Thursday, December 23, 2010

You're Still OK

Maybe you messed something up today.

Maybe you didn't get everything done on your list.

Maybe a friend is angry with you.

Maybe your presents aren't all wrapped (or bought!).

Maybe you haven't packed for the big trip.

Maybe you really, really, really want things to be different.

Can you see that there is a still silent part of you, the witness of these events, that is unchanged by any of them? That cannot ever be anything other that peace and joy?

Just for a moment, can you rest in that peace and joy?

Because no matter what is happening, the real you (your ever present awareness) is still OK. And always will be.

I am out through January 3. Happy Holidays!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

That Time of Year

We often miss the changes that happen to us because so much of our daily life is routine and repetitive. Just like friends have to remind us how much our children have grown, sometimes another perspective is helpful.

The holidays can serve as a wonderful lens because we often leave one intense environment (work) and enter another (extended family).

That shift is worth noticing. What stories come up for you as you enter your childhood home? What patterns reappear? Who is bugging you? Is it the same people who bugged you the last time you were there? Is it something new? Or, perhaps, is the tension a little less this time?

This works with in-laws, too. Sometimes we can look at someone else's family and not understand all the drama. Or maybe we think that our partner should be behaving differently, because we know then as an adult, and not as the child he or she was when these patterns were formed.

It's a mistake to walk into these situations with an idea that "I'm going to be calm" or "I'm not going to let my sister get to me." There is no goal.

But we can notice where we are, and be all right with that.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Magic Room

What if there were a magic room that has the following properties--

--Everything you do or say or even think about is exactly what's right for you in each moment.

--It's impossible to make a mistake, but there is constant learning.

--There's no need to worry about the future (or the past), because everything is taken care of at the appropriate time.

--Everyone and everything is there for your highest good. Even (especially!) those things and people you find difficult.

--You see everyone and everything as just another part of yourself.

Would you behave differently in that magic room? Would you find yourself spending more time in that room than outside of it?

What if I told you that you're already in that room? And that you've never been out of it?


Monday, December 20, 2010

Is There a Shortcut?

A friend of mine is very involved in the mindfulness community, and specifically, in bringing mindfulness into the legal world.

Recently, we were talking about inquiry, mindfulness, and the idea of bringing some kind of presence into the corporate world. And he asked a great question--

"Can you be mindful at work without having a regular meditation practice?"

I'm not sure there is a clear answer to this. I think he and I both agree that we have found presence at work, and we both have regular practices. We have also found that our ability to be present at work as increased over time. (I'm using mindfulness and presence interchangeably.)

So it seems that meditation is one way to deepen presence at work. But I'm not sure it is the only way.

I know one other thing. Even among those friends of mine who are on this path, very few of them have a regular mediation practice. Mediation, it seems, is like many things that are good for us. We can be convinced of the benefits and still not do them. So it might be useful to reframe the question.

Let's assume for the moment that meditation is the best way, and yet that most people will still not meditate. Then the question becomes, "Is there a way that provides some of the benefits that does not require a regular sitting practice?" I suppose that way would get bonus points if, over time, people who would not have meditated see the benefits and start.

That's the goal of this blog, and, I think, one of the goals of Peter Fenner's work.

If we can show people a space of presence and healing, and if they can see that space without having to meditate for ten years, it seems like they ought to be able to get some benefit from that. Even without meditation, it seems like we can see that space, and reside in it for a time, if we do those things that we know activate the right hemisphere of the brain. And there are a ton of benefits that come from that.

If a lot of people do this, then there's a lot of benefit, even if none of them are as present as they might be with regular meditation.

For now, that seems like more than enough. It's the beginning of a transformation. But not the end.


Friday, December 17, 2010

When Fear Kicks In

The biological intensity of our automatic reactions can be surprising, even when we know what we otherwise should be doing.

Recently, I bumped into another car in the parking lot. The space was a bit tighter than usual and I clipped the tire of a large pickup truck pulling in. I didn't think I was close--so to hear that sick "crunch" was a bit of a shock.

My heart pounding, I got out to look at the damage. My bumper had cracked. But it appeared there was, at most, a couple of tiny scratches on the other car.

I didn't know what to do. I knew that I should leave a note, but there didn't appear to be any damage. What if the person took advantage of me? What if he said that there was more to it than there was? It seemed like there were so many bad things that could happen if I left a note with my phone number. My body was telling me to get away, to run, before anyone saw what had happened. (And did I mention that the damage was only on my car?) So I started walking, quickly, to the Metro station, hoping that no one would see.

I had just about reached the escalator when I calmed down. And I realized I should still leave the note. Just in case. That I would feel guilty if I did not leave it, and I had absolutely been in the wrong. And I walked back, took the elevator down, walked to the car, and left a note with my phone, asking for a call or a text if there was any problem. As I am writing this, I don't know what is going to happen, but I feel better. Though  it was surprising to me how strong the instinct was to run, even when reason said to do something else.

This is why we practice--to begin to overcome those impulses, which may have protected us from saber-toothed tigers, but which now occasionally lead us astray.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Presence and Leadership

Leaders are often seen as change agents, who through the force of their own charisma, create and execute a unique vision.

Sometimes, at least from the outside looking in, this appears to be the case. But can it be, really? Is anyone that smart, so talented that they can do all the things necessary to create that vision?

I worked with someone who started a couple of companies that have done really well. And he is probably one of the most humble people I know. He has ideas, plenty of them. But he realizes that the only way that he can execute his ideas is with employees and customers who believe in the vision.

Instead of being a dictator, I would say he is more like a co-creator. He talks to everyone. He outlines a set of principles and asks for feedback. He doesn't try to have all the answers. He sees that his way is not the only way. And what starts as his vision becomes a collective goal that motivates everyone. Even his customers become partners. They are building the vision together.

He is not trying to control things, but to gently guide them. And with that approach, he is able to do far more than he could on his own.

I think we have all had situations where we tried to convince someone of the rightness of our views. I'm in Washington, where that partisan, zero sum behavior abounds. But when I can only win if you lose, then you're not going to want to cooperate. Instinctively, you are going to resist anything I say.

I think there is another way through simple presence. When we bring presence to leadership and persuasion, we set up a different dynamic. We stop trying to fix this moment. We're not trying to change someone. We don't have a preferred approach. We are letting things be exactly as they are.

We can have an open conversation and identify areas of agreement and areas of disagreement. We can find common principles. We can build things together. We can even begin to let go of some of our personal views and instead focus on the goals of the team we are creating.

In this kind of collaborative leadership model, leadership and presence become inseparable. And even the question of who is leading becomes difficult to answer.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thoughts Thinking Thoughts?

We've become convinced that the thinking mind must get answers to all our questions. 

But what we fail to see is that the thinking mind generates the very questions that it is trying to answer. In this sense, the thinking mind is trying to control that which it cannot. The thinking mind can't affect this moment. The thinking mind can't change or control anything, even its own thoughts.

All the thinking mind does is divide and categorize and question. We confuse this voice with our identity, if only because it is such a constant part of our experience. But it can't be what we are, because of that very fact--it is an experience, not the experiencer.

The experiencer doesn't ask any questions. And with no questions, there is no need for answers.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Noticing This

How do we notice the timeless? How do we step outside of our habitual way of looking at the world?

One way is to make new habits.

Meditation can be one new habit. Yes, it can feel intimidating, or even difficult. But if you are looking for a habit that will transform how you look at the world, there is nothing that I know more powerful.

There are other things you can do, though, in addition to or instead of meditation. The most important thing is to understand, to feel, that your habitual ways of reacting to the world are not helping you. That, in fact, they get in the way of seeing the world as it is.

One of the most famous mystics of the 20th century was Ramana Maharshi. And he simply said to find the self. Who are you? Ask this over and over. Ask until you see the awareness that you are. Not as an idea, but as an actual experience. And when you are triggered, ask who is triggered? Who is thinking? Who is reacting? Reside in that, rather than the emotions that are leading you astray.

It can be helpful to think of times when you rested in this awareness. You may have felt it when looking at the ocean or a sunset, or when taking a walk in the woods. Being in nature can be incredibly powerful. In fact, there is science to suggest that being in nature can serve as a "reset" button to the automatic and repetitive left brain processing that we all do when we are living our daily lives.

Exercise can be helpful. Especially aerobic exercise, which can flood the system with helpful endorphins. Endorphins counteract or negate the "fight or flight" adrenaline which is normally in our system when stressed.

You can set reminders to yourself to notice awareness. Perhaps an hourly chime can be a reminder to take a minute or two.

There are also some things that you can avoid, because they tend to heighten the production of those stress chemicals.

Sugar and caffeine do this. Processed foods (which tend to have all kinds of disguised sugars) are something that you likely want to avoid. I notice that I see the world very differently when I am not drinking coffee. Things just don't have the urgency that they might otherwise have. And yes, over time, we can see that this is a good thing.

In all of these ways, we can gradually lessen the fight or flight response and increase what is called the "relaxation response." This is the timeless experience of the right hemisphere, and the most direct view into awareness.

While we can have powerful insights, it is only in establishing this way of looking as a habit that we can deepen our experience. And doing this will pay profound rewards.


Monday, December 13, 2010

The Science of Presence

There are lots of different versions of the following story--

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two 'wolves' inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

I think there is a different version of this story that is just as true, maybe more so. For most of our lives, we are aware of a part of us that needs to be doing things. That needs to achieve, that needs to understand, that needs to know. And this part is never satisfied, because it is always seeing and creating more things to have and do and know.

This is the list maker. The perfectionist. The judge.

There is another part of us that most of us are less aware of. This part of us operates outside of time. This part of us sees that things are already perfect right now, that there is no other way that they could be. It is the part knows there is nothing we need to do or know. It is blissfully happy, right now and always.

Interestingly, there is a lot of science that suggests that these parts of us actually exist, and that, roughly speaking, the "achiever" part of us is tied to the left hemisphere of the brain, and the "blissfully happy" part of us (which we are much less aware of) is tied to the right hemisphere.

So which wolf do we want to feed? The one that can never be satisfied, or the one that is already happy?

Most of us want happiness, and yet we keep thinking that doing more and having more will get us there. But the left side of the brain will never be satisfied, because it can't be. Its job is to find division and create need and separation. Yes it creates solutions, but only because it creates the problems in the first place. We are very good at feeding the left side--for most of us it is all we know.

But what would happen if we fed the right side?

We're already happy just by our very presence. But what would happen if we recognized that?


Friday, December 10, 2010

Thought Control

Most people think that they are in control of their lives. That they are in charge of their destiny.

It may seem this way most of the time. But let me ask you a question—

Can you control your thoughts?

If you said yes, congratulations. But I don’t believe you.

The truth is that we don’t know where our thoughts come from. Somehow, they pop into our heads. There might be patterns to them, and we might be able to predict when some thoughts will happen. But we are never 100 percent accurate. Sometimes our thoughts can be very surprising, or even disturbing.

Noticing trends is about the best we get. Like looking at the weather or the stock market.

It seems to me that “I decide to go to work” or “I decide to eat soup” is also a thought. And if decisions are thoughts, it seems like we can’t control them, either. 

And if we can’t control our decisions, then it must be that we can’t control our actions, either.

So are we in control, or not?

This is a radical and threatening concept for just about everyone. If we are not in control, who is? If we are not the ones driving the car, who are we? And who's driving?


Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Nature of Work

I'm beginning to think that the very nature of work is changing. With folks like Marshall Goldsmith, Dan Pink, Seth Godin, and Srikumar Rao addressing this issue in somewhat different ways, it seems that we might be at the beginning of a movement.

We used to define what people do based on what box they occupied on the organizational chart.

We used to even define who people could talk to based on what box they occupied.

No more. Today's organizations are flatter and less bureaucratic, because they have to be. A consultant with an Internet connection can outperform most employees, and, truth be told, most consulting firms. And she can be quicker and cheaper while doing it, while having a lot of fun.

People of all ranks are looking for more than a paycheck at work. They are looking for fulfillment and expression, not stress and corporate hierarchy. They are focusing on the process of work more than the result. They are working, more and more, because they enjoy it.

The firm of the future may be like your body is today, a loose confederation of sorts. Your cells are constantly changing and a year from now, not much of you will actually be the same material as it is today. And you (whatever that means) are not even aware of this change because it is so seamless. You get everything you need and you get everything done that you need to do, even while the stuff of you completely turns over several times in the process. And firms are beginning to find that they can get things done with lots of different people who come, do their thing, and leave.

There are some big companies that are starting to get used to this idea. But the industries that are driven by process and procurement, and doing things because that is the way they have always been done, are destined to die. Faster and more creative firms will thrive because they actually focus on work and innovation. They get things done. They push the boundaries rather than refine their processes. If you are not a consultant yet, just wait. Because as the bigger firms die off, what's going to happen to the folks that work at those firms? What's going to happen to you and me?

As Dan Pink points out in A Whole New Mind, you better start using the right hemisphere of your brain, because if you don't, what you do can be outsourced or programmed or both. And that means you are replaceable.

I've written a lot about why I think the opposite is true. That each of us brings something unique to the world that doesn't fit into a box and shouldn't be made to. The question is whether we have the courage to declare that.

What will the future bring? I don't know. No one does. And that's a beautiful thing.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Training Wheels

Before you learned how to ride a bike, you probably used training wheels. Training wheels helped you get the feel for riding a bike. You could learn to pedal, to stop, and to turn the wheel. And you could do so without fear of falling (or at least without as much fear).

Meditation retreats are like training wheels.

Think of what you do when you go to a meditation retreat. You go away, to a quiet room, away from distractions. The people are generally nice and kind (not like the ones back at work!). There is no computer or phone nearby. And in that quiet undistracted space you sit and breathe, for a day, or a week, or a year.

Like riding a bicycle, the most important practice in contemplative life might just be balance. And, just like training wheels, meditation retreats offer training in just about everything except balance.

The question that I always hear at retreats is "how do I take this home?" And the simple answer is you can't, because a retreat is, by design, a safe space. You are protected from the very things that are problems at home. (And even at a retreat, mediation is difficult!)

But just like training wheels, retreats have incredible value. While you might struggle a bit when you get home, the line between when you are meditating and when you are not will become more and more difficult to find.

Training wheels are usually cast aside. We don't generally do that with retreats. But we might just find we need them a lot less.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Circle of Life

Have you ever seen a circle?

Most of us would say that we have, but we actually haven't. A circle is defined as "a plane curve everywhere equidistant from a given fixed point." In its purest sense, a circle cannot be drawn--it is a one dimensional curve in a two dimensional space. It can't exist in physical space at all. It's an idea, a concept.

You may see pictures that represent circles, but the only circle that I know of is the idea of one that I have in my head (and that I assume is also in yours).

This is true for many more things than circles. Honesty, for example, or truth. These are things that do not exist except as mental concepts, and, except for very simple things like circles, our mental concepts are often unstable and very seldom in complete agreement with each other.

Here's another thing that only exists as a concept--the self.

Though we all have a strong sense of self, and our minds insist that we must have an identity, no one has ever been able to find a self. You can test this. See how what you think about yourself changes from day to day and moment to moment. Your very memories can changes--notice how often we disagree about what happened. All we seem to be is a changing physical location that experiences a stream of thoughts that is constantly changing, too.

We spend so much time trying to pump up and protect this sense of self, because it seems to be so fundamental to what we are. And yet this is what we are trying to protect? An uncontrollable thought stream?

It's only in those rare moments when we are without thought that we see the very real possibility of living without boundaries. We see that the only boundaries that exist are the ones that our thoughts create. And when we begin to see through those boundaries, we see freedom itself. We stop fighting about concepts, and we gradually see that our lives are almost nothing but concepts.

And life becomes easier (it begins to life itself) because there is less and less in the way.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Less, not More

It's been quite a few years since I had the realization that started me on the path of inquiry and meditation.

I remember it pretty clearly. I was at a new job, having moved from a law firm for better opportunities, and I was very much in the mindset of wanting more.

More skills, more money, more authority, more prestige, more power. I was convinced that more would make me happy.

It was making me frantic, until something hit me that was utterly obvious--

There was no end to what I wanted. There was no way that I could ever be happy if I was depending on things, or achievements, or education, because there would always be something else to have or do or get.

I decided at that point that I would pursue the ultimate project, what the books that I had started to read talked about. Enlightenment. Once I had that, then all the other things wouldn't matter, right? And I could finally prove my worth to myself and others. Enlightenment seemed like the most rare and special of all accomplishments. The ultimate trophy.

I suppose that my story is not that different than many others, who are led to a path of inquiry to escape the pain and disappointment of everyday life. And the joke is that there might be more pain, more upheaval, more uncertainty on this path than on most others.

But if the other path is about having more, it seems like this one is about less. We find that those things that we thought we needed we did not. We find that some of our stories are not serving us well, and they fall away. We find we are happier with less and less. With things simply as they are. And that process keeps repeating and reinforcing, a bit at a time.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Sip by Sip

Pema Chodron talks about contemplative practice as working sip by sip. What she means, I think, is that we can't and don't do everything at once. Instead, we notice things about ourselves a little at a time.

We notice something, work with it, knead it like dough, turn it over in our minds. And after a time, something that bothered us, that triggered us, becomes a friend, just one more part of this thing we call self. And in becoming a friend, it becomes less of a trigger.

Like a friend, it is not without fault, but we accept it and love it just the same.

And then something else arises. We notice ourselves getting caught in a different way.

And so on.

Our practice can be seen as taking an entire lifetime or more of noticing and working. Sip by sip.

And yet from another perspective, we only have right now. And there can't possibly be a path or a practice.

There is only what this moment presents to us. And the next.

Sip by sip.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Practice, Presence and Leadership

There are many different types of leaders, and many different ways to lead.

In the past, the question of who the leader was could be answered by the org chart. If you were in the box at the top (or you at least had a bunch of boxes underneath you), you were a leader. No more. As organizations change, the notion of what is and is not a leader changes, too.

Today, leaders may have any or all of the following characteristics, wherever their box is on the chart--

They develop and share knowledge.
They influence direction and strategy.
They manage people or client relationships.
They bring in revenue.
They help others develop in their careers.

I'm sure that you can think of many others. And while some of these skills are no different than the skills that were needed years ago, what has changed is the environment. In short, things are more ambiguous than ever and changing faster and faster.

The skills that we learned in school are obsolete; I was taught programming in FORTRAN in college; off the shelf software barely existed. (Nor did email, the Internet, smart phones ...) Whole industries have been created and destroyed in just the last ten years. Content changes to fast to keep up. So what can we do, as leaders, to keep ourselves relevant?

We can't do anything. But we can be.

It is our being, our very presence, that allows us to be leaders. Think of the people whom you follow in your own life. It is not the person who knows the most, or who works the hardest. Instead, it is someone whose very presence inspires you.

I believe this presence can be learned.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that if you stand this way or dress that way you will have presence. Presence comes from the inside. But it comes from the practices that we have been talking about in this blog. When we practice meditation, when we investigate our own awareness, we begin to see the fiction of a solid self. We realize that we are all connected, and that our egos only get in the way. When our personal agendas begin to drop, we connect with others in ways that we did not think were possible. We have ideas, as individuals and groups, that we would not have had. We create solutions that embrace our differences, and we find those differences are not nearly so great as we once thought they were.

We can do that no matter what our job title, our role, or our box on the chart. We can do that no matter what we know or what we have done.

Through our practice, our very presence can open a space of conversation, connection, and trust.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Skills and Mastery

We craft our lives each day as we choose how to spend our time. I've mentioned that it is easy to fall into routines, where we are not very conscious of what we are doing. Where things come almost automatically. Sometimes, this can be a bad thing. But it can also have its benefits.

When something is automatic, it is generally because we are very, very good at it. We can literally do it without thinking because we have done it so many times. Not many of us spend much time considering how we brush our teeth, for example. Or how we drive the car, or walk down the street. These skills are automatic and we are well served by them. And for most of us, a basic level of competence in these skills is just fine. I'm not aware of any tooth brushing championships, and if there are any, I'm not planning on entering.

But there are other areas where it is very important to consciously practice something. Where the skill is so nuanced that it rewards continued, focused effort. Writing is one of these things. The performing arts. Sports. It is not that difficult to get to a level of basic competence, but continued improvement seems to require a kind of intentional practice that is difficult, yet rewarding in and of itself. And that focused practiced must happen day after day after day.

The practice of presence, of simply being in the moment, is also one of these skills.

The returns from years of practice become more and more nuanced. And yet just as there are differences between actors who have worked their entire lives and those who are just starting, we can see differences between those who are here and those who are not. Even if we can't describe what we are seeing, we know the master from the novice. And we can see the results of what will be a lifetime of effort.

Every skill has a learning curve. Our choices of which skills to master will govern the quality of our lives, even though that may not be apparent for many years.

The satisfaction comes from the process itself; with mastery, there is no destination. And it is never to late to start.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Automatic Pilot

Life is the sum total of our habits.

In this way, practice can become the habit of stepping outside our habits.

For many of us, our days are filled with routines--the breakfast routine, the commuting routine, the end of day routine. During these times, we may not be paying attention to what we are doing. Think of the times when you have been driving somewhere you have been many times. Often, you can find yourself there with no conscious memory of the trip.

Instead, our minds wander. We construct scenarios in our heads. We may have discussions and even arguments that are completely fabricated. And we miss life itself.

The paradox is that we seem to need a routine to take us out of our routine. To bring us here, to this moment.

Maybe it is the hourly chime of a clock. Maybe it is the ring of a phone. Maybe it is the breath we take before we hit "send" on that email.

Each time we notice what is happening, even if it is only to notice that we are lost in our own stories, is a small victory.


Monday, November 29, 2010

The Road Less Taken

There is a reason they call it the easy path and the hard path.

The easy path is the one of least resistance. It is the one that does not challenge you. It is the one where nothing changes.

Most of our lives are lived on the easy path. The easy path is our daily routine, both conscious and unconscious. And it can be our ways of avoiding problems, whether we see we are doing it or not.

The hard path, now that is where the work is. The hard path is where we learn about ourselves, about all of the ways that we try to escape this moment. The hard path is a long look in the mirror instead of looking away. The hard path must result in change, because the hard path is the very essence of change.

We don't have to spend our entire lives grinding away on the hard path. But we do have to spend some time there. Just like vines in rocky soil make the best wines, so we are at our best when we are mastering our challenges instead of running away from them.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I am out of the office tomorrow traveling, so today let me pass along my best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving.

I'd like to talk about what I am thankful for. Some of those things may not surprise you--my wife, my daughter, my two sons. My wife is an amazingly supportive partner and friend. And it is a privilege to watch our children grow and change, with all the blessings and challenges that brings. I'm thankful for our home and health. And for our extended family--parents, siblings, cousins, and friends.

But I am thankful for all the difficult times, too. Because I have come to realize that, like it or not, it is the hard times that make us grow the most. It is the hard times, the courageous decisions that we have to make, the difficult relationships that we have, that really stretch us and show us what we can be. And I am truly grateful for that.

Until next Monday, Happy Thanksgiving. Love to all. And thanks for whatever this wonderful thing called life brings our way.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Left and Right

I've talked before about the different roles of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. (For a primer, see this beautiful presentation by Jill Bolte Taylor.)

But the question can be what to do with this. When one is in the timeless state of pure awareness (the world as seen through the right hemisphere), it can be difficult to even find a sense of self. So the notion of going through your to do list or being more productive may not make a lot of sense.

As we get more familiar with this pure awareness, though, we seem to be drawn to it more and more. And if we train ourselves, if we keep pointing ourselves to this state, it begins to blend more with the logical, list-following left hemisphere. It becomes something we can bring to work.

When this happens, our work lives can change profoundly.

We can be focused, and yet we can set aside our agendas.

The boundaries between ourselves and others begin to dissipate.

There is less to defend, and less need to get credit.

We begin to look at the world as a collective effort, rather than a win-lose negotiation. And whether we are in law, or sales, or dispute resolution, we find that our work gets easier, and we are more effective in it. I call this state, where we can work with both the left and right hemispheres equally, pure presence. And in pure presence, we begin to work with our deepest wisdom, regardless of our narrow personal interests.

Because we see that narrow person is just a construct. Just a thought, like any other.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Work and Practice

We often think of a contemplative practice and a work life as two separate things. But I have not been able to find a separation.

If I am meditating, thoughts often arise that are related to work. And when I am at work, more and more, I find that I can enter into, and reside in, a calm open space rather than automatic, fear-based reactions.

At work, as in the rest of our lives, we can be taken over by scripts, reactions that happen without our conscious knowledge and put us on autopilot. Often these scripts are related to things that happened to us in childhood. Because work so often involves relationships with authority figures, it can trigger scripts that we have about our parents or siblings without our being aware of it. We can react around issues of respect, or control, or getting our way. And sometimes, as we raise our automatic defenses, we can hurt people before we even realize it.

Work presents some rich opportunities for becoming more conscious of these automatic responses. Much of our practice comes down to noticing what is happening in any given moment. Whether that is clarity or confusion or resistance, we can just notice, without feeling the need to change anything.

And yet that noticing can change everything.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Trigger Happy

One of the things that continues to get in the way on our path is triggers.

What do I mean by a trigger? Simply, something or someone that sends you down an unconscious path.

Often, we have triggers from when we were growing up. And, without realizing it, someone might say something, or look at us in a particular way, that reminds us of a parent or a sibling. And suddenly, we are back twenty years, or more, reacting exactly the way we used to react. Without thinking about it. Without stopping to question what we are doing.

We end up following a script that was written years ago. And we have done it so many times, that we can do it perfectly. The grooves in our brain are deep and efficient.

Sometimes, we don't even realize it happened.

As we try to become more conscious of how we are in the world, becoming aware of our triggers is an important step. As we bring more and more awareness to our interactions, we can begin to spot them, and notice if they are useful. Sometimes, they are--maybe there is a particular phrase that someone can say that reminds us of how our father used to inspire us to do our best.

Often, though, they are not. And bringing them into the light--seeing them, exactly as they are--is the best way to begin to see them fade.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Goldilocks Syndrome

I can be pretty picky.

When life presents opportunities, it can be easy to say, "well, that's nice, but it needs to be a little more like this, or a little less like that." I do that with everything from shopping to career choices.

In doing this, I only create struggle. I only create resistance to what is.

Perfect is an interesting concept, but it is only a concept. It's just a bunch of thoughts and preferences that we have, and like everything else, they are changing all the time. The life situations that we come across seldom fit with every one of our ideas. (And let's face it, they often are almost completely contrary to our preferences.) But it can be useful to watch ourselves try to fine tune our experience because it is not exactly how we would like it.

The amazing thing is that if we can stop doing this, or even start doing it a little less, we can begin to see that life is already "just right." Just as it is. Even if we want it to be different.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Need to Know

Much of our suffering is caused by our need to know things. Or maybe more specifically, by the the fact that we think we should be able to know more than we do.

We spend a lot of time wanting to know the future. When I am planning a presentation, I would like to know how a prospect is going to answer a question or react to a statement. When I pick a stock, I would like to know if it is going to do well or not.

I'd like to know that my kids are going to be happy, that my wife and I are going to be fulfilled, and that I can meet my professional goals.

I'd like to know that when I am speaking in a difficult situation, that my words are going to be understood in the way that I intend.

But I don't know any of those things. The truth is, I don't even know what I'm having for dinner tonight.

That uncertainty can be terrifying.

But would it be even more terrifying to know?

What if I knew that I was going to die a horrible death, or that my children were going to suffer? Would I behave differently than I do now? In all likelihood, I would do some things that that I otherwise would not do. Even if what I knew was good I would look at the world differently.

When we know something, or even when think we know something, we close off possibilities. We see the world in a way that is limiting. We see our jobs and our mortgages and our daily routines, and little else.

When we don't know, our options are limitless. Every moment is new and fresh. We can see the world for the miracle that it is.

And it might begin to feel a little less terrifying.


Monday, November 15, 2010

A Helping Hand

Great post from Jonathan Fields.

When we focus on helping others, we activate a lot of different behaviors, all good.

Giving to others, without expectation of anything in return, simply feels good. It connects us to the right side of the brain, which is linked to compassion and creativity, among other things.

We find that we do things, simply because we enjoy doing them. We enjoy the connection and everything it brings. And it starts a virtuous cycle. When we give, it tends to come back to us, and then go out again, ever stronger.

But strangely enough, the rewarding part seems to be the giving, and not the receiving. So much of the time, we miss that.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Phases of Consciousness

In the spiritual world, particularly in the wisdom traditions of the east, there are a lot of road maps to developmental evolution. Most of them are pretty difficult to understand.

I tend to talk about this work in a few distinct phases. Of course, any model is a generalization, a conceptualization that we have to be very careful using.

The first phase is when our life is on auto pilot. We see things and react to them. We are in many ways operating based on scripts and triggers that we are not even aware of. Some of this programming comes from our parents and childhood. Some of it comes from society and our environment. There are a lot of fundamental assumptions here that we never question. Things like "there are countries that are good and countries that are bad," or "there is a correct religion," or "I need people to like me," or "if I get enough of the right stuff (including knowledge), I will be happy." These are the stories that we believe about the world. We are unconscious of many of them.

The second phase is when we begin to see some of these stories and question them. We bring them into our consciousness. We see our reactions and realize that it was our story that caused the reaction, not the person who triggered the story. We might begin to see, for example, that we need people to like us, and see that need as motivating us to do a lot of things that we might not otherwise do, and often don't actually want to do.

Some people go through a third phase, where they see that they can change their stories. They may use things like affirmations or neurolinguistic programming to change the way that they behave. Sometimes, these methods can have dramatic results. And they have both the advantage and disadvantage of involving conscious choices about what we are going to value in life. This might also be the phase where we set very detailed goals for ourselves. Sometimes those goals can be incredibly helpful, and sometimes they can cause us frustration.

The fourth phase is when we not only see our stories, but we see through them. The stories are there, and they pop up from time to time, but we are able to catch ourselves. We are able to see, more and more, when we are in the grip of a story or a reaction or a trigger. We're not perfect--this is not about perfection--but we are slowly working through things that might have caught us in the past.

The other part of this fourth phase is that we become less afraid of not having a story. We are more willing to step into the void of simply not knowing what it is that we are supposed to do, and recognizing that the idea that there is something that we are supposed to do is just another thought. We are learning to be able to rest in not knowing, and we begin to see the wisdom that arises in this space.

In the fifth phase, we no longer think about stories. We just are. And we just do. There is no way to know what we are going to do until we do it. Life is one spontaneous surprise after another.

The funny thing is that we are already in the fifth phase. We may think that we know what we are going to do, but how often have you thought one thing and done another? The only thing that seems to be missing is our trust in this not knowing. And the joy that can arise in that spontaneity.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Fundamental Insight

One of my favorite coaches, Michael Neill, writes of an insight that he thinks is so fundamental that people cannot make significant progress until they see it.

That insight is that our world is literally made of up thoughts. We do not think about our world. Instead, we think our world into existence.

Almost everything that we think of is an interpretation of something, or a labeling of something, or a conceptualization of something or an evaluation of something. And those somethings that we create and interpret include events, people, and every our very sense of self.

We take our pure experiences, which are beyond language, and use language to categorize them and file them away. And then, we use them as evidence that the world is the way we think it is.

Until we see the way that we do this, we have no hope of making fundamental change. But when we do see it, it is almost impossible not to change.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Travel Plans

This week, like many, I am on the road part of the time. Sometimes we can use travel as an excuse to do things differently.

I know, for example, that I use travel as an excuse to eat more and drink more than I might otherwise.  Having a young child at home, travel is a wonderful opportunity to get more sleep usual, but it often doesn't work that way. And I might not get in as much meditation time on the road as I would at home. I might not get in any exercise, either.

For me, travel is generally done as part of a group, which means that, more than usual, there is peer pressure. And it can be hard not to go out for one more drink or to get that extra rich dessert.

There is nothing good or bad in any of this, and the changes are not always negative. I tend to get in a lot more reading on the road than at home, for example. But it can be useful to notice these tendencies. When you have habits and your routines change, your habits can change, too.

Maybe we don't need that dessert. But it might be nice to enjoy one every now and then, too.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Challenge of Language

One of the challenges of this work is that there is a vocabulary that has grown up around it in the spiritual world that is often based on Sanskrit, Japanese, or Tibetan words that do not translate easily into English.

My premise is that while these terms grew up in spiritual traditions, they are pointing at something that is not inherently spiritual. In fact, it is free of any content at all. It is before notions of content and lack of content, just like it is free of notions of suffering or lack of suffering.

To communicate "this" is a challenge. Even to point at it, at this that is aware of the world, can be difficult.

But the value of resting here is clear.

Here, there are no boundaries. We see ourselves and others without the lens of our personal identities and our agendas. We can simply be. And there is peace and healing here.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Finding Your Limits

We get so caught up in our own rules that we don't even notice them.

If you want to conduct an interesting experiment, walk into a Starbucks and order a Big Mac. If you want to push it, ask for a manager when they refuse. Do it at 8 in the morning, in front of a long line of people. Let yourself get really angry. Push it. Get rude. Indignant, even. Stomp out muttering how you will never go to a Starbucks again. What horrible customer service!

If you are like most people, you began to picture yourself in that situation, and you got a bit uncomfortable. That discomfort can be an interesting pointer to some of the rules that we all have.

Maybe you thought that you would be uncomfortable with the people in line watching, or potentially having to wait for you.

Maybe you got uncomfortable with how the employees might react to you.

Notice how your brain immediately came up with a scenario for you. Even though you are probably here, still reading, and have not done the experiment.  Notice how you think it is not necessary to do the experiment anymore. Because you think you know what will happen. But do you?

How often do you do things or not do things because you think you know what will happen? And how often are you correct?

Our brains make up so much of our lives without us even realizing it. We decide if things are good or bad before they even happen. Not only does this impact how we life our lives, it affects if we live our lives.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Free Book Inside

I'm not kidding.

Leo Babauta, author of the Zen Habits blog that I refer to from time to time, has just released a new book.

It's about Focus in our age of distraction. No need to say more here. Happy Reading!


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Elections and Uncertainty

Every election, we engage in some magical thinking.

When we pull the lever or punch the card or tap the screen for our candidate, we believe at least three things, none of which is true.

First, we think that we know and understand all of the issues, and that our opinion is correct on those issues.

Second, we think that we know and understand each candidate's position, and that they fit well, at least on the important issues, with our own views.

Third, we think that the candidate will actually be able to act on those positions and get things accomplished if elected.

I suppose there is a fourth, but we rarely seem to get there these days. The fourth is that the legislation enacted will work as intended.

All of these are demonstrably false. The issues we are dealing with are far too complicated in a world of sound bite, character-based campaigning and governing. It's way to easy to spend your time in office talking about the bad things the other guy did. And doing nothing else.

The last several elections have each been a referendum against the party in power. While our problems only grow. If we want to get things done, we are focused on the wrong things. We spend way too much time talking about what we want to do separately, when we should be talking about what we can do, together.

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to pull in campaign contributions. But now that we are back to split government, it appears to be the only way forward.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Shop Till You Drop

I had a breakthrough at the mall.

As I was pushing my son's stroller, it hit me why we were all there. Sure, some of us were killing time or running errands, but the mall has almost become church for many of us.

I'm not familiar with your church, but mine spent a lot of time telling me that I was bad, and that it had everything that was need to fix me.

It seems like today's mall performs a similar function. By showing us images of people who are younger, wealthier, and more beautiful than we are, we learn that there is something wrong with us. But by carefully paying attention to what these people wear and have we can be just like them. Problem solved, with only an outfit, or a piece of jewelry, or an electronic toy. At least till the next visit.

But it only works when we assume there is something wrong. And if we look at this moment, right now, we can see that there is nothing wrong with it. There can't be. Like you, like me, this very moment is perfect as it is. Because it can't be anything else.

If this moment includes shopping, then the shopping is perfect, too. But if you want to shop, shop. Don't think you have to fix anything, because there is nothing that needs to be fixed.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fear and Elections

This last weekend you may have seen coverage of the rally on the National Mall with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

The "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" was part in jest, to be sure, but it made a very valid point--people think differently when they are afraid, or angry, than when they are not. So much of this blog has been about the "lizard brain" and how it gets in our way. But it seems fight or flight is carrying a bigger load these days.

So much of our media cycle is driven by fear. Fear, of anything from infected remotes to global warming to impending socialism, is what passes for news today. It pulls in viewers--"what's in your water that might kill you?" has a way of making you curious, no?

Rational discussion seems to have departed the airwaves. Why bore people when you can stoke their fears?If you can convince people that the opposing candidate is like Hitler, they are pretty motivated to go to the voting booth. With the elections today, let's hope than reason, and reasoned differences, prevail over screaming and name-calling.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Getting Comfortable

When we do this work of natural presence, of effortless authenticity, more and more, we find ourselves right here. With nothing to do.

My friend Elias Amidon recently wrote of some of the confusion around this idea that there is nothing to do.

"Nothing to do" doesn't mean that we don't do anything. It doesn't mean that we kick back in our recliners and turn on the TV (and it doesn't mean that we don't do that, either).

Instead, it means that our actions come from a different part of ourselves. Though words do not seem adequate, the words that come to me are "spontaneous love."

We operate from a position of utter honesty and vulnerability. We do what we are compelled to do, we ask for what we need. We have no pretenses.

We laugh and we cry, without hesitation.

It is a mystery where our actions come from, and why we do things, but we do them nevertheless, with complete trust.

Sometimes, we are completely uncomfortable, but we are better at accepting that discomfort.

This is only different from our usual way of being in one way.

We stop questioning ourselves. After all, when we really look for where our actions come from now, we can't find it, either. We only pretend we can.

When admit that we are not in the driver's seat, we can enjoy the ride so much more.


Friday, October 29, 2010

The Art of Giving

We all have a tendency to think about what we are going to get from life, rather than what we are going to give to life.

I'm not sure why that is. I could speculate--that it is based on fear and protection of a self, that our consumption-based society teaches these values, or that the amygdala (part of our lizard brain), which is tuned to social norms, is wired to "keep up with the Joneses."

But it seems to me that this tendency is not likely to lead to success.

In almost every situation that I am familiar with, people who have had tremendous success have not done it for money. They have instead done something that they felt compelled to do, with passion, and that passion has had the byproduct of financial success. Have you every asked anyone who has done really well if they would do it even without the money? Most of the people that I have talked to have said "yes."

We might ask why billionaires keep working. They do it because it is the work that is their passion. The money is only secondary.

So find your gift to the world. And give it with all your being. Do that and you will be fulfilled. Whether you have money or not.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Diving In

When things get tough, it is our nature to want to escape them. We want to run away.

Over time, that tendency can lead us be less flexible, less open. Our views become more rigid. Our relationships become more limited. We tend to develop "requirements" of people and situations, in the guise of "having standards." But these are really defense mechanisms. They begin to shut us down to life.

Instead, we could plunge right into the cold waters of discomfort. When we do this, our ability to tolerate discomfort expands. If we are anxious, that's OK. It happens. If we are tired, that's OK. It happens. If we feel like we were judged or misunderstood, that's OK. It happens.

We begin to learn that most of the time, life is just happening, and it really doesn't have an opinion of how we should react. That part is up to us.

And as we learn that we can control our reactions, our ability to tolerate, and even embrace, all aspects of life and death increases.

The good news is that we don't have to dive into the deep end of the pool.

We can take one step, and hold. And then take another step.

The important thing is that we begin to embrace our discomfort, rather than run away from it.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Language and Love

We have a tendency to want to put things into words, and, most of the time, words are the only way that we feel we have to communicate things.

But all of us have had times when, through a feeling or an energy, we were bound to another human being. Perhaps this was in a romantic context, but it certainly doesn't have to be.

When we drop our defenses and stories and agendas, we can be fully available to another person. We can be present. We can be in the moment, prepared for anything, or nothing.

Simply to be right here is perhaps the most powerful thing that we can experience. It is pure love of this moment, and all it contains. It is beyond any language we could use to describe it.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Noticing Fear

Most of the time, I consider myself to be a good person. I think of myself as caring and generous.

And then I walk past a homeless person. (Which I do often, because my office is in the Penn Quarter of DC.)

I've gone through the rationalizations for not giving, but in my more reasonable moments, I just don't buy them. What's a buck? And it's really not in my power to determine how a person should spend it, or if that person is spending it wisely. It seems like it should be more about sharing a generous spirit, and connecting with someone in need, even if we cannot possibly meet that need.

But when it comes right down to it, when I get approached by a homeless person, most of the time I get scared. I don't give. I feel bad about it. And I wonder what do to about it.

I'm not sure there is lesson in that or a confession or anything else. That is where I seem to be right now, wanting to help someone but being afraid to do so. And wondering what has to change for me to get past my fear.


Monday, October 25, 2010

The Struggle

I was watching my stepson do his homework the other day. Like many children, he was using a lot more energy to avoid doing the work than it would have taken to actually get it done.

Those of us who have kids see this a lot. And we try to reason with them, we try to show them the error of their ways. "You could have been done by now if you hadn't spent all this time fighting with me!" And we get frustrated that they never seem to understand.

But it hit me that we don't get it, either. Life has an easy path and a difficult one. The easy one is to follow the current and see where it takes us. The difficult one (and it is HARD) is to resist. When we fight where life is taking us, we end up tired and frustrated, and, as anyone who has fought a current knows, we end up at the same place, just a lot later and a lot more beat up.

Do what is easy. Do what comes to you. Follow the current where it takes you.

This is not to say "follow the crowd." Most of the people in the crowd are pretty unhappy, and are fighting or self-medicating every step of the way. But we all know the person who followed his own drummer, who sang her own song, and who is now happier than anyone they know and wondering what all the fuss is about.

Do what you must, and everything else will follow. The struggle is optional.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Knowing What's Next

We spend a lot of time thinking we should know what's next.

My experience is that we do not know, and that we rarely will. We may be hoping that a mission statement will drop down from the sky, or that there will be a burning bush that talks to us. Most of us would settle for a booming (or even not-so-booming) voice in our heads!

Have you ever flipped a coin to make a decision, or asked for a sign? Then you know what I am talking about.

Stop waiting, and do what you want to do. Do what you feel passionate about, without fear of mistakes (or more realistically, despite that fear). It's a lot easier to course correct than it is to start. So start, and the rest will follow.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Forgiving Ourselves

I have been a jerk. And I will probably be a jerk again.

When we screw up, we so badly want to blame someone else. Maybe our boss was unreasonable, or the ex was late (again!). Maybe a friend let us down.

What we often fail to see is that our expectations were unreasonable.

Why do I say that? Because what we expected (or hoped for) did not happen. Whether those expectations were of ourselves, of another person, or (remarkably) of the weather or traffic.

Every time there is a gap between what we want and what we get, there is an opportunity for practice. Suffering arises in that gap. Rich, sticky, gooey suffering. And when we are able to rest in that suffering, to really get to know it, we take a big step toward letting it go.

Along with those expectations.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

More Than Enough

We live in a world of lack, that is almost entirely our own creation.

We don't have enough time, enough money, enough connection, enough pleasure, enough fulfilment, enough meaning.

There's never enough. We constantly want more. We spend our lives trying to get more and then being frustrated that we can't "have it all."

We live this way because we are told to. And we have to stop.

We already have everything we need. What is richer than this moment? What is better than being alive? Than seeing that we are inseparable from all life?

We may not be able to see this all at once. Maybe we can start slowly. Find one thing or person that you are grateful for and give thanks. And then find another. When we begin to practice gratitude, we see abundance rather than lack. We see life bringing us everything we need. That even our problems are opportunities. And we begin to witness the flow of infinite energy through our lives.

In just one moment, we can glimpse this immeasurable gift.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Three Simple Things

Our practice is simple. Time and time again, we simply come to this space. Life as it is happening right now. Without filters or preferences or judgments. Just awareness resting as awareness.

Over time, we rest in this space more regularly and more comfortably. And it begins to permeate our life.

When we do this, three things happen.

Without agendas, we have the focus to accomplish more things, and more important things.

Without defenses, we connect with others in unfiltered intimacy.

Without preconceptions, we see through our notions of how the world works, or how the world should work. We intuit our path. We act without thought or worry. 

We simply are in the world, doing what we are here to do. With all of our being.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Storm

We all go through upheaval in our lives that is unexpected, intense and emotional.

Recently I got into a very heated exchange that left me angry and puzzled. I felt attacked. I wondered how this could happen, how the other person could have thought that this was a good idea or a good strategy for dealing with issues between us.

I didn't know what to do, except to be with the feelings as they changed and passed.

I had a dream that night. And it was one of those dreams that I did not remember until the middle of the next day.

In the dream I was outside in a storm of swirling winds. There were little twisters that came up as people were walking down the street. Sometimes, the twisters lifted people into the air, twenty or thirty feet.

The people who were lifted did not seem concerned. They continued on their way, except for the fact that they were temporarily blown off course. (And, some of the people genuinely seemed to enjoy the ride.)

As I was walking, it happened to me, too. Up in the air, flying, then I touched gently down. And while it was happening to everyone, no one was hurt. There even was a sense that there was no way to be hurt--that this is just what happens, storms coming and going as we continue on our way.

I'll be out on Friday and Monday in a retreat with my wife. Back Tuesday.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Last week I talked about stress being a prime motivator to doing something different in our lives.

There is a sense that we have too much to do. That we are overwhelmed. That we simply cannot live this way.

Of course all these things are just thoughts, but they are also messages that get reinforced every day, by our employers, by our friends, and by the mass media. There is a sense that we are busier than ever and that the workload is simply overwhelming.

To what end? Are we happier? Do we really need more stuff?

It seems what we need is rest. And I'm not talking sleep, though that would certainly help.

Instead, see if you can, just for the next minute or so, stop. Simply let the next moment be exactly as it is going to be. Without wanting it to be something else. Without trying to change it or manipulate it or force it into some kind of conceptual box.

Ah. It's a vacation, and you never even have to leave the office. It's right here. It's available in any moment.

Or every moment.

Rest. And healing. And, perhaps, transformation.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Where Are We Going?

I spend a lot of time at work doing things. Trying to make progress, whether that means helping to create a better product, connecting with sales leads, or making myself more effective in my work.

And there is this sense that it is all leading somewhere, that it is for some purpose, that there is a destination.

Yet the times that I seen to be most satisfied are the times that, just for a moment, I stop. I pause.

There is a falling into the present moment that happens, and the goals, the lists, the guilt for not doing more, are all, temporarily, on hold.

And here I am. Just, for the moment, being.

What would happen if I could tap into this regularly? What if the sprint became more of a leisurely stroll? Would I get less done? Or would I focus on other things, things that might not have a clear bottom line, but that might be more important?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Letting Go

In many ways we are two beings, two views of the world, intertwined.

One of these views is convinced that we will not be happy until we get though our to-do lists, until all of the things that we think are wrong with ourselves and the world are righted. Happiness under this view is a promise in the far off future, a potential reward if we live life well.

The other view sees that we are already happy. That we need nothing. That this very moment is an exquisite gift, far beyond anything else we could hope for.

In the first view, we suffer constantly, because we never have enough.

In the second, life itself is beyond description, beyond categorization. Even the possibility of suffering cannot arise. We have all we need because we already see that we are everything.

Most of us are unfamiliar with second view. Perhaps we have had a glimpse in a sunset, or in moments when we questioned who or what was looking out of our eyes. Many of us have had moments of intimate connection, when we cannot even see the boundaries between a me and the rest of the world. But then, soon enough, we think "that was nice, but now I have to get back to work."

When we want to lessen our struggles, it can be easy to think "I'll just have the second view," but it doesn't seem to work that way. When there is an "I" looking to add the "right view" to the to do list, we have turned it into a concept, something that can be done or not done, well or poorly. We've put conditions on something that is beyond conditions.

Instead, the second view seems to sneak up on us, when no one is watching. We find ourselves here when we are no longer trying to do anything. We find when we stop looking, and then we see that it was here all along, that we are never separate from it. That only our thoughts create separation.

When we see this, we give up. We trust that life is going to deliver us exactly the right things at exactly the right time, regardless of our personal preferences. We see that life will be exactly as it is, regardless of our personal preferences. And we see that those preferences, those desires, were what prevented us from seeing it in the first place.


Friday, October 8, 2010

All the Wrong Places

The fourth insight is that we seem to be looking for happiness in the wrong place.

Most of us, especially in the corporate world, believe that our analytical tools, our ability to figure things out, can be applied to happiness, too.

We think there must be a formula for happiness. That if we follow the right steps, get the right stuff, do the right things, we can be happy, as surely as 1+1 is 2. But Jill Bolte Taylor and a lot of brain research seems to say the opposite.

The view that happiness can be reduced to a list or a formula is the view of the brain's left hemisphere. Yet the experience of happiness, of bliss even, is without conditions, is beyond time. It is only our right hemisphere that is capable of recognizing that in this very moment, we are already complete. And that this very moment is all there is.

There is nothing more that needs to be done. You are already complete and one with the universe, which is perfect exactly as it is.

If you are like most people, you simple cannot believe that this is true. Your left hemisphere still wants to do things; it cannot be convinced that it is not the solution to the happiness problem (and it does a nice job of creating the problem that needs the solution, yes?). It feels like you are not happy, and it feels like this is a problem.

If you still want to solve this problem, do things that help you tune into the right hemisphere's view of the world. Cultivate the present. Meditate, do yoga, spend time in nature. Close your eyes and notice how vague the boundaries feel between you and the rest of the world. See how everything is constantly changing in ever present impermanence. See how your problems come and go with your thoughts.

But most of all, know that whatever you do, or don't do, can be nothing but perfect already.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Where Nobody Knows Your Name

The wisdom traditions talk of a state that is beyond time. A state in which there is so suffering and no possibility of suffering. In which our personal boundaries and concepts, and the accompanying mental chatter, simply fall away. And neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor gives an amazing  TED talk in which she discusses the same kind of experience happening to her during, of all things, a massive stroke.

In her powerful presentation, she talks of an experience outside of time, and outside of the physical limitations of the body. She feels at one with the universe, blissful, far larger than the limits of her body, beyond suffering. And she feels this during a stroke in which the left hemisphere of her brain essentially shuts down.

The left hemisphere of our brain (which Jill calls a "serial processor") is about separation, logic, causation, planning, and past and future. The right hemisphere (which she calls a "parallel processor") is about expansion, unity, intuition, compassion, completeness in the present moment.

Jill Bolte Taylor's experience of timelessness is completely consistent with our understanding of how the right hemisphere of the brain works. While her right hemisphere was temporarily and completely unfiltered by the laws and logic of the left hemisphere, it is possible that some elements of this experience are accessible to everyone, not just sages who have had a profound enlightenment, or scientists who have had a massive stroke.

This kind of happiness, then, is not only available, but it is actually wired into how our brains operate.

Our first insight was that our experience is totally an internal one. Our world is exactly as we expect it to be.

Our second insight is that we were born happy, and that we can return to that original state at any time.

Our third insight is that we can actually find this happiness in how our brains interpret the world.
We'll talk about a fourth insight tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Born Happy

Spend some time around small children, and you can see pretty quickly that most of the time, they are happy.

Their diapers need changed, they get hungry and tired, and they might have some momentary frustration. But their innate state seems to be joy. The joy of exploring a new world.

We can have this same joy. Our world is just as fresh in each moment as the world of a newborn child. Yet that child is able to experience that world without concepts or expectations or desires. We, seemingly, are not. At least most of the time. But we can rediscover this ability, and we can cultivate it.

Just for one day, see if you can connect back to your innate goodness. See if you can connect to your inner happiness. See how it is there all the time, even when life doesn't go the way you want.

The second insight then, is that we were all born happy. That this is our innate state, and that we can return to it at any moment.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Is Anybody Out There?

Your entire human experience is internal. And so is mine.

Our sense organs gather very limited information about the world--only certain types of energies are directly perceived by our eyes, our ears, our noses, tongues and skin. Our brains interpret this already limited information and turn it into memories, which consist of some remembered sensory information, but primarily of language.

We use language to make conclusions about people, places, goals, desires, dreams. And these conclusions become our identities. When people ask about us, we tell them the stories that we have already told ourselves (which we have written, albeit with help from our parents, society, and the like) about what we like and do not like, about what we do, who we are with, what our families are is like, what our life dreams are, and what we want to remain the same and what we want to be different.

And in a very important sense, none of this experience is true.

We filter and conceptualize everything we experience, and we will continue to do that for the rest of our lives. This is part of being human. This is the way that the brain works. Even in this very moment, we are likely noticing some things and ignoring others, based on how we expect the world to be.

There is nothing that we see that has not been filtered by both our sense organs and our expectations, before we even consciously realize it is there.

So if you say that you can't believe the world is so cruel or unfair, it is the very fact that you do believe that, that you expect it, that is causing you to see that world.

Not the other way around.

The first insight, then, is to see that our lives are, for the most part, an act of our own creation. And that happiness, then, has to be an inside job.


Monday, October 4, 2010

What, Me Worry?

The number one thing that people seem to talk about when they want things to be different at work is stress.

We all have so much going on. We are more connected than ever, and the expectation seems to be that we can always be accessed and that we are always working. We worry that we might miss something, that we might make a mistake, that we might upset someone, that we might be fired. And given everything that is going on with the economy and the world right now, this can be tremendously upsetting.

It doesn't have to be.

This week, I am going to explore a few assumptions that we make about life, and whether they are really true. It is easy to think, for example, that it takes a lifetime of meditation and study and retreats to change the way we look at the world. But adding to our list of things to do, especially on that order of magnitude, is not that high on most people's priorities. Sure,  if we follow a program, we can change. It might be difficult, but we can stop smoking or lose weight or change some of our habits.

But there are also many examples of people changing dramatically in a split second.

The core of this work is to keep challenging our own assumptions about how the world works. And if we think differently, if we see through faulty assumptions, we can transform in an instant. We can change from the inside out. This week is dedicated to the possibility of instantaneous transformation.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Your Inner Wisdom

We all have a space within us that knows what to do. Call it gut instinct, guidance, essence, "the voice" or whatever name works for you. Generally, it is that still quiet place that keeps you on track, that let's you know that "yes, this is what you should be doing."

Some people can work almost exclusively at this level of inner wisdom. Most of us, though, don't spend much time here. Wewant to have access to this wisdom more of the time. In addition to regular meditation, here are a few tips to find that that inner wisdom more often--

1. Slow down. Take a few deep breaths. Take five minutes after or before a call or meeting. Just the act of breathing can clear the head.

2. Take a walk. Walking around the floor is OK, but heading outside is even better.

3. Go to the park. There is something about being in nature that is remarkably peaceful, and that puts things in perspective. If you have access to a park or a river nearby, take advantage of it. A beach would be great, but not many of us have that luxury.

4. Work hard, and then rest. If you are working on a problem, do all the legwork and research that you can and then step away. Completely. Find some ways to schedule unproductive time where you do nothing, or do something completely unrelated to work. If you find yourself on a plane, read fun books. I am stunned how often I get a good idea when I am doing something completely unrelated to work. It is as if the subconscious is working on it all along, and out pops an answer when you least expect it. Wisdom is apparently is a bit of a flirt!

5. Stop doing unimportant things. Most jobs have a lot of busy work, and sometimes we do it just because we feel like we should be. Stop it. You will get more done if you take a break, and if you cross the stuff off your list that you don't really need to do.

6. Role play. Ask to speak to your inner wisdom. Ask it what it would do and listen. Sometimes people pull out a pen and paper when they do this. Sometimes they just sit quietly. It can feel odd at first, but over time it can be a very effective way to access a wiser part of yourself.

If you have another method you like, keep doing that (and I would love to hear about it). This is meant to be playful and fun, not drudgery. If you are struggling, stop and get away from it. You can always come back to it later, when you are in the mood to experiment.

Have fun!


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Living Life Backwards

I've been struggling lately with my purpose. I think all of us go through this kind of existential crisis from time to time. Why I am here? What should I do? What is my contribution to make to the world? It can be depressing to feel as if you are wandering about with no direction. It's our instinct to think there's a map out there--that all we have to do is find it.

I've spent some time looking at this recently, and it occurred to me that maybe I have it backwards. Do we find our purpose, and then do things consistent with that purpose? Or does our purpose emerge based on the things we do?

If you feel drawn to a cohesive set of actions, that's great. But for the rest of us, we can use our apparent lack of purpose as an excuse not to engage with life. And in doing that, we can keep ourselves from doing things that we want because of the risk that we might make a mistake. After all, without that map, how do you know you are headed in the right direction?

But wait a minute. Where is there to go? We are here, now, and we will always be here. There is no other place to go. There is no other place we can be. In that sense, there is no wrong direction. There are no mistakes--there is only what is happening--and whether we label it a mistake or a success or a learning opportunity is something we do after the fact, not before.

We are going to do what we do, probably because we want to, or maybe for reasons we cannot identify or understand. What we make of it is based on the story that we tell ourselves. And again, we tell ourselves why after the fact. Not before.

So tell yourself whatever story you want about your life so far. If you feel you have a purpose, that's great. Do things consistent with that purpose. But if you have no idea what your purpose is, don't let it get in the way of doing everything you want to do anyway.

Mapmakers can only draw the places they have already been. Ahead is uncharted territory.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No Way Out

Sometimes I like to think that I am further down this path than I really am. Of course, this ignores a couple of pretty important things.

First, there is no path. In this moment, we can't find a past or a future, except in our thoughts. So the only path that we see is literally the one that we are creating right now.

Second, whatever is happening is what is happening. No more or less.

Sometimes, life throws you for a loop. It's just part of the experience of being human. And when things happen that you don't want, sometimes your thoughts start spinning. You may be in denial, or angry, or depressed. You may be confused. You may doubt that you are in the right job or working for the right company. You may want to quit or run away or hide.

None of this is pleasant, and our instinct is to do something, anything, to make our experience stop. We desperately want it to change.

What do we do when this happens?

Despite our instincts, we stay. We do our best to fully open to the experience.

When you think about it, you really don't have a choice. On some level, you are going to experience what you need to until you don't need to any more.

But when you embrace the experience, when you welcome it, all that channeled up energy and resistance is free to move around and do its thing. Whatever needs to happen might happen a little faster. You might be able to relax a bit, even to laugh.

And you might see that we all get caught sometimes.

One of my favorite Zen sayings is "if you can conceive of a Buddha, you will be obstructed by that very Buddha." And if you think that you are free, that very freedom can turn right around and trap you. And the only escape is to see that there is no freedom and no trap.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

So What?

I talk a lot in this blog about things like resting in awareness, or in the space before questions or thoughts. And it can seen abstract and intellectual, or like word games.

I think a completely appropriate question to ask is "so what?" I've been pointing at this space of peace and healing, but it really feels more like a void sometimes. As a reader, what do you get out of it? What's the point? How does this relate to what I do at work?

In the work place, we all have things we need to get done, every day. Sometimes these are simple tasks--on the level of sending an email or running an errand.

But more and more, we are asked to come up with new possibilities in how we relate to people and ideas.

When we do this, we often bring a host of assumptions to the table. We have ideas about the people we are working with that may lead us to talk about some things and not others. We may have fears about whether they like us or support us, or whether they want all the credit.

Similarly, when we are asked to create new ideas we often use it as an opportunity to defend our old ideas.

When we come at things from a space of not knowing, we have no agenda. We are open to anything happening.  And in that space, we can be more connected with people, and more creative. We are just as willing to work with people we like as we are with people we don't. We are equally willing to work with  others' ideas, or to have others work with ours, or to create something wholly new, because we are not trying to defend or justify or take credit for anything.

When we are open, there are many more possibilities. And many of these are things we never thought we could do.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Beyond Yes and No

Many of us spend at least some time thinking about answers to the "big questions."

Is there a God? Is there good and evil? Is there a right way and a wrong way to be in the world? Am I on the right path? What should I do?

These questions have been with us since we have been human, and no one has found a definitive answer to them yet (though many argue they have). Why is this?

It seems to me that one possible answer is that the same human brain that is trying to answer the question is the one that created it in the first place.

Our brains seem to work by dividing and conquering. At its simplest, this means dividing the world into "things I like" and "things I don't like." The brain seems compelled to divide its world into categories, and then sort the things it sees (or doesn't see) into those categories.

We do this with food, with people, with jobs, with beliefs. We create codes of conduct--is it wrong not to tell the truth if doing so would hurt someone's feelings? Is it wrong to steal if my children are hungry?

But what exists before our brains do this dividing? Before this separation of the world into questions and answers? Just the world as it is. This is so obvious that most of the time it escapes us. Each of us creates our world by dividing it into categories. It seems that this created world is solid and real because much of the time, our concepts agree. You and I can generally agree that the purple thing in the corner is a chair, for example.

But every one of our arguments is about how our concepts disagree with each other. And this is the big hint that points us to the way we each create our own world.

What exists before that act of creation? The simple act of not knowing. Even to say "I" don't know is too much, because even that "I" is just a set of thoughts and concepts.

Just for a moment, resist the urge to answer your questions. Instead, rest in not knowing. In the world as it is before questions. The answer is not an answer at all. It is to go beyond the question.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Living with Uncertainty

This has been a decade of uncertainty.

In the past, it seemed like there were solid truths that we could count on--

That we would work for a company for life (and that the company itself would exist beyond that).

That we would retire with a pension and Social Security and health care.

That the stock market would go up about 10 points a year (give or take).

That the United States would lead the world as a force for good.

That, if we lived our lives in the right way, we could be happy.

I'm sure you can add many others. They may or may not have actually been true, but after a decade in which we had September 11, the collapse of several well known companies (and even industries), a couple of wars, and a near meltdown of our global financial system, it seems that the very things that comprised the American Dream, that we clung to as hope and truth, are themselves looking fragile.

This can sound very depressing. When nothing is certain, what do we do? Where do we turn? Where is our happiness now? But at the same time, this uncertainty can be a gift. Because even though we would like to think differently, nothing has ever been certain, and this has been the source of much of our suffering.

The only truth, it seems, is that we don't know what's next. And yet there is something looking through our eyes that is doing this not knowing.  What is this something? What can we say about it? In times of uncertainty, can we find solace, or peace, or even happiness, in the one thing that does not change?

This is our practice. And it has never been more important than it is right now.


Thursday, September 23, 2010


When we begin to notice our experience, it does not take too long to notice that on some level, we are uncomfortable most of the time. Perhaps things are not going as they should. Or perhaps our main problem is that we don't know what is going to happen, and yet we think we should know. This kind of discomfort can easily become fear, or anger.

Much of what we do to cope is aimed at easing these emotions. We may eat or drink as a way to numb ourselves. We may spend many hours at work to avoid confronting an issue or a disagreement at home (or, occasionally, the opposite). Or we may dive into something from an intellectual perspective, trying to learn and know as much as we can about a topic or hobby. Sometimes that hobby can be ourselves--constructing theories about why we do the things we do. We can turn discomfort into an intellectual exercise, and in that way get some space and relief from it.

But instead of numbing ourselves or distancing ourselves, another approach is to fully open to our discomfort. This can sound absolutely crazy. The prospect of confronting our fears can itself be truly frightening, and not many of us are capable of actually being with our experience for even a few moments.

What happens when we do this? First, we find that the experience itself is always changing. What we fear in one moment can become something completely different in the very next moment. Pain can be followed by laughter, and vice versa. It can be surprising to see how fleeting our emotions are when we just let ourselves experience them, without resistance, without clinging.

Second, we begin to notice some space around our experiences. When we open ourselves fully to what is happening, right now, we see how little of it is actually the things that concern us. The sun still shines, the flowers bloom, the rain falls. Children laugh and play. Everyone else around us is in their own world, and we begin to notice, perhaps for the first time, that what is happening to me isn't all that important to many people but me. That can be the beginning of freedom.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Open, Spacious Being

There are times when we need absolutely nothing. When we are even beyond the idea that we could need anything, that we have ever needed anything or will need anything again. Maybe it happens when looking at a sunset. Maybe it is when we are in line to get the rental car. Who knows? But in these moments, we are complete.

In these moments, if we look for needs or suffering, we can't find them. We are here, and yet we can't even find a sense of an "I" that is experiencing the moment. There is just the experiencing--no division between experiencer and experienced.

To call it anything, even beauty, would be to start to lose it, to kill it, to turn it into a concept or a story.

And when the moment is gone (whether that is five seconds later or five days later), we want to get it back.

We want the formula to get it anytime we want. Sit this way, think of this, focus on that.

And yet there is no formula for grace. All we can do is notice. And be thankful. This is unconditioned awareness. This is nirvana. This is what the sages have all pointed to. And we have had a glimpse of it.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Delayed Gratification

Every wisdom tradition points to meditation as a practice that, over time, can bring dramatic and transformative personal change. Yet I don't know many people who meditate regularly, even those who are on a contemplative path.

We're not very good at doing things now that are good for us later. There is a lot of research that shows that people have a hard time, for example, not eating the chocolate cake that is in front of them when they are trying to lose weight, or going to the gym when another temptation (even sleep) presents itself.

Unfortunately, meditation falls into this camp, too. While there is no doubt that meditation can create changes in the brain that are related to attention, decision making, stress reduction, and compassion, these changes take awhile to manifest. And while that is happening, meditation can be boring, messy, even unpleasant. It can be easy to find that things are getting in the way of meditation--sleep, work, friends--even when we have the best of intentions.

So how do we encourage ourselves to go against our own programming? Here are a couple of suggestions--feel free to let me know what has worked for you.

Start slow. We may think that meditation is something that we should be able to do for twenty or thirty minutes the first time, but that can feel like an eternity when you haven't done it before. Just like you work up to running a 10K a little bit at a time, so it goes with meditation. Five minutes done regularly is a great start.

Work with a partner. If you can commit to meditate with a friend, it is a lot harder to blow it off. Even if you don't live near someone who wants to meditate, you can do this. I have found it can be incredibly powerful to sit in silence together on the phone.

Lower your expectations. While we all want to get something out of meditation, it tends to be best not to expect anything out of meditation, at least not at first. If we get some good feelings, if we feel a little bit calmer, that is great. But there may be times when we feel incredibly uncomfortable, when it can be difficult just to continue to sit. And that doesn't mean we are bad at it. Those sessions can be a good sign that there is some major rewiring that is beginning to happen. In fact, it is best to enter meditation with no expectations (a practice that is beneficial in the rest of life, too.)

Don't worry about technique. The most important thing at first is just to sit quietly. There are plenty of things to read about different practices, but reading, and the idea that there is a right way and a wrong way to meditate, can get in the way of actually sitting down and doing it.

Reward yourself. Give yourself a treat if you meditate every day for a week. Buy a book you have been wanting. Have lunch with your meditation partner. Anything that can create a short term benefit while you are waiting for the habit to establish itself can be incredibly powerful.