Saturday, April 29, 2017

Discovering Your Purpose

Keep on beginning and failing.  Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose.  It may not be the one you began with but one you’ll be glad to remember”.
-Anne Sullivan
If you wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes.  If you don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes”.
-Senegalese proverb
I have been working for the same company for over 30 years.  Most of this time I have been in leadership roles but I started out as a claims adjuster.  At the time I was just thrilled to get the job and I felt very fortunate to be hired.  Before I came here I had never worked in an office or gotten remotely close to a computer.  I use the term computer loosely.  My first ten years at Humana were before the internet was created or anyone had personal computers.  What we used were basically terminals linked directly to a mainframe system.  I knew I had been given a great opportunity when I was hired so I tried to make the best of the situation.  Two years after I began my employment I was encouraged to apply for a leadership position.  Although I don’t feel like I have failed a lot in my life, I have made mistakes and I tried to learned from them.  When I came to this place I had no idea I would become the person I am today.  In the beginning I was just happy to get a paycheck and be able to support my family.  Somewhere along the line I realized I made a difference in some people’s lives.  Everything I wanted to be before I came here, I started to become while I was here.  Personality tests related to careers always indicated I was best suited to become a minister, writer, teacher or counselor.  Most of the leadership skills I possess and the management style I have are basically me being all of these things.  My original purpose for coming here was to be employed and bring home a paycheck.  That is still important but my greater purposes are ministering to people, writing inspirational thoughts, teaching, mentoring young people as well as a few old people, and listening to people’s problems while trying to help them.  None of this occurred to me when I started my first day of training as a claims adjuster.  I am one example of a person beginning with one purpose and ending up with many other purposes I discovered on the journey.     

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Chasing Your Dreams

The eyes see only what the mind is prepared to comprehend”.
-Henri Louis Bergson
The purpose of a life is to have a life of purpose”.
-Robert Byrne
The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live”.
-Flora Whittemore
My granddaughter hates school except for her social life activities.  She is very bright but sees little purpose with most of what the school tries to teach.  As a doting grandfather I can see her talent and passions.  My wife and I, along with her father, struggle with how to get her through school without breaking her spirit.  How many times can you take her phone away or lock up the video games?  I think many of us as children had our spirits broken and we ended up as adults living lives that do not fulfill us or make us happy.  The “system” often squashes our dreams and we end up feeling, if I can quote a Pink Floyd song, like “Another Brick in the Wall”.  Many children cannot see the value of school because their minds are not prepared to comprehend what is being taught or why some things need to be learned.  I want my granddaughter to live a life of purpose where she is fueled by her passions to live her dreams.  When we are growing up we open and close doors, and often doors are slammed in our faces.  What we see in life, what we comprehend in life, what doors are opened and what doors are closed play a part in determining our life and who we become.  Of course, so do the choices we make and the chances we take.  If we are strong and determined, we can kick down the doors that are closed.  Some people seek their dreams and some people chase them.     

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How To Succeed In Life

How To Succeed In Life
1.     Get up.
2.     Show Up.
3.     Be on time.
4.     Be dependable.  
5.     Be honest.
6.     Be kind.
7.     Be compassionate.
8.     Be humble.
9.     Spend some time in solitude.
10.   Spend some time in silence.
11.   Take care of your family.
12.   Educate yourself.
13.   Don’t be a jerk.
14.   Have a work/life balance.
15.   Get enough sleep.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Contemplative Leisure

Western laziness consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there is no time at all to confront the real issues”.
-Sogyal Rinpoch
In my monastery days we had a lot of leisure time.  At the time there were approximately one hundred monks in the monastery so most of the community only worked in the morning.  Of course there were chores like cooking meals or milking and feeding the cows that required more time.  Because I was a young man with a lot more energy than I have now I often volunteered for additional work.  I especially like working at the cow barn and on the farm.  The leisure time of most monks was spent in study or contemplation.  When the weather was nice I enjoyed wandering in the woods and fields of the monastery’s 2000 acres.  Most of my life, however, I have been a married man with a wife and family.  True leisure was often very difficult to find.  There’s an obscure scripture passage that says, “God made man and rested.  God made woman and no one has rested since”.  OK, I made that up but it’s not too far from the truth.  Sometimes I will be resting in my contemplative leisure and my wife will sit down on my sofa and say, “I should be doing something”.  I usually look at her and say, “Why”?  Our culture has little appreciation for contemplative leisure.  In a culture of doing, I have always preferred being.  I have been much more successful in my being than in my doing.  Just because I prefer to "be" doesn’t mean I am lazy.  I just limit my doing to what is necessary.  I abhor busywork that has no point or purpose.  It is only in leisure that we can confront the real issues inside us.    

Friday, April 21, 2017

What We All Really Want

Remind yourself that what everyone wants is happiness and peace.  That includes you.  Everything else is just stuff that obscures this reality
I believe this quote captures the reality of what most people want when they are really honest with themselves.  I have been young and now I am getting old.  I have been poor and now I am comfortable.  I have been in great health and I have been in terrible health.  I have been stressed out and I have been calm.  I have been angry and I have been joyful.  I have raised children and now I live in a nest for two.  Whatever I have been experiencing throughout my life all I really wanted in my heart was to be happy and to live a peaceful life.  I have accumulated lots of stuff but it only gave me temporary and fleeting happiness.  No matter what I had there was always more singing its siren song to me.  In the best of times and the worst of times it has always been the simple things that gave me the most happiness and peace.  Life is hard for all of us and we will always have challenges.  Do not let them overwhelm you.  As I have preached many, many times, be present and awake to your life and pay attention to the moments.  It is in these moments that you will find the greatest happiness and peace.  It may be as simple as a really great cup of coffee as you watch the sunrise or as you follow the sun at dusk as it slips under the horizon.  I have been more blessed than many and I know that.  Every day I am grateful for what I have and also for what I don’t have.  Don’t let your happiness and peace be clouded by the stuff that obscures the reality of what you really want deep in your heart.     

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Right Mindfulness/Right Concentration

Let’s wrap this up.  Today you get two thoughts for the price of one…
The last two steps on the Nobel Eightfold Path are “Right Mindfulness” and “Right Concentration”.  In my mind these are very similar in nature.  Right Mindfulness is being present to life as we should and Right Concentration is paying attention as we should.  How is one present to life?  You are present to life when you are where you are and you are doing what you are doing.  It’s this simple and it’s this challenging.  It is often difficult to be where you are.  For example, as I was beginning these thoughts my son called and asked if I could pick up my granddaughter when I get off work.  Although I am still at work my mind has shot ahead several hours to the route I will drive and what restaurant I should take her to for dinner.  This kind of thing happens to all of us all day long.  When we are one place, something will grab our attention and take us somewhere else.  It’s virtually impossible to not do this.  However, what you can do is learn to bounce back to the present moment.  As soon as you realize you are no longer where you actually are, bring yourself back to the moment.  In a few hours when I am with my granddaughter my task will be being present to her, especially when she shares with me the drama of her school day.  When you are where you are and you are doing what you are doing, be mindful, not mindless.  Right Concentration is very similar.  I think this is more about paying attention and noticing things.  Wherever you are, pay attention and notice things.  When you are outside taking a “Zen Walk” what are you experiencing?  Do you feel the warmth of the sun or the coolness of a breeze?  Are you noticing the flowers growing or the trees budding?  What about that homeless person walking down the street?  Perhaps you notice the aroma coming from the restaurants near the office.  Sometimes when I am with my granddaughter and I am listening to her stories I try to also pick up on the subtleties and nuances of her personality or mood.  Occasionally when I am doing this I realize how much she is like her father who I have been listening to for almost 39 years.  The bottom line is to not go through your life asleep.  Be present, be awake, and be aware.  There’s more to life than meets the eye and you will miss it if you are one of the walking dead.   
All of my thoughts on the Noble Eightfold Path were very basic and my own interpretations.  If you found any of them remotely interesting and want to learn more I recommend the following book.
The Beginner’s Guide To Walking The Buddha’s Eightfold Path by Jean Smith            


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Right Effort

We’re almost at the end of the path….
The 6th step of the Noble Eightfold Path is “Right Effort”.  Are we giving our tasks the effort they deserve?  Are we giving our life the effort it deserves?  Everything in life does not need to be done intensely but some things do require more effort than other things.  Most of my marriage I have felt like nothing I do is ever quite up to my wife’s standards.  If I cleaned the kitchen it was never clean enough.  I thought I had given it the effort it deserved but she thought my effort was unacceptable.  Whatever.  I tend to base my effort on how important I think a task is.  I generally think the kitchen is clean enough most of the time.  However, if we were doing open heart surgeries in the kitchen it would require a deeper cleaning.  When I am at work I try to do everything the best I can.  However, even at work some things are more important than other things and so the amount of effort I put into daily tasks is not equally distributed.  One of the challenges of “Right Effort” is that the importance of a thing is often in the eye of the beholder.  My wife’s idea of a clean kitchen is different than mine.  My bosses idea of which tasks are most important may be different than mine.  We need to look at what we do, why we are doing it, and perhaps who we are doing it for.  “Right Effort” is a judgment call in many cases.  As we acquire wisdom we learn the value of things and as we understand what has true value we learn the amount of effort it deserves.                  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Right Livelihood

The fifth step of the Noble Eightfold Path is “Right Livelihood”.  This is a tough one.  Most of the people I know, including me, feel as though they have a job that is not necessarily a career or a calling.  I believe “Right Livelihood” is achieved when you are doing what you were born to do.  Most of us had dreams in our youth of saving the world or at least changing it.  In our adulthood many of us are just trying to get through the day.   However, all is not lost.  Even if you are not able to earn money or make a living doing what you were born to do, you can still achieve Right Livelihood.  We all do many things to make money and support ourselves.  Beyond just making money, we can still do whatever we were born to do wherever we are.  Some people think I was born to write my daily thoughts.  Who would have ever predicted I would best be known at Humana for my writing?  I started writing daily thoughts at work for whoever reported to me at the time and it grew from there.  I now have hundreds of followers at Humana, on Twitter, and with my blogs.  My thoughts are syndicated and I have heard from people all over the world.  People have been after me for years to compile a book.  Hopefully, I will finally accomplish this if I ever really retire.  These days I am too busy and too tired.  For most of us Right Livelihood is more about finding your calling than simply getting paid for something you love or do well.       

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Right Action

The fourth step of the Noble Eightfold Path is “Right Action”.  There is a popular saying that when a butterfly unfurls its wings in China, it eventually causes a windstorm in New England.  One of the laws of physics tells us that for every action there is a reaction.  These thoughts encourage us to ponder the impact of our actions and the effects, good or bad, they generate.  I have often told people in the work place that the reason we have so many rules and guidelines is that there have been so many actions that created unrest or difficulty that we’ve had to establish rules and guidelines to keep some sense of order.  If one person calls in sick, it is generally not a problem.  If ten people call in sick it can be a huge problem.  Many of us believe that our individual actions make little difference.  This might be true.  However, the combined actions of many people can make quite a difference.  If you don’t believe this ask any wildlife expert if individuals releasing pet boa constrictors into the Everglades has made a difference.  One snake may have quietly lived its life and died an unnoticed death.  The reality, however, is that the Everglades National Park is currently overrun with giant pythons that are killing and eating all the indigenous animal life including the alligators.  The thoughtless release of pet snakes, not indigenous to the Everglades, over time has wreaked havoc on the entire area.  What impact do your personal choices have on the landscape of your life?  Do your actions create goodness and harmony or do they create chaos, unhappiness, and problems?  Are an even deeper level, are your actions based on a deeply formed moral consciousness?  Do you do what you do because you have to do so or because it is the right thing to do?  Do you stop at a red light to avoid a ticket or because it protects your fellow man from harm?  Right Action is doing the right thing for the right reasons.  Right Action builds life.  It doesn’t tear it down.        

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Right Speech

The third step on the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment is Right Speech.  Think about everything you speak and hear spoken in the course of an average day.  How much of it is truly edifying or necessary?  I once heard a maxim that we should never speak unless our words are an improvement on silence.   In the course of a typical day I will probably complain, gossip, vent, and speak inappropriately.  In my defense I will also probably speak some words of comfort, encouragement, and gratitude.  Most of you probably do the same to a greater or lesser degree.  How can we ensure that most, if not all, of our speech is Right Speech?  My best words are pre-meditated in the sense that I speak them slowly, deliberatively, and from the heart.  The words I should never speak are usually spoken quickly, with little thought, and they tend to flow from a negative emotion.  Two things that can help us speak in ways that build up those around us instead of breaking them down are breathing and pause.  When you feel a negative emotion welling up inside you, stop, breathe, and pause before opening your mouth.  If we all could  just learn…and remember…to do this it would be a better world.  Words are very powerful.  A kind word spoken with love can change the course of a person’s day.  An unkind or critical word, spoken in haste or anger, can also change the course of another person’s day, although in a much different way.  If you want to practice Right Speech, choose your words carefully, and use them sparingly.  There is too much talking in the world and much of is a waste of time.  In the monastery I have often mentioned, there are small signs in the Guest House that say, “Silence is spoken here”.  Words in and of themselves are not bad.  However, silence is usually better.  One way to judge the depth of a relationship is whether or not you can be with that person in joyful silence where Right Speech can literally be no speech.  On the other hand, the world is in great need of people who can speak in ways that are uplifting and encouraging.  If you have the gift of Right Speech, use it to make the world a better place.  There are already plenty of critics.        

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Right Aspiration

The second step of the Noble Eightfold Path to Enlightenment is Right Aspiration.  What is “aspiration”?  It is a hope or ambition of achieving something.  What is our hope for ourselves and others?  What is it that we hope to achieve for ourselves and others?  Are we doing the things we do for the right reasons?  What motivates us to do what we do?  What are the reasons we do what we do?  Are we striving to put kindness, compassion, and peace into the world or are we mean-spirited?  Is our goal to be a stumbling block to others or a helpful guide?  Are we pure of heart and full of love or are we resentful of others and envious of their successes?  I recently saw a meme that went “I am not in competition with anyone.  I want us all to make it”.  Competition and wanting to be number one might be great in sports but I am not sure it is great way to relate to other human beings.  My aspiration for myself is to be happy and content with as little stress and suffering as possible.  My hope is that everyone else has this same experience.  My desire is to help others experience this as much as possible and to hopefully never do anything that prevents it.  I guess at the end of the day my aspiration is to always have Right Aspiration.