Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Who And What Has Formed You?

In some cultures, especially in Asia, it is not unusual for a young man to spend time in a monastery like some men spend time in the Army or the Navy.  This is what I did.  Although it was a short time a long time ago it was one of the formative experiences of my life and it played a big part in me becoming who I am today.  Anyone who knows me well believes I am still very much like a monk.  Sometimes in my daydreams I like to look back and remember all the people, places, and experiences that made me who I am.  We all have them even if we aren’t conscious of it.  Maybe it was a teacher, a coach, or a spiritual leader.  Maybe it was your college years or a time when you were an athlete.  Maybe you’ve had experiences being in exotic places or different cultures.  If you are like me you have also read thousands of books, some of which have changed your life.  I have been blessed to have had many great teachers and mentors.  I’ve had experiences that many people have not had.  In addition to all of the above, I have an introspective and curious nature that drives me to much contemplation of life and its meaning.  I encourage all of you to reflect on your own life.  Who or what has formed you?  What experiences have shaped you into who you are?  What kind of person are you?  What drives you in life?  When you stand on the shore, what do you hope is on the other side of the ocean?  Who are you and what do you want to be?  I am not talking about what kind of job you want.  What kind of person do you want to be?  Whoever you are, good or bad, you will be that person in whatever job or role that you have.  Sometimes I try to imagine what kind of eulogy someone will give about me at my funeral.  All of life is a journey of self-discovery.  You can follow your own inner voice or you can allow life to form you as it tosses you about like an object in a stormy sea.        

Monday, March 30, 2015


Authenticity is a practice, and you choose it every day, sometimes every hour of the day.
-Brene Brown, PHD
Authenticity is defined as “the quality or condition of being authentic, trustworthy, or genuine”.  When you look at yourself in the mirror each day, do you see a person looking back at you that is authentic, trustworthy, and genuine?  If you do not, are you trying to be such a person?  The world is full of charlatans, fakes, poseurs, and con men.  It is an act of courage to be authentic.  It has been my experience that people will forgive your mistakes and tolerate your weaknesses if they believe you are authentic, trustworthy, genuine, and real.  No one admires a phony.  This is why I write so much about knowing who you are and working daily to be the best version of who you are.  I have become very good at spotting a “fake” and my BS detector is highly sensitive.  I know Shakespeare said the whole world is a stage and we are all actors but you can’t act all the time.  Sooner or later you have to wipe off the make-up, remove the masks, and change out of your costume.  Authentic people aren’t perfect.  They have as many faults as anyone.  What makes them different is their transparency, openness, and honesty.  They are unpretentious and self-deprecating.  They don’t take themselves too seriously and they refuse to see themselves as special or better than anyone else.  We are all works in progress.  We all have aspects of ourselves that need some work.  Each of us, however, makes a unique contribution to the world.  We are where we are for a reason.  Be who you are, warts and all, but be real.  Always tell the truth, be genuine, learn from your mistakes, and practice authenticity every day.   

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Water Me Once A Week

Smile, breathe, and go slowly.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
This quote caught my eye recently along with an article about the joy of a boring life.  I try to smile more than I frown, paying attention to my breath is part of my daily meditation, and most people believe I do an excellent job of going slowly.  Beyond this, and despite what some people think about me, I live a life that is mostly boring.  No one in their right mind would call me “Mr. Excitement”.  Recently I shared two quotes with friends that they believed perfectly described my personality type.  The first quote may have actually come from me.  It goes “Why stand when I can sit down, why sit down when I can lie down, and why just lie down when I can sleep”?  The other quote is a Spanish proverb that goes “Isn’t it wonderful to do nothing all day and then to rest afterwards”?  I just thought of another great quote that I like a lot.  It’s a Zen quote.  It goes “It’s better to do nothing than to be busy doing nothing”.  Although my wife would probably disagree, I am not really a lazy person.  I believe in doing whatever needs to be done.  What I dislike is unnecessary activity or busy work that other people think needs to be done.  If you want to do something, go do it, but don’t involve me in your need to “keep busy”.  I am a contemplative person and I like the quiet, boring life.  I like to watch grass grow and flowers bloom.  Watching paint dry is another favorite activity.  If my wife wants to go shopping at the Mall, I’m happy to sit on a bench for hours as I sip my Starbucks latte and watch people.  There’s way too much activity in life.  Much of it is a waste of time.  Maybe it’s because I am getting old but I prefer to just be.  I am like a potted plant.  Water me once a week and leave me alone. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Life Is Our True Education

My youngest son was ordained to the priesthood almost two years ago.  It was a long journey that involved four years of college, four years of graduate school, summer internships, and lots of other training.  However, ordinations, graduations, getting a license to practice, etc., are just the end of the beginning.  The real work and the real education begins when you finally get out into the world and you deal with the reality of daily life.  It has always been my opinion that education gives you knowledge but life gives you wisdom.  No matter how smart you think you are or how prepared you feel, life will transform you in good and bad ways.  Life is tough and none of us get through it without some scrapes and bruises.  It is not my intension to be negative about life.  Life is a wonderful thing.  It is also a teacher and we do not always like what it teaches.  However, if we open minds and hearts it will teach us love, tolerance, patience, compassion, and humility.  It will also make us wise, understanding, accepting, and realistic.  Life has been my greatest teacher.  When I was thirty years old I could never have imaged the person I am now.  I don’t think God and life are done with me yet.  My transformation into who I am meant to be is not yet complete.  My son and others are in the beginning of their lives and they want to change the world.  I have more years behind me than I do in front of me.  In spite of this, I still want to change the world and many of my contemporaries want to do the same.  If you are young, listen to those of us who are further down the road of life than you.  If you are old, remind yourself that you don’t know everything.  The old need to also listen to the young.  Together we can all change the world and make it a better place.    

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Compassion, Silence, Tolerance

In May of 2013 I saw the Dalai Lama for the second time along with other spiritual leaders of all the major faith traditions.  In addition to the Dalai Lama’s message of compassion, there were two other themes found in the different presentations.  One was silence and the other was tolerance.  You cannot have a serious spiritual life without an element of silence in your life.  The world and our own minds are noisy places.  Silence is not just the absence of sound.  In our world of over-stimulation, noise also takes the form of images, whether they be from television, billboards, or our smart phones.  All together the average person is bombarded with noise in the form of sound, images, and data.  It is disorienting, at times stressful, and almost always dissipating.  I once read that scientists are having a very difficult time finding any place on the face of the earth that is free of human “noise”.  It is important to find some physical quiet in our lives but even more important to quiet our minds.  As far as tolerance, the Dalai Lama made a strong point in his talk about everyone following their own faith and beliefs while being tolerant of other’s beliefs.  Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and other traditions should and can learn from one another.  I see religions in the image of a wheel.  The outer edges of the wheel represent all our different beliefs.  It is where we are often the furthest apart from one another and where the most disagreements occur.  The hub of the week is the deeper, contemplative center that is found in all major religions.  It is where we are closest to one another.  Most serious spiritual people strive to live in the center.  It is where I try to live and it’s where I experience union with other spiritual seekers.  I have my own beliefs but I also learn from all traditions and points of view.  Practice compassion, seek silence, quiet your mind, and be tolerant of all.   

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Habits Of Highly Mindful People

I once discovered something called the “Elements of the Mindfulness Attitude”.  I think they could also be called “The 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 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 has 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 is my ten year old granddaughter.  I spend time with her most weekends and during this time she teachers me to see life like a ten year old.  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.  My granddaughter’s mind is open and fresh and her vision is pure.  She is full of curiosity and can be present to the moment in a way I can only hope to be.  Unfortunately she will likely grow up to 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 just like her Paw Paw is doing now.   
The 4th element, or habit, of mindfulness 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.      
The fifth element, or habit, of mindfulness is Non-Striving.  Non-Striving is described as “the state of not doing anything, just simply accepting the things that are happening in the moment just as they are supposed to”.  This is a very tough challenge for many people in our American culture.  We pride ourselves on being busy, productive, driven, and goal oriented people.  In addition to this many of us are also control freaks who want to alter the outcomes of as much as possible to suit our own agendas and needs.  The idea of non-striving and allowing life to unfold as it sees fit is almost abhorrent to us.  We spend a great deal of energy holding on when the best move might be to simply let go.  Many of us are wound a little tight because of the tension within ourselves that is caused by our driven, competitive, and controlling natures.  Keep in mind, however, that Non-Striving is not the same as being lazy or not caring.  I think Non-Striving is like white water rafting.  You don’t necessarily allow yourself to be tossed to and fro by the rapids of life.  You learn to be one with the running water.  Some of the time you just flow with it.  Other times you use your paddle to make the occasional course change to avoid crashing into a rock.  If you fight the river or attempt to change the course of the river you will eventually crash and sink your boat.  Those with skill learn to flow with the river and tap into its energy.       
The final element, or habit, of mindfulness is Acceptance.  In this scenario, acceptance is defined as  “completely accepting the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and beliefs that you have and understanding that they are simply those things only”. 
When it’s all said and done, a lot of mindfulness is accepting reality as it is without judging, with patience, with a child-like “Beginner’s Mind”, with trust in our personal abilities to deal with the moment, allowing life to unfold as it will by non-striving, and finally, what is often the most difficult part, acceptance.  Whatever our individual moments add up to be, for most of us they are not the moments we probably dreamed of in our youth.  I’ve always felt like most of my life was an accident.  The life I have is not really the life I wanted.  It is, however, the life I have.  Just because the life I have is not the realization of my early dreams does not mean it’s all bad.  I strive to not see anything as good or bad .  My life is what it is and many twists and turns brought me to this point.  I can bemoan the fact that it’s not everything I hoped for or I can accept it and strive to better understand why I am where I am and what I am supposed to do with what I have been given.  Such acceptance does not come easy and I am not totally there.  However, even my feelings must be accepted as “they are what they are”.     

Monday, March 23, 2015

Anticipating Moments

I am the kind of person that likes to always have something to anticipate.  It can be as simple as scheduling a day off in the middle of the work week.  Most of our lives are ordinary days so if you cannot find joy on a Tuesday, you probably won’t find it on a Saturday night either.  I am fine with the ordinary and I almost thrive in boredom.  Still, I find it nice to always have something to look forward to on my calendar.  Anticipation is a great feeling.  Occasionally it is better than the experience of what you were anticipating.  The feeling of anticipation, the sudden arrival of the anticipated, and the realization that all events pass quickly, remind me to also be in the moment.  Don’t rush life.  Savor it and enjoy it.  Don’t get caught up rushing from one experience to another.  Look forward to your life but don’t forget to enjoy it as it unfolds.  Life is like the experience of taking something out of a package.  Once it is out of the bag, it is almost impossible to put back into the bag in its original condition.  We don’t get many opportunities to do life over.  Be in the moment, enjoy the moment, but it is fine to also look forward to the next moment.     

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Life Responding To Life

Life is not happening to you.  Life is responding to you.
Some people call this idea karma and others refer to it as the Law of Attraction.  People believe many things and I don’t really know which beliefs are true and which ones are false.  I generally follow the advice of the Buddha when he says “Believe what you experience”.  For example, it is difficult to believe in love if all you have experienced is hate.  At the same time, people whose lives are full of love struggle to understanding hate and loneliness.  I believe in karma and the idea that what you put out there eventually comes back to you.  I have tried to be a good man and to be kind and compassionate to everyone I meet.  Although my life is not perfect, and bad things have happened to me, I still believe that life has been good to me and that life has mostly responded to me in positive ways.  Looking back, I even believe the difficult and bad experiences have been good for me in the long run.  Since life hasn’t been handed to me on a golden platter, I have learned to be grateful for all the blessings in my life and also for all the terrible things I have not experienced.  More often than not, life has given me everything I need and most of what I want.  If life is not going your way, you might want to look in the mirror and check your attitude.  If you are always negative, always whining, and always complaining, don’t expect a lot of blessings to come your way.  On the other hand, if you are positive, grateful, kind, and compassionate, I believe life will respond to you in positive ways.  The more self-aware and enlightened you become the more you will see this.      

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Elimination Of Non-Essentials

Beside the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone.  The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.
Most of us spend much of our lives performing all kinds of tasks that we believe must be done.  I’ve come to the conclusion that much of what we do is either the result of our own personal agendas or the agendas of others.  Think of all the things you do.  If you died today would someone else assume your tasks?  If you stopped doing some of the things you do, would anyone notice?  Abraham Maslow, the famous psychologist and author of the “Hierarchy of Needs” made a statement once that “80% of all work is BS”.  How many of you reading this think that many of your work related tasks have no real value?  The above quote, however, is not just about the non-value added tasks that too many of us perform.  I think it is also about discerning, not only what is essential or non-essential, but what needs our involvement and what does not.  We human beings want to control and manipulate everything to suit our needs.  The damage we have inflicted on our planet is proof of this.  There are way too many control freaks and micro-managers in life and not enough people of wisdom whose desire is to influence and not to manipulate.  Life is not a competitive sport.  We don’t have to control or beat everything.  Certainly there are essential tasks of daily life that must be completed.  However, much of our activity is just self-created busy work or the demands of someone’s else’s agenda.  The universe knows what is essential and what is not and I’m pretty sure the universe can manage itself without our ego-centric agendas.  Some things we need to do, some things we need to influence, some things we need to let be, and some things we need to simply ignore.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Who And What Should Be Taken Seriously?

Taking crazy things seriously is a serious waste of time.
-Haruki Murakami
The older I get the more discriminate I am about what I take seriously.  There is a lot of stupidity and foolishness running rampant in the world so I am slow to buy into most things.  I know I am cynical by nature but my life experience has shown me that many things in life are like brightly wrapped presents that end up being empty boxes once you take the wrapping off.  When I discover someone or something that is real and true and honest I am usually amazed.  Since I started writing these daily thoughts I have acquired a fair amount of fans and followers.  Some of them elevate me to a status I don’t deserve.  Some people who receive these thoughts probably delete them without reading them.  Others might read them and think, “Who does this guy think he is?  He is so full of himself.  Who made him the fountain of all wisdom”?  Whatever group you fall into, I respect that.  I can honestly say, however, that in a world where I am cynical about much, I strive to be real and true and honest.  I’m sure that I fail at all of these things sometimes.  I try to share wisdom that will help some people and experiences that other people can relate to in their own lives.  I am not the fountain of all wisdom but I share my joys and struggles with the hope it may help some people find their joy as well as let other people know they are not alone in their struggles.  I read once that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.  With limited success I am trying to be fully human and fully alive so I know what is real and true and honest.  When I find people and things that are also real and true and honest, I take them seriously.  I try not to waste time with foolish people, foolish ideas, and brightly colored packages that are empty of contents. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Practice Compassion

Compassion is an ideal that guides my life.  I am an empathetic person.  If you have empathy, you understand other people’s feelings.  However, understanding other people’s feelings and caring about them are two different things.  Compassion is caring about other people’s feelings and doing all you can to reduce their suffering.  I will admit that I am no Mother Teresa.  I am not actively pursuing opportunities to practice compassion.  I believe engaging compassion means to be on the alert to practice it in whatever circumstances present themselves to you in the course of your day.  I struggle to understand some people’s lack of compassion and caring.  At the bare minimum I would think all people would understand from their own pain and struggles that other people have pain and struggles too.  Why wouldn’t all of us care about that?  All people want to be happy and to have as little suffering as possible in their lives.  If a simple act of kindness and compassion on my part can relieve the pain and suffering of a fellow human being, why wouldn’t I want to do that?  It is bad enough that there are people in the world who intentionally inflict harm and pain on others.  You would think the rest of us would have no problem showing kindness and compassion to everyone we meet.  The Dalai Lama says, “If you want to make other people happy, be compassionate.  If you want to make yourself happy, be compassionate”.     

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Living With Life

I am an idealist, dreamer, romantic, and eternal optimist.  This all sounds wonderful but such attitudes often leave me disappointed with people and life.  Most of life is very ordinary and mundane.  I strive to put meaning into everything but sometimes life is just chores I need to do or people I must endure.  The good news is that even the most humdrum day has moments when the light is shining and life seems good.  I try to be awake and aware enough to notice such moments.  It can be sunlight after days of snow, rain and overcast skies.  It can be the smile of a co-worker, the laughter of a friend, or the joy my granddaughter brings me.  It can be one of those hidden moments where everything seems perfect if only for a second.  Although some people seem lucky and everything appears to go their way, for most of us life is work.  Sometimes I am tired and weary.  I have been getting out of bed or leaving my couch to go to work for 48 years.  My first job in high school was bagging groceries in a mom and pop grocery store.  I am 40+ into a marriage and 36 years into parenthood.  Here’s a spoiler alert for those of you with young children:  Parenthood never ends as long as you are alive.  The good news is that most of us receive enough goodness in our lives that the struggles do not overwhelm us.  No matter how weary we may feel, no matter how dark life may seem, no matter how overwhelming it may feel, there is always light and there is always hope.  As one of my favorite rock bands, the Grateful Dead, once sang, “Sometime you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right”.        
The following thought occurred to me while taking a walk on a very beautiful Thursday afternoon….
Flowing with life is different than being carried away by it.  I tend to flow with life most of the time and rarely get overwhelmed or carried away by it.  Too often, perhaps, I fight it.  It’s my nature to go against the grain, to be rebellious, and to not run with the herd.  I guess I want to flow with life but I want to do it on my terms.  This may be a symptom of my age.  Older people tend to get feisty as they age.  We’ve tolerated about as much BS as we can stand.  This awareness often kicks in about age 50.  Some enlightened young people are on an accelerated program and have this awareness at a much younger age.  By the time you are in your 60’s you are totally over it and as the TV news person declared in the movie Network, we’re “mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore”.  So much for flowing with life.  Rather than flowing with the river of life I think I must be trying to change the flow of the river. (smile)     

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Finger Pointing At The Moon

Why do so many working people in our society find so little satisfaction in their daily work?  Sometimes when I look at the faces of people leaving my building at the end of the day or strangers driving home during the evening commute, they look absolutely exhausted and dazed.  Other times when I am riding up and down the elevators in my office building I listen to people complaining about their jobs.  Many people in our society work in the same type of corporate, information driven environment that I work in.  Almost everyone I know does "something with a computer".  Some days it is easy to feel like the focus of your job is to read and write emails.  We live in an information driven, electronic age.  Most of us spend a great deal of time gathering and sharing data.  I think that is part of the problem.  Perhaps satisfaction goes down as sensory overload goes up.  The work we do is mostly intangible.  For months now I have been watching hundreds of workers building a new downtown bridge.  In the process they are completely re-shaping the landscape.  Unlike these construction workers, most of us cannot drive down the road, look at a bridge or building, and say, "I helped build that!”  When you work with information, you have no lasting monuments to what you have accomplished.   Instead of bridges, buildings, or works of art, we create spreadsheets and databases.  It’s impossible to take a picture of these things and hang them on the wall.  Our accomplishments and successes are fleeting.  The flow of data and information never stops.  Today's success of managing data is a moment in time.  That success and moment are short lived.  I really don't know the answer to the problem of finding satisfaction in doing this type of modern work.  I try to remind myself that the information and numbers represent real people but that doesn't always work.  The most satisfaction I find in the workplace comes from the people around me.   I try to build relationships.  If I can have a positive influence on another person, it is satisfying.  Relationships involve something that is much more tangible than data and numbers.  Looking at numbers and other data reminds me of a famous Zen saying.  "The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon".    The data and numbers are not what we serve.  They are a finger pointing at the moon.  In most cases the "moon" is people and they are what it's all about.   

Friday, March 13, 2015

Stages Of Life

Once while reading the Sunday newspaper cartoons I saw one that grabbed my attention.  It’s called Pearls Before Swine.  The cartoonist gave what I thought was a funny, and somewhat true, summary of life at its various stages.  Here are some viewpoints of life from different ages. 
  • Toddler-Life is unfamiliar.
  • Teen-Life is aggravating.
  • 20’s-Life is to be conquered.
  • 30’s-Life cannot be conquered.
  • 40’s-Life has conquered me.
  • 50’s-Life, I am starting to figure you out.
  • 60’s-Life, I am going to savor every moment of you before it’s too late.
  • 70’s-It’s too late.
I must admit that this breakdown of life has been fairly true for me.  As I look at the viewpoint of someone in their 60’s, I can better understand my obsession with mindfulness and being in the moment.  I do hope the 70’s are not too late for me and everyone else that lives that long.  Although the cartoonist’s makes it sound like one should just give up in their 40’s, I prefer to think that 40 something is time when one begins to attain some enlightenment and we begin to accept life and roll with it more.  It is not something to be conquered or outwitted.  We will lose that battle.  Life is something to be lived and I believe we can live it better when we just jump into the river and flow with it.  I think we start to get that in our 50’s and relish it in our 60’s.  If you are still fighting life in your 60’s, you might not make it to your 70’s.  Some of the best advice I ever read was to “relax and live”.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Five Simple Rules For Happiness

I came upon this list on a Facebook page called ZenCEO.
Five Simple Rules for Happiness
  • Free your heart from hatred.
  • Free your mind from worries.
  • Live simply.
  • Give more.
  • Expect less.
I admit that I don’t love everyone.  Some people I simply tolerate.  However, I can also say that I don’t hate anyone.  I also rarely worry.  Most women worry so much that men don’t need to do so.  My wife has made a career of worrying.  I have concerns, and I try to prevent problems, but worry takes up very, very little of my time.  Most people learn the value of simplicity as they age.  The first half of life is spent gathering.  The second half of life is spent letting things go.  One learns to find joy in simplicity as one gets older.  You learn that less is more.  I’ve never had too much money so I usually haven’t had much to give away.  However, over the course of my life I have given away many, many material things.  If I have something I don’t need, and another person needs what I have, I simply give it to them. Only on a rare occasion have I expected payment for anything.  My way of expecting less is to be content with whatever is available or offered.  In place of high expectations, I choose to be grateful what whatever I have.   

Monday, March 09, 2015

What The World Needs

The planet does not need more successful people.  The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”
-The Dalai Lama
Everyone wants to be successful but not everyone agrees on the definition of success.  The world measures success by the size of your paycheck, the power you wield, the title you have, the square footage of your office, and who dies with the most toys.  Most religions would measure success by how good you are and how much you love those around you.  I reject the world’s view and I mostly agree with success being measured by one’s goodness and love in action.  I would also add that part of success is being the best version of who you are.  We are all unique, we all have something to give, and we all have a part in the great drama of life.  Shakespeare said that “all the world’s a stage” and that we are all actors.  Success, however, is not acting.  Success is being real and true.  Being real and being true to who we are is a lifelong journey.  Our true selves are often buried deep within us.  The journey of life is to uncover who we really are and to be that person.  Imagine a world where most people were real and true.  It would be a world with more cooperation and less competition.  It would be a world with more love and less hate.  It would be a world with more peace and less war.  It is our obsession with power, prestige, and possessions that creates most of the disharmony in the world.  If you are not already being a peacemaker, healer, restorer, storyteller, or a person motivated by love, begin today.  Along the way you will find yourself and make the world a better place.        

Sunday, March 08, 2015

What Excites You?

Make a list of things that excite you.  What kind of person would you be if you could sustain this level of excitement more often?  What steps can you take to become more like that person?
I must admit that I am a person that doesn’t get excited easily.  I am cynical by nature, more reserved than I care to admit, and my true emotions rarely show.  As a leader one of my weaknesses is an inability to be a cheerleader type of person.  There are certainly people and things that give me joy.  My granddaughter and music come to mind.  However, I don’t think joy and excitement are the same thing as excitement.  I think what excites me is when I can be who I really am and do what I do best.  Occasionally this happens but not with a great deal of frequency.  Many people find it difficult to be who they are because they don’t know who they are.  I have a fairly good idea of my identity because I’ve had a long life so far to figure it out.  Many people also don’t know what they do best because they haven’t found their gift yet.  Excitement is a difficult emotion for me.  When I actually feel excitement it is almost uncomfortable.  I suppose the strongest emotion I feel is passion.  Passion, however, is a double edged sword.  On the positive side I can feel passion for something I truly believe in but on the negative side my passion is occasionally repressed anger that has found its way to the surface of my feelings.  Today I will try to meditate on things that excite me and ways that I can nurture this feeling within myself.  I want to live a life where my experiences, thoughts, and actions excite me.  Excitement, like joy, is a wonderful feeling.  I avoid all negative feelings and most of the time I am positive, although not excited.  What about you?    

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

I've Worn Lots Of Shoes

During our lifetime we walk down many different roads.  We start in one place and end up somewhere else.  When one road ends, another one usually begins.  I guess when there are no more roads, you’re dead.  As Forrest Gump declared in the movie Forrest Gump, “I’ve worn lots of shoes”.  In all of the journeys down all of the roads we have traveled in our lives we’ve all worn lots of shoes.  I have an old pair of sneakers with tie dyed shoe strings that are completely worn out but I have kept them because they have taken me to many rock and roll concerts in my life.  The shoes, and the journeys on which I wore them, have many memories for me.  I hope my wife doesn’t pitch them when I am not looking.  Often when we are walking down one of life’s roads we have no idea where it will end or where it will intersect another road.  We don’t always know where we are and it is only by looking in our rear view mirror that we know where we’ve been.  If we know where we are going we have a better idea about what kind of shoes to wear.  I once visited France.  Our hosts took a bunch of us on a bus trip to a local shrine in a forest.  After we all got off the bus, the bus left us.  Most of us didn’t realize that part of the experience was to hike back to where we began.  The hike back was through the forest.  It was beautiful but there were hills to climb, creeks to cross, and occasional mud.  Some of the ladies and a few of the men were not prepared for such a hike.  I wasn’t wearing my rock and roll shoes but I did have on some shoes appropriate for a hike in the forest.  As you walk down the roads of your life, including the occasional side trip through a forest, be sure you have on the right kind of shoes.    

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Laugh As Much As Possible

I once received an instant message from a friend and co-worker in another city.  It read “I’d like to place an order for some Zen”.  She went on to explain that she was coming un-hinged at work and wondered, “What would Michael do”?  I didn’t tell her that I would probably go outside and scream.  What I did was make her laugh.  I told her that laughter is part of Zen.  My co-workers and I often joke throughout the workday and make one another laugh.  It never ceases to amaze me how good laughter is for you.  It can certainly lighten the mood and re-energize you when the demands of the day make you feel frazzled.  I don’t want to be in a workplace where everyone is serious all the time and there is never any laughter.  One of my personal goals is to feel joyful about life.  This is very challenging at times.  Life is hard and there are always bad things happening that can depress you.  The Zen of laughter can make life seem sweet and not so difficult.  Whatever our differences are as people, we can be unified in our shared laughter.  Psychological studies have shown that frequent laughter is good for us physically as well as for our overall well-being.  Occasionally people ask me how I have managed to stay married for over 40 years.  I would say that laughter has been a major reason.  My wife and I are about 98% total opposites but we laugh a lot.  Admittedly, a lot of our laughter is based on our mutual disrespect for people who take themselves too seriously, for all things pretentious, and for society’s absurdities.  My advice for all you sourpusses and overly serious people out there is to chill out and laugh.  Life is too short to walk around with a frown on your face all the time.  Lighten up!  No one ever died from laughter and being light hearted.    

Monday, March 02, 2015

Showing Up For Your Life

Each morning I receive a daily thought on my cell phone that is directed towards people with my personality type.  Some days it affirms me and other days it challenges me.  Here is an excerpt from today’s thought.
How do you postpone showing up more fully in your life?  Where and how do you typically hit your snooze button?  What conditions do you require to wake up”?
I must admit that my natural tendency is to be withdrawn, disengaged, and solitary.  I am an off the chart introvert.  One could say I was even trained to be this way during my time in the monastery.  I admit that I find a day home alone to be bliss while group functions are often hell for me.  I also have a tendency to zone out no matter where I am.  When I am listening to a live concert on my iPod, I am at the concert in my mind.  Having said all of this, what conditions do I require to wake up and show up in my life?  In order to do this the situation or the task must interest me.  If it’s a philosophical challenge, I need to believe in it.  In most cases I also need to be challenged.  If it’s too easy I am bored.  If it’s too hard, and possibly beyond my abilities, I am stressed.  For me to be fully engaged and present, I need to feel like my strengths are being utilized, I believe in what I am doing, I see its value, and I must feel a sense of accomplishment.  If I am operating from weakness in a task that I find meaningless, and it has no apparent value to me, I am mentally and emotionally checked out and I am hitting the snooze button repeatedly.