The Best Things I’ve Learned About Raising Children

I don’t consider myself a parenting expert, but I have helped raise six kids (along with their mothers), and being a father has been one of the most rewarding things in my life.

And while I’m not a perfect father, I think I’m pretty good at it. Mostly because I absolutely love it.

Eva and I also have some slightly non-conventional parenting ideas that might be useful to parents who are always looking for new ways of thinking about things.

So I’m going to share the best things I’ve learned about raising children, not because my way is the best, but because it’s always helpful to have a discussion about parenting.

A really important note: Much of the work of parenting, if not most, was done by my kids’ moms (my wife Eva and my first two kids’ mom). I can only take a little credit.

Here are some of the best things I’ve learned:

  1. Your main job is just to love them. We have to take care of their basic needs, of course, but parents add all kinds of extra things on top of that, and make the job really hard. Parenting is often not that complicated — OK, taking care of basic needs is a lot of work, but the basic job of parenting is to love your kids. You don’t need to shape them, to pressure them to be better, to make them do all kinds of activities to become the perfect kid. They’re pretty damn perfect already. Just love them as they are, and make sure they can feel that love.
  2. Don’t hover — let them fall sometimes. Parents these days tend to be overprotective, to be constantly trying to make sure every need is met, and to be afraid of the smallest fall. Nah. Let them live. Let them have some independence. Let them go out and play without you. Let them fall down and scrape their knee. Let them fail at things. This is how they grow. Imagine if you sheltered kids from failure and pain and struggle their whole lives … they’d be totally unprepared for the adult world! I’m not saying you should never protect your kid, but the less you can do that, without them dying, the better. Then help them cope with the failure or pain on their own, with you helping them to understand how they can do that. Be there for them, but only to the extent that you’re helping them learn to do it on their own.
  3. Harsh disciplinarian methods are more hurtful than helpful. When I first started parenting, I would yell and spank my kids and punish them for all their wrongdoings. It was totally hurtful, and made them afraid of me. Yes, they would do everything I told them to do, but only because they were scared to do otherwise. And often they’d just hide the things they did, so I wouldn’t know. I’ve learned to mellow out over the years, to control my temper and be more compassionate. I’m not perfect, as I said, but now I see everything as an opportunity to educate them, an opportunity for them to grow, and a chance for me to just love them. If your parents were disciplinarian, that doesn’t make it the way you need to do things.
  4. Reading to them regularly is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I read to my kids most days. My wife and I have done that with all the kids, and it’s a wonderful way to spend time with them, to foster a love for reading that will help them for the rest of their lives, and to explore imaginative new worlds together. My kids have found a love for reading on their own that came from cuddling with me and reading Dr. Seuss and Harry Potter (a series I’ve read 4 times over with different kids) and Narnia and Arabian Nights and Don Quixote.
  5. Let them direct their own learning. Four of my kids are unschooled, but all of them have done learning projects on their own, and I encourage them to learn about whatever they’re interested in. Many kids are so used to top-down learning (where they’re told what and when and how to learn) that they don’t know how to direct themselves. They’ll have to learn as adults. But instead, we can encourage them to learn what they’re interested in, help them with learning projects until they can do it on their own, and have them learn like adults do.
  6. But give them fun challenges and encourage them to try new things. Self-directed learning is an incredible method, but sometimes they need inspiration. I like to encourage them to look things up, to dive deep into a topic that interests them, to learn about something they don’t know yet will interest them. I try to talk about these things in positive ways, that show how interesting I find them, and I’ve found that sometimes, that interest and curiosity are contagious. Other times, I challenge them — let’s do a drawing challenge, a pushup challenge … let’s see if we can travel a month with only a backpack each, or memorize the capitals of all the states, or as many digits of pi as we can. Let’s try to program a simple game. Kids (and adults) respond well to fun challenges.
  7. Teach them to do things on their own, early. As soon as we could, we taught our kids to do things on their own. Tie their own shoes, brush their teeth, shower and dress themselves, make their own breakfast and lunch, wash and dry the dishes, clean the house, do their own laundry. For one thing, it made our job as parents easier, if they were helping plan meals, do the grocery shopping, and cook dinners once a week. Soon we didn’t have to do very much for them. But just as importantly, we were teaching them self-sufficiency — they don’t expect things to be done for them, and they learn that they can do anything for themselves that they want taken care of.
  8. Let them take charge of things or participate in work when you can. Along the same lines, we try to get them to take charge of things … for example, planning a trip. They do research, look for Airbnb apartments, plan train routes, book flights. When they get to adulthood, they already know how to do these things. They also know how to take responsibility.
  9. Try a democratic process of decision-making. When we decide where to eat out, or what we should do this weekend, we have a discussion, each contribute ideas, and take a vote. This teaches them to take part in making decisions, instead of having their lives decided for them. But it also teaches them to respect the opinions of others, and that what they want is not the only thing that matters. We do similar things when planning for a trip, deciding whether we should move to a new city, and so on.
  10. Practice mindfulness with them. I have meditated with all my kids. Not regularly, but enough that they know what it’s all about. When my daughter comes to me upset about something, we practice mindfulness of how the emotion feels in her body. Being with the emotion. When my other daughter is feeling anxiety, we talk about how to practice with that as well. They’ve also seen me meditating in the morning, so mindfulness practice becomes a normal thing for them.
  11. The main way you teach them is by your example. Speaking of watching me meditate … this is the main way that I teach them anything. By my example. By how I am in the world. If I want to teach them not to fight, I have to be peaceful. If I want to teach them to be good people, I have to be compassionate, considerate, loving. If I want to teach them to not be on their devices, I have to do the same. If I want them to be active, to eat healthily, to read, to meditate … then it starts with me doing it. And talking to them about what I’m doing and why and what I’m learning and how I’m doing it. They learn almost everything from what people around them do.
  12. Don’t pretend like you know everything. That said, while I try to do my best in life, I have to humble myself and admit that I don’t know everything. In fact, I barely know anything. I can’t always think I’m right, nor can I pretend to have all the answers, even if I’m the dad. Maybe my kids know somethings I don’t. Maybe we can learn together … but it starts with me saying, “I’m not sure, let’s find out!” This mindset of not-knowing is where learning starts, the space that we can explore together, the space where we become open to each other. Many parents (and people in general) come at you with the stance that they know exactly what they’re doing, know the answers. This leaves no room for anything else. It’s fundamentalism.
  13. Admit when you’re wrong. Apologize. Make it right. Along those lines, when I think I’m right, and insist on it … that’s often when I’m wrong. And I’ve been humbled like this so many times. What I’ve learned is … instead of continuing to pretend like I’m right, it’s so much better to admit that I’m wrong. To humble myself. Actually apologize if I’ve done anything to hurt them. And do what it takes to make it right.
  14. Let them earn and pay for things early. And teach them about debt. In our house, we don’t have an allowance. We buy them the basics of what they need, but if they want anything beyond that, they have to pay for it themselves. And earn the money through things beyond their basic chores. They might do things for us, or work for my business, or make things or do services for others to earn money. This also teaches them to save for goals. I also talk to them about the dangers of getting into debt, the high cost of credit card debt, and some simple financial truths that I’ve learned.
  15. Don’t shield them from sex and drugs and technology. Some parents don’t want their children to hear anything about sex or drugs, and shield them from that for as long as possible. This just makes sex (for example) a taboo subject, and gives the kids an unhealthy idea of how bad it is. I’ve found it much better to speak frankly about it, and if I were going to do it all over again, I’d start that frank talk much earlier. Sex isn’t something that should be made dirty or forbidden. It’s a natural thing that all adults do. Kids should get that sense from adults, and be helped through that confusing world by their parents rather than having to figure it out through what they hear from friends or happen upon online. I think the same is true of drugs. Another thing that some parents shield their kids from is technology — no devices ever! But that means that kids don’t learn a healthy way to deal with technology. It’s better to just help them learn to deal with all this stuff, rather than not trust them.
  16. It’s OK to hang out without them, and let them have separate time from you. I love hanging out with my kids. But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy for them to be with me every second of the day. Sometimes, they can go play by themselves, while my wife and I have alone time. Sometimes, they can have an evening at home while we go on a date (when they’re old enough). Other times, we can drop them with a relative and go on a trip by ourselves, or with friends. I think alone time, and time away from parents, is a healthy thing for kids. Give them space. Let them learn to deal with being on their own (again, when appropriate). Give yourself space to replenish yourself, or find romance with your partner, without them.
  17. Parenting ain’t over when they reach adulthood. I used to joke, “If I get my kids to 18 years old alive, I’ve succeeded as a parent!” Of course, that’s absolute bunk. I’ve learned that parenting is far from over once they reach adulthood. Four of our kids are adults now, and it’s a whole new challenging phase of parenting for us. We’re trying to teach them how to do adult things, how to be financially self-sufficient, how to get the dream jobs they want, how to deal with relationship stuff, and much more. I love it, but it’s not like I can just retire now.
  18. In the end, they will be the person they are. You don’t get to decide who that is. Each kid is already a fully formed person when they’re young. They continue to grow every year, of course, but their personalities when they’re young continue to be mostly the same as they grow older. We don’t shape these kids, they are already themselves. They will choose their own paths, decide what life they want, and grow in the direction they choose. I don’t have control over any of that. In the end, that’s what we parents need to accept — we don’t really control our kids. We just try to guide them when we can. And love them for who they are.

I’m still learning. I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing. And yet, I hope some of what I’ve learned so far will help a few of you.

I love being a dad. It’s an incredible privilege, and one of the deepest joys in my life. Thank you kids. And moms.

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The Rule of the Edge

In all of my many challenges and habit changes and book writing and learning, I’ve found one thing to be the most powerfully beneficial to all growth, learning and training.

I call it the Rule of the Edge.

Here’s the rule: practice at your edge most of the time.

And this rule is what will help you grow the most, over time.

What do I mean by “your edge”? I mean going just to the edge of discomfort, just to the edge of what is difficult for you, what is pushing your boundaries a bit.

If you’re practicing music, and you just practice the scales all the time, after awhile, doing the scales is too easy for you. You aren’t learning very much by only practicing musical scales. Sure, it’s still a good practice, but you have to push to something that’s more challenging for you.

If you’re exercising, easy exercise is a good thing … but you also need to push yourself. Just a bit.

But your edge isn’t pushing yourself until you’re ready to collapse. It’s not pushing to injury, pushing so that you can’t practice tomorrow. It’s not studying all day long until your brain has melted.

It’s going to the edge, not diving off it.

And when I say, “Practice at your edge most of the time,” notice the phrase “most of the time.” You shouldn’t be at your edge all the time. It’s exhausting, and can take a lot of focus. Instead, try to be there more than half the time. Don’t be lazy, but also give yourself some easy practice.

There’s a lot of value in easy practice — it cements your learning, keeps you in good shape, keeps you sharp. It locks in the easy stuff as easy. And it can be a lot of fun.

You can also experiment with pushing a little past your edge, if you have the experience to know that it’s safe. But best to do this under supervision of a teacher or trainer if you aren’t sure.

So mix it up. More than half of your practice should be at your edge, but anywhere from 20-40% of your practice should be easy stuff. A blend is best — not “all easy and then all edge” but “easy, edge, easy, edge, edge, easy easy” or something similar.

What Edge Training Looks Like in Practice

Here’s how this kind of edge practice might work in real life:

  • If you’re practicing yoga, you might do an hourlong practice where about 60% of the poses (roughly) are challenging for you (but not so challenging that you’ll be injured or exhausted), and the rest are easy ones that allow you to focus on your breath and recover from the edge poses.
  • If you’re running, you’ll mix up your running days — four days will be challenging but not crazy, and some with easy ones thrown in between. And a rest day or two, of course.
  • If you’re learning chess or Go, you’ll do problems or drills that are hard for you, and also a bunch of easy ones. The easy one cement the patterns. The edge ones teach you new patterns.
  • If you’re creating a habit, like learning to meditate, start with just short meditations (let’s say 2-5 minutes), as that will be your edge when you start. But eventually you’ll want to do longer meditations (10 minutes, 20, even more), finding the spot that’s your edge. And mixing in some shorter, easier ones will help you stay sharp at your edge.
  • If you want to train yourself to get comfortable with discomfort and uncertainty, you find a way to make yourself uncomfortable each day, and practice mindfulness in the middle of that discomfort. For example, taking a cold shower might be your edge. But another day, you might just go outside when it’s a little chilly, with only a T-shirt on, for 20 minutes. You might practice at the edge of your discomfort with exercise, speaking on a stage, meditating for longer, etc.

The Way to Practice at Your Edge

When you’re at your edge, it’s one thing to just tolerate it, to grit your teeth and bear it until it’s over … and quite another thing to actually practice with the discomfort and uncertainty of being at that edge.

If you want to get the most out of practicing at your edge, here’s what I suggest:

  1. Go up to the edge and stay there for a little longer than you’d like. You want to collapse, you want to exit. Instead, hold the pose for a little longer. See it as your growth in action.
  2. Now drop mindfully into the discomfort & uncertainty. Drop into your body, noticing the sensations of the discomfort. Standing on stage in front of hundreds of people? Notice the sensations of anxiety or nervousness (or excitement, whatever you’d like to call it). Running a hard mile? Notice the sensations in your legs and torso.
  3. Practice opening in that uncertainty & discomfort. See what you can do to relax into this feeling of being at your edge. Can you bring a sense of curiosity? Explore the bodily feeling for a bit, noticing what it’s like. Relax your muscles around these sensations. Bring a sense of gentleness to it. A sense of compassion. A sense of humor. Open your mind to all sensations in the present moment, including the sense of discomfort but also all of your surroundings. Open up to a vast skylike mind.

With practice, your edge can even be a place where you find comfort. A sense of easy. A sense of joy at the deliciousness of the groundlessness.

Some Rules About the Rule of the Edge

The Rule of the Edge comes with a few sub-rules:

  1. Don’t always be at your edge. Ease off. Do some easy stuff too.
  2. Sometimes it’s OK to go past your edge, if you keep yourself safe. It’s a sense of exploration, finding new edges.
  3. Your edge will change over time. Notice how it shifts. Keep pushing a little further into your edge, if you sense the shift.
  4. Practice mindfully at your edge, don’t just try to get through it.
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The Simple Guide to Creating Habits for a Great Year

It’s a new year, and many of us are looking to make positive changes in our lives.

The best way to do that is not by making resolutions, but by creating habits that will stick for the long term. If you want to run a marathon, form the habit of running. If you want to write a novel, form the writing habit. If you want to be more mindful, form the habit of meditation.

Of course, that’s easier said than done — just form new habits, no problem! So in this guide, I’m going to lay out the key steps to forming the habits that will change your life.

If you’d like help forming these habits, I invite you to join me and more than a thousand others changing one habit at a time in my Sea Change Program.

Steps to Creating a Habit

  1. Pick a positive habit. I recommend you find new, positive habits to form, rather than starting with quitting a bad habit. If you want to quit eating junk food … focus instead on creating the habit of eating more vegetables. Good positive habits to start with: meditation, reading, writing, exercise, eating vegetables, journaling, flossing.
  2. One habit at a time. We all have a list of a dozen habits we’d like to change — and all right now! But in my experience, the more habits you do at once, the less likely your chances of success. Even one habit at a time takes focus and energy! Trust me on this: doing one habit at a time is the best strategy, by far, for any but the best habit masters.
  3. Small steps are successful. People underestimate the importance of this, but along with one habit at a time, it’s probably the most important thing you can do to ensure success. Start really small. Meditate for 2 minutes a day the first week (increase by 2-3 minutes a week only if you’re consistent the previous week). Start running for 5-10 minutes a day, not 30 minutes. Eat a small serving of vegetables for one meal, don’t try to change your entire diet at once. Start as small as you can, and increase only gradually as long as you stay consistent. A parramatta childrens dentist professes to start brushing early for children, because that habit would stay. Small steps allow your mind to adjust gradually, and is the best method by far.
  4. Set up reminders. The thing that trips people up in the beginning is remembering to do the habit. Don’t let yourself forget! Set up visual reminders around where you want to remember (ex: in the kitchen, for the veggies habit, or a note on your bathroom mirror for flossing), along with digital reminders on your phone and calendar.
  5. Set up accountability. How will you hold yourself to this habit change when you feel like quitting? Accountability. Join a community or small team to hold yourself accountable — I highly suggest you join my Sea Change Program for this accountability.
  6. Find reward in the doing. You won’t stick to any change for long if you really hate doing it. Instead, find some pleasure in the doing of the habit. For example, if you go running, don’t think of it as torture, but as a way to enjoy the outdoors, to feel your body moving, to feel alive. Bring mindfulness to each moment of doing the habit, and find gratitude and joy as you do it. The habit will become the reward, and you’ll look forward to this nice oasis of mindfulness.
  7. Try to be as consistent as possible. The more consistent you are, the better. Resist putting off the habit, and make it your policy to just get started when you have said you’ll do it, rather than indulging in the old pattern of, “I’ll do it later.” That’s an old habit that you want to retrain by doing it immediately.
  8. Review & adjust regularly. I like to review how I did with my habits at the end of each day, before I sleep. It helps me get better and better at habits. But at the minimum, review once a week (and do a check-in with your accountability team) and adjust as needed. For example, if you forgot to do the habit, adjust by creating new reminders. If you aren’t consistent, maybe set up a challenge with your team so that you pay them $10 each day you miss (for example). Adjusting each week means you’ll get better and better at doing this habit. If you fall down, keep coming back.

Again, if you’d like some support in forming these habits, I invite you to join me and more than a thousand others changing one habit at a time in my Sea Change Program.

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New Year: The Beautiful Minimalism of a Blank Slate

We have a new year upon us, and while “January 1” is just an arbitrary date, for most of us, it feels like a new beginning.

And there’s something beautifully minimalist about this new beginning — it’s a blank slate, where we can do anything, imagine possibilities, become a new person.

In fact, this is available to us in any moment: each new second is a fresh beginning, a new opportunity, a chance to start over, a blank canvas to be filled with whatever art we are moved to create.

Let’s imagine this new year as a blank slate. It’s like an empty house: what would we like to put in it?

This is a kind of minimalism. We can start afresh, tossing out everything and only placing in this empty house what we find most important, and nothing more.

What would you like to do with the minimalist blank slate of this new year?

Ask yourself:

  • Do you want to fill it with distractions, or keep only the most important work, relationships, commitments?
  • Do you want to be constantly checking social media, or would you like to read long-form writing and books, perhaps create something new?
  • Do you want to be more mindful? More compassionate? More whole-hearted in your relationships?
  • Do you want to be more active, eat more healthy, nourishing food? Get outdoors more, find more solitude?
  • Do you want to have greater focus for your meaningful work? Be more organized?
  • Simplify your life? Get your finances in order?

Pick just a handful. Spread them out over the year. Don’t overfill the year with a list of 20 things you want to do — savor the space of your blank slate.

It’s a beautiful time to reimagine your life.

If you’d like to work on some of your changes with me and hundreds of other members in my Sea Change habit-changing program … check out our lineup of monthly challenges. We’ll be working on:

  • Mindfulness/meditation
  • Exercise/fitness
  • Diet/healthy eating
  • Productivity/procrastination
  • Simplifying life
  • and more

Join Sea Change today, and get support for the changes you’d like to make.

If you’re looking to train in the uncertainty that comes with meaningful work, I’ve also created the Fearless Training Program, which I highly recommend if you’re willing to shift your habitual patterns of procrastination and more.

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The Essential Zen Habits of 2018

As 2018 comes to a close, I have to say … it’s been a year of depth but also chaos and blessings for me and Zen Habits.

I’m grateful for the wonderful readers I have had for more than a decade now (all of you!), and for the journey I’ve been on and will continue in the coming year.

Personally, a lot has been going on for me … here are some of the headlines from this year:

  • I launched a new mission: my Fearless Training Program. This is my laboratory for the new kind of training I’m doing with people, the mission I’m on for at least the next couple of years. And it’s been going incredibly well — not only have I set up the training, but we’ve launched a community on Slack with small groups and accountability and support and more. We have more to do, but it’s off to a great start with incredible people who have joined me. Join us!
  • We moved to Guam (temporarily). Yeah, I didn’t really announce this publicly, but in August we packed up our house (sold stuff and put the rest in storage) and moved to Guam. It’s temporary (we’re moving back to California in the spring), but I wanted to be here with our family, including my grandma who is turning 90, mom, siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews and many other great people who we miss dearly. It’s a gorgeous tropical island that we still think of as home. I’m especially enjoying the warm, humid winter, along with lush tropical greenery and fruits, and warm ocean water. And being with my grandma.
  • I went deeper into mindfulness. I’ve been training for years in the Zen tradition, and have also been embracing Tibetan Buddhist practices wholeheartedly … but this year, I joined a program by John Wineland where we did deep men’s work. It was a challenge for me, one of great growth.
  • I did a bit of traveling. I did a couple of conferences — Wisdom 2.0 in San Francisco and the World Domination Summit in Portland — and loved both experiences, meeting some great people. I also did an around-the-world tea trip with my friend Tynan, an around-the-world trip with Eva and our friends Suraj and Heena that included my first visit to Africa (amazing), a couple trips to Japan, and a planning retreat with Eva in Mexico. Honestly, it was a bit too much travel, but I’m not complaining — I loved it all.
  • I launched the Mindful Focus Course and did monthly challenges in Sea Change. I launched a 4-week video course called Mindful Focus Course in the spring that was one of my best courses ever, and really loved working with the participants. In my Sea Change Program, I did monthly challenges, and have launched a new Slack community for Sea Change members that is thriving. Join us!
  • I simplified. To get my finances straight, I’ve cut back on spending, both in my business and personal spending. It’s great to return to simplicity when you notice things haven’t been as conscious as they could be.
  • I’m getting ready to grow. That said, I’m ready to grow my business to take my mission to the world. I’m about to hire a Director of Operations, who is going to slowly build a small team for Zen Habits so that we can have as big an impact on the world as possible. Stay tuned.

A lot of other things happened as well — my 19-year-old daughter Maia moved to Japan, my oldest daughter got a new job with Guampedia, my grandmother has been in the hospital for a couple weeks (she’ll live, but she’s in a lot of pain), I’ve been taking yoga classes taught by my beautiful sister Kat, and more.

The Best Zen Habits Posts in 2018

To wrap up this year, here are my favorite Zen Habits post from 2018:

  1. How to Develop a Mind That Clings to Nothing
  2. It’s Not a Problem, It’s an Experience
  3. The Little Handbook for Getting Stuff Done
  4. A Practice For When You Find Yourself Annoyed by Other People
  5. A Case Against Optimizing Your Life
  6. The Magic of Seeing Everything as Sacred
  7. Give Up Comfort
  8. Paring Down Your Life
  9. Four Antidotes to Procrastination
  10. Grand Canyon Focus: The Practice of Full Devotion to a Single Task

My most popular tweet of 2017:

Formula for when you’re unmotivated: disconnection, rest, a good walk, & reflection about what you deeply care about.

— Leo Babauta (@zen_habits) March 25, 2018

And more

For more best of Zen Habits:

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Ego Dropping: The Magic of Breaking Free from Self-Concern

There’s a mindfulness technique I’ve been practicing for a number of years now, and when I can do it, it’s like magic.

The practice is dropping the ego — dropping my self-concern, my sense of being separate from everything else, and returning to wholeness with everything.

While that can sound a bit new age-y, what I’ve learned is that almost all of our problems are caused by our self-concern.

Consider these common problems:

  • Angry at someone else: We’re mad because they were inconsiderate to us, insulted or offended us, made us feel bad about ourselves. But that’s because we’re caught up in self-concern. We are thinking about ourselves and how they’ve hurt us. Dropping self-concern, we can see that this other person is hurt in some way, and reacting badly because of it (which we all do sometimes).
  • Worried about failing: We might not try to do a big project, start a business, write a book, found a non-profit organization, create art … because we’re worried we’ll be a failure. This is obviously self-concern. Without this focus on ourselves, we might focus on the people we’re serving, or focus on just getting started without worrying too much about the perfect outcome.
  • Procrastination: We all procrastinate in some way, and this is always caused by self-concern. We don’t want to face the discomfort of a difficult task, which is worrying about our comfort (self-concern). Dropping that self-concern, we can just get started without worrying about our comfort, without worrying about failing, without worrying that the task is too hard. Just get started, serving others through doing.
  • Anxious about a social situation: Going to an event, we worry about what other people will think of us, which is again, our focus on ourselves. Dropping that self-concern, we can think about how going to this even might serve others, we can go there with curiosity about other people, we can go and grow as we practice mindfulness at the event.
  • Eating too much junk: Like all comforts (games, porn, videos, shopping, etc.), food is a way to comfort ourselves, to give ourselves pleasure. Dropping self-concern, we can see that eating more junk food will lead to worse health, which is not only hurting us but those who we serve in the world. Instead, we can put delicious healthy foods into our bodies to nourish ourselves.
  • Not exercising enough: Again, this is usually a focus on our own comfort. It’s uncomfortable to exercise, it’s more comfortable to sit and look at a computer some more. Dropping self-concern, we can see that exercise is necessary to do the work we want to do, to live a healthy and happy life, to be a vibrant member of our community. And it can also be wonderful, if we let go of a need for constant comfort.
  • Too distracted: We’re constantly checking our phones, social media, messages, email, news sites, and much more. What’s going on here? We’re caught up in self-concern — what others think of us, our comfort and pleasure, fears of missing out on things, etc. All of it is self-concern. Dropping self-concern, we can let go of checking anything for a little while, and stay with the discomfort of focusing on one thing so we can get our meaningful work done, or have a meaningful connection with another person or with nature.
  • Addictions: Like comfort food, addictions are about the self-concern we have for our comfort. For example, alcohol addiction is often a way to comfort ourselves when we’re stressed, feeling bad about ourselves, feeling angry or depressed. These are all forms of self-concern. Dropping self-concern, we can go through the discomfort of not indulging in our addictions because we know that they’re damaging not only to ourselves but to everyone we love, and to the work we want to do in the world.

There are many other kinds of problems, of course, but you can see that self-concern lies at the root of almost all of them. Dropping self-concern means that we can serve others, push into discomfort for the benefit of those around us, and serve a bigger mission with meaningful work.

So how can we drop this self-concern, which could also be called “ego”?

The answer lies in mindfulness practices. I’m going to teach you one here, and encourage you to practice it.

The result is nothing short of magical. All of these problems become easier, and life changes.

The Mindfulness Practice of Ego Dropping

This practice can be done anywhere, no matter what you’re doing, but it’s best started sitting still, in a quiet place.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sit still and notice how your body feels. Find a comfortable, stable seated position, and just notice how your body feels. Scan your body and notice as many sensations as you can. Then just hold all of your bodily sensations in your awareness at once, or as many as you can.
  2. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the present. Your mind might get caught up in thoughts — that’s OK. Just notice that, and come back to the sensations of the present moment, whichever step you’re on.
  3. Open your awareness to sensations all around you. Next, keep your open awareness, but widen it to include sound sensations from all around you, then touch sensations from outside your body (the air on your skin, clothes on your body, ground beneath your feet), then open your eyes (if they were closed) and notice all sight sensation from all around you — light, colors, textures, shapes. Don’t focus on any one thing, just allow your awareness to open to all of these sensations around you.
  4. Keep a relaxed open awareness to just one field of sensation. Keeping this relaxed, gentle open awareness … just allow the sensations outside of your body and inside your body to become one field of sensation. There’s no outside or inside, it’s just all sensation, one big ocean of sensation.
  5. Drop your sense of separation. Let go of any sense that you are separate from everything around you — it’s just one field of sensation. Relax any boundaries and feel at one with everything, returning to wholeness with the universe. It’s just one big open experience, constantly changing as each moment changes.
  6. Notice that there’s no self — just sensation. There’s no “self” as we normally know it — which means we can’t have self-concern. We have dropped the ego, which is something our minds construct, a “self” that’s separate from everything around us and which we need to protect from the world. It just drops away as we practice this relaxed, open awareness, one field of sensation, one ocean of experience. We are whole with the world around us, just as we were in the womb.
  7. From this open awareness, open your heart. Keeping this sense of wide open awareness, dropping separateness, staying in this field of experience … notice your heart in the middle of it. It’s open, tender, loving. It loves everything in its awareness. In fact, your awareness is love, and it is all-encompassing. You send out a universal love equally to everything in your awareness, because none of it is separate from you. No one is separate from you — we’re all interconnected.

Here’s a guided meditation I recorded on this mindfulness practice (right click to save to your computer).

This takes practice, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it at first. Sit and practice daily. Try it when you’re on the bus or driving, washing the dishes or in a meeting. You can practice anywhere, doing anything.

What happens once you drop the ego and drop into a wide open, gentle, loving awareness? Magic. You don’t have to run to comfort and away from discomfort, you don’t have to protect your self-image from others, you don’t have to defend yourself or worry about failure or being judged. All of that self-concern drops away, and you are left with two things: peace, and an open heart.

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