Want Peace?


Are you at peace? 
Do you walk in peace? With peace? 
Do you carry peace in your body – in each step? 

It's easier than you think. It just takes practice. Regular practice. 
And, the practice couldn't be simpler.

It’s enough to sit still, and focus on your breath.
Make just one moment still. And quiet.
Just with yourself.

That is where peace is.

* * *

Then, carry that same still into your walking.
Then, carry it into every moment of your life. 
The anchor to your peace is your breath: it's always right under your nose.

Then, when you're at peace, each person you meet will feel your grounded presence.
Then, they will have a moment of peace themselves.
This is how the historical buddha said we save the world: the peace starts with you.
And ends with you. It's all about you.

But, most of us don't make the time to practice each day. But, peace is a muscle memory. If we don't practice peace, we can't have it, or maintain it. So the peace we seek – that could so simply be here, right now – alludes us.

So practice. Right now, with this breath. 
And then, carry that peace with you with each step you take:

  • Take a slow, deep breath
  • Slowly exhale, and let the morning, the day ahead, the week, and the month go
  • Sit up straight, then breathe
  • Notice your body
  • Breathe three long, slow breaths
  • Let the exhale be longer than the inhale
  • Let each breath be a little slower, a little still-er, a little longer, than the one before
  • Carry this slow, still breath with you throughout the day

To maintain and expand your peace, design your life to maintain a small practice: 

  • Set an hourly timer (on the hour, half past, whatever)
  • Each time it goes off - no matter what you're doing: notice your breath
  • Then take three long, slow, still breaths

That's it. Easy. The great thing is that you can take these three breaths anywhere, doing anything. 

It doesn't matter where the timer goes off. You can take three breaths in a meeting, on the phone, while giving a presentation, while listening to the screaming person. As you do this, you'll come to welcome the little alarm that reminds you to breathe – to be present to yourself.

After a few alarms, you'll notice you come into your body a bit more, get out of your head and into your feet - into the world - a bit more. You'll let yourself be a bit more slow and deliberate (i.e., a bit more peaceful).

Practice this throughout the day, and you'll begin to find peace and presence in your breath - no matter what else is going on. 

And THAT peace, that presence, will carry, thereby bringing peace to everything you touch, and everyone you meet.  No matter what angst, worry, fear, or dread might cross your path, you can walk peacefully. You can carry peace.

You can. 

Unplug from your phone while you travel today, and listen - watch - notice. Pay attention to (i.e., notice) the life around you, and come back to your breath. Let your breath center and ground you.

And, of course, do your five minutes of sitting with your breath as well (smile).

I wish you a day, week, and life of peaceful walking, and living,

(the above article was originally sent on February 1st 2017 to recipients of NorthScale's Weekly Encouragement email. You can sign up here: http://www.north-scale.com/weekly-encouragement/


Train your mind the way you train your body


"[A] calm heart and self control are necessary if one is to obtain good results."     
          -  Thich Nhat Hanh, on work

"You should know how to breathe to maintain mindfulness. ...Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of yourself again."     
          -  Thich Nhat Hanh, on the breath

"[K]eep your attention focused on the work, be alert and ready to handle ably and intelligently any situation that may arise – this is mindfulness."       
-  Thich Nhat Hanh, on work

Great. This all sounds great, until you're in the middle of work nightmare, or a family catastrophe. When that random 'thing' come at you some random Tuesday afternoon: under severe stress, your ability to maintain calm, focused awareness will hinge on muscle memory.

If you have trained – regularly, everyday –  to focus your mind using your breath, when calamity strikes you will naturally come back to your breath, be calm and focused, and able to handle whatever comes at you.

If you haven't practiced regularly, you'll naturally revert to old methods of handling stress - getting mad, angry, frustrated, sad, ...

If you don't regularly train your brain to focus, it will take all your might to come back to your breath. Actually, unless you randomly remember this note, or someone says something, you're stuck in old, ineffective methods. 

So, start training. Now. And then, you'll have the muscle memory to handle whatever life brings your way. For just 5 minutes (Why not right now? When else will you do it?):

  • Stop. Sit up straight. Take a slow, deep breath.
  • Exhale slowly and fully, notice your body - release tension held in your shoulders, jaw, hips. Take another slow, deep, calm breath. 
  • Set a timer for 5 minutes, then put the phone down (and off).
  • Focus all your attention on your breath - watch and feel the inhale, then watch and feel the exhale.
  • That's it.

When your mind wanders (not if - it will wander) , simply come back to the breath as soon as you've realized it. Do this 'returning to the breath' over and over again, till time is up. 

If you can (and, you can): do this at least 5 minutes each day upon awaking. Use this practice as often as you can: on the subway, while walking on the street, while eating, when listening to someone else speak. 

There. You've begun to rewire your brain to think and act more calmly under stress. 

Wishing you a calm, focused and stress-free week,

Are you awake?

people walking looking at phones.jpg

(originally published Dec 31, 2015 on LinkedIn)

Where are your feet right now?
Seriously. Check in. 

How is your back is postured as you read this? Are your shoulders hunched (even a little bit) forward, so you’re collapsing in on your lungs (restricting your ability to breathe)? Your jaw? Is it clenched at all (a sign of tension, even when we think we are relaxed)?

Until I started writing this, I had no concept of my own body.  I wasn't awake.   
Like most of us – most of the time these days – I was in a haze of social media.

How often can you say you are really awake?

If we’re rarely aware of our physical presence – of our bodies – how aware can we be of our own emotions? And, what about the thoughts constantly going through our heads? The devils that one moment tell us how great we are, the next berate us for some random mistake we made? How aware are we of them? 

If being aware of our emotional and social cues is a key to effective leadership (another is being aware of others' emotional and social cues, but one step at a time– no carts before horses), how can we be leaders if we’re not aware of how we’re holding our shoulders (much less our pain)?

The key is surprisingly simple, but exceedingly
difficult in that simplicity: it’s practice. 
Just regular (daily) practice.

Just as a key to building arm strength is regularly doing push-ups, the key to being mentally awake and aware is regularly practicing mindfulness, also known as meditating. Mindfulness being awake and alive to right now, as it is, not as we think it should be. Meditation is the practice of being awake.

Mindfulness sounds great, but few people I ask seem to have a actual concept of what mindfulness is, or how to do it. Earlier, while waiting on a fax to go through (because there are still places that require faxes in 2015), I asked the gentleman at the UPS office about mindfulness.

He said it's focus.
Then I asked him how he practiced focus. 
He said relaxing and listening to music.

Relaxing and listening to music are not focus. Relaxing is not awareness. It might help you calm down, but it's not creating any mental strength. Like any other muscle, your mind takes actual work to make it strong. Otherwise, you might as well watch ShaunT do Insanitywhile you sit on the couch.

Mindfulness is actually quite simple.  Here's how:  Right now, sit up straight, feet flat on the floor. Set a timer for 5 minutes (or 3 minutes, or 1 minute). Now, just notice your breath.

That's it. 

If you’re not doing anything, you’re still breathing. In fact, breathing is all you are doing.  The breath is your anchor. It's there for you to focus on. 

Mindfulness is awareness, built by focusing regularly on the breath. Nothing else. 

That’s it. When your mind begins to wander (not if, when), just come back to the breath. That’s all it takes. Do this 5 minutes a day, and you’ll be on your way to being more awake, more of the time.

As we come into 2016, the key to every other resolution’s success is continual awareness: a commitment to being awake.  (It’s also the key to life – life is being awake to each moment we get to be alive.)

Happy New Year. 
I wish for you a very awake AND aware 2016