I’m on day 9 of 100 in my quest to making meditation an integral part of my daily routine. At just shy of 10%, I have already learned a lot that will inform the next 90. I’m going to walk through what I’m planning to draw upon, from most concrete to most abstract.

1. Tools matter.

meditation-progress-sam-killermannThere’s this famous Audre Lorde quote that gets tossed around a lot in the social justice activism spaces I occupy: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Folks generally take it to mean that you can’t undo a harmful system using components that support that harmful system, or by working within that system.

There are lots and lots of debates about that quote, and you can read them (or we could get into them another time), but for now it’s the second part of the quote that I am appealing to (the part that is often omitted): “They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”

It’s this idea, that the master’s tools may temporarily allow us to be him at his own game, that I’ve found to be particularly salient this past week. Indeed, I’ve managed to turn just about every thing in my life that led me to mindlessness into a tool to help me practice mindfulness.Keep Reading

About a year ago I committed to writing on this site every day for 100 days in a row. Today, I’m committing to something similar and different: I’m going to start meditating every day, for at least the next 100.

Let me explain why, and how I plan to do it.

I’ve had an inconsistent meditation practice for about a decade now. At its best, I meditate every day for a streak of a week or two. At its worst, I meditate once a month.

But here’s the thing: I know that meditation makes me happier, calmer, work better, think clearer — it makes me better. Every time. I can even verify this for myself with some [obviously slanted] data: looking back at my journal, and comparing that against the records from the meditation app I use (Calm), I can see that on days I meditate I almost always finish every task I set out to do in the morning. I’m also more gracious, thoughtful, and patient in my responses.

On the days I don’t meditate, well, I get by, but I’m a bit messier. And sometimes those days turn into weeks into months. That’s what’s happened these past few weeks.

And the science backs this up, right? We all know this, if we exist even a little on the internet. Just google “the scientific benefits of meditation” and bask in the bazillion hits of glory.Keep Reading

We pile our bags on a little side street in downtown Bangkok. It’s 8pm, the city’s lights are waking up, and busses fill the street. A double-decker bus drives by, inside on the top level a man is singing karaoke to the rest of the travelers. We’re waiting for bus #3, our nine-hour overnight ride to Chiang Mai, a rural town in northern Thailand.

We can’t find our bus.

Mike and I are sitting on the stoop of a closed shop, the dozen pieces of luggage and gear scattered around us. We are drinking a beer and appreciating the calamity of the moment: unsure of where we’ll be in the moments that come, what it will feel like, and how we will be getting there. It’s one of the best things about traveling — the constant uncertainty, the focus on the moment, the near-to-nothing being granted — if you can learn to appreciate it. Admittedly, it’s an acquired taste. It’s my coffee. It’s my wine.

After some confusion and stress, we learn our bus has already arrived. It’s been waiting for us.

We don’t know what to expect inside. The conditions of the bus, the seats, the air, the noise. We’re hoping to sleep, but first we’re hoping the seat recline functions. I can’t help but think back to the bus I rode from Cairo into the middle of the White Desert (the half-day of one-hundred degree sun, the broken air conditioning, the overcramped seating, the failing engine).

We pile into the bus and find that we have a private room in the front half of the lower level. Eight seats all to ourselves. I wouldn’t have hoped for anything better. The seats recline. It does get better. And there’s air conditioning. I could die happy on this bus.

The bus jerks into gear. A strange smell sweeps through our cabin. We might die on this bus.Keep Reading

I’m my own worst critic. A lot of us are. I don’t like this about myself. A lot of us don’t. But I finally have a strategy to make it stop happening.

Of course we’re our own worst critics: we know better than anyone else our abilities, capacities, our “should”s — we know our potential, so we know when we fall short. We know our dreams, our honest-to-goodness, non-filtered-for-“reality” dreams. We know the lessons we should have learned, the mistakes we keep making.

We have all the data to give ourselves the most accurate grade possible, and the way we were taught to grade as kids is to start at 100 and work our way backwards. I’m not as happy as I should be despite my privileges. Minus 1. Why did I engage in that harmful relationship that was so much like the other harmful relationships I was in? Minus 5, one for each. Minus 2 more for not learning the lesson. Minus 10 for pointing out a “flaw” in someone else you know you embody. And so on.

From “I would never treat anybody this way.”

This is something I have heard myself say dozens of times. I know that I have an unhealthy standard I set for myself, and that with other people I lead with compassion and understanding, while I never give myself the benefit of the doubt. This understanding is as far as I’ve gotten, or at least it wasAnd for good reason: I can’t give myself the benefit of the doubt, because there is no doubt.

I know. I know better. I know what I should be doing. How I should be feeling. I know.

It’s easy for me to treat other people with compassion when they experience a shortcoming I would berate myself for, because I don’t know if they know what I know. I don’t know if they know we create our own obstacles to happiness. But I do. I know that. So I should be better.

What’s worse: I know I shouldn’t should. Oops. There I go again. But I know better. That’s why. I know what I know, and I know better. That’s at the crux of all of this.

To “I would never treat any body this way.”

I’ve been working with a business coach, her name is Paula, at the suggestion of a friend. I am doing a lot of stuff, but I have been doing it in an emotionally, physically, financially (and plenty of other-ially) unsustainable way. Paula is just plain delightful, but also sharp as a tack.

We were chatting about the issue of how I struggle with the hate campaigns that get pointed in my direction. It just feels wrong, and makes me physically ill, which makes it hard for me to do anything. Then I get frustrated with myself for feeling that way, because intellectually I know that I shouldn’t allow others’ misconceptions of me and my work to affect my well-being. It’s silly. So then I’m frustrated two-fold. Inception of frustration. Not ideal.

I wasn’t sure what, if anything, would come from it. I’ve thought about this a lot. Then she pointed out something I already knew.

“Your intellect has matured to this point, but your limbic system hasn’t.”

Right. That’s true. That’s the annoying part. It’s that I know I shouldn’t be experiencing this body discomfort, this genuine ill. It makes me sick. It hurts in my chest. That’s what annoys me. That’s the double-whammy.

Then she said basically the same thing, again, but this time I heard it differently.

These are separate. My intellect — my mind, the higher logic, my me — is not my body — my limbic brain, my reflexes, my physical response system. The first one is the one that writes on this site, that gives advice to others, and that sometimes (oftentimes) berates the second one.

Applying Sanford’s Theory of Challenge & Support to Myself

In grad school, one of the most important things I learned was that we need to meet someone where they are, and help them grow incrementally toward who they want to be.

The theory being that if you challenge someone too much, they’ll become overwhelmed; and if you support them too much, they’ll stagnate; the appropriate combination for growth is challenge mitigated by support.

The idea being that you don’t go from 1 to 100. You go from 1 to 2. 2 to 3. 3 to 4. And so forth.

Previously, I had been treating my limbic self (my body’s reflexive responses to these external stimuli) as being on the same level as my intellectual self (the higher reasoning self that has spent way too much time thinking about these things).

I was holding myself to a high standard, which would be fine if I just had one self and it was at a high level. But that’s not what’s happening. There are two selfs here: one part of me needs challenge to thrive (the intellectual part), as well as a second part of me that needs support (the limbic part).

Moving Forward: Supporting instead of Challenging

It’s time that I stop holding my body to a standard that I would never hold anybody else to. It’s time I start realizing that knowing something intellectually isn’t the same as experiencing it, and that’s okay. To know that the way for my body to catch up with my mind is by meeting it where it’s at, the same way I’d meet anybody where they’re at.

Right now, my body isn’t okay with a lot of things my mind understands and can rationalize with ease. My body craves things my mind doesn’t (like cheese and sunburn). It reacts to things in immature ways (like how I sometimes almost vomit with sadness when I read the horrible things people say about me on the internet — people who don’t, and likely never will, know me).

Pretending it doesn’t, or yelling that it shouldn’t, won’t change that. Maybe someday — hopefully someday — it’ll catch up, but that’s not going to happen if I keep trying to make it go from a 1 to 100. I need to focus on getting it to 2 first, or I’m not going to get anywhere. And to do that, I need to treat it how I would treat any other body: with compassion, understanding, and support.

And that’s something my mind can totally (finally) get behind.

Spend a day lost in your thoughts.
It’s not the way it’s normally done.
Days are full of things, and led with a compass.
You go places and see things and places and things see you.
The World. You must be a part of the world.
But somedays, manydays — and it’s hard to know when —
the World might be better without you.

The World, it turns and turns.
You think, therefore you are, as you’ve learned,
but the World is an is without you.
And without you, the World has forever been.
It moves. It grows. It suffers. It glows.
And it carries on… look, it’s doing it right now.
Without your consent, without your approval,
the World does quite fine on its own.

It’s We who can’t move without the World,
though We often see it the other way around.
Around We go, around the World, you know,
the way We’ve always gone.
And always will, in prelife and death,
We are forever at the whim of the World.

Shhh… it’s happening again.
Right now.
Listen.
We’re trying to convince ourselves otherwise.
But shhh, Ourselves,
we must allow
Ourselves to believe in believing otherwise.

And to know that the World will turn
And the best We can do
Is be the best We we can possibly be.
And to do that we must,
At least somedays, and sometimes manydays,
Spend a day lost in our thoughts.

Mindfulness is happiness. But you already know that. But what is mindfulness, beyond the abstract definition of “attentive, aware, or careful” that I gave in that other article? Being more mindful means tapping into all of your senses. If you’re more of a concrete person, here are a bunch of examples of how you can live a more mindful life.

These are things I try to be mindful of every day. I’m hoping that by writing them down, in addition to helping clarify things for you, they will make them more second nature to me. I bolded the ones I’m working on the most right now.

  • Do one thing at a time. If you’re on your phone, be on your phone. If you’re watching TV, watch TV. If you’re eating, eat. If you’re spending time with your friend, spend time with you’re friend. But try not to be on your phone while watching TV, eating, and calling it friend time, or you’re robbing yourself of all four experiences.
  • Turn everything off, at least once a day, for at least a few minutes.
  • Hear.
  • Eat slowly. Chew slowly. Smell your food. Enjoy the texture. Bite by bite.
  • Check in to your body parts. Where are your hands, how tense are your shoulders, knees, and toes. Flex all of your muscles in your entire body, then relax them.
  • Feel your feet in your shoes and the ground beneath them when you walk.
  • Walk slowly.
  • When you wake up, spend 15 – 30 minutes planning your day. Spend the rest of your day living it.
  • Breathe deeply. Exhale slowly.
  • Check in to your mind. What are you thinking about and why? Let those feelings go.
  • Take note of what makes you want to feel happiness, anger, surprise, disgust, contempt, and fear. Write these things down throughout your day if you have a hard time remembering.
  • Focus on what you have in this instant — in experiences, relationships, and possessions.
  • Smell more things, but not in a creepy way.
  • Stretch.
  • Stand up straight (okay, Mom).
  • If you’re walking or riding (car, bus, train, plane), take in the sights. Even if you’re in a place you’ve been a thousand times. Take in the sights.
  • If you’re driving, focus on the sights in front of you. You know, to not die.
  • Touch things (consenting things, or inanimate things, please).
  • Notice light. Notice color. Notice shape.
  • Live right now. In this moment. This oneNot that last one — it’s over. Don’t worry about the next ones that might be coming — they’ll get here. Live in this one.

Have any tips for living mindfully? Please please please let me know. I’d like to hear them for myself, but also to add the to this list for others.

Nothing particularly special happened today. One could call it, for me, a fairly unremarkable Saturday. I woke up to some bad news, spent most of my day in a relatively lazy fashion behind my computer, didn’t experience many of my favorite things about Austin, and now, an hour before midnight, my day is winding down. But today was perfect.

If that sounds ridiculous (it probably does) please give me a moment to explain. I’m sitting myself down here until midnight and giving myself the same moment, because it’s not something I’ve ever tried to say “out loud” (as loud as one can say with their keyboard, anyway). There are likely a lot of “BUT THIS!”s popping up in your mind (the same ones I’m hearing in mine), so I’m going to try to structure this in a way that aligns with those.

“But you didn’t do anything remarkable!”

That is incredibly true. In fact, it’s so true that today, as a testament to my commitment to this website and project, I intentionally lived a truly unremarkable kind of Saturday. I spent it mostly quiet, to myself, with some media consumption and a whole lot of pajamas. I knew that tonight I wanted to write this post, and that if something remarkable had happened, it would have made it harder to refute this preemptive counterpoint.

But my having not done something remarkable is to today what today is to a butterfly: two independent concepts that can and should be judged with independent rubrics (and both happen to be quite beautiful).

Today is not influenced by what I’ve done or haven’t done. Today would have happened completely without my consent — and it did! I could have never left my bed, or lived “life to the fullest” and eaten so much hummus my tummy actually ruptured (I know: I have rockstar dreams), or I could have done anything and everything in between and regardless today would have carried on the all the same. Today was going to be today, and had a lot of Todaying to do, without any nudge from me. What I did or didn’t do has nothing to do with today. And today was perfect.

“But perfection is impossible!”

We’re all taught perfect is impossible. And that (like the golden rule) is one of the silliest things we’re ever taught that we never challenge. Here are all the definitions of perfect that Dictionary.com could drum up (It’s always always always important to be sure you’re speaking the same language before you try to speak):

per·fect [adj., n. pur-fikt; v. per-fekt] adjective:
1. conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal type: a perfect sphere; a perfect gentleman.
2. excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement: There is no perfect legal code. The proportions of this temple are almost perfect.
3. exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose: a perfect actor to play Mr. Micawber; a perfect saw for cutting out keyholes.
4. entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings: a perfect apple; the perfect crime.
5. accurate, exact, or correct in every detail: a perfect copy.

Watch out, y’all, because I’m going to start with 1 and work my way all the way to 5.

1. conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal type: a perfect sphere; a perfect gentleman.

Today is perfect because today is absolutely and perfectly the ideal type of today. There is no day in history or in the future, nor will there ever be, that is a better today than today. It’s absolutely, quintessentially, unconditionally today. If you don’t want to appreciate it’s perfection, and think that yesterday’s today was better, or hope that tomorrow’s today might hold some unforeseen goodness, that’s your prerogative. But know that you’re simply being silly: today is the only day that will ever satisfy perfect criteria #1, and that makes me want to hug it and kiss it squarely on its perfect imaginary mouth.

2. excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement: There is no perfect legal code. The proportions of this temple are almost perfect.

Uh oh, think you’ve got me stumped, Perfect?! WRONG. Tomorrow may hold some unforeseen goodness that today doesn’t hold, but tomorrow is a bunch of malarkey, and so is yesterday. Today is the only day that will ever exist, and in that way it is theoretically and practically impossible to improve upon. Yesterday only exists in our minds, and our minds are cluttered and confused and full of malarkey. Tomorrow only exists hypothetically, and only if today is good enough to you to give you the chance to see tomorrow. And if today is nice enough to you to afford you that chance (like if I live for the final 35 minutes of today and get to see tomorrow) guess what? It’ll be today again. Boom. Perfect.

3. exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose: a perfect actor to play Mr. Micawber; a perfect saw for cutting out keyholes.

My fingers are literally jittering with excitement at the idea of writing this paragraph, even though I have no idea what I’m going to type. It’s. So. Right. Today is the best thing that will ever happen to you. It’s everything you’ll ever be given, regardless of what you think you want or you need. It’s like when you go to the bowling alley and they ask you what size your shoe is and you say 13 and then you apologize because your feet are too big and they say they only have 12s and you say “I guess that will have to work” and then you put them on and make it work and are terrible at bowling but have a great time and turn your shoes in later and completely forget that they weren’t perfect for you. Today is just like that. It’s exactly what you need in order to get to tomorrow. And in that way it is perfect.

4. entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings: a perfect apple; the perfect crime.

Oh snap. I had so much fun writing 1 – 3 that I forgot about this #4 and now I’m worried that something I wrote in 1 – 3 is going to conflict with what I write here. Kidding. I got this, y’all. Remember what I said earlier, about judging a butterfly as a butterfly and a today as a today? It brings to mind this wonderful Albert Einstein quote (that I just now decided will be the epigraph for this thought):

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Today is flawless, if you judge today as a today, and not as a fish who can’t climb trees. We often do the latter — far too often. We think that today has to be the sum of everything (it’s not, it’s just today) and we think that it was supposed to fulfill the hopes of yesterday’s tomorrow (that’s silly: today is today, it’s nobody’s tomorrow — that’s just rude). Or we’ll yell at today because it wasn’t as good as yesterday, or some other yesterday’s yesterday. And now we’re just sounding like a bitter ex. Your current partner (or netflix series you’re livestreaming — you know, whichever you’ve got going on) isn’t your last partner, and it’d be silly to let their old flaws to dictate your current relationship. Right? Right. And today is flawlessly, undefectably, long-comingly today.

5. accurate, exact, or correct in every detail: a perfect copy.

A twist ending! Don’t worry, it’s totally okay if you want to call me M. Night Sam-alan. Today isn’t a copy of any other today. It’s absolutely uncopied and uncopyable! It is supremely unique, has never happened, and will never happen again. So, does this mean it doesn’t meet 1/5 of the perfection index, and should be considered 20% imperfect? NO! Because it is exactly the same, and correct in every detail, and you can accurately predict that every Today will be exactly like today. Every day you live, for the rest of your life, once you get to it, will be exactly like today. It will be uncopyable, supremely unique, and never happen again. Every day in the future, if you get there, will be a perfect copy of today.

“But today could have been better!”

Another perfect thing about today, and the reason I want to kiss it on the cheek and high-five it simultaneously, is because it’s the only time we’re ever able to beat ourselves up. And that’s all this thought is. It’s self-abuse, and we do it to ourselves a lot, and it’s unfair, and it’s irrational, and it’s fabricated, and it’s something we’re only ever able to do today. We can’t beat ourselves up tomorrow. And as far as yesterdays are concerned, we can only beat ourselves up for what we did or didn’t do or what didn’t happen or did happen — and all of that happens today. Today is perfect because it’s the only time we’re able to abuse ourselves!

Wait… what?

Ugh. Um. Sorry. I’m typing really fast. I’m not as fond of self-abuse as I seem to be in that first paragraph. Let me try again. Today is perfect because today is the only time we’re ever able to abuse ourselves. So, in the span of our lives, if you’re my age-ish, that’s about .001% of your life. If you’re younger it’s more, but if you’re older it’s less! That’s an incredibly small window of time in which we’re able to abuse ourselves. But it’s also more than that.

Today is the only time we can celebrate ourselves, or affirm ourselves, or love ourselves, or love anything. Today is the only day we can experience life, in all of its myriad emotions. And we can also choose to not abuse ourselves, and to fully accept the perfection of today, and find peace in that.

And today is the only day that’s possible.

Happy Today.

With love,

sK

Intentionality, Mindfulness, and Minimalism are all you need, beyond basic biological requirements (clean water, nutritious food, human touch, etc.), to live a happy existence. This is what I’ve come to believe. I’ll define what I mean by all three, and talk about their relationship to one another, but first I want to talk about “happiness.”

I don’t aspire toward being happy all the time, nor do I recommend it. I don’t think of happiness as existing at the opposite end of sadness, nor do I think that sadness is inherently bad. All emotions have value.

Think of happiness on a continuum with lack of happiness on the other end, sadness on a continuum with lack of sadness on the other end, and so forth. Experiencing happiness doesn’t necessarily make you less sad — The Barenaked Ladies kew this: “I’m the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral.”Keep Reading

I never considered myself a “numbers” person. I don’t mean I wasn’t good at math (Mathlete, y’all!), but I care more about stories than stats. On the Myers-Briggs Typology Instrument, for example, my F to T (Feeling to Thinking) ratio is the most unbalanced, and I’m a strong F.

What I do — every thing I do — while seemingly disparate, is all connected by that trait. Every little project or endeavor I undertake is driven by my goal of making the world a safer place for all people.

So it’s as surprising to me as it might be to you how numbers-driven my day-to-day life is, and how much I find myself trying to turn that part of my brain off so I can focus on the present. The numbers eat at me, often glaring at me from within little red circles, screaming “Click me! Make me go away!” Others are tucked away within more complex websites or spreadsheets, whispering more gently, but still persuasively.

Following is a small taste of the numbers that are almost always whizzing around my brain, attempting to distract me from the task at hand. Every one of these things pops into my head at once when I wake up every morning, then attempts to suckle my brainjuice every minute of every hour I’m awake.Keep Reading

I ride the bus.
I ride the bus because it’s good for the environment
& it makes for a smaller carbon footprint
& it helps me afford my month-to-month rent
But truly none of that is it.

I try to ride every day
Because it’s the slowest f-ing way
To get from point A
to point B
& slowness is good for me.
Never ride the bus if you’re in a hurry.
I ride because it gives me time to connect with me.
It’s on the bus my mind wanders free
Indulging every thought I have, however unnecessary
Because finding time for the unnecessary is necessary.

I ride the bus because it puts me beside
A stranger, a group of strangers, if just for one ride.
We are people who live in circles so distant
That we may have no other commonality significant
& would never see one another’s face
If not for the bus, our one common space.
It reminds me that we all coexist
A thought that’s too often too easily dismissed.

I ride the bus because everything is moving too fast
& riding reminds me of our communal past
Where we leaned on our neighbor
& had faith in strangers
& saw health for all as a worthwhile labor.
Before the Internet, cell phones, Facebook & Twitter
Diluted friendships to meaningless chatter.

I’m happy I found the bus
& believe I’m privileged to ride.
In the past three years without a car
Just the bus & my bike
I can only imagine how much of an impact it’s made.
My work has benefitted as much as my soul
As each day I take time, am mindful, & appreciate people.