Thursday, March 30, 2017

Right View

The first step of the Noble Eightfold Path to Enlightenment is Right View.  In other words, are we looking at life as we should?  Are we seeing life as it really is?  What is the right view of life?  Basically, I think it is seeing life as it really is whether that reality be good or bad.  I once heard that we should not believe anything we hear and only half of what we see.  We all see things differently.  We have different opinions, biases, and perceptions.  Perceptions generally are not a good reflection of reality.  However, most people tend to think their perceptions are reality.  Over our lifetimes we also tend to acquire a variety of filters that cloud our judgment of reality.  These filters are created by our overall experience of life.  They can be the result of our parents, teachers, pastors, and other leaders.  They can be the result of our childhood and upbringing.  Education or a lack of education can create filters.  Anything that affects the way we see life can be a filter.  However, parents, teachers, pastors, other leaders, education, and life experience can also open our eyes and remove filters so we see life in a more realistic and positive way.  In order to have Right View we need to routinely ask ourselves, “What is really happening here?  What am I really seeing?  What is keeping me from having a 20/20 vision of life as it really is?  Is my vison of reality near-sighted or far-sighted?  Way back in the Sixties hippies often wore a button that said “Question Reality”.  When striving for Right View, you need to question your perception of reality and get to the truth of the moment.        

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Pain And Suffering

Pain and suffering are not the same thing.  If you injure your body in an accident, you feel pain.  There is nothing you can do to avoid the physical pain until you medicate yourself or receive other appropriate treatment.  Suffering, however, is mostly a mental thing.  In many cases our fears, worries, anxieties, and stresses are self-created in our mind.  As I once heard someone say, “It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it”.  Suffering can also be caused by longing for things or clinging to things.  Some people always want what they don’t have.  Other people worry about losing what they have.  Neither are free.  This is what I mean when I say that suffering is optional.  If we let our mind run wild it will take us to all kinds of scary places.  Our emotions can also get the best of us.  Sometimes when I feel upset I breathe for a moment and say to myself, “You are having an emotional reaction.  What is the reality of the moment”?  More often than not true reality is not nearly as frightening as the perceived reality we create in our minds.  The purpose of the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment is not to fast forward us to an enlightened state of Zen bliss.  Its purpose is to teach us to live in such a way as to minimize or eliminate our suffering.  As the Dalai Lama teaches, “All human beings want to be happy and have as little suffering in their lives as possible”.  I doubt if anyone who reads this would disagree.  A happy life, relatively free of suffering, is possible for everyone.  It has little to do with how much money or stuff you have.  Some of the unhappiest people in the world have lots of money and material things.  Try living for an entire day with a calm mind.  Control your mind and emotions and you will never be upset or unhappy.  I haven’t mastered this yet but I am getting better at it.         

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Eightfold Path To Enlightenment

This week I will try to explain the Eightfold Path To Enlightenment.  Before I begin let me assure everyone I am not trying to convert you to Buddhism.  Strictly speaking Buddhism is more a philosophy for living than a religion.  Buddha was a real person and is not considered the Buddhist god.  In fact, there is no god in Buddhism.  Buddha is considered a great teacher.  Many of his teachings can be in harmony with other religious beliefs and practices.  The Buddha, which means “Awakened One” was born Siddhartha Gautama into a wealthy aristocratic family.  There is an excellent account of his life written by Herman Hesse in his classic book called Siddhartha
Here are the eight steps once again.
The Noble Eightfold Path
  1. Right View (Are we looking at life as we should?)
  2. Right Aspiration (Are we doing things for the right reason?)
  3. Right Speech (Are we speaking as we should?)
  4. Right Action (Are we doing the right things?)
  5. Right Livelihood (Are we in the right career?)
  6. Right Effort (Are we giving things the effort they deserve?)
  7. Right Mindfulness (Are we being present to life as we should?)
  8. Right Concentration (Are we paying attention as we should?)
Before you can understand  the goal, for lack of a better term, of the Eightfold Path, you need to know four basic truths.  These are often called The Four Noble Truths.
1.       Life is suffering.
2.       The cause of suffering is desire.
3.       Suffering is optional.
4.       We can minimize or eliminate our suffering.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Concentrate On Value And Truth

Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one”.
-Malcolm Forbes
It doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long as you don’t stop”.
Concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself”.
-Thomas Merton (One of my personal heroes)
Too much of what is called education in the modern world is little more than job training.  If you are a truly educated person, whether it is formal education or self-taught, you should have an open mind.  This means that you can have your own opinions or views on a subject but you aren’t threatened by an opposing view.  One of the problems in the world today is that people are so polarized that many cannot entertain any other point of view except their own.  We are extremely dualistic in our thinking.  Every idea is seen as either right or wrong.  People seem completely unable to consider that two ideas can be right and two ideas can both be wrong.  
We also live in a world that is constantly pushing us to go faster and do more.  A song by one of my favorite rock bands, Jethro Tull, has a lyric that goes, “The race is won by running slowly”.  This doesn’t mean that you can never run fast or that sometimes running fast isn’t needed.  I think it means that life is a marathon, not a sprint.  In the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, it is the Tortoise that wins the race.  I have sometimes been called a “Steady Eddie” and it wasn’t always meant to be a compliment.  Many think that “Steady Eddies” coast when what most of us really do is utilize “Cruise Control”.  You can get a speeding ticket on “Cruise Control”.  Whatever your personal speed, just don’t stop.
Many of us also do things that have no value.  Some activities begin with value but lose their sense of purpose over time.  We should regularly think about our activities and whether or not they have outlived their purpose or usefulness.  I like something called “The Eightfold Path of Enlightenment”.  It challenges us to think about how we act as well as what we do.  I can’t go into all of them now but I will list them.  Next week I will try to explain each of them in a little more depth.
The Noble Eightfold Path
1.       Right View (Are we looking at life as we should?)
2.       Right Aspiration (Are we doing things for the right reason?)
3.       Right Speech (Are we speaking as we should?)
4.       Right Action (Are we doing the right things?)
5.       Right Livelihood (Are we in the right career?)
6.       Right Effort (Are we giving things the effort they deserve?)
7.       Right Mindfulness (Are we being present to life as we should?)
8.       Right Concentration (Are we paying attention as we should?)    

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Keep On Keeping On

There is a difference between interest and commitment.  When you are interested in something, you only do it when it’s convenient.  When you are committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results”.
-Ken Blanchard 
Confidence on the outside begins by living with integrity on the inside”.
-Brian Tracy
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change”.
-Charles Darwin
There’s a lot to digest from these quotes.  Unless you are committed to something, you are likely to give it little more than lip service and minimal effort.  You see it in the office every day.  Some people come in ready to conquer the world.  Others barely make it here and are not really present while they are here.  Most of us are a little bit of both depending on the day.  With life in general I find that I usually can find the time for people and things that are important to me.  If someone is unresponsive to you, especially on a personal level, you are probably not important to that person.  Who hasn’t experienced this at some point in their lives when they thought they were in love?  On a different level, music is a big deal to me.  I will generally spend whatever I need to spend and do what I need to do to buy music or go see a favorite musician.  Admittedly, age has slowed me down a little.  In terms of survival, I have lived a lot longer than many people so far.  I have also survived every crisis in my life up till this moment.  Sooner or later something may overcome me but it hasn’t happened yet.  I have lasted through 31+ years of corporate America when people far smarter and more ambitious fell by the wayside.  What I have is tenacity, stubbornness, and an ability to change even when I don’t really want to.  I’m not a superstar but I try to live with enough integrity to have the confidence to do what needs to be done to keep on keeping on!  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Kindness Remembered

Yesterday was my first day of work after a long weekend that included taking care of my granddaughter and her dog as well as enjoying an evening of rock and roll with some friends.  My day off was full of tasks I wanted and needed to get done but never seemed to have the time.  My first day of work was a little stressful due to a lack of work.  I seemed to meet myself coming and going during the morning hours so it was afternoon before I could finally take a few laps around the office.  While walking my well-worn path someone approached me with the gift of a book they thought I would appreciate.  The book is titled The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff.  The Tao is basically a kind of Chinese philosophy.  Pooh, of course, is Winnie the Pooh.  My oldest son’s baby nursery was decorated in a Winnie the Pooh motif. I feel certain that is not unique.  While talking to the lady that gave me the book, she mentioned that she had never forgotten a kindness I showed her in her early days at Humana.  Although I remembered the lady, I did not recall the kindness.  Kindness is like a seed you plant.  It may someday grow into a tree under whose shade you will never sit.  On the other hand it may also provide some shade or perhaps a cool breeze on a day you really need it.  Although yesterday was not a terrible day, it was nice to hear that I once was nice to someone that needed it and they still remember it.  No matter how much kindness you give a way, it is never lost.  It may circle the globe but eventually it will find its way back to you.  So will meanness, so remember that too.  You get what you give so put goodness into the world. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Let It Go

Every breath is an opportunity to receive and let go.  I receive love and I let go of pain”.
-Brenda MacIntyre
If we do not find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new”.
This isn’t just ‘another day, another dollar’.  It’s more like ‘another day, another miracle’.”
-Victoria Moran
I have always felt a little sorry for people that can’t let anything go.  With each new slight or hurt, real or imagined, they add links to the chains which they carry around like Marley’s ghost in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”.  Admittedly I sometimes brood or obsess about things but rarely do I do it more than a day.  There is certainly nothing I have carried around my entire life.  Who hasn’t been slighted?  Who hasn’t been hurt?  Who hasn’t had their heart broken?  Life hurts sometimes but let it go and move on.  Sometimes the best things in our lives are the end result of an experience that may have been painful for us.  Despite the pain we sometimes feel from life, if you can’t find anything pleasant, you aren’t looking hard enough or close enough.  This gets back to something I wrote previously about paying attention and noticing things.  You tend to see whatever you are looking for.  If you are constantly looking for the ways that people disappoint you, you will find lots of ways that people disappoint you.  If you are looking for the ways that people are good, you will see the good in people.  Most of us can list reasons our families drive us crazy but in the end no one will be there for you like your family.  Don’t focus on the pain of life.  We all feel it.  Focus on what is good and be grateful for it.        

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I Believe In My Experience

 “The easiest thing in the world is self-deceit; for everyman believes what he wishes, though the reality is often different”.
You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness.  This of course would be an attachment to stillness, and like any strong attachment, it leads to delusion.  It arrests development and short-circuits the cultivation of wisdom”.
-Jon Kabat-Zinn
We all believe what we believe.  Some of us watch Fox News while others watch MSNBC.  Some of us believe in Jesus.  Others follow the teachings of Buddha or Mohammed.  Still others watch no news at all and do not follow the teachings of anyone.  I am like most people.  I choose what I believe and most of what I believe is based on what I have experienced in life.  When I evaluate my own beliefs and the sometimes contrary beliefs of others I wonder where the real truth is and I wonder what the real truth is.  One man’s truth is another man’s lie.  If knowing the truth isn’t already challenging enough there are people spouting alternative facts and fake news.  Many leaders want to deceive you and keep you confused and in the dark.  I try not to be cynical but my own experience is all I truly trust.  The only true reality for me is the one I live in, not the one I hear about from another’s perception.  This is why at this time of my life I struggle with the whole idea of faith.  It is difficult to believe in things you have not experienced and if you have experienced them you don’t need to believe because your experience is real.  At the end of the day, regardless of where we get our information or whose teachings we follow, we all want to be happy and live in peace.  If you are fortunate enough to actually be happy and to live in peace, it is difficult to not become attached to the experience and to hold it firmly with both hands.  However, when you become attached to it and try to hold onto it, it becomes something you have to protect.  That changes the whole dynamic of the experience.        

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Spiritual People Laugh A Lot

“Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future.  It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift”.
-Oprah Winfrey
What you are today is a consequence of what you were yesterday.  What you will be tomorrow is a consequence of what you are today”.
I really like Oprah Winfrey.  We could have some wonderful conversation if she ever invited me to lunch.  She has a wonderful show called “Super Soul Sunday”.  One of my friends and former teachers was a guest on this show.  The guests tend to be people who are spiritual leaders.  My teacher is a Franciscan priest named Father Richard Rohr.  My last visit with him was in 2013 when he was in Louisville to appear with the Dalai Lama at the local Festival of Faiths.  If you can ever catch him on a rerun of Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday”, it is well worth your time.  I also recommend John Oliver’s recent interview with the Dalai Lama.  You can find it on last week’ episode of “Last Week Tonight” on HBO or I have also found it on John Oliver’s Facebook page.  It was recorded in Dharamsala, India where the Dalai Lama lives when he is not traveling the world.  It is a very humorous interview.  In my experience of holy people and spiritual masters, they tend to have a great sense of humor and they laugh a lot.  The one exception to this was a rather grim Zen Master when I made a Zen retreat once.  Of course, maybe I just wasn’t enlightened enough at that time to get his potential humor.  It was a very serious retreat and my first attempt at grasping Zen.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Paying Attention And Noticing Things

The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice.  And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is nothing we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds”.
-R.D. Laing
Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimension”.
-Oliver Wendell Holmes
Ad I have said many times, mindfulness is about being awake and aware.  This sounds so basic and obvious but the world is full of the walking dead.  Many people go about their business every day and fail to notice much, if anything, of what is going on around them.  Focus and concentration can be good things when performing a task or solving a problem but when you go through life with your eyes and mind closed you miss out on quite a bit.  For example, it is now late winter/early spring.  Life that has been dormant for months is beginning to burst through the ground and flowers and trees are budding and flowering.  Have you noticed?  Last week, virtually overnight, most of the trees in our office park began blooming.  I was walking to my car one afternoon after a long day and boom!  The dogwoods, or are they Bradford Pears?, were in full bloom.  I bet there were some people who didn’t notice.  As you go through your day, pay attention and notice things.  When I walk around my antennae are on full alert.  If my wife and I were sitting on a bench at the Mall, she wouldn’t notice if her dead mother walked right in front of us.  Many people are like her.  As you open your eyes, expand your mind.  Read a book.  Challenge yourself with new ways of thinking.  Don’t be locked in old paradigms.  Openness to new ideas stretches your mind and expands your potential.     

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Personal Power

Mindfulness helps to smooth out all the ups and downs of our daily lives”.
Power is the capacity to translate intension into reality and then sustain it”.
-Warren Bennis
If you can find as much happiness at the bottom of the ladder of success as you can at the top, then you understand commitment”.
-Tom Krause
I think mindfulness is good not only for our mental health but for our overall well-being.  If we all were just present to where we are and to what we should be doing in the moment, our lives would be a lot less stressful.  I have spent most of my adult life managing other people and I have experienced all types of personalities.  Some are driven and competitive people who push themselves on a daily basis to perform better than they did the day before.  Others will do exactly what you ask, no more and no less.  In every group of people I have ever managed there are always some who will only do what they are supposed to do if you light a fire under them or poke them with a stick.  Obviously, I say this in a metaphorical sense and don’t mean literally.  True personal power is making yourself do what needs to be done without another’s person’s power forcing you to do it.  I am reminded of a definition for character that says “character is doing the right thing even when no one is watching”.  If we are adults we know what needs to be done in our lives, whether it be in our families or in the workplace.  I must confess that I found parenting one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  There were times I hated it and thought I should have stayed in the monastery!  I used to have regular dreams where I found myself trapped in buildings where I could not find an exit.  I think I had those dreams because I felt trapped in the expectations of parenting and I wanted to escape them.  I am sure many other parents have felt the same way especially when their children were teenagers.  However, despite my dreams of being trapped, I stuck it out and used what little power I had to be there for my children and to do the best I could.  I am happy to say they both turned out to be pretty good human beings.  The point is that we all need to use whatever personal power we have to sometimes force ourselves to do what is needed and what is right.  In my experience, doing what is needed and right has often brought me a sense of contentment that wasn’t dependent on any other kind of success.     

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Comfort Zones

Inspiration is intention obeyed.”
-Emily Carr
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.”
-W.H. Murray
Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.”
-Antonio Machado
If you are anything like me you have occasional moments of inspiration followed by hesitancy.  You want to move forward but doubt overcomes you and you can’t seem to take that first step towards commitment.  How many inspirations have we all had that never reached fruition?  I am not a risk taker by nature.  As I get older I tend to be more cautious about my decisions.  I am not generally a fearful person and I don’t need certitude about everything but an overabundance of cautious sometimes prevents me from taking a leap of faith.  Deep inside me I know that if I take that first step, the second step will be easier, and so on and so forth.  If I have faith and if I am strong and if I will just take a chance, my steps will turn into a road.  More often than not, it is the road I should be on.  I might take more chances if all I needed to worry about was myself.  Most of my life, however, I have had the responsibilities of family obligations and I didn’t want my potential follies to jeopardize their security.  Of course, that just might be an excuse for my own insecurities.  Even though I haven’t always done it, I don’t think you will reach your full potential in life if you don’t take some chances.  I have always seen myself as something of an underachiever and it’s probably because I didn’t take enough chances and I didn’t want to leave my personal comfort zone.  Comfort zones are not bad necessarily but they are limiting.     

Friday, March 03, 2017

Choices Have Consequences

A man or woman becomes fully human only by his or her choices and his or her commitment to them.  People attain worth and dignity by the multitude of decisions they make from day to day.  These decisions require courage”.
-Rollo May
We must be willing to let go of the life we planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us”.
-Joseph Campbell
Much of my youth was spent wanting to grow up, become a priest, and save the world.  Even as a child I had a romantic mind with dreams of far off lands and a life that was anything but ordinary.  It certainly was never my dream to be a claims supervisor in corporate America.  As most of you know it was my youngest son who actually became a priest and now he is striving to save the world or at least a part of the world that is located in southern Kentucky.  I ended up with a very ordinary life although there is still a priest within me.  Regardless of the future we dream, or the life we actually have, we are all where we are because of decisions and choices we have made.  Hopefully we have made some good choices but most of us have probably made a few bad choices for which we may still be paying a price.  There are times I wonder what life I would have had I made different or better decisions.  There are other times where I think I am where I am for a reason and the choices I made were the choices fate intended me to make.  Either way, I am who I am because of choices I have made, people I have met, and things I have done.  Even if I had actually ended up as a priest I wouldn’t be the same person I am today because I would not have had all the experiences I have had, I might not have met the people who have made a difference in my life, and I would have been formed into a different person than I actually am today.  The point here is that choices matter and choices have consequences.  Take care when making important decisions.  We tend to get smarter with age but that is not guaranteed.  If you are young don’t use that as an excuse to be stupid.  The choices you make today, good or bad, are forming you and affecting your future outcomes.