Ryan Holiday’s newest book, Stillness Is The Key, came out at the beginning of October. I ended up with two copies and thought I’d read it over the weekend after they showed up at my house. The weekend slipped by and I didn’t pick it up until mid-day on Thanksgiving.
It was pouring rain in San Diego all day so it was a perfect laying on the couch reading afternoon. I just finished and, once again, Ryan delivered with this book.
Ryan divided the book into three sections: Mind, Spirit, and Body. He has a thorough exploration, broken up into about a dozen chapters, for each category. As is his style, there are many detailed and powerful examples.
He leads with Seneca, a friend of all Stoics and a frequent visitor in Ryan’s writing. He tells a short story around apatheia, or upekkha, or aslama, or hishtavut, or samatvam, or euthymia, or hesychia, or ataraxia, or aequanimitas – a word that finally comes closer to translation into English.
That word is stillness. In the intro to the book, Ryan says,
“To be steady while the world spins around you. To act without frenzy. To hear only what needs to be heard. To possess quietude—exterior and interior—on command.
Buddhism. Stoicism. Epicureanism. Christianity. Hinduism. It’s all but impossible to find a philosophical school or religion that does not venerate this inner peace—this stillness—as the highest good and as the key to elite performance and a happy life.
And when basically all of the widom of the ancient world agrees on something, only a fool would decline to listen.“
I thought the chapters in each section were extremely well-titled and are listed below. Like reading a poem, slow yourself down and, instead of skimming the next three paragraphs, read them aloud.
Mind: The domain of the mind, Become present, Limit your inputs, Empty the mind, Slow down think deeply, Start journaling, Cultivate silence, Seek wisdom, Find confidence avoid ego, Let go.
Spirit: The domain of the soul, Choose virtue, Heal the inner child, Beware desire, Enough, Bathe in beauty, Accept a higher power, Enter relationships, Conquer your anger, All is one.
Body: The domain of the body, Say no, Take a walk, Build a routine, Get rid of your stuff, Seek solitude, Be a human being, Go to sleep, Find a hobby, Beware escapism, Act bravely.
If even one chapter in each section strikes a chord with you, I encourage you to grab a copy of Stillness Is The Key.
Ryan – thanks for adding another phenomenal book to my bookshelf.
Insight Timer popped up this message after my daily morning meditation yesterday.
I’ve been meditating on and off for a while. But it’s been an on and off thing, not a daily habit.
In April, after some complex emotional dynamics (how’s that for a euphemism), I decided to start meditating daily. I missed a few days here and there and then in mid-May decided to cut the bullshit with myself and just do it first thing every morning when I woke up.
Last week, both Fred Wilson and Seth Godin blogged about the power of streaks and how they’ve both built daily blogging habits. Fred highlighted the same section of Seth’s post that I’m highlighting below, which is just pure gold.
Streaks are their own reward.
Streaks create internal pressure that keeps streaks going.
Streaks require commitment at first, but then the commitment turns into a practice, and the practice into a habit.
Habits are much easier to maintain than commitments.
I made a conscious decision many years ago that I wouldn’t blog daily, but regularly, partly in reaction to my desire to go off the grid for chunks of time (digital sabbath, weekends, weeks, or even longer in some cases.) I didn’t want the blog to be a habit that I did daily, but then took vacations from.
I’m the same with running. It’s a deeply developed habit that I love, but I know the importance of rest, so I don’t try to run every day.
But, for me, meditation is different. I’m 90 days into a daily routine and it has definitely become a habit. It’ll be interesting to see if the streak lasts 180 days, or 365 days, or 3653 days.
A week ago, while proofreading a draft of Jerry Colonna’s upcoming book, I noticed a few sections where he mentioned Ani Pema Chödrön. When he referenced her book How to Meditate, I went on Amazon and bought a physical copy to read.
Last night, as Amy and I laid on our respective couches reading, I flowed through How to Meditate. With Brooks the Wonder Dog at my feet, I relaxed into what was a wonderfully written book on Meditation. It’s less about the mechanics of meditation (although there are some described) but more about the philosophy of meditation. And, as a human, how to relate to what meditation is, and what it can do, for and to you.
The book reinforced a lot of what I’ve experienced with meditation while giving me some new thoughts about it. Recently, I’ve been doing the Headspace pack on Pain Management as I work through all the pain linked to my summer of misery. Ani Pema’s book gave me the insight to try doing the 20-minute Headspace pain session first thing in the morning while sitting in my hot tub, outside, with my eyes open (but with a soft gaze.) I did this for the first time this morning and it was glorious. I’ll be doing it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day …
If you meditate, are curious about meditation, are interested in mindfulness, or notice that your mind is all over the place these days, How to Meditate is worth a quiet two hours of your life.
At dinner on Sunday night I had a short discussion with a long-time friend about the phrases detachment vs. non-attachment. I don’t remember the specific thing that brought it up, but I stated that I was much more interested in non-attachment in how I react to things. We bounced around words a little and then went back to our Mexican food and the broader conversation with the other people at the table.
I’d been playing around with a framework with my therapist for the concept of attachment, especially around stress and anxiety, and trying to figure out a metaphor around it. I had a long discussion on a car ride to Shambhala Mountain Center with Jerry Colonna about it where he helped me clarify some of the edges of my thinking.
Use the universe as the background for the metaphor.
Attachment is like the activity around a black hole. You are constantly fighting against getting sucked into it. All of your energy is focused on not ending up in the black hole.
Detachment is like being in no gravity. You are just drifting. Nothing exerts any force on you in any direction.
Non-attachment is like being in a swirling galaxy. There is stuff going on everywhere. You interact with it. But none of it pulls on you excessively. You are involved and impact some of it but a lot of it is exogenous to you.
There are many situations that arise that cause me to feel like I’m fighting against being sucked into a black hole. I used to react to these situations as they used to cause immense stress or anxiety, which are different but related things for me. While I have gotten much better at this over the years, one of my motivations for starting to meditate was to try to be more mindful, especially around the anxiety (note – Headspace has a great 30 day meditation routine specifically on anxiety.)
Detachment for me is linked to my struggles with depression. When I’m depressed, I’m completely detached. It’s an extremely uncomfortable feeling for me. I’ve very functional, like I am when I’m non-attached, but nothing about it feels good.
While many people suggest that detachment is the right approach to stress and anxiety, and others feel that it’s the path to enlightenment, it doesn’t work in my case. Now, I’m defining the phrase, so for some detachment might be an awesome way to deal with things, but for me it falls in the category of “indifference” and “disengagement” which I apply to things I don’t care about, but doesn’t work for things I am engaged, interested, or involved in.
Non-attachment ends up being the right word (at least in this framework) for what I’m looking for. I realize that some people view non-attachment as a synonym for detachment, but I like the use of the word, and the notion of “actively non-attaching” to things.
When I apply this filter to a stressful or anxiety-producing situation, where I know that I have to engage with it, but am “non-attached” to it, I’ve found a calm focus comes over me. And that calmness can sustain over a long period of time, even in the face of incredible stress. Like putting your head in the mouth of the demon, it makes the black holes disappear for me.
I love Jerry. I learn something every time I’m with him. He’s one of the first VCs I ever worked with and is my favorite other than my Foundry Group partners. We both struggled openly with depression. I think we have helped each other, and many others, through our openness. I consider him one of my closest friends.
We talked about a couple of heavy, conflict filled situations we were each involved in. He said something profound to me that I’ve been carrying around since we had dinner.
To be adult in a relationship is not to be conflict free. It is to resolve conflicts mindfully.
Most of the conflicts in my life are in business. Sure – Amy and I have them occasionally, but I grew up in a pretty conflict free home. My parents disagreed on things but talked through them. When I disagreed with my parents, they listened to me and we tried to work things out. Sometimes I ended up being disappointed or unhappy in the moment, but they taught me to move on to the next thing.
My first marriage has lots of conflict in it, which I’d put it in the passive aggressive category. I think that’s why I find passive aggressive behavior so distasteful – it reminds me of the failure of my first marriage. Of course, we are surrounded by this throughout of lives, even when people have the best of intensions, so I try to bash through it when I see it happening, turning passive aggressive dynamics to conflict, which has to get resolved.
In business, I’ve worked with a wide range of people. I’ve experienced the full spectrum of conflict many different times. When I see conflict emerging, I try to confront it directly, calmly, and thoughtfully. “Mindfully.” I rarely lose my temper. I try to listen carefully. I try to incorporate a wide view of what is going on, rather than just jump into a particular position. I try express my position clearly without excess emotion. I listen and incorporate more feedback. When the conflict is intense, I put myself in the position of driving a resolution, especially in ever-present sub-optimal situations where the “perfect” answer is elusive.
I really love the notion of mindfulness. Wikipedia’s buddhist definition is the one I understand the best.
Mindfulness is “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment”, which can be trained by meditational practices
My experience this year with meditation has surrounded me with this word. At least half of the stuff I’ve been reading on meditation talked more about mindfulness than meditation. The practice I’m getting from Headspace is opening up a whole new dimension for me of how to think about work, life, and relationships. And when Amy says, “Brad – be present” she is reminding me to be my best, mindful self.
I don’t enjoy conflict, nor do I seek it out, but I’ve never been afraid of it. I just confront it and deal with it the best I can. And now I have a word for how I do it, which is “mindfully.”
This morning’s question during my Headspace meditation session was “Who or what would you miss the most if you weren’t here.”
Over the last few months, my meditation practice has been spotty. Something indeterminate happened and I just fell out of the routine. I’ve been told by my meditating friends that this happens often and not to worry about it, but rather just to start practicing again when you feel like it.
I’m feeling very maxed out right now. I know there’s some cliche about VCs taking it easy in August but that never seems to be my reality. For the past 45 days I’ve pretty much been saying “no” or “I don’t have any time” to anything new that has come up. I don’t really see that changing – I feel full – so this morning I sat down to meditate for 20 minutes.
As I sat down and got comfortable, I realized how incredibly tense I was. Not just physically tense, but mentally and emotionally tense. I carry a lot of tension in my shoulders and when there was a big pop, it was more than physical. I settled into the meditation session and a few minutes in was confronted with the question “Who or what would you miss the most if you weren’t here.”
Amy and Brooks immediately came to my mind. Bing bing bing – I got the right answer. But I know it’s not about that so I just let the thought float away.
Robin Williams came into my mind. I was sad that he was in such distress that he took his own life.
A friend who is going through a divorce surfaced. The pain from my first marriage and divorce jolted through me.
Amy and Brooks came to my mind. I held them there for a few moments.
A work issue that is front of mind intruded. I observed that I was having the thought and let it float away.
Amy and Brooks again.
I felt the tension leaving my shoulders. I sat a little deeper. I listened to what Andy from Headspace was saying, but I didn’t really hear it.
I tried on the feeling of what it would be like to not be here. I wasn’t hear, but was somewhere else, observing here. That became really uncomfortable, so I let it go.
Amy and Brooks.
As I finished the session and stretched, I felt everything soften. My shoulders are less tight. My gaze is softer. I’m clear about who I would miss the most and am going to go spend a little time with them before the day starts in earnest.
Who would you miss the most if you weren’t here?
My meditation experience continues. I’m currently meditating almost every morning immediately after I wake up and sitting for 20 minutes with GetSomeHeadspace.com. I’ve internalized the idea of “practice”mode – I’m not trying to get a good grade, do it well, or excel at it. I’m just practicing.
I slept late yesterday and when I woke up I didn’t feel like meditating. I felt odd about it for a few seconds, acknowledged the thought (“I wonder why I don’t what to meditate today” – ok, that’s a thought: odd), and then let it go.
This morning while meditating my mind wandered to the notion of a narrative. Several times I had a random thought that described my interpretation of something going on in my life. When I realized this, I labeled the thought with “thought: narrative” and went back to focusing on my breath.
When I was finished, I walked upstairs and realized the word “narrative” was still floating around in my head. I’ve let it sit there for the past hour as I responded to all the email that came in yesterday while I was taking a digital sabbath.
In the past week, during dinners, meetings, and hanging out with friends, I’ve been observing the narrative that gets created around specific situations. When I’m in business contexts, I’ve been listening to the narrative being told and comparing it with my interpretation of reality. When I read what others are writing on the web (blogs, articles, tweets), I’ve been paying attention to the narrative they are creating. The narrative from others and the narrative in my head are often divergent on subtle, but important points.
This isn’t an issue of fact vs. fiction. It’s not that one party is lying or consciously obscuring the truth. Rather, they are interpreting what is happening, or has happened, and creating their own narrative around it.
For the past 30 years, I’ve found myself reacting to these narratives of others. They impact my narrative, and my interpretation, of what has happened, and what should happen. In many cases, especially stressful ones or where there is conflict, I’ve tried to rationalize someone else’s narrative with mine, struggling to believe that we could interpret the situation so differently.
I have some deeply held beliefs that I adhere to. Amy and I are deep in Game of Thrones (Season 3 at this point) and the notion of a “code of conduct” or the idea of a “man of honor” keeps jumping out at me. My deeply held beliefs are analogous – they are the values on which my behavior, decisions, and actions are built.
But these deeply held beliefs are mine – they don’t map directly to others. They impact my narrative and how I respond to the narrative being told by someone else about a particular system. I can expose my deeply held beliefs to others but I can’t force them to adhere to them.
In the last two months this has come into sharp focus for me through meditation. I realize that many of the narratives I create are irrelevant. When I ask myself “will anyone care in 150 years”, the answer is a definitive “NO!” When I ask myself whether this narrative actually will impact the outcome of the situation, the answer is often “no”, although not necessarily as definitive.
Yesterday, I read Biz Stone’s book Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind. I like his narrative of the story of Twitter much more than Nick Bilton’s in Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal. I’ll write more about Biz’s book in another post, but it’s a great example of the power of a narrative combined with a set of deeply held beliefs.
The next time you get wrapped up in a narrative about something, ask yourself the question “will this matter in 150 years from now?” And then, contemplate the implication of the question and how it impacts what you do about the narrative.
Oh – and Daenerys Targaryen is a total badass. I’m rooting for her as the one true king.
My exploration into meditation continues. I started on February 5th when I wrote the post Learning To Meditate. Since then, I’ve been practicing every day, read a few books on meditation, talked to a lot of people about it, and explored several iPhone / web apps.
The impact on me has been awesome.
After talking to Jerry Colonna for a few hours about meditation on the snowy Sunday after I started, he recommended I take a look at Headspace. I signed up that night and started doing the Take10 meditations. For the first few days, I did it once a day, but then quickly starting practicing twice a day, once in the morning and once before I went to bed. Occasionally I’d toss in another session at lunch time, although sometimes I just did a silent meditation instead for 10 to 15 minutes.
After about a week I was deeply hooked. I grabbed the iPhone GetSomeHeadspace app and untethered myself from my desk. We’ve got a meditation room in our new house and even though it’s very sparse right now (just one sitting pillow), it’s a magnificent sanctuary for my meditation.
I noticed that Andy Puddicombe, the founder of Headspace, had written a book called Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day. I downloaded it and read it last night and this morning. Since I’m deep into the Headspace program, a lot of it was familiar to me. But Andy’s description of his own meditation journey is fascinating, and reinforces a lot of things he guides you through in the Headspace program.
Near the end, he has a great chapter on different forms of meditation beyond sitting. He covers walking, sleeping, eating, and running. These are forms that intrigue me, especially since I run a lot, eat too fast, and am exploring different sleep patterns.
Overall, the book is a nice addition to the Headspace program. If you are intrigued about meditation, it’s a fast, easy, helpful read. But there’s nothing like just practicing. For that, I recommend you hop on line and try the free Headspace Take10 program.
Ok, I’m digging meditation.
I started with no goal, which I quickly discovered is helpful. Rather than gear up for a class, commit to a serious amount of time, or set a goal for myself, I just started. I started small with 5 minute sessions a couple of times a day using the Calm iPhone app. Sometimes it was twice a day, sometimes it was three times a day. They have a really nice “7 Steps of Calm” which is an easy way to get into it.
To break it up, I also started using Headspace. They have a “Take10” series which are short 10 minute sessions with Andy, the founder. I’ve done a few of them and toss them in whenever I’m in front of my computer and want a 10 minute session.
Last weekend I had a long conversation with Jerry Colonna about meditation. We sat on his couch on a Sunday afternoon as the snow came down and just rolled around in the meta of mediation. Again, there was no goal, and no judgement. Just random thoughts that we shared. Very calmly.
On Wednesday, Michael Rich, one of Jerry’s partners for the CEO Bootcamp, swung by my office. We had a delightful talk and at the end sat for 10 minutes together. He introduced me to the Insight Timer app. I’ve now used it a couple of times and love it.
Yesterday, before my Startup Colorado board meeting, I was feeling tense. So I ducked into a CU Law Faculty Lounge and sat for 10 minutes with the Insight Timer app. The rest of the evening was so much calmer.
When I was with Jerry, I mentioned that I felt a significant shift in how I felt. I’ve been under a lot of stress since the beginning of the year and have been wary about it spiraling out of control. I have been a little fearful of falling into a depression like I did last year. I haven’t been fighting it, but it’s not where I want to be. When I told Jerry I didn’t care whether the meditation effect was real or a placebo effect, he snickered lovingly, in that “you have a wonderful journey in front of you my friend” kind of way. That moment was another lesson, which is that it doesn’t matter what I think, or don’t think, which is part of the point of it all.
I’m very clear that I’m not trying to be good at this. I’m not trying to be disciplined. I’m not focused on any particular outcome. I’m just practicing. And I like that a lot.
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.”