Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Education & Wisdom

If we can develop the ability to be aware of the present moment, we can use the past as a guide for ordering our actions in the future, so that we may attain our goal”.
-S.N. Goenka

The key to good decision making is not knowledge.  It is understanding.  We are swimming in the former.  We are desperately lacking in the latter”.
-Malcolm Gladwell

Education gives you knowledge.  Life gives you wisdom”.
-Michael Brown

If you do not learn from you mistakes, you are doomed to repeat them.  Typically we start acquiring knowledge when we are young.  It begins as soon as we are born.  However, the accumulation of knowledge without the application of it is kind of worthless.  We use knowledge to make decisions.  We gain experience from the decisions we make.  They are either well informed and good decisions or they are perhaps uninformed and not so good decisions.  In the modern world, especially since the creation of the internet, we have more access to  more information than any previous generation.  Unfortunately, not all the information we can access is true or good.  The internet is full of false and misleading information.  I know this because Abraham Lincoln said this was true.  I am a strong advocate of education.  I believe a lack of education separates people as much as race, gender, sexual preference, etc.  Even among the educated there is often a disagreement about what is true and what is not.  It is very challenging in today’s world to know what is true and what is untrue.  The internet and other sources are full of “fake news” and “alternate facts”.  I think the Buddha has some good advice when he says, “Believe what you experience”’.  I work in a diverse environment and I interact with different kinds of people.  Except in rare situations I find everyone to generally be good, caring, and more like me than not.  In my long life the only kind of persons I have not liked are individuals who are jerks.  A jerk is a jerk.  Most people can easily identify and describe people who are jerks.  If we are going to deport anyone, let’s deport all the jerks, put them on an island, and let karma do the rest.        

Friday, February 24, 2017

There Are Different Kinds Of Success

Life is not discovery of fate; it is continuous creation of future, through choices of thoughts, feelings, and actions in the present.”
-Sanjay Sahay
 
Sometimes I look at people who appear more successful in life than me.  They might have an office instead of a lowly cubicle, they might make a lot more money, and they probably live in a better neighborhood and drive a nicer car.  I know I am as smart or smarter than some of these people and probably more talented.  However, they usually have sometimes I don’t have.  What they have and what I generally lack is drive and ambition.  This doesn’t mean I am lazy or a loser.  We all make choices of thought, feeling, and action.  My thoughts, feelings, and actions are based on what I want and what I think are important.  A big office, a huge paycheck, a lifetime mortgage, and a fancy car are not my top priorities.  For the most part I make decisions based on what I think is right for me and what makes me happy.  I have a very nice life and I have always gotten what I need and most of what I want.  What I lack in drive and ambition, I make up with contentment.  Quite simply, there is much in life more important to me than power, prestige, or possessions.  However, I am happy for all the other people who have achieved a different kind of success.    
 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Relax And Live

The hustle and bustle of everyday life desensitizes us from the universe.  Mindfulness helps us to resensitize us to the wonders of our lives.”
-Unknown
 
Few of us ever live in the present.  We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.”
-Louis L’Amour
 
I am not a fan of modern life and sometimes I wonder why the universe decided this is the time I should be living.  Once I visited France where I drank wine at lunch and then I took a nap.  That’s how a man should live.  I tend to be a dreamer who gazes at the stars at night.  I like to be aware enough to notice things.  When you are meeting yourself coming and going,  there is no time for wine or star gazing.  Yes, I understand that daily life includes some chores that need to be accomplished.  However we are not made to be stressed out and unhappy.  Life includes pain but should not be dominated with pain and unhappiness.  As my mentor the Dalai Lama teaches, “Everyone wants to be happy and to have a minimum of suffering in their life”.  One way to achieve this is to be in the moment.  When you are present to the wonder of the moment, you are not regretting the past or worrying about the future.  I am not na├»ve or drunk on wine as I write these thoughts.  No one needs to tell me that every moment is not a walk in the park.  I would be a liar if I said I loved every moment of the day.  The band U2 sings that “some days are better than others”.  This is true but I think every day has moments that are silver linings to what might be a storm cloud of a day.  This is why it is important to slow down and re-sensitize yourself to the wonders of life.  If all you are doing is running in circles like your hair is on fire, you will miss them.  A good way for everyone to start living in the present is to stop, breathe, and chill out, especially if you are high strung, hyper-active, “wired for sound”, type A, or super intense.  Relax and live….     
 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Being Our Best Self

Our repeated failure to act as we would wish must not discourage us.  It is the sincere intention that is the essential thing, and this will in time release us from the bondage of habits which at present seem almost insurmountable”.
-Thomas Troward
 
We can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good”.
-Carl Sagan
 
Every day I receive an email on my phone that gives me a daily thought based on my personality type.  One of my favorite is “Try today to do the opposite of what you would normally do”.  Personality types can be difficult to pin down because human being are complex.  It is also challenging to type yourself because most of us find it difficult to own our dark side.  As I have said many times, “We see ourselves one way, other people see us a different way, and then there is how we really are”.  This is why I sometimes say that I am highly overrated.  Some people think I walk on water.  I have learned over time that I am not even a good swimmer.  In spite of my downside, I try to be a good person.  In spite of my desire and efforts to be a good person, I still say and do dumb things.  Those closest to me, including my granddaughter, make jokes about it.  Chloe even does a great imitation of me.  I know it’s all in fun but like most people I don’t always like having my weaknesses pointed out to me.  True personal growth, however, demands that we own our weaknesses and even if they never become our strengths, at least we can learn to control them a bit.  You know you are growing psychologically when you can step outside yourself and see yourself as you really are.  I know when I am being a jerk.  I also recognize when I am at my best.  I still want to be a good person but I also want to be a true person in the sense that I have become the best version of myself.        
 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Flowing

Every moment there is a possibility to be total.  Whatsoever you are doing, be absorbed in it so utterly that the mind thinks nothing, is just there, is just a presence.”
-Osho
 
No matter how much pressure you feel at work, if you could find ways to relax for at least five minutes every hour, you would be more productive.”
-Dr. Joyce Brothers
 
When you are so absorbed in what you are doing that you escape time and space, you are in a state that psychologists call “flow”.  I believe this is a normal state of being for artists.  It can also happen when you are working, when you are playing, or when you are simply doing nothing.  In my world of work, the people who seem to do it the best with minimum effort are people who work intuitively.  In other words, they flow and don’t overthink everything.  It is kind of like driving a car.  When I drive I am focusing on the road.  I do not consciously think about my turn signals, breaks, and gas pedal.  My hands and feet just know what to do.  I do not consciously think about using my turn signal or putting my foot on the break.  I just do it.  I understand that what I am saying may only be true for repetitive actions.  Something new usually requires some intellectual effort initially.  Whether you are flowing or struggling, it is a good thing to occasionally take a break.  An artist may step back and gaze upon their work for a moment or two to contemplate their next hammer blow or paint stroke.  Sometimes your brain needs to catch up with your body or vice versa and who among us doesn’t need to occasionally stop and catch our breath?  I know when I am work I need to occasionally walk around the office to clear my head and get my blood pumping.  Work without breaks can easily turn into work that will need to be done over because it didn’t flow the first time around.  Being in the moment means to also be one with whatever you are doing.  It may be a work of art or more likely one of the mundane tasks of daily life.        
 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Seasons Of Life

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”
-William Blake
 
Each morning we are born again.  What we do today is what matters most.”
-Buddha
 
Light is in both the broken bottle and the diamond, and music is in both flowing violin and the water dripping from the drainage pipe.”
-Mark Nepo
 
We are all in different stages of life.  I like to compare life to the seasons of nature.  Some of us are in the springtime of our life.  Some of us are in the summer of our lives.  Others are in the autumn of life and I now find myself in the winter of life.  I am grateful because everyone doesn’t get to experience winter.  Each stage of life, each season, has its joys as well as challenges.  Even though I am still working full time, I will soon be what is considered full retirement age.  Since I have reached this milestone, I went to the social security office yesterday to sign up for my retirement benefits.  My wife found the experience a little depressing.  I wondered why since this will add additional money to our income.  She replied, “I am not ready for this stage of life.  I feel like it is the beginning of the end and I am not ready for it”.  It is a reality that I am closer to the end of my life than I am to the beginning.  However, I have learned from the seed time of my life and I have shared what I have learned from the harvest of my life.  It is now winter but winter has its own beauty and I will enjoy it for as long as it lasts.  It is the cycle of life but each morning I am reborn.  My life is today.  All my yesterday’s are gone.  The future has yet to be revealed.  Today is what matters and I am still here.  I will look for the light in the broken bottle and the diamond.  I will hear the music in the flowing violin and the running water.  I will enjoy life and I will pray for a long winter.    
 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Breathe, Stop, And Take It All In

Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through.  Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it.  This is a kind of death”.
-Anais Nin
 
How many things I can do without”!
-Socrates
 
For most of us a typical day involves hurrying from task to task, forgetting that there are other possibilities for us.  Even a tiny bit of mindfulness, brought to any moment, can wake us up, thus subverting the momentum of doing for at least one moment”.
-Mark Williams
 
Life is change and change is life.  I am well into a life that has demanded many changes.  Some I easily accepted and others I fought kicking and screaming.  Sometimes life drags us where we don’t want to go and then sometimes we realize it is where we always wanted to be.  Don’t resist life.  Go with it and you will find your destiny.  Along the way you will accumulate baggage.  Further down the road you will discard much of it and you will discover that it is easier to travel when your load has been lightened.  We think we need much but we actually require little.  Often when we go down the road of life we think we should be running.  While running we juggle many things and we measure our success with accomplishments that often didn’t need to be done.  I once heard a song lyric that went, “the race is won by running slowly”.  Gandhi once said, “There is more to life than increasing it’s speed”.  Live your life fully but do it more slowly.  Get in the habit of breathing, stopping, and taking it all in.  Don’t allow your life to be a blur.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Being Conscious That You Are Conscious

In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake.  Meditation is not evasion, it is a serene encounter with reality.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
 
Knowledge is learning something every day.  Wisdom is letting go of something every day”.
-Zen proverb
 
Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it”.
-Sharon Salzberg
 
One of my daily goals is to see life as it really is.  This means that I must make the effort to remove my own filters and mis-perceptions.  I am reminded of the saying, “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see”.  Meditation should open our eyes not close them.  Meditation is not a blissful avoidance of reality.  Meditation should teach us to be more present to life, not less present.  Meditation does not put you in a bubble.  It bursts bubbles.  Sometimes as a person ages, it appears they care less and less about stuff.  This can be misunderstood.  As an older person I care about a lot.  However, I also care about a lot less.  If one ages wisely, you begin to see the differences between what is truly essential and what is not.  I have let go of a lot but I still carry around too many concerns that I hope will eventually fall by the wayside.  Finally, mindfulness and consciousness are very much the same thing.  We are mindful when we are conscious that we are conscious.  I am mindful when I am aware that I am mindful.  I don’t think you are truly awake if you don’t know you are awake.      
 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Spiritual Seekers

If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.”
Rabbi Harold Kushner
 
I keep looking for one more teacher, only to find that fish learn from the water and birds learn from the sky.”
-Mark Nepo 
 
From my earliest childhood I have been a spiritual seeker and have always been attracted to spiritual things.  This does not mean I am in the front pew at church every Sunday.  Spirituality and religion are not necessarily the same thing.  Spiritual people are looking for depth in life.  They are seeking deeper meaning into and behind the activities of life.  If you are a seeker it is always tempting to think that one more retreat, one more book, or one more conversation with a spiritual master will suddenly give you enlightenment.  If fish learn from the water and birds from the sky, where do we human being s learn?  I think our greatest teacher is life itself.  We can follow the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, or Shiva but it is the application of these beliefs into our daily lives that truly form us.  One of my former teachers spoke of spirituality as putting the “Spirit into reality”.  Spiritual people are generally positive and optimistic people.  They are not blind to the bad or the evil in life but they focus on the good.  In spite of how it feels at times, most of life is good.  Good does not mean easy.  I have a good life but it is very demanding at times.  Accepting that life is comprised of the good and the bad I try to always live with gratitude for the good and with patience for the bad.  One of my basic beliefs comes from Buddhism.  Life is impermanent and all things pass.  Enjoy and be grateful for the good when it happens because it will pass.  Be patient and unafraid when life is challenging because this too shall pass.  What you see and notice will multiply.  If you focus on seeing the good, the more good you will see.  If you always focus on seeing the bad, the bad will loom ever larger in your life.  Some people call this the Law of Attraction.  What you see and think about is what you draw into your life.  Live with a grateful heart.   

Friday, February 10, 2017

If You Want To Do Something, Just Do It

We can learn a lot from children.  We need to take more time to be playful and enjoy simple things.”
-Jayne Morris
 
How do you let go?  You just let go.”
-Vernon Howard
 
If you want to have a prayer life, just start praying.”
-Thomas Merton
 
I dearly love my granddaughter.  Her young life has been very impactful to me.  The innocence of her childhood reminded me of many things that we adults quickly forget.  However, she will be a teen-ager on her next birthday so all the concerns and drama of a teenage girl are creeping into her life.  I miss watching SpongeBob Squarepants with my five year old granddaughter.  However, my current granddaughter is a really cool person and I love spending time with her.
 
As adults we often go through life with a lot of accumulated baggage.  Our worries, concerns, and daily challenges often weigh us down.  My wife and I are getting old and we thought life would be easier now but we still feel overwhelmed at times with things to do, places to go, and tasks that need to be completed.  I am always wondering how much of what I do every day really needs to be done.  We all need to let go of one or more things.  The way to begin is to just start letting go.  Look at your life and decide what is truly essential?  Let the non-essential parts of your life fall away.  Don’t do anything just to do it.  Ask yourself, “Does this activity have any real value?”.
 
Finally, if you need some peace and calm, start taking some time to just be.  How do you just be?  You can start by being quiet and being still and spending a few minutes every day alone. 
 

Thursday, February 09, 2017

You Can't Live In Fear


We can train our minds.  We are not stuck with our fearful, habitual, self-centered ways of seeing and feeling.”
-Norm Fisher
 
When we find ourselves caught up in the compelling and complex inner screen of our mind, we need to remember that we have an option.  We can shrink or minimize the current screen down to a small icon on the bottom of the mind-screen and open up the serene blue sky of our inherently boundless, clear mind.”
-Jan Chozen Bays
 
We currently live in a fear-based culture.  It seems like literally every television commercial is for drugs that will save us from diseases that are lurking behind every corner.  If the potential diseases aren’t bad enough, the side effects of the drugs are scarier than the disease.  Most drugs seem to have a potential side effect of filling our minds with thoughts of suicide.  Why would anyone take a prescription drug that may drive you to suicide just to clear up your sinuses?  The evening news is full of terrorism, murders, and the effects of global warming.  Whenever I take out the trash at night I jokingly tell my wife that if I am not back in five minutes, call the police because ISIS might be in the back yard.  If we don’t already have enough fears, now millions of people in the United States and around the world are in nervous suspense wondering what our new president is going to say or do.  Fear and anxiety have become common emotions.  I have always been a news junkie because I like to know what is going on in the world.  However, when such knowledge does nothing but depress you, what should you do?  You can’t live every minute in a bubble.  You can, however, reduce your exposure to 24 hour news, endless debates by pundits, and “alternative facts”.  Sometimes I have to just turn it off or walk away.  In other words, I minimize these types of things in order to maximize the reality of my life and the moment I am in.  In times of outside fears and anxieties, I need to focus on good things and my gratitude for them.  Instead of counting my fears, I count my blessings.  I believe it is a teaching of Islam to just deal with what’s in front of you.  There is also the mentality to “Think globally but act locally”.  Mother Teresa said that “if you can’t feed the world, feed one person”.  Get the point?  Don’t be overwhelmed with fears and anxieties.  Do good whenever and wherever you can.          
 
Be Still.  Breathe.  Awaken
 
Namaste!

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Little Things Are The Big Things

The present moment is filled with joy and happiness.  If you are attentive, you will see it.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
 
A small key opens big doors.”
-Turkish Proverb
 
Even though I currently work mostly for money, money is not the most important part of working for me.  My happiness is more important than how much money I make.  You could double or triple my salary but if I am in a miserable work environment it wouldn’t matter.  Like most people, regardless of age, I don’t always feel like coming to work.  I have learned that getting out of bed and coming to work is much harder than actually being at work.  Once I am physically here I am fine.  I am surrounded by people who are mostly just like me.  I do my work but I also have fun and my day is often filled with a lot of laughter and light hearted moments.  Most of my day is under my control.  I can listen to music much of the day and music is one of my favorite things in life.  My next door neighbor and I bring in our own coffee so I am able to enjoy great coffee whenever I want it.  From time to time I get up and take a stroll around the office to get my heart pumping a little faster and to clear my mind.  If the weather is bad I feel gratitude that I work in an office.  I could be busting rocks somewhere.  You don’t have to be old to appreciate the small things in life.  In actuality, the small things are really the big things.  Most of our lives are ordinary and it is the small things that bring us the greatest happiness.  Most of our worry and stress is brought on by our own over-active minds.  Practicing mindfulness, or being in the moment, is really nothing more than being awake to reality.  There are blessings in every moment but you sometimes have to learn to recognize and appreciate them.             
 

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Take A Moment To Breathe And Pause

Respond; don’t react.  Listen; don’t talk.  Think; don’t assume.”
-Raji Lukkoor
 
No technique, no communication skill or psychological process can come anywhere close to the effectiveness of being 100% present.  It is not an easy thing to do.”
-Danaan Parry
 
Most of us at one time of another have overreacted to a situation.  This is because we are reacting from a gut level and not from the head or the heart.  I once read some advice that recommended we take a moment to pause and breathe before we speak or act.  There have been many times in my life when I would have been saved from much unnecessary grief if I had only done this. If we resist the urge to immediately react, we can do the more emotionally intelligent thing by responding.  A response, rather than a reaction, is more likely to be calm and free of unnecessary emotion.  Another bit of sage advice reminds us that we all have two ears and but only one mouth.  In other words, we should all listen twice as much as we speak.  Who among us is not guilty of having to get in the last word at one time or another?  Over time I have also slowly and sometimes painfully learned that I should never assume anything.  Assumptions usually bring me pain or create misunderstandings. 
 
I love psychology and know a fair amount about it.  I especially like the study of personality types and tools like the Myers-Briggs and Enneagram.  However, none of these systems are 100% effective in determining human behavior.  We all have comfort zones, preferences, and ways of thinking.  None of us, however, are locked in to any of them.  People will assume you will act or respond a certain way and then when you break out of the mold, they are shocked or confused.  You can’t assume anything about human behavior no matter how many times an individual may have acted or responding a certain way on previous occasions.  People can always surprise you.  The best way to interact with other people is to be present to them and to give them your full attention.  This is very difficult because most of us are multi-tasking and easily distracted.  Remember to take a moment to pause and breathe, especially when interacting with other people.  

Saturday, February 04, 2017

The Power Of Beauty

“Looking at beauty in the world is the first step of purifying the mind”.
-Amit Ray
 
“There’s only one reason why you are not experiencing bliss at this present moment, and it’s because you’re thinking or focusing on what you don’t have.  Right now you have everything you need to be in bliss”.
-Anthony de Mello
 
“What Need Have I for This?  What Need Have I for That?  I am dancing at the feet of my Lord!  All is bliss!  All is bliss!
-The title of a song by a wonderful band called Shakti
 
In many ways we live in a ugly world, especially if you live in a large city.  Many people also find the present an ugly time emotionally.  Much of the world is suffering from wars and famine and the lack of basic human rights.  The United States is a country deeply divided by politics and economics.  It is a challenge not to despair.  How does one cope with an ugly world?  One way is to notice beauty.  The famous writer Victor Hugo says “To love beauty is to see light”.  Before you can look at beauty you have to notice it.  I love beautiful things.  My mind and my spirit are occasionally overwhelmed by the ugliness of life.  Nothing will make it go away so we must learn to live with it.  I live with it by calibrating my senses to be on the alert for beauty, especially in places where I do not expect to find it.  When I am lucky I find myself in places of true beauty like a national park or any quiet and serene place. 
 
When I am attuned to beauty, my mind is purified and I am in bliss.  Beauty in all its forms can be overwhelming in the sense that it creates a lightness of being that transcends the moment.  You can be carried away by beauty.  If you are hurrying through life and you are not in the moment you will likely not notice the beauty in your life and you will never have a sense of bliss.  
 
Yesterday while I was walking around the office a person stopped me and said, “I heard you used to live in a monastery”.  Most people who know me know that I did once live in a monastery.  My Facebook and Twitter bio states that “I am an aging hippie that once lived in a monastery”.  I give my monastic experience the credit for forming me into the person I am.  It is my belief that I think the way I do because of the time I lived in a monastery.  Do you want to have deep thoughts?  Go take a walk in the woods and listen to the wind blowing through the trees.  You will see beauty and you will feel bliss.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

I Am Awake

 “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals”.
-Henry David Thoreau
 
Sit still, be silent, let composure creep over you”.
-Norman Vincent Peale
 
When the Buddha was asked who he was, he simply replied, “I am awake”.  At first glance this seems like a typical cryptic response from a deep and wise teacher.  The goal of the Buddha was enlightenment.  After much searching he achieved his goal while sitting under a Bodhi tree.  He found enlightenment by sitting still and being quiet.  Although there are things I like and enjoy, my goals in life are mostly non materialistic.  It is easier to say this in my old age than it was in my youth.  When you are young you gather things around you.  When you get old you start letting things go.  My inner goal has always been enlightenment even though I have lived much of my life in darkness.  This darkness was not necessarily bad or painful although it occasionally was.  It was mostly a darkness caused by feelings of being lost, confused, or unhappy.  I am finally learning to focus on the most basic aspect of life.  I am learning to breathe.  Whatever is going on, if I take some time to be still, be quiet, and to breathe, composure creeps over me and, if only for a moment, I am awake and enlightened.  For Christmas I received a Buddhist pendant that has the word “Breathe” inscribed on it.  I now wear it around my neck as a reminder to breathe.  Breath is life.  My goals are to breathe, be still, be silent, and be enlightened.  There are many paths to enlightenment.  In the words of the Dalai Lama, “People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness.  Just because they are not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.”  Follow whatever path that awakens you and brings you enlightenment.  

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Art Of Your Life

We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones.  Any nobleness begins at once to refine a man’s features, any meanness or sensuality to imbrute them.”
-Henry David Thoreau
 
Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.”
-Tennessee Williams
 
Have you ever thought of your life as a work of art?  The choices you make and the experiences you have are part of what molds you into the person you are.  There are other influences as well.  The circumstances into which you were born, the people you spend time with, the teachers you had, the serendipity of being in certain places at the right time, and the ways you have dealt with adversity have refined and brought forth the work of art that you have become.  We all started out as a block of wood or a piece of granite.  Of course, there are many kinds of art.  Some art depicts life as it is.  Some art suggests life as it should be.  Personally I prefer art that reflects reality over art that is abstract.  Where we came from and how we live is also affected by the attitude with which we choose to live. 
 
Everything except the moment you are in is either a memory or a dream.  The moments of our lives are fleeting.  Have you ever watched one of those live events on Facebook?  People are “liking” or “loving” or responding with comments faster than I can ever keep up with.  Such are the moments of our lives.  As we go about our day “live”, we are “liking” or “loving” or making comments to ourselves about how we feel about the moment.  It is challenging to keep up with our own feelings about each moment because they are fleeting and they go by so quickly you can hardly catch them going.  Each moment quickly becomes a memory.