Meditation

The Paris Method

Transcendental Meditation – The Game Changer

Roger Holmes No Comments

Transcendental Meditation is the game changer. Imagine a time when you were at your best. Now imagine feeling like that 24/7. While there are no magical answers to the question of how to be happier and more productive, Transcendental Meditation goes pretty close.

I was trained in the practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM) in Midtown Manhattan New York in the spring of 2017. Aside from a few celebrity testimonials (one of which, by Dr Norman Rosenthal, inspired me to take the training), I could not find much feedback from other practitioners. Having now practiced the technique regularly myself, I decided to share my experience.

A very poignant moment in a persons life. Source: tm.org

I was feeling slightly nervous as I walked to my first day of training in the practice of Transcendental Meditation in Midtown Manhattan. Crucially, I was also open to learning something new. That is key; not just for Transcendental Meditation, but for most personal development plans.

I attended Transcendental Meditation training each day for four consecutive days, and a had a follow up ‘check-in’ with my tutor a week later via email. By that time, I was enjoying the adventure of crossing the United States by train. That trip was conceived and enjoyed due to what I had learned and experienced the previous week.

I had already been meditating for around two years when I decided to embrace TM. Someone asked me if this now meant that I had given up on my own technique – The Paris Method. Far from it. I now use both. The Paris Method prepares me for meditation, but Transcendental Meditation literally takes me somewhere else. I am not even sure where. Probably, if I was forced to speculate, to the true self within me. It is certainly very far from my previous normal thought process. In fact there is no thought process – because there is no thought. That is the whole beauty.

Transcendental Meditation uses a silent mantra approach, which really suits me. Several years ago, I had struggled to meditate. I had (in ignorance) elected not to receive training in any meditation techniques for fear of further complicating the meditation process. I especially thought that TM would be too complicated. It was, I thought, practiced by famous and successful people after all. How wrong I was!

The Transcendental Meditation technique simplifies meditation. The TM technique is effortless. It is our own mind and our many thoughts which complicate things. I was also very skeptical of having to pay to learn how to meditate. I wondered why the TM endorsements were only from successful celebrities. I now wonder if successful people actually are successful because they practice TM!

I spent much of my life putting preconditions on my notion of what it was to be happy/successful/calm/more confident. If I had more money Id be happy was a very regular state of mind. If he/she did this/that I could get on with things, etc etc. Since practicing TM, that outlook has changed to something more akin to: Wherever I am now is where I want to be.

Regular practice of Transcendental Meditation brings a sense of purpose and awareness. It is certainly relaxing while meditating, but there is a sensory legacy throughout the day and beyond. I don’t even need to think about or understand that sensory legacy. What I do know is that I have felt a heightened sense of awareness and greater clarity. I am calmer, happier, and think in a much more creative manner. When I have creative thoughts, I am able to act upon them.

Another huge benefit is quality of sleep. Before practicing TM I constantly struggled to get enough sleep, or quality sleep. When I came to live in New York City, sleep was a huge problem. It was either too hot or too cold. The bed was too hard or too soft. The pillow too high or not high enough. I heard nearby sirens and airplanes. Since I was trained in Transcendental Meditation, I sleep within 10 minutes of going to bed – sometimes sooner. I honestly do not notice the temperature, the pillows, the sirens or the other things which ‘kept me awake’. I now know that it was my restless mind that kept me awake. Unless I am very tired due to physical exercise or work, I wake up feeling completely refreshed. Procrastination and feelings of lethargy are now the exception not the rule.

Previously I felt as though I didn’t have time to meditate. Now I feel that I don’t have time not to meditate. Transcendental Meditation is literally a ‘no brainer’, and that is what makes it so beautiful. You get to switch off, and tap into a level of consciousness that you can not otherwise experience – or benefit from.

A comparison of meditation techniques. Source: tm.org

Unlike other forms of meditation, TM requires no effort. Even Mindfulness, which is regarded as a simple meditation and awareness technique, asks first that you concentrate. When you concentrate, you are incapable of delving into the depths consciousness where true relaxation, creativity and sense of purpose stem from. With TM, you immediately move from ‘busy mind’ mode to a deep and meaningful state of consciousness. I love sitting down to meditate. I know that the most beautiful silence awaits.

Research is showing that TM can also help to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lead to other health benefits. And all for twenty minutes of effortless meditation twice daily. I sometimes wish I had trained in the Transcendental Meditation technique twenty or thirty years ago. Yet, I have no regrets; because all that matters is right now, so I am content.

I would stop short of making any wild claims about how Transcendental Meditation has completely changed my life. It has though, completely changed how I am enjoying and experiencing my life. I have never before looked at my present and future with such clarity and optimism. Having invested heavily in adult education for seven years to MSc level, I can honestly say that by far the best training/education I have ever received was the 4-day training in Transcendental Meditation practice. Transcendental Meditation for me, really has been a game changer. I hope you can try it too.

Taking the Train Across America: California Zephyr Line

Roger Holmes 2 comments

Train Across America Part 2: Chicago – Reno, on the California Zephyr

This is the second part of a series of blog posts which chronicle the adventure of riding the train across America. Click here for part 1, which recounts the journey from New York City to Chicago on the Cardinal Line.

I boarded the iconic California Zephyr and found to my dismay that I had a seating partner. When riding coach class on the Amtrak lines out of season, you will probably have a double seat all to yourself. I had enjoyed that luxury on the Cardinal line from New York City to Chicago. But now I had a bulky Mexican in the seat next to me. His first action was to take the window seat, close the curtain, and curl up in search of sleep. A 52 hour westward journey lay ahead of us. I lasted around ten minutes before getting up and seeking a better view or better company. I found both in the lounge car.

The beautiful sightseeing car on Amtrak’s California Zephyr

The lounge on the Zephyr is actually a sight-seeing car. The diverse seating arrangements include booth-style seats, fixed seats facing the passing scenery and swivel seats. The car has larger windows, which are supplemented by further overhead panes which curve around onto the roof of the carriage for increased light and visibility. I went downstairs to the little cafe and ordered my now Amtrak staple lunch of cheeseburger and pepsi. Upon returning upstairs, I found that there were no vacant individual seats, so I found a table with just one occupant, and asked if I could join him. The middle-aged man’s name was John, and he was deep in concentration over a crossword puzzle.

John opened our conversation by asking if I was Irish, and when I confirmed that I was, he told me: “I hate Irish men.” Charming. Thankfully, he then laughed and explained himself. John owned a bed and breakfast right on the Husdon River, around an hour north of New York City in a nice little town called Nayak. He had been dating a girl for a few years and had plans to marry her, only for her to suddenly ditch him and take up with an Irishman! We instantly hit it off despite the humorous inappropriateness of my nationality. I only broke off our conversation to walk through several cars to the back of the Zephyr to make a video as we crossed the Mississippi River, and watched as we rolled in to another new state for me – Iowa.

A postcard advertising John’s Bed and Breakfast at Nayak, New York

Evening turned to night, and Iowa turned to Nebraska, but John and I remained deep in conversation at our table in the sightseeing car long after the passing scenery had been swallowed by the darkness. He was such an interesting man. Holding his hands up in admission, John confessed that the relationship breakdown had led him to question the direction his life was going in. So he hired his nephew to manage the bed and breakfast, and had taken to the road. Hawaii aside, he had since seen every state. His experiences were incredible.

John’s primary residence was now his old van, which he had modified to include what he assured me were very comfortable living quarters. It was waiting for him in Denver; their onward destination as yet unknown. “Id say, wherever the wind takes me” John had stated philosophically, “but the wind would then be a factor. I like to be free from any choice factors. I just decide at the spur of the moment and take off.” We both pondered this for a second before I asked, “So you’re freer than the wind?”, to which John replied “Yeah. I like nothing to guide me but momentary intuition.”

John’s wanderlust had seen him stay on farms, in cities, on riverboats, with naturists in the Arizona deserts, with bikers in California, on his own on a Colorado mountain and partake in more spontaneous outdoor parties than a hundred men would encounter in a lifetime. “I want to know America; my home. Only then can I know myself.” John’s final philosophical offering was profound. “I had to travel tens of thousands of miles, through every state in America, to find what was already with me when I set out. Im happy and Im free.”

While contemplating this, I noticed a group of Amish teenagers playing cards at a nearby table. “They are on their Rumspringa John told me, explaining that many Amish and Mennonite communities send their young adults out into the world for a year. When the year is up, they can either return and be baptized into their church, or decide to remain out in the outside world. The vast majority return for baptism. John then laughed before saying, “I guess my Rumspringa is lasting a little longer than a year!”

During this time, another group of conversationalists had taken up residence at a nearby table in the lounge. Their common denominator was alcohol. When the cafe/bar had stopped serving at 11pm, they had remained for a short time before returning to the now silent coach cars to settle in for the night. Around that time, one of the conductors who John and I had greeted when he had been doing his rounds, now came and sat with us as his shift had finished. Soon the three of us were alone in the lounge. It was incredibly relaxing. We had just been considering going back to our respective seats, when a highly animated man came into the lounge, looked around and then told the conductor “You have to do something! My children have just been verbally abused!”

John, the conductor and I looked at each other in disbelief. The train had seemed so peaceful! I felt very sorry for the conductor. Of course, he simply had to take some sort of action given the brevity of the allegations, so he straightened his cap, stood up, and followed the man back to the coach cars. It transpired that one of the drinkers who had been in the lounge – a scruffy looking guitarist (he had bizzarely kept his acoustic guitar draped over his shoulder all the way from Chicago) – had gone back to his seat and obviously taken some more liquor or drugs. He had then allegedly proceeded to walk through the train, stopping at each seat, and randomly asking for sexual favors. As impossible as this was to imagine, it appeared following some hastily arranged investigations that the man was indeed guilty as charged.

Ten minutes later the train had rolled to a stop in a tiny  Nebraska town, and the man was ejected. There wasn’t even a platform. The train had stopped right on a railroad crossing, so he was literally dropped off, complete with his acoustic guitar, on the street. I watched from the window as he staggered around by the side of train, still remonstrating with the conductors, before the street behind him lit up with the flashing lights of a police car. He was immediately taken away by the police, and the train was free to continue. John and I were left to wonder how his fate would pan out, and how the evidence would be relayed to the judge.

It was now time for sleep. Before saying goodbye, John told me “Set your alarm. We get into Denver at around 7am. You will get moving again around 8. Trust me, you will want to be in the sight-seeing car for the first three or four hours out of Denver.”

I returned to my seat, where my Mexican comrade was now completely passed out, and made myself comfortable. Surprisingly, despite being in a car with around two dozen other passengers, all of whom seemed to be emiting one odor or another and in the midst of sounds ranging from talking/snoring while in mid sleep, to coughs and gas, I managed to get a solid five hours sleep.

The traditionally styled, but newly refurbished Union Station in Denver, Colorado

I awoke at six thirty, and had freshened up and sipped some coffee in time to witness the Zephyr arriving into Denver. We were told that Denver’s Union station was a ‘one way in – one way out’ station, so it would be over 30 minutes before the train would finally settle by the platform. I used this time to find a quiet corner of the train, and started my morning meditation. At that point I had been practicing Transcendental Meditation for around a month, having been given the training in midtown Manhattan. It has been one of the best decisions of my life to date. I have felt clarity of decision making, increased ambition, a greater sense of creativity, more patience and an all-round better enjoyment of life since I started using TM twice a day.

Arriving into Denver at dawn

I had finished meditating just as the announcer informed all passengers that we were now permitted to leave the train for up to forty five minutes. I spent the time stretching my legs on the platform, enjoying the fresh morning air coming off the still snow-capped Rocky Mountains, and taking some pictures of the beautifully refurbished Union Station in the mile-high city.

The newly refurbished Union Station in Denver, Colorado

For some, the forty five minute layover was just enough time to walk the few blocks to the nearest herbal  supply store, AKA weed dispensary. Colorado has of course legalized marijuana, and several passengers on the Zephyr were keen to avail of this opportunity. Weed tourism is quite the contributor to Colorado’s coffers, but it is a case of ‘caveat emptor’, as there is definitely some information asymmetry.

Under Colorado law, the herbal store is perfectly entitled to sell a certain quantity of marijuana products to anyone who meets the qualifying criteria. However, it is illegal to take the product out of state. Road-trippers and Zephyr riders often sidestep this little misdemeanor by purchasing and consuming edible marijuana products while still within the state.

A beautiful little house sits all alone, near the top of the Rocky Mountains at Winter Park Ski Resort

After stepping back onto the Zephyr, I heeded John’s advice regarding the sightseeing car, and while many other passengers were still stepping around on the platform, I snagged a great swivel chair by a large window. For several miles out of Denver the morning views were pleasant, but then we gradually started climbing into the ‘Front Range’ of the Rocky Mountains, and I found myself with a front row seat for one of the greatest displays I have ever seen.

The California Zephyr slowly climbing into the frontal range of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado

Slowly the Zephyr climbed into the forested mountains, weaving one way then the other, sometimes revealing a magnificent view of one or more of the ‘Fourteeners’, sometimes clinging tightly to the rails, right on the edge of a vertical drop into a river valley. Sometimes sheer rock walls passed by, and sometimes complete darkness descended as we passed right through a mountain. The longest tunnel on the Zephyr route is Moffat Tunnel, which is 24 feet tall, 18 feet wide and 6.2 miles in length. It cuts right through the upper peaks of the Frontal Range, so when we re-emerged, we were well and truly in the middle of the Rocky’s.

Approaching the highest point of the California Zephyr line through the Rocky Mountains

There were gasps and wows from all and sundry in the sightseeing car as we climbed through one final valley to Frazer – one of the highest towns in Colorado, and home to Winter Park Ski Resort. The snow was a little worn out looking, but the panorama’s were amazing.

A couple relax while admiring the beautiful Rocky Mountain scenery

After departing the mountain town, we continued along a large upland valley where surprisingly, the locals existed by ranching. The tracks followed the Fraser River northwestwards, and after a few miles there were calls to look out the left side of the train. On the far bank of the river was a solitary and very hungry looking moose. I had never before seen one of these great animals.

Rocky Mountain National Park, as seen from the California Zephyr

From the center of the valley, just past the town of Granby, we were surrounded by the large snowy peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park. The size and scale of the United States comes into particular focus in places such as this. I had seen it before, while cycling through the great valleys of northern Nevada. Sometimes the valley is of such proportions that despite moving, it looks as if the surrounding mountains are still no closer or further away. The view up there was beautiful, and having the mostly glass-sided sightseeing car of the California Zephyr to enjoy it from was just such a privelage.

A mountain top delta on the Colorado River

In Granby we picked up the trail of the legendary Colorado River; water source to so much of the American south west, and followed it out of the valley and into the most spectacular gorge canyon which we followed for around an hour. The steep walls of the canyon are so close together in places that there is just enough room for the river, the railroad and the i70 freeway (which sometimes has to go double-decker through here). This section of i70 is said to be the most expensive road construction project ever undertaken.

The sightseeing car of the California Zephyr offers plenty of photo opportunities while passing through Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

As the steep canyon gave way to a more traditional river valley at Glenwood Springs, I suddenly became aware that I was seated right in the center of 6 or 7 people who had struck up a conversation. All had been traveling alone, and all had been sitting in silence for the previous hours admiring the scenery. But now, as we headed for the Colorado/Utah state line, a spark had lit the conversation. This conversation, between a uniquely eclectic mix of people, would last for several hours, and was as surreal as it was stimulating.

To my immediate left was Sarah, a PhD student from Devon, England, who was on vacation from her English Literature studentship position at Northwestern University, Chicago. To my right was Mike; a high-school history teacher who was on his way to Las Vegas. Then there was Peter; an IT worker in the financial district of Lower Manhattan, who was on a cross-country trip to visit his son in San Francisco, and his sister in San Jose.

Stephanie, who was sitting behind me was a self-proclaimed (or self-confessed) clairvoyant, who was a keen proponent of the notion that we are all somehow connected via some sort of energy. Beside Stephanie was without doubt the most intriguing member of the party. Benjamin was a twenty-something year old nuclear physicist, who did not speak too often, but when he did, it was intellectually profound. And lastly, there was Laura, a friendly and attractive young lady whose interest in the conversation quickly subsided, and who retired to her coach seat after around thirty minutes. It was at around this time that the conversation had started to simmer.

Someone had mentioned Trump. There were two immediate responses. Benjamin, the nuclear physicist had declared the president to be “without doubt the biggest fucking asshole in American political history.” James, the high-school history teacher was not amused. While leaving us in no doubt that he had voted for Trump, I think he parked his ideas of pledging further allegiance, having realized that he was in the company of two democrats, and two tourists who had absolutely no intention of becoming embroiled in a heated debate. It was only then that I became aware that yet another passenger was listening in on the conversation, but who at this point had not introduced herself or contributed.

A new kind of trading post in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado

When the train stopped at Grand Junction for an extended break, almost everyone took the chance to wander through the local stores at the small station (some in search of more marijuana). I made sure I was walking next to our observer. There was something about her. She was interested in the conversation, but had no interest in talking. After breaking the ice and introducing myself, I discovered why.

Sarah was the British television network Channel 4’s news correspondent for the US presidential election, and was finally getting some vacation time now that the election and inauguration were old news. She had spent the previous two years following the Donald Trump presidential campaign, the election, and his inauguration. I was fascinated, and asked her as many questions as I could, without being overly pushy. She freely recounted how she had been to all of Trump’s campaign rallies, and relayed some of the funnier and more harrowing stories of journalists jostling to get their questions on the list.

Back on the train, Sarah slipped back into anonymity, and the conversation continued among the others. With seemingly no apparent intro (we had been talking about the election), Benjamin suddenly launched into a verbal account of detailed designs for a perpetual motion magnetic tool for generating electricity. He hoped to patent the design. Im not sure about anyone else, but he was in no danger of me stealing his idea, because he had lost me after about two sentences.

I really enjoyed meeting the unusual mix of people. One of the marvelous things about traveling across America by train is that you get to meet some really diverse and interesting fellow passengers. People you simply would not get to converse with if you were to fly or drive across America.

Beautiful Ruby Canyon reflecting the evening sunlight as we left Colorado and entered Utah

As afternoon turned to late evening, we resumed our silent appreciation of the passing scenery. We crossed the state line into Utah and had a brief stop at Green River. I needed no reminding about how barren Utah can be, having cycled through there. But if anything, it seemed even more desolate from the train. As the day ended, the rock formations caught the low sunbeams and we got first hand evidence of how Ruby Canyon got its name. It was absolutely beautiful.

One by one the eclectic conversationalists returned to their coach seats, and I sat on my own in the sightseeing car. I practiced my transcendental meditation for twenty minutes, before having supper and settling in to write for a while. Taking the train across America offers so much opportunity for relaxation and reflection, and I found it to be a really great environment. Somewhere on the tracks over the Great Salt Lake, I brushed my teeth and settled in to my seat for the night, feeling as content as I have ever felt. The gentle rolling of the carriage soon rocked me into a peaceful sleep.

Early morning sunshine while passing through the deserts of northern Utah

I awoke to bright sunshine coming through the gap in the curtains beside my seat. We had crossed the remainder of Utah and most of the desert in northern Nevada. We were now in Fernley, which acts as a major distribution center, and were soon following Trukee River. I washed, had breakfast and got my things together. My epic 3000+ mile train ride across America was coming to an end. I would get off at Reno Nevada, just before the Zephyr started its climb into the Sierra Nevada, passing by the town of Truckee and Donner Lake, before descending into California.

The reason for my trans-american train ride, was to visit two ladies who I call the Desert Angels. These ladies had given me so much help and encouragement as I had cycled through Nevada on my charity cycle across America.

I would spend a few very enjoyable weeks in their home, before once again riding the train all the way across America to New York City.

 

 

Taking the Train Across America: Amtrak Cardinal Line

Roger Holmes No Comments

Train Across America Part 1: New York – Philadelphia – Washington DC – Cincinnati – Indianapolis – Chicago

Taking the train across America is a great way to test the theory that a journey can be enjoyed as much as the destination. You get an experience on a train that just cannot be replicated on a stressful flight or road trip on the same route. From the train, you are offered a unique glimpse into America’s soul. It is so much more than just a journey from A to B. Taking the train across America unearths a way of life which is somewhat lost in this convenience driven, fast paced world, but which is still hugely enjoyable.

The snow was piled so high in Queens New York, that I struggled to haul my baggage from the apartment building to the waiting Uber car. New York at five on a winters morning is ridiculously cold, but at least the combination of the snowstorm and the early hour on a Sunday morning meant that the streets were a little quieter. Javier the driver, was amazed that I was taking the train across America. He was even more bewildered when I told him I had cycled all the way across America the previous summer. “I suppose you’ll be walking back?” he asked me through the rear view mirror with a grin. Well, who knows!

A blurry image of a departures sign, seen through blurry eyes, at 6.30AM in Penn Station, New York City.

I arrived at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan long before the scheduled 6.45am departure. Boarding the Amtrak Cardinal train in darkness, it was really nice not to feel pressurized by the process or the staff. There were no lines. No security checks. No need for shoe removal, except of course by choice, should you want even greater comfort. A few minutes after choosing a seat by the window, the train began to roll, and soon we were snaking our way through the underground tunnels of New York City.

The Amtrak Cardinal would take me through 10 states, on the first leg of my journey by train across America.

We reemerged above ground in New Jersey, just as dawn was breaking. I took a final look back at Freedom Tower, and settled in to enjoy the start of an adventure. Once out of New York, the train eased to it’s upper speed limit of 79mph, and I watched as the passing New Jersey snowscapes reflected the almost horizontal rays from the rising winter sun. As I do every morning, I then closed my eyes and practiced Transcendental Meditation for around twenty minutes. The gentle rocking of the train on its tracks seemed to make it even easier to get to that beautiful quiet place. I took a deep breath and a stretch to finish, and then pondered the theory that no journey is too long if you are in the right company. Well, I was alone, but comfortable with my own company, so I was feeling good! Taking a train across America really does provide an ideal environment in which to meditate and relax.

The slogan on the Amtrak coffee cup suggested we ‘Change How We See the World’. I couldn’t agree more!

The Cardinal service offers great comfort for the long-distance rail passenger. There is ample legroom (much more than on the average aircraft) on chairs which recline to about forty degrees. There is a footrest that can be extended, charging points, wifi, personal lights, air vents, curtains, and so all told, the coach seats are perfectly fine to relax and sleep on. The next carriage back had a cafeteria, serving hot and cold snacks. If you are feeling flush, you could book a sleeper or roomette, but I was interested in more than comfort. I not only wanted to see how I enjoyed the trip, but I wanted to see how others enjoyed it too. For that reason, I had chosen the more sociable coach class.

Amtrak’s Cardinal line operates on a southern arc between New York City and Chicago

The impressive Philadelphia skyline soon came into view. The city is steeped in history, and was actually the first capital of the United States of America. George Washington and John Adams lived as presidents at the mansion on 6th and Market Streets, while the federal capital was being constructed in Washington DC from 1790 until 1800.

The train slipped through the Philadelphia suburbs, while most of her inhabitants were still asleep. I sent my Irish cousins a message to say that I was in Philadelphia. In the few minutes it took for them to reply, I had already crossed over another state line. I was now in Delaware for the first time.

Crossing the Susquehanna River on Chesapeake Bay, between Philadelphia and Washington DC

We followed the northern bank of the Delaware River for a few miles near highly industrialized Wilmington, before cutting across the head of Delmarva Peninsula. This unusual landmass, which is technically an island following the excavation of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, comprises almost all of Delaware state, and the eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia. We quickly traversed the head of the peninsula, going over the Susquehanna River, and onwards along the northern shores of Chesapeake Bay, which we followed through Baltimore and towards Washington DC.

Passengers were encouraged to step out onto the Washington DC platform to stretch their legs and get some fresh air. In just a few hours, I had traveled two hundred and twenty five miles down the eastern seaboard, and in doing so had traveled through four states and entered the District of Columbia at Washington. The land for the administrative and symbolic modern day capital of the United States, had been ceded by the states of Virginia and Maryland in 1790. By the start of the nineteenth century the capital and its houses had been constructed, and so, Philadelphia was honorably succeeded as the nations capital.

Having boarded the train in one of the original colonies, crossed the Delaware River, passed through Philadelphia and then onwards to Washington Dc, the journey to that point almost felt like a train ride through a United States history lesson. I couldn’t help but glance at a map of North America, and find my eyes wandering westwards, where I would cut through fur-trapping country, follow covered wagon trails and eventually find the golden treasure of the Pacific coast.

The elongated stop in Washington was welcome, and so I marched back and forth on the DC platform in military fashion, both as a means of stretching my legs and keeping warm. During this time, the train was cleaned and supplies were restocked. Our departure was powered by a diesel engine, as opposed to the electric unit which had taken us from New York City. I wondered if the electric unit was required by law while traveling along the highly populated eastern seaboard.

The passing scenery as we left Washington was just fantastic. The tracks followed yet another river, this time the Potomac, which flows through the heart of DC. By now the sun was well up in the sky, and it was a beautiful clear sky day. Passing by the town of Alexandria, I suddenly noticed that the snow had gone. It had either melted, or had not been so deep here in the first place. It seemed as though spring had suddenly arrived.

The Amtrak Cardinal cuts through beautiful countryside in Virginia and West Virginia.

Once again, the train veered inland; this time permanently away from the Atlantic coast. We had now come as far down the east coast as this route would take us, and were heading for another new state – Virginia. Slowly but surely, the urban sprawl of DC gave way to the forests and agricultural lands of Virginia. At around this time, the man who had been sitting behind me since we had left New York City, began to snore. At first it was not so bad, but the deeper he got into his sleep, the louder his snoring became. After twenty or thirty minutes, he was to be heard by everyone in the carraige.

We approached the foothills of the Appalachian mountains; passing through little villages and farmland. The train made several short stops while crossing the state, picking up passengers and supplies. At Staunton, around a dozen people came aboard, four of whom were notable by their demeanor and attire. Having previously cycled across America, including a leisurely day spent passing through Lancaster County Pennsylvania, which is known as ‘Amish Country‘, I knew that these folks were Mennonites.

A group of Mennonite folks, in their traditional and plain attire.

One of the Mennonite men asked the conductor if he and his traveling party could be seated together, so in an extremely fortunate turn of events, my snoring friend was asked to relocate. The two Mennonite men took his place, and their wives sat just across the aisle. As the agreeable snorer gathered his belongings and shuffled out of his seat, one of the Mennonite men conveyed his gratitude by saying, “Mighty Bliged Sir.”

As we weaved our way through Buffalo Gap in the Appalachians, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation between the Mennonite men behind me.

“Now’s it any wonder we’re having trouble when it costs one point six cents to mint a penny? So, every time we make a new penny we’re going another point six cents further down the hole. Even Mr Trump can’t be expected to make those kinds of figures work.”

A short time later, after a lengthy silence during which I presumed both men had been contemplating matters of economics, one man’s attention suddenly turned towards his stomach.

“Im hungry” he announced.

“Well, you got your sand witches don’t you?” replied his friend.

“Yes I do, but I don’t care much for the cucumber ones they packed. Specially since I’m on the train – if you catch my drift.”

“Well”, said his friend defiantly, but with more than a hint of humor, “not meaning to cause you any offense nor nothing, but I’ve caught a few of your drifts in my time and I sure don’t want to catch any now that we’re on the train!” Cue deep laughter from both men, and concealed giggles from myself and the Mennonite ladies.

A little further down the line, we slowed in one of the many narrow river valleys of West Virginia, to safely pass an oncomming freighter train. Approximately ten open-topped cars containing very finely crushed coal, passed by before I decided to start counting. By the time the last car had passed, my count had reached fifty two. This, I considered, was becoming a more and more unusual sight, as the major coal mines were now in a state of decline. The many rivers we followed through the West Virginian Appalachians all had the same appearance; sporadic signs of greater mining activity from yester-year, wild white water rapids, lost villages with moonshine-making credentials, and trees. Lots of trees.

As the light faded, I couldn’t help but think that we had just gone through what many American city-slickers would refer to as ‘Hill-Billy Country’. My eyelids began to fall with the setting sun, and for an hour or so, I fell into a deep sleep. I dreamed of dueling banjos, white-water rafting, hard-drinking coal miners and of Mennonite economics.

The conductors announcement of an extended stop at Huntington West Virginia called me back in to the real world. Before I was even fully awake, I found myself yawning and stretching on the busy platform. Fresh air breaks were not to be missed.

Having left New York City just that morning, where temperatures had hovered in the mid twenties , I now felt uncomfortably over-dressed in relatively balmy Kentucky. Some people took the opportunity to smoke. Others hurried to beat the line for the toilets in the station building. The train staff unloaded trash bags and picked up fresh supplies. The Mennonite wives, who were sporting long flowery-patterned dresses and white bonnets, held hands as they skipped and ran around a little patch of grass in the parking lot. Their husbands stood shoulder to shoulder in silence. I tried to figure out which one was secretly letting go of his long-held ‘drifts’.

A welcome stop and a chance to stretch the legs at Huntington, West Virginia.

Once back on the train, I walked back to the next carriage, where I knew the cafe/shop would now be fully stocked (TIP #1: Always coincide your dining and bathroom breaks with the immediate aftermath of major stops, as you will find the train facilities freshly cleaned and restocked). I ordered a cheeseburger and a Pepsi (“a classic American” as the friendly Amtrak server described it), and sat down at a nearby table to dine alone. After I had taken a few bites and then paused for digestion, a voice from behind me asked: “Pardon me sir, but I was wondering what part you’re from?” I turned to see that it was one of the Mennonite men, who also happened to be sitting alone.

Now I must admit, I had been looking for the opportunity to speak to an Amish or Mennonite since I had cycled across America in the summer of 2016. There really is no easy way to instigate conversation with these curiously simple and withdrawn people, without risking the danger of making them feel uncomfortable. So many tourists come out of the cities on the east coast to Lancaster County in particular, and are quite intrusive in how they approach the locals. This has resulted in the Amish becoming even more withdrawn, like spooked deer in hunting season. I took this unexpected opportunity for communication by asking the man if I could join him.”It’d be a pleasure sir.”

(TIP #2: Embrace the social aspect of travel in the coach class. You can meet some really interesting people)

‘Erik’ and I talked about a range of subjects, including a very interesting discussion about how he was of the opinion that agricultural co-operatives are not necessarily acting in small farmers best interests anymore. To my surprise, upon hearing that I was Irish, Erik asked me if Irish dairy farmers were well off financially. I silently noted that he appended the word ‘financially’ to the term ‘well-off’. To me, this gave an insight into the first notable difference (aside from attire) between his world and mine. His people would consider themselves ‘well-off’ in many ways other than financial. I made a mental note to remember that.

As a dairy farmer who milked ninety cows, and who did not have access to the internet and newspapers as a means of gauging market trends, Erik based the value of his stock on the prices of similar products in the supermarkets. This, I considered, was a simple yet highly effective strategy. Maybe it was a micro-example how how the Mennonite approach to life may be slightly more insular and simplistic, but enjoyable and comfortable none the less.

The product which Erik was referring to was KerryGold, a very tasty Irish butter which is now widely available in the United States. It is generally stocked in small supplies, and at over ten dollars a pound, is perhaps twice the price of other butters. I saw that this had led to Eriks question, and had perhaps spurred his willingness to engage with me in the first place. Erik’s mystery shopping may have given him an indication of market value, but his more paraochial existence deprived him of a more in-depth understanding of pricing factors other than net payment to the producer. I explained that the cost was so high given the addition of international taxes, the federal requirement to comprehensively test overseas farm produce, the inclusion of additional preservatives and shipping costs. There was also scope in the figures to make room for one or possibly two American importers cut. Although he had little way of knowing this prior to our chat, he immediately understood. Mennonites may not be worldly, but they certainly aren’t slow – especially when it comes to food production.

To my greater surprise, Erik then talked about the emergence of driverless cars and drones. It was a very unexpected and surreal twist to a conversation with a man who had no watch, smartphone, newspapers or any other modern ‘conveniences’. Yet, I immediately understood the practical relevance to his curiosity. Neither of us needed to implicitly reference why this new mode of transport should be familiar to me and not to him, but we did discuss it at length. The concept of driverless cars has been known and explored by me for well over a decade, given my background and interest in technology, but Erik’s musings on the matter were owing to more recent and populous developments. Mennonites and Amish may like to live traditionally, but yet, when something new emerges, they will consider it. So long as it does not pose a threat to their way of life, they are open to using it.

Amish and Monnonites will ride in a car provided someone else drives it, and provided the journey is for business purposes and not pleasure. They do not fly. Given that a horse and carriage can only take them so far, and that they regularly meet and visit other similar groups right across the country, they have been perhaps Amtrak’s most regular customers for decades. For the more forward thinking (not to mention business-minded) Mennonite man, which Erik most certainly was, this new form of transport was of interest. It transpired that he was making what was a regular trip between his dairy farm in Virginia and his crop farm in Kentucky. The train worked well, but there was still the matter of getting to and from his farms and the nearest stations.

I found myself reassuring Erik that self-drive cars might indeed be of interest to him. “The mechanics are the same. The appearance is the same. In fact, standing on the sidewalk, you wouldn’t be able to differentiate between a passing driverless car and a manually operated car. The only difference is, you express your desired destination beforehand, much like you do when you buy a train ticket. After that, you simply sit back and relax – just as you do when taking the train.” Again, without confirming that he was Mennonite and I was not, Erik thanked me, and concluded by saying “Well, it certainly seems like it is worth looking in to – when the time comes.” And therein, I decided, lay the main difference between my cultural upbringing and Erik’s.

Regarding the driverless car, he would look in to it – when the time would come. In my world, people spend so much time and energy speculating, disagreeing, and talking about what the future might or might not bring. So much so that we often miss the present. In Erik’s world, he may soon have to face a difficult decision, but he had an entirely different outlook. Easing the burden of travel between his farms, while running the risk of incurring the wrath of his elders for breaking tradition, would be an ethical dilemma. (Actually, I had already decided that Erik was himself an elder. A decision maker. So his decision carried greater responsibility). But, Erik wasn’t going to waste time worrying about this matter. At least not until ‘the time comes’. Brilliant. My mother always offers a piece of advice which says ‘Don’t meet trouble half way’. I smiled to myself as I wondered if she was secretly a part-time Mennonite!

The drone question was addressed full on by Erik. “I’ve nothing against them, but some folks have been flying them over their neighbors properties and invading their privacies. Do you think thats right?” he asked me. I had to agree with him that it was not ‘right’ and that drone intrusiveness was a problem. I pondered what morale code drone users adhere to, and how they decided (if at all) what was ‘right’ and not right. I also felt empathy towards the Amish and Mennonite people, when I considered what it must feel like to see a strange flying machine with a camera right above their yards. Part of me felt ashamed of the outside world.

Erik had a kindly, calm and open personality, and I treasured the opportunity to talk with him. Too often we recoil from communicating with people who are different in some from ourselves, and this non-communication can alienate us and others. I felt so happy to have broken through a boundary, and for the conversation to have been so amicable and enlightening. All too quickly though, we arrived at Erik’s station. We shook hands, wished each other well, and I watched as he departed with his wife and friends. I looked through the window as they stood by their old-fashioned suitcases on the platform, perhaps waiting for local horses and carriages to come to pick them up. Their clothing looked so different, so primitive, yet so clean, smart and tidy. I sat back in my seat as the train rolled along on the banks of the Ohio River, and tried to comprehend how my way of life and Erik’s coexisted. The term ‘purpose over pleasure’ seemed to stick in my mind. I certainly admired the ability of the Amish and Monnonite communities to sustain their place in the world, using such a modest set of guidelines and ethics.

In the shadows of Cincinnati train station, at one forty five in the morning, I slipped off my shoes, reclined the seat, and snuggled up under Jaime’s Magic Blanket. This black and charcoal, intricately patterned blanket, had been a gift to my wife Yesi, from her father Jaime, when she had left Peru to come and live in New York City. After our wedding, when I had arrived from Ireland to experience my first New York winter, Yesi and I would regularly cozy up under this Andean treasure. The comfort of the Llama wool, combined with the sentimental value, meant that within minutes we would be warm, content and sleepy. Hence I had named it ‘Jaime’s Magic Blanket’. It had the same effect on me right there on the train in Cincinnati, even though Yesi wasn’t there with me. She was however with me in my thoughts. Within a few minutes I was content and had fallen asleep. (TIP #3: When traveling on a train across America, consider bringing a blanket and/or pillow for added comfort).

I woke briefly around an hour later, to the sound of low chattering and the wonderful smell of spices. I leaned sideways in my seat to see that a little further up the carriage, a Chinese family of three generations, were huddled around a series of pots and flasks, and were enjoying a midnight feast in the amber glow of a travel lamp. For a time I studied how happy they looked as they dined as a family. The gorgeous aroma had made me feel quite hungry, so I rectified this by munching on some peanuts. (TIP #4: Always have snacks on hand when on a long train ride, but try not to overdo it, as you could get sick with the motion of the train). My semi-conscious food cravings held at bay, I quickly drifted back to sleep and did not stir again until we were in Illinois, around an hour out of Chicago.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well I had managed to sleep. The view now out through y window was dramatically different than it had been when it was last daylight in West Virgina. The landscape was no longer mountainous and wooded, but perfectly flat, and as it was early spring, it looked a little barren. After having a coffee and a cinnamon roll for breakfast in the dining car, I made my way to the downstairs bathroom, and took a wet-wipes shower. (TIP #5: Wet wipes are an absolute must when traveling overnight in the coach class of a train across America). I then changed my clothes and generally freshened up. I got my things together and a short time afterwards we began to weave a pathway through the suburbs of Chicago.

The beautiful architecture of the Great Hall at Union Station, in central Chicago.

When the Amtrak Cardinal finally drew to a stop in the bowels of Union Station, the first leg of my marathon journey by train across America had come to an end. I thanked the friendly Amtrak staff, picked up my bags, and stepped off the train. Before setting out, I had designs on a little walkabout tour of downtown Chicago. I had a four-hour layover before heading further west on a connecting train. However those plans were dashed upon hearing that the lockers in which passengers could store their luggage before boarding their connecting trains, were no longer available (presumably due to terrorism fears). Had I been more clued in to this situation, I could have switched around my bags so that I could have checked most of my luggage onto the next train in advance of its departure, and possibly kept one backpack which could have contained everything I needed on the onward journey. This would have enabled me to leave Union Station and go for a walk. (TIP #6: Organize your luggage by separating the items you might need while on the train ride, from the items intended for use at your destination).

It was not an especially good day for a walkabout in downtown Chicago anyway. The skies were overcast, and a wave of drizzle was creeping in from the shores of Lake Michigan. Whistle-stop sightseeing in Chicago would have to wait for another time. Instead, I made my way to the Great Hall of Union Station, and after having some lunch (Chinese food!), I sat in peace, relaxing and people watching. There is nothing like a train ride to help you work on your levels of patience and on the acceptance of each moment of the journey, whatever it is that each moment may bring.

I could think of a lot worse places to be left guarding my belongings. Union Station in Chicago, and it’s Great Hall in particular, are of great architectural beauty. It is a classic old-style railway station, and so the surroundings really accentuated the authenticity of traveling by train across America. I was happy with my experience so far. But a much longer ride lay ahead, on board the iconic California Zephyr, which would bring me over the Rocky Mountains, and out into the American wild west.

Click here for Part Two: The California Zephyr, from Chicago to Reno Nevada

Wild Atlantic Meditation – Harness the Power

Roger Holmes No Comments

Wild Atlantic Meditation brings me home. It brings me to myself. Something magically transformative occurs when meditation is combined with  the power and serenity of the Atlantic Ocean meeting the Donegal coastline on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

I meditated for the first time high on a clifftop, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, at Port and Glenlough in Donegal. The seascape views from up there are simply stunning. That initial experience inspired me to create this blog, and embark on a journey of self-improvement and discovery. Id like to share a little of that Wild Atlantic Meditation experience with you.

After crossing the Atlantic over and back for two years while Yesi and I dated, following our October 2016 wedding in Donegal, I moved to New York City and we eventually decided to set up our home from home in the city that never sleeps. That move hasn’t been easy. There are times when I feel like a bird in a cage. When you go from wandering on remote coastlines, enjoying the fresh Donegal sea air, to living in an apartment in Queens, New York, you need to have something to ground you. I miss home, I miss family and friends, and I miss the powerful healing affect of those winter storms as they roll in from the Atlantic. But Wild Atlantic Meditation brings me back almost every day – back home and back to myself.

I often close my eyes and imagine that I am in the ocean, watching as the winter swells in the Atlantic send perfect waves rolling towards one of Donegal’s many beautiful beaches. In what I have come to call Wild Atlantic Meditation, I play the scene in slow-motion within my mind. As a wall of water starts to build to create a wave, I breath in, feeling the power generated by the wave standing up against a stiff offshore wind. I feel the power behind that breath as it fills not just my lungs, but my whole body and mind. I imagine the ocean smells and the unique freshness of the air on the Donegal coastline.

As the wave reaches the point of no return, I pause the scene, and hold my breath for just a second, right as the first white tips are appearing at the top of the wave. And then…aware of the power that it has created within itself, I let go. The images play slightly faster now, as the wave crashes forward under its own weight and momentum. As this happens, I breath out. Often, as I imagine the white horses galloping forward towards the coastline, I mimic the sound of the cascading water by blowing out through my lips. I maintain that breath and sound until the white foam has washed up on the sandy beach. I imagine how refreshing that wash up onto the beach is.

There is then a moment of complete serenity, before the water eventually succumbs to the back rip, and I again imagine that I am out beyond the break point, watching another wave building in tandem with my breath. Waves in a good swell often come in sets of seven, with the middle five being the most intense. I normally never make it to number five. After three or four deep breaths in tandem with imagining the waves breaking on the Donegal coastline, I am able to reach a meditative state. And it is pure bliss.

One of the interesting findings from oceanology is that waves do not actually move any matter most of the time. The water mostly remains in situ, and it is the energy which is transferred from one place to another. Perhaps only at the top of the wave as it breaks, and as the last foam reaches the high point on the shore, does the water actually move. I find that interesting when I think about the theory behind Wild Atlantic Meditation. The energy crosses the ocean, even if the matter does not. I like to compare the harmonic motion and oscillation created by energy moving across water, to the transformative affect it has regarding meditation.

I arrived in New York City as winter was taking its grip, and Donald Trump had just been elected to the office of president. As the winter wore on, and Yesi and I decided that I would file for a green card so that we could stay together in New York, there was a serious air of uncertainty creeping in. There was (and still is) much talk of stricter immigration policy. It would have been so easy to get down about it, especially since I am sitting around in an apartment most of the time, as I do not yet have permission to work. But Wild Atlantic Meditation has eased that intense feeling of uncertainty, and made the transition and the waiting manageable.

I don’t think it is coincidence that I draw solace from Wild Atlantic Meditation. For tens of thousands of years, water has played a pivotal role in human development and improvement, especially in a spiritual capacity. Water rituals are used in just about every organized religion. We flock to the ocean to get away from our busy lives, be it on vacation or on a day trip. We sit by it, walk in it, swim in it and sail on it. The salt water is one of the best natural healing aids for a variety of dermatological conditions. But I believe the ocean can also cleanse and heal our minds in the same way or better than it heals our skin.

We don’t know what the future will hold. We don’t know if I will be allowed to stay in New York. But while waiting for news, and while unable to physically travel home for a visit, I do a ‘Spancil Hill’ or ‘Lake Isle of Inishfree’ by sitting down peacefully in Queens, New York, and using Wild Atlantic Meditation to take me home to Donegal. Perhaps not in body, but certainly in mind. But unlike the homesick rhetoric in ‘Spancill Hill’ or the Lake Isle of Inishfree’, I am not hankering to travel home alone at some undetermined point in the future. It is very much in the now. I am there while I am here. And I am here while I am there.

Too Busy?…Do Less! The Benefits of Meditation

Roger Holmes No Comments

I’ve now been blogging about the benefits of meditation for around two and a half years. The reaction has been interesting. The most common feedback I get, is when people say that I must have a lot of time on my hands. That’s the whole point!

Everyone has something to fill their schedule – work, kids, school, training, commuting etc etc. Most people would identify with the term “I don’t have a minute”. Well, guess what? That is not actually true. If we didn’t commute for two hours every day, we would find something else to fill that time-slot. If we worked ten hours less in a week, we wouldn’t spend those ten hours relaxing. We are very adept at filling voids, so that we can avoid having to quietly face ourselves.

The Benefits of Meditation

Doing nothing does not mean sleeping. It is not achieved by watching television, or constantly checking social media. It is not ‘chilling out’ by drinking alcohol or getting high. It is not exercise. Those are all somethings. Doing nothing relates to the mind and not the body. In fact, we are so incapable of telling ourselves to switch off, that business leaders are now telling us to do it. Business now accepts the benefits of meditation.

For a long time, some of the worlds largest corporations paid for their staff to attend a gym, go to the movies, join social groups etc. The intention was simple – keep people healthy, and they will be more loyal and productive. Well, that may be true, and many continue to do so. But many now do it as a perk, not solely as a  productivity tool. That is because a new realization relating to the benefits of meditation is now in vogue.

Slowly, companies such as Ford, Google, Apple, Adobe, and even Goldman Sachs among others, began to realize that the traditional methods of keeping staff healthy and motivated had a flaw. They are costly, and do not necessarily equate to increased productivity. So the realization was simple – by acknowledging the benefits of meditation, they are now encouraging employees to take time out. This is an increasingly popular benefit to business.

Meditation is not some hippy pass-time for those with unlimited free time. I know that this is a misconception, because that is how I once viewed it. But I am now extremely grateful that I embraced meditation. The benefits of meditation have helped me in so many ways.

Just for a second, stop to consider how often we check on things. Phone, car fuel level, speed, weight, train schedules, social media, our appearance etc. But how often do we do a check-up on the one thing that drives all of the things that we do? Most of us don’t use the brains equivalent to anti-virus, anti-malware software for our IT systems. Most people don’t even realize when they are out of sync.

Have you ever seen a person sitting and bouncing their leg up and down? Or tapping something incontrolably? Watching this is like witnessing some sort of mental twitch. The person does not realize they are doing it. I once did, and sometimes still do. But I find that the benefits of meditation quieten that restlessness. Meditation is a discipline, which helps me to understand how I can focus my attention. If I can train myself to focus on nothing, then for the remainder of the day, it becomes a whole lot easier to focus on the ‘somethings’.

The basic premise is that the subconscious if much more powerful than the conscious. When we meditate, we learn to discipline the subconscious, so that we can get better results by having a more concentrated conscious mind. The conscious mind is how we concentrate, enabling us to learn and follow logical tasks. Therefore we not only perform better, but we have greater capacity to appreciate and enjoy the world around us.

I also find that meditation gives me a more natural balance between humility and confidence. This, for me at least, is very important. Ego can be a destructive force. It is closely linked to a lack of humility. I have found that ego equates to me feeling that I am deserving of something good happening. Confidence is the feeling that I am capable of making something good happen. When I meditate, I feel more confident in the decisions that I make, and these are the decisions that positively affect my life. These are the benefits of meditation.

The companies who have introduced mindfulness in the workplace have done so to help their staff to be more innovative and concentrated on their work. Being more concentrated leads to better results. Six hours of concentrated work is probably better that eight hours of stressful laborious thought-interrupted work right? If a profit-driven multinational sees the benefits of meditation by asking tens of thousands of staff to do it, then don’t you think you owe it to yourself to do the same? By doing it on your own initiative,  YOU get the benefits of meditation. It is surely worth a try. I tried it, and it is working for me.

If you are unsure how to meditate, you could start by trying The Paris Method; a five-step technique that leads to a peaceful state where you can meditate.

If you have tried it, look me up and let me know how it went for you – I love hearing feedback!

 

 

 

 

Meditation in New York City

Roger Holmes No Comments

It is the city that never sleeps, so finding the time and space for meditation in New York City is not easy. The Big Apple is a bustling metropolis which swells in population to over 25 million when commuters are factored in. An extra 50million tourists visit annually. With so many people crammed the city, space is a very unique and privileged luxury. But it can (and has!) been found.

I was born on a farm, and for fun and relaxation, I explored the hills and the remote and beautiful Atlantic coastline of Donegal. It was easy to find relaxation in Donegal. But then I moved to New York City, and suddenly, space and freedom were no longer available.

I once heard New York City described as being ‘an assault on your senses’. It is loud, over-crowded, and to make enough money to survive here you are looking at fourteen or fifteen hour days, when the American work ethic and slow commutes are taken into consideration. Lazy time in remote surroundings had become but a distant memory. So I had to adapt.

When I started writing about The Paris Method, step one was about Perspective. No matter where you are, or what your situation, just becoming aware that this is where you are right now, and making your best of it, brings some acceptance. And from there, your attitude can help you to make your best of it.

Using that principal, I have been able to meditate on crowded subway trains, in frenzied Starbucks coffee shops, and thankfully, a few locations off the beaten track. With just a little bit of effort, I have found some places which are ideal for meditation in New York City.

 

Central Park

Central Park – An oasis in New York City

Central Park is an obvious choice when seeking relaxation and meditation in New York City. But to the unsuspecting first time visitor, the park can appear as busy as the crowded streets around it. At the southern end, the park bustles with street vendors, tourists, wedding parties, joggers, cyclists, horse-drawn carriages etc. I like to venture a little further north, to up around 74th to 76th street. Up here you can lose the crowds, and wander around The Lake, take the Ramble or enjoy the beauty of Bow Bridge, where so many proposals and weddings take place. There are many benches from where you can sit and enjoy the beauty and the views. I am drawn by the water, which is very relaxing. Ive always felt safe closing my eyes for meditation in this area, and have had many an enjoyable snooze here!

 

Bryant Park

Bryant Park – Midtown’s public garden

It is hard to believe that right in the middle of midtown Manhattan, between 5th and 6th avenues, over 9 acres of valuable real estate is set aside for a public park. It is one of the gems of New York City, The beautifully manicured lawns are ideal for picnics or sun worshipping, there are many activities to entertain you including juggling, chess, concerts, the New York Public Library, and the park even has its own bars and eateries. What I like most about this place is that it is right over a subway line (7 train, 5th avenue stop), it offers free wifi, and affords you the chance to sit and relax right in the middle of the city. While Central Park has its large park attractions, you need to walk quite a distance to see them. Bryant Park is more accessible, and the close proximity of the skyscrapers somehow enhances the feeling that this is a luxury right in the midst of such a crazily busy city. This is one of the more accessible places for meditation in New York City.

 

The Staten Island Ferry

Staten Island Ferry passing the Statue of Liberty

Not an obvious choice of place to meditate, but just try it and see! If you have a valid subway ticket, the Staten Island Ferry is FREE! You get to cross the lower bay, getting a great view of the Statue of Liberty, and Lower Manhattan on your return. Simply avoid the rush hour commute, go out on deck, listen to the water gentle lapping the sides of the ferry, and you can feel as free as an albatross crossing the ocean. If you are looking for time and space for meditation in New York City, then look no further than on of the city’s most iconic and free attractions.

 

Top of The Empire State Building

Experience the peace high above the city on the Empire State Building 

Okay, so this one costs a little bit of money, but when looking for a place for meditation in New York City, it is literally ‘right up there’. Whether you are a romantic dreaming of Sleepless in Seattle, a daredevil for heights, or simply looking for a place to lean on the railings and watch the world go by far below, a trip to the top of the Empire State Building is highly recommended. I once stayed up here for over an hour – in the winter! – just watching the views and getting lost in how magical the city is. There is more than enough opportunity up here for quiet contemplation and meditation. It is a truly unique setting. Enjoy!

 

Federal Hall Steps

Have a seat with George Washington, and watch Wall Street go by

Options for meditation in New York are varied, and this one is certainly a little left field. But it has worked beautifully for me. Right on wall street, the steps leading up to Federal Hall, where the US government once sat, is a bench to meditate on quite like no other. You are looking across at the New York Stock Exchange, and watching all of the corporate and financial workers scurrying from A to B, while sitting peacefully right in the middle of it. No one actually goes up the steps to enter the building, so they ar left to tourists seeking a good photo of the stock exchange, or people looking for some quiet space in the middle of all of the hustle and bustle. I have sat here under the George Washington statue on many an evening, drifting off into blissful meditation. Who would ever have known that you could find meditation in New York City, right here in the heart of the frenzied financial district

 

Coney Island Boardwalk

Sit and enjoy the beautiful light and fresh air, on Coney Island boardwalk

You may need to take a half day to fully enjoy this area in search of meditation in New York City, but it is entirely worth it. The soothing and transformative sights and sounds of the Atlantic Ocean, will afford you ample opportunity to relax. Just venture a little further along the boardwalk, away from the cafes, amusement rides and the people. Have a seat, and you will soon be miles away – from anywhere.

 

The High Line

Relax in the beautiful fauna and water features of The High Line, Manhattan

Once a rugged, overgrown and unsightly abandoned railway line running down Manhattan’s west side, the High Line has been beautifully restored as a linear park. It offers an elevated garden running 1.5 miles from 12th street west to 34th on 11th avenue. Amid the flowers and water features, the coffee shops and the art installations, are numerous benches, offering some of the best places for meditation in New York City.

 

A Long Subway Ride

Enjoy a seat on a long subway ride for perfect relaxation

If all else fails, you can always ride the subway! For all of New York’s attractions, and as crowded as the commute can get on a busy line at rush hour, if you are looking for meditation in New York City, then all you really need to do is find a long line at a quiet time and it is almost bliss. The rocking and rolling of the cars on the rails will send you to a peaceful place. Just don’t fall asleep!

 

2016 – Annus Mirabilis :)

Roger Holmes No Comments

There is a theory doing the rounds that 2016 will be remembered as Annus Horibilis – a Latin term meaning horrible year. Whether it is or not depends on how you perceived it. Personally, 2016 was Annus Mirabilis, and I am looking forward to an even better 2017!

People are pointing to the election of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote, celebrity death, continued economic uncertainty etc etc as evidence of some sort of perfect storm of negativity in 2016. That may or may not be, but I have learned by using The Paris Method, that I can feel good in most situations. If you rate your year based on things which are beyond your control, then Annus Horibilis will call again.

Last year, as 2015 was winding down I wrote a series of entries in this blog about meditation, inspiration and motivation. Anyone can talk the talk – but how do you walk the walk? I took a few hits along the way. Not everyone is going to be receptive to this kind of talk, and I had to learn that this is okay. People will chit-chat; some will speculate and others will even poke fun. But it shouldn’t matter. It didn’t matter to me.

 

At the dawn of 2016 I made a few decisions and used certain methods to stick with my convictions as the year progressed. And by doing this, 2016 was the best year of my life. I honestly believe it didn’t just happen by chance. I feel that I had a part to play in how my year panned out.

 

The basic decisions I made were to:

  • Meditate regularly
  • Be grateful
  • Think less about myself
  • See the good in others
  • Be positive even when it did not seem to come naturally.

 

Writing last year about this type of stuff, and publishing it on the internet was not an easy thing to do. There were a few reasons I did that. I wanted to see the year in totality; right from January 1st. I also wanted to see the progression, because I think that is great inspiration for the future. Putting it out there in the public domain also set a challenge for myself, and I used that as motivation to keep going.

 

I’m not going to go through all of the enjoyable things that happened in 2016, but suffice to say that it was a year that worked out really well for me. I helped to raise over six thousand dollars for a cancer charity, and encouraged dozens of men in their 40’s to go and get checked out for early signs of prostate cancer. I am really happy about that. And the best part is, right now I have plans in place to enjoy 2017 even more. It may or may not work out that way, but Im looking forward to it with optimism.

 

never-stop-exploring

Next year I plan on taking on another adventure challenge to test myself, and to raise awareness of prostate cancer. The adventure is going to be solo. It is going to be tough. And I am going to do it. Unlike my bike ride across America, I am not going to be fundraising for a charity this time around. I want the challenge to be more focused on what is really important.

 

If all goes well, I am going to start a business in 2017. I plan to finish the book that Im writing about Trans Atlantic Cycle, and have it published. And I certainly plan to explore and learn more about meditation and it’s benefits. That is a big one.

 

Whatever resolutions or decisions you make for 2017, I wish you well with them. I am not in the business of telling anyone what to do, but meditation has really helped me. I can appreciate things in a new way, and can sense the freedom to make positive changes and help others along the way. Keeping a promise to yourself is a beautiful thing. If you break that promise then don’t worry; just start over. Keep at it. You can make 2017 your annus marbles! Just remember…

Every waking moment is another chance to turn it all around.  

Trans Atlantic Cycle – The Motivation

Roger Holmes No Comments

As I cycled on The Katy Trail in Missouri, approximately two thirds of the way into the charity challenge of riding across America and Ireland; a new mantra came to mind: See the good in everyone – especially yourself. Thinking about that sentence, and all that it entails, gave me increased awareness of my motivation. From that point onwards, I picked up the pace and put myself in a position where I was able to reach New York City on my target date of August 14th 2016.

Missouri_Sunset

I had a beautifully peaceful and spiritual experience overlooking this Missouri River sunset – by connecting with my motivation

Later that same day, I crossed the great Missouri River. I stopped and stared in awe at the amazing sunset. That led to several minutes of beautiful quiet time, reflection and meditation. When eating my supper later still, I wondered if I would have even noticed that sunset and had that peaceful spiritual moment on the bridge, had I not been thinking about my new mantra. Having the conviction to hold true to a genuine motivation cuts out a lot of stressful and unnecessary thoughts, and opens the door for newer, more beautiful emotions and experiences. You can be self confident without being cocky. When you are sure of your motivation, you can see the world from a different perspective.

When I announced that I was doing Trans Atlantic Cycle to raise funds and awareness for The Irish Cancer Society, I didn’t give too much background, or explain my motivation for doing such an epic challenge. Despite some people telling me that I wouldn’t do it, I shouldn’t do it or that I couldn’t do it; I am doing it. My motivation is strong – because it came from within. I knew that I could do it – one day at a time.

For a long number of years, I bent over backwards to seek approval from others; probably because I doubted myself so much. Sometimes we are our own worst critics. Self doubt is a ball and chain that we must cast off. I was once dependent upon others to grant me happiness and contentment. I was willing to do things that were detrimental to my own wellbeing and peace of mind, in the pursuit of winning approval from others. I now see that for the folly that it was.

Two years ago I fell from an electric bicycle. The injuries were very painful, and the trauma was a heavy burden to bear. I slipped into self-pity which compounded things. It took a long time to find treatment, but I was eventually referred to Philip O’Rourke. During my sessions with Philip, I realized that I had to face my fear and get back on a bicycle. To do this, I had to look deep within myself, and start to build from the bottom up. When I eventually felt better, we discussed the possibility of doing a cycle to celebrate the fact that I was well again. A case of, “hair of the dog that bit you”. I started to think about doing a charity fundraiser. Philip is a cancer survivor, and had been given invaluable help by The Irish Cancer Society during his recovery. It seemed fitting that I should help the charity that helped the man who helped me. It completes a nice little circle of giving.

Cycling alone across America is by no means a decision that you come to lightly. I weighed it up. And then it occurred to me: there are thousands of poor souls in Ireland who are fighting cancer, or grieving a loved one, who would jump on a bike in a heart beat if only it would make things better. The realization that I was blessed and fortunate enough to have recovered from my accident was enough to inspire me to take on Trans Atlantic Cycle. It is a tiny challenge compared to what many others have to face.

When I realized that I could experience peace and serenity by counting the blessings that I have instead of lamenting the things that I don’t have, my view of life changed. Isn’t it funny that when we pledge to help others (instead of trying to impress them), that we actually find peace and contentment ourselves? And when we concentrate only on our own material needs, we oft times encounter discontent and unhappiness? And so, armed with this attitude and motivation, on June 14th 2016, against all the odds, I was standing at the pier in San Francisco with my trusteed Peggy, about to set off alone across the United States of America. I was happy, at peace with what lay ahead, and confident that I would have the conviction to complete what I set out to do.

I meditate every day while cycling. And afterwards I make a point of counting my blessings. Most days, the first blessing that comes to mind is that I have my health, and that I was able to get up out of bed and face another day. In the past, I focused on negatives. Now I count my blessings, and the gratitude that this brings always gives me a good head start to the day.

The quieter you become, the more you can here

I passed this poignant sign outside a a presbyterian church in rural Illinois. Such a powerful message.

I have faced many obstacles during Trans Atlantic Cycle. The Sierra Nevada’s came very early and were too much for my legs. It took three attempts to make it over Echo Summit. I was exhausted and had to rest for two days at South Lake Tahoe. The heat in Nevada caused all sorts of issues. I was dehydrated and had diarrhea in Utah. I was gasping in the thin air near the top of Monarch Pass, the 11,300 foot summit where I scaled The Rockies. I fell coming out of The Rockies. I was faced off by a mountain lion in Montrose, Colorado. I had to ask the police for assistance when it looked like I couldn’t find a place to stay late in the evening in Sacramento. I have had countless tough days. But one thing has been constant: my motivation to do this.

I believe that Trans Atlantic Cycle is 75% mental and 25% physical. I believe that if your mental attitude and motivation are right, you can overcome any obstacle to achieve your goal. There is always a way.

Brooklyn Bridge and Freedom Tower

Brooklyn Bridge and Freedom Tower in New York City. Both of these were difficult projects, but when completed they signify growth, freedom, movement and a bright future. I thought that was a very symbolic thought as I entered Manhattan.

I am writing this as I rest up in New York City, before moving on to Ireland, where I will ride from Letterkenny to Dublin, to the offices of The Irish Cancer Society. I am thinking about a few lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘IF’:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same;

Regardless of whether or not I complete Trans Atlantic Cycle, I hope that I am showing that even from the darkest place, you can find the light of hope. When I was asked to dig deep to find the will to face my fears and get back on a bicycle, I inadvertently found so much more, locked away inside. I am so much stronger than I thought I was. I have goodness within me. I discovered those things by finding silence and calmness through meditation. I learned to be able to give myself a pat on the back instead of flailing myself for no good reason based on what other people might think of me.

Trans Atlantic Cycle has been an amazing journey and adventure. It has been the most spiritual time in my life. I have seen the world from many different perspectives. Perspective is my favorite word. It is the first step in The Paris Method. Getting grounded and finding out about yourself in an unbiased way is a complete revelation.

No matter how fragile you may feel initially, you can build strong motivation to achieve your goals by using fundamental positives as the first building blocks. Rock bottom is the best place from which to build any strong foundation. A little over a year ago, I barely had the motivation to go out to the local shop. Now, I have cycled over three and a half thousand miles across America on my own.

I am not too sure what lies ahead – although I have an idea of what my future will be like. For now, I am returning to that silent, spiritual place which I get to by practicing The Paris Method, and whatever I discover about myself there, I know that it will be genuine, true and in my own best interests regardless of how others see it. I have learned to see the good in people – especially myself. I have been turning a negative experience (my bicycle fall) in to a positive outcome (raising funds and awareness for The Irish Cancer Society). But most of all, I have learned how to find peace. For years I searched frantically for it. I looked for it in other people, through vacations, in material possessions, inside bottles (thats a whole other story), and in many more ways and places. And all the while, it was there with me all the time, deep inside of me. I just had to figure out how to find it, and believe in it.

People have asked me if I prayed during my journey. I most certainly did. But I wasn’t praying for my needs, I was saying wordless prayers of gratitude for being given the time, the health and the energy to do what I am doing. I can honestly say that I breathed in every last drop of what my journey across the United States of America had to offer me. It was and is, a life-changing experience.

Thanks for reading. I hope that Trans Atlantic Cycle is the start of a spiritual adventure of continued personal growth, and I hope that I can continue to do a little bit to help others – instead of trying to impress them. That is my motivation going forward.

Trans Atlantic Cycle – The Highs and Lows of Cycling Across America

Roger Holmes No Comments

The title of this blog post is something of a misnomer. There are no lows; just calm periods that have the effect of making the highs more enjoyable. Im in Moab; a beautiful cycle-friendly town in south eastern Utah. Many who are cycling across America will pass through this little town. The landscape here is simply amazing, and the place has a real feel-good, laid-back vibe. There are dozens of cycle paths, dirt bike and ATV trails, and some amazing hikes through natural arches and canyons. But I’m just not feeling at my best today, and I’ve learned the hard way that it is okay to have days like these. Tomorrow is another day.

I made this video log when I was feeling the strain today. Its good to talk about this kind of stuff, as opposed to sugar-coating it.

I am tired, my digestive system is a little off, and I am certainly affected by the altitude, heat, and the number of miles cycled since I left San Francisco. In the past, a day like today may have tarnished the good times, but not now. I know it will pass. One of the best (and hardest) lessons I have learned is that when a down day comes, to realize that it is a passing moment, and it will indeed pass. Today, I was able to recognize that I am tired, and off-color, and so I accepted that the feelings I had were temporary. Self awareness is a game winning ace to pull from the deck on a day like today. I know that if I rest and refuel, that today’s worries will just drift away, as a cloud does when it temporarily blocks out the sun on an otherwise blue sky day.

I’d like to thank the girls at Bike Fiend, Moab, for not only cleaning my chain and checking the bike over, but for lifting my spirits when I walked in to their store in a very tired and weary state. I also need to thank Cheri and Jim in Minden, Nevada, who gave me kindness, hospitality, a bed, meals and some great encouragement. I just couldn’t have been treated any better, and that stays with you out on the road.

Cheri_And_Jim

Cheri and Jim: great people who really helped me in Minden, Nevada. That kindness stays with me.

I was also saved in the Nevada desert by twin sisters M and Liz, who I named my Desert Angels. I am still a little lost as to how to describe how far M and Liz went to ensure that I got across Nevada safely. Grace and Bob also extended some much needed generousity. I will be eternally grateful to these amazingly kind people. These were all random acts of kindness by strangers. I benefitted from American hospitality at its very best. Isn’t it ironic that I met such great people, and such good company on the ‘Loneliest Road in America’?

Long Road

It really is ironic that I met so many great people, who helped me so much…on The Loneliest Road in America

Trans Atlantic Cycle is incredibly difficult. It is okay for me to admit as much on this blog. Even if nobody reads this, just writing it helps to get it out of my system and allow that feeling to subside.

People have asked me what music I have been listening to out on the road. So far, I haven’t listened to any music while on the bike. I love music, and play bass and ukulele. But I haven’t played music yet while cycling across America, and probably won’t either. While doing something else (cycling), I prefer to be giving my concentration to what I am doing, what I am seeing and hearing as it passes by. Music would gradually allow my mind to slip from the present. Songs remind me of the past and give me ideas for the future, and thats okay. But right now I want to be aware of the present. I have meditated a lot while crossing California and Nevada. I have let go of a lot of negative thoughts and worries along the way – in a form of emotional littering. I like to imagine that any negative thoughts or feelings just flutter over my head and get left behind on the side of the road behind me. Without casting off some negative emotions, I cannot make room for newer happier feelings.

Rusty_Car

Some things need to be cast off and left on the side of the road. There, they can slowly rust away naturally instead of causing a wreck.

I try not to look too far ahead. All that matters most days is that I am moving. As long as I am moving I know I am working towards something. I need not be concentrating on what that something is, but when the wheels are turning, I am happy in each individual moment.

I have drawn parallels between cycling across America and life in general. When moving uphill, I am aware that my energy is being used at a higher rate. But I am also aware that the top of the hill is coming, and there will be a downhill sometime soon to balance things out. The last time I checked, the Pacific and the Atlantic are at the same level! I started at sea level, and I will finish at sea level, so the hills are balanced. Some days I cycle into a head wind. There may not be a tail wind to balance that out, and that is okay. Sometimes in life we just have to grit our teeth and bear into the headwind. When I happen to catch a tailwind, I make full use of it. The same goes for life. Being aware that things are good, and enjoying them to the maximum is important. Being aware that things are not so good, and accepting that they will pass is equally important.

Someone commented on social media today that after cycling across America, my life will never be the same again. Well, it is already different. Every moment brings change. There isn’t really a goal as such, just the progression towards something, and the awareness of each wheel turn along the way.

A_Sign

A ‘sign’ in a bathroom just as I was finally getting out of Ely, Nevada.

Today was a less than high day. But I still managed to make a little progress by sharing how I feel. And now that day is almost over, and tomorrow is another day. I have been using a few mantra’s during this Trans Atlantic Challenge as I have been cycling across America:
One Day at a Time
Onwards and Upwards
Positive from Negative

The most poignant one is a quote on canvass which I saw in a bathroom just before I finally got out of Ely, Nevada. I really feel that it was a sign, in more ways than one:
”Don’t be so focused on the finish line that you forget to enjoy the journey”.

Learning how to enjoy even the less than high moments is something I am working on as I am cycling across America. Even a down day is richly rewarding.

 

You can make a donation to The Irish Cancer Society on my behalf, by clicking here

Wild Atlantic Retreat in Glencolmcille, Donegal

Roger Holmes No Comments

Wild Atlantic Retreat announced for weekend of March 11th-13th 2016, in Glencolmcille, Donegal, Ireland

Let the refreshing ambience of the Wild Atlantic Way soothe your soul in one of Ireland’s most spectacular coastal locations.

Wild Atlantic Retreat

Wild Atlantic Retreat

Get away from it all for a magical weekend of pure fresh air, ocean views, chill-out time, hiking, meeting new friends, meditation, live music, good food and spectacular scenery. This is your chance to escape the world, on The Paris Method‘s inaugural Wild Atlantic Retreat in Glencolmcille, County Donegal, Ireland.

The calming influence of the open ocean and spectacular coastline along the Wild Atlantic Way in south west Donegal will revitalize you, setting you up for a great spring and summer. Staying at one of Ireland’s finest hostels, Aras Gleann Colm Cille, you will be treated to the famously warm Donegal welcome, and enjoy a memorable weekend of YOU time.

Details:

  • Friday March 11th, Check into the wonderful Aras Gleann Colm Cille. (Check their trip-advisor here).
  • Friday evening ‘Meet and Greet’, followed by an introduction to the area, and The Paris Method.
  • Saturday March 12th Following breakfast, we spend a quiet hour together, building on our introduction to meditation.
  • Hike to the wonderful Silver Strand Beach at Malin Beg, picturesque pier and Martello Tower (With Packed Lunch).
  • After a warm shower, relax over a simple but delicious home cooked evening meal.
  • After dinner meditation hour.
  • Saturday night live music entertainment.
  • Sunday March 13th breakfast followed by short meditation time, and reflections on our experiences.
  • Sightseeing trip to the majestic Slieve League cliffs (With Packed Lunch).
  • Lunchtime check-out with farewell session.

FREE collection/drop-off to connect with local transport services.Fly-Drive package available from Dublin and Glasgow via Donegal Airport

  • PRICE: €119 per person sharing.

 

To book your place:

Web: www.arasgcc.com

Email: info AT arasgcc DOT com

Phone: +353 74 973 0077

Hostel Facebook Page:  Aras Ghleann Colm Cille

The Paris Method Facebook Page: The Paris Method

*Itinerary subject to change, based on group size and weather conditions

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