Episode 22 – Solo episode about why I value meditation and mindfulness

This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview

Good morning, we just had a 4.1 earthquake out here in the Anza-Borrego desert, just as I was towards the end of my half hour meditation session. A reminder that we are not on solid ground, the ground can be pulled literally underneath us.

Since we’re moving, it is too difficult logistically for me to do interviews, so I will attempt to create a couple of episodes that are different from the usual interview format.

The next week after that, I’ll share an episode with a guided meditation from myself, and one that my wife, Kristina made for Youtube. After that we’ll resume interviews.

I believe there are a number of reasons we start meditating, in this episode I just want to look at one angle. Here is one of the reasons I started meditating, being less reckless.

So one of the things I was thinking to bring up on this episode, is by bringing up something that moved me towards a meditation/mindfulness practice as a teen. I already explored some of the reasons I wanted to learn to meditate in the introduction episode, so for this episode I’ll just explore another piece of this. As you may have noticed by listening to this podcast so far, the reasons people give, why they started a meditation practice are wide ranging, and some will admit that they don’t know for sure, or can pinpoint exactly what or  how it all got started for them.

And for illustrative purposes, and since it will be most accurate if I recount my own experiences, I want to just focus on one of the reasons I likely felt compelled towards a meditation practice.

There were of course positive causes like, why am I here, how can I be a kinder person, but there were also other things that motivated me. While my curiosity for a lot of things is usually beneficial, I can look back and also see how curiosity combined with a tendency for distraction/ self-absorbtion/self-centeredness can also turn into a more destructive force like recklessness, or disregard for others or the environment.

So let’s look a little bit at some of the more destructive reasons that brought me to a mediation path.

I suppose I could be on occasion reckless like most children/teenager growing up. Now I don’t want to paint myself as a little shit, I also was sensitive and didn’t like what we were doing to each other, and animals, and the planet at a young age. I recall not liking it when fellow kids took apart living spiders, and similar things boys primarily seem to be attracted to doing.

I think it is important for me to not just show flattering things, but just to be real, and show that I certainly had good reasons for needing to take a look at my own actions and thoughts.

Some examples of my own recklessness in childhood

I liked adventure, exploring, and had curiosity for a lot of things (which hasn’t changed much by the way). To give you some sense of that, I used to row to this trash heap, and dig through it to find old electronics in particular, and see if I could fix them. And so it happened a couple of times, where I got very intense 220 Volts electrical shocks, because I was taking old defective radios and things apart and then trying to put new plugs in them. This type of curiosity coupled with ignorance and disregard for safety was a form of reckless endangerment to myself.

Another thing I liked was playing with fire literally, whether that was things like lighting an ashtray on fire in the house and running up to my parents upstairs, because I couldn’t completely extinguish it, or lighting trash cans in the park on fire to create interesting effects in the park. Or blowing up an old guitar with fireworks.

One of the things I remember was noticing how I almost always had a cut, or bruise, blister, or something else painful going on, because I was into something I probably shouldn’t or wasn’t paying attention.

Another reckless example. For a time I was riding a bike without breaks, so the only way to stop was ride it in the bushes, or use my feet as brake pads.

Another area in which i was reckless was while bicycling in traffic.I would not hesitate to run red lights, cut people off, and pass when ill advised. One time I paid for that by passing two slightly overweight folks, and then slipping on the ice, with them both falling on me and the bike.

The most dangerous time was when I had fallen in love in a summer camp in France with a Dutch girl, and as I mentioned before, when back home in Holland, I would listen to music while bicycling, and completely involved in the music, not caring about my bike.  This is perhaps more likely behavior of young folks who might be tempted to think death, old age, and ill health is for other people or far off in the future.

This I paid for, because on one intersection, I did not have due diligence when looking both ways for traffic and so got hit hard (30-40 mph or more) and literally was thrown off my bike and experienced the event out of my body. Then landed hard, and have had back issues on and off ever since. While the experience was a fascinating experience of time slowing and the mind, and gave me a few days off school. What this did really bring home to me, was that I was reckless and had a problem being fully present and attentive to what was happening around me.

With all these injuries I realized I was clumsy in the attention department, and started realizing that a practice of attention was necessary for me to learn to reduce these accidents.

So as part of my spiritual reading, besides books about Hinduism, I got attracted to Zen. Now I think in part because I had a tendency to be distracted, I was at that time attracted to the simplicity and no-nonsense directness of Zen. The lack of clutter, it’s emphasis of simplicity, inner peace, wisdom and understanding, clarity and dignity, grace, and the deep appreciation and cultivation for each moment.

One book in particular got my attention and drew me a little closer to a Zen meditation practice. I don’t remember which book, sorry. But in the book there is a story of a monk who likes to get out of the monastery at night to hang out in the city, perhaps going out drinking sake and making friends in the bar.

What interested me, is not so much talking about the monk violating the monastic community by escaping the monastery. It’s about his mindfulness and attention. So perhaps some teachers or head monks would have just chastised the escaping monk, and told him to stop violating the monastic rules. But what’s interesting is that in this story the Zen teacher decides to follow the monk and observe him for a while.

So the next day, the teacher calls in the monk and wants to have a chat with him. He says, you know, I saw you getting out again last night, climbing over the fence, and so I followed you. When you got to the city street, you crossed the street not paying attention, and you bumped into a woman who was carrying a baby. This woman was already stressed (could see on her face), and you bumping in her, without paying attention, caused her to drop the bag and she was having to clean up. This also caused a car to have to stand on his brakes. More agitated, she then walked into the bakery to get bread and passed on her frustration to the baker who had just been dealing with his sick wife. His mood was not helped. And so on, and so on the teacher goes on to explain how each of these acts had a ripple effect, seen and unseen.

So what so impressed me with this story was how one’s own mind, attitude, and behavior can affect others in ways we have no idea about. They can have ripple effects that is just not measurable, except in this instance where a very perceptive teacher follows just one of the consequences of our own behaviors.

I’ll never forget this story, and how it impressed on me the importance of one’s own state of mind, and attentiveness to the present moment and all our encounters.

Perhaps you say, great, glad you figured this out, but I was a good child, I don’t make a mess of things around me, and have never had these issues. Is that really true?

My good friend David Bainbridge visited yesterday, and he wrote a big book that is a guide for Desert and Dryland restoration.

To be continued


  • A Guide for Desert and Dryland Restoration