Monthly Archives: July 2012

Something I Think I Could Fail At: 10 Day Silent Meditation Program

When I was in Vegas the other month, one of the guys missed a day’s activities because he had to go on a long bike ride. He was training for an Ironman.

“Why are you doing an Ironman?” I asked him.

“I wanted to try something I thought I might fail at,” he replied, “I’ve never done a triathalon or any endurance sport before. So I thought I’d start with an Ironman and really challenge myself.”

I was immediately inspired. Trying something I had a decent chance of failing at resonated with me as a worthy undertaking. It’s not that I don’t fail or rarely fail in general — quite the contrary — but I haven’t tried to do something that I knew at the outset didn’t play to my strengths and may well not work out.

Over the next few weeks, I researched Ironman training. But then a better idea came to me: meditation.

I’ve been trying to meditate regularly for years. The research is clear and my personal experience backs it up: meditation calms me and clears my mind. My interest in meditation increases during nights when I have a hard time quieting my mind or during the day when I have a hard time focusing on the task at hand, as I’m instead overanalyzing the past or letting my mind race into the future.

But I’ve had a hard time making meditation a daily (or even weekly) habit. So I’m trying “shock therapy” of sorts: a 10 day silent meditation program at the Northern California Vipassana Meditation Center.

Robert Wright, one of my favorite authors, once blogged about his experience at a silent meditation retreat, saying it was one of “the most amazing experiences of his life.” He’s a hard headed guy, and yet he was moved in a lasting way. It pretty perfectly captures the kind of life change / evolution I’m thinking about if I can do the 10 day program and then institute a regular meditation practice.

Some call the 10 day program a “retreat” — which I suppose is what it’s technically called — but that seems like a misleading word. I’ve gone on retreats, and they are considerably more relaxing than what this seems to be: No reading, no writing, no talking/communication of any kind except when necessary with teachers. Two vegetarian meals a day. 4 AM wake up. Hours and hours of meditation each day, sitting on the floor, mostly cross legged. I expect it to be an intense physical and mental challenge.

I’m headed off tomorrow afternoon and will be off the grid without email or voicemail (or blogging/tweeting) until July 29. See you when I get back.

Passive Gentleness vs. The Goodness of Being Able to Act in the World

From Lee Siegel’s review of the Harry Potter books:

Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron Weasley are good kids, but they are not angelic, Wordsworthian kids. They usually do the right thing, and they always feel bad when they do the wrong thing. But they pass through a spectrum of hurtful impulses along the way, some of which they act on. This means that their goodness is not only a passive gentleness, easily wounded by the world. It is also the goodness of being able to act in the world. Since they are built with the potential to do harm, Harry and his friends are also built to endure harm.

This really nails the moral makeup of ethical people who are able to make positive change in the world.

I read the review in Siegel’s 2006 collection Falling Upwards: Essays in Defense of the Imagination. The more esoteric lit crit is over my head at times, so I did skim and skip a bunch. Siegel is nevertheless one of the most interesting writers alive to me in terms of his powers of insight and style of writing. (He’s also super super jaded.)

Here’s a paragraph I came across in the book in his review of the TV show Sex and the City:

The show sublimates actual sex into ideal-sex-in-an-emotional-vacuum in the same way that sitcoms from the 1950s sublimated actual family relations into ideal family relations.

I still laugh out loud when I read Siegel’s self-defenses that he posted in a pseudonym….

Start-Up of You Student Fellowship

We’re pleased to announce the Start-Up of You Student Fellowship for current college students. Reid and I want to recognize current college students who are especially entrepreneurial in their life and career — and empower them to do even more. Fellows will be part of an exclusive network during the fall 2012 semester. If you’re a student or know someone who is, learn more about the fellowship here and about our general student outreach here. Hurry – application deadline is July 31!

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Odds and ends:

  • Over 500 of you shared your ideas for how you want to take on risk in your career in our post on the Four Hour Workweek blog. We picked the best three stories (from so many inspiring ones!) and now it’s time to vote on who should win the mentorship prize.
  • A great 25 minute video profile from Bloomberg Game Changers on Reid, featuring commentary from Eric Schmidt, Dave Goldberg, Mark Pincus, and Jeff Weiner.

Mexico’s New President and the War on Drugs

Mexico elected a new president last week, Enrique Pena Nieto. Mexico is the most important bilateral relationship to the United States, but Mexico’s politics and economics receive less attention from the American people and in the American press than it should — so blog about it I will!

Nieto recently did a sit-down interview after his victory in which he says he wants to tweak Calderon’s anti-drug strategy, but mainly stay the course. He cites the success of Colombia and — like so many in Latin America, the United States, and Europe — he sees the dogged persistence and strategies of President Uribe in Colombia as cause for inspiration.

But exporting the Colombia strategy to the rest of Latin America has been tried and hasn’t worked. Washington Monthly in January published a good piece on Mexico, Colombia, Uribe, Plan Colombia and why Colombia’s war on drugs strategy has failed in Mexico. One excerpt:

At a very basic level, Colombia circa 2002 faced a very different set of problems than what Mexico faces today—and Uribe’s “democratic security” strategy was tailored to the former. Drug trafficking was linked to an armed insurgency that, however corrupted over the years, still rested on an ideology and concrete political goals. FARC and the paramilitaries both cared about territory for its own sake. Mexican cartels, on the other hand, are less bothered by symbolic gains and are happy to operate near or even within state institutions.

The very natures of the two states are different as well. “Colombia had never been in control of its territory, so the real challenge was to assert state authority for the first time,” explains Shannon O’Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations. “In Mexico, that’s not the problem. The government has a presence in every small municipality; the question is, who do they report to? It’s a very different challenge; Mexico’s challenge is corruption.”

Before we can draw lessons from something else, we have to make sure it’s actually analogous. Colombia and Mexico are both countries. They both have drug traffiking problems (which of course are fueled in part by the insatiable American demand for those drugs). But it’s still apples to oranges with respect to how the countries deal with the problem.

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Bret Stephens, who’s smart and, I should say, very funny in person, says in his most recent column that we shouldn’t forget the enormous strides Mexico has made to becoming a stable democracy–the fact that we don’t talk about it shows how far they’ve come.

The Fragility of Health

I came down with food poisoning last night. Twice during the night, I got out of bed, went into the bathroom, and threw up.

I bent over the toilet, hands on knees, and did the violent act for 45 seconds.

After the second time, I looked up from the toilet and faced the mirror in my bathroom. My eyes were bloodshot. Face grey. I was shivering all over. In that moment, I felt frail and vulnerable in a way I hadn’t felt for many years.

Today, I’ve been reflecting on how a single piece of bad food, in a matter of hours, could make me go from youthful, energetic, and ready to do anything, anywhere to bedridden, weak, depressed. My physical health is so good most of the time that I take it for granted.

Jimmy V’s classic ESPY speech from 1993, delivered two months before his cancer killed him, talks about cherishing every moment of good health. Obviously, a simple bout of food poisoning is not comparable to life-ending cancer, but his message, which I re-watched tonight, resonated anew. Hopefully it will stick for longer this time.

A Magical Dinner Spot

It’s at the Velassaru Maldives resort.