Surfing the web

Don’t Read This! Delving into the World of Non-Promotion

I’ve been experiencing a disconnect between my work and my intentions lately. I love writing, and I try to write about topics that are important and relevant. I love it when people read, reflect on, and respond to my work. But I’ve been getting an unsettling feeling when I browse content on the internet, and I’m afraid I’m contributing to the problem. That I’m just another piece of media to be consumed in a binge of time-wasting and procrastination.

Basically, internet content tries to be as attention-grabbing and click-baiting as it possibly can. We’ve all seen them: “Ten Shocking Recipes You Can’t Live Without.” “This One Surprising Fact Will Transform Your Sex Life.” “Clicking On This Blog Post Will Make Your Life Unbearably Good And Happy.” This is all bullshit. And it’s the way the internet works now. Advertisers have poured money into figuring out how to get people to click, because clicks are money (Somehow this is true. I still don’t fully understand why this is, as I’ve bought a totally about about ten things on the internet ever. I guess I’m a bad example of consumption).

For a writer, clicks and likes and followers are how you show a publisher that you’re a good bet for selling a book. You have to be a master of social media and marketing in order to get your word out. Nowadays, writers have to do most of their own marketing unless they’re already a huge name. I’ve been dipping my toes into this world over the last few months since finishing writing my book, and it doesn’t feel good.

I believe that paying attention to social media and marketing is exactly the OPPOSITE of how we should live. It is the greatest time-suck of our generation. Scrolling through Facebook updates and shares, following chains of click-bait ads, watching videos that do nada to enrich our lives, consuming, consuming, consuming. I would love for people to be excited about my writing, but I have no interest in shoving it in their faces or jamming their already-overfull inboxes.

This makes my work pretty much un-findable on the internet unless you already know me. And now harder to find even if you do — posting on Facebook has become effective for getting the word out only if you’re willing to pay for it, which I firmly am not.

This is the paradox of creating something which is by nature opposed to the structures that allow it to exist. There are good things about the internet, but by and large I believe it is making us less happy. It is diminishing our personal relationships, reducing our concentration and presence-of-mind, and basically allowing us to waste away in a sea of anti-social media. Online banking is great. Using Facebook makes us unhappy. (Don’t click that link! I just put it there to verify that I didn’t make it up! It’ll waste your time!)

I could start a list of email subscribers. This is one of the top suggestions for how to grow and monetize a blog. Maybe some of you would even appreciate if my writing would come to your inbox instead of being posted on an obscure personal website out in the ether. Publishers would certainly love to see that I have a large list of subscribers who might potentially be interested in buying my book.

But I don’t want you to spend time sifting through emails. I don’t even want you to read these posts if the alternative is something that allows you to grow: going for a walk outside, being with friends, cooking a meal with loved ones, reflecting on life, or going to a yoga class. I want you to take action! To find your own happiness! To create beautiful things.

So it will continue to be hard to find my work. I probably won’t be appealing to a publisher. I’m going to keep writing because I love it. Maybe I can perfect the subtle art of non-promotion and find a way to barely support myself with it. Maybe people will find my work when they need it, and use it to inspire a burst of creativity, or to get over a plateau in life or work. But I would so much rather that you take action in your life than waste time skimming through loads of internet articles that are designed specifically to grab as much of your attention as they can at the lowest investment to the producer.

And at the same time (ah! The Paradox!), I would love for you to share my work with someone you think might benefit from it. I do want people to be able to access my writing if they are getting something out of it. What I’m ultimately asking is that you’ll browse responsibly. That when you find an article you like (mine or not), you’ll read the whole thing without getting distracted by the other million things to do and look at, and that when you’re done, you’ll close your browser and go out and take action on what you’ve read.

Unless you’re stuck in a cubicle all day — then feel free to click away. JUST KIDDING! I hope you have a job you care about and value deeply. Don’t be a robot.

Meditating Buddha

Strategies for Dealing with Discomfort

I’ve written before about sitting with discomfort. It’s a big piece of the puzzle that is “mindfulness,” and something I think about a lot. As Americans (not to exclude everyone else, I’m sure this happens everywhere), we tend to view discomfort as this untamable beast that will destroy our picture-perfect lives if we let it show its teeth.

But discomfort is a fact of life. It’s going to part of our experience no matter how hard we try to protect ourselves and our loved ones from it. And it goes further: discomfort is where the most of our personal growth happens. It’s not even a bad thing. If we are to expand our boundaries and comfort zones, we have to accept that discomfort is a part of life and even embrace it at times.

There are five main strategies we have for dealing with discomfort. We can either try to avoid it in the first place, ignore it and push through, sit with it and observe, deal with it ourselves, or ask for help. My experience with mindfulness is that it has shifted how I respond to discomfort from avoiding and ignoring to observing and healing.

I made this awesome pie chart to how regular contemplative practice can change our experience with dealing with discomfort. This data is 100% made up, but the colors are great and having a chart on a blog makes it look so real. SO REAL! Check it.

Discomfort Chart

Let’s take a quick look at each one.

Avoid it. Classic move. Here we don’t even get far enough to admit that the discomfort could be a possibility. We go to great lengths to avoid it, in all likelihood creating more discomfort (or else building up internal shame and repression) along the way. This is generally bad news. There are certainly some discomforts that we should avoid (Life Pro Tip: Get a good mattress. Long-term back pain is not worth the cheaper alternative.), but for small, natural discomforts, it’s better to just face them and get some good practice dealing with it. Sore from going to the gym? Learn to love it!

Ignore it. Again, this is a favorite of the success-driven world. Power through! Haven’t gotten enough sleep for a few nights (or weeks)? Drink more coffee! Energy drinks (eww)! This is a big one in relationships. We ignore the difficult conversations we need to be having, and instead opt for business-as-usual. Ignoring discomfort tends to allow it to build up until it reaches some kind of breaking point, which won’t be pretty. Sometimes we need to do this for short stretches to meet deadlines, create meaningful work, and provide for our families, but we should always be aware of what’s happening and keep in mind that it should be temporary.

Sit with it. This is the main point of the post I linked to earlier on. By sitting with discomfort and just observing it, we learn to be comfortable in more challenging situations. This allows us to grow and develop a deep sense of happiness.

Deal with it. Some discomforts aren’t good to sit with for a long time, particularly if they are related to an injury (physical or emotional) in the body. Often when I’ve been neglecting my yoga practice, my body feels discomfort in the form of tightness and aches. I’ve learned that this is a sign that I need to get back into it and deal with those discomforts. Right now I’m icing my hamstring for a minor strain. I know I’ll feel better about everything if I clean my house. Take action!

Ask for help. Oh boy, this is a hard one. Sometimes we need a good friend, and sometimes we need a professional. We can’t do everything for ourselves all the time, and we’ll run ourselves into the ground if we try. Western medicine has taken an approach of only focusing on the extreme cases where something is obviously damaged. Most of the time we’re not in this situation, but we may still need healing or help. Seeing a therapist is always a good idea, regardless of how positive we’re feeling. Acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, meditation, reiki, and whatever else you’re into, can all help us go beyond our baseline feeling of “not injured” to feeling great (they can also deal with some of those injuries!).

Once we recognize these different approaches to discomfort, our contemplative practice will begin to provide us the wisdom to know which is the most appropriate route, or combination of routes, to take at any given time.

The Four Basics Needs

Plato said that Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” But in Greek. This is a friend of mine from college’s favorite quote, and I think about it fairly regularly. I’ve become more convinced of it the older I’ve gotten (my friend must have been wise beyond his years). And I hope that if you’re a regular reader, on some level you also agree with the sentiment. Introspection is key to success and happiness.

It sounds so simple, but when we really bring this idea into practice, it can get a bit hairy. Okay, so we’re supposed to examine our lives. Cool. So I guess I’ll just sit down and… think? Maybe. But, think about what? My life? Okay, that’s a lot. Maybe too much.

So how can we think about life in a practical way? What works, and what allows us to understand things in a way that will also allow us to improve them? There are all sorts of great ways to categorize life in this way, including the Life Pie (basically, you rate yourself on six different categories and see how that changes over time. These change depending on who makes the chart, but they are basically: Work, Friends, Love, Health, Spirituality, and Adventure) and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

The four basic needs are even simpler, and focus on our emotions. They were described by Dr. William Glasser, and this is also referred to as “Choice Theory.” These needs are the ones that are beyond our basic survival: they are our most fundamental emotional needs, and a lack of any will disrupt our whole life.

Of course, as with any psychological theory, there are criticisms and whatnot, but for all practical purposes this description is great. Way easier to think about than Maslow. I’ve used it on wilderness trips with youth, and it provides a wonderful platform for learning to talk about and understand our own emotions. In my own life, it has helped me clarify what I’m missing or needing at a certain time.

Love and Belonging

The biggest, most fundamental need we have is for love and belonging. This can include familial love, romantic love, friendships, being part of a community, the whole shebang. Humans are social creatures, and no matter how introverted we may be, we still need relationships in order to feel complete and healthy (okay, maybe excluding a few reclusive monks/hermits/gurus). Whenever we’re feeling bad, this is a great first place to look to see if there’s something we’re missing.

Am I feeling excluded? Am I feeling lonely, or separated from my people/group/family? Have I been isolated by working too much, by skipping social engagements, by being in bed sick, or anything else?

The importance of this basic need is the reason social media is so popular. Facebook, Twitter, etc, all give us a sense of being connected to each other even when, I would argue, most of those connections are superficial and don’t satisfy the true need for love and belonging.

When love and belonging are lacking, we need to make a special point to get out in the world and connect with the people who mean the most to us. This can be hard, as loneliness can create a vicious cycle of not wanting to see people and feeling more isolated.

Power and Self-Control

Power and self-control refers to having agency in one’s life, and being able in some way to direct its flow. It is connected to freedom (which is next), but it is about being empowered to make big decision happen. For most people, having power and self-control correlates to some kind of stability, perhaps through being able to support one’s self financially.

When we become disempowered, we begin to lose faith in ourselves and the systems around us. Our self-worth may be connected to our power and self-control, as society has taught us that having a good paycheck is a sign that we’re good people. This may not be true, but it can certainly feel that way.

We can also become empowered through education, and by feeling validated in the endeavors we take on in life. Much of the intention of this blog is to help us all become more empowered in our lives, and take control over the negative influences that are all around us.


In some ways, freedom can be a manifestation of empowerment, but it does deserve its own category. Someone with a high-paying job who has to work 80 hours a week may be empowered, but lack freedom. Someone who is unemployed may have the freedom to go take off on adventures every week, but lack the power (financially or emotionally) to actually go out and do it.

Freedom is about being able to explore the world and our dreams. This doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go travel abroad every year. It is about being in a place that nurtures our growth, and that allows us to have choices about which direction our lives go.

If we’re lacking freedom, we may lash out at the people or systems we feel are limiting us. Often our perception of what is limiting us is not what is truly responsible. For instance, we may build up resentment toward a partner about something that could be resolved by talking about what our needs are and how they are not being met. Better to express the need for an evening with friends once a week than to feel stifled for years without mentioning it.


This is the best one. What’s the point of life without a little fun now and then? Even with all our other needs are met, if we don’t have some fun once in a while life will seem dry and monotonous. This can take whatever form we like, but it’s important to have enjoyable experiences. Even better if they help create a sense of love and belonging, or take advantage of some freedoms we have.

With an understanding of these four basic needs, we can begin to examine our lives in a useful way. “What is lacking?” “What is strong?” “What can I do to make things better?” By framing these questions around our needs, we can create concrete plans for improving our lives and taking the next step in our own personal development.

Low on love and belonging? We can call up some friends. Lacking power and self-control? It might be a good time to take a look at our job or living routine. Missing freedom? We can create small acts of spontaneity even in a busy schedule. Not having any fun? Let’s go play some games, pick up an old hobby, or try out a new activity. It’s a great way to frame the question, and leaves out the philosophical angst of trying to figure out how to live an examined life.

Getting Into a Rut, and Breaking Out of It

You know the feeling when life is a little bit less exciting than it should be? When everything feels hard to do, and nothing is paying off? When the clouds are extra dark and you can’t quite remember what the sun looks like (this happens a lot in the Northwest)? Do you feel like you might be in, I almost cringe to write it, a rut? Everything is crashing down! Things are all wrong! They will never be right again!

Whoa. We’re okay. It happens all the time. This is totally normal. It sucks, but it’s okay.

I know how it feels to be in a rut. I’ve been there before, a lot. A rut can be especially devastating if we’re working on our own projects and lack external support or structure. It’s a natural part of the growth cycle, and sometimes we just have to accept that things are going to seem shoddy for a bit. Here’s my strategy for dealing with the dreaded “RUT.” 


This can be the hardest part of the whole thing. If we aren’t able to recognize that we’re in a rut, or that we’re sad, it is easy to think that the world really has gone wrong. It is easy to blame our feelings on external circumstances and things that are outside of our control, and to let those feelings wallow and dwell inside us.

The first step is saying to ourselves, “I’m in a rut.” Or, “I’m sad.” By owning our feelings, we can better understand what it is that we’re missing or needing at the moment. As long as we blame the outside world, we’ll never be empowered to make the changes we need.

For example, if everything feels like it is going wrong and I blame it on the economy, then I am completely disempowering myself to make things right or better until the economy improves. Here’s there secret: the economy has no bearing on our present-moment happiness, or on how we interact with the day. It can feel like it does, but that is because we are giving away our power to external influencers.

Accept Our Feelings

Once we recognize how we’re feeling, we need to accept that and remind ourselves that it’s okay. We’re allowed to feel feelings! Even if they are tough ones. There is nothing wrong with feeling sad or in a rut. That is part of being human. Once we tell ourselves “I’m in a rut,” the next things we should say is, “and that’s okay.”

Even when we’re not feeling great, it is important to remember that we are not any less loved or valued. It may feel like the world is against us, but it’s not really. A few negative interactions or hard conversations can bring us way down, but if we can remain compassionate toward ourselves and others, all of that is bound to buoy up again. Which brings us to:

Push Through

Every rut ends. Feelings of sadness pass. Everything changes, the good as well as the bad. It might take a day, or a week, or a month, or even a year, but be certain: it will change. In the Vipassana meditation tradition, the word for this is anicca (from Pali, pronounced a-nee-cha). This is also translated as “impermanence.” Everything, literally everything, changes. Even the laws of physics change, if we look back far enough. Our bodies are constantly changing, our moods and emotions. The economy changes, our social values change, technology changes.

When we’re down low, we can be sure that we will be up high again later. When we’re up high, we also know that there will be times when we’re low again. This is how it works. We will be best off if we do not become attached to either of these feelings, the highs or the lows. For the most part, we cycle around a baseline level of happiness, which is independent of external events (but can be increased by changing our world-view and through meditation). When we’re feeling bad, we lose sight of this and feel like things will never get better. They will.

And so we must try to push through. Things will get better with positivity, but it might take a while. Sometimes an external event will snap us out of a rut, but most often we just kind of get over it. It’s important to continue the projects we’ve decided are important to us, to keep exercising, to keep visiting with people at least somewhat regularly. Those are all things that can be hard to keep up, but that will help us out of the rut, if we let them.

And most importantly, we need to remember that being in a rut is not the end of the world. It’s not a sign that everything we’ve been working on is wrong, or that we should stop creating. We need not cut off ties with the world, or do anything drastic at all.

Instead, finding ourselves in a rut is a sign that we should take care of ourselves, take deep breaths, and go for a run.

We’re okay.

Demystifying Meditation: The Three Basic Types of Meditation

What’s the deal? What is meditation, anyway? I’ve been working on a short E-guide which I’ll be publishing in the next few weeks here called “How to Kickstart Your Personal Meditation Practice.” Writing this has made me realize that there isn’t a wide understanding about what meditation is. Of course, it’s a vast topic, and at the same time it’s supposed to be the simplest thing there is. Just sitting? This should give some basic insight into what’s going on up there when we’re quiet.

Meditation activates (and deactivates) a variety of brain regions, and different kinds of meditation actually do different things. I’m not going to get too deep into the neuroscience, but I want to describe the three main types of meditation. Nearly all styles and traditions of meditation fall into one of these categories, or bridge more than one of them.


Presence meditation is all about developing attention and concentration. It often involves the breath or focus on a single object. It might be called “present-moment awareness,” “anapanasati” or “attention-focusing” meditation. This is a hugely helpful technique to practice, as it brings awareness and concentration to all our actions.

Presence meditation is also the foundation for most other meditation techniques. Before delving into the mind or emotions, we must be able to pay attention to what we’re doing. This doesn’t mean it should be discounted as less advanced than other techniques — some people practice exclusively presence meditation, and it is extremely rewarding. It might be the best tool we have to fight against the attention-drain caused by all our devices and tech.


What is the mind? Perspective meditation includes all techniques that involve observing one’s own mind. This means watching one’s thoughts, cultivating an understanding of how and why they arise and pass away, and beginning to see through the illusions the mind creates around us. This is also called “meta-cognition,” which is an awesome word.

The more perspective we gain on the self, the more we understand that the ego is a construct of the mind, and not something which truly separates us from the rest of the universe. This style of meditation moves us toward an experiential understanding of the oneness and interconnectedness of the universe. It can be a bit heady. With regards to achieving traditional enlightenment, this is probably the fastest route (but don’t expect to get there in this lifetime!).


Affective meditations focus on developing certain positive qualities or thoughts. The most common forms are “loving-kindness” or “compassion” meditations. It is less about achieving a transcendental state and more about cultivating a life that’s worth living while we’re here. It is an extremely effective method for training our emotions and generally feeling good about life.

Affective meditations typically involve some kind of visualization, which allows us to experience certain feelings, such as love and gratitude, and strengthen the neural networks that are responsible for them. This brings those experiences to the fore, integrating them into our lives as a whole. Compassion is the most common elevated experience we practice through affective meditation, as it is universally perhaps the most valuable characteristic we can possess. Theoretically, you could practice any emotion, though.

Each meditation style affects the brain differently, lighting up different brain regions under fMRI. By activating those regions, the neural networks become more dense and used to working together. This brings the lessons we learn while meditating into the rest of our lives. It is a slow process, and the results are often not tangible, but if we are committed to the practice, they are undeniable.

Only with regular practice over a long period of time do we begin to notice that we are less stressed, more open and compassionate, and more understanding of our own thought processes and emotions. Just because meditation is hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it — in fact just the opposite. As any meditator will tell you, a consistent meditation practice is one of the most important things we can do with our time and energy.

If you’d like to get going on your own meditation practice, keep an eye out for the E-guide I’ll be publishing here in a few weeks. Or just take a few minutes to sit quietly and see what happens! It’s amazing what the brain will do.