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How to Own The Gym

“We go to gyms in large part to maintain a little goddamned self-respect, and to blow off steam, and to insist, against all odds, that we do remain fiercely vital physical beings.

… but if you just stick to a basic strength-training program, you can expect a certain wonderment about what the hell you were doing all those years, why nobody told you it was this simple before, and why nobody else in the gym appears to have heard the good news.

…You’ll be on a journey, at long last, learning how to own the gym, how to make your thrice-weekly health-club sessions into a confident, focused process invulnerable to bullshit. You’ll begin walking right past all the muscle-isolation weight machines, feeling a little sorry for all the guys who still think those are a good use of their time. You’ll start heading right back to the barbells instead, back in the gym’s darkest distant corner, and seeing them only as tools for your own ends, your own sports and goals.”

Daniel Duane

If you’re a human in a body I really really recommend reading this. I wasn’t expecting to read through this thing. Yet, here I am quoting from the very end of it.

The article perfectly sums up my experience with the gym over the past year. I can’t over-emphasize how much this stuff has meant to me as a man, how much feeling competent, earnest and strong changes things.

Seinfeld on how to write a joke. Bic clear barrel blue.

How to Mindfulness Meditation

Here’s my guide to getting started with the mindfullness meditation stuff. These aren’t precepts handed down on stone tablets; just some roadblocks I’ve had to navigate.

1. Don’t tell anyone about it

You’re really going to like this meditation stuff. But if you start telling people about what meditation is and how they should do it you’ll sound like a nincompoop. You might as well start wearing one of those silly Indian collar linen shirts and replacing “hello” with “I see the god in you.”

This stuff is good, and you’re going to see how powerful it is, but it’s hard to share because you’ll come off like a new-agey weirdo. So, take your time with the “have you entered down the path to true happiness??” instant messages and conversations. Trust me.

2. Mind your environment

Where you do the sitting is kind of important. It’s not going to make it, and you don’t have to let it break it, but it can muck with your gig to try to sit in a loud, uncomfortable, “people walking in and out” kind of place.

I’ve done it in unused cubicles, dark offices, bright offices. You can do it just about anywhere. You just don’t want to be interrupted when you’re doing it — it’s embarrassing, uncomfortable conversations follow, and it gets in the way of your whole “flying a carpet with Deepak” flow.

It can be hard to find a good place. Make do with what you can. If you don’t have the perfect place, don’t let that keep you from doing it real good.

3. Positive posture

You know that whole yoga thing all the girls in the pants are doing? It originally came from meditation practices. The mindfulness folks of yesteryear noticed a connection between body posture and the kind of mind you have. It’s true. So, notice and be intentional about your posture when you sit.

It’s common to sit on a pillow with legs folded indian-style. Back straight, not leaning forward or backward. Head dignified (whatever that means to you). I’ve heard the guru guys talk about an “alert” spine. I like the use of words like “alert” and “dignified” to describe posture because you’ll come up with things to do with your hands and ways to be in your sitting that are different than other folks. That’s good.

I can’t do the indian style thing; my hip somethings are way too tight (and manly). So I made a little bench (with my hands, out of wood, so manly) I can use to sit on my knees like a badass samurai when he’s just hangin’ out (can’t over-emphasize how cool and masculine I look when I meditate, you guys).

In your posture there’s a little bit of discipline — a little bit of holding together and a little bit of letting go/relaxing. I think this is an important part of the mindfulness. Probably.

Note: You could totally walk as a form of meditation. When you do so, try to focus on your breath, or your steps, or something in your body. Because the point of the whole thing is not the sitting, it’s the awareness. More on that below.

4. Time thoughts

Start with little 5-20 minute sessions. Real magic can start to happen in the longer sittings (45+ min), but it takes some digging to get used to it for that long. Seriously. You never knew you had so much to do or so much anxiety until you try to sit down and meditate for 45 minutes before you’re ready for it.

equanimity appI use an iPhone app called Equanimity (Enso may actually be a better option now). It’s pretty and you can set these little bells to chime at intervals. For example, right now my typical session is 25m with a chime every 5 minutes. I highly recommend this app.

Hell, you could start with 20 seconds a few times a day. When you wake up take 3 deep breaths before you get out of bed. Every red light, 3 deep breaths. Before every meal, 3. This is a good way to take a second, notice where you are, notice what’s in your body, be aware, grateful, etc. Again, it’s about the awareness, not the practice itself. The discipline serves the awareness, not the other way around. {chops an hundred wood boards in half}.

5. Come back to your breath

Ok, so the mindfullness thing is really about one thing: being aware. Being aware of right now. Not being caught up in some fantasy about the future or past. This is the goal. It sounds simple, but it’s effective.

A good way to get this awareness is to focus on something. The thing your focusing on acts like an anchor, it shows you when your mind wanders off. You could focus on a rock or a picture or something, but we have a built in thing to focus on that’s better than that: our breath.

Focusing on your breath means paying attention to how it feels. Where do you most feel your breath? For me it’s at the back of my sinus; cold air, movement. That’s where I start. You might be in your belly or just below your nostrils or somewhere else. That’s your first step: notice where you feel your breath.

Once you find where you feel your breath, hang out there for a bit. Try not to let your mind wander from that. Notice what it feels like. In and out. In and out.

Your mind will wander, start dreaming something up, shuffling through to-do items, etc. Notice it, call a thought a thought, don’t judge, don’t be harsh to yourself, acknowledge it and come back to your breath.

When you focus on the breath it becomes easy to see when you’re not focused on the breath. You see the mind at work. You start to become aware of thinking rather than caught up in it. You can become more of the captain, aware of what currents and tides and winds are at work, rather than the ship being tossed around on the sea.

Each session is a workout; you’re training your mind little by little. You get the immediate benefit of relaxation (this stuff is very relaxing), but the big benefit is it’s shaping how you think and how you live, making you less likely to miss that cue from your wife or that moment with your son or that weakness in your latest business idea, or prone to anxiety about x or y. Little by little, sitting by sitting your mind is getting better, more in tune with your body and your you and reality and now I sound like I’m wearing Deepak’s scarf again.

6. Get some guides

I have been literally making all this up as I go. But I’ve had some help from some guides. I’m only going to share one so you can get straight into it without any lollygagging.

You can download that and keep it as an audiobook on your iPhone. I listened to this every once in a while for the first year. You can listen to it every time you sit or switch off and be your own boss for a session or two. It’s up to you.

This guided thing is really helpful. And Gil’s adorable. It’s nice to have him reminding you to come back to your breath. When your self talk sounds a bit less like the screaming sergeant from Full Metal Jacket and a little more like Gil you know you’re on to something.

Closing thoughts

It’s not as easy as getting into Breaking Bad but it’s worth it. Caveman didn’t need to do the sitting thing to be aware of what the hell was going on. Fuck it, fight it, run from it, feed on it. Modern man is losing the war to lite beer because we’re so far out of touch. I’m glad I got a copy of Deepak’s scarf to throw on every now and again. Makes me feel fabulous.

  1. Find a good place for a short amount of time (5-15 min).
  2. Pick a good posture (sitting, knees, lying down, or walking).
  3. Focus on your breath (listen to that guided meditation).
  4. Don’t tell your friends or they’ll lose respect for you.

Joe Queenan on Lite Beer

“You cannot fight the zeitgeist and you cannot fight corporations. The genius of corporations is that they force you to make decisions about how you will live your life and then beguile you into thinking that it was all your choice. Compact discs are not superior to vinyl. E-readers are not superior to books. Lite beer is not the great leap forward. A society that replaces seven-tier wedding cakes with lo-fat cupcakes is a society that deserves to be put to the sword.”

Joe Queenan

Jerry Colonna on The Crow

“Failing fast and endless iterations are wonderful little bullets with which to shoot the fucking crow.”

Jerry Colonna

Check out the article to get a better idea of what he means. Great thoughts on the “what the hell am i doing” feeling from a seasoned entrepreneur

The Factory System’s Design

Mr Ferral regarded the factory system which had been introduced as subversive of liberty — as calculated to change the character of a people from that of a bold and free, to one enervated, dependent, and slavish.”

Trade Union, 1820

This is from an old trade union history. I was turned on to it from this Art of Manliness article.

You can imagine how the need for affordable, efficient stuff required a shift from artisans to factories. And how curmudgeonly the artisans must have been about it.

It’s pretty clear to me we’re currently reversing this trend, moving back to small and good. From safeway to the local farmer’s market. From Macy’s to a small shirt maker that feels like it stands for that heroic artisan kind of thing (and thus, by wearing it, I do as well).

I like the moving back to small; it’s good. What’s worrisome is how much control “the market” has over us. It almost seems like in one swoop the American’s need for stuff crushed a few thousand years of individual artisan style work and identity.

I’m sure there was plenty of idealism in there too; some of those “this is a new era, boys. Never before has humanity been able to rise to such heights” kind of things.

I like where we’re heading now. It feels more naturally human, more Good™. It’s a bit unsettling, though, to think that some market force could wipe the whole thing out. Here’s to hoping humanity is getting better.

15 for 15

For the next 15 days I’m going to do a little experiment — one you may be able to make fun of me for for the next 15 years. I’m OK with that; it may be worth it.

I’m going to sit down for 15 minutes each day and try to think about my breath alone and get all heebie-geebie and Chopra’s scarf-ish. Then I’m going to record a 5-15 minute podcast.

You’ll be able to follow along at this podcast feed or right here on the blaugh.

In this first episode, thrill as our protagonist discovers what’s perceived beyond the walls — it’s, like, Matrix-y and stuff. Enjoy.

1. The void has a heartbeat

2. Young and old

3. The stoney janitor & Tony Robbins™

4. Get small to be big

5. Crash and flow

6. Visualizing stoney, small successful people

7. Long Island vs main street

8. My definition of freedom

9. I broke my own rule

10. The three kinds of work time

11. Doobies

12. Tracy Jordan is an ocean

13. The fence, the french and the fucking point

14. A story you believe in

15. Fanatasies

P.S. I’ve done a thing on meditation at least once before. So, like, I’m qualified.

A story you believe in

13 assassins ready to die

We will do our best work when we can ply our trade along the arc of a story we believe in. If you can work your craft towards a “greater cause” your work will be greater.

I’ve been digging and spinning and circling and trying to find a story I believe in that I can put my back behind for the next 20 years.

To be sure, when Jesus and I broke up it took the wind out of the “this way for the rest of my life” sails. (I called him the other day, BTW, just to catch up. He still laughs at my jokes. We’ll see.) It was nice to have a default answer.

So I had to go back to digging and thinking and spinning and circling and trying… I think I’ve got something now. And it’s changing how I work. Focused.

You may not be freeing people groups from slavery or assassinating sadistic dictators but there are “greater causes” all over the place, sometimes just lying around.

Sidebar: do the work to land on a true and somewhat specific story. It’s essential that you believe in it and very helpful that it’s small-ish. Look for a villain, a Hitler, a darkness, an evil, an injustice. Something close to your heart. There are hundreds. Pick one.

Conan on Just Keep Going

“I get very down when I have a bad day, I go into a very dark place. [George Meyer] talked to me about it one time and he said, ‘you’re laying little pieces of tile and you can’t see the whole mosaic because it’s made of thousands and thousands of pieces. Some days you’re laying down a very brightly colored piece and other days it’s the light blue piece… Make something when you’re done.’ And I thought that was the most beautiful rationale for ‘just keep going.’”

Conan O’Brien

Truly, The Only Way

  1. Move from fuzzy to clear ambitions.
  2. Move from conflict avoidant to conflict engaging.
  3. Choose meaning over pleasure.

This list of three came from an email promoting a friends book and it perfectly summed up what I’ve been hearing.

I’ve read and watched a good deal of the whole think-big/where-are-you-going/what-do-you-want/goals/Choppra’s-scarf/Robbins’-toothpaste stuff recently. Probably self induced by my recent sit down and breathe circus.

Everything has been good and interesting. The list above (especially the first and third item) have appeared just about everywhere — though never as simply put as it is here.

You don’t know this, but I was a life coach for a while. I know, “who wasn’t,” right? At least I was certified, took the courses, etc. Honestly, it was great stuff — more like training in being human than it was “how to sell air.”

My own personal development digging and working with loads of clients has taught me I could make a good living asking people one question: what do you want?

I could charge $50k to ask you that question and have a proprietary checklist method with the word “forum” or “landmark” or “quantum” in it and it would change your life.

Or you could spend a little time thinking about it yourself. Maybe work it over with a non-close friend who’s in the same place a bit.

It’s not easy. Partly because our brain is biologically bad at it. It’s really good at figuring out the fuck/fight/run/live/die questions; it’s literally built for that stuff. But it’s not so good at sorting through the gradients of things like quality of life. We’re better at the how’s and what’s than we are at the why’s.

So it’s very common for you to never think through what you want. That’s why I’d charge $50k: because people need an incentive to landing on it truly, and there’s nothing quite like trying not to have wasted a bunch of money on something.

It isn’t difficult but it does take time. So don’t hold yourself to a time-frame. You probably don’t know enough about what you want right now. You’ll say something stupid like, “I want to travel to every country!” or “I want to make x amount of money!” They’re good enough to put down on paper but not good enough to think you’ve figured out your answer. They’re more.

Suffice it to say, that list up at the top, it is what is it. If you spend a second on the first one, you probably won’t be as safe/boring when you wake up tomorrow.

lifes too short for groping

A Model for Yearly Planning

The year gets away from us too easily. I picked up a good tip from Danielle Steel: Each year plan where you want to be and when around events you care about.

Kids’ birthdays, important conferences, yearly get-aways, spousal “remember, we love each other?” time, etc.

Even if you just simply put the “already known non-negotiables” down — birthdays, conferences, holidays — you’ll be better off than most folks.

But if you can go one step more and bring a kind of artfulness to your year. Instead of letting the year man-handle you, you can partner with Google Calendar to design it a bit more, be intentional, more of a mover than a shaker.

What would your categories be?

Jubal on an Artist’s Praise

“But I am an honest artist. What I write is intended to reach the customer — and affect him, if possible with pity and terror… or at least divert the tedium of his hours. I never hide from him in a private language, nor am I seeking praise from other writers for ‘technique’ or other balderdash. I want praise from the customer, given in cash because I’ve reached him — or I don’t want anything.”

Jubal Harshaw