Thursday, June 30, 2016

Peace Work

If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it.  This is the most basic kind of peace work.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Like many people I am weary of nightly newscasts that talk about mass killings, terrorist attacks, and all manner of bad behavior.  I know life is complicated and there is much injustice in the world but many people seem to have no other goal in life than to wreak mayhem on other people.  I truly believe that 99% of all the people in the world, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual preference, want the same things.  People want to live their life in peace.  They want to be happy.  They want to take care of their families.  They want to work and provide the basic necessities of life for their spouses and children.  They want to laugh and feel joy.  They want to enjoy life and not be overwhelmed with hardship and suffering.  Many of us have these things but I recently read that 60,000,000 people in the world have been displaced by all the wars currently being waged.  This doesn’t include the homeless people or the hungry in affluent places like the United States.  Compared to the suffering of millions of people around the world, those of you reading these thoughts have much to smile about.  You probably live in peace even if you don’t feel blissfully happy every day.  Count your blessings and smile.  I try to smile at every person who I have direct eye contact with even if they are a stranger.  It is rare for them not to smile back.  You cannot truly smile and be full of hate.  We are all human beings on the same planet who mostly want the same things.  Work for peace wherever you are.  Start with a smile.    

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Teaching And Learning

Use each experience you encounter to awaken and enlighten yourself.  This is the key.”
-Shinjo Ito
I like to believe that everything that happens to us is a learning experience or a teachable moment.  Admittedly, my granddaughter occasionally chastises me for slipping a “life lesson” into every conversation we have.  I guess it is not always a great thing to have a grandfather who thinks he is a Zen Master.  There is a saying that goes, “Your behavior can either be an inspiration to others or a warning.”  Muhammad Ali once said that if you grow old without learning anything, then you’ve wasted a lot of time.  If you want to get away from dualistic thinking, and I encourage you to do so, then stop thinking of every experience as good or bad.  It is what it is so the question is, “What did you learn or what did you teach?”  Life is a classroom.  You can learn and move on or you can fail to learn and keep making the same mistakes.  I am not a twenty year old trying to find my way in a brave new world.  As a 65 year old grandfather I should be a kind of Zen master or wise man.  If I am not, then I have wasted most of my life.  Throughout our lives we should be acquiring knowledge while also acquiring wisdom.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

We Are All Actors In A Grand Play

Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you; all of the expectations, all of the beliefs, and becoming who you are.”
-Rachel Naomi Remen
When co-workers ask me what I am going to do after I retire, I often joke that I will spend the first six months resting and healing from 50 years of working.  I am not really joking too much.  I got my first job bagging groceries in a mom and pop grocery store when I was 16 years old.  I have been working ever since that day.  I am basically a hermit and I am happiest when I am home.  When I leave my home I feel like I am going to battle in a somewhat hostile world.  Being a responsible adult and doing all the things responsible adults do is hard work.  A lifetime of doing it takes a toll.  Weekends, vacations, and retirement are times when we stop, retreat, and heal our wounds.  These are also times we let go of non-essentials and we can be who we really are.  Much of life doesn’t allow us to do this.  A great deal of life is like being in a play.  We wear makeup and different kinds of costumes in order to play a role and act in a scene.  When we can take the time to not do this we can become who we really are. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

What's A Spiritual Seeker To Do?

What and how one believes are very personal things.  Some of us have absolute certitude about what we believe.  Others have beliefs peppered with doubts and questions.  Many of us believe because we “know”.  Some of us know because we “believe”.  I have been a spiritual seeker my entire life.  I grew up in a strict religious tradition, I have attended the seminary, I lived two years in a Franciscan community and one year of my life in a Trappist monastery.  I have studied theology, philosophy, and psychology.  I have read many books and I have sat in silence waiting for enlightenment.  Still, I struggle with doubt and I am often unsure what I believe.  I think that no one knows anything for sure.  It could all be BS.  What’s a spiritual seeker to do?  I believe I will be fine if I simply practice kindness and compassion as much as I can to all living things.  Both kindness and compassion imply love.  When I find it difficult to love, I follow another of the Dalai Lama’s teachings where he says, “If you can’t love someone, at least don’t hurt them.”  If I can do these simple but difficult practices while also pursing my intellectual curiosity about the meaning of life, I think I will be fine.     

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Have You Actually Tried It?

The only way to truly discover the power of mindfulness is to learn how to do it, and then try it for yourself.”
I think it was Albert Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again while hoping for a different outcome.  If you are frazzled or stressed out, why don’t you actually try to practice mindfulness?  Even Humana is offering courses on it as part of leadership development.  As you go about your day today, try to be where you are and only do what you are doing.  If you are drinking coffee, drink coffee.  Smell it.  Taste it.  Feel the warmth of your coffee mug.  If you are walking, just walk.  If you are processing a claim, be one with the claim. (smile)  Whatever you are doing be there and nowhere else.  Avoid unnecessary multi-tasking.  Try to only do one thing at a time and finish one task before starting another.  I am not saying this is easy.  However, trying to live in a mindful way shouldn’t stress you out.  What stresses people out is going in ten different directions at the same time while trying to do ten different things.  Imagine a man or a woman spinning ten plates on the top of ten long sticks.  This is often “normal” life for many people in our modern culture.  Stop the madness!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Childlike View Of Life

Mindful and creative, a child who has neither a past, nor examples to follow, nor value judgments, simple lives, speaks, and plays in freedom.”
-Arnaud Desjardins
There is a big difference between being childish and childlike.  In my mind being childish is displaying all the worst behavior of a child while being childlike is displaying all the best qualities of a child.  All behavior is learned.  No child automatically hates or discriminates.  As a child gets older they may learn negative behavior from parents, teachers, and other authority figures.  They may also make their own judgments based on what they see and experience.  Without negative influences, most children would maintain an innocence and sense of wonder that most adults loose early in their life.  I think life is like a circle.  As I get older I realize that I am closing the circle.  This is not a bad thing.  As I get older I feel a sense that I am returning to a more childlike view of life.  Older people usually appreciate the simple things more than younger people who often crave quantity of experience over quality of experience.  When one has a greater appreciation of the simple things in life, one’s sense of wonder usually expands as well.  I now seek depth of experience over breath of experience.  Age has its challenges but it also has its freedoms.  The more free you are, the more childlike you become and this is a sign of life lived well.  

Monday, June 20, 2016

Observing Life In A Non-Judgmental Way

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
-Jon Kabat-Zinn
Jon Kabat-Zinn has writing a wonderful little book called Wherever I Go, There I Am.   This quote is probably from that book.  Last Friday I wrote about how life is what it is.  Paying attention in a nonjudgmental way is seeing life at face value.  When I go on walks, whether they are outside or within my office, I observe all kinds of things.  It is challenging to not judge what I see, especially in regard to people.  I mean, a flower is a flower is a flower, but a person can be many things.  Recently I realized that a person I know, who seemed to be one thing, was actually much more in a good way.  I dare say that many people have much more depth than they appear to have on the surface.  A few have less.  It is easy to mis-judge or under estimate the totality of a person.  I have to be honest, though, about some people.  Whenever I have thought someone was a jerk, they usually were.  Mis-judging is one thing, my intuition is another thing.  Most people and most things are not  what they appear to be.  There is usually more there than meets the eye.  On the other hand, if your inner alarms are going off, you should pay attention. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Life Is What It Is

When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
I like the saying that “it is what it is”.  Every day, life is what it is.  Our thoughts and feelings are like the weather.  They are not necessarily good or bad.  They just are.  The less I am attached to them, the happier I am.  When one lives their life in a non-attached, non-dualistic way, you can just deal with life and accept it for what it is.  The perceived reality of a situation depends on the person and how they emotionally react to whatever is happening.  I jump for joy when it snows while other people complain.  Some people never seem to get upset but I occasionally have meltdowns and throw hissy fits.  When I do this I know I am not living the way I intend.  I am not always filled with acceptance, joy, peace, and love.  However, sometimes I am.  When I am, I know I am living the way I intend and desire.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mindful Vigilance

Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness”.
-James Thurber
When I read this quote I could not help but think of the recent tragic events in Orlando.  It is difficult not to be angry about such violence and lack of regard for innocent human life.  At the same time we cannot go forward living our lives in fear.  I am not a person who lives in fear but I have become a person who lives more cautiously.  Some of that is due to becoming older and some of it is due to the changing and often violent world that we all live in.  Normally I speak of mindfulness as a way to live with greater awareness of what is around us so as to have a greater appreciation of all there is in life.  Mindfulness can also be a way that we become more aware of our surroundings.  In our rushed and busy lives many of us live with blinders on as we go about our day.  We are focused on the next task or the next destination and we are often blind to what is going on around us in the moment.  Living in an awakened state, mindful of what is going on around us, can be a way to not only live in the moment but also to live our life in a safer and more vigilant way.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Mindfulness Is Not Relaxation

“Mindfulness is not simply relaxation.  It takes a lot of energy to be mindful.”
Mindfulness is awareness.  In order to be aware, you must be awake.  When I am truly relaxed I am often on the verge of falling asleep.  In a figurative way, many people live their life asleep.  They are the walking dead, living in a daze, and noticing little as they go about their day on auto-pilot.  Mindful living is the opposite of this.  It is living awake and living in awareness of the life around you.  It is also living in awareness of the life within you.  When I go on walks my senses act as antennae.  I try to be mindful of all I see, hear, and smell.  If I am outside I try to feel the warmth of the sun or the coolness of a breeze.  Our senses are a way to be connected with the world we live in.  Depending on where I am I occasionally experience sensory overload.  A friend who once visited India spoke of being overwhelmed with all of the sights, sounds, and aromas.  If being mindful doesn’t yet come naturally to you, start small.  Take a short walk and intentionally pay attention to what is around you.  What are you seeing?  What are you hearing?  What are you smelling?  Don’t just live life.  Feel life. 

Who Looks Outside, Dreams. Who Looks Inside, Awakens

Who looks outside, dreams.  Who looks inside, awakens”.
C.G. Jung
This is one of my favorite quotes.  Much of what I know about psychology is based on the teachings of C.G. Jung.  Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology.  I realize that everyone is not introspective.  However, I am amazed at how little self-awareness most people have.  I encounter people of every age who have little desire for any kind of psychological or spiritual growth.  These people are able to function in life in a variety of ways but over time show little to no personal inner transformation.  The whole point of self-knowledge is to become transformed over the course of your life.  Psychology and spirituality are inter-twined and one supports the other.  Some people live their entire life and never know who they are.  Other people go to church every Sunday but never change.  Self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom.  As you grow in self-awareness and wisdom, you because aware that there is much in life bigger and more important than yourself.  This inner awakening is the beginning of spiritual awareness.  How you live in your awakened state is your spirituality.  Spirituality is nothing more than how you live in an awakened state in your reality.  Spirituality is your spirit into your reality.  If and when you reach this awakened state it is not something you turn on and off.  You can’t be all holy at church and a jerk at work.  Yes, you are still human and may have a bad moment but an awakened and transformed person is a light for others wherever they are.      

Monday, June 06, 2016

You Are What You Think

A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.”
-James Allen
I’ll be the first one to admit that I am not proud of every thought I have.  Some of them are inappropriate or unkind.  In spite of this human flaw I like to think that most of my thoughts are good, positive, optimistic, and occasionally deep.  I am not brilliant but I think of myself as intellectual in the sense that I am a thinker.  My mind is active to the point that sometimes it keeps me awake at night.  I think about spiritual things and worldly things.  I think about what music I want to listen next and what food I want for my next meal.  I believe it was Teilhard de Chardin who once said, and I paraphrase, “I am a spiritual being trying to have a human experience”.  Even when I am not physically active, my mind is getting all kinds of exercise.  One of my favorite bands called the Moody Blues have a song titled “Thinking is the best way to travel”.  It’s true.  What I think about makes me who I am but it also allows me to visit places in my mind that I will probably never see in my body.  What kind of thoughts fill your mind and day?  What is the sum of your being based on your thoughts?  Where are they taking you?      

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Curling In The Workplace

There is currently concern within my company about rising levels of stress in the workplace.  For a company focused on well-being, a lot of employees are stressed out.  Why?  I personally believe in what is called the servant leader approach to not only managing people but also working with others in a cooperative and collaborative way.  We all know there are daily challenges with the work we do.  These challenges can be complicated by leaders and other co-workers who spend more time making demands, sometimes unrealistic, by micro-managing their teams, or by being excessively needy rather than spending time figuring out how they can support and help the efforts of their fellow co-workers.  In the winter Olympics there is a game called curling which no one in America really understands.  It involves some guys pushing something that looks like a giant hockey puck down the ice.  Ahead of them is a guy furiously sweeping the ice to reduce the friction and resistance so it is easier for the other guy to guide the “puck” to the goal.  This “furiously sweeping the ice” is a big part of what all of us should be doing for one another.  I hope my analogy makes sense.  Basically, leaders, and really everyone, should make things easier, not harder, for their co-workers.  The work we do is often stressful enough with all of its demands for compliance, turnaround time, and quality but I think leaders and others are often making the workplace more stressful than it needs to be.  Leaders hold the bulk of the responsibility but we are all accountable for this.