later.)
  • Use rewards that they choose.
  • Give rewards steadily at first, less often later, and finally intermittently.
  • Make it fun, even a game.
  • Demonstrate several times: Show them how to do each step.
  • Assist: Do each step with them: Clean up together
  • Repeat a-e over and over until they form the habit.
  • Supervise them doing it: “I’m over here doing this while you’re doing that.”
  • Own it. Assign it to them: “You know how to do this.”
  • Return to previous steps as needed to ensure success.
  • Give persistent positive feedback: Joy.
  • Red Flag: If anybody feels like it’s work or a struggle, see Number Two above.

5. Teach them to tidy as they go = less mess. “Everything has a place, everything in its place. Where does that belong?” “You know what we do with junk laying around.”

6. Make tidiness a trait of your family name: “We are Smiths, and Smiths put things where they belong.” (Also, “Smiths are honest.” “We are Smiths, and Smiths are helpful/problem solvers/caring/etc.” You can make signs and hang them around your house.)  

7. Be persistent. It’s okay to give up and take respite, but persistently return to the task of training kids to be responsible adults. (When they get to be teenagers, you’ll be sooo glad you did.)

8. If they’re already wild, you have to get tough: Take EVERYTHING out of their rooms, no electronics, toys or games, no privileges until they’re earned.

  • Big yard bags are great for throwing stuff in.
  • Do it while they’re gone one day.
  • Hide where they can’t get to it, where they’ll never find it. (Rent a storage space.)
  • Spell out in writing how they can earn their stuff back.
  • If you compromise at all, you’ve lost not just the battle, but the war.
  • At this point, it’s all or nothing. YOU – THE ADULT – HAVE TO WIN THIS, or your kids will be dependent slobs for life.
  • You want to train kids to become responsible adults, not expecting others to take care of them, not believing that a mess is acceptable. Teach them tidiness (above).
  • After you’ve created the blank slate, THEN go back and start again at Number One above.
  • Don’t be afraid to use every trick in the book:
    • Cry, tell them how sad you are because they don’t love you (as demonstrated by not helping you). It’s okay if they think they failed at this point. 
    • Get angry … but don’t throw a crazy fit. Make sure they know things are NOT alright. It’s okay if they think they are in trouble at this point.
    • When they do what you expect, FLIP IT. Remember: Hate the mess, not the child. Love the tidy! When they do what is expected, you have to tell them how good they are. They are expressing their inner goodness by doing a good action.
    • The mess doesn’t mean that they are bad kids: It means that their inner goodness is NOT getting expressed, and it looks like a mess. When their inner goodness is expressed, it looks like tidiness. Tell them that.
    • Back to the top now.

Please let me know if you have something to add to this summary. Or contact me if you want to talk about it. Blessings!