Every baseball player practices batting. It's the first thing you learn in Little League, and you never stop practicing. Every World Series game begins with batting practice. Basic skills must always remain sharp. Seated meditation is the arena in which meditators practice their own fundamental skills. The game the meditator is playing is the experience of his own life, and the instrument upon which he plays is his own sensory apparatus. Even the most seasoned meditator continues to practice seated meditation, because it tunes and sharpens the basic mental skills he needs for his particular game. We must never forget, however, that seated meditation itself is not the game. It's the practice. The game in which those basic skills are to be applied is the rest of one's experiential existence. Meditation that is not applied to daily living is sterile and limited. The purpose of vipassana meditation is nothing less than the radical and permanent transformation of your entire sensory and cognitive experience. It is meant to revolutionize the whole of your life experience. Those periods of seated practice are times set aside for instilling new mental habits. You learn new ways to receive and understand sensation. You develop new methods of dealing with conscious thought and new modes of attending to the incessant rush of your own emotions. These new mental behaviors must be made to carry over into the rest of your life. Otherwise, meditation remains dry and fruitless, a theoretical segment of your existence that is unconnected to all the rest. Some effort to connect these two segments is essential. A certain amount of carryover will take place spontaneously, but that process will be slow and unreliable.

You are very likely to be left with the feeling that you are getting nowhere and to drop the process as unrewarding. One of the most memorable events in your meditation career is the moment when you first realize that you are meditating in the midst of a perfectly ordinary activity. You are driving down the freeway or carrying out the trash and it just turns on by itself. This unplanned outpouring of the skills you have been so carefully fostering is a genuine joy. It gives you a tiny window on the future. You catch a spontaneous glimpse of what the practice really means. The possibility strikes you that this transformation of consciousness could actually become a permanent feature of your experience. You realize that you could actually spend the rest of your days standing aside from the debilitating clamoring of your own obsessions, no longer frantically hounded by your own needs and greeds. You get a tiny taste of what it is like to just stand aside and watch it all flow past. It's a magic moment. Conduct an inventory of your refrigerator and pantry to see how many foods you own that have sugars or sweeteners added. How can you cut down on these foods, as well as on sugars and sweeteners? Make a list of your favorite sugary foods and drinks, and research alternatives to each one. Be extra vigilant on your upcoming shopping trips. The next time you go to the grocery store, stock up on alternative food and drinks that don't contain added sugar. Lean on a support system. Getting healthy takes help--reach out to a friend or relative who can serve as an accountability partner. Check in with this person daily for one week and communicate how you are doing on the items listed in this chapter. After four weeks on your new nutritional regimen, stop and intentionally evaluate how different you feel. If you have made significant modifications to your nutrition and hydration, you've probably noticed changes along the way.

But after a month's duration, carefully assess your energy level, your mental sharpness, your sleep quality, and especially your mood. It goes further than just saying "hi" in a convincing tone, though. Your voice needs to show off just how happy you are to talk to someone - be excited and energetic. If you are happy to see them, show excitement in your voice. If you are unsure of something, make it clear with the inflection you use. And make sure to speak clearly and consistently. Many shy people have a habit of mumbling their way through a conversation. It's a defence mechanism - if other people cannot hear what you're saying, they cannot judge you for it. However, it can create an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved and weaken the effect of whatever you're saying, so be clear and commanding in your voice at all times. Your Attention Span - While not totally related to body language, this is a big one that can totally sink a conversation, even if you're doing everything else right. You must be engaged and interested in everything they have to say for every moment of the conversation, no matter how many distractions there are around you. Technology is a whopping distraction, so make sure that doesn't become an issue in the future. However, along with technology, you should cut out as many other distractions as possible. If you're trying to meet someone at a bar, keep your friends out of sight and definitely don't check out anyone else while talking to the first person you have on the hook. If you're at work, put that project aside while you talk with your boss or colleague. You won't get much extra done if you push forward - you'll just come across as rude and obnoxious for not stopping to talk. The goal here is to maintain your attention span well enough that you can control when the conversation ends. If you really cannot wait any longer for whatever is distracting you, take action and detach from the conversation. No one will hold it against you if you step back and focus on something else for a few moments, as long as you don't cut off whoever you're talking to or run off without explaining the situation. How you interact with someone is going to have a major effect on what they think of you.

You may like everything they like, be a confident, smooth person, and feel good in your new suit, but if you don't listen, enjoy the conversation and control the way in which your interaction moves forward, it's all for naught. You'll waste the good will you've built up when they wind up thinking you're rude and uninterested. Research has also found that we often don't work as hard when we're in a group as when we're alone. One study found, for instance, that people pulled 47 percent harder on a rope when they were by themselves than when in a group of eight.12 In addition, the presence of others can differentially affect our performance on simple versus complex tasks. For example, above average pool players make more successful shots when watched by others, while below average players make fewer successful shots. In fact, a review of over two hundred studies indicates that an audience impairs accuracy in complex tasks, and slightly improves accuracy in simple tasks.13 As you can see, our actions and decisions can change significantly because others are present. In some cases, our performance can improve, while in other cases it can decline. In addition, the presence of others can lead us to make decisions that we normally wouldn't make if we were by ourselves--even when we think those decisions are inappropriate. Imagine that you have to make an important decision at the office. Now imagine that you'll have to justify the decision to your boss. Would your decision change? It turns out that being held accountable can have significant effects on our decision-making processes. Research indicates that accountable people tend to use more conscientious, complex, and analytical decision strategies than nonaccountable people when they don't know the views of the person to whom they are accountable.14 For example, when subjects were told they would have to defend their loan and product marketing decisions to others, they selected more accurate and analytical decision strategies as compared to individuals who did not have to defend their position. Auditors who had to justify their bond rating decisions made more accurate and consistent decisions than auditors who did not have to justify.15 So accountability can produce a number of significant benefits for our decision making--but it also has a negative side. Detrimental effects can occur when we know the views and preferences of the person to whom we are accountable. As an example, psychologist Richard Tetlock had people report their thoughts on three controversial issues: affirmative action, capital punishment, and defense spending.16 Some of the people were assigned to a "no accountability" group, and were told their responses would remain confidential. Three other groups were told they would have to justify their responses to either a person with liberal views, conservative views, or unknown views. That vision is likely to remain unfulfilled, however, unless you actively seek to promote the carryover process. The most important moment in meditation is the instant you leave the cushion. When your practice session is over, you can jump up and drop the whole thing, or you can bring those skills with you into the rest of your activities.

It is crucial for you to understand what meditation is. It is not some special posture, and it's not just a set of mental exercises. Meditation is the cultivation of mindfulness and the application of that mindfulness once cultivated. You do not have to sit to meditate. You can meditate while washing the dishes. You can meditate in the shower, or roller skating, or typing letters. Meditation is awareness, and it must be applied to each and every activity of one's life. This isn't easy. We specifically cultivate awareness through the seated posture in a quiet place because that's the easiest situation in which to do so. Meditation in motion is harder. Meditation in the midst of fast-paced noisy activity is harder still. And meditation in the midst of intensely egoistic activities like romance or an argument is the ultimate challenge. Beginners will have their hands full with less stressful activities. Yet the ultimate goal of practice remains: to build one's concentration and awareness to a level of strength that will remain unwavering even in the midst of the pressures of life in contemporary society. Life offers many challenges and the serious meditator is never bored. Carrying your meditation into the events of your daily life is not a simple process. Try it and you will see. That transition point between the end of your meditation session and the beginning of "real life" is a long jump. It's too long for most of us. We find our calm and concentration evaporating within minutes, leaving us apparently no better off than before.