I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t want a calm life and a peaceful mind. It is possible to have a calm life, at least inside oneself, but you will never have a totally peaceful mind. You can create calming rituals in your life to help you be centered. You can get up a little earlier to enjoy the morning quiet and prevent yourself from having to rush to wherever you need to be. You can take breaks throughout your day to sit quietly and re-connect with your inner self. When you get home and your chores are done, you can take a hot bath, or maybe sit outside and enjoy nature in your backyard. Having a peaceful mind is more challenging. Your mind never rests or takes a break. You mind often feeds your ego and that is rarely a good thing. In my mind I sometimes have thoughts I do not want. In my mind I sometimes obsess on small things until they seem to loom large. When I try to be quiet my mind creates noise. When I try to be still, my mind tells me I should be busy. All is not lost. In the middle of whatever calming rituals that work for you, you can at least temporarily distract your mind by choosing to not think. I do this by focusing on my breath. Our breath is life. I meditate by intentionally paying attention to my breath as I breathe in through my nose and I exhale through my mouth. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I am assuming you are breathing. Pay attention to your breath and some calm will come into your life.
Monday, February 08, 2016
I was once told that 80% of success is “showing up”. I would generally agree with that but I would also say that a very important element of success in life, not just in the workplace, but everywhere, is how you present yourself to others. I am not talking about kissing up to people and pretending to be something you are not. When you “show up” for life, be an authentic person. Everyone should think about how they appear to others. Perception is not always true reality but perception is reality to most people. As all of us walk through life we are judged by others and opinions are formed about our character and integrity. Misconceptions can have a very negative impact on how we are seen by those around us. Many misconceptions are based on how we carry ourselves and how we present ourselves to others. If you act like a fool, you will be perceived as a fool. Another person having a bad day can be perceived as grumpy although they might be very loving and kind most of the time. We all have a bad day once in a while. Leaders who seem to ignore people’s feelings can be perceived as uncaring but maybe they are just “under the gun” that day. People who create a lot of drama and who have constant needs they expect to be met are often perceived as “heavy maintenance”. Constant whining, complaining, and “neediness” are exhausting to even the most patience leader. Misconceptions can go both ways. Sometimes people present a positive image that is false and insincere. Such a person is inauthentic and phony. If you want to be accepted, liked, and admired by others, present yourself as a reasonable, intelligent, cooperative, and mature person who is also sincere and authentic. Be someone that others want to be with. Don’t be the type of person that makes others want to run for cover when they see you coming. Life is difficult enough without other people wearing you out or filling your life with negative energy. Every time I write thoughts like this, someone will write to me and say “Michael, you can’t be nice all the time. Sometimes a person needs to be aggressive and assertive to deal with injustice or some other harsh reality of life”. I agree. Nothing fires me up more than unfairness or people being treated badly. However, these thoughts today are more about the image and brand that we create for ourselves by the way we act. If I had to choose between a cooperative, team player type of person, with a pleasant personality, or a know it all, pain in the butt, guess which one I would choose? Whether we realize it or not, whether we like it or not, we are all selling ourselves to the rest of the world. Present the best version of who you are or you may be left on the shelf to gather dust.
Way back in the early 70’s I discovered an album called “Inside”. It was a recording by a jazz musician named Paul Horn. He plays the flute which is one of my favorite instruments. On this particular recording he visited the Taj Mahal in India and then hid inside when they closed for the day. He had his flute and a recording device. During the night, when he was alone inside the Taj Mahal, he played his flute and recorded it. It’s a beautiful recording. It’s contemplative, prayerful, and a bit cosmic. If you’re stressed this recording can bring you some peace. When I listen to it I am reminded how much I love being one with the universe. Everyone’s life has challenges and disappointments. Mine is no exception. However, I have been given many gifts by the universe. One of the gifts is having the awareness to recognize perfect moments. I call them Zen moments. I have such moments frequently when I listen to music. I can listen to a recording of a concert from many years ago and in my mind I am right there in the front row. Time travel is easy for me when it comes to music. I recall another time when I got home early from work one day. I was alone, the house was quiet, and it was the middle of winter. I made a cup of hot chocolate and sat in my chair, looking out my window while watching huge snowflakes fill the air. I was lost in the moment and one with the universe. I believe I learned to see and recognize such moments when I lived in the monastery. I was very young and idealistic but also very serious. I would go for walks in the woods and sometimes I would just sit on a log and listen to the wind in the trees. These types of experiences showed me a whole new way to see life. You should look for similar opportunities in your own life to go “inside” and be one with the universe.
Thursday, February 04, 2016
Beside the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.
Most of us spend much of our lives performing all kinds of tasks that we believe must be done. I’ve come to the conclusion that much of what we do is either the result of our own personal agendas or the agendas of others. Think of all the things you do. If you died today would someone else assume your tasks? If you stopped doing some of the things you do, would anyone notice? Abraham Maslow, the famous psychologist and author of the “Hierarchy of Needs” made a statement once that “80% of all work is BS”. How many of you reading this think that many of your work related tasks have no real value? The above quote, however, is not just about the non-value added tasks that too many of us perform. I think it is also about discerning, not only what is essential or non-essential, but what needs our involvement and what does not. We human beings want to control and manipulate everything to suit our needs. The damage we have inflicted on our planet is proof of this. There are way too many control freaks and micro-managers in life and not enough people of wisdom whose desire is to influence and not to manipulate. Life is not a competitive sport. We don’t have to control or beat everything. Certainly there are essential tasks of daily life that must be completed. However, much of our activity is just self-created busy work or the demands of someone’s else’s agenda. The universe knows what is essential and what is not and I’m pretty sure the universe can manage itself without our ego-centric agendas. Some things we need to do, some things we need to influence, some things we need to let be, and some things we need to simply ignore.
Wednesday, February 03, 2016
The fifth element, or habit, of a mindfulness attitude is Non-Striving. Non-Striving is described as “the state of not doing anything, just simply accepting the things that are happening in the moment just as they are supposed to”. This is a very tough challenge for many people in our American culture. We pride ourselves on being busy, productive, driven, and goal oriented people. In addition to this many of us are also control freaks who want to alter the outcomes of as much as possible to suit our own agendas and needs. The idea of non-striving and allowing life to unfold as it sees fit is almost abhorrent to us. We spend a great deal of energy holding on when the best move might be to simply let go. Many of us are wound a little tight because of the tension within ourselves that is caused by our driven, competitive, and controlling natures. Keep in mind, however, that Non-Striving is not the same as being lazy or not caring. I think Non-Striving is like white water rafting. You don’t necessarily allow yourself to be tossed to and fro by the rapids of life. You learn to be one with the running water. Some of the time you just flow with it. Other times you use your paddle to make the occasional course change to avoid crashing into a rock. If you fight the river or attempt to change the course of the river you will eventually crash and sink your boat. Those with skill learn to flow with the river and tap into its energy.
The final element, or habit, of mindfulness is acceptance. In this scenario, acceptance is defined as “completely accepting the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and beliefs that you have and understanding that they are simply those things only”.
Today we finish my thoughts on mindfulness. When it’s all said and done, a lot of mindfulness is accepting reality as it is without judging, with patience, with a child-like “Beginner’s Mind”, with trust in our personal abilities to deal with the moment, allowing life to unfold as it will by non-striving, and finally, what is often the most difficult part, acceptance. Whatever our individual moments add up to be, for most of us they are not the moments we probably dreamed of in our youth. I’ve always felt like most of my life was an accident. The life I have is not really the life I wanted. It is, however, the life I have. Just because the life I have is not the realization of my early dreams does not mean it’s all bad. I strive to not see anything as good or bad . My life is what it is and many twists and turns brought me to this point. I can bemoan the fact that it’s not everything I hoped for or I can accept it and strive to better understand why I am where I am and what I am supposed to do with what I have been given. Such acceptance does not come easy and I am not totally there. However, even my feeling s must be accepted as “they are what they are”.
Sunday, January 31, 2016
I once discovered something called the “7 Elements of the Mindfulness Attitude”. I believe it could also be called “The 7 Habits of Highly Mindful People”.
The first element, or habit, is “Non-Judging”.
Taking the role of an impartial observer to whatever your current experience is. This means not making a positive or negative evaluation of what is happening, just simply observing it.
It is so hard to not judge. I once heard someone say “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see”. In other words, almost nothing is what it seems. Most of our opinions are based on perceptions and perceptions are often seen as truth in the eye of the perceiver. How does one be truly objective and non-partial? How can we remove the filters from our own eyes? I haven’t achieved this yet. Certainly the times I have become aware of my own misjudgments have been learning experiences. I would also say the times I have been misjudged have also been learning experiences. In my own journey of self-awareness I have become a little better at stepping outside of myself and observing my own behavior. Of course, even when I do this it is still difficult to not judge myself. I am a very feeling type person with strong emotions. It is difficult for me to remove my feelings from most situations. Sometimes it helps to say to myself, “You’re having an emotional response. What is really happening now”? My experience is that it is not easy to be impartial and it is very challenging to simply observe what is going on around me. I guess the only real progress I have made is by being more aware of my own emotions and how they can misrepresent reality.
The second element or habit of the mindful person is patience. Patience is “cultivating the understanding that things must develop in their own time”. Patience is a trait that usually comes easy for me. Of course, what I call patience is sometimes seem by others as me being non-assertive. Admittedly, one of my coping strategies in life is simply waiting things out. Despite how I am sometimes seen by others, and acknowledging that I do sometimes act in dysfunctional ways, patience is a gift that I believe I have been given to me as part of my personality. We live in an impatient world where everyone seems to be in a hurry and many people want everything yesterday. I remember a joke from my days in project management. It was said that it takes one woman nine months to give birth to a baby. You cannot give birth to a baby in one month by using nine women. In other words, “things must develop in their own time”. Certainly there are situations in life that require a sense of urgency. Things sometimes happen that require us to kick it up a notch. However, not everything in life can be done quickly nor should they be. You can open a can of soup and pop it in the micro wave for a quick and usually unsatisfying lunch. You can also slow cook a variety of ingredients in your crock pot and have a culinary delight for dinner. You can pressure cook your life or let it unfold naturally. As I have said before, in a world of pressure cookers, I am a crock pot. In the end, patience gains all things. Move quickly when life demands it but if you are running and pushing all the time, it will catch up to you and you will regret it.
The third element, or habit, of the mindfulness attitude is “Beginner’s Mind”. What is beginner’s mind? It is “having the willingness to observe the world as if it were your first time doing so. This creates an openness that is essential to being mindful”.
Most adults have a difficult time having a “Beginner’s Mind”. As we get older our minds become so filled, mostly with junk, that being open enough to have the curiosity of a child is very challenging. When it comes to “Beginner’s Mind”, my greatest teacher has been my granddaughter. I spend time with her most weekends and during this time she teachers me to see life like a child. However, the child is now becoming a young girl. People with “Beginner’s Mind” tend to see life, not only with curiosity, but with simplicity. When one sees life directly, and with the simplicity of a curious child, one is usually very present to the reality of the moment. Life is not usually seen as complicated to a child. It just is. I remember once asking my granddaughter if she was happy. At first she seemed confused by the question. She looked at me as though she was wondering why I would ask such a silly question. Her eyes said, “Paw Paw, isn’t being happy the normal way of being”? Only someone with a “Beginner’s Mind” would think being happy is the normal way to be. For most of her life my granddaughter’s mind has been open and fresh and her vision pure. However, I can see that as she gets older her view of life is becoming tainted by reality. In spite of this she is full of curiosity and can be present to the moment in a way I can only hope to be. Unfortunately as she continues to get older she will be like the rest of us and she will lose this now effortless ability to be present. At some point she will have to work to regain it like her Paw Paw is doing now.
The 4th element, or habit, of a mindfulness attitude is trust. In this scenario trust is defined as “having trust in yourself, your intuition, and your abilities”. So far we have talked about non-judging, being patience, and having a beginner’s mind. When we are in the moment and present to our reality, not only do we have to be non-judging, patient, and childlike in our curiosity and openness, we also have to trust that the moment is as perfect as it can be. Keep in mind that trusting that the moment is as perfect as it can be does not mean that the moment is perfect. Rarely in our life is the moment perfect. Many of our moments are imperfect and during those times we often must rely on ourselves, our intuition, and our abilities to deal with life’s challenges. By having trust we believe in ourselves and our capacity to meet life’s challenges. This is also a reminder that mindfulness is not living in oblivion and mindless bliss. Mindfulness is being present to reality. Certainly there are those blissful moments when all is well and life is beautiful. However, there are also those moments where life is painful and challenging. While we all want to experience the joy filled moments, we must be present to our more painful realities as well. As someone told me the other day, if you want to experience life’s rainbows, you must also be willing to experience a few storms.