What’s the speed limit?

You’re driving on the highway, paralleling the New England seacoast on a busy summer weekend. Traffic is congested and still flowing. Most drivers have adopted a roughly common speed, going a touch over the speed limit. Cars enter and exit with little disturbance to the flow.

And there’s that one car you encounter every few miles. The driver is darting in and out, switching lanes frequently, moving faster than the rest, braking and accelerating all the while. You feel your fingers grip harder, your jaw and gut tense, and your foot touch the brake, as that person in such a hurry quickly injects into the small opening between you and the car you’re following. Senses are heightened and at least to some degree frightened. You see other drivers jiggle, slow down or speed up to make room for the oncoming driver.


Chances are high that you’ve also been this driver at some point, perhaps even recently. If you can, bring to mind what that felt like. For me, it is similar to the encounter I described above, except consistently so. I’m driving completely tensed up, for the long haul. I’m on the greedy lookout for any advantage, not interested in the overall sense of everyone getting where we need to, each in our own good and safe time. Having unconsciously adopted the stance that it’s all about where and when I need to get, I’m just sufficiently engaged with the sense of the other cars and people around me to stay relatively safe, but not properly so. It’s pretty much all about me.

Now consider the speed you’ve adopted around just about anything you’ve undertaken recently. Maybe it’s the apartment you are searching for, or the project you’re involved with at work. Maybe it’s the 20-minute trip into the grocery store last night, start to finish. Whatever you’re doing, you are doing with a certain speed limit assumption. Fast is going to be perfectly appropriate when you dash to grab your toddler before he steps into the pool; is it necessary when you’re asking the next person in your retail establishment for their order on a busy day? Where other people are part of the flow of the project or transaction’s traffic, do you sense into what the speed is overall, and enter and exit accordingly?

If you’re operating over the appropriate speed limit, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Slow down and pay attention, for all of our sakes.


Unmake a fist

I will never forget the moment when I found out about chronic physical tension. I had arranged to attend a six-day silent retreat at Garrison Institute with my teacher’s teacher. This kind of adventure is designed to show you what you haven’t been capable of noticing otherwise. Setting aside conversation, media and all the basic “doing” distraction of life means you have a whole lot of time to find out about what’s under your usual radar, including your own habitual ways of operating. This process of noticing is equally valid, by the way, whether you’re inserting 3 minutes into your workday or 3 months into your mid-adulthood. The aim is the same. Yogi Berra put it perfectly for us: You can see a lot just by looking.

One day in the middle of this retreat I found myself sitting in the lunchroom, half-filled plate before me. Nothing special, I was just eating and listening to the percussion symphony of flatware on dish ware and the low moans of heavy chairs being scraped backward. Sitting, chewing, sometimes tasting, mostly listening to the inane monologue silently nattering on inside my head… and then I noticed as I chewed that my hands were in little fists on my lap. I just felt them there, under the table out of sight. How curious; why would they need to be tight like this right now? And then my hands softened. Fine. I returned to the plate, to another mouthful, back to a little tasting, a lot more inane chatter… and again, tight fists. Okay, now this was weird… what is it with the tight fists?

I decided at that point to slow lunch down and really look at this phenomenon. What else did I have to do, after all? On retreat you have all the time in the world! It became a question, an investigation, to find out about tension: to determine what was tense, how much physical tension there was, and to determine the specific location(s) of tension.

Three days later, since lunch turned out to be the merest beginning of this particular investigation, I had the preliminary report. Finding: there was a LOT of physical tension built up in this habit-body of mine, and it extended well past my fists! Physical tension was almost as established a personal way for me as breathing. I would say it was my body’s unquestioned belief system, to be constantly tensed for… well, for what purpose I can’t really say. I have enjoyed a safe, mostly conflict-free existence for the vast majority of my adult life. Nevertheless, there seemed to be some kind of residual armament against an old, long-resolved situation. The origin didn’t even feel particularly interesting to find out about. It was enough to know that I could feel this unnecessary tension, and in the noticing of it, somehow it softened of it’s own accord. Unconscious tensing, awareness of same, responsive release: the physical build-up of unneeded muscle tension started to unwind itself, bit by bit. This process continues as needed, depending on the pace and quality of my days.

Sitting at your desk, waiting at a stop sign, watching the lunchroom microwave count down while last night’s leftovers warm up, these are good opportunities to ask yourself, with friendly curiosity: Is there tension anywhere that’s not needed? You can let the rest take care of itself.


Could I have a moment?

If there’s one thing I love, it’s a guarantee. So I want to offer you one of my all-time favorite, virtually guaranteed Microwave Meditations. It exists in the form of a simple question. It’s  useful in a multitude of situations. You can use it by yourself or in interaction. And it goes like this:

Could I have a moment?

Thanks to Flickr for the photo

Now, precisely what this meditation guarantees you is something you’ll have to find out for yourself. Still, I want to offer you my guarantee, as the purveyor of this particular practice. I hereby guarantee you that the answer, one way or another, is always “yes.” You can always have every moment you’re willing to actually have, every one that you’d really like to have. Asking yourself this question gives you the real chance to have the moment. Asking someone else the question performs the same function. All we have is moments, after all, so why not go about actually HAVING them.

And, once you are actually having your moments, what you can and will discover through this practice, within it, is boundless.

How do you know?

As happens from time to time, here in New Hampshire we’re in the midst of watching a political scandal unfold. It appears our young majority leader in the state House of Representatives falsified a document, quite elaborately, in order to complete his graduation requirements for law school. Reports tell us of his asking a fellow party member for an internship in his law office, then failing to actually show for the hours and assignments promised. Despite this failure, he documented the clients and cases he “worked on,” and submitted the report to the school. When the hiring attorney discovered that this young man had participated in the graduation ceremony, he started digging, called him out on the internship no-show, and ultimately demanded his resignation. With the facts thus presented and no where to turn, still the majority leader took one more opportunity to blow it, offering a covered over announcement of his decision to step away after one term of service. At this point, with the truth more or less revealed, the sad fellow has resigned his seat immediately and apologized for his conduct, disputing none of the details.

Here’s what I’m curious about: What carries a person through such a lengthy series of ethical lapses? From my count, he had at least 4 obvious chances to step off the liar’s track and get lined up with the truth. He could have called the hiring attorney as soon as he realized he was not going to be able to fulfill the internship. He could have contacted the law school to inform them that he would be shy the necessary credits this internship would have provided. He could have spoken to fellow students and told them he would need another year to complete school. He could have taken the quietly worked out, face-saving resignation offered him right at the end when the facts came clear to the various authorities. What keeps a person clinging to an ideal of himself that doesn’t line up with easily discovered facts? It’s an interesting question, but it brings me to the question I believe is more useful as a Microwave Meditation: how do you know in the moment when you slide off the ethical track?

I consider this from my own history of ethical imperfection. In my work life, I can think of the times when it took me hours, or on a couple of occasions days, to swallow hard, walk into the boss’ office and spit out the truth about my own failure to deliver. Those days were hell, literally. There is a physical and mental distress involved that makes a simple medical ailment pale by comparison. And yet, I clung. In hindsight, I have to call myself lucky. Soon enough I would realize it was time to fess up. I position myself somewhere in the middle of the bell curve on work ethics back then. I had enough decent upbringing and self-interest to keep myself out of serious trouble. These would somehow kick in and rescue me from the worst.

Nowadays, I’m in a lot better shape. I credit a careful meditation practice that has given me much quicker access to my own body and thought data. I know the signals of distress, generally in the moment of temptation to veer off into obfuscation or deflection. Nausea, chest muscle tension, jitters, plus a particular quality and pace of mind activity, scrabbling and anxiously searching for an escape… these are my cues for waking up to an instance of dancing around the truth. Being able to pay attention to these gives me the early chance to stop, get my story straight for myself, and proceed from there. What a gift.

When you are at an ethical fork in the road, how do you know?


No Place Like Home Re-Heat

Have you had the chance to experience this “coming home” meditation? I’m interested in hearing about the very specific, moment-by-moment experience of this. What happens in the musculoskeletal realm? In the neural? Cardiovascular, respiratory? How about mood, attitude and/or intention?

How does the world appear, when you finish and release the instructions? Anything happen to your relationship to your companions, surroundings, the whole kit and kaboodle?

Good or bad, what happens for you when you turn attention to the array of physical sensations? Is there anything valuable about doing this as a practice?

Thanks to all who left their observations over the week. ~Margaret


There’s No Place Like Home

Who else to go to but Bob Vila for the quintessential home?

Do you know that sense you get, when you’re away from the familiar, and you feel off, even uncomfortable? What would it be like, to have something so close by and familiar that you could always feel at home?

Here’s an essential meditation technique to try. Let’s call it “at home in my body.” You can try this right now, with just a minute or two.

Begin by taking a breath and re-arranging yourself a bit, to be the most comfortable you can. If you’re standing, re-balance your weight equally on both feet. If you’re sitting, adjust yourself so that you have both feet on the floor, and your shoulders balanced over your hips. Do whatever is needed to balance yourself in an easy, upright way.

Now start bringing attention to whatever sensations in your body you can feel. To learn how to do this, it can help to close your eyes the first few times you try. Just sense, from the inside, what you can feel going on in your physical body. You might find pressures where you are contacting the chair or floor. You may notice movements due to shifting, breathing or even your heart beating. You may feel the texture or tightness of clothing on your skin, or varying air temperatures.

It’s not important what you find. You may notice very little at first. You may find more physical discomfort than you expected. Just stay curious and notice what you can sense. This isn’t thinking about body sensation. It’s more direct than that; it’s simply awareness of body sensation.

After a minute or so, let the practice go, and notice what’s happening for you now. Capture the effect for yourself, of being at home in your own body. What do you notice?



Re-start. It’s the first thing the Help Desk tells you to do. Why do I ALWAYS forget that advice? I continue to get a deeply humbling chuckle, every time I pick up the phone, make the tech call about my unsolveably sticky computer problem, and am asked if I’ve tried restarting my computer. 90% of the time, rebooting is all it takes.

What happens when you re-boot yourself?

Can you consider whether this technique might work in a broader sense? One of my meditation teachers calls this “Go to neutral.” The way to do this is very simple. When you notice yourself getting worked up about something, as soon as this becomes obvious to you, lean back in some way, put the whole thing down. Don’t worry, it will be waiting for you in a minute when you’re ready to pick it back up! Just set it all down for now. You can  take a walk or get a drink, if you need to move in order to set the drama aside. Or, just look away, take a longer view for a few moments, out a window or across the workspace. Give yourself that same 20 seconds you give your computer, to untangle itself.

You’re ready to pick your life back up. How does it look now?