Why I Meditate and How it Could Help You Too

For whatever reason I was born predisposed to stress and worry. From a very young age I can remember being quite fearful and spending a lot of time imaging worst case scenarios. During one season I was afraid of being kidnapped. I looked at every stranger as if they were my potential assailant. At other times I worried that I’d suddenly go deaf, blind or experience some other life-changing disability. If you can imagine it, I probably worried about it at one time or another.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve become more rational but, in some ways I’ve found new and bigger things to worry about. At times, in the past, it actually got pretty debilitating and even developed into pretty serious depression a couple of times.

I’m happy to say, through God’s love and grace, I’ve experienced a lot of healing.

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The view from my backyard one morning while meditating.

Today I live with less worry and I’m so grateful! A lot has gone into my journey of recovery, including counseling, prayer, the love and encouragement of friends and family and reading some great books. But today I want to share about one tool that has been particularly helpful – meditation.

I had heard about the benefits of meditation for quite some time from counselors and in the reading I’d done. At first I was a little dubious because my impression was that meditation had its roots in eastern religious traditions and, as a Christian, that was a little unnerving to me. But after a little research I discovered that while most eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, place a strong emphasis on meditation, there is actually a rich tradition of it in Christianity. In addition to that, I discovered that it can be as religious or non-religious as you want it to be.

The first time I tried it I was in the middle of a pretty grueling two-week recruiting trip and was really exhausted.

I’d been working day and night and my mind was really scattered and fragmented. I needed to de-stress and settle down. So, I decided I might as well give it a shot. I had heard that an app called Headspace provided guided meditation instructions. I downloaded it and started with their introductory session.

The first session had me focus on my breathing to help me be still, quiet, and in the present moment. It only lasted ten minutes but when I was done and opened my eyes I couldn’t believe how much better I felt! I was calm, relaxed and focused. This blew my mind! Then I realized how long it had been since I’d sat quietly without distractions!

There are lots of different forms and variations of meditation, but at its core, it is about being in the present moment.

You can meditate on a scripture, a picture, simply focus on breathing, or any number of other things. Continued practice has shown me when I quiet my mind and sit in the stillness, I begin to sense God’s presence. It is as if He’s been waiting for me to stop moving around so frantically. I feel like he’s strengthening me through these times of quiet.

Obviously, the stillness and quiet don’t always come easily. In fact, often my mind puts up quite a fight. My mind is so used to constantly thinking and worrying that it doesn’t know what to do when I’m still. This used to frustrate me. I’d try hard to push away bothersome thoughts and replace them with something peaceful or positive. At times that worked, but at other times it was just exhausting. Then I learned not to fight those thoughts but to simply acknowledge them, let them go and bring my focus back to the present moment. By doing that I get less involved with the thoughts. That has been incredibly empowering!

Honestly, I could go on and on about the benefits I’ve experienced from meditating. There’s also plenty of scientific evidence for its health benefits. Mine is just one situation but I think anyone, no matter what their circumstances, could benefit from giving it a try.

If you’re interested, there are many apps out there to guide you. The Headspace app works really well for me you might find something that works better for you. Give it a shot and see what happens.

Making a Big Impact in a Short Time – The Legacy of Scott Dinsmore

Last week I shared the story of Dieter Zander and how his life changed drastically in the blink of an eye. I published that post on Saturday, then, on Sunday, I learned that Scott Dinsmore, the guy whose Live Your Legend website inspired me to start a blog, had died in a freak climbing accident on Mt. Kilimanjaro. He was 33.

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Scott Dinsmore. Photo Credit: Live Your Legend

His last post was titled, “I’m Going off the Grid: Therapy for an Addicted & Over-Connected World.” It focused on the importance of taking an internet sabbatical once in a while to be more a part of the real world. In a strange and kind of eerie way, it was an appropriate title for what certainly was not intended to be a final post, but ended up being just that. He signed off with these words, “Give life to the pause, and the pause will offer you even more in return.”

His death is obviously a tragic reminder of how fleeting life can be and I’m feeling pretty bummed about it. In some ways that seems a little strange to me because I didn’t know him personally. I’ve found myself wondering what it was about him that made such an impact on me in a really short time. Here are a few thoughts:

He communicated in a genuine and inspirational way – There was something about his writing that made me feel like we were friends and that spurred me to action. Obviously he got me to try something I had never thought of before. I looked forward to his regular emails, which were like mini pep talks. It was like having a life coach in my in-box a couple of times a week.

He believed that everyone had something unique to contribute to the
world and that we all have something worth sharing with others.

He helped people – His philosophy and the point of his site was “the world would be an altogether different place if we all did work that actually mattered to us.” He put all of his effort into inspiring and equipping people in very practical ways to make a change in their lives and a difference in the world.

He was generous – I originally signed up for his newsletter figuring there would be some interesting info but also assuming in the end there would be a sales pitch where I’d be asked to sign for a paid membership to receive some sort of “premium content.” That never happened. He offered some classes, (even they were not that expensive) but, for the most part, he just gave stuff away and shared his thoughts because he wanted to help people.

He challenged himself and tried new things – The trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro was one of those personal challenges. He knew that pushing himself, especially physically, would translate to success in other areas of his life and would keep him motivated.

I think we can all learn something about the way Scott lived. Below are links to some tributes from people who knew him personally. I’d encourage you to check them out to learn more about the great impact Scott had on so many people.

http://liveyourlegend.net/in-memory-of-scott-dinsmore/

http://corbettbarr.com/scott/

http://zenhabits.net/scott/

People Who Inspire Me – Dieter Zander

A few weeks back, Kim and I attended a birthday party for a great friend, Freya, along with about 50 of her other friends. She is a really inspiring person who has had an impact on lots of people (as evidenced by her party attendance). She probably deserves her own post, but today I want to share about one of her friends that we met at the party.

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Dieter and Freya. Photo credit: Freya K.

His name is Dieter Zander. Back in 2008 Dieter was on top of the world. He was a talented musician, a successful author, a well-known minister and a sought-after speaker. He had achieved much of what he’d hoped for in life. He lived for his work and took a lot of pride in his accomplishments. In his own words, he made his living on stage, “thriving on the applause and adoration of his audience.” Then, suddenly one night he had a massive stroke. When he woke up six days later he discovered he had lost the use of his right hand and most of his ability to speak. His brain still functioned fine but he couldn’t communicate anything that was going on inside his head. In an instant, his ability to do the things he loved was gone and his career was over.

The ensuing days, weeks, months and years have been really challenging for him. The difficulty with communicating has caused the loss of some old friendships and made new connections really difficult to make. He admits to being so lonely and frustrated at times that he has thought about committing suicide. But slowly things have improved. Through the help of a speech therapist he can now speak a little. He still can’t play music, but a friend of his, knowing that he needed a way to express himself, gave him a used camera. He has become quite an accomplished photographer, even starting a part-time photography business (you can check out his photography at dieterzander.com). For his full-time job he works as a janitor at a Trader Joe’s store.

While his physical recovery is awesome, what is most inspiring to me is how his personal identity and his image of God have changed and recovered. He calls his stroke “A Stroke of Grace” and wrote a short book by the same title that shares his story. Since he can no longer derive his identity from his work, he’s been able to listen to God and hear something new. In his book he says through his deep loneliness he discovered God. “I thought I knew him, but after the stroke, locked in the prison of my own mind, I found that I had never really known God, not like this. All those thoughts, those fears, those jokes that I couldn’t bring to life outside my head, God heard them. I felt his comfort, his peace and even his laughter.” He also shares how God used to be his boss but is now his friend. God has told him, “Dieter, you are not going to work. Now, we play.” His world is obviously much different now. As he puts it, it has “grown much smaller and quieter and slower and simpler too.” But he’s also happier and more at peace than ever before.

Dieter’s story hit me particularly hard because he was doing some of the things I’ve aspired to do. But, he’s actually happier and more fulfilled now that all of it is gone. There have been times in my own life I’ve gotten caught up looking at myself through the “work/identity lens.” I find I’m pretty disappointed by what I see. When I was in college if you would have told me that 14 years later I would be working for my alma mater and living in my home town, it would have been incredibly depressing. But, I’m in the process of learning that, while God does care about our work, he cares much more about our character and who we are becoming. I think he wants us to do work that is fulfilling and uses the gifts he’s given us, but he doesn’t want that to be the main place we get our identity.

Dieter’s story demonstrates how fleeting all of that can be. While ambition can be good, it can also quickly go wrong. The questions I’m learning to ask are “Am I looking for the things that God wants and for his glory, or for my own? Am I taking the time to listen and to let God mold my character and my ambitions to fit his plan, or am I hanging on to them so tightly that I can’t hear him?” I definitely don’t get it right all of the time, but I think part of the reason I am still living and working in my hometown is that, by his grace, I have been able to listen at times. I believe he has said this is where he wants me right now. I’m actually pretty content and grateful for that most of the time. When I step back and get some perspective I realize how fortunate I really am. I’m also learning to lean into what he is doing and hopefully not miss the opportunities right in front of me, no matter how small they may seem.

As I look back over the last few years, it is awesome to see the amazing changes he has facilitated in my character and the opportunities I’ve had that I would have missed had I given into my restlessness and moved on to something that seemed more glamorous. I’m also surprised how often God uses what we wouldn’t expect. A lot of times we think it is the biggest and most grandiose that matters most. But, more often it is the small and simple that God chooses to use. His kingdom is often opposite of our expectations and goes against the cultural norm. I don’t want to miss what might be small to me but is really big to him. He may change my direction tomorrow, but I really want to be present for what he’s doing today.

If you’d like to learn more about Dieter’s story you can check out this video. I hope you’re as challenged and encouraged by it as I was.

Summer’s Surprise

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Angel’s Rest, Columbia River Gorge

I love summer. More specifically, I love stretches of long, sunny days hovering around 80 degrees. I’ve often said I wish I were born in a sunnier place like California or Hawaii. In the end though, I’m glad I live in Oregon. Summers here are special, probably because they are such a stark contrast  to what can be long and dreary winters.

Growing up I was fortunate enough to spend 2-3 weeks each summer at the beach house my great-grandfather built in the 1940’s on the Oregon Coast. The house is still in our family and the tradition of spending time there in the summer has continued every year. Usually my family and I spend at least a week there during July or August, often able to share time with visiting friends and family. It is a treasured time of relaxation and building memories together.

Silver Falls
Silver Falls

This summer, I was late checking the house calendar and much to my dismay, when I finally got around to it, all of the available weeks were taken. I was really bummed because the long standing tradition would be broken and because my family wouldn’t be able to have a full-week vacation together. It’s not only a special place but it’s an affordable vacation, so I actually threw a bit of a fit. I realize I might sound spoiled, but it can be quite disappointing when our expectations are not met and our long-standing plans are forced to change.

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Three Pools – Little North Fork, Santiam River

Eventually I decided rather than sulking about what this summer wouldn’t be, I should make the best of it and look for other options. I started by taking off every Friday that I could and planning day trips around the local area. Around that time, a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook that listed some of Oregon’s best swimming holes. I love anything to do with water, and my boys love swimming, so I decided to use that as the guide plan to our adventures. Over the summer visited 4-5 of the places listed on the site and some not on it. We’ve discovered some amazing new places almost in our backyard! A few of them were literally on the drive to the beach and I had probably passed them many times driving by.

Footbridge Day Use Area
Footbridge Day Use Area, Wilson River

While going to our beach house for a week would have been great, I’m amazed at how much fun it has been to discover these new places together, and in many ways, these experiences have been even richer and may build more lasting memories because they are new to us. It’s also been so fun to watch our boys discover the joys of “cliff” jumping, something I thoroughly enjoyed as a kid (I put cliff in quotes because they haven’t been jumping from very high, but it is still exciting to them). They’ve caught the bug and have been asking when we can go check out the next new swimming hole.

Throughout this post I’ve sprinkled pictures of our adventures, along with the location in the captions. If you Google the location you can find out more  or visit my new favorite adventure site outdoorproject.com for other great ideas.

Naked Falls
Naked Falls, Washougal River, WA

We were also able to find a long weekend in June at the family beach house and made the best of the shortened time. In fact, it ended up being one of the best beach trips we’ve had in a while. We had great weather, which can be rare at the Oregon Coast in June. In fact, the header picture of this blog is of a sunset taken from the front yard of the house during that weekend. It was one of the most stunningI’ve ever seen there.

In the end this summer has turned out much better than I could have imagined. I’m so glad I didn’t let my initial disappointment get in the way for too long as I would have missed out on so much.

There’s still a few weeks left of summer so I hope you can make the most of it and find your own adventure.