Thursday, May 26, 2016

Concentration And Relaxation

Awareness stems from just the right mix of concentration and relaxation”.
I am as guilty as anyone of sometimes rushing through my day and everything around me is little more than a blur.  You can see a lot of the land from an airplane.  You can see more detail from a train or a car.  You can see even more detail by walking.  It can be challenging to concentrate on what you are doing while doing it in a relaxed way.  When you do it well there is a sense of freedom from space and time.  You get lost in the moment.  Some psychologists refer to this sensation as “flow”.  I call it being totally one with the moment.  I also call these Zen moments.  In more ways than one, speed kills.  As Gandhi once said, “There is more to life than increasing it’s speed”.  Slow down, pay attention, relax, and enjoy the eternal “Now”. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Some Challenging Realities About Life

I have often read that the problem with many young people today is that their parents…my generation… constantly told them how special they are and that they can be anything they want.  This constant praise did not always prepare them well for the often harsh realities of adult life in the modern world.  This reminds me of a De-Motivational poster I once saw.  It was a blown up picture of a large order of McDonald’s fries.  The caption on the poster read “Not Everyone Gets To Be An Astronaut”.   Yesterday I read some thoughts from Fr. Richard Rohr that also outlined some challenging realities about life.  Some of you may find them negative and difficult to accept.  Those of you who are older will probably find them realistic.  They may even summarize your life so far.
  1. Life is hard.
  2. You are not that important.
  3. Your life is not about you.
  4. You are not in control.
  5. You are going to die.
Even if you have been blessed in life, you have certainly had hardships and challenges as well.  Neither the world nor the sun revolves around any of us as individuals.  Any of us can be removed from the picture and life will keep going on.  You are also not in control of your own life, especially if you have a family.  As a long time married family man who has also had responsibilities for many other people in my working career, my personal needs were often at the bottom of my to do lists.  You cannot control anything.  There is a Buddha meme that pops up occasionally on Facebook that goes “Relax!  Nothing is in control”!  At best you have the illusion of being in control.  Finally, like it or not, some day we will all die.  As someone with more time behind him than in front of him, I think about this a lot.  However, I also feel very blessed because I have already been given more years than many other people were given.  There’s nothing like thoughts of your own mortality to give perspective to how you are spending your life now.  Think about this once in a while and make sure you are living your life best as you can.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Awareness Without Comment

Mindfulness is awareness without comment, without discrimination, without judgment.”
-Steven Harrison
I once read a book called “The Noticer”.  I cannot remember the author at this moment but the book was about how much we can learn just by paying attention and noticing things.  When I walk around the office my antennae are on full alert.  I notice all the people and all the activity.  Most of the people I don’t know personally and it is not always easy to tell if people are conversing about work or just goofing off.  I try not to judge anything I see.  One of my favorite quotes is “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see”.  Mindfulness at its core is just paying attention and noticing things.  Some of the challenges of mindfulness are actually paying attention, actually noticing things, and doing all of this without the emotional reaction of judging things as good or bad, a.k.a. dualistic thinking, and not reacting to what you notice.  We all tend to be judgmental about most things so it is very challenging to simply observe and move on.  Almost nothing in life is as it seems.  The seemingly good is not always good and the seemingly bad is not always bad.   

Monday, May 23, 2016

Some Thoughts On Inner Peace

The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger, attachment, fear, and suspicion, while love and compassion and a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness.”
-The Dalai Lama
I’m sure all of you have looked at the people in your life, whether they are part of your family, or people you work with every day.  Some of them are happy all the time with whatever life gives them and others seem to be unhappy all the time with everything.  You can’t be happy if you walk around mad all the time.  You can’t be happy if you expect everything to always be your way.  You can’t be happy if you are never satisfied and your entire life is spent trying to acquire more material things.  A new house and a fancy car will not necessarily make you any happier.  Some of the happiest people in the world are poor.  You can’t be happy if you are always afraid.  You can’t be happy if you think everyone and everything around you is part of a conspiracy to make your life miserable.  Look closely at the people in your life who seem to be the most happy.  What are some of their characteristics?  I bet they are generally good natured.  I bet they are giving people who care about others besides themselves.  I bet they are peaceful people who are not always raising hell with everyone around them.  I bet they are compassionate people.  It doesn’t cost anything to be kind and caring.            

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Like Clouds In A Windy Sky

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky.  Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
I have written many times about how our feelings are not who we really are.  The analogy I used was a mountain.  We are the mountain and our feelings are the weather experienced by the mountain.  Feelings can’t be planned and like the weather they cannot be forecasted 100%.  Sometimes I am down in the dumps for no apparent reason and I cannot guarantee I will always be happy and jovial on Christmas morning.  I have learned over time that my feelings are not always directly attributable to any specific event, whether it be good or bad.  Good fortune does not necessarily make me happy and bad luck doesn’t always make me sad.  Joy is something that usually surprises us.  Happiness is a gift that we can never find when we are looking for it but it finds us when we least expect it.  Sadness is something I seem to experience more when I learn of other people’s misfortune more than a feeling I have based on my own woes.  Sometimes I feel melancholy when I think about all the evil and suffering in the world.  Other times I am down in the dumps because I just don’t feel good.  A nap or a good night’s sleep is often the cure.  Feelings are like clouds.  Sometimes they seem to form into these huge things but if you just wait, they will turn into mist and slowly fade away.  Feelings, despite their unreliability, are a big part of what makes us human.  We have to accept the bad with the good.  Would you be willing to give up the feeling of happiness in exchange for never feeling fear or sadness?  Whatever your feeling of the moment, if your feelings cause you to lose your way, just stop where you are and breathe.  As long as you are breathing you are OK.  I recently saw a quote on Facebook that went “A deep breath is the beginning of every solution.” 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Some Thoughts On Self-Esteem

Persons of high self-esteem are not driven to make themselves superior to others; they do not seek to prove their value by measuring themselves against a comparative standard.  Their joy is being who they are, not in being better than someone else.”
-Nathaniel Branden
If tomorrow I walked on the Potomac river, the newspaper headline would say, “President Can’t Swim”.
-President Lyndon Johnson
Here’s a dose of reality.  No matter how good looking you are, no matter how smart you are, and no matter how creative you are, there is always someone better looking, smarter, and more talented than you.  However, it goes the other way too.  There is always someone less attractive, not quite as bright, and with fewer gifts than you.  Never compare yourself to others.  Your goal is to be the best version of who you are.  Take care of your physical self.  Educate yourself and expand your thinking in whatever way you can.  Develop whatever talent has been given to you.  Everyone is not a superstar but everyone is unique.  Instead of wasting time and effort comparing yourself to others, look in the mirror and discover your own gifts and uniqueness.  It is also a good thing to remember that not everyone will like you or praise you.  I know there are some people who think I hang the moon and walk on water.  There are also people who think the opposite.  I am not everyone’s cup of tea.  If I am not your cup of tea, try a different blend or switch to coffee.  Many of you are much younger than me and you probably value acceptance by others.  Some of you are closer to my age and probably understand that other people’s acceptance decreases in value the older you get.  High self-esteem has more to do with accepting yourself as you are rather than being concerned with what other people want or expect you to be.  True joy is being who you are and being happy about it.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Mindfulness Is Falling Awake

“Mindfulness is falling awake”.
-Jon Kabat-Zinn
Jon Kabat-Zinn is the author of a great book titled “Wherever You Go, There You Are”.  At this stage of my life I am very good at falling asleep except when it is time to actually go to bed for the night.  In the early evening, especially on work nights, I take some world class naps.  My wife doesn’t always know it because she is in another room doing the same thing in her recliner.  I am usually in full couch mode, sometimes with a blanket.  If it is dark and raining I am totally orbiting the planet.  Mindfulness is not actually waking up from physical sleep.  It is waking up from the kind of wakeful “sleep” that most of us are in throughout our day, regardless of what we actually doing.  When we are mindful, we are aware.  Unlike those days when we resemble the walking dead, when we are mindfully awake, we notice things.  Sometimes I am on auto-pilot and things zoom right past me and I never notice.  There have actually been times when I left home for work, and when I am finally walking into the office I realize that I have no memory of the actual commute.  Try sometime to remember all that you noticed in a day.  If your list is long, you had a very mindful day.  If your list is short, you were probably “asleep” most of the day even if you still got all your chores done.