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Awakening, inquiry, and pointers: Random notes and quotes from my journals.

I scribble notes to myself whenever I read a new book, talk with a meditation teacher, or finish a therapy or coaching session.

I have journals filled with quotes, snippets of conversation, and reflections from my own meditation practice. Here are a few, just for fun.


“Be alert and receiving without interpretation, analyzing, or thinking. Implicit memory and everything you need is already installed. You could respond like a Tai Chi master… or you could let it dissolve back into the flow of experience.” (From a conversation with Loch Kelly)


Let walking walk. Let talking talk. Let thoughts think. Let seeing see. Let hearing hear. Let breathing breathe. Let everything appear in its own place.


Listen! What if this wasn’t about you? And what if you took full responsibility for your own experience of the world and your own wellbeing?


“What if you rested in between contradicting energies? What if you practiced holding contradictory views at the same time with no fantasy of them ever being resolved?” (From a conversation with Bruce Tift.)


What does this small sense of self and ego feel like? Familiar facial tensions and expressions, a feeling of being behind the eyes, familiar impulses. Can these be seen through immediately, right now?


“Have you ever listened to breathing without knowing what it is? Without thinking about where it comes from or where it goes? This is an innocent listening—unburdened, unhindered by knowledge or by judgment, such as ‘My breathing is too shallow’; innocent listening is no right breathing, no wrong breathing. What is there when I don’t come to listening with preconceptions, but rather start freshly?” (From an interview with Toni Packer, Tricycle Magazine.)


Look at your life in whole, right now. Where is the problem?


What if nothing was truly at stake here? What if improving your experience of the world was seen as a form of play, with no winners or losers?


“If we are scrupulously honest, we discover that we don’t actually know what we are, where we are, or when we are. This discovery is unsettling and profoundly liberating. Once we get over the initial shock, it’s a huge relief to see and feel that we are not who, where, or when we have taken our self to be.

The truth is that we don’t know and can’t know any of this—at least not with our ordinary, strategic, goal-oriented mind. We discover that we can rest in this not knowing. This is not the same as being ignorant. Acknowledging that we don’t know opens us to a different type of knowing.” (From The Deep Heart, by John Prendergast.)


We have eyes all over our body.


Commit to challenging the feeling of compulsion every day of my life. Don’t worry about the content of the compulsion. Just challenge the activity of compulsion itself.


1. I renounce being the star of my own movie.

2. I renounce measuring the success of my life by how many of my desires are gratified.

3. I renounce my attachment to being right.

(From Dancing with Life by Phillip Moffitt)


Can you see habitual patterns arising as new and fresh experiences?


Take responsibility for the things you’re choosing in life. And for the things you’re not choosing.


Nate: “If I stand up and start walking around the yard, I can feel the energy and sensations of getting up and walking. I can feel the grass under the feet. I can feel the legs moving.

I can feel the mouth moving as talking is happening. I can feel a part of me trying to figure out what I should say next, and not knowing what it’s going to be. But all these things are appearing from and disappearing into the same place.

The feeling of the grass, the feeling of talking, the feeling of movement—there are no boundaries. There is no ‘down there’ and ‘up here’ or ‘over there.’

And now a question is coming to mind: Have I ever really moved an inch in my entire life?

Loch: (Laughs.) “No, you haven’t moved. Because you’re everywhere.”

(From a conversation with Loch Kelly.)


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“How much strength does it take to hold a napkin?”

Hong Kong, December 2018.

I’m sitting in a primary school auditorium with a hundred other people, mostly from Hong Kong and mainland China, with a few stragglers from random parts of the US, Australia, Canada, and Europe. This is Day Three of a ten-day Dzogchen meditation retreat.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche is in the center of the stage, sitting on a raised platform. He’s wearing a dark red robe, the color of blood. All around him are gold vases full of flowers.

He picks up a napkin. He looks at us.

“How much strength does it take to hold this napkin?” he asks.

He waits. No one says anything.

This is not a question he wants us to answer out loud. Instead, he wants us to feel the answer.

“How much strength does it take to hold this napkin?” he asks again.

He looks down at his hand, and holds the napkin gently between his pinky finger and thumb. He smiles.

“This.” he says. “This is all the strength you need. So why are we all holding our napkins like this?”

He quickly crumples the napkin up in his fist, and squeezes it so tightly that his arm starts to shake. He brings his clenched fist up to his face and stares at it, with his eyes bugging out of his head.

For the next minute, he treats his closed fist like a snake charmer following the head of a cobra—full eye contact, deadlocked, his neck undulating in step with the fist.

He stops and everyone laughs. He’s a funny dude, after all.

But the lesson is not lost on us:

The napkin is our life. And most of us have a death-grip on it.


What would it feel like to loosen your grip? What would it feel like to slowly… unfurl…. your…. clutched…. fingers?

Loosening your grip does not mean not holding the napkin. Loosening your grip does not mean that you don’t care, or that you stop trying, or that you give up.

It doesn’t mean that you stop growing, or stop learning, or stop confronting your own biases, or stop being touched by the beauty and tragedy in the world. It does not mean that you stop fighting for what is right.

Loosening your grip simply means that you hold the napkin with as much strength as it requires to hold—and not an ounce more.

Loosening your grip means freeing up energy, and allowing it to collect into an ever-deepening reservoir that nourishes you.

A reservoir of energy that you can access at any time, for any reason.

A reservoir of energy you can use to help others.

And right now, we need all the energy we can muster in order to listen to each other openly… to confront the social and racial inequality in our world….to question our assumptions and move past emotions…and to do our part to spread messages of love and understanding, regardless of our views.

But we should also remember to not take ourselves too seriously while doing good and necessary work.

As Rinpoche said at the end of our retreat:

“How miserable must you make yourself in order to live a responsible, beautiful life?”

-Nate

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All Over Again

kettlebell-grass

A couple days ago, a 19-year-old college student asked me this:

“I want to work in the fitness industry and help people. If you could go back to when you were 19, what would you do over?”

It was a good question; and I felt honored that he trusted me, a college dropout, to answer it.

Now, I don’t remember everything I told him, but I do remember one Big Point:

Don’t get loaded down in debt. Instead, get creative, help more people, and you’ll make (and keep) more money.

Storytime:

When I was 21, I took out a $25,000 loan to buy workout equipment and rent my own personal training studio.

The first year I was open, my mom had to bring me care packages of food and toilet paper because I didn’t have any cash left over at the end of the month.

All my money went to paying two rents (my apartment and my workout studio), bank loans and…weekly matinee movies where I snuck a couple cans of beer into the theatre and drank them in the back row. I learned that a regular 9-5 job wasn’t for me early on. I’ve also gotten better with money. Still drink beer at the movies, though.

From the outside, of course, it looked like I was doing great. And to a point, I was.

I didn’t have a “regular” job. I was starting to write for fitness magazines. I made money helping people get in shape.

But I really had the illusion of success because I had the nice “upscale” studio. No one knew how much money I made…or how much money I paid to have the nice studio.

“Hey, there’s that young go-getter with the fancy workout place!”

So while I was good at training people and had some wonderful clients — the best, actually — my studio was too small to train more than one person at a time. Plus it was above a nice hair salon who didn’t appreciate the thump of early-morning deadlift sessions.

Plus, I wasn’t having that much fun eating canned tuna and wiping my ass with low-grade, single ply sandpaper.

So…if I were just starting out and had to do it all over again…

I’d buy a cheap beat-up truck and $300 worth of kettlebells and other random workout stuff, and train people outside in the sun. Park, beach, backyard…it wouldn’t matter.

No more training studio with an astronomical rent. No more bank loans.

If it rained, I’d negotiate some kind of flat-rate deal ($20-40 bucks for a few hours) with a high school gym or a martial arts studio or some kind of community-building-thing and train people there instead.

And I would never ever train one person at a time. Only groups of 2-3.

Quick aside: training 3 people is pretty much the same as training one person, and it’s even easier to get clients, since everyone wants to bring a friend and hang out and make the thing social.

Plus everyone gets a discount and you make more money per hour. It’s winning all around. 

Math: 

One person: Pays you $50 / hour to watch them do lunges. You make $50 per hour.

3 people: Pay you $25 / hour to watch them all do lunges. You make $75 per hour.)

Of course, coaching is a skill and involves much more than watching people do lunges. But that’s still a part of it.

So, Yeah.

If I was 19 or 21 or hell, even if I had to quit everything and start from scratch now,  that’s what I would do. And when I wasn’t training clients, I’d be writing and hustling in other ways.

I’m not saying it’s perfect or even a good idea.

But still. It sounds kinda nice, right?

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What I’m currently enjoying: Choose Yourself by James Altucher.

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