Monday, July 28, 2014

Living By The Minute

Last Wednesday I left work in great anticipation of an extended four day weekend.  Now, in what seems like the blink of an eye, I am back at work in my familiar routines.  Where did the last four days go?  They were good days.  I spent time with my granddaughter, visited my son, and also had some quality leisure time.  I take leisure very seriously.  The movement of time is mostly a perception.  All days have twenty four hours.  Some days, however, seems to move faster while other days seems to move slower.  There is a song by Pete Townshend with a lyric that goes “I love every minute of the day”.  In all honesty I don’t always love every minute of the day.  There are some days and some minutes I truly love while other days and minutes I simply endure.  I do think it is a worthy goal to attempt to love every minute of the day.  Our minutes turn into hours, our hours turn into days, the days turn into weeks and the weeks become years.  When we are not paying attention we suddenly find ourselves ten years down the road of life with little memory of how the time was spent.  If time is too slow and you are bored, it may be time to get up and do something.  If time is too fast you can slow it down by being truly present to the moment.  Time is a gift.  We are not given an unlimited supply.  Much of my current thinking is based on the reality that I have more days behind me than I do in front of me.  I am also haunted by the sudden and unexpected death of a dear friend last year.  Each day time becomes more precious and I try not to waste it.  Wasted time is lost forever.  Pay attention to the minutes of your life and you pay attention to all of your life.  How you live the minutes is how you live your days.  Live well, minute by minute, and when look back you will see an entire life that was lived well.     

Friday, July 25, 2014

Mindful Eating

When was the last time you practiced mindfulness while eating?  Recent news articles lamented the loss of the “lunch hour” for many of today’s worker’s.  Everyone thinks they are too busy to eat.  I think among some management people the need for a break or lunch is seen as a sign of weakness or lack of dedication.  Baloney!  I don’t care who you are or what you do, your life would be better served by taking occasional breaks along with a mindful lunch where you actually taste you food and enjoy the experience.  I am not talking about a rushed trip through the McDonald’s Drive Thru and a quick consumption of your Chicken McNuggets as you drive back to the office.  I am talking about taking the time to be totally present to yourself and your food.  I am talking about a relaxed and mindful time where you can be one with your meal.  You can smell it’s aroma, feel it’s texture, and taste it’s flavors in an unhurried and relaxing manner.  Today I challenge you to pay attention to whatever you eat.  Think about what you are eating.  Where did it come from?  If you are eating a piece of fruit think about the farmer who grew it.  Say a blessing for the person who picked it.  Remember the truck driver who delivered it to your local market.  Remember that many people worked so that you can have this food.  Most of all, be thankful and grateful that you have something to eat.  Many people in this world will not eat today.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Changing Landscape

In my city they are building two new bridges between Kentucky and Indiana.   Along with thousands of other people I am affected by the massive construction going on in the downtown area.  The entire landscape is changing to the point where once familiar roads seem totally new and foreign to me.  As I was driving into work this week all of this made me reflect on the constantly changing landscape of our lives.  The world into which I was born in the early 1950’s no longer exists.  I have lived through a great deal of change in my life involving the world at large, our American culture, my lifestyle, and the continuous evolution of the workplace.  The first ten years I worked at Humana there was no such thing as the internet or Microsoft.  I think Freud was correct in his assessment that life is based on the survival of the fittest.  Anyone who cannot change and adapt gets left behind.  Life is never static.  Life involves continuous change and movement.  If you do not willingly move with life, life will move you anyway.  Although I am not really what I consider a go with the flow guy, I have learned to move with the ebb and flow of life.  The trick is being centered within yourself and finding balance.  One must flow with life without being tossed about like an empty bottle in the middle of the ocean.  The world and life is always changing and it will continue to do so.  You need to move and flow and adapt with it.  I am occasionally nostalgic for my past and sometimes I dream of an ideal future but I also know all I have is the present moment and it is changing as I write these words.  Soon the changing landscape of the downtown area will become the new normal, at least until it changes again.  Now that I think about it I remember when everything was in flux back in the 60’s when they build the interchanges between I-71, I-65, and I-64, which many of us affectionately refer to as “Spaghetti Junction”. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Enclosure

Most monasteries have something called an enclosure.  In some cases this is an actual wall that separates the monastery from everything outside the monastery.  At least in the past, when a man or a woman entered a monastery, the attitude was that they were leaving the world behind.  In a sense, the wall, or enclosure, was a metaphorical and physical way to be separated from the world.  In today’s highly technical world this has become much more challenging.  Yes, there are now computers in the monastery.  We can all have some version of an enclosure in our lives.  We can decide, most of the time, who and what we allow to enter our personal enclosures.  For example, I struggle on a regular basis whether or not I should watch the news, especially the local news.  It seems to be totally filled with negative stories about murders, robberies, serial killers, scams, or many other real and imaginary dangers to our lives.  I find it all quite depressing.  I want to be informed but I don’t want to allow all that negative energy into my life.  Imagine that your five senses, especially your sight and your hearing are like open windows to your home.  Do you want everything to have access to your home?  Do you want everything to be able to just fly in whenever it wants?  Probably not.  That’s why most people have screens on their windows.  You want the fresh air but you want to screen out the insects and other things that the wind might carry in.  So, make sure your screens are in good condition.  Build yourself a personal enclosure wall to keep out those people and things that bring you down.        

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Reducing Anxiety

Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment!
 
These words are from a book I once read called Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh who is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk.  The book is about practicing mindfulness in everyday life.  One passage I read was about how we all think too much.  For most of us our minds have a never ending tape loop that plays over and over.  Much of what we think about is not worth the time and a great number of our thoughts are negative.  By focusing on our breath, we can reduce the amount of time wasted on unnecessary and potentially negative thinking.  Realistically, we cannot stop all thinking.  Many of life’s daily tasks require some level of intellectual activity.  However, I give you this challenge.  Today, when you are not involved in a task that requires you to think, don’t think.  Between your tasks that require thinking, focus on your breath and enjoy the stillness that it will bring.  If you choose to have a cup of coffee or tea during these moments, smell the aroma of the coffee or tea, pay attention to the taste of your coffee or tea, and finally, enjoy it in a very mindful way.  For those few moments let your attention be on your breathing and the experience of your drink.  Such intentional focus is what mindfulness is all about.
 
Focusing on your breath can also help with anxiety.  On my recent vacation I had to fly one leg of my trip on standby.  At the last minute my family got the last six seats on a flight and they were scattered all over the plane.  I ended up at the back of the plane in a window seat.  This would normally give me great anxiety.  I thought it was a good time to practice what I preach.  I sat in my seat, closed my eyes, and began focusing on my breath.  The flight lasted about an hour and I did not feel any anxiety.  Eventually I got into a conversation with the lady sitting next to me.  We talked about mindfulness and I told her I had been practicing mindfulness on the flight.  She replied, “I could tell you were meditating”.  The only anxiety I experienced on my trip was when I had to be with my entire family, especially during meals. (smile) 

Music As a Unifying Force

Last weekend my granddaughter told me I look like a cross between Albert Einstein and Santa Claus.  Being compared to a man of great intelligence and one of great kindness is fine with me.  I know it’s because of my hair and beard.  My inner hippie has been re-emerging lately.  I am rather wild looking when I first get out of bed in the morning.  I am trying to encourage my granddaughter to be a free spirit and to be whoever she wants to be.  I think one of the reasons she likes me so much is that I try to do the same.   
 
This week we’ve had some beautiful weather that is totally out of character with the usual July weather in Kentucky.  A friend and I decided to take a walk during the lunch hour earlier this week.  We went across the street from our office to Waterfront Park.  There was a flurry of activity there as workers were preparing the stage and other structures for this weekend’s Forecastle Festival.  This is a music festival that has become one of the premier music festivals in the United States.  There was a time in my life when I would have been in thick of everything for such an event.  I am a music fanatic and I have been to many, many musical events  in my life from listening to blues in smoky clubs to huge festival events with hundreds of thousands of people in attendance.  These days I am not the man I used to be.  I no longer have the desire, stamina, or patience to endure all that one must endure in large, outdoor musical events.  I am still up for them in spirit but not in body.  I am also out of touch with most of today’s music.  I am stuck in the 60’s and 70’s and have little desire to be in the musical world of 2014.  Occasionally I dip my toe into the 90’s but I thought the 80’s was a musical wasteland.  I know some of you youngsters will disagree with me.  Music fanatics like me are a special breed.  Whatever our individual tastes or age may be we usually can relate to one another because of the shared love of music.  I believe that music is the greatest unifying force in the world.  If the music is truly good, it will bring people together.         

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Everything Has A Price

The price of everything is the amount of life you exchange for it.
-Henry David Thoreau
 
If you are depressed you are living in the past.  If you are anxious you are living in the future.  If you are at peace you are living in the present.
-Lao-Tzu
 
Lao-Tzu is a Chinese philosopher and Henry David Thoreau is one of my favorite thinkers and writers.  Whenever I read any of their stuff they are usually right on the money.  This particular Lao-Tzu quote ties in well with all my previous thoughts about mindfulness.  How many of us are depressed or unhappy because we compare our current life to a romanticized ideal of how great we thought our life used to be?  How many of us fail to see what’s really good in our current life because every waking minute we are daydreaming about some life we wish we had and we’re worrying about whether or not we will ever achieve it?  We spend too much times thinking life used to be great or it could be great if only things were different.  When we are truly present to the eternal Now I believe we see things differently.  Part of being mindful is noticing things.  When we are living in the past or dreaming of the future we are not likely to be noticing the good realities of the present.  I once read a quote of unknown origin that went “These are the good old days”.  Remember that today used to be the future and soon it will be the past.  Where you are now is where you will always be in the sense that only the present truly exists.  Notice the present and be at peace.  Thoreau reminds us that everything in life has a price.  Do you want to be the most successful person at your company?  OK, go for it.  However, there is a price.  Do you want to be well educated and have an impressive degree?  OK, but there is a price.  Do you want to be single or have a spouse and family?  OK but both have a price.  Do you want to run the street, howl at the moon, and abuse your body?  OK but there is a price.  All of our choices, good and bad, have a price.  Each person has to decide what amount of your life you are willing to pay for whatever choices you make.