Friday, February 26, 2016

Update On My Granddaughter

Another work week is coming to an end for most of us.  I can hear the sighs of relief.  Most of my weekends there is a visitor at my home.  My granddaughter will arrive sometime in the morning.  I never get tired of seeing her.  Many of you who read my daily thoughts have been hearing about my granddaughter since the day she was born.  When people see me on the elevator they often ask how she is doing.  Chloe will be 12 years old on her next birthday and is very much a “Tween”.  Most of her life she has loved to come to my home to be with me.  Now I think the primary reason is the free Wi-Fi.  When she is not on her smart phone, she is on my computer or playing a video game.  Gone are the days when we sat on the floor having tea parties with a variety of stuffed animals and my Jerry Garcia doll.  As much as I love the person she is now, sometimes I miss the tea parties and my five year old granddaughter.  Chloe is very artistic so there are art supplies in every room of my house.  She is also an introvert like me so these days we often spend time alone…together.  I will read and she will draw.  Periodically she will ask me what I think of whatever she had drawn.  Maybe someday she will do the illustrations for my book if I even get that completed.  When she was younger she would wake me up at the crack of dawn and want to play.  These days she wants to stay up all night and sleep half the day.  The good news is now Granny and I can sleep late too.  At my age it can be exhausting to have a young person in the house.  My granddaughter, however, is so full of life and energy and curiosity that it actually energizes me.  She recently told me that I am too sensitive and that too many of our conversations contain life lessons.  I told her that giving life lessons is what Paw Paw’s do.  It is difficult to measure the joy that grandchildren can give you.  I have gotten so much from one that I can’t imagine having five or six.      
Today is my youngest son’s 34th birthday.  My children are approaching middle age.  How can that be????  An elderly friend once told me that you are not really old until your children are on Medicare.  I guess this means my 86 year old mother will be “really old” in about one month.  A few years ago when I told my granddaughter how old my mother was, she replied “Wow!  She’s really good at living”!  

Thursday, February 25, 2016

We Can Only Live In The Present

We cannot live in the past; it is gone.  Nor can we live in the future; it is forever beyond our grasp.  We can only live in the present.”
-S.N. Goenka
I don’t live in the past although I sometimes visit it in my mind.  Memories, music, or even physical objects can transport me back to a time when someone or something crossed my path in a positive way.  Sometimes a negative memory is triggered as well but I try to quickly move away from those.  I cannot remember or visit the future because it has not happened yet.  The only option is to daydream about a desired experience in the hopes that someday it will happen and then I can treasure it as a memory.  The present moment is our best hope.  Each moment is a new beginning.  It can be used to move away from a painful memory or experience or be used to move towards a desired outcome.  Although the moment may seem static it is actually transitional.  You may feel like you are standing still, or perhaps spinning in a circle, but you are actually moving.  The question becomes, “Where are you going”?  I am reminded of a time I had dinner in a revolving restaurant at the top of a hotel.  Eating my dinner and drinking my wine, I had no real sense of movement.  I was in the moment.  At some point I went to the men’s room.  By the time I returned I couldn’t find my table because it had moved to the other side of the room.  Yes, I probably had too much wine.  Sometimes when you are in the middle of your meal, or your life, it may seem as though nothing is happening.  Step away for a few minutes and your table has moved to the other side of the room or your life is five years down the road.  Being in the moment does not stop time.  It only increases your awareness of the moment.  It also helps if you limit your wine consumption.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Being An Impartial Observer Of Your Emotions

Mindfulness requires that we not over-identify with thoughts and feelings so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity”.
-Brene Brown
Part of the mindfulness experience is to learn how to be an impartial observer of our own emotions.  I am what some people call a gut type personality.  What this means is that I tend to react quickly to what is happening around me or to me, sometimes without thinking.  This is not always a good thing.  On a good day my rational mind will calm me down before I do or say anything stupid.  Feelings are rarely rational so they should not always be taken seriously.  I am not my anger, my cynicism, or any other negative emotion I may display.  These feelings are often irrational, seemingly uncontrollable and instinctual responses to whatever is going on around me.  With the practice of mindfulness one can learn to observe their emotions without falling victim to them.  When I feel angry, I can ask myself what is it about this person or situation that is making me angry?  Why is it that whenever certain people speak I always go negative?  When I feel cynical, what is it that is making me feel that way?  If I can catch my anger before it is out of control, I can strive to respond more calmly.  If I feel my cynicism boiling over, I can strive to see the positive in a situation.  When I recognize my own negativity, I can work to turn it around.  I find my own negative emotions and feelings to be very exhausting.  When I am calm, positive, and hopeful, I am usually energized and I see my world in a different light.    

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Perception Of Time

“Most of us take for granted that time flies, meaning it passes too quickly.  But in the mindful state, time doesn’t really pass at all.  There is only a single instant of time that keeps renewing itself over and over with infinite variety”.
-Deepak Chopra
One’s sense of time can vary wildly.  This past Friday afternoon, after most of you had left for the day, and I was still in the office, I thought all the clocks were broken.  Time seemed to be frozen.  On the other hand, in a few weeks I will be 65 years year’s old and I wonder how my life so far has passed so quickly.  It is true that the passage of time seems to go faster the older you get.  Although every day is 24 hours long, 8 hours in the office can feel like 16 hours and a weekend at home can feel like a 15 minute break.  One of my friends who is a monk told me that he practices mindfulness as a way to slow life down.  Paying attention to the moment can be a remedy for that feeling that life is moving too fast.  The real question is why some moments seem to fly by while other moments seem to drag.  For most people time flies when you are doing something you want to do and time drags when you are doing something you don’t want to do.  There will always be times in our lives when we must do things we don’t want to do.  Work is such a thing for many people.  The goal we should set for ourselves is to maximize the time we spend doing things we enjoy and minimize the time we spend doing things we don’t enjoy.  It is up to the individual to decide what activities belong in each category.  One man’s struggle is another man’s joy.    

Monday, February 22, 2016

A New Beginning

This past Friday while deeply absorbed in whatever I was doing, a friend dropped off a package at my desk.  My absorption was probably me staring into space or being totally one with a transcendent guitar solo playing on my iPod.  Music has a way of allowing me to transcend time and space.  When I opened the package I discovered a new book called The Pocket Book of Mindfulness.   It was a collection of quotes that supports “living in the moment and feeling liberated”.  I am going to use this book as encouragement to write some new thoughts.  For a while now I have been kind of brain dead and I have been recycling a lot of daily thoughts that I wrote in the past.  I tried to pick what I thought was the best of them but I am sure some of my faithful readers have thought that some of my daily thoughts gave them a feeling of Déjà vu.  Many writings in the past have developed from an idea or a quote that I have read from someone else.  Beginning today I will have a daily quote along with a few of my own reflections.  I am sure I will continue many of the themes I have written about in the past but, hopefully, with some new perspective.
Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on to it when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).
-James Baraz
I believe people confuse being in the moment with enjoying the moment.  Let’s be honest.  Not every moment is sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns.  Some moments in life are difficult.  Most of us want to avoid or run away from such moments.  Who in their right mind wants to be present to unpleasantness?  There is a cartoon that routinely shows up on Facebook that shows a person meditating.  The caption says “Today I will live in the moment unless it is unpleasant.  In that case I will just eat a cookie”.  Richard Rohr, a man I have mentioned many times in the past, once said that “The moment is as perfect as it can be”.   Today I encourage to you accept the reality of each moment.  Be grateful for those moments that are enjoyable.  Be strong for those moments that test you.  The good news is that those difficult moments will pass.  The bad news is that the good moments will also pass.  Life is movement.  Flow with it.   

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Some Thoughts On Happiness

Why are some people happy and others not?  First of all, it is mostly a choice.  Some people choose to be happy despite what goes on around them and to them.  Others think they can't be happy until everything is perfect in their lives.  Many always see the glass as half empty instead of half full.  It's all a matter of choice and perspective.  I do think it helps to have a balanced life.  Here are the things I think are important.  Every individual must work out how to have and balance these things in their life.  For me, they represent the essentials of a happy, balanced, and fulfilling life. 
The Six Essentials of a Balanced and Happy Life by Michael Brown
Mind.  Develop your intellect.  Read a book.  Learn a new skill.  Be open to new things.  If you don't use it, you lose it.  Rediscover the enthusiasm and curiosity you had as child to learn and discover new things.
Body.  Practice wellness.  Begin to live a healthy life now.  Take care of your body.  It is your vehicle through life.  Some people take better care of their cars than their own bodies.  Don't wait till the damage is done.
Spirit.   Be in touch with something bigger than yourself.  Have a belief system and a personal code of ethics.  Being part of a faith community works for some but not for others.  You can still explore the teachings of the great spiritual masters.  If nothing else, the golden rule works for everyone.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.   Practice the religion of kindness, compassion and tolerance.    
Work.  Give work what it needs and requires.  Being a workaholic and working hard are not the same things.  Look for work that is satisfying, not only to your bank account, but to your spirit.  Work is one of the ways we can share in the creative process of life.  Elevate it, in whatever way you can, to something more than just a mundane routine.
Family.  Being part of a family who loves you is one of life's greatest gifts.  Appreciate it.  Strive to make those in your families feel appreciated and loved.  Celebrate your family bonds!  There's an old saying that goes, "Home is where they have to take you in."  Be the kind of person that someone wants to take in.  Outside of the family develop friendships that are sustainable and long lasting.
Self.  Take time for yourself.  Balance time with others with solitude and time for personal reflection.  Be your own best friend.  Enjoy your own company.  Look in the mirror and know who you see.
Give all of these things time in your life.  Too much or too little of any of them creates an imbalance which can be a source of stress for many people.  When our life is in balance, we are at ease with living and happiness finds us.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Be Who You Are

Here’s something I once read from a book called Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh.
We try to be in touch with life and look deeply as we drink our tea, walk, sit down, or arrange flowers.  The secret of the success is that you are really yourself, and when you are really yourself, you can encounter life in the present moment.
Today I want all of you to really be who you are.  Along with being who you are I want you to be where you are and I want you to do what you are doing.  This might all sound simple but it is not.  Most people are not who they really are.  Most of us are trying to be who we think we need to be to impress or appease others.  Most of us are not where we are.  Our minds and bodies are rarely in the same place.  Whatever most of us are doing, we are probably thinking about what we need to do next.  Many of our lives demand multi-tasking and that really complicates things.  In today’s world it is very challenging to only do one thing at a time.  Wherever you are today, and whatever you are doing each moment, be there and do it.  If you’re drinking your coffee, tea, or soda, really drink it.  Know that you are drinking it.  When you have a snack or eat your lunch, know that you are doing it.  Taste your food, enjoy it’s flavor, and mindfully chew it.  If you are outside, and there is a breeze, feel the wind.  Today is going to be hot so it will be a simple task to feel the sun.  Simply put, live your life today and enjoy every minute of the day.  Be alive and awake

How Would Spend Your Time?

Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.
- Jose Ortega y Gasset
What do you care about?  How do you spend your free time?  If you ask my granddaughter what I like she will reply “books and music”.  There is no doubt that I love to spend much of my free time reading books and listening to music.  I am also a solitary person so I enjoy my time alone.  Throw in a good cup of coffee and I’m very content.  If you walked into my man cave you would see a lot of books, CD’s, movies, and probably a coffee cup on my table.  This might sound boring to some of you who are more action oriented but I accept that I am probably a boring person to many.  I am happy to be left alone and allowed to simply be.  I get it that many of you are the total opposite of me.  I’m OK with that.  You are who you are.  However, I suspect that there are a lot of people who simply don’t think much about who they are and maybe not much about what they value.  If you could have the rest of this day off, and you had no pressing demands or chores that simply had to be done, what would you do for the rest of the day?  OK, I admit that along with the things I have already mentioned I would slip in a nap.  How would you spend the time today?  Would you choose a quiet day at home, relaxing and doing something you enjoy?  Would you spend the day at the mall buying more stuff that you don’t need?  Would you go volunteer at your church?  Would you take a walk in the park or go work out?  Sometime today think about what you value and how you would spend your time if you truly owned all your time and you had the total freedom to decide how it was used.  What is it in your life that tells you who you are?  

There Are Many Kinds Of Losses

The difference between grief and joy is what we do with them.  Grief we push away.  Joy we try to hold on to.  When we refuse our grief, it stays.  When we try to control our joy, it leaves.  That’s the way these processes are.
-Ann Wilson Schaef
I have not experienced a lot of grief in my life.  Yes, people have died in my life but for most of them it was their time and I was able to accept it.  A big exception to this was the death of a dear friend a few years ago that was both sudden and unexpected.  I am still grieving that loss.  Of course, grief is about more than accepting and dealing with the deaths of people.  There are many kinds of losses in our lives.  It could be the end of a relationship or a job.  In some ways I have lost my children because they are now adults with lives of their own.  They are no longer the little boys who used to fight with me and beat me up in the middle of my living room floor.  I have also lost my youth and must accept that I am not the man I was at age thirty.  On a positive note I think I am a better man although one with considerably less physical abilities.  I have been blessed to experience more joy in my life than sorrow.  The temptation of joy is the desire to re-create the situation that gave us joy.  I am thinking of a past solitary moment, early on a cool autumn morning, when I sat on the side of a hill, while the sun rose over a lake and the light was shining through the trees and burning the mist from the lake’s surface.  It was one of my contemplative, Zen moments and I experienced what some psychologists call “flow.”  This is the experience of being so in the moment that you transcend time and space and are truly in the now.  On a different day I could plan such a moment and feel nothing.  The joy of the initial experience was a gift, not a reward.  I did nothing to earn it.  It just happened.  Does this make sense?  As people we are deeply emotional beings whether we realize it or not.  Some of us embrace our feelings while others of us repress them.  I tend to do a little of both.  It’s easy to embrace joy or love but I tend to repress feelings like anger.  Sooner or later repressed feelings will make themselves known.  Often they show up as physical ailments like headaches or depression.  I guess my advice would be to feel your feelings.  It’s wonderful to jump for joy but it’s also OK to feel angry once in a while.  It’s all about balance.  I’m not sure it’s possible to be happy, joyful, and upbeat every minute of the day.  To be honest, people like that wear me out.  However, if you are angry and negative all the time, you might want to work on that.  It’s not normal or healthy.     

When To Speak, When To Shut Up

“The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right time and place, but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment”.
-Lady Dorothy Neville
I usually don’t get in too much trouble but when I do it is often because of something I said.  There are other times when the events around me challenge me to speak up and I remain silent.  More than once my wife has advised me to shut up.  I can’t actually quote her word for word but most of you can imagine how she said it.  Other times I have been chastised by people who said things like “Michael, I expected you to have more to say”.  In my defense I think I have gotten a little wiser as I have gotten older.  The end of my tongue is now square from all the times I’ve bitten it off to keep myself from speaking.  Knowing when to speak and when to shut up is a delicate skill.  There are times that we should speak.  We may need to give solace to another person with a kind and consoling word.  We may need to speak up against an injustice or to provide counsel to someone.  On the other hand, words can be hurtful or inappropriate.  Listening is almost always better than speaking and the whole world doesn’t need to hear our opinions about everything.  You know what they say about opinions.  One of the older monks at the monastery where I lived as a young man once said, “I’m come to the realization that almost nothing is any of my business”.  Another danger of speaking is falling into the dangerous quagmire of gossip.  Few of us have not fallen into that trap at least once.  I wish I had the discipline to only speak when my words made the world a better place or they gave another person encouragement or comfort.  I wish my mouth will automatically shut when my words spread gossip, hurt another person, or did not improve on silence.  The next time you speak ask yourself if you words are building up the world around you or if they are tearing it down

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Personal Enclosures

Monasteries have something called an enclosure.  In some cases this is an actual wall that separates the monastery from everything outside the monastery.  At least in the past, when a man or a woman entered a monastery, the attitude was that they were leaving the world behind.  In a sense, the wall, or enclosure, was a metaphorical and physical way to be separated from the world.  In today’s highly technical world this has become much more challenging.  Yes, there are now computers in the monastery.  We can all have some version of an enclosure in our lives.  We can decide, most of the time, who and what we allow to enter our personal enclosures.  For example, I struggle on a regular basis whether or not I should watch the news, especially the local news.  It seems to be totally filled with negative stories about murders, robberies, serial killers, scams, or many other real and imaginary dangers to our lives.  I find it all quite depressing.  I want to be informed but I don’t want to allow all that negative energy into my life.  Imagine that your five senses, especially your sight and your hearing are like open windows to your home.  Do you want everything to have access to your home?  Do you want everything to be able to just fly in whenever it wants?  Probably not.  That’s why most people have screens on their windows.  You want the fresh air but you want to screen out the insects and other things that the wind might carry in.  So, make sure your screens are in good condition.  Build yourself a personal enclosure wall to keep out those people and things that bring you down.        

Paying Attention

Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment!
These words are from a book I once read called Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh who is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk.  The book is about practicing mindfulness in everyday life.  One passage I read was about how we all think too much.  For most of us our minds have a never ending tape loop that plays over and over.  Much of what we think about is not worth the time and a great number of our thoughts are negative.  By focusing on our breath, we can reduce the amount of time wasted on unnecessary and potentially negative thinking.  Realistically, we cannot stop all thinking.  Many of life’s daily tasks require some level of intellectual activity.  However, I give you this challenge.  Today, when you are not involved in a task that requires you to think, don’t think.  Between your tasks that require thinking, focus on your breath and enjoy the stillness that it will bring.  If you choose to have a cup of coffee or tea during these moments, smell the aroma of the coffee or tea, pay attention to the taste of your coffee or tea, and finally, enjoy it in a very mindful way.  For those few moments let your attention be on your breathing and the experience of your drink.  Such intentional focus is what mindfulness is all about.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

It's Never Too Late To Find Yourself

In the end everything will be perfect.  If it’s not perfect now it’s because the end is not here yet”.
This is a line from a wonderful movie I once saw called “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.  It’s the story of a random group of senior citizens who decide to retire in India.  Admittedly I may have identified with the characters because I am older.  However, I think the movie has a message for everyone regardless of their age.  The message I took from the movie is this.  You are never too old to find yourself.  In the movie the different characters come from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences.  None of them have any idea what to expect from moving to India.  The “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is in many ways a dump that has been highly over rated on its website.  Everyone seemed apprehensive when they first arrived.  There was the obvious culture shock.  Eventually all but one settled into their new home and culture.  By jumping into the flow of life in India, and not resisting it or fighting it, they came to a new self-awareness.  The movie reminded me that all of life is a journey and the journey is the destination.  It also reminded me that most of us have no idea where the journey will take us.  The important thing is to enjoy the journey, be open to all of life’s possibilities, and when the journey is over, everything will be perfect.  If your life is not perfect yet, your journey is not yet over.        

Everything Has A Price

The price of everything is the amount of life you exchange for it.
-Henry David Thoreau
If you are depressed you are living in the past.  If you are anxious you are living in the future.  If you are at peace you are living in the present.
Lao-Tzu is a Chinese philosopher and Henry David Thoreau is one of my favorite thinkers and writers.  Whenever I read any of their stuff they are usually right on the money.  This particular Lao-Tzu quote ties in well with all my previous thoughts about mindfulness.  How many of us are depressed or unhappy because we compare our current life to a romanticized ideal of how great we thought our life used to be?  How many of us fail to see what’s really good in our current life because every waking minute we are daydreaming about some life we wish we had and we’re worrying about whether or not we will ever achieve it?  We spend too much times thinking life used to be great or it could be great if only things were different.  When we are truly present to the eternal Now I believe we see things differently.  Part of being mindful is noticing things.  When we are living in the past or dreaming of the future we are not likely to be noticing the good realities of the present.  I once read a quote of unknown origin that went “These are the good old days”.  Remember that today used to be the future and soon it will be the past.  Where you are now is where you will always be in the sense that only the present truly exists.  Notice the present and be at peace.  Thoreau reminds us that everything in life has a price.  Do you want to be the most successful person at Humana?  OK, go for it.  However, there is a price.  Do you want to be well educated and have an impressive degree?  OK, but there is a price.  Do you want to be single or have a spouse and family?  OK but both have a price.  Do you want to run the street, howl at the moon, and abuse your body?  OK but there is a price.  All of our choices, good and bad, have a price.  Each person has to decide what amount of life you are willing to pay for whatever choices you make.       

Monday, February 08, 2016

Breathe Some Calm Into Your Life

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t want a calm life and a peaceful mind.  It is possible to have a calm life, at least inside oneself, but you will never have a totally peaceful mind.  You can create calming rituals in your life to help you be centered.  You can get up a little earlier to enjoy the morning quiet and prevent yourself from having to rush to wherever you need to be.  You can take breaks throughout your day to sit quietly and re-connect with your inner self.  When you get home and your chores are done, you can take a hot bath, or maybe sit outside and enjoy nature in your backyard.  Having a peaceful mind is more challenging.  Your mind never rests or takes a break.  You mind often feeds your ego and that is rarely a good thing.  In my mind I sometimes have thoughts I do not want.  In my mind I sometimes obsess on small things until they seem to loom large.  When I try to be quiet my mind creates noise.  When I try to be still, my mind tells me I should be busy.  All is not lost.  In the middle of whatever calming rituals that work for you, you can at least temporarily distract your mind by choosing to not think.  I do this by focusing on my breath.  Our breath is life.  I meditate by intentionally paying attention to my breath as I breathe in through my nose and I exhale through my mouth.  Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I am assuming you are breathing.  Pay attention to your breath and some calm will come into your life.     

Do More Than Just Show Up

I was once told that 80% of success is “showing up”.  I would generally agree with that but I would also say that a very important element of success in life, not just in the workplace, but everywhere, is how you present yourself to others.  I am not talking about kissing up to people and pretending to be something you are not.  When you “show up” for life, be an authentic person.  Everyone should think about how they appear to others.  Perception is not always true reality but perception is reality to most people.  As all of us walk through life we are judged by others and opinions are formed about our character and integrity.  Misconceptions can have a very negative impact on how we are seen by those around us.  Many misconceptions are based on how we carry ourselves and how we present ourselves to others.  If you act like a fool, you will be perceived as a fool.  Another person having a bad day can be perceived as grumpy although they might be very loving and kind most of the time.  We all have a bad day once in a while.  Leaders who seem to ignore people’s feelings can be perceived as uncaring but maybe they are just “under the gun” that day.  People who create a lot of drama and who have constant needs they expect to be met are often perceived as “heavy maintenance”.  Constant whining, complaining, and “neediness” are exhausting to even the most patience leader.  Misconceptions can go both ways.  Sometimes people present a positive image that is false and insincere.  Such a person is inauthentic and phony.  If you want to be accepted, liked, and admired by others, present yourself as a reasonable, intelligent, cooperative, and mature person who is also sincere and authentic.  Be someone that others want to be with.  Don’t be the type of person that makes others want to run for cover when they see you coming.  Life is difficult enough without other people wearing you out or filling your life with negative energy.  Every time I write thoughts like this, someone will write to me and say “Michael, you can’t be nice all the time.  Sometimes a person needs to be aggressive and assertive to deal with injustice or some other harsh reality of life”.  I agree.  Nothing fires me up more than unfairness or people being treated badly.  However, these thoughts today are more about the image and brand that we create for ourselves by the way we act.  If I had to choose between a cooperative, team player type of person, with a pleasant personality,  or a know it all, pain in the butt, guess which one I would choose?  Whether we realize it or not, whether we like it or not, we are all selling ourselves to the rest of the world.   Present the best version of who you are or you may be left on the shelf to gather dust.    


Way back in the early 70’s I discovered an album called “Inside”.  It was a recording by a jazz musician named Paul Horn.  He plays the flute which is one of my favorite instruments.  On this particular recording he visited the Taj Mahal in India and then hid inside when they closed for the day.  He had his flute and a recording device.  During the night, when he was alone inside the Taj Mahal, he played his flute and recorded it.  It’s a beautiful recording.  It’s contemplative, prayerful, and a bit cosmic.  If you’re stressed this recording can bring you some peace.  When I listen to it I am reminded how much I love being one with the universe.  Everyone’s life has challenges and disappointments.  Mine is no exception.  However, I have been given many gifts by the universe.  One of the gifts is having the awareness to recognize perfect moments.  I call them Zen moments.  I have such moments frequently when I listen to music.  I can listen to a recording of a concert from many years ago and in my mind I am right there in the front row.  Time travel is easy for me when it comes to music.  I recall another time when I got home early from work one day.  I was alone, the house was quiet, and it was the middle of winter.  I made a cup of hot chocolate and sat in my chair, looking out my window while watching huge snowflakes fill the air.  I was lost in the moment and one with the universe.  I believe I learned to see and recognize such moments when I lived in the monastery.  I was very young and idealistic but also very serious.  I would go for walks in the woods and sometimes I would just sit on a log and listen to the wind in the trees.  These types of experiences showed me a whole new way to see life.  You should look for similar opportunities in your own life to go “inside” and be one with the universe.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

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.      

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A Mindfulness Attitude Part II

The fifth element, or habit, of a mindfulness attitude 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”. 
Today we finish my thoughts on mindfulness.  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 feeling s must be accepted as “they are what they are”.