Three simple things about meditation

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When I teach meditation classes, in the first session I go through three simple concepts that often surprise people.

They seem to go against a lot of what we've picked up about meditation from popular culture, but once you get your head around them, they make meditation so much more enjoyable.

1. Thoughts are good
 

We grow up with the idea that thoughts in meditation are bad but that's not true! Thoughts in meditation mean you're releasing stress. Think of it like having too many applications open on your computer. You need to revisit each one to close it down. Afterwards you'll have a lot more mental capacity.


2. Effort is bad

When things aren't going as we hoped, it's tempting to put more effort in to try to fix them. Failing maths at school? Revise more. Falling behind on a project at work? Stay back late. But as meditation is the art of relaxing, it's about seeing if you can give up the need to succeed. Success comes in meditation when we give up the need for it.


3. You're not in control (and that's OK)

Like on a rollercoaster, if you're trying to control the ride, you're not going to have a very good time. Rather than trying to hold on tight, just sit back and enjoy the ride, whatever ups and downs it takes you on. In the game of relaxation, it doesn't pay to be in control.

Meditation: A spam filter for your mental inbox

Imagine if your email inbox didn’t have a spam filter.

In addition to the usual mountain of legitimate things you have to wade through, you also had to make your way through all the dross.

The alluring emails from Nigerian princes offering riches in exchange for your bank details, the fake pharmaceuticals, the phishing messages from your bank and energy companies.

It would slow you down and make you unproductive right? As soon as you heard of a spam filter, you’d install it straight away.

Meditation is like a spam filter for the mind.

Instead of allowing all the mental chaff to accumulate and take up space and capacity, meditation processes it all out.

It’s the processing that people often mistake for being bad at meditation. When we process all the crap that comes in, we find ourselves thinking during meditation.

Becoming good at meditation isn’t about stopping yourself thinking, it’s about being OK as the mental processing takes place.

It’s not about not receiving spam in the first place, it’s knowing how to filter it out.

Don't chase the perfect meditation

“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.”.png

I love this quote from James Clear's Atomic Habits.

It really sums up one of the key messages I try to get over in my meditation classes.

You get the benefits of meditation by simply doing it, not by achieving any particular state during it.

Many of us have a certain expectation of what meditation should be like – and it's easy to hold yourself back from doing it if you're worried about not having the "perfect" meditation.

But as any productivity guru will tell you: done is better than perfect.

You don't need to be transported to some Zen-like level of consciousness every time you close your eyes.

And I can guarantee you won't be.

You'll reach that state sometimes, but the skill of becoming a meditator is in accepting that sometimes you'll get these experiences and sometimes you won't.

If you've accumulated a large amount of stress over the years that your body needs to offload, then you might not get there very often.

But that's not why we meditate. We don't meditate to get good at meditation, we meditate to get good at life.

And by putting the time aside each day to do our practice, we systematically de-excite our nervous systems and neutralise the acidic stress chemistry that modern fills us with.

Meditation is about mastering the process, not the outcomes. The outcomes will take care of themselves.

And they'll likely be in the form of benefits you notice outside of meditation – more calm, more focus, more energy – rather than within the meditation itself.

Meditation to cut down or quit drinking

Over the last year and a half since I gave up drinking I've heard from so many people about how they want to cut down or quit drinking themselves but don't know where to start.

For me, meditation has been such a strong driver of making it possible that for the last six months I've been putting together an online guided meditation course to give people the skills they need to use meditation themselves to help them cut down.

If you have any friends you think would benefit from this, please share it with them. And if you'd like to see how your practice can help you cut down drinking, give it a try. The course uses a generic mantra, but you can substitute this with the mantra I gave you.

How does meditation help cut down on alcohol?

Stress

Dealing with stress and unwinding at the end of the day or week is one of the biggest reasons people drink – and meditation is a simple swap you can do for this. It's way more effective at stress release and will give you more energy rather than making you tired.

Impulse control

It only takes one weak moment to break a stint of not drinking but meditation actually strengthens the part of your brain responsible for decision making and impulse control (the cortex), which means you'll find it a lot easier to resist temptations.

Peer pressure

Other people trying to get you to drink is another big hurdle to get over in cutting down. Meditation is great at making you more comfortable in your skin and more sure of your boundaries. It gives you the confidence to stick to what you believe in and not cave to pressure from others.

How does the course work?

To make this course more accessible, I've made it online and at a very affordable cost (AUD$49). Once you sign up, you get 31 guided 15-minute meditations that will teach you a simple and effective way to relax, all with the convenience of doing it on your own terms. It's the perfect companion to a month off alcohol and can set you up for taking longer off.

Find out more on the below link or reply to this email if you have any questions.

Rory

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The two-minute rule

The two-minute rule

If fitting in 20 minutes of meditation seems daunting, here's a life hack that might help. In James Clear's book Atomic Habits, he talks about what he calls the "two-minute rule", which is designed to make any new habit or activity seem manageable. 

"The principle is that any activity can be distilled into a habit that is doable in two minutes," he says. "Want to read more? Don't commit to reading one book every week - instead make a habit of reading two pages a night. Want to run a marathon? Commit to simply putting your running gear on every day after work."

So instead of writing off your meditation on any day as unworkable, just commit to going and sitting somewhere for a couple of minutes in silence.

By doing that, you'll get a nice brief break from your day and you won't be putting any pressure on by committing to a full 20 minute session. 

As Clear puts it: "Once you’ve pulled on your running shoes, you’ll probably head out for a run. Once you’ve read two pages, you’ll likely continue. The rule recognises that simply getting started is the first and most important step toward doing something."

Once you've closed your eyes you'll probably find you've got time to meditate after all. 

I've been trying out the principle with yoga. Rather than committing to a 60 or 90 minute yoga class everyday, instead I'm aiming for only ten minutes, at home in the morning. Already, after only a few weeks of doing a minute or so each on certain poses I struggle with, I've been able to hold a headstand for 30 seconds and get myself up into (an approximation of) a wheel, getting slightly better each day. 

If you break things down into small (atomic!) chunks they're much more manageable. 

Sharpen the saw

In Steven Covey's bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he saves what may be the most important habit for last. 

His seventh habit is "Sharpen the saw", and it can be summarised like this:

"If lumberjacks spent all their time sawing down trees but never once paused to sharpen their saws, they’d soon have such dull tools that they couldn’t fell a single tree. Similarly, if you never pause to take care of yourself, any gains in effectiveness you achieve will be short-lived, for you’ll soon exhaust yourself and won’t be able to maintain any of the good habits you’ve developed. 

That’s why “sharpening your saw” is essential for lasting effectiveness in each of the four key dimensions of your life: To stay physically fit, you need to exercise regularly, eat healthily and avoid undue stress. Your spiritual health also contributes to lasting effectiveness. This could mean praying or meditating, or simply regularly reflecting on your own norms and values. To stay mentally healthy, read plenty of good books, avoid spending too much time in front of your television screen and make time for your own writing in some form – be it letters or poetry or a diary.

Organising and planning things are also good exercises to keep your mind sharp and fresh. Last but not least, it’s important to take care of your social and emotional health by deliberately seeking to understand others, building positive relationships with them and working on projects that help improve their lives." (Summary from Blinkist)

Sharpening your spiritual saw means having a way to release stress, tension, anxiety and fatigue so the best version of you is the one in the driving seat most of the time. It means getting your mind in a state where it can react calmly under pressure, foresee many issues before they happen, have access to creative solutions and an ability to see opportunities where others see problems and threats. 

Sharpening your saw is so important because it will determine the quality of everything else you do. How do you keep your saw sharp? 

For those who haven't read it, the other habits are: 

1. Be proactive
2. Begin with the end in mind
3. Put first things first
4. Think win/win
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
6. Synergise

If some of these sound like overused concepts, it's only because this book has become so influential in the 30 years since its first release. Well worth a read. 

Dare to be different and the world will support you

Social convention is a powerful force and for good reasons. Without it our societies would crumble under the weight of collective differences. 

But that doesn't mean we should slavishly follow conventions when they no longer serve our best interests. 

Last year I broke with convention I decided to stop drinking alcohol. As well as all the many benefits I've mentioned before, another strange thing happened. 

I started receiving a lot of support from all areas. Compared with the articles I'd written about mediation, the ones about drinking cut through so much more.

Hundreds of thousands of people read them and they generated huge amounts of comments, feedback and interest in meditation, even though they weren't directly about meditation. 

I was even invited to speak about it on The Today Show on New Year's Day as if one person stopping drinking is national news worthy!

The lesson here is that when we dare to be different, and when it's something that we believe in intuitively, the world will support us and push us on towards our goals. 

What will you dare to do differently this year?

How to deal with overloads of experience

As we go about our daily lives we take in stress and tension that we lock in our nervous systems that weighs us down. It's easy to understand this with negative experiences like pressure at work or arguments but it happens with positive ones too.

Last week I published an article about What happened when I gave up drinking for 100 days and got an overwhelming response to it. Over 100,000 people read it – that's a stadium full of people! Many people contacted me to share their experiences and lots of people booked in to learn about meditation.

And while this was a completely positive experience, it still created an overload of experience. It was hard not to get carried away with it and let some pride creep in.

We build up a backlog of experiences both good and bad in our system that become the baggage we carry around with us. The more unconscious baggage, the less able we are to live in the present. The less we’re able to live in the present, the less enjoyment we have and the less we’re able to take in all the cues and information that will help us make the best decisions.

Come to a free, no obligation intro talk on learning meditation in Sydney to learn how it is the best way to unburden ourselves of the baggage of stress we carry around.

Developing resilience to failure through meditation

Developing resilience to failure through meditation

Every now and again we fail at something and the way we deal with it can be a good indication of how we’re progressing in life.

I bought a motorcycle before Christmas (#midlifecrisis) and last week passed my P test – at the second attempt.

First time round I managed to fail the emergency stop. The first reaction to FAILURE was for my ego to try to get out of it. The instructor wasn't clear enough on the rules, the brakes weren't good enough etc.

But whereas in the old days I would have beaten myself up for a while over it, the five stages of grief were done and dusted in a matter of minutes and I was able to reframe it from "I failed" to "I didn't pass today".

In meditation it’s our intension to stick with our mantra instead of thinking, but inevitably thoughts come and we’re taken away with them. Rather than seeing this as “failure to meditate”, we instead understand it as a necessary part of meditation.

When thoughts come up in meditation they’re the release of stress – I go into this in much more detail on the learn to meditate course, don’t worry if it doesn’t intuitively make sense.

When we find ourselves thinking, all we do is gently come back to our mantra. In this way, again and again during meditation, we teach ourselves resilience and learn to take setbacks in our stride.

The beauty of this approach is that it allows us to take more risks. Progressing as individuals isn’t about learning how not to make mistakes, it’s about making the right ones and learning from them. There's no failure, only feedback of information.

I love this quote from Ed Catmull, President of Pixar & Walt Disney Animation, who has presided over an astonishing run of hit movies.

“Failure is a manifestation of learning and exploration. If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it. And, for leaders especially, this strategy – trying to avoid failure by out-thinking it – dooms you to fail.”

Sign up to a learn to meditate course to see how meditation can make you more resilient.

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Meditation: the best New Year's Resolution you'll ever make

Reflect on the past to move forward


With the holiday season coming to a close for most people, now is a great time to reflect on the year that was and plan for the twelve months ahead. Over the Christmas break every year I go through my journal for the year and write up a summary of what went on in all the key areas of my life – things achieved, love life, work, fitness, business, self-development, friends won, friends lost, that kind of thing. I find this is a great way to track my progress over time and make sure I’m taking note of the lessons I’m learning over time. I then put together a list of things to achieve by the end of January, which becomes my de facto resolution list. This year I got to do it at a week-long meditation retreat in Mexico – no alcohol, caffeine or internet for a whole week! It was a great super charging experience to kick start the year and has me inspired to share the benefits of meditation with as many of you as I can in 2018. 
 

How I learned resourcefulness from meditation
 

Back in 2014, my to-do list included one item that has profoundly changed how I look at many aspects of my life since: learning to meditate. Through 2013 I’d already been making changes. In Oct 2012 I turned 35 and took this milestone as a reason to switch things up. On the day after my birthday bash – an illegal warehouse rave we threw in a disused building in Camperdown – I made the decision to retire from DJing and give up smoking, two pastimes I associated with my hedonistic 20s that I was ready to move on from. That week I also took up running and although I wasn’t able to go for more than five minutes before my legs gave up, within 12 months I’d run a marathon and made fitness a regular fixture in my life. I then read a book through a work book group – The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer – which sparked my spiritual interest. A mentor I had at work recommended The Power of Now and in early 2014 I ltook the plunge and earned to meditate. Straight away I found that by using a simple technique to divert my awareness away from the swirling, repetitive thought patterns in my head, I could achieve a sense of calm and self possession. Things that used to rile me up or send me running for cover – the classic fight or flight response – were now just events I could calmly evaluate before choosing my course of action. I soon had an opportunity to try out my new-found calm. There were big changes at work and my boss, who ran the editorial division of the company, assumed control over the product management team. I took a long shot and applied to run that team, even though on paper I had no experience. My mentor helped create a strategy – canvas the support and advice of the people I’d be working with in the new role and instead of sitting back and answering questions in a traditional interview, an approach that would likely focus on my lack of experience, I would instead take control and present my vision for the product team. On the eve of giving the presentation, I overheard something that confirmed the job would go to someone else in the company, a much more qualified candidate. Rather than brooding over this turn of events, as I would have done in the past, and delivering a lacklustre presentation, knowing it was a lost cause, I was able to access a new-found resourcefulness. There is an idea in The Power of Now that I’d paraphrased and re-worked until it summed up this resourcefulness. 


“Take every situation as if you planned it that way”


With the knowledge that the role was going to someone else, instead of giving up, I started to examine the situation until I found a positive perspective. Rather than seeing the defeat of my original plan, what if I regarded this new set of circumstances as favourable? What aspects could I turn to my advantage? Yes, I wouldn’t be managing the team, but how about if I tried to position myself as the ideal second-in-command to this highly qualified person who would lead the team. Only one role was advertised, but instead of presenting my vision for leading the team, I would tweak it so it would show the extent of work that lay ahead and instead push for an expansion of the team to include more people, namely me, in an apprentice-like role where I could learn a new craft. With this new attitude I went into the interview confidently. At the end of it I could see two interviewers wondering how they could let me down gently. Now was the time to make my case for team expansion with a new role for me. Imagine my surprise when they welcomed the suggestion and by the next morning had found the budget for the head count, drawn up the contract and given me a big pay rise to boot. 

Learn to meditate in Sydney

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Learn to meditate anywhere

The ultimate aim of this practice is to meditate twice a day, as this is the best way to systematically reduce the stress, tension and fatigue that bogs us down and stops us being at our best more of the time. We all know what it’s like to be on form – relaxed, productive, energised. The only thing keeping us from accessing that state is the stress that we’ve not managed to process through sleep and other relaxation activities.

Meditating twice a day can seem daunting at first and one thing is for sure – the only way we're going to be able to do it is by being prepared to sit down whenever and wherever we are when there’s 20 minutes to spare and close our eyes. What we don't want are any dependencies on certain surroundings or timings that will limit our opportunities.

The best places to meditate  

While a perfectly quiet room with soft cushions, candles and gentle music might sound ideal, you quickly learn that it’s the technique that allows us to access that peace and comfort on the inside. Where we happen to be in the outside world is irrelevant. The only pre-requisites for somewhere to meditate are: 

  1. You can sit comfortably with your back supported. Meditation is a mental technique and there’s nothing to be gained by sitting cross legged with your back straight grinning and bearing it like a martyr. By all means sit in your favourite chair at home, but don’t be afraid to try the bus or train, a park bench, the passenger seat of a car, an empty meeting room at work etc

  2. You can close your eyes and not expect to be interrupted. While we don’t need silence, we do want somewhere away from our usual demands. Ideally it will be somewhere away from colleagues or family members who might be tempted to ask you something. In public places, people will generally leave you alone if you have your eyes closed, and if you want to draw less attention you can wear sunglasses or pull a hat down over your eyes

Learn to meditate in Sydney

But what about the noise?

You might think that it would be almost impossible to reach a state of deep relaxation in a busy public place, but what meditation teaches you is to move your awareness away from your senses and instead gently focus it inwards. Instead of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell, we bring our attention to a meditation anchor such as a mantra or the breath.

I remember my surprise the first time I successfully meditated in a busy train station with all the hustle and bustle around. For the first few minutes I was hyper self-conscious that people would be pointing and staring at the strange man with his eyes closed but when I turned my attention to my mantra I was soon away and barely noticed the next fifteen minutes pass, emerging 20 minutes later refreshed in time to catch my train. 

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The benefits of learning to meditate in person

There are many ways to learn meditation in the digital age and lots of great apps available if you want to dip your toe in the mediation waters. 1GiantMind, Headspace, Insight Timer and others have all helped many people. But while some  are able to keep going with apps for a long time, there comes a point for many others where they’re not sure they’re meditating correctly. Not being confident you’re doing it right is the number one reason people stop meditating and it’s easy to see why. 

Your biggest investment in meditation is time

When you clock up all the 20 minute meditation sessions, and I recommend two a day to get the full benefit, it quickly adds up. Whatever you value yours time at (think about your hourly rate for example), that’s what you’re investing in meditation. So with such a significant investment, you want to make sure you’re approaching the technique correctly. The best way to do that is to get in-person feedback as you learn. 

Learn to meditate in Sydney

Experiential rather than conceptual

The optimal way to learn most things is by experiencing them for yourself. You can read all you like about something, but until until you experience it, it will remain a collection of words and concepts in your head. Because meditation deals with very subjective states and everyone will go through different experiences, the best approach is to have  a trained teacher guide you through the uncharted terrain. 

Meditate to fight procrastination

Procrastination stands in the way between us fulfilling many of our goals as we endlessly put things off in favour of often pointless tasks. Luckily, meditation can help us overcome many of these. The mental exercise of meditation has been shown to strengthen the brain’s pre-frontal cortex which helps regulate our impulses and the emotions that distract us from being productive. However you first need to make the leap to becoming a meditator…

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How meditation helps you see things from a higher perspective

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How meditation helps you see things from a higher perspective

One of my favourite aspects of meditation is how it lets you zoom out and see things from a higher perspective.

With stress and pressures we're often so close to the coal face that we can't see what we're doing. We work harder and harder when we could be working less but smarter.

Imagine you were lost in a forest you knew had only one way out, with dense woodland extending for miles in every other direction. Would it be better to blindly wander one particular way in the hope it was the right way? Or would it be better to gain a higher vantage point – from a tree or a hill – to see where you needed to go?

Meditation allows us to withdraw from our everyday concerns for a short time each day which lets us to see them in the right perspective. This in turn lets us see where we need to place our energies.

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What does it mean if you fall asleep during meditation?

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What does it mean if you fall asleep during meditation?

Discussion at Club Med Live tonight was about sleep during meditation. If sleep comes during meditation, welcome it. In the 20 minutes we’re handing over control of what happens to our body’s natural intelligence, and if that intelligence decides the best thing for us is to offload some of the fatigue we have stored up in the system then that’s a good thing. We get the experiences we need, not necessarily the ones we want.

But while we’re happy if sleep is the result, we shouldn’t encourage it but being too horizontal in our posture. A relaxed upright position with back supported and head and neck free is what we’re looking for. And remember too that you can always set a safety net alarm for 25 minutes if you’re worried about nodding off and missing an appointment.

If you find your head has tilted forward in meditation and think you’ve been sleeping, it’s more likely that you’ve transcended. This is the most common position when you’ve transcended and as we have no experience of the absence of thoughts we often mistakenly think we must have been asleep. But instead it’s that deepest state of the process where we’re directly experiencing the pure conscious state, consciousness without content. It’s this contact with the stillness of our essential inner state that we’re looking to bathe in and then bring back into our waking life. And whether we fully immerse ourselves in it or just approach it, it’s having the same rejuvenating and evolutionary effect on us. Happy meditating!

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How to meditate effortlessly

The main barrier for most people to reaching deep meditative states is using too much effort. From our schooling upwards, we’re always taught that putting in more effort will yield greater results but with meditation it works the other way around.

Yes, we have to put the effort in to get into the chair to meditate in the first place. But once our eyes are closed it becomes about seeing how little effort we can use with our technique. 

To reach deeper states, we don’t concentrate harder, but instead see how loose a grip we can hold on our meditation anchor. We’re looking to ease ourselves into deep states of rest rather than forcing ourselves. 

And to do that we repeatedly just return to our mantra whenever we feel ourselves thinking or wanting to take control of our meditation experience. 

The result is a systematic release of stress and tension from our nervous systems allowing us to operate nearer our full potential more of the time. 

More: Learn Vedic Meditation in Sydney

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How running helps meditation and meditation helps running

Meditation helps my running because it teaches me not to get attached to my thoughts. Instead of clinging to the negative thoughts I get at some stage in every race or training session – you know, why don't you stop, your body's not made for this, it hurts, what if you're injuring yourself – I choose to gently favour something else instead of the thoughts. Gently favour my breath or the sensation of my feet connecting with the ground. I take myself out of my thoughts and connect with my body. If my legs hurt then instead of concentrating on the thoughts of the pain I'll put my awareness in the body part itself, usually my hip flexors or my IT band in my leg. With awareness in the place that hurts I usually find that it doesn't hurt as much as my head thought it did. Without the negative thoughts in my head I start to feel good and can keep powering on. It's like a moving version of a mindfulness body scan or the cosmic body technique for those of you that know it. 

But then running also helps my meditation. What I learn from maintaining high levels of physical work rate over several hours is that if I try to force anything to happen through mental strength or control then I quickly get stressed, tight in my running style, expend more energy than I need and go slower. (When I experience this I tell myself to relax and go faster. In relaxing I allow my body to do what it knows to do.) After a few minutes of this I realise that I just can't keep up that level of stress and tension for however long I have to run and I just surrender. Not surrender as in give up, but let go and trust my body, trust that the training I've done before will get me through, trust that if I let go everything will go a lot smoother. That's something I take into meditation. (Don't try to force it, don't try to make anything happen. Have an intention to hold the mantra.) I can't use my brain, my intellect to conquer meditation just like I can't run 42km with my mind. There comes a point in running and in meditation when I realise where I am and how I'm trying to think my way out of it again - my default behaviour. And at this point, I just shrug, smile and let go. 

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An excerpt from Tiger Be Brave

An excerpt from Tiger Be Brave

A couple of years ago I wrote the first draft of a novel called Tiger Be Brave. In this excerpt, the main character, Max, a young, heart-broken and hungry tiger, meets the crow who will be his companion on his upcoming adventure.  

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Water rushed over Max's face and filled his mouth. It hung slack. His belly felt as empty as the sky. Hunger rumbles passed through it like dark rain clouds. He couldn't bring himself to get out of the stream. The cold would soon take care of his problems. He closed his eyes and saw an image of Anya striding over the hilltop to rescue him.  

Something landed on his chest. A crow. Its beak hovered just in front of his face. The crow stepped back and turned to the side, fixing the tiger with a gleaming black eye. Its beak was crabby and gnarled with deep gouges.

"Oh, you're alive," said the crow. Its accent sounded foreign. "I thought you'd maybe rolled over and carked it from shame." It squawked a laugh and shook its head. "Not very good at hunting are you?"

Max frowned. "I've hurt my paw," he said in his thick Russian accent. He lifted the proof out of the water and watched the red drops hit the water and race away down the stream. 

"That little scratch," said the crow, looking down to his left and shielding his face with a wing. "I think you'll live."

Max bristled and turned on his side unseating the crow. He growled.

"I know that," he said. "I just fell on it badly." He shook the water from his coat and padded to the bank trying to hide his limp. The crow hopped after him.

"Not much of a tiger are you?"

Max's empty stomach tightened and blood ran to his head. He turned to the crow and roared. It flapped up to the safety of a branch. 

"That's more like it. Get some spirit back into you. That's what we want to see. Thought I was dealing with a cockroach. Not the king of the forest." 

Max swished his tail and climbed up the bank.

"Now, looking at how scrawny you are I'd say you were in need of a good meal," said the crow.

Max lay on his front under a tree and crossed his good paw over the bad one. He shivered by way of answer. 

"There are so few of you tigers these days that us crows don't get much to feed on." He looked at Max with kindness. "Bugs and worms will keep a crow from death's door but they're not much to write home about. A nice meaty treat once in a while is all I ask for." 

Max bent his head to lick the excess water from his forepaws like his father had trained him. Sitting around all wet was how you caught a cold. He agreed with the crow but wasn't inclined to let on. 

"I've been doing fine, thanks for your concern," said Max. "I've killed plenty."

The crow squawked a laugh again. "Pull the other one!" He swaggered up and down the branch.

"What did you do with the bodies? Dissolve them in a pond of acid you've hidden somewhere?" It snorted and flapped its wings.

"Think you could get a juicy corpse within five miles of this schnoz? No chance." 

Max cleared his throat and decided not to pursue the lie. "Where are you from, crow? You don't sound like you're from here."

The crow puffed its chest and raised its beak.

"London, mate. Greatest city in the world."

It brought its beak down and thought for a moment.

"Shit hole mind."

Max wasn't in the mood for small talk. 

"And what brought you to the Russian Far East to annoy me?"

"I'm only teasing, mate. Calm down. I came here for the clean living. London's all covered in soot and dirt from the car fumes. Not here though. White as far as the eye can see. Not as much fighting over turf neither." He hopped a few paces down the branch as if to prove his point. Then he gave Max a sly look. 

"More chance of stumbling across a nice tiger kill every once in a while too. Not much more chance, but you know … no no, don't be like that! Only messing. You're a touchy one now ain't you?" 

Max sat up proudly and exhaled a heavy plume of breath. His tail flicked snow from left to right and his whiskers twitched. 

"What do you want?"

The crow glanced around to make sure they were alone and shuffled down the branch towards Max.

"I want to help you out, you see. I think we could be good partners. I bring the brains and you bring those nice sharp claws of yours."

The crow jumped down from the branch and pecked at one of Max's paws. Annoyed, Max jerked his paw and sent the crow hurtling towards the tree trunk. "Steady on!" He flew around it and returned to the safety of the branch. 

"Is that how partners treat each other? Not where I come from. Now as I was saying, I'll help you find prey and give you some tips about killing I've picked up over the years. You let me share the feasts. Simple as that. You are hungry aren't you? The faster we can get this off the ground, the faster we can get some food in our bellies."

Max closed his eyes and buried his chin in his chest. He didn't trust the crow one bit but didn't have much choice. His stomach groaned and he coughed to cover the sound.  

"OK, crow. I'm not making any long term deals but let's see how we get on. Now where's the food?"

The crow chuckled and danced along the branch. 

"Go on, my son. I knew you'd come round in the end. Right, this way."

An unexpected benefit of meditation

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An unexpected benefit of meditation

When the dentist texts me to say I'm due a check up, my first response, being the dental coward I am, is to ignore it for six months. When they text again, I force myself to call back and ask if I can "reluctantly" book an appointment. The sweet receptionist usually humours me with a laugh. 

 

The reason for my reluctance has a large part to do with the fact that my dentist has the following annotation on my file: "Gagger". (Stop sniggering at the back.) Since I can remember, dentists digging around in the back of my mouth have always provoked an involuntary response from my gag reflex. This sees me retching and spluttering and generally making the appointments a drain for everyone involved. For me there is the obvious physical discomfort but also the embarrassment of being such a wuss in my late 30s. And for the dentists there may be some professional dissatisfaction at not being able to provide me with as smooth an experience as possible. 

 

So I was pleased to receive a call from the receptionist this week saying my dentist was excited to talk to me about a new technique he'd learned at a conference to help "gaggers" when I was next in. Conveniently, this was only a few days later when I was due for a filling in one of my back molars, prime gag territory. The dentist started telling me about how it could be related to the flap of skin that links your tongue to the base of your mouth and how some people are "tongue tied", which means their tongues have overly restricted movement. Part of the tongue's job is to protect the throat from swallowing anything it shouldn't and the theory goes that tongue tied people can't protect their throats with their tongues and so use gagging as a defence mechanism instead. The dentist poked around in my mouth and got me to show I had free movement of my tongue and was surprised I showed no signs of gagging. 

 

He then proceeded to attach a clip to my back tooth and then a rubber sheet covering my tongue and throat to stop me ingesting the amalgam from the filling. He then went on to perform the dental work, which was the longest procedure I could remember – at least 20 minutes of constant work with drills, picks, suction tubes, glowing heaters that I presume were drying the filling "cement". By comparison it only took around a minute to remove a wisdom tooth a few months ago. 

 

Afterwards the dentist was dumbfounded that there'd been no retching. In years past I would have flipped out in the chair or tried to bite his hand off if he'd done something like this. I almost expected him to say I'd been a "very brave boy" and give me a sticker like I was a six-year-old again. 

 

At this point I mentioned that I'd been meditating for three years and that perhaps that had helped. He jumped on this and started talking about how he had read that meditation works on decreasing activity in the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the the "fight or flight" response, and instead activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the so called "rest and digest" system. I agreed that this was my understanding and he said he'd tried using meditation apps but that they just hadn't stuck. I passed him my business card. "It's a sign," he said and stowed the card away safely.  

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