Learning To Meditate

I received several powerful emails in response to yesterday’s post Sometimes You Just Want To Scream. This often happens when I post about personal / emotional stuff – some folks would rather send a private email than post a public comment. I totally respect and appreciate that.

A consistent theme in these emails was “I got through some of this by meditating.” That resonated with me as Amy and I have been talking about meditation for the past week. She’s been a long time meditator, including going on a number of Vipassana 10 day silent meditation retreats. Some of my close friends, including Ben Casnocha, meditate daily and one of my favorite posts about meditation was Ben’s Reflections and Impressions from a 10-Day Meditation Course.

So I’ve decided a new daily habit I’m going to work on developing is meditation. First thing in the morning, and last thing before I go to bed. Through the comments I discovered the Calm app which is a delightful way to get started. I did it last night and this morning and know that if I do it every morning and night for the rest of the month it’ll become a real habit for me.

I’m loading up on reading about meditating and brain plasticity, which a friend linked nicely in an email to me. If you have suggestions on reading about meditating, other online things that are helpful, or even offline things to explore, please leave them in the comments or email me as I play around with this for the next month.

Separately, but linked, I’ll end with an awesome short video from my friend Jonathan Fields of the Good Life Project. While Jonathan and I have only spent a few hours together physically, I find him wonderful to be with, incredibly thought provoking, and a huge calming influence. Take a look at his video of what 29 people (including me) say in answer to the question “What Does It Mean To Live A Good Life.”

  • Hey Brad,


    This is the only guide you’ll ever need to learn meditation.

    You can grab a copy of The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz – it’s not a direct book about meditation, but it will give you everything you need to know.

    Anyone else trying to ‘lure’ you into different techniques simply doesn’t understand meditation well enough. You’ll enjoy this journey, it’s a fantastic one.

  • Peter Deng’s article about his experience really resonated with me:


    I’ve found meditation to be hugely beneficial for evening out the roller coaster of being a CEO. I’m a few weeks in to meditating at least once a day and I’ve been a better CEO for my company and a better husband. I meditate alone in our house right now but have this vision that meditating in a group near work could be really beneficial.

    ProTip: a Zafu is super helpful for stiff Western legs. Amazon’s got em.

  • Wise decision Brad.

  • I love that more and more technologists are taking this route.

    I may need to brush off the talk I give on focus and meditation (http://www.confreaks.com/videos/716-rockymtnruby2011-focus-why-do-i-need-more-stinkin-focus) and start giving it around Boulder, it has been way too long.

    Slide links available upon request.

  • Great thoughts. A habit I’ve been trying to build as well. Headspace has been a great app for me to get started. They have a “take10” session of 10min guided sessions which I found very excellent. Too expensive for me to go further into it though. I’ve heard the book Breath by Breath by Larry Rosenberg is an excellent introduction as well.

    Any chance you’d be willing to share the links of reading your friend sent you?

    • I’ll try to put together a few posts on the best books that come out of this.

      I did the first Take10 session tonight.

      • Excellent! Looking forward to the posts.

        What are your thoughts on Take10?

    • I’ve heard great things about headspace too.

      • Did my first day of Take10 on it tonight – very nice.

        • I just tried it too. I liked the intro and first day so far!

  • Hey Brad,

    Been following your blog for a while now.

    Awesome you’re using Calm.

    I know one of the co-founders and use it regularly.

    It’s a beautiful app and I love the guided meditation. I’m starting to get into the swing of 10 mins a day now myself. I’m not sure I can say I know the benefits of meditation yet, but I do enjoy that 10 min period each morning and am curious to see where it ends up taking me!

  • Thank you for sharing it…
    Good life for me is to be A channel for goodness to pass through.
    I use the “Power of Now” and “Moral Letters to Lucilius” by Seneca for moral principles.

    By the way: You look cool with long hair, and what does your shirt say? 🙂

    • I’ve had long hair for most of my life. Every now and then I cut it all off and then immediately regret the short hair, after which I wait patiently for it to grow long again.

      The shirt says:

      $DO || ! $DO : try
      try: command not fund

      Code snippet that means “Do or Do Not, There is No Try”, which is my favorite Yoda quote.

      • Aha…very funny and nice..!!!…I love long hair too 🙂

      • I love this quote as well and have used it constantly over the years. At one of my startups, the team even bought me a small talking Yoda doll. 🙂

        Over the last couple of years I’ve also begun to view “Do or Not Do: There is No Try” as a Zen koan. Previously, in a startup/work context, I always used to focus on the “there is no try” piece of this quote. Now, I think the more important part is the “Not Do” phrase – taking note of the interesting fact that it is co-equal with “Do.” Most of my professional work life, I didn’t really believe or embody that equality in the way I approached things. My own reality was more like “Do; There Is No Not Do and There is No Try.” 🙂

        With that view I backed myself into a lot of unhealthy corners. These days I realize that “Not Do” is just an important to prioritize in my life as “Do.” My $0.02.

  • KJ

    Very timely. I used the calm app for the past 30 days and its fantastic. I usually meditate mid-day which allows me pause during a hectic, full throttle sprint.

    • I did five minutes before lunch today and it was super helpful. So – I’m going to try three times a day – not just two. Wake, lunch, sleep.

  • Cody Breene

    Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, has a great audiobook about mindfulness meditation called “Getting Unstuck”: http://www.amazon.com/Getting-Unstuck-Pema-Chodron/dp/159179238X

    • Pema is a key suggestion. What’s of potential additional interest is that she was one of the main students of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of Shambhala – in Boulder where Brad lives. Brad, I think you know his son Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and I am sure you are familiar with his excellent book on combining running and meditation: http://runningmind.org/

  • Michael Rich

    There are many many books, and it seems like you have some good suggestions and leads already. In terms of mindfulness meditation and neuroplasticity, I wanted to point you toward the work or Richard Davidson, PhD, from the University of Wisconsin who could easily be called the leader in this field of research. Here is a link to a video of him discussing his work in 2012.

  • David Brown

    I do wildly heavy squats on the Icarian machine at the Denver Athletic Club to get my mind distracted. Not sure if it is good for the legs and hips and knees. But my mind goes to a different place for sure…So in short…Whatever works

  • Hey Brad – I’m still a long time reader and that’s because of posts like this and your last one on screaming and the struggle. As an entrepreneur in the physical product world I can’t often relate to experiences in the VC/Tech world, but I can always relate to the Struggle and the never ending challenge of balancing work/life/stress. You’ve been a solid inspiration for me on that front and I figured I’d take a minute to say thanks for your honesty and openness on the subject – it’s helpful to many more than just myself I’m sure.

    One thing I feel compelled to suggest to you, your readers and all the entrepreneurs you talk with on a daily basis: spend 5 minutes to 15 minutes in a hammock everyday or every time you start to feel the anxiety/stress building. As a hammock entrepreneur I realize that sounds like a sales pitch (and it probably is), but it’s also my sincerest way of being able to help anyone dealing with stress and anxiety and part of my mission in life. A hammock is an incredible meditation aid and can help anyone learning to meditate to achieve the focus and calmness needed. A 5 minute escape in a hammock has an almost magical ability to completely reset anxiety and even bring clarity for entrepreneurs – Richard Branson has famously said many times that all of his best ideas came while in a hammock. I often wish I could deliver a TLG hammock to every entrepreneur and startup out there, it’s not just the leaders who feel the Struggle but every employee marching alongside them.

    I know you’re a fan of life experiments from reading along over the years and this meditation experiment is one I’m extremely interested to follow. If you’d be interested at any point in testing how a few minutes in the hammock impacts your routine, anxiety, focus, etc. I’d be more than happy to give you one to play with. And if nothing else, cheers and keep sharing these types of posts – it’s something every entrepreneur in every field can relate to and benefit from.

  • Art Nutter

    Hi Brad. I’ve been an entrepreneur for 40+ years. My most recent company is now 22 years old, and I started this one with a wife and 5 kids (now 8 kids and 4 grandkids). The challenges of being a husband, dad, and CEO, with customer-generated capital and never any outside capital, has created plenty of extreme stress situations over the years. Stress peaked when our oldest daughter got H1N1 flu in ’09 while she was pregnant, while I was simultaneously dealing with a rogue CFO and rogue COO. I began going to daily Catholic Mass then, and continue to do so to this day. Nice thing about Catholic Mass is that the readings are the same, no matter where I attend around the globe. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has a podcast of all the daily readings. I listen to the podcast (in English) on my way to Mass, so that when I get to Mass, I get to hear both the readings again, and the priest’s homily on those readings, too. Podcast is at https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/daily-readings-from-new-american/id206228295?mt=2. The grace God gives me, and offers to all of us, is truly profound, and works 100% of the time for me. (BTW – Our daughter and her unborn child were miraculously healed, and both are completely healthy and happy. My rogue CFO and COO both left the company, and after the litigation was settled, the company is thriving and growing again.)

    The Word of God has worked for generations of humans all over the globe.

    • JLM

      Well played. I like your style. Drive on.


  • Chris van Loben Sels

    Hi Brad — since you expressed an interest in brain science and meditation, I’d suggest Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson as a nice primer on connections between the two. (http://www.amazon.com/Buddhas-Brain-Practical-Neuroscience-Happiness/dp/1572246952)

    I see both here and on linkedin that you’ve already received many recommendations for “the best”/”the only you’ll need” book / approach to meditation / etc. I wouldn’t worry too much about picking ‘the best one.’ It’s hard to say that you’ll go wrong by picking some second-rate version of practice . . .

    My experience is that it’s a very progressive practice over time. If there’s an approach that you are attracted to and trust, keep with it. As you stick to one way, the benefits of ongoing practice accumulate over time — and you begin to see subtleties not available to you at the start.

    Cheers —

    • Freddy Becker

      Hi Brad,
      Thank you for sharing your experience with us, I enjoy your posts very much.
      As Chris I would suggest Rick Hanson’s books and writings too, he explains neuroplasticity and its benefits in a very wise way imho.
      Among my favorites for meditation are http://www.wildmind.org, as well as Tara Brach’s site, http://www.tarabrach.com. I love her podcasts, they are my daily companions while in my car.
      I discovered that meditation is a very liberating and tender practice which can help us face our daily challenges and build a nice intimacy with our life, other’s lives, with Life.

      • Thx – I’ve heard of Tara Brach but don’t know from where. I’ll check with Amy – and go check her stuff out.

    • Thx for the book recommendation, but more importantly for the reminder that there isn’t the need for a “best” here.

  • Ian Hathaway

    Good for you, Brad. I don’t know you but I enjoy your writing… and ideas. As a long-time meditator, two things jumped out at me: smartphone app and books about meditation. Sure, I think it’s ok to read a little about meditation to get your head around it some. But I want to stress the “a little” part. The reason so many Westerners don’t ever become established meditators is because they are trying to do exactly what reading books does — intellectualize the process. Don’t do that. Meditation is entirely an experiential process. If you want help, find a teacher… an accomplished one who’s life has been transformed by meditation, and who has achieved a certain level of purity from it. There are PLENTY of options for you in Boulder too. Start with Naropa, and go from there. And put the smart phone app away… disconnect from technology. In short: take a completely different approach to meditation than you take to the rest of your life…. unplug and don’t intellectualize. No books, no apps. Just experience… with the help of a teacher. Good luck.

    • Thx for the feedback. I get it – and am less interested in intellectualizing it. I’m more looking for some of the cognitive stuff around brain plasticity as well as inspirational stuff from practitioners. Mostly just to “get in the mood” as well as have more context on the brain chemistry side which I’m interested in regardless of meditation.

      But you are absolutely right on the practitioner. Fortunately, I’m close friends with Jerry Colonna (Naropa Chair) so I’ll go that path right now.

      • Ian Hathaway

        I’ll tell you what: if you can commit yourself to meditating everyday (even five minutes to start)… it will work. But I mean everyday. Don’t miss. Eventually you will meditate longer without even noticing, and you won’t see it as a chore that needs inspiring. You’ll just do it. You’ll build momentum and it will become just another thing you do. Like brushing your teeth or checking email.

        But yes… talk to people who are experienced, dedicated practitioners. Kick the tires on approaches, teachers, and ideas. Eventually, you’ll find your thing. Keep at it… eventually, it’ll stick. And don’t forget the teacher part… something that is often overlooked unfortunately. This is my teacher: http://www.parayoga.com/. Man changed my life… forever. He’s in Colorado too.

        I’m setting a reminder on my calendar… I’ll check in on you in a few months to see how it’s going. Good luck.

  • Hi Brad, I’m really sorry about asking you for yet another bit of info since you share a A LOT already and must spend a lot of time to do so, but if by any chance you can share your reading references about meditation and neuroplasticity, I’d be most interested!

    • Yup – I’ll blog about stuff I find particularly interesting.

  • Brad, as you know I’ve been one of the folks to respond in private in the past to this set of topics. As you know I’ve spend almost 20 years as a student of mindfulness as well as related contemplative practices such as Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, affective neuroscience, psychology of depression and anxiety, and flyfishing. 🙂 I’ve rarely talked publicly or widely about it, but for the last two years I’ve been more deeply immersed in synthesizing these topics for myself and, where relevant and appropriate, for the broader entrepreneurial community. Your post today inspired me to take the next step to participate more publicly in this dialogue, based on whatever contributions I may be able to add, but mostly because I want to see this dialogue continue to grow more broadly and transparently. To that end, I just put up a longer blog post on the topic at http://trevorloy.com/post/75737624028/screaming-depression-meditation-and-mindful-startups . In that blog I also talk more publicly about a blog and twitter feed I’ve been sporadically authoring over the last couple of years, called Mindful Startups, at http://mindfulstartups.com/ and on Twitter @MindfulStartups https://twitter.com/MindfulStartups. Thank you for the dialogue over the years, and for today’s inspiration to take this next step. ~Trevor

    • I just read the post – awesome – thanks for the contribution. I’m sure I’ll be cycling back in the future in the conversation with you on this front.

  • Kelly Quann Bianucci

    Brad, you may know this but I was recently surprised to learn this myself – Boulder is the Western capital of a big Buddhist/meditation tradition called Shambhala. There’s a great Shambhala center on 13th & Spruce which offers all kinds of complimentary meditation classes, including individual instruction. http://www.boulder.shambhala.org/

    I still struggle to meditate for any considerable periods of time, but it’s been critical to staying rock steady through the highs and lows of one’s workday. What is important is to do it every day (it’s like a mental muscle which needs to be worked regularly) – but don’t add any pressure around how much time per day you spend…even 5 minutes works.

    A few great books that I recommend for further developing a meditation practice (and related development):
    · Buddha’s Brain (Hanson) – this one is great as it take a neuroscientific approach to meditation
    · A New Earth (Tolle) and The Power of Now (Tolle)
    · Shambhala Principle (Rinpoche)
    · The Untethered Soul (Singer)
    · The Buddha Walks Into A Bar (Rinzler)
    · Wherever You Go, There You Are (on Kabat-Zinn)
    · Awakening the Buddha Within (Lama Surya Das)
    · On the Shortness of Life: Life is Long if You Know How to Use It (Seneca)
    · The Way Things Are (Lama Ole Nydahl)
    · F*ck It (Parkin)

    Hope this helps!

    • Thx for the book recommendations. I know Shambhala well – I’m currently sitting in my condo on the corner of 14th and Walnut less than 250 yards from it! Great reminder that it’s nearby.

  • Here is a good video from Jon Kabat-Zinn of a lecture he did on meditation at Google:

  • Brad, also check out: http://buddhify.com/ I’m a huge fan. You can choose a meditation based on what you are doing or when, and they are super short (choose a length) and guided.

    I have the same new years resolution to try and do this daily too. The little stats in Buddihify is helpful 🙂

    • Thx – grabbed it.

  • Chuck Langdon

    I’ve been meditating for 20 years in the Vipassana tradition. I highly recommend that you attend David Chernikoff’s Sangha: Boulder Insight Meditation (http://www.insightcolorado.org). He’s one of the most impressive Dharma teachers I’ve ever encountered. And, if you wanna take the plunge, I recommend a week long/longer retreat. Good luck!

    • Thanks – I’ve heard of Boulder Insight Meditation – nice to have the recommendation.

  • Alexandre BOURLIER

    Check out Matthieu Ricard’s books, especially the English translation of “plaidoyer pour le bonheur”. I haven’t found a best place to start.

    • Matthieu Ricard is fantastic. For those who don’t know him, he is French by birth, originally trained as a biochemist, then left science to train as a Buddhist monk in the Tibetan tradition, and became the Dalai Lama’s main translator and liaison in the West. He has also been a pioneer in the study of neuroscience correlation with Buddhist meditation training. A great starting place / intro to his work is his TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_on_the_habits_of_happiness.html

  • Katerina

    Brad, thank you for being courageous and humble, and sharing your experience.

    I started my journey towards mindfulness and meditation last year with Chopra 21-Day meditation challenge, and I loved it. Even though Deepak commercialized this field a lot (and I think it’s fine), I believe he does a great job guiding you through a meditation. https://chopracentermeditation.com/. It is a good start.

    I tried Headspace, and a few other apps – I guess they did not work for me so I dropped them.

    Recently I discovered Peruvian shamanism (watched a few documentaries about Yahuasca – there are some Yahuasca retreats in Peru, just need to make sure it is not run by the charlatans – and read a few books about DMT – “spiritual molecule”) and read this amazing book The Andea Codex: http://www.amazon.com/The-Andean-Codex-Adventures-Initiations/dp/1571743049. I am sure you can go through it in one weekend – I did. Both the story and spiritual aspect will really grab you.

    Currently, I am reading Autobiography of Yogi, and the read is quite exhilarating. If you haven’t read it yet I suggest you do: http://www.amazon.com/Autobiography-Yogi-Complete-Paramahansa-Yogananda/dp/0876120796/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1391705948&sr=1-1&keywords=the+autobiography+of+a+yogi.

    I also started doing Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga and I truly enjoy those meditative moments at the beginning and end of the practice. Power yoga exhausts you yet intention in the beginning and savasana at the end of the practice would live you calm and happy.

    I wish you to stay strong on this journey – you have so many people supporting you. As you go you will discover things that work for you better and drop those that don’t. We are all wired differently and what works for me may not provide you any benefits. It will be a trial and error process, and you’ll go through a lot of iterations (just like in startup) before figuring out what ignites you and improves your live.

  • [email protected]

    Brad, thanks for posting the Good Life video. Really enjoyed that.

    I hope you’ll enjoy meditation. In the last three months, it has really helped me. I have always been a prayerful person, using my morning and evening long walk with our dog, Indiana, as a chance to express thanks and gratitude.

    Even still, last November I found myself in a dark place. We had bootstrapped MessagePetz for months but were fast running out of runway. People seemed to like the idea but were wary of our product ambition. I was thinking of giving up and starting another fin tech consultancy. So, knowing that if I was discussing that then I’d likely be open to anything, my wife suggested I try meditation. It helped center me in a much different way than prayer.

    Meditation unblocked and opened me up in ways I did not expect. As I would attempt to quiet my mind, flashes of calming insight would sometimes happen. During one session, the roadmap to a small pivot to give MessagePetz another chance flashed, nearly fully worked out. I later shared this roadmap with a friend who then suggested I pitch his family for a F&F round to keep going, They agreed and we are now working on a new approach that is more efficient, exciting and immensely more scalable, yet still true to our core concept of making messages huggable.

    Meditation is helping to flatten out the roller-coaster ride and has brought me closer to my amazing wife. I’ve also realized I am spending more of my prayer time thinking good for other people, which also feels great.

    I’ve picked up many ideas from others comments that I will explore, too. Thanks to you all for sharing.

    All the best.

  • Thanks for sharing this video and starting this conversation here. I attend a local meditation group in the Bay Area called Awakin Circles (http://www.awakin.org/local/) and I know this type of community exists in many places (maybe there is one in Boulder?) For those who can’t make it to a weekly sit you can still receive the thought-provoking readings with tips on how to foster mindfulness and stillness. Being a part of this community has really helped me improve my mediation practice.

  • campbellmacdonald

    Brad: While not an active meditator, most of the people I’m close with who are rocks meditate daily. Not sure why I can’t/don’t, but I have not. That said, I do a lot of yoga which is essential to support flexibility with running. And when I’m stressed I just increase the focus on pranayama. I feel like it’s two birds with one stone.

    • Most of my teachers would say that yoga IS meditation. Many would say it is better as a beginning practice, for western knowledge worker-types in particular, than “sitting” meditation, since it tends to make it easier to get out of one’s head – which is the goal of meditation in the first place.

      • campbellmacdonald

        Yup. The hard core meditators (I know) see yoga as a hack to get out of one’s head. They want to be able to do it from a standing start! I can’t, so I rely on yoga or running for 45 mins with focused breathing and then, and only then, I can.

  • Denelle

    Brad-I applaud you for acknowledging the importance of mindfulness and meditation in the workplace and throughout our lives elsewhere. Thank you for identifying this and showing the tech scene how to test it out. Never knew there was an app for it but I guess I’m not surprised. The more accessible it becomes to the masses, the more patient we will all become and hopefully, the happier we will all be!

  • Andrew

    A wonderful decision. There are so many choices out there when it comes to styles of meditation and books to read. I personally like the simple, grounded approach of vipassana in the Goenka tradition but there are many other great styles too. I did short daily meditation for many years but found that it wasn’t until I made time to do a 10 day retreat that I really “got it”. It’s hard to make that much time – or at least we imagine it’s hard – when you’re caught up in a busy life but it’s so, so worth it in my opinion.

    Two book recommendations I would add to the mix, though they aren’t about brain science: Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor and Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana.

    Good luck on the path!

  • Look forward to hearing about your experiences. I have some new thoughts on the topic that I’ll be sharing soon. And of the below thread, I love the idea about lying in a hammock! Adding that to my “dream home” list right now…

    • Yeah – I’ve got to get a hammock.

      Looking forward to your thoughts!

  • Mark Testa

    When it comes to meditation all roads lead to Rome. Its good to read the books to learn about how the brain changes but doing the work whether in silence, contemplation, mindfulness or guided is the only way to make change. Silva Life System works pretty easy. http://www.silvalifesystem.com. Its only as hard as we make it. Sit, lay, eyes open, eyes closed, music, no music, once a day, twice a day…
    All the best to you!

  • Kelly James

    Brad- There is a great yoga studio off of Pearl Street in Boulder. I’m forgetting the name of the studio but Nancy Kate and Gina are excellent teachers. Funny enough Jonathan Fields was a yoga teacher of mine in NYC and I even did a teacher training with him many years ago before I knew what a startup was. He was one of the first people I went to when I was having a “I hate my life. I hate NYC. I hate working in corporate America.” moments. Small world. Needless to say, I changed all of that. For me it’s almost impossible to slip into meditation without yoga beforehand. It’s one thing to read and intellectually understand it, but once you experience it, it will blow your mind. Since you are a very physically active person I have a feeling you might need the physical part before you can experience the mental. Good luck!

  • Woohoo Brad! Happy belated meditation day wishes. I am probably rudely rehashing what someone else said below and I think I’ve sent to you in emails, but yes, meditation is relaxing and yes it helps you focus, but the most critical component of meditation for me is that it gives me the opportunity to truly watch my thoughts and find out how very insane we all are. It is that insight into your thoughts, that will lead you to slow them down naturally without force and will lead to more relaxation, more mindfulness, and more peace.Just observe the thoughts without judgement and let then float away. You’ll then see how ridiculously unimportant it all is.

  • Michael Somers

    “Change Your Brain, Change Your Body” by Daniel G Amen is fantastic.