Meditation: Fish versus Pond

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This is a follow-up to the two posts I recently wrote about meditation. Hopefully, meditation will help us make better decisions in our lives. It should help us discard information that is inaccurate or biased. In keeping with this idea, I decided to share something with you about choice of college. It shows how our beliefs can sometimes mislead us and cause us problems. For example, we think the school with the higher scholastic rating is best for our kids. It is, isn’t it?

I am reading David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell. In chapter three he talks about attending college and our perception of the advantages of attending the top institutions. I say perceptions, because he found there was also a serious disadvantage. On page 81 he writes, “More than half of all American students who start out in science, technology and math programs (STEM, as they are known) drop out of their major after their first or second year.” He raises the question as to whether they were not smart enough to get the degree they desired or whether there were other reasons. He found a study a couple of sociologists had done in the 1990’s that had stunning numbers. They had compared average SAT scores with the ability to get a degree by breaking the student SAT scores into three groups: high, medium and low. Then they compared the groups to see what percentage of each group got their degree.
Here are two colleges which are rated at different levels of academia: Harvard, and a smaller college in upstate New York, Hartwick. Here are the three groups of Math majors, SAT scores and percent getting a math degree:
SCHOOL        Top Third    SAT     Middle    SAT     Bottom    SAT
HARVARD    53.4%            753       31.2%        674      15.4%       581
HARTWICK  55.0%           569      27.1%        472       17.8%       407
You can see that I used bold numbers for the bottom Harvard group and the top Hartwick group. That’s to show that, even though the lowest Harvard group scored higher than the highest Hartwick group on their SAT scores,  55% of the Hartwick group got math degrees while only 15.4% of the low Harvard group got math degrees. This was in spite of the fact that the low Harvard group exhibited a higher (average) SAT score than the high Hartwick group. At the same time, the percentage of students getting a math degree was similar in each category regardless of which school they attended.
The reason so many students in the middle and low SAT score categories drop out of the math major? They see how much smarter their classmates are, become discouraged, and decide they just aren’t smart enough to get the math degree. Gladwell lists a total of 11 universities on the same table and the success rates are virtually the same for each one.
Conclusion: It’s better to be a big fish in a small pond.  I love stuff like this and Malcolm Gladwell is one of my all-time favorite authors.

Thought Control: Take This Test


As promised, here is the simple test you can try to see how well you control your thoughts:

First: Sit in an upright position on a couch or chair, feet flat on the floor, hands folded together in your lap. Be sure you try this at a time and in a place where you won’t be interrupted or distracted.

Second: Relax for a moment. Close your eyes. Take three relaxing breaths at your normal breathing rate. All breathing throughout the test should be at your normal rate. Do not force your breathing.

Third: After the three relaxing breaths, start counting your inward breaths and outward breaths. Example: breathe in, ONE; breathe out, TWO; breathe in, THREE … and so on until you get to TEN. If other thoughts distract you and interrupt your counting, START OVER at ONE.

The goal is to get to the tenth count without having other thoughts interrupt your concentration. This looks easier than it sounds. My guess is that less than 5% of the people who try this for the first time will get to ten without starting over, probably many times. Please feel free to comment on how the test went for you and ask questions. I will be glad to answer your questions and I’m curious to see how many people try it and how many succeed the first time.

For those of you who want to try meditation, this test can be used as a meditation technique. The counting will help you track your progress and give you a method of seeing how well you are doing. But don’t look on this as a contest of some sort. Depending on a person’s state of mind, even an experienced meditator might have trouble getting to TEN even once during a 20 minute meditation, on a given day. When you do get to TEN, congratulate yourself and start over again. Keep meditating for ten minutes.

The real importance of meditation, regardless of technique, is that, no matter how many times you have to start over, you simply begin again. You should not get frustrated with yourself. You should simply think, ‘ Oh, I got distracted. I’m not counting. OK. I’ll start again.’ The process is more important than the score. The process, realizing you are not counting, is the only important part. It is when you once again become aware of what your mind is doing and you gently and lovingly return its focus to counting your breaths. One meditation teacher said it was like learning to bake bread. You do it over and over again until you know how to do it so well that it becomes second nature.

I sincerely hope you enjoy this experiment. Let me know how it goes!

My Spiritual Path: Realizing My True Self


I started meditating in the 1980’s, continued periodically into the 1990’s and in 1997 started a daily practice that lasted until 2005. At first I meditated for twenty minutes, twice daily. From the summer of 2000 until mid-2005, I increased my meditation time to one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening seven days a week, 365 days a year. During that time I rarely missed a meditation session.

Before I started meditating, I thought it was like going off to la-la land on a mental vacation. Once I started, I found that meditation was a difficult, highly helpful way to train my mind to be present in the here and now. So why did I stop? That’s hard to say; I think I was looking for something that was more ‘active’ as a spiritual path. Perhaps one hour twice a day was too much and I got burned out.

I have since begun meditation again because I realized I missed the benefits of twice-a-day, 20 minute meditations. Once I got back into it I found I was calmer, more focused on what I was doing, and less worried . The worry part is important. I’ve read that 85% of what we worry about never happens. Worrying is a waste of time and, more importantly, emotions. I am more productive when I meditate than when I don’t. I’m amazed at the difference. Once I had been meditating again regularly for a month or two, I began to pay attention to my thoughts and not let them run away with my emotions. Why is this important? Because worry is a big distraction. It keeps me from focusing on my main goal in life; realizing my True Self.

There are only two things that exist: God and God’s creation, which is a reflection of God. I believe that our destiny as humans is to realize the divine which exists within us. We are here to learn to become more like God. The better we learn, the closer we move to a reunion with God. That reunion is our ultimate destiny. Meditation is the best method I have found to help me set aside the mundane concerns of my ego and help me focus on realizing not only what my personal destiny is, but also how to get there. Meditation is a method of seeing and following the road map to my True Self.

Next blog: How well can you control your thoughts and worries? Try this quick, simple test!

Going With The Flow


I know. I missed two blog dates in a row. It bothers me. I’m worry about what my readers will think. I shouldn’t. So, inspiration being scarce, I did a tarot reading for myself this morning looking for a blog subject. As usual, the cards hit the nail on the head. They told me I am at a point of change in my life and that expecting constant inspiration at such a time is somewhat self-indulgent. Change doesn’t happen over night and sometimes occurs so slowly we need days, weeks or months to figure out that it has happened.

Right now it’s leaving me with a feeling that I have lost my focus (Aw, poor baby!). However I am becoming aware of a new thought in the distant recesses of my brain. It looks like I am supposed to get into a teaching mode. No, this is not a prelude to a marketing announcement about spirit walking classes I will teach in order to get rich. (As you can see, there is a lot of self scrutiny going on here too.) It may be that I will get into teaching the craft of writing. What better way to sharpen my own writing skills than to teach them?

Prior to last May, I was intending to start a blog for Baby Boomers that taught the basics of writing; something that would encourage others to do what I have done. Share the fun of writing with my peers. Then in May I had two dreams and an omen which convinced me to start this blog. It was as though the spirit world intervened and said, “Hey, forget that, teach this!” So that’s what I did. I’m not thinking of ending this blog; perhaps I’ll just start another. I enjoy this as an outlet for my experiences. (Self indulgent?) The dreams and the omen were pretty direct. I’ll share them with you next time.

Next Blog: Two Dreams and an Omen

My Spiritual Path: The Beginning

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The question is: How can a person go from being a Catholic to walking the path of Shamanism or Medicine Maker?

No doubt, it is a long journey. I don’t have any regrets or negative thoughts about where I started nor do I think my path is the one everyone should chose. Such thoughts are too tightly connected to our egos. I reject them completely. I simply follow the path that started long ago, perhaps when I was born, but certainly starting with the summer of 1950. That summer my mother went into the hospital for a gall bladder operation, developed a blood clot, and died. I was six, my brother Danny was 17, my father was 46.

In the world of tarot cards, you can arrive at a theme for each year which is represented by one of the cards of the major arcana. When you add my birth month (May) and my day of birth, the 5th, with 1950 and reduce it, you end up with the two-digit number 16. In the major arcana of tarot cards, the 16th card is The Tower. Lightning strikes a tower and two figures are knocked out of it and fall toward the ground while the top of the tower explodes with fire. One interpretation is that this represents a major blow to the ego or self image. The year card for 1950 describes perfectly what happened to me. The most important person was eliminated from my life, forever. My world exploded before my eyes along with my childlike dreams. I was devastated. (If you want to know more about how it affected me and my family, see Pauly’s Mother, at .)

Years later I read that people who become interested in meditation have often lost a loved one at an early age. I understand that. My mother’s death brought with it an existential desire to discover the meaning of life. My father told me that God took her because he needed another angel in heaven. I needed to know more. I didn’t realize it until much later in life, but that was when and where my path started. I’ll share more about my path with you in future blogs.

Next blog: Giving Thanks for Our Blessings

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