5 Tips to Make Meditation Easier

I've been trying to meditate on and off over the past seven years, but I've never been able to keep it up. At work, my boss organized mindfulness classes for the team. (My workplace is amazing.) After just one session, I've been able to get past my thoughts of "what am I going to have for lunch?" and "I'm so itchy" to sit still, breathe, and be present.

Here are five tips to make the meditation process a whole lot easier.

1. Start Small

Instead of beginning at ten minutes, start with five minutes.

2. Don't Judge

There's no such thing as a perfect meditation practice. If you show up, that's enough. Don't worry if your mind goes to lunch or pain for a brief second. Just bring your focus back to your breath.

3. Get Comfortable

There's no need to sit on the floor. If you want to lounge on your couch, do it. Make sure you support your back with a cushion or the back of a chair.

4. Use the Right Tools

The mindfulness teacher recommended a great free app called Insight. There are several timers with gentle tones to signal that time's up as well as white noise options. I'm a fan of the continuous waterfall.

5. Send Out Loving Kindness to the World

For me, the Tibetan Buddhist practice of tonglen is very helpful. If I do this, I don't feel like I'm struggling against my mind.

Pema Chödrön's instructions:

"On the in-breath, you breathe in whatever particular area, group of people, country, or even one particular person... maybe it’s not this more global situation, maybe it’s breathing in the physical discomfort and mental anguish of chemotherapy; of all the people who are undergoing chemotherapy. And if you’ve undergone chemotherapy and come out the other side, it’s very real to you. Or maybe it’s the pain of those who have lost loved ones; suddenly, or recently, unexpectedly or over a long period of time, some dying. But the in-breath is... you find some place on the planet in your personal life or something you know about, and you breathe in with the wish that those human beings or those mistreated animals or whoever it is, that they could be free of that suffering, and you breathe in with the longing to remove their suffering.
And then you send out – just relax out... send enough space so that peoples’ hearts and minds feel big enough to live with their discomfort, their fear, their anger or their despair, or their physical or mental anguish. But you can also breathe out for those who have no food and drink, you can breathe out food and drink. For those who are homeless, you can breathe out/send them shelter. For those who are suffering in any way, you can send out safety, comfort.
So in the in-breath you breathe in with the wish to take away the suffering, and breathe out with the wish to send comfort and happiness to the same people, animals, nations, or whatever it is you decide.
Do this for an individual, or do this for large areas, and if you do this with more than one subject in mind, that’s fine… breathing in as fully as you can, radiating out as widely as you can."

10 Healing Ways to Spend 15 Minutes

Yesterday, I sat in my apartment wondering: what can I do during these turbulent times? How can I contribute and take action from where I am in the world that creates results? I settled on donating money to the ACLU and writing to my member of parliament and to the Prime Minister. This is a start, but I can see that this is going to be a long fight, so we need to take care of ourselves in order to continue kicking ass. 

If you feel like you don't have time, I suggest starting small. Commit to fifteen minutes a day. 

What can you accomplish in fifteen minutes?

1. Journal: Write down all the thoughts you're having. The good things,  the bad things, and the neutral things. List what you're grateful for that day. Let go.

2. Go to Bed Fifteen Minutes Earlier: You'll be surprised how that fifteen extra minutes makes a difference in your sleep quality. Or perhaps you'll get up earlier and suddenly you've created more time in the morning.

3. Meditate: Calming the mind does wonders. If you've never meditated before, I recommend the free sessions on Headspace.

4. Go for a Walk: A short stroll can be a mood changer or energy booster. Instead of having caffeine, I often go for a walk in the afternoon.

5. Read a Book: Do this for pleasure. A hot beverage makes this time even more delightful.

6. Oil Pull: Take a spoonful of oil (I prefer cold pressed sunflower because I'm allergic to coconut) and swish it around in your mouth for fifteen to twenty minutes. After you spit out the oil, scrape your tongue, rinse, and brush your teeth. Your mouth will feel so fresh.

7. Stretch: Yoga or simple stretches keep the body loose and the blood circulating.

8. Listen to Music: Put on headphones and sit on the couch or lie down. Don't multitask. Just listen.

9. Spontaneous Dance Party in the Living Room: This is exactly what it sounds like. Put on some music and bust a move. The sillier you look, the better.

10. Pack a Healthy Lunch: This will save money and give your body the fuel it needs to keep up the fight.

We need to be in top shape if we're going to last through what's ahead. No matter what, you can find fifteen minutes in your day to make your life a tiny bit calmer.

Try this Writing Trick to Get You Through Toxic Times

I've been reading The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh. If you're feeling anxiety right now due to current events and the resulting in-person and online abuse, you need this book. It will help you create the space you need to deal with the toxic bullshit that's flowing so freely from the mouths of people who are supposed to be leaders.

This opening paragraphs are all kinds of yes:

"Nothing can survive without food. Everything we consume acts either to heal us or to poison us. We tend to think of nourishment only as what we take in through our mouths, but what we consume with our eyes, our ears, our noses, our tongues, and our bodies is also food. The conversations going on around us, and those we participate in, are also food. Are we consuming and creating the kind of food that is healthy for us and helps us grow?
"When we say something that nourishes us and uplifts the people around us, we are feeding love and compassion. When we speak and act in a way that causes tension and anger, we are nourishing violence and suffering.
"We often ingest toxic communication from those around us and from what we watch and read. Are we ingesting things that grow our understanding and compassion? If so, that's good food. Often, we ingest communication that makes us feel bad or insecure about ourselves or judgmental and superior to others. We can think about our communication in terms of nourishment and consumption. The Internet is an item of consumption, full of nutrients that are both healing and toxic. It's so easy to ingest a lot in just a few minutes online. This doesn't mean you shouldn't use the Internet, but you should be conscious of what you are reading and watching."

Hanh then goes on to offer this:

"When you write an e-mail or a letter that is full of understanding and compassion, you are nourishing yourself during the time you write that letter. Even if it's just a short note, everything you're writing down can nourish you and the person to whom are you writing."

Last week I declared 2017 the year of friendship. A while back, I mentioned that we can take a moment to tell the people we love that we appreciate them. So this week, if you're feeling down, write an e-mail or letter to someone that comes from a place of understanding and compassion. You don't need to send it if you don't want to. It's a way to heal and also to jump start your writing practice. If you want to really dig deep, pick someone with whom you disagree and address this note to them. You may find it freeing to send kindness out to this person. I swear it's better than watching remix videos of that Nazi getting punched set to "In the Air Tonight".

 

Make Writing a Choice, Not a Chore

This is a great time of year to make a commitment to your craft, but if you've been having writer's block this may be the wrong decision. Rather than resolving to write, choose to give yourself a break for all of January. I mean it. You are not a bad person if you don't write. You are not your work. 

Take this time to take care of yourself. Eat well, go for walks if it's not too cold, and read as many books as you can. Go to the movies, visit a museum, connect with the people who give you strength. Enjoy every second of this. No one is going to die during your hiatus, so there's no reason at all to feel guilt.

A few years ago I thought I was never going to write again because I lost my drive. All the love I'd felt for writing was gone. Whenever I faced a blank page, I felt anxious. How could I have spent so much time and money on something, only to hate it? Rather than beat myself up about it, I decided to let go and make other plans for my life.

I can't remember now what I did during those months when I declared I wasn't going to be a writer. At some point the desire to write came back to me. There was a spark again. The sentences came more easily, even if editing remained hard.

By allowing myself to give up on my dream, even if it was only for a short period, I was able to create a much healthier relationship to writing. So this January, my advice is: give yourself permission to make writing a choice, not a chore. 

The Number One Secret to Productivity

You're not going to believe this, but the secret to productivity is rest and play.

That's right, I'm telling you to prioritize self care over getting things done. It's counterintuitive, but if you allot time in your schedule to rest and to play, even if you can only manage ten minutes to nap or meditate, you'll be more focused when you're working. This leads to better output. You'll also enjoy your time off more because you'll be present for it instead of thinking you should be doing something else. 

Before I recovered from procrastination, I'd punish myself for taking breaks. But rather than spend quality time on writing, I would binge watch hours of TV and feel bad during every second of this leisure time. This made me hate writing even more. I felt blocked all the time. My days seemed joyless.

Everything changed when I read The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Dr. Neil Fiore. This book taught me how to schedule in meals with family and friends, naps, walks, exercise, films, concerts, therapy, and reading time. Dr. Fiore recommends that we move for at least an hour a day, so sometimes I march in place or dance around while watching Netflix or stretch while listening to a podcast.

For many people, this is a good time of the year to rest and recalibrate. So for this week give this a try: put the fun first. Commit to enjoying that time. Step away from your computer. If it means turning off your phone, do it. If you have to delegate one of your responsibilities to someone else for a week to regain your sanity, figure out a way to do it. I know we all have to hustle so we can survive, but we owe it to ourselves to break the cycle of being exhausted and overwhelmed. No matter how tough our lives may be, we can take ten minutes and choose to rest and be present during this time. We can choose to take ownership of a few minutes of each day to put ourselves first. If we can take this step to bring real joy to our lives, everything else will fall into place.

 

Spilling the Tea on Being One Year Sober

In three days I will hit a milestone: one year sober. Over the past 362 days, I haven't had a single alcoholic beverage. No painkillers, no Diet Coke, no antihistamines. Anyone who follows this up with "no fun" can fuck off to rehab, because I'm not here for that noise. Yes, even sober I'm still working on my anger issues. The difference now is that I'm looking my bullshit in the eye.

What I've Learned While Sober

  • I don't miss drinking. I thought it was going to be hard, but I'm lucky that I wasn't addicted.
  • My real friends are happy to do sober activities with me. Like write! If I surround myself with the right people, nothing is too difficult to take on.
  • It's not selfish to put myself first. Self care for the win.
  • Pain subsides a lot more quickly when I'm not dulling the days with booze.
  • I need to re-establish a better connection between mind and body.

What I've Gained Over the Past Year

  • I don't smell like a rotting sugar cube anymore.
  • I can go more than two days without washing my hair and it still doesn't reek like death.
  • No hay fever, even without antihistamines.
  • I am much calmer. I don't go into an emotional tailspin every other day over dumb stuff like awkward interactions or slow walkers during rush hour.
  • I finally got around to all those repairs I was avoiding and now I'm never leaving my apartment again.
  • My eyes look really clear. I think my liver hated me before.
  • No weekends ruined by hangovers.
  • The spark to make things again. This blog is my way back to storytelling, to fiction. 

The takeaway? I don't need to drink. I'm serving clearheaded realness all the time and I love it.

 

 

Taking Stock and Planning Ahead

For the past few years, I've used the YearCompass "The Year Ahead" booklet to take stock and set intentions.

For part one, you review 2016.

  • Go through your calendar
  • Assess what your last year was about
  • Recall the best moments
  • List your three biggest accomplishments
  • Forgive
  • Let go

Each time I've sat down and looked over my calendar, I've been amazed by how much I accomplished over 365 days. It is really important to take time to celebrate our actions and to understand that each small step contributes to a longer journey.

Part two is all about planning for 2017.

  • Envision the year ahead
  • Determine what your year will be about
  • Set intentions across different parts of your life
  • Choose a word for the year
  • Make a secret wish

I'm excited to sit down this weekend for a few hours to assess 2016 and plan the year ahead. I am declaring 2017 to be the year of my novel. I will complete a full draft. You can hold me to this.

What do you want to do in 2017? What do you want to write?

 

 

Mentorship

If you are currently an MFA Creative Writing student at the University of British Columbia and identify as a person of colour, I am offering to mentor you over this academic year. 

I need to think about what this entails. Mostly I'll listen to you and share with you all the mistakes I made as a student and inform you of the resources I've gathered over the years. We can discuss what this means and set some goals and boundaries.

I'm starting a new job in December, so it will be unlikely that I can workshop your writing in the coming months, but I may evaluate this as I get used to my new routine.

Send me an e-mail via my contact page from your university e-mail account if you are interested and we can take it from there.

:heart:

I'm exhausted right now, but I wanted to check in and send my love to everyone. It's dark times right now and it's okay to take a moment to process everything. I've been escaping via episodes of RuPaul's Drag Race.

For this week, as we're trying to claw our way out of the darkness, one way to get out of our heads is to tell the people in our lives how much we appreciate them. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Meet face-to-face. Be love and beauty and joy. Let's take care of ourselves. 

Tomorrow we fight.

On Being Needed

After reading my post last week on loving kindness, a friend sent me a New York Times article by the Dalai Lama and Arthur C. Brooks: "Behind Our Anxiety, the Fear of Being Unneeded":

"In one shocking experiment, researchers found that senior citizens who didn’t feel useful to others were nearly three times as likely to die prematurely as those who did feel useful.
This speaks to a broader human truth: We all need to be needed. "

What I get from this is two things: first, we need to have a purpose to ease our anxiety and feel that life has meaning. Second, we must be a part of a community. You can't be needed unless there's someone else there to need you.

Over the past five weeks, I've thought a lot about being needed. I don't work in an emergency room. I'm not an elementary or high school teacher. I'm not qualified to save small children from fires or even a wading pool. So then, what purpose does my work serve in society? How can my labour serve other people? Am I needed?

"Being 'needed' does not entail selfish pride or unhealthy attachment to the worldly esteem of others. Rather, it consists of a natural human hunger to serve our fellow men and women. As the 13th-century Buddhist sages taught, 'If one lights a fire for others, it will also brighten one’s own way."

At my day job as an editor, I like to think I'm serving people by making text accessible to a wide audience. Every time I check a fact or untangle a difficult sentence I feel useful. Sometimes I imagine that I'm opening a door for a child to walk through to discover they love art.

As a writer, the thing I most want to do is write books that light fires for others, so that I can experience a hot blaze in my life. I'd like all the things that brightening through service entails: happiness and the ability to see beyond myself.

The next time you're facing writer's block or the fear of doing something important, perhaps ask yourself how taking action can light a fire for someone else. You're on the verge of writing the book that someone else needs to read so they can laugh or cry. This purpose might lessen the anxiety, bring you joy, or give you the resolve to keep going. If we think this way, about the light we bring to others by being present, then we're not alone at a computer, staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page. Perhaps this is how we can get out of our own way, be well, and author the story that world needs.

A Little Loving Kindness

From afar, I know that many of my friends and colleagues in the writing community are suffering at this moment. I see you and I am sending you love. For many, the suffering is causing writer's block, and I know from experience this increases the suffering and the pain. When I'm not making things, I feel like I'm not totally myself--I'm just a body moving through the world, committing one fuck up after another. I don't wish this on anyone.

I want everyone who is suffering to find the peace and forgiveness that they need so they can get back to the work and return to being their fullest selves. This will take time, just as much time as needed. We are all strong, and we have stories to tell.

This Pema Chödrön quotation from Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living reminds me not to close off my heart when things get scary:

"The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need in order to open your heart. To the degree that you didn't understand in the past how to stop protecting your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you're given this gift of teachings in the form of your life, to give you everything you need to learn how to open further."

This life is teaching us how to be us, to be human. Let's struggle together, even if our narratives differ. This is how we will heal. We got this.

The Next Fix

My biggest life achievement this month is I hired someone to repair the closet door in my bedroom. I know, this sounds like a simple thing to do, but I learned a major life lesson from this experience. (Wait for it...)

A Brief History of the Closet Doors

I often procrastinate on repairs. My family isn't big on non-emergency home improvements because we're not handy, so fixing anything means paying for parts and labour. (We're Chinese, so we don't like throwing away perfectly good money.) I've seen my parents devise ingenious yet ridiculous routines to work around a broken garage door opener, which was out of commission for nine months. When I visited I threatened to pay someone to fix it so they finally asked a family friend to check it out and it turned out that two screws were loose. It took a minute to fix. My mom lived with this problem for about 270 days...

Once when I was visiting my parents my shower door fell on me. My dad reinstalled the panels, but in the wrong order (I think he did it after he'd had a few glasses of wine) and told me to live with it, so for a few weeks I was climbing into the shower in the weirdest, most back-breaking way. First world problems, I know. Again, things changed when I said, "I think I can pay a friend fifty dollars to have a look at this."

Anyhow, my closet has two heavy sliding doors on it and for more than two years they would jam whenever it got humid, which is ten months of the year in Hong Kong. This made getting dressed in the morning suck super hard. (Sometimes I chose to wear shoes that didn't require socks because I couldn't reach the sock drawer.) I felt defeated every time I finished doing laundry and had to put things away, so I had clean heaps of clothes sitting on my guest room bed. Oiling the track didn't help. My cousin had a look at it and didn't have any answers. I gave up for a while, mostly because I was writing my book and didn't have the money to fix it. I was stuck with the belief that I couldn't solve this problem.

One day last month I finally had enough. Why was I making my life so hard when I had the resources to make it easier? I Googled, "Fix broken sliding closet door Hong Kong." (I learned this Google lesson the hard way, after I opened a coconut with a hammer. There are dozens of YouTube videos with much more civilized solutions. Later, I learned how to disconnect a washing machine through the power of Google, so I'm not totally hopeless.) I got a quote, which I thought was too expensive and contacted another company until I got a better price.

So on Saturday, the repair guys came and fixed the closet door. It slides so smoothly I actually spent a minute moving the door back and forth. Mesmerizing! I also had the guest room A/C cleaned, paint touched up on my bedroom wall, a magnetic knife rack mounted to my kitchen wall, a panel removed from a cupboard, and all the lights in the apartment checked. Oh and I got advice on wall mounting for the TV I don't yet own and the repair dude said he could get me the device at cost.

The Takeaway

I learned that I don't have to live with a problem forever. I can choose to fix anything in my life. I have the resources to do this. Either I learn how to do it myself, or I find an expert I trust who will guide me or do it for me.

This isn't just about closet doors. The same principle applies to health, mental health, and writing. There is a solution out there. I just have to figure out what it is, devise a plan, and execute it. I don't have to settle for broken.

 

I'm kind of in love with this wall mounted magnetic knife rack. Now I don't have to worry about cutting myself every time I reach into my cutlery drawer.

I'm kind of in love with this wall mounted magnetic knife rack. Now I don't have to worry about cutting myself every time I reach into my cutlery drawer.