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How Mindfulness Creates Freedom

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Dan Harris, best known as the host of ABC’s Nightline, began his path to happiness by having an on-air panic attack.

He was reading the national news, live, when he lost the ability to speak coherently. For 35 awful seconds, he stumbled through a segment about statin drugs for cholesterol, saying related words but making no sense. With several stories still unread, he bailed out: “…that’s all for news right now, back to Robin and Charlie.”

The incident forced him to face his mounting stress problem. He explored the many forms of self-help, and during his stint as ABC’s faith reporter (even though he was a skeptic and an atheist) he found something that worked for him: meditation. Over the next few years he used it to transform his relationship to stress and his work, and still meditates daily.

But his go-getting type-A colleagues gave him a hard time for his “weird” habit, and he had trouble explaining to them what it did for him. To say it simply reduces stress was really selling it short; it does much more for a person than that. But to describe the benefits more specifically — that it allowed him to see the world the way it really is, or to see the mechanics of his bad habits, or to inquire into the nature of the self — hardly makes it sound attractive, and fails to convey its value anyway.

Eventually he came up with a stock response: “I do it because it makes me 10% happier,” although he admits this was both an understatement and an oversimplification.

Although I think his catchphrase makes meditation sound much less useful than it really is, I understand the problem he was trying to address. Meditation is still a hard sell in the Western world. It’s so unusual to us that it’s hard to make it appeal to materialistic Western sensibilities. But we all understand the value of a life with less anxiety and more happiness.

Meditation isn’t specifically about happiness, but more happiness is a likely side effect. One thing it does do, in my experience, is expand one’s freedom in a particular way, and this freedom can be used to pursue happiness and ease with much less trouble. I’ll show you what I mean. 

Creating freedom

Life is made up of experiences and nothing else. Naturally we want to have good experiences.

Even when we’re not currently experiencing a particular thing, we can have thoughts about it, and know, from those thoughts, whether that experience appeals to us. So even though you’ve (probably) never eaten a handful of ants, you can picture in your mind what that might be like, and you’ll have an involuntary reaction to that thought. Probably revulsion. The thought of fresh coffee might give you a different reaction.

At any given time, you can consider what it would be like to have any number of experiences. Often we do this when we’re not even trying. For example, receiving a letter from the IRS might cause you to involuntarily consider what it might be like to be audited, even before you know what the letter actually says.

Right now, your feelings towards possible experiences might look something like this:




In this image, the greener a particular experience is, the more attractive it is. Some experiences happen because you choose them directly (like turning on the TV) and some just happen to you (like dealing with a leaky water heater.)

The greenness of a particular experience only represents how appealing it is at any given time. The appeal of a particular experience can change. “Eating a Chipotle burrito” might be deep forest green, until you eat one, then it becomes much paler for a while, while “Napping” has gotten greener in the mean time.

Life would be great if only we could stay in the greenest territories, because our experience would always be easy and welcoming. But this can’t happen, because:

1) You can’t always control where you are in this sea of possible experience. Sometimes you have to do your taxes, or deal with an illness, or clean behind the fridge, or wait a long time to use the bathroom.

2) Experiences lead to other experiences, enabling some possibilities and disqualifying you from others. Trying to have only appealing experiences may leave you, at some point, with few attractive options.

3) Whether a particular experience is appealing to you isn’t necessarily related to whether it’s worth experiencing. Not all experiences are choices, but quite often your best choice isn’t the most easy or appealing one.

On some level we recognize all of these things. We know that we would be better off if we could travel freely into the whiter territories whenever it made sense to. And in the times when we’re dropped involuntarily into those territories, we’d be better off if we could stay level-headed and do what’s smartest, instead of always scrambling for greener lands.

So we need to accept that life, particularly if we want a good life, requires us to spend time in all shades of experience — the whole range of pleasantness and ugliness. This reality is inescapable. Sometimes people call it “the human condition.”

There are two main responses to this reality, once you accept it.

The most common approach:

  • Do your best to seek the greener areas
  • Do your best to avoid the whiter areas

Although this is the normal way to live, it’s problematic because our options depend on what types of experiences we allow ourselves to have. We must be willing to have the experience of cleaning the house in order to have the experience of living in a clean house. We must be willing to have the experience of regular exercise in order to have the experience of being fit. Often an unappealing experience stands between your current experience and one that is much more suitable for you, and much more rewarding.


The green areas seem easy to move through, and the lighter areas seem unbearable or even impassible. This is an illusion that leads to a feeling of restricted freedom, as if vast areas of life, perhaps the areas you value most, are inaccessible to you.

The less common approach:

  • Be aware of whiteness and greenness, but identify the best move without regard to color (whether or not you intend to do it)
  • Become as open as possible to whiter experiences whenever you happen to be having them, rather than cringing or cowering
  • Practice moving into whiter areas as if you’re free to enter them too (because you are)

Although this sounds harder than the normal approach, it’s not. It’s just less familiar, because we don’t practice it. This approach creates much more ease in one’s life than the other.

This is where meditation becomes indispensable. A regular meditation practice makes the colors less relevant, and the unattractive ones less unattractive. It becomes easier to act in ways you know are good for you. It becomes clearer that avoidance and clinginess are the real sources of suffering, not the physical ease or difficulty of the experiences themselves.

How does it do that? When you’re meditating, you’re getting used to observing the moment as it is, without recoiling from what’s ugly or difficult about it. This hones all kinds of skills — patience, curiosity, non-presumptuousness, non-panic, non-judgment, non-hatred — that allow a person to stay rational and unperturbed even while things are getting tricky and uncertain. In short, it teaches you to live less of your life in survival mode, and to undermine your own interests less often.

It is possible to feel okay regardless of whether or not things are going your way. Most people can recognize how beneficial it would be to be able to bring calmness and confidence to life’s difficult moments, but they never practice it.

With some practice, the landscape becomes more like this:


This is a simplification but you get the idea. Experience remains rich and interesting, but the jarring difference between the attractive and the unattractive softens. You’re able to move between experiences with less clinginess and fear, and stop worrying so much about which color you’ll find yourself in next. You know that at some point you must, and can, deal with them all.

Your apprehensions and desires become less like boundaries and more like signals, or advisors. You become freer to act how you feel is right, or best, for you and others. You don’t need to sacrifice as much of your freedom to appease your fear and neediness.

In real life terms, this means it becomes a conspicuously simpler matter to pick up the dumbbells when you’re feeling lazy, to broach a sensitive subject instead of avoiding it, to save instead of spend, to get up when you planned instead of lingering in bed, to show up instead of canceling. It gives you an increasing sense of freedom to leave your normal comfort zones, and to live outside the crowded, picked-over realm of the low-hanging fruit.



Photo by Joe del Tufo. Graphics by David Cain.

Sandra Pawula April 28, 2015 at 12:12 am

I understand what you’re saying completely. We spend most of our time in attachment or aversion, wanting or rejecting. When we can be accepting of whatever unfolds with perspective, humor, and patience, we can live with more joy and ease.

This is a wonderful explanation of the benefits of meditation. Thanks so much.

David Cain April 28, 2015 at 9:32 am

Thanks Sandra. That is an obvious fact of life that we tend to ignore: that time is a steamroller, and we’re better off preparing ourselves to field each moment as it is regardless of what it should be. Meditation is an almost perfect way to prepare in this way, but it’s just not very popular in most of the world.

Roland April 28, 2015 at 2:58 am

“I’ve always found it hard to convey these benefits without either boring people or scaring them off, but I hope I’ve managed it here.”

Yes you have! Meditation will be my next 30 day trial.

Thank you


David Cain April 28, 2015 at 9:41 am

Good! Pictures help I guess. I will do others, because like I said, this post only describes one of many significant benefits.

And let me know if you have any questions during your trial.

EarthlingHitchhiker April 29, 2015 at 3:01 am

I was going to use this exact same extract to applaud David Cain for a job well done. What a way to explain things! Wow.

@David Cain: I have been an on and off reader of this blog for quite a while (blame the vastness of the Internet!), and I stumbled on here again. Needless to say, I was left wiser than earlier. I will be going through more of your posts and the Archives. You do have a knack for cutting through complex topics on spirituality and such, and conveying it in a way that everyone can get, and more importantly, that everyone can get behind.

David Cain April 29, 2015 at 9:27 am

Thanks EH!

Milind Bhagwat April 28, 2015 at 7:53 am

Agree completely. I and many around me have lived their lives avoiding unpleasant experiences which means that we have stayed well within our comfort zones and not experienced the beauty and variety that life has to offer. Having meditated for over a year, I can feel that I am able to spend a small amount of time in the white areas.

Also scientists say that we have no free will. This means that our behaviours combined with the environment will produce certain outcomes that we don’t really have a lot of control over. Hence accepting what comes without judging is a good strategy to provide freedom.

David Cain April 28, 2015 at 9:47 am

And the effect of moving outside normal comfort zones creates compounding effects: you gain more experience dealing directly with discomfort, so future forays become easier; you learn skills that were once off-limits, shrinking your ‘discomfort zones’ further; and you find life overall less threatening, because it seems like there’s less of it that you won’t be able to bear if things were to go that way.

Free to Pursue April 28, 2015 at 8:55 am

What an unexpected discovery for me this morning! I never realized that what I was doing all these years was a type of meditation. Let me explain:

When faced with an uncomfortable situation I’ll be facing, I try it on for size…in my mind. I experience the feelings I might experience if the situation unfolds in the worst possible way. I guess you could say I try them on for size. This allows me to evaluate my feelings without judgement and work through them rationally. Then, when I actually engage in the uncomfortable situation or event, it always turns out to be easier than how I initially experienced it in my mind. Funny thing is, I’ve turned “white” into “green” this way for years. I just didn’t know that what I was doing was using some meditative constructs to help me expand my comfort zone.

Thank you for delivering a light-bulb moment along with my morning coffee.

David Cain April 28, 2015 at 9:50 am

This reminds me a lot of a kind of Stoic contemplation. Seneca said we should take time to picture, vividly, horrible things happening to us, so that we can keep perspective about how good life is compared to how it could be. In a sense, this is shifting the whole “white balance” a bit over to the green side, because everything becomes less unappealing.

Free to Pursue April 28, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Exactly. Ok, maybe not necessarily meditation per se, but the benefit of reframing nonetheless.

Seo April 28, 2015 at 9:24 am

Over this past month I’ve started doing regular meditation and I’m still not quite decided on how I feel about it. Over this past two months various people brought up Dan Harris and meditation I think at least four times, so I finally relented. I know at the beginning I was hedging far too much with it, and over the past week I’ve begun taking it more seriously because I definitely see the potential benefits. It’s definitely an experience, so I’ll keep pursuing it and see what happens. Looking forward to the guide! :)

David Cain April 28, 2015 at 9:54 am

Although I don’t like the title of Dan Harris’s book, I have read it and it is a great read, especially for skeptics.

Taking it seriously is good, but it is possible to be too serious, too bent on doing it right, which ends up creating more resistance to it. I talk about this particular problem in the upcoming guide, because I think it’s common. It was a major breakthrough to me when I stopped being so uptight about how well I was doing it.

uncephalized April 29, 2015 at 11:36 am

I am SO glad to hear you are working on a guide. I will be waiting for that, for sure.

Tim April 28, 2015 at 11:17 am

Along the lines of Stoicism that David mentioned above, let me recommend an excellent book on the topic: A guide to the good life: the ancient art of Stoic joy, by William Irvine. Stoicism is not all gloom and doom, as popular (mis)conception has it.

David Cain April 29, 2015 at 9:53 am

Yes! Stoicism has gotten an undeserved reputation for being about wallowing in sadness. Completely wrong. Stoicism is incredibly practical and can spare us a lot of pointless misery.

Arthur April 28, 2015 at 12:35 pm

I like it, it’s an easy to understand idea on how meditation roughly works.

David Cain April 29, 2015 at 9:53 am

Thanks Arthur.

Elizabeth April 28, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Like most people today, I’ve striven to remain in the middling-green areas all my life due to fear, despite the increasingly frequent “cosmic messengers” which came to me in the form of mounting anxiety & depression. When those messengers came, I shut them out, poisoned them with prescription drugs, tried to drown them in drink, and bought more stuff to attempt to appease them. I couldn’t know it at the time, but my decades-long struggle to choke the spirit within and “forget” the truth that the universe and I exist fundamentally within the law of contrast (light and dark, peace and war, joy and suffering, summer and winter, etc.), was coming to an abrupt head. Last year, my life imploded with a life-threatening illness so dire, I willed my death to occur. It didn’t happen, and here I am. Now, months later, through my long recovery, all of this truth is being revealed to me and it is often extremely painful and overwhelming, having a knowledge that many others do not yet grasp. Yet finally all the pieces fit. I could not begin to describe it, and it could not be any other way for me. I am on my way home to “me”, afoot on that less-traveled road with my considerably lighter backpack, ready for all that comes. It can be lonely, but my fear is receding increasingly while my love and compassion is growing. There can’t be anything much worse for me in this life than what I’ve already lived through; if there is, I will endure it with patience and purpose. I understand firsthand why it is terrifying for people to dip their toes into the white areas, yet paradoxically, living through the white areas with increasing self-compassion, peace, love and acceptance is precisely what living on this physical plane is about. Hanging out in the white areas is precisely what gets you to the juicy, dark-green areas! It would seem that most of us have to have our heads absolutely submerged in the white areas for some length of time in order to awaken to this truth.

David Cain April 28, 2015 at 6:08 pm

Thanks for this Elizabeth. I think this is a really powerful way to regard suffering. Nietzsche was famous for espousing this view, that our troubles can be extremely valuable if we can get over our impulse to flee from them. In the Will to Power he wrote:

“To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities – I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not – that one endures.”

karen April 28, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Something I read once that stuck with me: Don’t ask if you feel like doing something (tidying up, whatever) but detach emotionally. Ask “Does this need doing?” Makes it easier.
Most of the things I would call great life experiences filled me with fear or nerves beforehand.
Great article, interested to hear more on meditation
Chewing on tin foil, haha …

David Cain April 28, 2015 at 6:10 pm

I love this. Total mindset shift, with that little shift self-talk.

I am going to do more posts like this on the other benefits of meditation, using graphics like this, because I do think I got this point across in a way I never had before.

Shane April 28, 2015 at 9:57 pm

Hi David,
Is there something wrong with the email subscription server? This one didn’t turn up in my inbox.
Just though you would like to know.

David Cain April 29, 2015 at 9:28 am

There was. I phoned the provider and they said it was a hiccup on their end. It should have come at 3am EST this morning.

Yatin Khulbe April 29, 2015 at 2:45 am

Thanks David for sharing these wonderful posters. I have also started practicing meditation. It’s my early days. But, the feeling is great. It’s a wonderful way to interact with our inner world. Now, I am going to incorporate this wonderful art in my daily routine. We must not give preference to any color. It’s better to go with the flow and understand things in an open manner.

David Cain April 29, 2015 at 9:29 am

Good for you Yatin, and let me know if you have any questions about it.

Srinivasan Iyer April 29, 2015 at 2:53 am

Dear David,

Beautifully put by you.

I will be sharing this with friends – am sure it owuld make sense to their analytical minds. They are more used to having things explained to them “scientifically”, then they need to understand the things , pass it through their rational OK/NOT OK filter, before they accept them!

Thanks for all your posts.


David Cain April 29, 2015 at 9:32 am

Hi Srini. Yes, part of what I’m trying to do here is get meditation to appeal to analytical minds. People tend to regard it as a necessarily spiritual thing, which turns off many people who would otherwise get a lot out of it. That’s the main purpose of Making Things Clear: to show skeptics that it is accessible, non-mystical and beneficial to everyone.

Ahmad April 29, 2015 at 3:17 am

Hi David,

As always great article, thanks for sharing.
Was just wondering if you have any particular books you would recommend for beginners in meditation. I recently read the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and it was life changing!
Any others you would recommend.


David Cain April 29, 2015 at 9:36 am

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is excellent, but strangely it isn’t really about meditation like I’m talking about here. It’s about stoicism though, which is particularly helpful to meditators.

Dan Harris’ book is actually pretty good at explaining what meditation is, but it’s more of a memoir and not really instructional.

Wherever You Go There You Are, and Full Catastrophe Living, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, are both excellent.

Vilx- April 29, 2015 at 4:18 am

I haven’t done any meditation – partially because I still don’t understand what exactly it is, so I’m looking forward to that guide. However for some years now I’ve worked with my thoughts and emotions, and overall I can certainly say that I’m _less unhappy_. However, I’m wondering if I’m falling in another trap – that is, perhaps I’m _less happy_ as well? For all the peace of mind that I have, it seems to me that I can’t remember when I last experienced real happiness either.

To take your picture, it would be like brightening all the green areas and darkening all the white areas, until everything is in the same light-green color. In that case… there’s nothing to do. You have total freedom, yet no place to go, because everywhere is the same…

I’m not quite there yet, and I’m not even sure if that’s what’s going on. But I am afraid of this possibility. David, do you have any advice on this?

David Cain April 29, 2015 at 9:42 am

It’s hard for me to understand the kind of state you’re talking about — where every option seems the same. That sounds like a kind of nihilism or even depression to me. Are you saying that everything is equally appealing to you at any given time?

Vilx- April 29, 2015 at 11:10 am

No, not really. Not yet, anyway. And it’s not depression either, because I don’t feel unhappy or something. It’s more like… dampening your emotions. All of them. Quieting them down, bit by bit, because whenever they get too intense, life gives you a thump on the head. It’s like relaxing, falling asleep. Letting go of your emotions, falling into true neutrality.

It’s a method I’ve developed for coping with all the negative things that happen in life – “just relax, don’t care, let it go – bad times will pass eventually…”

Yet, although it does work, it increasingly feels wrong, because the “don’t care” part has consequences as well. And this reminds me all too much of what Brene Brown said in one of her TED videos (you’ve seen them, right?). She said something along the lines that we cannot selectively “turn off” an emotion. Either you dampen them all, or none. So by reducing fear/anger/pain, I’m worried I’m also reducing excitement/joy/happiness.

As I said, I’m nowhere at an extreme with this method, but the path has become quite comfortable to walk upon, and I fear where it leads. It’s already a habit/reflex to me – whenever presented with something bad, try not to think about it shut it out, don’t care.

David Cain April 30, 2015 at 8:28 am

That doesn’t sound very healthy to me. It seems like the act of telling yourself you don’t care proves that you do.

Meditation would almost certainly help. Part of it is noticing, and voluntarily accepting, whatever is present. That includes physical feelings but also emotions and other mental phenomena.

Tom Southern April 29, 2015 at 7:19 am

Often I think we live in the areas where others want us to live, or think we ought to live if we’re responsible adults. Living anywhere else is often seen as failure or pie-in-the-sky. Often it’s a case of trying to appease too many other people than trying to find out what it is we really want and then following that – those dark green bits as @Elizabeth talks about.

Great stuff, David, as ever.

David Cain April 29, 2015 at 9:43 am

Thanks Tom.

brian April 29, 2015 at 7:49 am

This post has officially inspired me to add meditation to my list of daily goals. Thanks for sharing and for making hard to grasp concepts so crystal clear…..I know first hand how hard that can be to do.

David Cain April 29, 2015 at 9:50 am

The pictures seem to help get certain concepts across. They take a long time to do but I think they’re worth it.

David April 29, 2015 at 9:05 am

This is both insightful and practical. Great stuff.

One small quibble — Chipotle is evergreen, limited only by the bounds of my stomach and desire not to become extremely overweight.

David Cain April 29, 2015 at 9:44 am

We are all different in our personal relationship to burritos.

M. Elaine Estes April 29, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Your post and drawings are so thought provoking. Keep up the good thoughts and sharing them with us.Thank you

David Cain April 30, 2015 at 8:28 am

Will do :)

Barbara April 29, 2015 at 7:25 pm

Life enhancing material to reflect on. I do so appreciate the comments as well. Notions of re-framing and free-will nudge their way in to my internal dialogue around meditation. I’ll be interested to see what further understanding I discover as my discipline in meditating develops. Agree that this is better approached in a relaxed attitude than a try-hard one, or resistance just gets in the way. Thank you.

David Cain April 30, 2015 at 8:30 am

Free will is an interesting question that I’ll probably write about one day.

Barbara May 1, 2015 at 10:21 pm

I expect that would be a good read. Look forward to it.

David April 30, 2015 at 5:29 am

Great article as always David. Really looking forward to Making Things Clear. I’ve known for a while (partly thanks to You Are Here) that meditation is something I should experiment with but have yet to find a good entry point. I’m re-reading Wherever You Go, There You Are while I wait for MTC.

PS: I have an issue with your first diagram – I actually like studying chess openings! :-)

David Cain April 30, 2015 at 8:31 am

I knew that would get a response… you aren’t the first person to defend chess openings. Nobody is defending chewing tinfoil yet though.

Scott April 30, 2015 at 6:15 pm

Freedom is one of the most beautiful things in the world. Being free with your person (and even with politics) I’m certain is the way to a brighter future for all.

I have been meditating for over a year now and while I am much better than I used to be, it always proves difficult to truly “turn off and unplug”. That being said, I know meditating is working for me. It brings me such clarity and calm. I feel as though my mind goes from choppy breaking waves to shimmering calm water that resembles glass.

I am also four weeks into caffeine elimination (inspired by your blog post) and that has helped my meditation and sleep tremendously. The better sleep has further helped my meditation and I feel as though I do not miss caffeine at all. I don’t feel as though I need it, ever again. Since discovering your blog and meditation, my mind body and soul is like a snowball that is rolling backward up the hill and slowly the compression is getting smaller and smaller until one day it will be at the top of the hill and free from pressure.

Lastly, since discovering your blog, I would definitely move “Thinking about how to be a better person” to the greenest of green zones for me. It’s something I seek out, every single day.

Thank you again for doing what you do.

David Cain May 2, 2015 at 11:30 am

Don’t worry about reaching any kind of “turned off” state. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, even a little bit of settling can have a profound effect. The more frequently you meditate, I find, the more quickly the mind settles (generally anyway.)

Have you ever thought about going on retreat?

Scott May 4, 2015 at 7:44 am

I have definitely experienced the decreased “settling time” since I started meditating so I think I’m improving. There are times though where it feels as though my mind is poking itself with a stick as I try to meditate, haha. Though I still feel better, even after these difficult sessions.

I haven’t thought about that. Are you referring to a group retreat, solo retreat or something like a sensory deprivation chamber? Or all of the above? I’ve done many solo retreats (hiking, traveling, etc) but all were before I started meditating. Since reading your post about your float, it’s been on my to-do list.

David Cain May 4, 2015 at 9:56 am

The type of retreat I’m talking about is a dedicated meditation retreat. Most often they’re 10 days. Basically you go to a retreat centre away from the city, and you meditate with a group much of the day with a teacher (using different techniques.) There are talks every day as well, about improving your practice and other related ideas. The whole thing is spent in silence.

They often create major breakthroughs for people in their meditation, especially for beginners. Go to http://www.dhamma.org to learn more about it.

Mark May 2, 2015 at 10:33 am

Thanks for the pearls of wisdom in this article, which will wash by most but will probably help the few who try meditation, and the fewer still who make it a lifelong habit. That’s OK and that’s helpful progress.

I’ve meditated nearly every day since 1986, so approaching 30 years. It came along when I really needed it in college, as I went through a difficult period of shedding unhealthy relationships for better ones, reducing time on the constant party scene, and focusing on reading and classwork. I was attracted to a poster for a session to learn TM. I tried it, learned it, and it just “clicked”. Your article will have the same effect on a certain few, no doubt.

Meditation gave me such a calm posture for daily life that I gained patience, concentration, increasing confidence, and saw helpful doors start opening all around. With meditation, I found much more synchronicity with my life, in both large and small matters. For one small example, if I meditated on a given day and drove my car into a full parking lot, I would nearly always get a parking spot, and came to believe in time that the universe would provide me that last parking spot, and all of the other things I need. What a confident basis on which to approach life. For the first time, I had flow, like an athelete in peak performance. It’s a profoundly helpful tool.

The few close friends who know I meditate daily say, “Wow, you have such discipline”! Not at all. Rather, why would I want to have a day without flow, synchronicity, good fortune, and calm acceptance? It would be like not brushing my teeth and wearing dirty underwear for a day. Yuck. Who wants that? Am I constantly happy? No, just happier. Sometimes when I’m unhappy and unpleasant, my wife suggests that maybe I should go meditate. Is life perfect for me all the time? That’s the mystery I’m discovering. The answer might well be different from whether I’m happy all the time. When I have periods in which I feel I am off the balance beam, I meditate, then I pray to the mysterious force of the universe, whatever it is, and I let it go. Over time, most things work out. Meanwhile, I get the choice parking spots.

David Cain May 2, 2015 at 11:37 am

> The few close friends who know I meditate daily say, “Wow, you have such discipline”! Not at all. Rather, why would I want to have a day without flow, synchronicity, good fortune, and calm acceptance? It would be like not brushing my teeth and wearing dirty underwear for a day.

This is an important point, but I do forget it sometimes: that it is easier to meditate than to live without it, just like it’s easier to brush and floss daily than to live with tooth decay.

LennStar May 4, 2015 at 6:20 am

Haha, you are a real big advocate of living a greener life ^^

Anca May 4, 2015 at 8:31 am

I’ve been reading your insightful articles for a long time now, but I think it’s time to get a bit involved, especially since I have a few things on my mind here. :)

First is – this article is great, especially if we believe in the power of free will. But do you think determinists can get something out of meditation, if they do not believe in free will? (I’m not a determinist, I just think there’s a balance of things in this life) I know you said above that you’ll write something about free will, but I’m anyway curious on your idea here.

Second – as Vilx is mentioning, I’m also a bit afraid of the idea that through meditation, I’ll annihilate my feelings in general, and not become “happier”, but just “zen”, very calm, very impassible to everything happening around me. I’m a very passionate person, I get very excited over things and sometimes very angry. I’m not sure if I do meditate, but I fins myself sometimes in moments where I just lose myself and stare long at the sky or at the sea and then come back to the present moment a bit more serene, and I’d dare say happy. So if this doesn’t mean that I meditate, then I have the fear I previously mentioned. Maybe I don’t understand meditation at all.

P.S. I also loved Jane Eyre and I don’t think there’s a specific time to read a book – you just read it when you read it, and that’s it. So maybe because you waited so long, now you understand it differently and may I say, better. You made me want to re-read it, thank you!

David Cain May 4, 2015 at 10:11 am

Hi Anca. I’ll try to address your concerns in order here.

1) A belief in determinism doesn’t change anything. I strongly suspect we live in a deterministic universe, and that our choices have prior causes, but that doesn’t change how we operate. It really doesn’t matter. If you want to learn more about why, check out this speech by Sam Harris. He believes free will is an illusion, but that it doesn’t really change our sphere of concerns or our ability to make choices normally.

2) This fear is based on a misunderstanding of what meditation is. Many non-practitioners think meditation is a kind of trance, where you stop feeling things normally, or otherwise put your head in the sand. It’s almost the exact opposite. In meditation you are finally paying attention to the arising of everything that is happening in the moment, including subtle feelings that we normally ignore, or obscure through habit. Unless you have no idea what you’re doing, you will become much more in touch with your feelings, and gain more respect for them.

3) That is true — I certainly gained much more from reading Jane Eyre recently than I would have gotten a few years ago. I will definitely re-read it in a decade or so.

Anca May 4, 2015 at 11:15 am

Thank you, David, I will definitely look into it :) I never thought about this, truth to be said…

Levi Mitze May 4, 2015 at 9:45 am

Great, great article. Thank you so much. I recently gave a speech in my public speaking class in which I talked about meditation. I’ve enjoyed meditating for a while but it was a struggle to come up with anything more profound to communicate its awesomeness than just “it reduces anxiety”. I wish I had read this article first! Thanks!

David Cain May 4, 2015 at 10:13 am

It is remarkably difficult to convey its benefits. The idea of examining the present moment is really foreign to most of us, and so it just never sounds very sexy.

Chris May 6, 2015 at 8:26 am

Meditation is one of those things which makes me feel better when I do it. Eating well, working out, talking more with my wife – all of these fall into this category. Then I get complacent and forget about it or get busy with other things and it falls to the wayside. Then I get a nudge like this and I’ll get back into the swing of things. I just don’t know how I can make it a real part of my lifestyle.

David Cain May 7, 2015 at 5:54 pm

I have come to the point now where the difference between being on and off the wagon is too great to ignore. The level of quality of life is just too different. It really has to be a daily thing to stick, but it doesn’t need to take long. Even five or ten minutes is fine until it is a real daily habit.

Lena May 7, 2015 at 3:59 am

Thanks for another great article David. Just wondering, what kind of meditation do you practice? I have been using guided meditation apps for a while, but I’m thinking the quiet, Buddhist type meditations could be more beneficial.

David Cain May 7, 2015 at 5:56 pm

I practice vipassana. I do make use of guided meditations on a regular basis. Quite often I’ll begin a session with a guided meditation from audiodharma.org, and end up switching it off after a little while, and continue without.

Carl Klutzke May 7, 2015 at 12:04 pm

My biggest question about meditation is this: If I’m meditating and my nose starts to itch, should I scratch it?

David Cain May 7, 2015 at 5:38 pm

I actually cover this in Making Things Clear.

The general doctrine is not to move once you sit, but it’s not the end of the world if you make the occasional adjustment.

An itch is a good opportunity for practicing awareness though, and generally I will just observe what’s happening when I get an itch. I’ll notice the feeling of the itch itself, then the inevitable impulse to scratch it. I’m just trying to notice what that all feels like. Eventually it will go away, or change so that it no longer bothers you. It’s quite amazing to observe the itch (and your reactions to it) throughout the life span of it.

George June 16, 2015 at 5:00 am

Hi David. Thank you for this calm and clear article. The tone of it really conveys its content: the equanimity that comes from meditation.

A discovery I have made, which I thought I would share, is that meditation and mindfulness, by throwing us uncompromisingly into the present moment, prevent us finally from ignoring how completely astonishing that moment is, whatever is happening. Mind-blowingly astonishing, that there is a present moment at all! And this realisation triggers a virtuous circle – more and more, we don’t have to try to be present & mindful, we’re positively drawn there – we want to be there all the time and bathe in this astonishment. It’s completely thrilling! Regardless of what’s happening ‘in’ the moment.

Anyway I thought that this might be something your readers could look out for in their practice. Virtuous circles are always good – they dispense with the need for effort. And this is the most virtuous of them all!

Keep up the good work.

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