Quick Guides T0 Practices That Upgrade Your Path of Service.
I am long over the idea of reading an article, finding it “inspiring and life-changing” and then going back to living my daily life, hoping I remember everything. Bit by bit, I forget and default to my own patterns. Maybe you're better at remembering stuff, but for me, any sustainable change requires continued practice. This is where all practices discussed in posts and podcasts get archived for your reference.
To meditate, I get the best results from using an effortless Yogic technique. It seems simple, but is really powerful (precisely because it is so simple). All you need to do is the following:
- Find a place to sit. Back support is ideal so you’re not worried about body position. Legs crossed is good for the body, but not necessary. A chair is fine.
- Sit as straight as possible, but don’t struggle to maintain your posture.
- Close you eyes, sit quietly for thirty seconds and just scan you body, making sure all tension (especially in the face) has been let go.
- Don’t worry about your breathing or hand position.
- Begin to think the mantra "Aham” (Pronounced “Awe Hum”)
- Think it in as faintly and effortlessly as possible.
- As thoughts come and you’re pulled away from the mantra, just return to it as easy as you left (at this stage it’s important to not feel like you messed up…not because “it’s okay to mess up” but because you didn’t mess up. That’s what mantras do, they pull the mind away from whatever it was trying to focus on. To reject like having other thoughts in meditation is to reject a very natural and very beneficial aspect of it).
- After 15-20 minutes, gently let go of the mantra and sit quietly for 2 minutes.
- Slowly open your eyes.
That’s it. It’s as simple as that. Your mind will try and complicate the process, and I spend hours and hours working with people and teaching them how to keep it this simple. So just keep it this simple and don’t worry about what happens during the process, and everything will turn out well.
For more detailed instruction or further coaching give me a shout.
The Compassion Program.
This is a practice based in Tibetan Buddhism called "Metta Bhavana". It means “Loving-Kindness”, and is a meditative practice for cultivating compassion. This may seem kind of fluffy, but the intention is not what you think it is. The Buddhist idea of love, kindness and compassion is a lot more no-nonsense than “let’s all hold hands” or “hey sit here and suck me dry with your neediness.” It’s more about simply taking the high road. Compassion is a process of expanding your sense of self to include others. It doesn’t mean bending over backwards to provide them with anything they need (as a waiter, I’m sure you do enough of that). It means acknowledging the world as non-threatening and providing understanding of anyone's situation. This is egoic expansion.
Metta Bhavana is a visualization technique. That doesn’t mean that the better and more faithful the visualization, the better the results. It means even attempting a shoddy visualization will give you powerful results. Neuroscientific study has shown that somehow this rewires your brain to have an expanded perception of others, lending you more patience and resilience to whatever they throw at you.
Here’s how to do it:
- Sit with your eyes closed.
- Bring you attention to yourself.
- Settle in by feeling your body seated and noticing the sensations of breathing.
- Bring your attention to your heart area and think, with intention “may you be happy healthy and free of suffering.”
- Bring your attention to someone you love or care deeply about and think, with intention “may you be happy healthy and free of suffering.”
- Bring your attention to someone you are somewhat indifferent to and think, with intention “may you be happy healthy and free of suffering.”
- Bring your attention to someone you have definite problems with and think, with intention “may you be happy healthy and free of suffering.”
- Bring your attention to everyone in your city and think, with intention “may you be happy healthy and free of suffering.”
- Bring your attention to everyone in your country and think, with intention “may you be happy healthy and free of suffering.”
- Bring your attention to everyone in the world and think, with intention “may you be happy healthy and free of suffering.”
- Bring your attention to every land animal in the world and think, with intention “may you be happy healthy and free of suffering.”
- Bring your attention to every sea animal in the world and think, with intention “may you be happy healthy and free of suffering.”
- Bring your attention back to your heart area and think, with intention “may you be happy healthy and free of suffering.” (Notice how, this time, you might feel more willing to give yourself some love)
Each phase can be repeated as many times as you have time for. See if you can feel your heart area radiating good will to every one of your targets.
One might think that Yogis only consider themselves engaged in spiritual practice when they are sitting and meditating or doing Yogic postures.
How about “getting shit done” as a spiritual practice?
Karma Yoga teaches us to maintain the Yogic mindset (aware, intent, reflective, grounded in ourselves, non-attached, non-needy, etc.) while in a state of action. This mindset not only brings integrity to our actions, but elevates our relationship to what we do. With this mindset, the actions themselves can provide the same benefits of Yoga and meditation.
Now, it is important to have practices like meditation (my first priority as a teacher is making that part of everyone’s program). But Karma Yoga is a crucial point where we leave our isolated state of rehearsal, and take our state of mindfulness with us. Even though we are now “performing", we haven’t stopped “practicing". It is where everything that we have cultivated gets seeded into the world - and ultimately tested.
This is mindfulness with the intent to serve. Serve what? Serve everything. Serve our best selves. Serve that endless space beyond ourselves (i.e. all of humanity, nature, the universe, our God(s), whatever we know is truly important). Serve the highest need of the moment, whatever that presents itself as.
The most concise way to summarize Karma Yoga would probably sound like a Nike ad. For the athletics company, the phrase “just do it" probably means “push yourself, do what scares you, don’t get in the way of yourself, etc.” That’s never a bad idea, but for me this means more than just the act of doing. It describes a crucial attitude about doing. With Karma Yoga, particular attention is paid not just to our actions, but our relationship to the results of those actions. It’s about doing something and not being attached to what follows. We must remember that life is bigger than our expectations and we simply have one small role to play in a bigger narrative. We just need to show up, pay attention to the needs of the moment, act according to our sense of truth, and need nothing in return except a sense of what to do next.
It doesn’t mean not having goals. It doesn’t mean not having a code of integrity. It doesn’t mean not preferring things turn out a certain way. It’s just a state of acceptance-in-motion. It’s an openness to life defying our expectations and teaching us something new and the humility to understand that the fruits of our actions don’t belong to us, but the swirling intelligence of this entire collective (human and otherwise).
It’s not easy to stay steady with a state of pure Karma Yoga or even to know when we are truly in such alignment. So all we do is practice. We practice doing, observing how we feel about the results, how we relate to them, and what we learn from them. And the practice ground can be, well, any realm of life that requires action. From brushing your teeth to major diplomatic endeavors.
There is no act too small to benefit from reverence (which just means devotion of attention). And no act too big to require our non-attachment to the results.
I consider it to be a practice that elevates any job we have, any role we have in society (big or small). Anything we do can be a medium for service to ourselves and humanity. My present project Serve Conscious stages the world of professional hospitality (waiters, bartenders, hosts, etc) as a Karma Yoga laboratory.
Acting with Karma Yoga integrity requires this mindset: “I need nothing from this, I’m just doing what I consider to be the highest need of the moment. My role is simply to serve that. What my action yields, and the where the fruits of it go, are not up to me and don’t belong to me. My joy and nourishment comes from the doing itself.”
Basically the black swan of goal-setting (and equally essential). As discussed, if your ego is giving you problems, it’s basically saying “we are unsafe right now and could possibly die”. Fear mechanisms are being activated in sometimes subtle ways (i.e. you experience it as "being insulted". Even if you are feeling puffed up and “how dare they treat me like that”, this indignant response is a fear of not being valued. But it’s all a total distortion of reality, because of course you’re valuable, and how could these harmless circumstances change that?
Tim Ferriss' short Ted Talk is a great introduction to the value of Greek Stoicism and the power of the Fear-Setting technique. I love his methodical approach to anything, and here it is applied very simply and elegantly to formulating our fears. This process usually deflates the fears, or at least cuts the fangs off of them. This is generally a reflective process that is used to make the positive change in our lives that we've been resisting because we think the consequences are too great. Usually we only think that because we haven't clearly looked at the consequences and realized they are not going to kill us. In fact, they may be beneficial. But without properly observing the consequences, they get to live in the realms of the unknown, and the lizard brain appropriates the situation, saying, "ah yes, the unknown...it'll probably kill you." It's usually wrong. Not always, but usually.
This practice can be used in motion to neutralize short term fears (where I have also heard it called "Fear Following"). If you are feeling uncomfortable, defensive, angry, rejected, then follow the fear with a series of questions, i.e. "what am I worried about right now?". And answer will come up like "you will never be valuable to an employer," then keep going with a deeper question, "why is that bad?" and answer it, i.e. "you will not be able to feed and clothe yourself" or at least "you will never have a job you're happy with." Once you reach the most primal level of the fear, ask, "are you really going to die from this?" Then "What can be done to remedy the situation? Is this problem really so hard to overcome? Haven't you always learned from things and come away stronger?" Most of the time, the problem and solution are simpler than we imagine, we just had to look at them.