It serves as that vital reference point from which the mind wanders and is drawn back. Distraction cannot be seen as distraction unless there is some central focus to be distracted from. That is the frame of reference against which we can view the incessant changes and interruptions that go on all the time as a part of normal thinking. Ancient Pali texts liken meditation to the process of taming a wild elephant. The procedure in those days was to tie a newly captured animal to a post with a good strong rope. When you do this, the elephant is not happy. He screams and tramples and pulls against the rope for days. Finally it sinks through his skull that he can't get away, and he settles down. At this point you can begin to feed him and to handle him with some measure of safety. Eventually you can dispense with the rope and post altogether and train your elephant for various tasks. Now you've got a tamed elephant that can be put to useful work. In this analogy the wild elephant is your wildly active mind, the rope is mindfulness, and the post is your object of meditation, your breathing. The tamed elephant who emerges from this process is a well-trained, concentrated mind that can then be used for the exceedingly tough job of piercing the layers of illusion that obscure reality. Meditation tames the mind. The next question we need to address is: Why choose breathing as the primary object of meditation? Why not something a bit more interesting? Answers to this are numerous. A useful object of meditation should be one that promotes mindfulness. It should be portable, easily available, and cheap. It should also be something that will not embroil us in those states of mind from which we are trying to free ourselves, such as greed, anger, and delusion.

Breathing satisfies all these criteria and more. Breathing is something common to every human being. We all carry it with us wherever we go. It is always there, constantly available, never ceasing from birth till death, and it costs nothing. Breathing is a nonconceptual process, a thing that can be experienced directly without a need for thought. Furthermore, it is a very living process, an aspect of life that is in constant change. The breath moves in cycles--inhalation, exhalation, breathing in, and breathing out. Thus, it is a miniature model of life itself. The sensation of breath is subtle, yet it is quite distinct when you learn to tune into it. It takes a bit of an effort to find it. Yet anybody can do it. You've got to work at it, but not too hard. For all these reasons, breathing makes an ideal object of meditation. Breathing is normally an involuntary process, proceeding at its own pace without a conscious will. Yet a single act of will can slow it down or speed it up. Make it long and smooth or short and choppy. The balance between involuntary breathing and forced manipulation of breath is quite delicate. And there are lessons to be learned here on the nature of will and desire. Then, too, that point at the tip of the nostril can be viewed as a sort of a window between the inner and outer worlds. It is a nexus point and energy transfer spot where stuff from the outside world moves in and becomes a part of what we call "me," and where a part of "me" flows forth to merge with the outside world.

There are lessons to be learned here about self-identity and how we form it. A word of caution and challenge on this point: depressed people usually do not want to embrace healthy escapes. They don't feel like it. These pursuits seem pointless or contrived or like too much work. Set aside justifications for doing nothing. Summon up any energy and motivation you can . When we're stressed, it's tempting to isolate. When we're already feeling overwhelmed, the last thing we want to do is expend the energy to drive to an event, have someone over, or connect with a friend after work. And yet study after study shows that supportive relationships are huge factors when it comes to improving how we experience and process stress. In fact, loneliness is linked not only to depression but also to health problems including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and cognitive decline. It's worth noting here that involvement in a faith community may help in this regard. Studies have shown that people who are involved in faith communities tend to have lower levels of anxiety and stress. People who experience their faith with a supportive community are not only connecting with like-minded people, but they also feel more connected to God. Therese Borchard, the founder of Project Hope & Beyond, an online community for people with depression and other mood disorders, writes, Religion and faith provide social support, a consistent element of happiness and good health. Regular churchgoers not only get support from their community, but they also GIVE support to others, and the altruistic activity promotes better health. Faith attaches meaning to events. It gives folks hope, the ultimate stress reducer. Hope, doctors say, is about the best thing you can do for your body. It's better than a placebo. Sometimes the source of our pain and stress can be found in our own thoughts.

Ruminating on negative or painful experiences, refusing to forgive, or practicing a perennially negative outlook on life can create ongoing stress. What's more, because the source of this chronic stress isn't anything external that you can point to, it can be hard to identify and change. We all have an inner voice constantly blabbering about our faults, failures, inadequacies, and unfortunate experiences. But did you know that you control the on/off switch for that voice? It may have had its own way for so long that you'll have to work to get the controls back. But you can. Refuse to sit still for self-inflicted verbal beatings any longer, and dam the flow of negative messages coming into your brain. Replace them with positive affirmations. Accept your shortcomings and celebrate your strengths. Refuse to ruminate about past hurts, and redirect your thoughts to uplifting memories. You will take a big step toward overcoming stress by recognizing the crucial role of thoughts and self-talk in creating your life. Try this experiment: tonight before bed, set aside a few minutes to ponder and evaluate the quality of your thoughts throughout the day. Were they generally positive and productive? Critical and judgmental? Then think of some specific ways you can harness your thoughts and make them an ally, not an enemy, of your well-being. For instance, repeat to yourself the phrase "My thoughts will change as I create and plan--and I will feel more and more hope!" In a 2009 article in the Health and Wellness section of the New York times, Tara Parker-Pope cited a study in which: "Researchers studied 34 students at the University of Virginia, taking them to the base of a steep hill and fitting them with a weighted backpack. They were then asked to estimate the steepness of the hill. Some participants stood next to friends during the exercise, while others were alone. The students who stood with friends gave lower estimates of the steepness of the hill. And the longer the friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared." Think for a moment about the last time you met someone you didn't like.

What do you remember about them? Was it how quiet they were or how they didn't engage the conversation? I doubt it. More than likely, the last person you remember not liking was boorish, obnoxious and rude. There are two types of people who are not liked by others - the people who don't make an impression and therefore are not proactively liked or disliked and the people who are so obnoxious or rude that they instantly push you away from them. And to put things in perspective, you don't have to be that obnoxious to be unlikable - in polite company, it doesn't take much. I was always a quiet guy - I didn't think I was obnoxious at all, nor did I think I had any annoying habits or poorly worded statements. But as I started to develop the personality that has made me friends, I learned one very important thing; you cannot be likable until you learn how not to be unlikable. Everything in this book focuses on helping you stand out, be confident and interesting. But, none of that does you any good if you also happen to take jabs at people you barely know, make degrading comments, or generally assume the worst about someone you just met. Sometimes, these things are merely bad habits. Other times, they are the result of lot of cynicism built up over years of poor social skills. Whatever the problem, sociability starts with friendliness, and that's a little harder for some of us than for others. The performance of so-called superior funds is no better. Analyses of the Forbes honor role funds over the period 1973 to 1998 indicate that they underperformed the S&P 500 stock index.25 The inability of experts to predict the market even led the Wall Street Journal to start a dartboard contest in the early 1990s, where the stock picks of four experts were compared to stocks selected by throwing four darts at a stock listing. By the late 1990s, the experts seemed to be ahead by a slight margin. However, if you measure the performance of the experts from a relevant date after their selections were announced in the Wall Street Journal (which is more appropriate since their predictions may affect stock prices), the darts were actually slightly ahead.26 The above discussion concerns the performance of mutual fund managers, but don't think they're the worst of the lot. It turns out that other investment managers do no better. A number of studies have examined the performance of investment managers from insurance companies, pension funds, foundations, college endowments, state and local trust funds, trust funds administered by banks, and individual accounts handled by investment advisers. Their investment performance is no better.