Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Mindfulness Attitude Part I

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.     



Saturday, January 30, 2016

When You Are Feeling A Little Stressed

Breathing in…..
 
I am calm.
 
Breathing out….
 
I let go of all anxiety.
 
Breathing in….
 
I am centered.
 
Breathing out….
 
I can do this.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Are You Where You Are?

To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past or responsibly plan for the future.  The idea is simply not to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future.  If you are firmly grounded in the present moment, the past can be an object of inquiry, the object of your mindfulness and concentration.  You can attain many insights by looking into the past, but you are still grounded in the present.
-Buddhist saying
 
Be Here Now.
-Ram Dass
 
Zen is being where you are and doing what you’re doing.
-Michael Brown
 
Being here now, being where you are, and doing what you’re doing sounds incredibly simple until you actually try to do it.  I feel reasonably grounded within myself but my mind and my body are often not in the same place.  As I write these notes I am already home in my mind, happy that another work day is over.  It takes some effort to be mindful.  The truth is that I don’t always like where I am or what I am doing.  To be one with reality and to be one with a desired reality is not the same thing.  Most of us struggle on a daily basis to accept reality and to flow with it.  I realize after many years of introspection that I have a personality that often fights reality.  Sometimes I feel that when I am trying to be mindful of reality by being her now and doing what I am doing, I am sleeping with the enemy.  The reality I want and the reality I have are sometimes in conflict.  Still, I try to practice my Zen and my mindfulness, hoping for an insight that will give me a new way of seeing things.  So, for the time being I will be here now until 4:00 PM.  After that, wherever I go, there I am.   

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Well-Being & Health

The final pillar of well-being has to do with our health.  This is the toughest one for me.  I had my first health crisis in my 30’s and it was traumatic.  In my 50’s I was diagnosed with diabetes.  Both of these events demanded changes in my behavior and life style.  Like most people I wondered “Why me”?  I beat myself up a little debating how much my health problems were my own fault or whether they would have occurred anyway because of the genetic hand of cards I had been dealt by my parents and ancestors.  It’s probably a bit of both.  Whether I deserved them or not is irrelevant at this point.  The good news is that my health issues forced me to think differently about my lifestyle and choices and for the most part I have adapted to these challenges in a positive way.  My medical conditions cannot be reversed at this point but the reality is that I am living a healthier life now than I did when I was younger.  Good physical health is important.  If you have a sense of purpose, belonging, and security, they may not seem very important if your health has failed and you cannot enjoy what life has to offer.  At the same time, you may be the poster child for good health and healthy living, but if you have no sense of purpose, belonging, or security, your life is out of balance and it would be misleading to say you have a sense of well-being in your life.  Total well-being is about having balance and balance is found in the tension of opposites.  Purpose, belonging, security, and good health do not come easy.  Well-being is about choices and consequences.  The desire to have well-being and the experience of well-being are two different things.  In the tension of opposites balance and well-being are found by walking the middle path of moderation.       

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Sense Of Security

The third pillar of well-being is having a sense of security.  Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” lists food and shelter as our most basic need.  If you don’t have food and a place to live, everything else is pretty tough.  For me, having a sense of security also means not being afraid.  How can I feel secure if every waking moment is filled with worry and fear about my basic needs?  In order to have a sense of security you do not need to have an overabundance of everything.  I feel secure when I have enough of everything.  Like most things in life, it’s all about balance.  When we are young we often want everything without a realistic understanding of what it takes to have anything.  Unless you are a trust fund baby or you win the lottery, you are probably going to have to work.  Assuming you have employment and it provides you with a regular and steady income, your needs and wants with have to be balanced with your ability to pay for them.  Keep in mind that what you need and what you want can be very different.  As I’ve said before, the first half of life is usually about building and gathering.  I am in the second half of life where I am now deciding what is truly essential for my life.  I no longer think about how I can get more.  Now I think more about letting go and doing with less.  One also needs to balance the needs of the present with the anticipated needs of the future.  This can be tricky.  I don’t believe in robbing the present for a future that is not guaranteed.  However, I don’t have an attitude of “let’s eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we may be dead” either.  Of course, a sense of security is not just about money.  Assuming basic physical needs are met, I also want to feel safe, not only from harm, but from the unexpected.  I avoid stress by minimizing stressors.  I avoid fear by avoiding situations that put me in danger.  In life I strive to give what I can and only take what I need.  I generally feel secure and I have gotten to this point by learning from my mistakes and by making new and better decisions that don’t jeopardize my security.     

Monday, January 18, 2016

Solitude

I feel a little guilty when I say that I am often happiest when I am alone.  Give me a day home alone with a good book, a cup of coffee, and my favorite music and I am perfectly content.  When I am alone it is a stress free zone.  I don’t not have to meet anyone’s expectations or demands.  I don’t have to change who I am to fit in.  In a conversation I once had with a friend who has been a monk for 50 years I shared that even though it’s been over 40 years since I left the monastery and my days as Brother Dominic, I am still temperamentally a monk.  I am not, however, anti-social, and, for what it’s worth, neither are monks.  I like people and most people like me.  In spite of my preference for solitude I must interact with people every day.  I have a wife, children, a granddaughter, extended family, and friends.  I still need to come to work every day and interact with all kinds of people.  Some days this can be challenging.  When I was a young monk, and I was in much better physical shape than I am now, I used to wander for hours in the woods and hills around the monastery.  The monk who was responsible for my training allowed me a weekly “Hermit Day”.  I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a lot more people like me than many people realize.  Even if you are an extrovert, I think people need solitude and time alone.  It is only in solitude that you meet yourself and learn to deal with who you are.  Solitude is not always a party for me.  Sometimes in solitude I come face to face with my weaknesses, my dysfunctions, and my hang ups.  I occasionally have to stare in the mirror and deal with myself.  Outside of solitude you can avoid yourself forever.  If you are constantly moving and running and surrounding yourself with distractions, you can spend your whole life out of touch with your own reality.  I like who I am but I know I am not perfect.  I have needs that are not being met but I also must occasionally tell myself to get over it and let it go.  Sometimes I have to bring a halt to the pity party and remind myself of what’s good in my life.  So, as you can see, solitude can be a double edged sword.  It can be a peaceful retreat from the demands of life or it can be a face to face encounter with your own dark side.  For me solitude is my comfort zone.  However, as I once wrote, sometimes you have to leave your cave to fully appreciate all that life has to offer.  I probably don’t do this enough.  However, that doesn’t mean I am putting a “For Sale” sign on my cave.  I am keeping my cave because that’s where all my stuff is.     

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Sense Of Purpose

One of the pillars of well-being is having a sense of purpose.  What does this mean?  I suppose it can mean different things to different people so all I can do is share one thing that gives me a sense of purpose.  Most of my life I felt very ordinary and average.  I was mature and dependable, if sometimes na├»ve, but rarely felt like I was making a difference to anything.  I think many people feel like this when they are young and in the early stages of their life.  When I began my 50’s I began to see myself differently.  I started to realize that although I wasn’t better than anyone else, I was my own unique self.  My personality traits, my life experiences, my education, and my inner drives began to work together to form the person that I am today.  I started to be more assertive and passionate about my values and beliefs.  I discovered that I have a gift for writing and communication.  I started sharing the experiences of my life and the thoughts that came to me in moments of contemplation.  I became less afraid to share who I am and what I think and feel.  People began to tell me that my worldview inspired them, gave them hope, and comforted them.  I began to realize that I might be what some would call a “Universal Man”.  By that I mean that I seemed able to articulate thoughts and feelings that many people have within themselves but are either afraid to voice or perhaps cannot find a way to express themselves.  Some people have accused me of reading their minds and hearts.  I don’t know how I know what I know or how I am able to tap into universal feelings.  Writing just comes natural to me.  All of this has given me a sense of purpose.  I know I make a difference in some people’s lives.  I still see myself as an average guy but certainly not as a guy without worth.  I know my worth and I know my purpose.  How that purpose will play itself out for the rest of my life is a mystery I look forward to unraveling.  Of course, within the workplace,  I still have basic, sometimes mundane, responsibilities that need to be completed and goals that need to be attained.  Purpose and goals are not always the same thing but they can be weaved together.  My reality is that I discovered my sense of purpose primarily within the workplace.  It is mostly through the encouragement and support of co-workers that I have been able to see my gift and sense of purpose
 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Worrying Is Like Praying For What You Don't Want

“Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want”.
 
I seldom worry.  My life experience has been that most things work out as they should so why waste energy worrying?  My lack of worrying doesn’t mean I don’t have concerns.  I just see most concerns and obstacles as inconveniences and not as crisis’s.  I have also learned that most worries are in our head and not based on reality.   As Mark Twain once said, “I have been through many terrible things in my life.  Some of which actually happened”.  My experience of people is that many of them worry ceaselessly.  I wondered why some seem to worry more than others.  My observation is that women tend to worry more than men.  Maybe I don’t worry because my spouse worries twenty four hours a day.  According to one personality type theory that I have found to be very true, all the basic personality types fall into one of three subtypes, i.e., gut types, heart types, and head types.  I am a gut type.  I tend to react to life quickly and from my gut.  Typically I over-react.  Of course, I prefer to think of this as being passionate.  Later, I think myself into being reasonable.  Heart types are always wondering how they look to others and what others think.  They often base their actions on how others will react.  The third group is head types.  This type of person lives “in their head”.  Head type personalities are fear based personalities.  When you think about this you realize that fear is in the head.  Most of what we fear in our heads never actually happens in reality.  The largest percentage of the general population falls into this category.  This is why it appears that so many people are “worry warts”.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

If You Can't Love Everyone, At Least Don't Hurt Them

If you can’t love everyone, at least don’t hurt them.
-The Dalai Lama
 
I am often aware of the struggles going on in other people’s personal lives.  Occasionally the struggles are within my own life.  Sometimes our struggles are just the challenges of daily life.  Other times they are significant and may even be life and death scenarios.  I think we often forget about the troubles of other people.  We rub shoulders day after day.  Many times we are judgmental towards those around us.  We may walk around like we are the only people in the world with a problem or a difficult life.  Today I would like to remind everyone that all of us have crosses to bear.  All of us have challenges, disappointments, losses, and broken hearts.  What’s the point of saying this?  The point is to remind everyone to practice compassion to those around them.  Be patient and understanding with one another.  Most of us are doing the best we can.  Be kind, be forgiving, and tolerate one another’s weaknesses.  Yes, I know I am ripping some of this off from the writings of St. Paul.  Do whatever you can to make other people’s lives a little easier.  God knows the world doesn’t give most people a break.  Remove the stones from one another’s paths and definitely don’t throw rocks in the road.  Lighten up, chill out, and put things into proper perspective.  Get over your ego.  Don’t get hung up in the BS of life.  Focus on what is truly important.  What is important?  I don’t want to sound like a Hallmark card but after nearly 65 years of living I think it boils down to love and caring for those in your life.  This doesn’t just mean family or friends.  It means the people you work with too.  I have never regretted caring too much.  I do have one caveat.  Caring about other people doesn’t mean allowing other people use you as a doormat.  Sometimes caring can mean practicing tough love.  Most parents have this experience sooner or later.  I’m talking about the kind of caring that anyone can practice with anyone else whether you know them or not.  Life is tough and is often a struggle.  Do good whenever you can.  Be kind.  Treat other people the way you want to be treated.  Over tip the tired waitress at the Waffle House.  If you’re strong, be grateful and help the weak.  If you’re weak, do the best you can.  If you’re gifted, be grateful and help those less gifted.  If you’re not gifted, do the best you can.  Whoever you are, just be nice. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Spirituality Of Subtraction

I have occasionally mentioned something called the “Spirituality of Subtraction”.  This is an idea that is difficult for the young.  It should be.  When one is young it is a time to build up and to accumulate.  You acquire an education.  You begin a career and perhaps start a family.  You buy a house and fill it with stuff.  Youth is a time of building and gathering.  This is the point of the first half of life.  More often than not, while we are doing all this building and gathering, we are also creating the illusion of who we think we are.  This illusion is what some people call the “false self”.  The second half of life is very different.  One begins to de-construct and let go.  Sometimes, despite whatever education you have acquired, you may feel like you don’t know anything at all, but, hopefully, your knowledge has turned into wisdom.   When you were young and thought that you were smart and knew everything, that was an illusion of your false self.  The career that you spent your entire life acquiring may be slipping away.  You may be losing interest in it or it may be losing interest in you.  If you’re lucky you have some good relationships with people you love and who love you in return.  As you are growing older your children are growing up.  They leave your nest and continue their own journey of life.  The changes you are going through will also happen to them eventually.  At some point you will realize that you no longer need that big house or the BMW in the driveway.  This is not totally for practical reasons.  It is that such status seeking possessions have lost their meaning.  Your priorities change.  When you begin to de-construct and let go, many of your illusions are exposed and your “true self” begins to emerge.  Most of you who are young will read this and think “What is he talking about”?  Those of you past 50 probably understand me.  None of this is good or bad.  It is a natural process that we will all participate in with different degrees of satisfaction and pain.  My thoughts and knowledge about the false self/true self, the “Spirituality of Subtraction”, and the idea of the two halves of life have been acquired from the teachings and writings of two major influences in my life.  One is Thomas Merton and the other is Richard Rohr.  Merton lived in the same monastery where I once lived, although not at the same time, and Richard Rohr was my teacher and is still my friend.  Both of these men continue to influence me in my thinking and approach to life.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Experiencing What You Believe

One of my former teachers once said, “We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living, we live ourselves into a new way of thinking”.  The great teacher, Buddha, said, “Believe what you experience”.  It’s been my experience of life that we often start with an answer and then we create a question.  We want things a certain way so we try to manipulate reality to match our desires.  Such manipulation may get us what we want but the side effects can be damaging.  Rarely do we just let life unfold.  The fact that it’s done that for millions of years doesn’t seem to deter us in our desire to be in control.  Most of us try to live according to whatever belief systems we have chosen to embrace.  How would life be different if we believed according to what we have experienced or we truly experienced what we believe?  If you’ve never experienced love, it’s difficult to believe in it.  If all you’ve experienced is hatred, it is difficult to believe there is anything else.  However, the idea of love can give you hope for a better life as well as the desire to seek it out.  As always, it’s about balance.  We need something to believe in but we also need to experience our beliefs so we do not lose our foundation in life.  If we never truly experience what we believe in order to support and strengthen our beliefs, they will eventually fall by the wayside.  Belief must be balanced with the experience of what we believe. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Don't Complain, Be Happy!

To hear complaints is wearisome alike to the wretched and the happy”.
-Samuel Johnson
 
I really try not to complain.  My basic approach to life is one of gratitude because I know I have been blessed in many ways.  When I do complain it is usually because I think something is stupid, a waste of time, or has no value that is apparent to me.  When I complain I sometimes become obsessed with whatever I am complaining about.  I know that it sometimes starts to annoy other people and most of the time it wears me out too.  It’s so much better to be happy and content.  Everything in life doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be happy.  However, to be happy one needs to spend some time counting your blessings.  Too often we focus on what’s missing in life and we don’t spend enough time acknowledging the good in our life.  When I avoid the negative it is relatively easy for me to be happy.  Generally, it doesn’t take much to make me happy and I am usually content with whatever is available.  Although I sometimes think I am a complex person, my basic needs are rather simple.  Although I like nice things I don’t think of myself as a materialistic person.  Happiness is found in direct proportion to our gratitude.  When we are happy and content with life we don’t usually complain.  The less I complain, the less I exhaust myself and others, and the happier I am.    

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Zen Things

Some Potential New Year's Resolutions
 
  • Do one thing at a time.
  • Do it slowly and deliberately.
  • Do it completely.
  • Do less.
  • Put space between things.
  • Develop rituals.
  • Designate time for certain things.
  • Devote time to sitting.
  • Smile and serve others.
  • Make cleaning and cooking become meditation.
  • Think about what is necessary.
  • Live simply.
* I did not create this list personally.  I am simply sharing it.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Contemplative Leadership

The Merton Institute for Contemplative Living once studied the idea of leadership in the writings of Thomas Merton.  While Merton did not specifically address the issue of leadership, his writings prompted the following questions:
  • How is the inner life of a leader integral to leadership style?
  • How are core personality traits reflected in the way a person leads?
The Institute identified the following six key characteristics of a leader.
 
  1. Compassion
  2. Courage
  3. Humility
  4. Relational
  5. Clarity of Vision/Intuition
  6. Openness to Change
 
In my opinion, these characteristics support what many refer to as “Servant Leadership”.  True leadership is a life of service.  In our society, especially in politics, leaders more often than not seek their own self-interests and the promotion of their personal values rather than serve the needs of the people they represent.  In history, the greatest leaders have been servants not dictators.  Leaders should be compassionate, they should be courageous, they should be humble, they should be people oriented, they should be visionary, they should intuitively know what is the right thing to do, and they should be open to the change that supports what is right.