Throw Ourselves Away

Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.

“The Wisdom of No Escape” by Pema Chödrön

I’ve had a migraine for the past several days. Yesterday it got bad enough to take me out. I put on some aromatherapy, took a lot of naproxen, and went to bed in the early afternoon. Part of me is grieving the loss of my long weekend, especially because work has asked me to put in extra hours the rest of the month.

Anyhow, I’m getting back into meditation. I’ve got a bit of catching up to do because it’s one of my 2020 goals that I fell behind on. I did not practice it consistently in January through March.

One of the things I’ve learned recently is that I lack self-compassion in various areas of my life. I’ve also learned that meditation actually offers a place to practice that.

Usually when I do meditation right now, I’m doing guided meditations. Something I’ve noticed is that sometimes the guide will say something, and then my mind will go off on an adventure that somehow started with that prompt. Sometimes I catch myself fairly quickly, but sometimes I seem to follow those daydreams for several minutes before I catch myself.

When I do catch myself, I usually think something along the lines of “Dang. I got distracted,” “You should have caught that earlier,” or “You’re not meditating well/properly.” I didn’t realize until recently that I was using judgements to bring myself back to my breath. I also didn’t realize that this was an example of where I lack self-compassion, and therefore an opportunity for me to practice it.

What I’m trying instead is when I catch myself following my thoughts, I’m trying to tell myself that it’s okay. I’m trying to remind myself to observe the thought, and if I can return to my breath, but if my mind still wants to follow that thought, that’s okay too.

It’s definitely still a practice.


Most people feel best about their work the week before they go on vacation, but it’s not because of the vacation itself. What do you do the last week before you leave on a big trip? You clean up, close up, clarify, organize, and renegotiate all your agreements with yourself and others. You do this so you can relax and be present on the beach, on the golf course, or on the slopes, with nothing else on your mind. I suggest you do this weekly instead of yearly, so you can bring this kind of “being present” to your everyday life.

“Getting Things Done” by David Allen

I recently realized I’ve let myself get too busy despite COVID-19. But that’s a story for another time.

I finished re-reading Getting Things Done tonight. I realized there were a bunch of changes I need to make to my system that I had let get stale over the years.

First, I have a lot of things in my next action lists that really should either be removed or moved to my someday/maybe list. There’s too many things just sitting there that I keep putting off or ignoring because they aren’t something that warrant my attention right now.

I’m curious whether this has any role to play in my daily stress levels. I never get through my to-do list every day. Usually when I go to bed, there’s still about 200 items waiting there to be crossed off. (And then even more in the morning when I wake up as the repeating tasks regenerate.)

If I remove some of these items that just haven’t moved in months, perhaps it will reduce some of my stress because my count of outstanding items won’t be so big. At the very least, it will de-clutter my to-do list and make it easier to parse out the things I actually do want to do right now.

Second, I haven’t always been treating projects properly. A project, according to Getting Things Done, is anything that will take 2 or more next actions to complete. I realized in looking through my to-do list that I had a bunch of projects that were hidden as next actions.

The impact of this is that when I look at my to-do list and I see this project disguised as a next action, I have to pause to think about how I can action on it. Part of the goal of the to-do list is to eliminate that processing need so that it should be an efficient grab and go when doing a to-do list item.

For instance, something I’ve had in my to-do list for a while has been “Add key book notes to Anki.” I later realized that this was a project because there are several next actions associated with it:

  1. Decide which books from Kindle website to add notes to Anki
  2. (For each of those books) Review notes and decide which notes to be added to Anki
  3. (For each of those notes) Create an Anki card to review the note

Without breaking that action item down, I have to stop and think “What notes do I want to add to Anki? Where will I find those notes?” This was making my to-do list more of an inbox or dumping ground than a to-do list.

Third, I realized that some things are better stored outside of my to-do list. I had a bad habit of putting everything into my to-do list, but I realized that there were a couple things I could move out of it.

Things that have to happen on specific days or at specific times belong on my calendar, not my to-do list. So some things on my to-do list like “Text Bob to remind them about X” have been cluttering my to-do list and I’m planning on moving them to my calendar instead.

Relatedly, I realized that, especially while my to-do list is still so cluttered, it was hard to keep track of how I was progressing on my annual goals. Today I decided to try something new to make this more visual.

I’m going to try making my weekly progress super easy to visualize. This way I don’t have to stop and think about how much I’ve already completed this week, and how much I have to do to stay on track. Plus the bouncy balls are colourful and easy to see, so I’m hoping it will be a quick reminder for me to see my progress. (Also curious to see if removing the bouncy balls as I complete the tasks will serve as some sort of positive mental feedback for me.)


When we touch the center of sorrow, when we sit with discomfort without trying to fix it, when we stay present to the pain of disapproval or betrayal and let it soften us, these are the times that we connect with bodhichitta. Tapping into that shaky and tender place has a transformative effect. Being in this place may feel uncertain and edgy but it’s also a big relief. Just to stay there, even for a moment, feels like a genuine act of kindness to ourselves. Being compassionate enough to accommodate our own fears takes courage, of course, and it definitely feels counterintuitive. But it’s what we need to do.

“The Places That Scare You” by Pema Chödrön

I had book club tonight with Emily and Jenny. We’re reading Pema Chödrön’s The Places That Scare You. I figured I’d use this opportunity to gather my thoughts and notes before the meeting.

One of the themes of the reading this week I thought about as control, security, and impermanence.

There is the idea that everybody seeks security. Often we do this in the form of trying to control things. But much of what we think we can control, we don’t actually have control over.

I recall in a session with my therapist last year, I realized that I don’t have control over my attention. And I’ve talked to a couple people recently who think we can control our thoughts and emotions, but I’m not convinced they’re right. (Otherwise, there would be no such thing as random thoughts or unhappiness, non?)

A related idea that I’m trying to pay more attention to now is the idea that frustration may be an indicator that we’ve failed to control (or to find security in) something. I’m sure in the moment, I’m not consciously trying to control something.

For instance, if a coworker starts questioning a choice I’ve made, I may get frustrated. However, if I can slow myself down and look for where I’ve been seeking security, I may realize what’s really going on. Perhaps I’m worried that I’m not doing the right thing, or that my coworker doesn’t trust me, or that I’m disliked by my coworker. I’m curious whether the frustration will change if I can become present to that belief that I’m subconsciously holding.

Another big theme this week is what I think about as shields.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.

Suzuki Roshi

I caught myself reflecting on shields last night when I was on my evening run. As I was running down the sidewalk, I looked up and saw somebody in the distance on the wrong side of the sidewalk. They moved to the other side of the sidewalk as we approached each other, but I realized (shortly after the fact) that I was already preparing to fight (a metaphorical mood) the second I saw them on the wrong side of the sidewalk.

Reflecting on this, I saw that I follow these rules because it keeps me safe (related to the control/security I mentioned earlier). If I follow the rules, I won’t get in trouble. And if I stay out of trouble, no one has any reason to cast me out.

So when I saw this other person on the sidewalk, potentially preventing me from following the rules that I had become well-acquainted with, I felt threatened. I got frustrated because I was forced to confront the impermanence of my security.

Indeed, one of the repeated metaphors in the book is this idea that there is some Bodhichitta–an enlightened soul–inside of each of us. This represents our vulnerability, our true existence as humans. But because people avoid discomfort, we harden a protective shield around the Bodhichitta. We develop several strategies to avoid experiencing the discomfort. As was revealed last night on my run, one of my strategies is to follow the rules.

But I have other shields as well.

I have a belief that if I find a life partner, I will have found happiness and succeeded in life; I also have a belief that hook-up culture is a bad thing, probably because it impedes me in trying to find a life partner. I find myself eating whenever I experience any discomfort in my body. And I also realized while doing this reading that I also use sports as a mechanism to escape–when I’m focused on the game, it means I’m unable to think about anything else.

Another interesting thought I gained from the reading was the idea that the problem isn’t any of these beliefs or actions–the problem is that I use them to feel grounded and avoid feeling discomfort.

A fresh attitude starts to happen when we look to see that yesterday was yesterday, and now it is gone; today is today and now it is new. It is like that—every hour, every minute is changing. If we stop observing change, then we stop seeing everything as new.

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

Interestingly, one of the things in the reading that I realized I really struggle with is self-compassion.

When I catch myself in one of these patterns (or after running one of these patterns), or if I catch myself being afraid of something, I’ll usually try to convince myself that what I’m doing is stupid.

Why would you be afraid of that? What harm can it really do to you? You’re still safe right now, aren’t you?

Why are you getting angry about that? Can’t you see that you actually have this insecurity because of something that happened to you years ago? Do you really think that what’s happening now is remotely related to that?

And because I resist those patterns, those patterns persist. When I go to war with myself, I just reinforce those habits.

Meditation practice is regarded as a good and in fact excellent way to overcome warfare in the world: our own warfare as well as greater warfare.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

In reading this book and chatting with my therapist yesterday, I realized I need to change some things up about how I’ve been meditating. In addition to changing how I relate to myself, I also need the emotional component of my meditation. I tend to look at my emotions during meditation almost like from an out-of-body perspective–I go into cognitive mode and just look at the emotion I’ve identified. Instead of doing this, I need to learn how to sit with the emotion and experience the emotion without pushing it away or trying to run away to somewhere more familiar. I haven’t exactly figured out how I’m going to do that yet, but one step at a time.

Another thing from the reading that I also talked with my therapist about is the idea of being able to trust our experiences as valid, while at the same time being able to move on and live harmoniously with the people in our lives. I haven’t quite figured this out, either. I know I tend to either hold my experience as truth and lash out at the people who I identify as threats, or I am able to get along with other people by trying to convince myself that my experience isn’t real.

So something I need to start practicing is accepting myself where I am, as I am. Once I do that and acknowledge my habits (and observe my shields), I can choose whether to continue to behave in accordance with that habit, or to try something different. This way, I’m not resisting myself, and at the same time, I’m allowing myself to soften–to see other possibilities of being or acting.

Finally, a last thought I had was some interesting parallels between the reading and stoicism.

The first has to do with the stoic notion of “the obstacle is the way.” Often with stoicism, I interpret this to mean “I have a goal, and there’s something preventing me from reaching my goal. I must address that something in order to move forward.” In the case of the reading, I find it similar. But instead of something informing the direction, it is an emotion or body sensation that informs the direction. External versus internal, I guess. I actually experienced this first hand with my therapist where a churning sensation in my gut tipped us off that I needed more structure when it came to a meditation practice that she had initially suggested; because of that, we were able to address that concern that I had.

The second has to do with the stoic notion of “sympatheia.” The idea in the reading that struck me as being parallel is the notion of “egolessness.” The idea that we are all part of the greater whole, and that it causes us great suffering that we go through life perceiving that we are each the centre of our own universe. I’m curious to see if Chödrön will talk more about this later because often my interpretation of the reading is that much of Buddhism is very solitary, and I’m interested to seeing how these two things come together.

We Need To Do Things

Leadership requires two things: a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it. The question is, where does the vision come from? And this is the power of WHY. Our visions are the world we imagine, the tangible results of what the world would look like if we spent every day in pursuit of our WHY. Leaders don’t have all the great ideas; they provide support for those who want to contribute. Leaders achieve very little by themselves; they inspire people to come together for the good of the group. Leaders never start with what needs to be done. Leaders start with WHY we need to do things. Leaders inspire action.

“Start With Why” by Simon Sinek

I’m entering week 3 of my social distancing adventure.

I’ve been surprisingly social despite the social distancing. Technology allows us to do amazing things. One of the common things I’ve noticed when talking to people is the feeling like people have fewer options right now.

A lot of people are feel like they’ve lost some of their freedom. In the wake of COVID-19, they’re left feeling sad or anxious that their life is no longer the same as it was a couple months ago.

This morning I was on a call and I was reminded about a thought relevant to this. Reflecting on everything that has happened, things are different today than they were yesterday. Things are different today than they were this time last year. But the game has not changed.

Perhaps a random event card has come into play, and that changes how we need to think about our next move. If I have to make some decision X, there are now different risks and consequences I have to consider now that this event card has taken effect. But the game has not changed.

Perhaps you were used to seeing certain cards in your hand that you would continually draw. But now you’re seeing different cards in your hand. Maybe you don’t know what will happen if you play a certain card? Maybe you don’t know how to use these new cards in the most optimal way? But the game has not changed.

Many of us have expectations about our lives and how things are supposed to go.

We hop in the shower in the morning, and we expect hot, running water to come out of the faucet. We expect that when we arrive at work, we still have our job. We expect that there is lunch for us to eat, and that we won’t get food poisoning from eating it. We expect that our yoga studio down the street will still be there after work, and that regular class will take place at the same time it was scheduled yesterday. We expect that our partner and kids will come home at the end of the day, and we expect that they will still love us. We expect that we will be able to sleep soundly through the night in the safety of our homes. And we expect that in the morning, we will wake up to live another day.

Rather than expect things, perhaps it would be more fruitful to be grateful for things as they happen. We can be grateful that we have a home that we stay in or leave. We can be grateful that we still have the health to go for a walk. We can be grateful that are beautiful parks, beaches, and mountains to wander through. We can be grateful that there are people who farm crops and raise animals, and that there are people who will produce food from those, and that there are people who will drive those foods to grocery stores, and that grocery stores allow us to purchase food from them. We can be grateful that we opened our eyes this morning, and we can be grateful that we’re still alive to be experiencing this right now.

I’m not saying I’m great at the whole gratitude practice (I’m not). Nor am I saying I don’t have those same expectations (there are certainly days where I mope that I haven’t played sports in a long time, and that I probably won’t be playing them for a long time to come).

But I do try to catch myself when I get stuck in that pit. I mean, if I ask myself “What am I doing right now?”, I might find that I’m “sitting here, doing nothing but feeling bad for myself because the community centres, leagues, and parks aren’t open.” That doesn’t strike me as something I want to be doing. So I try to catch that and use that window to do something I want to be doing instead.

I think gratitude is a step we can take away from feeling like the world is happening to us; it’s a step we can take towards feeling like the world is happening for us.

There are still opportunities out there. We just have to be open to seeing them.

As for me, I’ve been continuing to use my social distancing time to:

  • connect with people I haven’t connected with in quite some time
  • cross off a bunch of stuff from my to-do list that has been sitting there for months or years
  • get back into running outside
  • learn how to do body weight exercises (I can do more push-ups now than I’ve ever been able to do before)
  • break my junk food and eating out habits that I’ve been holding onto too long despite my 2020 goals (plus this also helps me to save money)
  • do a lot of stretching that probably would have been more effective had I spread it out over the past couple decades 😛


“Not knowing is a good place to start,” he says, and this feels like a revelation. I spend so much time trying to figure things out, chasing the answer, but it’s okay to not know.

“Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottlieb

So I found a new psychotherapist, and we had our first session today. Thankfully, they’re only a 20 minute commute away rather than a 100 minute commute away. (We’re currently doing sessions remotely.)

One of the things I tend to struggle with in therapy is where to start. (I recognize I probably struggle with this in a plethora of other areas of my life as well.)

I think it’s because I feel like there’s some “correct” path that will lead to the most insights. I feel like my therapist knows what direction that path leads. And I feel like I have no clue which direction I’m meant to go.

So we talked a bit about childhood (because, y’know, therapy). Surprisingly (perhaps? Then again, perhaps not), COVID19 didn’t come up at all. And because it was still top of mind since my last blog post, we talked about relationships.

I try to wrap my mind around this paradox: self-sabotage as a form of control. If I screw up my life, I can engineer my own death rather than have it happen to me. If I stay in a doomed relationship, if I mess up my career, if I hide in fear instead of facing what’s wrong with my body, I can create a living death—but one where I call the shots.

“Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottlieb

So we talked about the six month curse, and my intentional attempts to break that. (Reflecting on this quote, I’m curious if it really is a case of “I’ll leave you so you can’t leave me.” I’ve never really thought about that in terms of leaving before, but I guess leaving is the down-the-road consequences of other fears that are usually front of mind for me.)

We talked about some of the more recent examples of struggles in the relationship realm. Examples like arguing about different things, and me not trusting my intuition. And also me not always presenting my thoughts in a way where they would be more likely to be openly received.

We also talked about some of the tools and vocabulary I use, and how that compares and relates to things that they are familiar with. I got the chance to reflect on areas where I need to practice certain tools in my toolkit more often (such as sharing my experience in a way that leaves less room for interpretation). I also got the chance to reflect on areas where I’ve grown over the years (such as being able to identify body sensations).

Anywho, I’m looking forward to seeing how this journey unravels. It sounds like we’re on the same page on some of the goals of this journey.

“There’s a difference between pain and suffering,” Wendell says. “You’re going to have to feel pain—everyone feels pain at times—but you don’t have to suffer so much. You’re not choosing the pain, but you’re choosing the suffering.” He goes on to explain that all of this perseverating I’m doing, all of this endless rumination and speculation about Boyfriend’s life, is adding to the pain and causing me to suffer. So, he suggests, if I’m clinging to the suffering so tightly, I must be getting something out of it. It must be serving some purpose for me.

“Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottlieb

I’m familiar with this idea, but it was interesting reviewing it in light of some of my recent reflections.

There are some thoughts I have that I tend to suffer about quite often. I’m curious about what I’m getting out of them.

One of those areas is definitely how I’ve fucked up previous relationships. At first I couldn’t think of what I’m getting out of this. But then…

Another one of those areas is hook-up culture. It took me a while to think of something for this. I wonder if this gives me an excuse to avoid the responsibility of creating a relationship–because it gives me a reason to not look around and not put in the emotional work and to not trust people.

That would actually fit with both of those areas.

That’s horrible. Talk about self-sabotage.

Guess I know which path I’m taking with my therapist next time.


On tough days we might say, “My work is overwhelming,” or “My boss is really frustrating.” If only we could understand that this is impossible. Someone can’t frustrate you, work can’t overwhelm you—these are external objects, and they have no access to your mind. Those emotions you feel, as real as they are, come from the inside, not the outside. The Stoics use the word hypolêpsis, which means “taking up”—of perceptions, thoughts, and judgments by our mind. What we assume, what we willingly generate in our mind, that’s on us. We can’t blame other people for making us feel stressed or frustrated any more than we can blame them for our jealousy. The cause is within us. They’re just the target.

“The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday

Yesterday, I was talking to my counsellor about some general stuff (I say general stuff because I can’t remember the exact flow of the conversation that led up to the next topics). He asked for an example of a time recently where something upset me, and I brought up an instance of volleyball at a local community centre. It’s recreational volleyball and there’s some older people playing on the court. This one guy dropped in and was spiking the ball hard at people and getting in arguments with some of the other players. This affected my mood and my experience of volleyball that night.

My counsellor drew my attention to a pattern between this experience and my past relationships regarding conflict resolution. I have a habit of avoiding conflict, so if something’s bothering me, I tend not to say anything about it.

In any case, that conversation ended shortly after that observation.

So this morning, I had woken up early and planned to go for a run. But upon looking outside, I realized that it was raining, and from my window it looked like it was raining pretty hard. I figured that I’d probably touching my face all the time to wipe away rain and my hair, which is a bad idea in times of COVID-19, so I decided to skip my run and try to go back to sleep.

But of course, sleep never comes at opportune times.

My mind started spiralling on an analysis of all my past relationships. (This morning I couldn’t figure out why that popped into my mind; it wasn’t until this afternoon that I clued in that I was probably primed to it by my conversation with my counsellor yesterday.)

(It’s entirely possible I’ve noticed this in the past too. In reviewing past journal entries and blog posts, I’ve found epiphanies that I’d re-experienced years later. But at the time of writing, I don’t recall seeing this before.)

Some history: in every relationship I’ve been, either I’ve ended it, or, in cases where it was mutual, I brought up the conversation in which we decided to end it.

So there’s a very common thread: me.

I’ve chatted with friends over the years about this, but we never saw a pattern. The reason for each break up was distinct and unique compared to the others. So maybe it wasn’t all me.


Could we really believe that?

(Random interlude: “So” is my filler word apparently.)

This morning I saw something under all of those unique reasons. I mean, all this time in the future looking back, at this point it’s all just hypothetical. And perhaps it may all just be apophenia. But here’s what I saw.

I have this thing where if I’m experiencing a negative emotional reaction to something, I try to avoid bringing it up.

Whether it is “I feel disappointed that you keep getting your roommate to do your share of the chores,” or “I feel unwanted because I get the sense that you’re always thinking about your friend,” or “Hearing your friends always talk like that makes me really not want to be here any more,” I would tend to keep those experiences to myself. And, hypothetically, things would just snowball.

Theory 1: I am afraid of conflict. (This would explain my habit of avoiding conflict.) Maybe in those moments where I could have chosen to share my experience, I was afraid that it would have led to a fight. Because I was misinterpreting something, or because I wasn’t being logical, or because I would be taking away their freedoms, etc.

Theory 2: My independence is a double edged sword. Maybe my ideal of being totally self-sufficient leads me to trying to take on everything (including dealing with my emotions) on my own. Maybe my independence prevents me from ever really trusting other people.

Maybe both theories play some sort of a role. Maybe both theories are completely off base. But I’m leaning towards Theory 2. I’ve already seen other areas in my life where my independence has led to undesired consequences.

I think part of my struggle with this comes from failure to integrate some of the ideas I regularly fall back upon. On the one hand, there’s Stoicism and Buddhism. On the other hand, there’s emotional expression and vulnerability.

So this morning, one thing I was trying to figure out was the lack of harmony I was seeing amongst these ideas.

On the one hand, there is this idea of sharing your thoughts, feelings, and needs with other people. The idea of being vulnerable and letting yourself be seen by the people around you.

On the other hand, there is this idea of taking responsibility of your thoughts and perceptions. The idea of overcoming suffering as something that one takes on themselves.

But perhaps they are different means to the same ends.

Looking at them now, maybe they’re both just ways of acknowledging an emotion. Something I’ve learned in the past year or so is the idea that unexpressed emotion gets stored in the body. One method acknowledges an emotion by sharing and engaging in it with other people. The other acknowledges an emotion internally: distinguishing the thoughts, judgements, and body sensations, and being present to them until they pass.

(The Tyler version fulfills neither of these. I don’t often share my experience with others, and when I’m alone with my emotions, I tend to distract myself rather than being present with those emotions.)

We resent the person who comes in and tries to boss us around. Don’t tell me how to dress, how to think, how to do my job, how to live. This is because we are independent, self-sufficient people. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. Yet if someone says something we disagree with, something inside us tells us we have to argue with them. If there’s a plate of cookies in front of us, we have to eat them. If someone does something we dislike, we have to get mad about it. When something bad happens, we have to be sad, depressed, or worried. But if something good happens a few minutes later, all of a sudden we’re happy, excited, and want more. We would never let another person jerk us around the way we let our impulses do. It’s time we start seeing it that way—that we’re not puppets that can be made to dance this way or that way just because we feel like it. We should be the ones in control, not our emotions, because we are independent, self-sufficient people.

“The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday

Something else independence-based I was thinking about was fairness related.

I don’t like other people telling me what to do. I recognize that’s different from people asking me to do things, but sometimes my mind conflates thoughts.

I think part of me is worried that if I share my experience, I’m going to be asking people to change something. Which wouldn’t be fair because I don’t like being told what to do.

But maybe this is just me being too black and white about things. Maybe not all emotional expression is either purely for sharing or purely for asking people to change.

Or maybe I just need to learn how to acknowledge my emotions. Either by actually staying present with them, or by trusting other people and sharing my experience with them.

In any case, there’s a lot to learn.

Things To Do

I’m starting a bunch of social things to do for entertainment during this period of social distancing. If you want to join in on anything, message me to let me know what you’d like invites to 🙂

I’ve got a book club for Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror that will be meeting Sunday mornings. And I’ve also got a book club for Pema Chödrön’s The Places That Scare You that will be meeting Thursday evenings.

I played Cards Against Humanity with some friends today. I will probably host more parties for that, as well other games such as Drawful 2 (currently free on Steam) and Mafia. Also, perhaps a movie night or general discussion group.

If you’re looking for running motivation, feel free to add me on Strava and we can cheer each other on.

And I haven’t tried it before, but if anyone wants to do calisthenics, stretching, yoga, or meditation together, perhaps it would be more fun to do it together? (But then maybe it would start to feel like a bootcamp class and I don’t know how I would feel about that 😹)

Stay safe everyone 🙂