Host: Hello and welcome to the Lifelong Wellness podcast where we talk to wellness professionals from so many walks of life from around the world and get their insight to living healthier. I’m your host, Wes Malik. Our guest today is Liam McClintock who is passionate about bringing a scientific meditation approach to a wider Western audience and thus, he found it FitMind which gives guided meditation training on the FitMind app and also provides workshops at Fortune 500 companies, addiction center schools and government offices. We've all been told at one point that meditation is great for us and to find out more, let's talk to Liam. Alright, Liam, welcome to the Lifelong Wellness podcast. How are you doing?
Liam: It’s great to be here. I’m doing well.
Host: You have a website where you post your own podcasts on a very regular basis, talking to guests and you are the host of the podcast. I'm sure you’ve been a guest on other podcasts as well, but how does it feel with the reversal of roles?
Liam: (laughing) Yeah, usually I'm the one asking the questions, so it's nice every once in a while to instead be talking about my own mission but I also like to hear about other people's so I kind of enjoy both sides.
Host: It’s very interesting because your work and your mission is based around meditation and there's a specific reason why you got into it and I would love to explore that a little bit. So for our audience and for myself, what got you into meditation? And I'm assuming it's a long story so like to hear all of it.
Liam: Okay, great yeah. So, when I was younger I was diagnosed with OCD and ADHD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder. So, those ain’t played to me for most of my life and I always felt like my mind was a mess. It was out of control. It was tugging me around and having me do things that I didn't want to do necessarily like arrange my room in a perfect order which was the OCD piece. And then my attention span was very short which was the ADHD. And so I was taking medication and at one point I was seeing a therapist for that, but it wasn't until I got to college when I was studying psychology at Yale. And actually meditation was never mentioned in those classes, but on my own I discovered it just by accident, listening to a podcast actually. I think it was the Tempter Show where he mentioned that 80- 90% of the most successful people in the world like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Foxx were having a regular meditation practice. So I thought, oh they were successful and this is maybe one of the tools leading to their success, I want to give it a shot. So I started out just very basic focusing on the breath and as I started to practice regularly, I saw these fantastic changes in my life and was actually, eventually able to get off the medication, the Adderall I was taking, and my OCD improved. I felt like finally for the first time in my life I had some summon to control over my mind. And so I went on to work in a kind of high stress finance job, but as I was working there I started meditating more and more regularly, going on weekend retreats, at centers and eventually was able have a conviction that I think this is such a powerful tool that needs to be brought to more people that I left my job in finance and traveled to Bali Indonesia to become a certified as meditation instructor to really take my practice deep and go into the mountains, meditate with monks in silence for some time and learn about what there was to learn about the mind and explore it from an introspective, meditative perspective. And at the same time I was reading a lot of literature about the neuroscience, meditation, and that got me excited about how the brain can actually change its shape and function according to how you apply it. So I’m now pursuing a Masters in Neuroscience, which is nice because it's kind of that objective view of the brain and how it works from the outside in. And then with my meditation practice, I can see how the mind works just by observing it in action. So that's what I get passionate about.
Host: Wow. That is incredible. Kind of give me a glimmer of a Bruce Wayne back story, you know, climbing up mountains. I will ask the ton of questions, where you went, who you talked to but the first question that arose was, was your OCD and ADHD that bad that you had to take medicine? How did it like impact your life positively, negatively? How did you live in your youth, your teens up to college?
Liam: Yeah, you know, it was sometimes hard to be in my head because my mind was so fragmented and distracted. The medication would help me stay focused but I didn’t feel like myself, my emotions were up and down and all over the place but part of that’s just being a teenager. I mean, I think the default human condition is somewhat neurotic and mental health is sometimes talked about on a spectrum, either you’re normal or there's something wrong with you. And I think actually our minds naturally, especially in the Western world, just a way it kind of the cultural world product and just as a part of the human condition are naturally a little bit neurotic and I'll give an example that so. If you just think about the fact that all day long, I would imagine pretty much anyone listening to this and this isn’t to say that I’ve fully transcended this mode of operating, but you’re talking to yourself in your head. There's an inner chatter, a constant voice in your head that talks to yourself often negatively. Now, the only difference between that voice in your head and the deranged homeless man on the street he was talking out loud to himself is that you're not doing it out loud, but there's still a voice in your head. And so I became more aware of this voice and it also became apparent to me the more I was meditating that this voice that it kind of plagued to me throughout my life and tugged me around was actually it existed, it exists in everyone. And so, this is just to say that even though I was diagnosed with these disorders technically, kind of labelled and put in the box, I don't think my mind was any messier than most people's minds. It was just the fact that I was aware of it because maybe it was a little more extreme, but there's kind of the spectrum, if you think about the spectrum of like on the far end there is like just, you know, you’re clearly there's something wrong with you and you’re put in a kind of mental medication or put in a mental hospital. Well, mostly in the West we’re concerned with getting back to baseline norm which is just like you're happy enough. You know, there's no one would say there's something, there doesn't appear to be anything wrong with you. On the Eastern traditions for 2500 years and the West is so far behind in this aspect, they weren’t concerned with being normal. They were concerned with how do you get as happy as possible. How do you train the mind is that I can sit there, brushing my teeth and instead of worrying about what I have to do next I can just brush my teeth and be happy. Or how can I eat my meal and instead of thinking about some awkward scenario encounter I had in the hallway an hour earlier, I can just eat my meal and enjoy my food.
Liam: So that's kind of the spectrum that I noticed then. So I was somewhere on that spectrum. (Laughing) You know, earlier and it was much more difficult to be me than I would say it is now.
Host: Is it the east which is concerned with happiness when it comes to mental health?
Liam: Well, these meditative traditions were concerned with reaching what they called enlightenment and what I would just say is a state devoid of suffering. I don’t know, happiness is kind of a broad term but you might say just a very fulfilling, tranquil, peaceful state of mind which I think is ultimately what we’re all after. In the West mental health often gets framed in terms of “Let's just cure you if there's something wrong with you”, but is not as often framed in terms of how you have the best quality of mind possible, how do you really live a fulfilling life.
Host: So you started meditating by yourself, on your own, just after reading about several celebrities or very known people who had put meditation as a part of their routine in their life and there were successful. So you emulated them. Did you have any help? Did you get a, you know, How To guide meditation for dummies book or how to start?
Liam: Yeah, it actually started out with just the apps, the iPhone apps, and just to put in a personal blog where I developed my own app called FitMind, which is I think like the kind of the app I wish I’ve had when I started meditating because to be honest, when I first started meditating I'm not sure if I was actually meditating. I was kind of following some guided instructions but it's very confusing because there's many different types of meditation out there. You know, it’s an umbrella term like exercise. There's over 800 different types of meditation and often the instructions given are somewhat counter-intuitive or confusing, or even just flat out wrong like it will tell you to just empty your mind. That’s why a lot of people quit because they get the wrong instructions. But then, from there, there was a book that I highly recommend to anyone listening this to serious about starting meditation practice called The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa or John Yates who is a PhD neuroscientist turned meditation master and that is really considered the Bible of insight meditation practice. It’s a big book and that goes into a lot of detail about how to systematically train the mind. So I was using that for a long time kind of up until Bali. Up until I did my formal training in Bali.
Host: So the book and just apps and that guided you and that helped you and then you went for formal training to Indonesia.
Host: Okay. Man, that must've been… (Laughing) Did you just pack up as a, “Hey man! I am going to Indonesia. That’s it” or did you really plan it out? Did it take you a long time to get there say, “Hey man, I’m going to do this.”
Liam: Yeah, I knew I was going to quit my job in finance maybe six months before I did so. So I had some time to plan it all out.
Liam: Think about the steps that would lead me there.
Host: So what kind of training did you receive when you got there?
Liam: Well, it was a month of 300 hours of meditation and yoga training. And when I say yoga I am not so much, I think that phrase calls to mind kind of exercise and stretching the way it’s often practiced in the West.
Host: The physical part.
Liam: Yes, this was really meditative yoga so it’s all about the mind. We were moving consciously, slowly, we weren’t trying to get into a crazy postures necessary. It was more about training the mind to be completely present.
Liam: And then yes, this was all Vedic will be classified as Vedic or yogic meditation and it was 300 hours of that and three days of silence towards the end that was kind of a culmination. Three days of complete silence and the whole month I was off my phone, off of any electronics or communicating devices. So the mind, my mind became very clear, I felt very sharp at the end of that month.
Host: Really? I can't even begin to think how you must've felt and I'm intrigued. Three days of silence? No external input, no phone, no computers, I’m assuming.
Liam: Yeah, no computer.
Host: Outside contact, did you go to the store, just come back or did you stay at one place?
Liam: Yeah, we were on a retreat center so we actually were able to. There was one day where we were allowed to venture out and I went in to town and it was like going from a calm lake into a stormy ocean just all the suddenly having been in an environment where everything was very peaceful and tranquil and there were no distractions to a place where there's people driving around in all directions, talking and talking and that seat you just that contrast. You realize how hectic our lives normally are.
Host: You mentioned what you gained from it. What else did you learn from that retreat?
Liam: Yeah, I would say a lot of what I learned was experiential. This is what I encourage people with meditation. I mean, you can read all the books you want about it, but it really comes down to actually practicing. I mean, the theory, the philosophy, the science. All that is useful as far as it gets you to practice. But until you sit down if you really want to understand your mind, you sit down and you observe it and then you start to realize a lot of about yourself that is often hard to put into words. So I learned a lot about myself and my own mind, my propensities and kind of conditioning. And I learned where I felt, I felt like what it was like to have a mind that for the first time was really present and happy, irregardless of external circumstances, just happy with being present and living in the moment.
Host: You’re studying Neuroscience and you know you've been to University College for Philosophy, is that correct?
Liam: I majored in History and took up a lot of Psychology classes.
Host: Psychology. I got it wrong. You went to university for Psychology. Now, we began the conversation with your expertise and what you teach people and that's what we'll get to in a little bit. But before we get there, let's frame the conversation in the context of the Lifelong Wellness podcast. And we ask people what their impressions are or what they feel wellness entails in a person's life and what does it mean for you? What does wellness mean for you?
Liam: I think wellness is all about quality of life, quality depth of life for me. For me it's not about necessarily looking good or having the right weight on your scale or a lot of these, you know, aging well, living long. I think it's all about quality of life so it's about having energy and feeling like you have a lot of vitality, like you're in the moment, like you’re fully engaged with whatever you're doing. I think wellness is about living a good quality of life.
Host: You have a website and you have an app and it is, I wrote it down, it’s up here hold on.
Host: So what does fitmind.co actually do?
Liam: Yes FitMind, so that’s FitMind one word and I call that mental fitness company and there's a couple different kinf of verticals. One is the mobile app that I mentioned, it’s an app that can be found in the Apple App Store and basically you can think of it as a gym for your mind. It provides training guided recordings, lessons that you can export. They don’t just provide the meditation, but they also explain how your mind works and how it's being systematically train that each set kind of high-level neuroscience and then it allows you to track your mental fitness over time. So each day you’re prompted how was your mental fitness yesterday and you rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 5 in terms of emotional control, social connection, mental energy and presence and focus and you can see how those categories improve over time as you continue to meditate and implement that meditation training into your daily life. So the app is kind of the main core in the business but we also have the FitMind podcasts and give workshops mostly to companies, technology companies like Amazon and Uber and addiction centers and other organizations. So the workshops are kind of in-person component and those are more for organizations. And then for individuals, the app is really the training component for people who want to be able to do this on the go. You know, whenever they want to, they can just kind of play the guided recordings and they’re learning over 25 different meditation techniques so they can see what's really working best for them.
Host: So FitMind is actually a learning tool along with the tracking tool, both?
Liam: Yeah, the tracking tool that I mentioned is something that’s in that app.
Liam: Yes, I would describe FitMind as a mental wellness or mental fitness company.
Host: When you go around giving or delivering your workshops to people they probably come in with the mindset and a preconceived notion of what to expect and they're like, “Oh, okay meditation”. They probably have an image in their mind that we’re all going to sit down on the floor or something like that. What are the misconceptions or what are the preconceived notions people come into your workshops with and how do you dispel those and what do you teach them?
Liam: Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up. There’s so many misconceptions about meditation and what it entails. So what I like to do is initially start by leading them through meditation and they might be pleasantly surprised that the language I use and what they might discover in that first meditation that it's not what they previously may be expected to be. I’m very careful about the way that I communicate it because I think a lot of the misconceptions come from this period. That was a beautiful period but the hippies really kind of just branded meditation as this lovey dovey flowery thing with all these lovey dovey language. At least when I started, I mean I never would have gotten into meditation if it hadn’t been for the celebrities I was hearing about doing it who I respected. So I think it has suffered from a branding issue and there's a lot of misconceptions. There’s also what I’m really skeptical of is there's a lot of pseudoscience that gets layered on top which is natural for anything that's focused on the mind. So there's a lot of talk of trying to make it sound scientific in a way that is not and that I think also at least turned me off and I think it turned a lot of other people off to go, “Wait a minute. You can’t make that scientific claim. That’s not scientific”. So I’m really careful about the language I use and how I explain things just in terms of what we can know to be true. And if we can't know something to be true, scientifically, that's fine. It doesn't mean it can't be explored, but it can be talked about in experiential language like this is what you experience, not this is what you’ve experienced. Therefore, we can make this ontological claim about how the universe functions which is what a lot of things I think even what a lot of teachers do today and I think that turned a lot of people off. So I try to be very non-dogmatic, very secular, very scientific in the teaching and I think that resonates with especially the folks who were working at technology firms and probably come out of the same skeptical lens that I did.
Host: What’s the first thing you teach people?
Liam: The first thing I teach them is to observe their mind and to notice what's happening in their mind. And so I might ask them to just observe their thoughts as if they're watching a movie and not to forget that they're sitting in a movie theatre, not to get wrapped up in the thoughts. And it's very clear as soon as you do this you sit down, you start looking at your thoughts. It's clear that your mind is just rattling around and actually kind of turns up the volume. And I might ask them to follow five breaths in a row which sounds like a really easy things to do. Everyone thinks I can follow five breaths in a row, well it turns out that's actually more difficult for an untrained mind than you’d think.
Host: Follow how?
Liam: Another words, you would close your eyes and just follow the physical sensations of breath as they’re appearing at your nostrils and try to stay focused there. Just focusing on the breath as it appears at your nostrils and trying not to, you know, get lost in thought and forget that you're meditating. Well, it turns out 10 breaths in a row is a Herculean task actually when you first start.
Liam: It sounds so easy.
Host: Yeah, it does.
Liam: The mind will do anything to get away. I mean, I would ask the listeners like I would ask of you maybe this is something you would try after the podcast. Sit down and observe your breath at the nose for 10 breaths in a row and see what happens. You know, initially that sounds really easy but when you get, you might realize when you get to the eighth and then you got enough and you were thinking about answering an email and you forgot you’re supposed to be meditating. I mean, it’s incredible the mind will do anything to get away from a boring task.
Host: Very interesting. So that's the first thing you actually tell people to do in your workshop, right? I haven't even gotten to the list of questions that I wrote for you and I guess I got to start now but I did write this down and that is you mentioned there's 800 types of different meditation that you know of and there’s probably more. Can you broadly categorize them? Can you tell us about if there are silos of different types of meditation? What it is? Is it based on duration as like a one minute thing, an hour thing?
Liam: Yeah, I’m really glad you asked that. We could categorize them in terms of the traditions that they’re from. We could say, you know, there’s Zen meditation and there’s probably Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism and Vedic Meditations. But I think the most useful way to classify them is in terms of how you’re applying your mind and I would say there's three broad categories. This is based on some scientific research that a gentleman or two researchers named Courtland Dahl and Richie Davidson are doing at University of Wisconsin Madison, which is probably the leading scientific research center for meditation. And what they’ve done is they categorize them in terms of three broad categories. So the first is Attentional Focus, kind of be attentional family or what we call it. So this would be what I just described. In other words, there are some objects of meditation. In this case I was talking about the breath as the object or anchor of meditation and you’re training the mind to focus on that one object as closely as possible. And the object varies depending on the exact meditation practice, maybe it's a mantra if you’re doing transcendental meditation. Or maybe it's a physical object like a candle flame or the breath which is probably the most commonly used. They’re other examples maybe it's like a visual that you’ve called to mind, but in any case, your training, your tension muscles to train the mind become really focused on that one object.
Host: Okay, so that's a basic and that's the basis behind meditation. I didn’t know that you could use a physical object for meditation. I thought it was all close your eyes kind of a deal.
Liam: Yeah, you can meditate with your eyes open, too. A lot of meditations involved, you know, paying attention. In any kind of meditations, you're paying attention on purpose in some particular way so you can meditate with your eyes open. For sure that still train the mind as long as you haven’t…The moment you stopped meditating really is when you’ve forgotten that you’re meditating and you’re somewhere lost in thought, thinking about your grandmother's cooking instead of meditating. So the next category, broadly speaking would be the Constructive Family. So the first one’s the Attentional family, the second is Constructive, which means you're intentionally cultivating certain qualities of mind. So an example of this would be what I call emotional priming which is traditionally called Meta. And in this you would call to mind someone who you really care for and you cultivate a feeling of compassion toward them. For example, call to mind now someone who is just a complete stranger and you cultivated a feeling of compassion for them. Eventually, you don't get to someone you don’t like and you can feel compassion towards that person. So you’re cultivating certain wholesome or useful mental state on purpose. That’s Constructive and the third family broadly speaking is, Deconstructive and deconstructive practices are some of the deepest maybe they might be called the most advanced types of meditation because they really start to basically deconstruct your sensory experience and even your kind of your constructed sense of self. So another word, we’re telling ourselves stories about who we are in the world and we created this narrative based on our past and our conditioning, And a lot of that narrative and the little stories we tell ourselves are unhelpful. And that's actually what leads to anxiety and depression is that it's the stories we tell ourselves are very destructive a lot of times. So what Deconstructive meditation practices can do, almost like cognitive behavioural therapy, is that they start to notice and deconstruct the narratives that we’re telling ourselves in our minds about who we are on a deeper level. What you might call our ego starts to diminish because we start to realize that it's just these layers we have built up that our non-existent. In the real sense they’re just mental movies that were blank. So I don’t know if I’ve done a good job describing this third category because it's something you almost have to experience but it is getting at the root cause of a lot of our suffering which is just the mental kind of replays and projections.
Host: Sounds very, very interesting and you think meditation but there's a whole lot to it. It's not a very simple subject. You've probably spent a lot of your life, a lot of time studying it and sharing the learning as well. I want to know what are the benefits? What will meditation do for me mentally, physically? Why should I be interested in meditation? What are the pros and cons or what value will I get out of it?
Liam: Yeah, I think I can talk about this for a very long time but I might start with just some of the primary benefits. You mentioned the physical so there is a mind-body connection, because your brain is connected to your nervous system which is, you know, intimately connected to your body. So for that reason, meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce inflammation and lead you into a parasympathetic kind of rest and digest state. We live often in a very stressed environment, especially in the modern world, we’re constantly over-scheduling ourselves or overstimulating ourselves. So that is kind of the service that will benefit and the one that is most commonly advertised is just like,”Hey, this is a great stress reduction tool” and that’s a good reason to meditate enough itself. But this is what I realize, there’s kind of layers to it. That might be the initial reason you start meditating is just like, “Oh, I want to destress a little bit”. Then there’s deeper reason and these are a little bit harder to notice at first when you start mediating. You might initially just feel good. You know, it feels good to meditate because I’m now destresssed. But then when you start to realize is attention, for example, is like the movie camera that determines your whole reality in each moment. Your ability to pay attention to what you want to pay attention to and the quality of your attention is like the stability of the camera. It’s going to determine your whole life because that's your experience in each moment is your ability to pay attention. So for example if I'm a billionaire eating at a five-star restaurant and I got a beautiful steak in front of me and I’m just piling it into my mouth and my quality of attention is so low and I'm having conversation, I’m not focused on the steak, that steak was actually a low-quality experience. But if I’m highly trained mediator who was just enjoying a simple noodle dish and I’m able to give my full attention to it, I can extract so much joy from that simple meal because I can pay full attention to it. I'm not fragmenting my attention, my mind’s zipping in million directions and I had that full experience. This is a lot of times we’ll look back on the day and we say, “The day went so quick. I feel like it just went by so quickly. I don't even remember what I had for lunch yesterday”. That's because you can only form memories when you're in the present moment and so if you're not fully present for your life, then you're missing a lot of your life. There was a Harvard study in 2010 that show that we spend 46% of our day mind wandering. Another words we’re not paying attention to what we’re doing in the present moments. So we’re missing half of our lives, always projecting the future and ruminating about the past, which is how we spend most of our day, so meditation first. I think this is the primary reason to meditate is that you're able to live a higher quality of life because you're fully present. Not only does it feel better to be present because a lot of the emotions associated with the future and past are negative, but you can get more work done. You can be fully present for the people who you care about so you actually are listening to them and you start to form a deeper bond with them. Your quality of work goes up, your quality of life goes up. That’s one of…
Host: In your case…Yeah?
Liam: Yeah, I would just say that’s one of like a hundred reasons out, I’d rather laugh, is to why you should meditate. Maybe the primary reason that I meditate.
Host: Very good reasons. In fact, I'm beginning to turn. (laughing)
Liam: Let’s get you meditating. (laughing)
Host: I approach things with the skepticism, you know? There's too much information out there and it's hard to decipher what is true and what is not and it takes a little time for me, personally, to get convinced. I am getting convinced the reasons and arguments you state, you know, focus, attentiveness, happiness, of course. The first thing you mentioned was just destressing and stress is a major, major player in our lives. I mean everyone talks about it all the time. Oh, I'm stressed out. I need a break. I need to take a vacation etc. etc. It's on the top of our heads, but not very many of us go towards meditation to cure it.
Liam: Yeah and I think it's good that you’re skeptical. I mean, I was very skeptical and I think there are so many health trends or gimmicks out there that, you know, it requires us to be skeptical. And a lot of times the science is not what it claims to be and it's just marketing. Meditation is not a fad. It's not just a trendy health thing that will pass in a few years. It's a science…Well, I don’t know if I would call it a science but it's the practice of training the mind. It’s the practice of training better quality of mind. I think about this in a cultural construct, I think there's a change occurring slowly. So running, jogging, for example, was not commonplace in the 1940’s. You would be a weirdo if you were jogging on the side of the road. Even though there was a lot of science out there to suggest it was healthy for us, if you weren’t training for the Olympics, you were a weirdo if you’re trying to jog on the side of the road. But then we had Nike and we had really good marketing on the part of…There was a gentleman named James Fixx, he wrote a book about, I think it was called “Jogging” and it was really a great compelling reasons to jog. After all these cultural changes, eventually you know, here we are half a century later or perhaps a century later and it's completely normal. It's kind of weird if you don't exercise or somehow take care of your body. I think the same thing is occurring with our minds. You know, there was this kind of marketing disaster with the hippies because now there’s all this misconception of meditation but I think as soon as our culture realizes that it's just a practical means in the instructions for training a better quality of mind which determines everything about our reality in each moment. I mean our minds are all that we have, they’re with us all the time and our worlds are constructed by them, our opinions of things are more important than the actual things themselves, which is why a child who has very little in a Third World country can be happier than an adult here in the US who has all the resources they could dream of. It’s because all that is our mind and how our mind reacts to the world. So I think it makes sense to train our minds, just like with your physical bodies.
Host: You mentioned that meditation helped you overcome OCD and ADHD and in fact get you off of Adderall.
Host: Does meditation help other types of symptoms or problems?
Liam: Yes, it’s being used in a clinical setting to treat various mental disorders like depression or anxiety. I won’t say it's a panacea and there's certainly Western psychological techniques that should be applied in conjunction with it. And I don’t think medication is always the worst solution. I mean, especially someone needs to be stabilized or as a short-term fix, but if you think about meditation as a method for training the mind and if you think about a mind that is what we might call unfit, so there's something that's a little bit off about it then it can be very helpful. That said, I’d stick with the fitness analogy if you’re injured, like maybe you're fully like psychotic or have really that PTSD, it's been shown that meditation can actually be harmful, at least initially, for those who have really deep trauma, especially PTSD. It can bring up a lot in a way that is not helpful, at least at first. So I think it's important that we’re careful around not seeing it is like a cure-all and using a conjunction with other psychological tools and treatments.
Host: Is Indonesia the only place that you went to to learn about meditation and go on that retreat?
Liam: Yeah, I went to Indonesia for six weeks, spending a month on the formal training program in nearly a week in the mountains just in silence. And then when I came back to the US since that I’ve got on other retreats here because what's great is, all these retreats are available now in the US just as much as in Asian. And in fact, a lot of these great Asian teachers are coming to the US. One resource I really recommend to folks who want to take this all the way or who want to really explore, there is free retreats called Goenka. If you just Google Goenka , (G-O-E-N-K-A) Meditation Retreat. His website is, I think dhamma.org, (D-H-A-M-M-A.org). He’s no longer live, but this was a very wealthy I think Burmese businessman who created these free ten-day sound retreats. They’re completely supported by donations so you go there and all your food and housing is covered for 10 days and you get his method because they have video recordings of going to teaching his Vipassana, body scan method.
Host: This is in the US.
Liam: In the US. There’s over 300 different locations around the world. There's maybe like at least 60 different centers in the US. There’s probably one in every state that does it.
Host: Goenka. G-O-E-N-K-A.
Liam: Yes. If you search like Goenka Meditation Retreat, I'm sure it would come up and you book these. You want to book them in advance because they’re getting very popular but they are absolutely life-changing and I highly recommend it to anyone who is kind of serious about meditation.
Host: You went through 3 days of silence, that's awesome.
Liam: It’s 10 days.
Host: You went for 10 days. Wow!
Liam: The Goenka is 10 days of silence. You can’t really to make eye contact with the other people.
Host: Oh really?
Liam: It's just you and your mind. Yeah.
Host: So it’s not just speaking. It's like no communication at all.
Liam: Yeah, no communication. You’re sitting and meditating for about 17 hours a day and daily breaks for meals.
Host: Sounds so hard! I would go nuts.
Liam: You do. You realize how nuts you are and then your mind starts to calm down.
Host: Oh yeah? Does it stay calm after that or do you lapse into something, you know, back to how you were?
Liam: Yeah, well that’s a good point. I mean, there’s like the neuroscientist talk about altered states versus altered traits. And altered traits, which are more permanent changes in the brain do take time, takes time for the brain to rewire itself, but that's that you can notice an increase depth of…I've definitely changed after these 10 days and a good testing point was just some small things that happened right after the retreat like my car got towed, I had someone steal some things from my apartment. These things just weren’t bothering me as much as they normally would. It’s not that I wasn't trying to right the situation. I wasn’t just like, “Oh, life is whatever. I don’t care anymore”. It’s just that the emotional half-life was very short of these emotions. I didn’t stay angry for that long. I felt very focused. The razor-sharp focus did fade over time, but the benefits overall would stay with me and they encourage you to keep practicing. So you know if you keep practicing off of retreats, it's very possible to stay in that state.
Host: You know what? I’m so intrigued. I actually want to do it. I think I’m going to write this one down in my Things-To-Do journal.
Liam: Let’s go!
Host: Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country and, you know, I didn’t know that they had these kind of retreats. I thought this was a more Asian Buddhist you know Japanese or Chinese kind of the thing. I'm sure it's very, very popular over there, too.
Liam: Yes. I think the Goenka retreats are all over the world. The one that I did in Bali it turns out was advertised as a Ka Later retreat, but I found out afterwards doing a different style of meditation, called Mahasi Sayda Sick Noting technique. It was similar but different. And so when I went on this other Goenka, I found out from a teacher and he was very confused when I was telling him about this other experience because you can talk it for a little. That’s the only talking you get, it’s like ten minutes at lunch with the teacher and he was like, “I don't think that was a Goenka center. I’m wondering how it made its way on the website”. So I don't know. I think that generally quality control, generally get the same teaching everywhere you go. And the reason it spread you would think like how can they support people for 10 days. All these, you know, 50 people per retreat for 10 days, all their housing and food covered at the center which is not cheap. And it's because you come off of the retreat and it's completely changes your life. So if I have, you know, I gave what I could but if I had more resources I would've given it all to the Goenka retreat. They’re not brainwashing me, you just feel so grateful for what they have provided. So I do highly recommend this.
Host: You mentioned we live in a distracted world and you know there's a lot of stress around us. You know how it is. We’re always multitasking in our careers, you know, juggling our lives, thinking about, you know, our family or friends, you know, where to go, what to do. Always on the go, always on the run, you know? That's how our lives have become. And it's hard to find time during the day, you know, we are stressed out about time and you mentioned that meditation and the fact that, you know, it's because we’re not attentive to what's going and our mind wanders we lose about 46% of the day according to the Harvard study you’re quoting. Do you have any like small tips and tricks you could give our audience to, you know, start, just begin getting their feet wet into it slowly. Instead of just going on a full-blown retreat for 10 days because maybe I can't do that. Maybe, you know, it's a little difficult. Is there something that you can suggest which is only a tiny step I can take?
Liam: Yeah and before I answer that I just want to say a couple of things. The first is that, the 10 days definitely jumping into the deep end. That said, my roommate on this retreat had never meditated a day in his life. So you can do it if you're committed. There's also a shorter one so there's a three day, I think, and there's like one day retreat if you just want to kind of dip your toe. In terms of a daily practice of just 5 to 10 minutes a day will start to change your brain and your mind. It’s shown that even after 5 minutes, the brain starts to create epigenetic changes so there is kind of rewiring process starting to occur. And more than anything, a lot of benefits come from increased metacognitive awareness or awareness of the mind itself. So even 5 minutes a day, consistently, will do wonders in your life. And so I encourage people to start with a minimum viable commitment or what I called MBC, which is pick the amount of time we can meditate even on your busiest day.
Liam: That might be 1 or 2 minutes and start there. And maybe on Sundays you find yourself sitting for 10 minutes or 15 minutes and you start to enjoy it more and more. But just staying consistent where I know I’m going to sit down for at least 2 minutes a day or whatever it is. And then the other piece of advice I would give is just pay attention to where you pay attention.
Liam: Pay attention to where you pay attention. Another words, do you apply your attention by scrolling mindlessly through Twitter every break you get when you’re lining at Starbucks? Do you fragment your attention by multitasking and hopping from one thing to the other? Or, are you completely present when you’re talking to someone? When you're speaking on the phone, are you just speaking on the phone or are you doing a million other things? Any moment could be a moment of meditation if you're fully present. And so thinking about restructuring your life like, is your phone vibrating all day while you're trying to work or is it away in your desk so you can be present? And then you can divert your full attention to the messages when you have a break or something. So just kind of thinking about how you're applying your mind throughout the day, not just on meditation.
Host: My wife has made me realize I have a very severe problem like this because she says this is you on a normal evening, TV’s on, iPad is here and you're on your phone. What is wrong with you? (laughing) I'm like, “I’m just playing Candy crush while I watch Will & Grace and the documentary is on the TV” So…(laughing)
Liam: Listen, all these things are fun. I watch Netflix and do all that, too. I don’t want to sound like I’m some kind of extreme monk, but I do think it's just like being deliberate with, you know, our attention like as long as you can bend like when you're at dinner maybe you can have a full focused conversation. What really bothers me, that’s my biggest pet peeve is, like the dinner table the one time where you should be able to have a connection like someone's just on their phone and they’re half listening to you.
Host: It’s rampant. Everyone experiences it and I'm glad that you could give us some tips on meditation. It's been a very educating conversation for me. I have been educated today. And we can all start with meditation, there's apps out there, everywhere, but yours is called FitMind.
Liam: FitMind. F-I-T-M-I-N-D, one word. It’s in the Apple App Store. We’re working on Android.
Host: Your experiences are what made the app and your knowledge and experiences is in that. So I think that's a great starting point. Your website has your podcasts, it has your blogs, a lot of information as well. That's fitmind.co.
Host: Do people get in touch with you? Do you have a page on your website or do you have an email address that people can get in touch with you on?
Liam: Yeah, I think the best way to connect is on Twitter, @liam_mcclintock. I recently got a Twitter because I realized it was necessary and I try to check that like once a week. Also if there's any questions about their meditation practice, there's a component of the app where you can ask a question and the email got sent to our team and I should try to personally answer those questions as often as I can. So there’s kind of a button in the app that will light for you to ask questions about your meditation.
Host: Liam, thank you so much for being on the Lifelong Wellness podcast today.
Liam: Thank you, Wes. It’s a pleasure speaking with you.