Category Archives: Meditation

Practicing Imperfection

Ten Percent Happier, my go-to meditation app for many years, started the Imperfect Meditation Challenge today. Designed for both novice and veteran meditators, the focus is on dispelling the notion that there is something like perfect meditation. Bad is good, according to this morning’s hosts, Matthew Hepburn and Cara Lai. The latter, by the way, completed a year-long silent meditation retreat. Plenty of time to practice and consider ideas about perfection and imperfection. They challenge us with the Zen koan idea that imperfect is better than perfect. They will be joined by Dawn Mauricio as the challenge progresses.

Lately, my own meditation has not looked at all like the pictures of people sitting peacefully, eyes closed, breath steady, zoned out of the world. I might start a guided meditation with that intention only to find myself rising from my chair and doing stuff while I listen, usually chores like feeding the cat or watering the plants or putting away the laundry. All of these can be meditative if done intentionally, focused on the present action and not telling stories or going down rabbit holes. Of course, those will happen and the moment we recognize those patterns, we begin again.

This morning’s lesson was followed by a five-minute meditation with Pascal Auclair that included a meditative activity I had not encountered before. It’s easy so consider giving it a try:

Start by thinking about rubbing your hands together. Picture it in your mind but do not do it. Spend a few seconds with the image and idea, thinking about what it feels like. Then, physically do it. Stop thinking about it and rub your hands together. So, what does it feel like? And, more importantly, how the action different from the thought? Maybe you thought about the action for a moment before you complete it: my hands are cold, and I am going to rub them together. But then you actually do it. Thinking about it is not going to warm up your hands.

In a similar way, our normal thought patterns can create a disconnect from the present moment and create a veil of negativity around our actions. Perhaps we find ourselves dreading the chores that await us, struggling with the fitted sheets or cleaning out the stinky cat food bowl. We may hurry through them, further frustrating the process, maybe letting our minds wander down other paths and rabbit holes. If we can move into the activity without that veil, put the thoughts aside, and just do the action, we may find a moment of peacefulness. Who knew fitted sheets could provide an object for meditation?

The Imperfect Meditation Challenge is free, and you can sign up at the website. If you find you want to explore the Ten Percent app further, just message me, and I can provide a guest pass for 30 days.

Happy meditating!

Yes, And

I am reading a wide variety of spiritual literature including Yes, And…Daily Meditations, a collection of Richard Rohr’s writings and Real Life: The Journey from Isolation to Openness and Freedom by Sharon Salzberg. Rohr is a Franciscan priest; Salzberg is a Buddhist meditation teacher. Both of them play with the idea of “yes, and” as a spiritual practice.

Rohr’s idea of “Yes, And…” is expressed in this essay from 2015:

Jesus told his Jewish followers to be faithful to their own tradition. He did this by strongly distinguishing between essentials and non-essentials, and then pushed it even further. The only absolute essential is union with God. We see this creative tension throughout Matthew’s Gospel, but perhaps no place more clearly than in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Then he goes on with six repetitions of the same phrase: “You have heard it said . . . but I say. . . .”  I call this the “yes/and” approach: yes the law, and there is something more, which is “the real and deep purpose of that very law.” For both Jesus and Paul law is never an end in itself. (This is Paul’s primary point in both Romans and Galatians! How could we miss that?)

If you read to the end of the essay, you will get a real flavor of Richard Rohr, a compelling spiritual thinker and writer I have only come to know this year.*

That’s what the Spirit teaches you to do, too: read the same scriptures, but now with a deeper understanding of their revolutionary direction—“that all may be one, you in me and I in you” (John 17:21). Today we are recognizing that that many Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Sufis, and Native religions seem to live this divine unity much better than many who call themselves Christians. This embarrassing and obvious truth can only be denied by people afflicted with deliberate blindness.

In the introduction to the book of meditations, he continues this idea of being part of the past but always moving forward: the yes connects Rohr to “the entire force field of the Holy Spirit” while the and is his addition to that field, “that bit of the Great Truth of the Gospel to which we each have our own access.” Rohr believes others can also have an and when it comes to spiritual truths, and I think that gets him in trouble with the authorities now and then.

In her most recent book, Real Life, Salzberg suggests “yes, and” as a way into gratitude practice that might help us see it as more authentic, especially on those days when we aren’t feeling particularly grateful for anything. Forcing feelings we don’t have can be problematic. Salzberg offers adopting the “yes, and” approach from improv theater as a way to deal with the often ambivalent, contradictory places we find ourselves in life. In improv, “yes, and” means that the actor must accept the scenario as given and then move forward. You don’t have to agree, you don’t have to like it, but you must accept it and, only then, can you move on.

*Rohr founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in 1987. I recently subscribed to the daily meditations and was pleasantly surprised to see Rohr quoting extensively from Buddhist teacher angel Kyodo williams who I know through my meditation practice.

Breaking the Habit Loop

As I continued to consider how to live with my weight loss, I began the Mindful Eating course in the Ten Percent Happier App. It is led by Judson Brewer, a psychiatrist who focuses on using mindfulness techniques to break habits and addictions.

Brewer uses a particular kind of meditation called a body scan. You move your attention through each part of your body in a methodical way, aware of any sensations you feel. If your mind wanders, you bring it gently back to the body. Brewer’s idea is that by honing your focus in this way, you can, when cravings strike, catch yourself before you dive into the habit loop of mindless eating. His TED Talk is a good introduction to his approach to breaking habits.

I installed his Eat Right Now app and am working through the 22 -week weight loss course. It offers 15-minute modules each day that work through the concepts he outlines in the talk with a focus on eating. (He also has a smoking cessation app.) The app includes interactive tools including a stress test and want-o-meter. I have explored them but haven’t had a chance to use them on a regular basis.

One of the activities in the course is the raisin challenge. I’ve done it before in a couple different workshops, and it can seem silly. (Dan Harris notes his own sense of silliness even as he and Jud work through it; his skepticism is part of the reason I like him and his app so much.) The scenario is that you are a Martian who is given a raisin. You know it is edible but before you eat it, you need to prepare a report for your bosses. So, you take your time using all your senses to get to know this item before ultimately putting it in your mouth and eating it slowly.

One observation Brewer makes that I hadn’t heard before is to take the time to notice how your arm, elbow and hand all work together without thought to get that raisin to your mouth. You literally don’t have to think about it but when you do, it’s pretty amazing to consider how your body works without your mind. Brewer talks about it here as part of a teacher training course. He uses a great term I hadn’t heard before: craveogenic. I love listening to him talk about his relationship with specific foods and whether they lead to cravings or not.


I have a daily routine, and it has been nice to be able to make it the focus of the morning rather than sometimes hurrying along before starting work. I have settled into semi-retirement enough that the work I am doing–facilitating a course on curriculum writing for Futures Without Violence, a nonprofit focused on domestic violence–has its place but doesn’t need daily oversight.

I usually get some part of the routine done every day. I generally draw a tarot card or two and write two or three pages, ala Julia Cameron’s morning pages. I try to do it first thing in the morning but am not always successful. Some mornings I just want to pick up the book I fell asleep over the night before. Other mornings, like yesterday, I head outside to the garden in order to get the work done before the heat of the day settles in. On those days, I may do some or none of the routine. *

Yesterday, I broke a 40-day meditation streak. I am disappointed, but it’s really ok. I try to think of the practices as “daily-ish,” a term I picked up from Dan Harris, creator of 10% Happier, the meditation app I use. The app tracks daily and weekly progress. When they do a focused challenge, you have to complete 90% in order to earn the gold medal. It seems a humane approach to me.

I am a little disappointed that I broke the streak. Today, I began again with the app. But, I am pretty sure I *did* meditate yesterday even if the app wasn’t tracking it**: while I was weeding vegetables, cooking dinner, walking dogs. I practiced focusing on just that one thing, open awareness of the world around me, not following random thoughts, coming back to the task when I did get lost in story. So, I am putting the lessons learned from the app into practice and that’s more important than any streak in an app.

*The ONLY part of the routine I always do is my four-shot latte. It is non-negotiable to the point that, if I can, I take my small espresso machine with me when I travel.

**The existential question for our time: if the app wasn’t tracking it, did it really happen?

Hobby Versus Practice

Picture of a spring blossom with the words begin againI haven’t written a lot of blog posts over the past few years but many of those I have posted focused on my meditation practice. So, it’s telling perhaps that in describing my plans and goals for the future, I didn’t mention meditation despite it playing an important role in my daily life. I think it may be because I was writing about hobbies and meditation, as I have written before, is a practice.

Teacher Joseph Goldstein talked about why meditation is not a hobby and why that is important as part of a course I am following in the 10% Happier App. Goldstein reminds us that meditation is more than the practice itself. Its impact is meant to be felt beyond the mat as the lessons we learn in quiet contemplation can change the way we move and live in the world, if we let them. So, the fundamental mantra of “begin again” that we repeat each time we bring our wandering minds back to the breath and the body during meditation is one we can use throughout the day when we are distracted or disturbed. See the anxiety or stress, name it, recognize the pattern that causes unhappiness, and begin again to focus on the present, the now.

The meditation teachers I follow assure me that even the most seasoned practitioners have bad days. The secret is to let it go and…wait for it…begin again. And again. And again. And that’s what it means to practice.