Tools of the Trade

Useful Resources

I had begun a draft of this post awhile ago but never quite made it. I think now would be a great time to review some of the different resources I’ve found helpful for my meditation and mindfulness practice, some of which I credit with helping me dig out of my mental and emotional hole during this current pandemic situation recently. Just for the record: I do not have any direct affiliations with any of these products or individuals – these are simply tools I have personally found helpful.


There are many meditation apps out there, and I’ve tried a few, but this one has really hit the spot for me.

It’s structured to begin with a 50-session introductory course that starts with a basic introduction to the meditation and then slowly builds to include different and more in depth meditation practices. After the 50-session introductory course, the app populates a new daily meditation each day. You have the option to choose 10 minutes or 20 minutes for these daily meditations depending on how long you’d like to practice that day.

If you’re looking for the ABCs of meditation in a structured format, this is a great app for that. There is also a lot of additional content I find very engaging. Sam provides some lessons where he discusses concepts or approaches in greater depth, and he also has a series of conversations where he has interviewed many mindfulness and meditation teachers and experts to provide their insights.

The app is free to download (iOS and Android) offers the first five meditations and five short talks for free. To move beyond those you will need a subscription.

There is also an option for existing subscribers to gift a free month for people wishing to try out the app beyond the five free sessions, but are unsure of committing. If you follow me on Twitter (@zenparentings) and DM me, I’ll happily send you the link from my subscription.

One other thing I love about Sam is that he has made it very clear, Other thing I love about Sam is that he has made it very clear, and reiterated during this pandemic, that price should not be a factor in helping people use this app to help with their daily mindfulness practice. If you contact his team at and explain that you’d like to use the app but are not able to afford it and they will give you a year-long full subscription for free, no questions asked.

Moreover, he often then points to many of the other apps in case this isn’t your cup of tea: Calm and Headspace among others. He is truly committed in helping people find the vehicle by which any person can deepen their mindfulness practice, whether or not it is his app.

Beyond the App

I will also mention that Sam has several books he has written as well. In fact, his book, Waking Up, dives into a lot of the concepts that he incorporated when building the app.

undefined Tara Brach

I first learned of Tara Brach from an interview she did on the Tim Ferriss Show. I subsequently read her book Radical Acceptance, which was, as advertised, a highly impactful read for me. Her podcast (iOS and Android) is one of my go-tos featuring both longer meditation talks she gives live (well, virtually right now during the pandemic) as well as shorter meditations.

You can find more information, books, and resources she provides (often for free) on her website (

Thich Nhat Hanh

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

My list could perhaps have started with TNH, since he was my first entry point to mindfulness. Just after college I was struggling with some stuff and a friend of mine who was a Religious Studies major gave me some of his books to help me begin cultivating mindfulness. They were so simply written and so beautifully clear that I began devouring his body of work in the coming years.

Sometimes, when I’ve gone very far down the path of more advanced meditation practices I re-read them. Touching Peace and Being Peace are a great place to start, but any of his books are truly wonderful.

Other Books

Other books that have also had an impact on me you may wish to check out:

Awareness: Conversations with Masters

Anthony de Mello was a Jesuit priest, but this book reads more like a Buddhist monk’s treatise or teachings. Very simple and understated, but powerful.

The Untethered Soul

By Michael Singer, I heard about this book on a podcast and tried it out. It’s a bit more in depth, so I don’t know that I would recommend it for beginning your mindfulness practice, but it does a really deep dive on the different layers of consciousness and uses first person experience to illustrate its points.

He apparently has an online course based on this book on Sounds True that I’ve heard is good, but I have not yet tried myself.

Good Luck

Whatever tools or path you take, I wish you the best on your mindfulness journey, and carrying it “off the cushion” into your daily life.

What are your favorite “tools of the trade”?

Why “Zen”?

I’ve been putting off writing this post for awhile, though it’s been the big glaring omission from the beginning. Basically, it’s the response to the obvious question: “Why Zen and the Art of Parenting“?

So, the redux version of my history: I’m a recovering Catholic (I’m sure there will be more posts teasing all of THAT out) who discovered Buddhism just after graduating college when I was really struggling to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life after years of having a clear path laid out before me. Moreover, it was also to help me deal with my default method of reaction: anger.

I’m a pretty Type A guy, and I like knowing the lay of the land or being in control of the situation. Not a great fit for a new college grad figuring out where to go from there. Now, in many ways being Type A can be helpful. It provides drive, determination, and a clear vision of what you want to see happen. The downside is, when that vision is not realized as you wanted, how do you react?

Discovering Buddhism, or really more generally mindfulness, helped me during that period, and I practiced regularly for a period of time. Then life happened, or rather, life began going generally the way I wanted it to go for awhile, minus the occasional hiccup, and my active practice began to wain.

I hit a point relatively recently, where I realized something had to change. In a nutshell, a little over a year ago we had gone out with some extended family to a wonderful lunch, and visited our family members’ hotel room they were staying at in Boston afterwards. As we made our way back to the parking garage our daughter began acting up – combination of too much sugar and too much stimulation. Michael made the (correct) decision to pull her aside out of the middle of the open marketplace area to have a conversation with her about her behavior.

At this point, a stranger all of a sudden started loudly calling out “He’s hurting that child! He’s abusing that child!” I. Lost. It. I unloaded on her both barrels and left very little for scrap. Like, unhinged my metaphorical jaw and devoured that overbearing termagant whole. Now, the general idea of defending my husband for doing his job as a father (which, for the record was in no way shape or form abusive) is a noble one, but the execution left something very much wanting. Frankly, I’m lucky I didn’t end up as a video clip some passerby caught that went viral on the interwebs, which is something that can happen all too easily these days.

That was the moment I realized something had to change. My default reaction toward anger was way out of balance with how I needed to be living my life, especially as an example for my daughter. I’ve alluded to this in a previous post, but this was the point at which I realized I had been reading books about mindfulness, listening to podcasts and dharma talks about mindfulness – but I hadn’t actually sat for meditation in a VERY long time. The first time I did that, I remembered what I had been missing. It’s the not the research, it’s not the reading, it’s the action that brings the benefits.

I wish I could say that reintegrating meditation into my life has completely quelled my anger issues. It hasn’t. I’m a human being like everyone else – just trying to get a little better day by day. I can report that it has helped, and it continues to help.

So “why Zen”? Because I want to be a better father. I want to be a better human being.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor E. Frankl

As this quote from Viktor Frankl illustrates – there is a precious space between a stimulus and a response. I want to inhabit this space more fully and to use its grace to inform better decisions and take better actions. Don’t we all?

Happy New Year!

First, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa……. I dropped the ball and I wish I could say there was some specific circumstance that caused my radio silence and delinquency in writing. Truth is, yes I was busy, but I frankly did not prioritize and carve out time in my schedule for writing, something I hope to remedy moving forward.

Which brings me to the subject of this post: the New Year! Now I know that many of you will be scratching your heads and wondering how I’m possibly wishing everyone Happy New Year over a month after January 1, but I’ll explain.

My shift in perspective happened years ago when the Chinese New Year happened to fall on my birthday in February. It all of a sudden dawned on me that for everyone – every person on Earth – their *true* New Year was, in fact, their birthday. That’s when your clock begins, so why do we prioritize January 1 over that very personal date?

For me, selfishly, this worked out pretty well. I found New Years resolutions very difficult. Frankly, I’d be lucky if I made it through the holidays unscathed, and I can guarantee, there was very little time in December contemplating just what I wanted to embark upon for the next year. The result was that I began January hazily, and never really firmed up any resolutions, or had the generic resolutions we all have without any thought to specifics and execution.

Enter the (Birthday-centric) New Year

The lucky coincidence of my birthday being at the beginning of February meant that if I used that as my starting point, I had all of January to recover from the holidays, get a little bit back to “normal” and really give some meaningful thought to my resolutions. I have to say that this has had some pretty good results over the years.

Oh sure, I could be even more prescriptive and perhaps even establish clearer benchmarks or leading and lagging indicators for meeting my goals (if I totally want to geek out), and in some cases I have done so by default even if not explicitly. But, it definitely has paid better dividends than the failed attempt to center my annual goals around January 1.

So What’s Up for This Year?

Welp. I wish I could say I was super and uber specific and prepared this year, but I’m going to be honest and say I’m not, entirely. I have a few general things that have become a perennial set of goals I’ll mention and then a couple of new ones, even if I could have done a better job outlining them before embarking upon them.

Health and Wellness

I wish I could *not* be that guy who defaults to the generic health resolutions every year, but, alas I am – with a twist. See, another reason I found my Birthday New Year to be helpful was the way it gave me some “wiggle room” around the holidays. Basically, if I was very disciplined nutrition and exercise-wise most of the year, I felt like I could loosen the reins a bit during the holidays. As a result, I generally begin my “relaxed” period on Thanksgiving Day and allow it to run through (my) New Year in February. Now, I generally try not to go absolutely CRAZY during this period; however, it really helped eliminate a lot of the guilt if I ate something “off plan” at a holiday party (not to mention both Thanksgiving and Christmas themselves!), or the feeling of either needing to avoid these situations to stay “on plan,” or the societal cost of coming off sanctimonious by attending but not indulging in anything offered. That said, this year, due to our Disney trip I was a bit more off the rails than in a typical year, so I’ll have some ground to recover moving forward.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, health or nutrition professional so I’m not qualified to give any advice on diet or exercise. I’m only reporting what has seemed to work well for me in recent years and what my “goals” are for this new year.


I’ve experimented with a variety of different nutrition plans (I prefer this term to “diet” per se, since I think it helps to think of it more as a lifestyle than a set of restrictions if possible) over the years. What has worked the best for me in recent years has been the ketogenic diet. I’ll be honest and say some of the biggest draws for me are the fact that I can eat keto and keep a few things in the mix:

  1. Cheese. I. Just. Love. Cheese. Full stop.
  2. Meat. I’m a carnivore at heart. I have eaten for periods of times with meat substitutes, and do actually quite enjoy many of them, but I’m a sucker for a good burger or a good steak.
  3. Booze. Keepin’ it real – I’m a parent of a young child, and I like to have a cocktail. Now, keto has adjusted what I can drink (pretty much only hard alcohol, like vodka, with zero calorie mixers like seltzer) from what I used to drink (I’m a sucker for a good bottle of wine), but at least it’s an option without feeling like it’s completely tanking my progress.

So, my body had just reacted pretty well to keto compared to some of the other nutrition plans I’ve tried, so I’ve actually kept it as my primary state for the last four years or so. One new thing I introduced in the last couple of years that has also seemed to work well for me is intermittent fasting.

I started my intermittent fasting on as wide a band as you could: a 16/8 split. This basically means that you don’t eat for 16 hours (this usually includes the sleeping hours to make it at least somewhat easier/doable), and can eat within an 8 hour window. I’d basically skip breakfast, have lunch around 12 and then make sure dinner was done by 8. Last year I started expanding the fasting window to the point where many days I was only eating (a very hearty) dinner, but was generally fine and not feeling deprived throughout the day.

My plan for this year is to continue this intermittent fasting with a keto-based diet. I will probably start with a closer to 16/8 split and ramp back up to a shorter window, possibly even one meal per day again.

The next piece is a new experimental resolution. I am going to try a 24 hour fast once a week. Considering I have, at times, gotten down to one meal a day, this may not be a super heavy lift, but having heard about some of the benefits of true fasting, I am going to experiment with this to see how my body reacts. I plan on approaching this like I did with intermittent fasting originally – started with one plan and try variations and checking in with how my body feels as I go before settling on an approach (or abandoning if it’s just not something my body reacts well to).

Wim Hof Breathing and Cold Showers

I’ve been a big fan of Wim Hof’s breathing exercises for awhile, and even experimented off and on with the cold showers piece of his training regimen. My plan is to follow the printout he provides on his website to ramp up over time beginning with a short cold shower, and eventually increasing the time. Not gonna lie, this is huge for me. I grew up in Southern California, and despite living in the Boston area now, I absolutely HATE the cold. This is one of those “get outside of your comfort zone” resolutions. Pray for me.


It goes without saying on a blog entitled “Zen and the Art of Parenting” that some meditation is incorporated. Stay tuned for a future post on my history of meditation and my current regimen and tools that I find helpful.


I successfully completed P90X during a previous “milestone” birthday year. Last year I completed Shawn T’s “Focus T-25,” which I found much more conducive to a parent’s schedule with its workouts all strictly capped at 25 minutes. I found it very effective, and plan on taking my favorite sessions and rotating them to get back into the swing of things. Real talk: I hit my goal weight and felt very good about myself by the time of my Thanksgiving Day “grace period,” in large part to this workout program. I have put back on about 10 lbs, so have my work cut out for me to get back into fighting shape. What I can say (thanks to my friendly Fitbit app) is that over the last five years or so since I’ve been tracking my vitals and stats, each time I bump back up, the bump up tends to be lower than the previous year’s bump, so overall the trend is good. Over the 10 months I work hard my lows get lower, the highs in the grace periods don’t go as high, and overall I feel great. I’m toying around with the idea of reprising P90X again at some point this year (because it’s another milestone birthday year), but haven’t decided if I want to commit to that yet or not. I’d love to do it, but I am also trying to be realistic given the fact I’m now a parent, which I was not the last time around. Stay tuned.

Reading Fiction

This was actually a Birthday New Year’s resolution a couple of years ago but I have maintained it and have found it has profoundly enriched my life. I used to LOVE reading fiction and read almost nothing but fiction as a kid, unsurprisingly. As I got older and started reading to acquire skills or improve my life, I realized a couple of years ago I couldn’t actually remember the last fiction book I’d read. I crowdsourced a list of fiction books to try out and have been making my way through it ever since. To be clear, I still read plenty of nonfiction books aimed to improve myself; however, I realized that reading for the sheer pleasure and joy of it was also something that was important to me.

Be A Better Father

No pressure. I have to say, I really don’t feel terrible about how I’m doing as a dad on a day-to-day basis. I am fortunate that I work mostly from home and that gives me a lot of opportunities to spend time with Maya that I wouldn’t have been able to have in some of my prior positions. Instead of being out the door before she’s even awake to beat the traffic into the city, I am able to cook her breakfast, get her ready for the day, and sometimes walk her to school. I have the flexibility to volunteer in her classrooms from time to time, and I also am the primary evening-time parent since Michael works in a service industry meaning evenings are a moneymaking time. That said, I know I can engage even better and even more. My new goal is to sit down with her while she’s eating dinner, even if I am not eating my dinner until later (one downside of the keto diet is that there’s very little overlap between your food and your child’s food) and engage with her on how her day went instead of running around doing things “for” her instead of “with” her. Sure, I read her books and talk with her before bed, but adding this extra time can only add value to both her growing up experience as well as our relationship.

Be A Better Husband

I had been doing a pretty good job of this back in the fall, but let it slip when we were getting into the holidays and prepping for the trip. My goal is to make sure we have some sort of a “date” once a week. Date, in this sense, is defined very loosely and flexibly. It costs a lot of money for a sitter, and to layer that on top of the cost of going out and eating dinner, or going to a show, or fill in the blank, it’s a lot of extra expense every week for connection that can be gotten just as easily in other ways. Working from home and having negotiated flexibility into my hours at work, we can go out for coffee (much cheaper!), go for a walk (when the weather finally warms up), or just hang out for a half hour at home and connect as a couple rather than as parents of a daughter, which is what we too often feel is our only role and identity.

Improve Our Finances

Everyone’s always looking toward some version of this, right? My goal is to reduce our monthly spending by $1,000. I’m pretty good about tracking our spending using YNAB, and quite frankly, there’s a lot of fat we can trim. One area I have already started with is reducing existing costs by shopping for better deals and sales and reducing the amount of markup we’ve been paying for convenience. We have been paying a premium by having Amazon Fresh deliver our groceries and all sorts of other items instead of making sure we’re getting the best deals. Part of that started out of a need for convenience. It just saved so much time once Maya came along to not have to go out shopping when you factored in getting her ready, dressed, buckled in, and then taking her out for every trip, the carrying or the slowness of the walking pace of a toddler…. It just seemed easier to buy as much as you could online, and then you also got to spend more time with her at home instead of out running errands. Now that she’s older, things are in a different place, and there a lot of things we buy on a regular basis that we can save a ton of money on by just putting in a little extra effort. I found an Excel spreadsheet to help calculate the price per unit of items we buy to decide which version is most cost-effective and help me get re-sensitized to what a good price per pound something is. I expect even this initial step to pay off some pretty good dividends in meeting my $1,000 goal, but I’ll mention if I find anything else worth sharing that might help others.


We end as we began. I have already put in the calendar for next week the times I plan on writing each day for a half hour, and posting twice a week – once on Monday, and once on Thursday. Even writing that is scary to commit to, but even if it’s a sad, sorry, short post, I feel like the plan to post something on these two days will help keep me on track. More importantly, is the daily habit and scheduling said daily habit in my calendar to ensure it happens every day. Sadly, I have at least five blog post topics ready to go in the Draft folder as the ideas came to me, so it’s not like I’m wanting for topics to write on. It’s the act of doing. It’s the act of committing. And that’s my goal for this next Birthday New Year. Write half an hour every day, and post on Mondays and Thursdays.

What are your New Year’s resolutions for this year (even if yours begins on January 1 and not in February like mine)?