One Simple Key to Keeping Your Focus

Routine. Make a routine and stick to it.

Training the mind to maintain single pointed focus is no different from training to do anything else. Athletes train their bodies, scholars train their intellectual capacity – with one common thread. Repetition. And lots of it.

Repetition provides the support that reinforces a new way of doing things. The mind has the habit to jump about like a monkey and sometimes to gallop along like a wild horse across the plains. When we sit in meditation, we must always bring the mind back to focus on the breath to maintain our single pointed focus.

The mind learns to accept this training more readily if we practice on a regular schedule. Developing single-pointed mind is about creating a new mental habit. The only way to establish a new mental habit is my regular, steady reinforcement.

It takes a routine. When we practice daily, at the same times each day, the mind begins to catch on, bit by bit, to the new habit. With routine, daily practice maintaining focus becomes slowly more easy.

It’s like heeling a puppy. We wouldn’t expect the puppy to heel perfectly on the first day, first week or even first month of learning to heel, would we? No, of course not. When we train a puppy, we train every day at certain times. And when we train the puppy, we do the same things, over and over, every day. So it is with meditation. We keep bringing the mind back to focus just as we gently heel the puppy.

So whether you practice in Chicago or in any other part of the world, whether you practice sitting or walking meditation, taiji or qigong, follow this one simple rule: make a routine and do your best to stick to it. Your mind will catch on.

Be patient. Practice daily. Your single-pointed mind will develop strength. And, your stress levels will go way down. Think of it as a slow and steady revolution. Changing your life for the better, one breath at a time.


Take the Spoon Out of Your Cup

A patient goes to the doctor.

“Doctor,” she says, “whenever I drink coffee, I get this terrible pain in my eye.”

The doctor considers this briefly and replies. “That’s easy,” he says. “Take the spoon out of your cup.”

Sometimes the solution is right in front of us, easy to execute and still we leave the spoon in our cup. Maybe when a solution is so easy, so right in front of us, we don’t se it till someone points it out. Or maybe, once we see it, we think, “Well, that’s too easy. That can’t possibly be a real solution! Maybe we want to spend a lot of money on expensive and exotic remedies, training and so on – as if spending all that cash means the solution we’re buying has some instrinsic value because of how much it costs us.


1. Meditation is the easy solution to so much of our daily troubles. Focusing on the breath is something we can do to take the spoon out of the cup and alleviate a lot of trouble for ourselves and those around us.

2. Our own happiness is always right here with us too. Like the breath it’s always there yet often not much heeded. The happiness we seek in daily life is not out there somewhere. Yet, we spent much of our lives running after things, grasping at this and that, thinking it will bring us happiness.

3. If grasping after things brought us happiness, shouldn’t we all be pretty much ecstatic now? I mean a lot of us have way more of everything than we can ever possibly use and enjoy.

4. One of the reason all that grasping doesn’t work is that the very things we seek are by nature impermanent. Yet, rather than accept this as part of the natural order, we fight it.

5. Try this: Sit and observe the breath. Notice how each one arises, expands and then subsides into nothing. This is the nature not only of the breath but of all things. Try to see that just as the breath begins and ends without remorse, grief or narrative, causing us no trouble, so can we approach all things in life.

6. Make  a list of all things you love. All the things you hate. All the things you feel just neutral about. Consider each, one at a time. Don’t let yourself be swayed by your emotional attachments. Though many things seem to last a loooong time, are any of them truly permanent if you look at them clearly?

Just as we put the spoon into the cup and cause ourselves pain, refusing to see life clearly, as a parade of passing phenomena, each one impermanent, we cause ourselves trouble, sadness, grief, despair, irritation and so on.

So go ahead and take the spoon out of your cup. Follow the breath. Enjoy each thing and let it go in it’s own time. Experience even the things you do not like without getting wrapped up in a storm of emotions. Like it or don’t like it – it won’t last forever. No need to get upset.

When we can practice this way, so much of our daily struggles vanish, like each breath as it ends, as the pain in the eye when we remove the spoon. Even the coffee itself.

Find the Breath: A Basic Meditation How To

Ultimately, meditation leads us to living each and every moment without struggle, without fears, hopes or anxiety about the past, present or future. Instead, we slowly learn to be fully and joyfully present observing life as it is with clear, wise seeing. This in turn allows us to think, speak and act in ways that most benefit ourselves and all around us.

I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s mini-retreat at Calm Chicago. We’re going to have a full house.

Preparing for any retreat always gets me thinking about the best way to teach people how to meditate, particularly those who may have little or no experience with this practice. I realize how important it is to keep things simple and straightforward.

It’s easy to get lost in all the misdirections of language. Words don’t always help as much as we think they will. We think they point to something specific, but often, the more we try to explain something, particularly something as profoundly simple as meditation, the more we find the words just lead us around in circles.

In that circumstance, we find that we are like the dog in a variation on the Zen story about the finger pointing to the moon. Roughly, the idea is this; When you point your finger towards the moon and say, “Hey there dog, look! See the moon?” – the dog only sees your pointing finger. The dog never sees the moon. When we talk too much about meditation, we can all be like the dog, caught by the words instead of going straight for the experience.

In the end, it is with meditation as it is with all things; each of us must try it for ourselves, experience it for ourselves, and investigate it for ourselves. This way leads to profound realizations, experienced both as we meditate and very importantly, in our every-day lives.

Meditation is not meant to be a temporary vacation or tuning out of the world. Ultimately, meditation leads us to living each and every moment without struggle, without fears,  hopes or anxiety about the past, present or future. Instead, we slowly learn to be fully and joyfully present observing life as it is with clear, wise seeing. This in turn, allows us to think, speak and act in ways that most benefit ourselves and all those around us. So, let’s get to it.

A simple, how-to for sitting meditation.

1. Find something to sit on where you can be comfortable for a time. Avoid that big squishy chair or couch. You don’t want to take a nap! Sit with good posture; if possible, without resting against the back of the chair. Maybe you have a kitchen or dining room chair that will do the trick.

2. Don’t worry about what to do with your hands. The idea that you have to do something special with them is a myth. Place them in your lap where it feels comfortable.

3. Relax. Try to find a posture where the spine is straight without creating tension.  You want to sit naturally.

4. Now, find the breath. Inhale and exhale through the nose. (If you’re congested, don’t worry about it. Just breath however you can today.) Notice where you feel the breath most strongly and clearly. Depending on how your nose is built, that might be just inside the tip of the nose, just inside the nostrils. Or, you might feel it more, just under the nose, on the skin just above the lip. It doesn’t matter which one. Take a few moments and just sit like that and breath and pay attention. Once you find the spot where you feel it the most, stay with that one place. This is the exact spot you’ll stay with in observing the breath when meditating. Don’t, as one of my teachers once put it, go shopping.

5. Now, just sit and breathe. Observe the full course of inhalations and exhalations at that one clear spot. Put the full attention of the mind on that spot. If the mind wanders, it’s okay. Just bring it back to the breath without judgement or worry. Mind wanders again? Just bring it back again. Do this over and over, gently returning the attention to the breath, as you perceive it, on your lip or inside the nose.

And that’s it! Simple, eh? You can sit this way for as long as you like. Especially in the beginning, no need to worry about how long to sit. Go with what you can do. Got five minutes? Sit for five minutes. Got 10, 20, 30 minutes? Sit for as long as you like. If you find the mind distracted by wondering about the time, set a timer.

Are there other things to say about meditation practice? Sure. We’ll address those things another day. One thing at a time. For now, the goal of this post is just to provide a good basic set up that anyone can try right now. So go on. Go get a chair and give it a try.

And for anyone local to Chicago, or if you’ll be visiting the area, if you want to learn more, Calm Chicago is here to offer what guidance we can. Feel free to contact us. The center has a new page too. Use that get the latest news, photos and so on.

Whatever media suits you, I look forward to hearing from you. Let us know how we can help your practice. Thanks for reading.

Zen and Taking the Ego Out of the Workplace

Every time we say, “I” “Me” or “Mine,” we reinforce our ego.  At the office this can be a source of trouble. (other places too of course)

Experiment with being the smallest person in the room at work. Try to sit and listen without judging or jumping instantly in with things like, “What I think we should do is…” or pushing your idea ahead like a charging bull.

Practice at work by using those three words as little as possible. See what you notice. Over time I bet stress levels will go way down. And you set a great example for others in humility.

Remember it wasn’t a jack hammer that made the Grand Canyon, it was soft, soft water.

Carry the work, not the worry!

How many times at work do you find yourself theoretically attending to a task but suddenly realizing that your mind feels fuzzy, unfocused? You’re not really paying full attention.

Why? Maybe you’re  preparing a presentation, speaking in a meeting, engaged in team-work with colleagues, across the desk from your boss.

Here is a very usual scenario. Half your mind is on the specific task but the other half (or more) is wrapped up with worry, anxiety, resentments or anger.

For now, let’s skip why this is and have a go at making it stop. Because this kind of thing is a huge drain on energy and can leave a person feeling mighty bad by day’s end.

Try this:

See if you can just notice when negative feelings arise while you’re working. Just notice that it’s happening. Practice letting it go by bringing your attention to your breath and refocusing purely on the task at hand. Each time you notice it, even its many times – don’t worry. Just keep letting it go.

Keep me posted.