An email from The Atlantic magazine had our attention yesterday where the editor asked nine staffers to recommend a poem. Our eyes stopped at Everything is going to be all right by Derek Mahon, recommended by Caitlin Flanagan.
“How could a serious poet—let alone a superb one, such as Mahon—offer an honest defense of this indefensible phrase?” she wrote. “But when I read the poem, one astonishing line after another, I realized the title was sincere.” It was inevitable then we clicked the link that led to the poem.
Everything Is Going to Be All Right
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
Flanagan explained why she picked the poem. “So here I am with cancer, in the midst of a pandemic, and with the world on fire in a hundred different ways—the rough beast a little late, but right on time—looking out my bedroom window as the magnolia tree comes in and out of bloom. Everything is going to be all right.” Perspective matters.
Have a lovely Sunday.
In this issue
- FF Recommends: Meditation apps
- When friends meditate
FF Recommends: Meditation apps
Anmol Srivastava: When we first decided that this week’s #FFRecommends should focus on meditation apps, Charles Assisi, NS Ramnath, and I had a quick chat about it over the phone. I was unconvinced I ought to place my experience in the public domain yet. But I am doing just that because this is how the conversation went.
Me: “I think I should sit this one out. It’s been just five days since I started meditating. That too for 10 minutes a day. I’m not sure I know enough about the app to say anything of consequence or if I ought to recommend it.”
Ram: “That may be true. But I feel people who don’t meditate currently may relate to your early experience more than what may come from us because we have been at it for a while.”
So, here we go
Day 0: The trigger to start meditating came from the most unlikely of places—a 10:00 pm webinar focused on business innovation and growth in the post-Covid world. One slide spoke of how remote fitness is going to be on the rise and the big winners are going to be apps such as Calm.
Given the product hat I wear at Founding Fuel, I thought I must try this app out and look at how they have designed the user experience.
Having said that, I must admit, the last few weeks may have played a role in my decision to look this app up as well. I had decided to rejig my work because I figured I was taking on too much.
Every morning at 8:30 AM, I’d set out to complete five things. After stretching myself until 10:00 PM, I could finish three. The outcomes: unhappiness about what I had left incomplete. I wasn’t looking at what I had completed.
Over the last two weeks, I’m happy to report I have made some progress such as set manageable work goals; stick to schedules around food habits and sleep; and I am back to pursuing my hobbies. And meditation seemed like a good thing to add.
So, after a few minutes of fiddling with the Calm app (I was looking for product insights), I decided to start using their 10-minute meditation routine called Daily Calm.
Day 1: 30 minutes after I wake up, I start Daily Calm. I am excited about making a start. The best part, it’s only 10-minutes long and easy to integrate into the schedule.
It’s a guided routine, where the instructor Tamara Levitt talks you through the process. It makes me feel the process isn’t a solitary one, which I know I am bad at because my mind wanders.
I quickly fall in love with the background sounds—birds chirping, the sound of raindrops, wind blowing. It makes me feel as if I am in the lap of nature.
Tamara asks me to focus on each part of my body, one by one, from head to toe, and slowly. Feel any sensation? Any tension? She gently asks. And her voice says I should not judge or try to make sense of it—but just observe all of it.
Honestly, I had never spent this kind of time with myself. Typical ‘me-time’ involves thinking about my career, ambition, product, immediate business goals, asking what I am good at, and what do I need to improve upon.
This experience was different. Just this one moment of being so aware of my body made me realise what I am missing out on—knowing myself not just intellectually, but in a very raw form.
And just the fact that I spent time on meditation made me happy.
At the end of 10 minutes, the voice casually asked me if I will be back tomorrow for just 10 minutes. I clicked yes and it nudged me to set an alarm. I did.
Day 2: It’s 7:30 AM. I am excited. I imagine I have figured a new mantra to life. But things don’t go as well.
Five minutes into the session, I realise I have not been paying attention to Tamara. I was distracted and was thinking about work.
My hand reaches out to rewind, but I stop myself. Do I really need to be perfect in how I meditate? Is it OK to give myself the room to be distracted? Otherwise, I will be repeating the exercise endlessly. And eventually, give up.
I decide to let it go and let the frustration creep in. “It’s part of the process,” I tell myself. But I’m happy it’s two days in a row. This is a start.
Day 3: I find myself distracted. But not as much as on Day 2.
At the end of the session, for the first time, I also use another feature to record how I am feeling (via emoticons and notes).
But, in the evening, I find myself more energetic than usual. I am calmer as well. I wonder if it’s meditation or the Placebo Effect.
Day 4: I am looking forward to meditating. It’s become a game to me. How many days can I continue the streak? How many days can I brag to myself that I did this?
I continue to find myself distracted. But this time the thoughts are not about work. It’s about posture. Tamara explains how keeping a straight back makes a difference to our mood. I immediately feel it. I wonder whether I should also start working on my posture. As I am thinking, I remind myself to be in the moment. Back to meditation.
Not much happens during the day, except that on two moments I catch my poor posture. I adjust.
Day 5: As I meditate and make sense of the past five days, I know multiple things can happen moving forward.
There are high chances I can relapse to my busy schedule. This is not the first time I have rejigged work to focus on myself. But it has barely taken a few aberrations for an exciting idea to make me pull all-nighters. And get immersed into work and forget the rest.
The second path, however, is that these 10 minutes may lead to something larger. Sure, for now, it has been about streaks. It’s about how long I can do this for. But maybe over time, things will change.
I have already started thinking about my posture. About fitness. About discovering the power of my inner-self. Who knows, what lies ahead?
Charles Assisi: I don't recall now when and how did I dive into meditation apps. But what I do recall is that the first app I placed my bet on was Headspace some years ago, an app created by Andy Puddicombe, who introduces himself as a former Tibetan Buddhist monk.
Earlier this year, the company announced it closed in on $93 million in Series C funding, has 63 million downloads and users across 190 countries.
So what explains the Headspace phenomenon?
When I first got on it, much like Anmol, what I experienced was exhilarating. It didn’t take too long to get addicted to the app and I totally empathise with all that Anmol said. I could hear how noisy a place the head is.
The only two-bits I can add to what Anmol said is that Headspace’s user interface is perhaps among the most intuitive. Features such as `streaks’ introduce an element of gamification—and us humans don’t like to break a ‘streak’. So we stay at it and over time, it becomes a habit.
My experience has it that meditation helps the mind settle down. When practicing, you can hear how noisy a place your head actually is. If you haven’t tried meditation before, I recommend Headspace unhesitatingly. At Rs 899 per annum, it is affordable. There are monthly packs available as well.
Personally though, I got to a point where I outgrew Headspace. I don’t mean to sound arrogant here; but for the kind of questions playing on my mind, Headspace didn’t have answers. What I needed instead was a guide who could point me to where answers may lie. That is when I stumbled across the Waking Up app created by Sam Harris, acclaimed neuroscientist and author.
He distils wisdom from the great traditions of the world including Vipassana and engages in deep conversations with some of the finest minds of our times.
Unlike Headspace or Calm that Anmol described, Waking Up takes some getting used to. Sam Harris’ voice isn’t a calming one like Andy or Tamara. In fact, after listening to them, his voice comes across as almost brusque.
But I stayed with it because now, I was meditating to seek answers to questions on my mind: Who am I, really? Do I matter in the larger scheme of things? What is the nature of the self? What is the difference between thinking and feeling?
Oftentimes the silences would be painfully long. At others, the silence could be so calm that I’d fall asleep. Then there were other times when I could soak in the silence and enjoy it. It takes a while to get used to Waking Up.
There is a trial version of the app. The paid version is Rs 2,299 per annum. I think it is worth it. If you think it too high, send the Waking Up team a note and they offer free access right away.
May I sincerely urge you to pay if you can afford it and not abuse their generosity? The foundation is a not-for-profit and depends on subscriptions to keep them going.
When friends meditate
Do you meditate with a friend? Or alone? What has your experience been like? Let us know on our Slack channel.
And if you missed previous editions of this newsletter, they’re all archived here.
Bookmark Founding Fuel’s special section on Thriving in Volatile Times. All our stories on how individuals and businesses are responding to the pandemic until now are posted there.
Team Founding Fuel