Nate Klemp, Ph.D., wrote the book on wellness—literally. He’s co-author of the New York Times best seller Start Here: Master the Lifelong Habit of Well-Being. His company, LIFE Cross Training (LIFE XT), is devoted to teaching the skill of happiness and promoting well-being. This is his daily meditation routine.
How I Meditate: Author and Philosopher Dr. Nate Klemp
Where do you meditate?
My primary meditation spot is in my bedroom. But I also love to meditate in random places: airplanes, trains, park benches, mountaintops. And I’m lucky enough to work at a company where we meditate for a few minutes at the beginning of our team meetings.
Most days, I meditate when I wake up, at around 5:30 a.m.
What type of meditation do you practice?
I usually practice insight meditation. I start by bringing my attention to the breath for about 10 minutes. I find that this helps stabilize my attention. Once I sense that I’ve reached a point of stability—where my mind isn’t wandering all over the place—I practice opening the field of awareness. To do this, I place my attention on the breath but then allow my attention to follow anything that arises. If I hear a loud sound, for example, I label it as “hearing” and then focus my attention on the sound. If I feel a sharp sensation, I label it as “sensing” and then focus all of my attention on the sensation. I continue this practice for around 20 minutes.
Do you use props?
I have a large square cushion—a zabuton—and a wooden meditation bench that I made with my father several years ago.
Why do you meditate?
In a word, “openness.” What that means for me is that meditation creates space in my mind. It doesn’t get rid of the negative emotions that arise like fear, sadness, or anger. But it creates a subtle sense of space around them. The thoughts and emotions still come and go but there is less resistance to them. It’s as though I’m able to watch them from a bigger perspective.
The former Harvard psychology professor and spiritual teacher Ram Dass talks about this using the analogy of a picture of a cloud in the sky. If you crop the picture, all you can see is the dark gray of the cloud. But if you zoom out, you begin to see the clear blue sky surrounding the cloud.
That’s the experience of meditation. You can’t get rid of the clouds of the mind—fear, anxiety, shame, or irritation. But you can train your mind to begin to see the world from this bigger perspective. You see the sky that surrounds these clouds of the mind.
This sounds subtle but it’s incredibly powerful. When your co-worker or spouse says something that triggers you, having this small sliver of space allows you to pause before you react out of anger. When you feel afraid or anxious, this small sliver of space allows you to stay calmer and more grounded. It’s a really amazing experience.
Advice for first-time meditators?
Meditation is really all about habit formation. To experience these benefits, it’s much more effective to meditate for five minutes each day than it is to meditate for several hours once a week. So here are a few tips for turning it into a daily habit:
- Establish a cue: Choose some everyday life event to serve as your daily reminder to meditate. Your cue could be getting out of bed, sitting at your desk when you arrive at work, or after brushing your teeth. If you still have trouble remembering, you might try putting a small sticker here that says “meditation” on it.
- Make a 100-percent commitment: It turns out that it’s much easier to commit 100 percent to meditating than it is to make a 99-percent commitment. That 1 percent, after all, can drive you crazy. It fuels the voice in your head that says, “Maybe I’ll skip meditation just this once."
- Use an app: It can be helpful to start with guided meditations, and there are a number of great apps out there like Buddify; Headspace; and Stop, Breathe, & Think.
- Track your progress: Keep a record of how often you do it. This will create a sense of accountability.