New Year’s goals already discarded? This may be why…Meditation Resources – Part 3

 I have been assiduously avoiding this 3rd “meditation resources” email  because the topic I chose was impermanence.  Impermanence is central to  meditation and topical given the intractability we often assign to New Year’s  resolutions.

But as it happens, impermanence is woefully difficult to write about without sounding trite or like new-age intellectual pap, or without hurtling anyone (myself especially) into an unneeded existential crisis.  So, naturally, I avoided it.

Luckily, (lamely?) I was rescued by a quote:

In the ancient Indian epic the Mahabharata, a wise king is asked to name the most wondrous thing in the universe.  “The most wonderful thing in the universe,” he says, “is that all around us people are dying and we don’t believe it will happen to us.”    (p 23 Salzberg book below)

That is the extreme example – but it drives the point home.

Nothing about the world is permanent.  And thank goodness for it – if things were permanent we’d never be able to learn a new language (neural plasticity!); or learn how to use Windows 8; or, you know, be able make new people.  But we constantly try to make things permanent, entrenched, just like they were yesterday, and so on.  We are arrogantly fighting physics and simultaneously fashioning our own misery.

Being attached to specific outcomes – being  resolute! – doesn’t actually allow for change, it demands your specifically desired change. (It is also a somewhat unscientific approach.)

For example, most of us say “I want to weigh 150 pounds” (or whatever amount) and then every step onto the scale is a chance to trounce on your mind, because you aren’t at that number.   But if you build muscle – you will gain weight and change the structure of your body …such that maybe should weigh 155 pounds. That is a prosaic example, but shows how we set ourselves up for failure with entrenched views.  Worse still, we miss how fun the “oh, I am changing” part is; we miss observing the impermanence.

Afford some curiosity in your goals.  Allow some chance for small failures, alterations, re-direction… growth. You will observe the impermanence, and make it less scary. When impermanence is less scary – we grasp less, need resolutions less, and we observe more.  Plus, then you are better at physics, or at least at watching Cosmos.  

 Mediation makes getting to know impermanence easier.  It helps you develop  the skills not lose it when things you were attached to (permanently) didn’t go  your way.  It’s not a panacea.  It just helps strengthen those parts of the  brain that give you that bit of distance from fear, habit, attachment and so on.  Those parts of  the brain are there – this is an exercise to develop them.  So, this year you can set and reach fun goals.

We may as well have fun with change – since impermanence is utterly unavoidable.  (Unless you can stop entropy, and then you can have Neil de Grasse Tyson’s job, be a superhero, and make all the entrenched resolutions you like!)  


1) I just read this book and recommend it for anyone looking for a how-to on starting to meditate:
Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program
by Sharon Salzberg

…plus it comes with a swell CD that has her guided meditations! … and you are just in time to take the 28 day meditation challenge (there is a kick off in BK this Sunday)

2) For an excellent lecture on the topic above – by someone far more articulate than I am, please take advantage of Sam Harris’s “Living in the now – Death and the Present Moment” 

3) Check out  another option for classes (see previous blog for classes at kadampa) here:

4) Finally, a 2-hour lecture on meditation and some of the neuroscience behind it, also by Sam Harris, is below.  I cannot recommend enough how this is worth both the $4.99 and your time:

Meditation Resources: All the Cool Kids Are Doing It

Let me guess.  You would meditate… but you don’t have time.  I assure you – you do.

Mediation goes hand in hand with mindfulness.  And mindfulness is at your is the opposite of mindfulness – walking down the street, not paying attention to people you pass or where you are going because you are texting to a friend.

Mindfulness would have you be alert.  Look at your passersby – your fellow NYC residents bustling to work.  Are they hurried?  Sad?  Happy?  Can you see how in so many ways they are just like you?  Look at the trees, the cabs, the new buildings, the dog poop – you know…your world.  This is a form of walking meditation.  Paying attention to each step.  This costs you no time at all and trains your brain to be in the here and now.

Notice how the next time you are waiting  – for a friend at a bar or at an appointment at the doctor or wherever – how you reflexively whip out your cell phone.   Worse, on a date, as soon as your companion goes to the bathroom  – that phone comes out.  What if, instead, you actually looked at your surroundings. Took them in.  Pondered something your date had said?   Chatted with the person next to you? And in doing so, reminded that person that we are not separate – but all in this together.  That could be a great sitting meditation or example of compassionate listening. 

This is your life, your city, your planet.  Pay attention to it. Get back involved with it.  You may meet someone who changes your life.  Or you may just find some peace in a little human connection.

1) There are many styles of meditation  Many of you know the metta-type I prefer is the Tong Len. Here is a little how-to video and write up on that.

2) There are many places to meditate (your favorite yoga class, for example) but one place I can recommend is Kadampa on 24th street.  I am no Buddhist – but I like their main teacher, whom you can watch here.  Obviously, I take umbrage with the use of the word “stress” like this (it has a very precise neurobiological definition). Nevertheless, it is a useful model of what stress feels like in the mind and how meditation can help alleviate it.

3) If you liked the videos from last week – check out their books: 
Dan Harris – 10% Happier – this is about 100 pages of autobiography of how a type-A, driven,  Manhattan lifestyle drove Harris to need meditation – and then how he went about learning it.

Sam Harris – Waking Up – this is an intense and great read.  It is weighty on philosophy and neuroscience – but thorough and worth every minute spent. The end notes are riotously funny if you like nerd humor.  (these links go to book excerpts – you can pick either title up from your favorite bookstore…)

Take good care & remember…the time is always NOW,

Meditation: it will make you smarter, better, faster, stronger

If you stream TV shows via the internet, you may have come across a curiously intrusive feature by ABC (Scandal is a preposterously guilty pleasure of mine).  They give you the chance to freeze frame a TV scene (while you are watching it) and text it or email that scene to friends.

We are now distracting ourselves from our own distractions.  What I mean is – TV, generally speaking, is some form of escape.  At the end of a long day, I use it to turn my mind off.  But now I can’t even turn my mind off without being prompted to share it with friends (and help ABC advertise their shows).

How much less attention can we pay to the present moment?
Herein is the first of a 3 part series on meditation, on getting back to the present moment, and on eschewing distractions that ultimately fashion your brain (via neuroplasticity) into a self-manufactured state of ADD.  Meditation can (via neuroplasticity) slow that brain back down – leading to a wealth of health benefits.

If you are a patient or friend – I know I’ve (probably somewhat insistently & annoyingly) lectured you on starting to meditate.  But don’t take my word on it – take the experts below.

Here are some videos that will give you the why and what-for.  Next installment will give book recommendations and local resources.  Enjoy.

Spend 3 minutes investigating: Dan Harris – there is a great, TV newscaster-style video at the bottom of this page to watch.  Also read the interesting evidence on the page above the video (yes the Department of Defense sees the benefits of meditation and has adopted its use) click here
Spend 7 minutes investigating: Sam Harris, neuroscientist and author, explains a slightly deeper for meditation – getting to know the nature of your own mind better, understanding yourself and finding peace in that. click here

Spend an hour investigatingEnjoy this video on Mindful’s web site.  It will only be live one week – click here before 10/21.  This is Dan Harris and Dr. Richard Davidson (neuroscientist) discussing the neuroscience behind and global health impact of meditation.  This is worth your hour.  Skip to minute 6.30 to bypass the intro statements.**

Take good care & stay tuned for more,

** note bene – on this last video – midway through – around 40 minutes – the discussion on the dalai lama & Francis Collins make me bristle for a number of reasons.  Please ignore those sections as you see fit – I do not believe there is any reason to entangle religion with meditation. 

What Are Those Prescription Drugs Doing in Your Body, Anyway? – You live in your body – not your doctor, Part III

What's in Your Medicine Cabinet?

It was a long and arduous process, but after years of research and millions of dollars, various drug companies have probably managed to offer you remedies for some of your ailments. These remedies came in a little brown bottle full of pills expertly prescribed by your physician. Probably, some pills made you feel better, some made you feel worse and others just plain didn’t work.

They usually come in a small pharmacy bag with all manner of warnings stapled to them. If your prescription came in packaging from the drug maker, it also came with a rice-paper thin, folded up tome of science gibberish. This is alternately called patient information, the package insert or just “the PI.”

You probably routinely throw out this little nugget and just read the dosage stickers and “take with food” icons affixed to the bottle. Go to the trash and get that paper out.

No seriously, now.  This PI is a treasure trove of information you never knew you wanted but that you really should have. If it’s covered in coffee grounds already, then go to the drug website and find the “patient information” or the “important safety information tab.”

Here’s why. 

OK, there are few reasons –most are boring except to nerds like me–but, the most interesting reason is side effectsSide effects may also be referred to as “adverse events.” Lately they’ve been called “untoward events” – which sounds more like you didn’t mind your manners at afternoon tea, than that your drug gave you unremitting diarrhea.

In any case…the side effects are important to know about, so you can recognize if you are experiencing any and can tell your doctor. But the concept of “side effects” is essential to understand because of what it implies.

Side effects tell us about the lack of precision of a medicationAgain, I will caveat – I am a medical writer, and not against Western drugs used appropriately. But rather, I want to illustrate our role as patients in the use of these drugs. And one way to illustrate this is to learn about what these things we willingly ingest are, in fact, all about.

A clear cut and common example is morphine. If you have had surgery, you have almost certainly had morphine or some opiate derivative of it (OxyContin, Oxycodone, codeine, dilaudid, etc.).

Opiates dull pain. They act on opioid receptors in your brain and spinal cord to stop your perception of pain. Useful. 

Opiates also make you terrifically constipated. Not useful. It turns out, the same receptors that are in your brain that tell you about pain are also in your intestines helping to control the rate of waste removal. (There are actually a few types opioid receptors in a few places in the body.)The point is:
1.) It will behoove you to know that morphine can do this – because post-op constipation is particularly painful and can be prevented or mitigated if you know it is coming.
2.) The body uses these same receptors for completely different functions – and your bloodstream will carry the drug to most or all of these receptor types. This means the drug may act in many places, not just the one that you (and your doctor) want it to act. 

Furthermore, this only addresses the receptors we do know about. We don’t know how every cell works or how every substance that comes in contact with those cells is going to react. Some side effects don’t make sense to what we know yet… as I pointed out in my previous entry, science is still evolving and learning. There are still a lot of unknowns…

Makers of prescription medications go through some serious hoops to 1) identify side effects, and 2) to justify that the curative effect of the drug outweighs the side effects.

It’s high time we as consumers of those drugs go through one or two hoops to learn about what we are ingesting – both for our own safety and for our education. (It’s fun, really, I promise!). It is your body, after all, that you are putting that medication into. Your doctor doesn’t  suffer the side effects – you do. So, ask him or her what to expect.  Read the materials.

Empowering yourself to understand what the drug may do or shouldn’t do will help put you in charge of your own healing, let you know when you should call your doctor for more help and provide education about the wonderfully fun things we call our bodies.

That said… needing to take as few drugs as possible should be all of our goals and something we all try to work toward. So, please make the lifestyle changes that can make that possible, if that’s applicable to you. But if you do need to take prescription meds – understand as much as you can about them before you ingest them.



Please view on the Huff Post site & click “like” …

Organic – How it was misrepresented and maligned in the press

Should organic mean ‘uber-food”? um, no.

“Organic. When that word first took root in our parlance people used it in business meetings to suggest that their project (or business) would grow unfettered. I don’t know about you, but this usage of “organic” along with other yuppie words (like “facetime”) made my head spin.

But the reason “organic” wheedled its way into our vernacular was not because it implied that a business project would have a higher vitamin content. It just meant it wouldn’t be unduly cultivated by outside forces. The project would just grow, as apparently nature intends business projects to do.

Let me be clear before I continue. I am not recommending organic or non-organic food in this blog. I only aim to illustrate how an article can bias science facts — just by how it was written. I am using the New York Times article as an example. But many similar pieces across publications came out the same day.

1.) Let’s start out of the gate with the opening line: “Does an organic strawberry contain more vitamin C than a conventional one?”

If you were hooked by this, you may have been lured into “accepting the premise.” If you accepted the premise, you may have then thought that organic food should be more nutritious and it should have more vitamins than non-organic food.

It should not.

If you read the Organic Food Production Act  (I just did, and it’s actually pretty interesting. OK, it is not even half as interesting as the celebrity photos on HuffPost, but it is worth perusing), you will see that there is no mention of nutrition, nutrients or higher vitamin levels whatsoever.

Read more on Huffington Post