Friday, March 26, 2010

Zendo, Unplugged

Next week is spring break and I am going with the family to the beach.

No laptop, as little work as possible, and no blog.

I will have a notebook with me. The paper kind. You never know when a good idea will strike.

See you Monday, April 5.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Being with Anxiety

Sometimes I have the urge to do something, anything, but I am not sure what that something is.

This can turn into a tremendous time waster. It can turn into surfing the internet or making phone calls or sending emails or "doing research." Often, though, I say that I don't know what to do. But I do. And the reason that I don't just do it is that I am afraid. The research or the preliminaries are just the obstacles that I put up so that I don't have to do that thing I am afraid of.

I might be afraid of embarrassing myself, or failing, or succeeding. I might be afraid of being out on the edge, exposed, or judged. I might be afraid of doing something so outstanding that no one can ignore me anymore. I might be afraid of saying what I really think.

And I might be writing in this blog, among other things, to avoid having to face those things.

Can I take the first step, to be with the anxiety of doing that thing I am afraid of? Can I get comfortable with discomfort?


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Compassion and Nondual Thought

Nondual thought can seem cold and intellectual, even nihilistic. But there is room for compassion, too, because the nondual includes everything that is happening. Nothing is excluded. All is welcome.

The nondual accepts, without comment or judgment, everything we do. Even when we do not have compassion for ourselves, the nondual is compassionate on our behalf. We can't screw up. We are always forgiven, because there is nothing that we can do wrong.

A famous nondual master, Nisargadatta Maharaj, said--

Wisdom is knowing I am nothing.
Love is knowing I am everything.
Between the two, my life turns.

In some schools of nondual thought, we often focus on the first, on wisdom, on using the mind to "see through" our concepts. We note that in nondual space we cannot find an identity or stories or suffering.

Sometimes we call this nothing, though that implies that it could be something. But this nothing is actually beyond notions of something and nothing.

It is just as accurate, then, to call it everything. And when we see the nondual with the heart, we see the infinite love that surrounds us. In each moment, we have the opportunity to embrace this infinite presence. We can forgive ourselves and others because we see we are already forgiven.

This is the love we call unconditional.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bad Moods and Belching

Everyone belches. And everyone gets in bad moods.

But most people treat them very differently. You may say "That's because they are different!" But are they? Like moods, belches arise and then pass. And sometimes they catch us by surprise or even embarrass us.

When people belch, they say "excuse me" and move on. If our boss belches, we don't tend to think about it a month later and hold a grudge about it.

But if our boss is in a bad mood, or if we are in a bad mood, we tend to hold onto it.

The other day I got really, really angry. I slammed my hand to the table, and I wanted to yell and scream. The situation was one that sometimes provokes this response and sometimes doesn't. Ten minutes later, though, the anger was gone.

Like a belch, it arose, it came out, it left. But there are times that I hang onto that mood. I blame myself for it. I think of it as part of me. I don't do that with a belch. Heck, sometimes I even laugh at myself after a belch. I rarely laugh at myself after a bad mood or an angry comment.

Let's try to be less hard on ourselves when we get really cranky. And let's be less hard on others when they are cranky. Like a belch, it happens to all of us. And like a belch, it can be forgotten. And forgiven.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Back to Basics

My teacher, Peter Fenner, teaches from a nondual perspective. What does that mean exactly? There are nondual terms that pop up in this blog from time to time, and it might be helpful to examine them.

The world we live in is one of conditions and opposites, or duality. Up and down, left and right, good and evil. There are things that we want from life, and we are frustrated when we don't get them.

These are things that we are aware of. But there is also that which is aware, which has no characterstics whatsoever. "That" is called many things in many traditions. Peter calls it unconditioned awareness, but it is also called source consciousness, Buddha mind, and original mind, among other things. When people talk in wisdom traditions of enlightenment, they are talking about residing in this non-place without interruption.

When we are resting in unconditioned awareness, our interpretations of the world lessen or drop away. The thought "I want this" has no power, because we see "I," "want," and "this" as nothing more than concepts or constructions. They are not life itself, which is beyond words. Life itself is just happening, regardles of our commentary and preferences. From the perspective of unconditioned awareness, life is one indivisible whole, ever emerging, ever changing, and always right now.

When we cultivate unconditioned awareness, our suffering lessens. Why? Because there are no wants and needs to be frustrated. There is no gap between how life is and how we would like it to be.

Nondual thought can sound complicated because it is so different than the way we usually think about things. We don't tend to notice that whatever it is that is looking through our eyes is without definition. We don't tend to notice that our minds are making up stories every moment of every day so that we can make sense of the world. So that we can find meaning. This seems to be an essential part of our human experience.

Nondual teachings do not say that we should stop making up stories, or that we should stop or start doing anything. The nondual accepts everything, including our thoughts and stories.

If there is a start, it is to notice what is noticing. And to accept wherever we are.

If there is a practice, it is to keep doing that. No need for effort or frustration or judgment.


Friday, March 19, 2010

The All Day Meeting

When we are mindful, we are focused on being present to what is happening in any given moment.

That’s a nice thought—to be able to say that I am right here. That I am tuned into what is happening, rather than my own interior dialogue.

Sometimes, though, I’m in a conference room all day, listening to presentations. And sometimes, I don’t want to be in that room. My mind wanders. I daydream. I plan vacations or write blog entries in my head.

One of the things that I like about nondual work is that it is remarkably forgiving of these transgressions.

We can be tempted to say “I should be more present. If I can’t focus on this moment, I am doing something wrong. I am not as far down the path as I should be. I should be better at this.”

But in nondual space, we accept exactly what is happening. And if “mind wandering” is our practice for the moment, so be it.

Simply put, we can’t be doing anything other that what we are doing. To think that we should be doing something different (or even that we could be doing something different) only increases our suffering.

If your mind is wandering, that’s OK. If you are frustrated, that’s OK. If you are tired, that’s OK. It’s just what’s happening.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jim Collins and $100 Millon

Great post on The Art of Nonconformity about Jim Collins and the work that he did on Good to Great, which has becomes somewhat of a Bible in the corporate world.

How much would someone have to pay you to stop what you are doing? Interesting way of assessing how much you love it. This isn't about the actual market value of what you are doing. It is about your value. If it is low, should you be doing something else?

Or, in the words of one of the commenters, “What can I create that I wouldn’t accept 100 million dollars to walk away from?”


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Awareness Is Right Here

There are times when I have a profound and yet utterly ordinary experience of unconditioned awareness. In these moments, there is nothing that needs to be done. To suggest that there is something wrong, or even that there is something right, makes no sense. It is a bit disconcerting, because I can’t find anything in these moments, including a "me." On the other hand, it includes everything, without exceptions, so it is perfectly simple.

The only words that I can come up with are just this. Just right now. Right here. Nothing needing to be done. Nothing needing to change. Is there anything missing in this moment? Could there ever be?

All that is happening is this. We look for something else, for a dramatic end to our years of searching and it turns out it is right here all along. Where else could it be?

I don’t tend to ask people if they have had this experience or thoughts like this. It can be dangerous because it can lead our ever-constructing minds to build a goal and a path and then focus on this as some kind of future event. The big payoff for the years of effort. They are convinced that this is NOT it, that it must be different than this (and somehow better).

But most people have had the kind of moment of utter simplicity that I am talking about. It can happen looking at a sunset, or in a meeting, or after a run, or waiting in line at the airport. I had it happen to me when I was being downsized a few years ago. It doesn’t seem to matter. And we tend to notice it only when “it” is no longer happening.

Notice these moments. We all have them, but we often miss them. Instead, cultivate them. This is the beginning of the spiritual path. It is also the end.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Jerk

I've been lucky--I have not had to work with many jerks during my career. But sometimes, people ask me what to do when you come across one.

I'm honestly not sure. One observation is that most of us are nice people and want to help, and the jerk seems to use this to his advantage. In this way, the jerk gets us to own things that are really his.

Our first response if often to defend, but that gives the power to the jerk. This is how the jerk wins--through surprise and intimidation. But instead of defending, or asking "how can I make your problem (and by extension, my discomfort) go away," it can be helpful just to observe what is happening.

"You seem to be upset."

"I can feel you are frustrated."

In this way, we can acknowledge the emotional content and begin to diffuse it. The conversation gets less heated, and generally more productive. And it becomes clear that the emotional state is that of the jerk, not you.

As I said, I've been fortunate not to have had many of these conversations at work. But I would love to hear others' thoughts on this. Because despite my good fortune, I think it's a topic that is one that arises quite a bit.

Thanks for your thoughts--

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rest in the Midst of Activity

When we think of resting, we typically think of sleeping, or maybe spacing out watching television.

But we can rest while we are active, too.

Much of what we perceive as effort is simply resistance. What do I mean by this? Often, when we are trying to do one thing, we are doing it because we don't want something else to happen. When we are playing a game, we want to win, but we also want not to lose. When we are investing, we want to make money, but we also want not to lose money. When we are giving a speech, we want not to mess up or embarrass ourselves. And so forth.

In any effort, there is both creative energy and fear. Too often, what really motivates us is the fear. This is why procrastination can appear to be a successful strategy. We wait till the fear kicks in and ride that energy until we get our speech/project/presentation done. Even though fear will do the work, it tends to do the bare minimum. Fear doesn't take many chances. Fear goes pretty much by the book.

When I talk to people about how contemplative practice lessens fear, a lot mention how they are afraid (!) that without fear they would have no motivation. The procrastination strategy would no longer work--they are sure they would become apathetic lumps eating junk food and surfing the Web all day.

In my experience, this is not what happens. Instead, as we become more comfortable with our own fears, our fear of being judged, of taking a risk, of saying what we really feel, gets much less. When there is less of a fear of failure, it is a lot easier to get started. Productivity and motivation actually increase rather than decrease. There is activity in an open space of creativity rather than in a closed space of fear. And that activity, paradoxically, is energizing, as much or more than rest. You become the state of flow, the activity itself.

This is a gradual journey, but over time, there can be significant changes. A first step is to notice when you feel fear. Just be with that fear. Step right into it. As you become more familiar with the sensations, their grip will lessen. Fear will not be as scary as you thought.

I still get afraid. I still wake up at 4 am wondering about the unknown. But bit by bit, I understand better what I am stepping into. And sometimes, I find myself resting in that, too.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wait Ten Minutes

I lived in Chicago for 13 years. The wind and Lake Michigan would do some crazy things there. The weather people had a saying--"If you don't like the weather, just wait ten minutes and it will be different."
In my experience, the same thing is true with feelings.

Peter Fenner often works with his students to explore their feelings, particularly those sticky ones that seem to ruin your day. He may ask a student to describe the feeling. Where is it? In the stomach? The heart? What does it feel like? Sharp, dull, stinging?

In the process of describing the feeling, the feeling changes. In the process of trying to find the feeling, what one finds instead is that it can't be found. It moves. It changes. And even the persistent ones tend to dissipate if we just accept and examine them, rather than trying to escape them.

Remarkably, this process seems to work with just about any feeling. It works best with another person doing the exploring with us, though. We don't seem to have the patience to do this kind of exploration on our own. And we tend to think about the result ("I want to get rid of this now!") rather than engaging in a true examination.

The next time you are feeling frustrated, or upset, or anxious, I'd invite you to find a friend, examine what you are feeling for a few minutes, and see what happens.

Have a great weekend--I'll be back Monday.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

No Pain, No Gain

My first day in my new job was pretty routine. Talking to the IT folks, getting the computer and phone working, having the first day lunch.

My second day, I was given an opportunity to work on. Something that was mine. This is something that I have not done in awhile. In my old role, I was brought in as an outside advisor. I had ideas. I had influence. But often, someone else made the decision. Now I get to make the decisions.

Making decisions is hard because it triggers fear. What if we are wrong? What if someone doesn't like what we decided? What if they laugh at us? Standard lizard brain stuff, which is why we generally avoid making decisions as long as we can.

But decision making is a skill like any other. It requires practice. And the main way to learn is by making mistakes. When we make bad decisions, we learn from them. And we learn to make better decisions.

It can be painful. But when we look at the pain, we can learn from that, too. We can see that "failure" and "mistake" are just concepts. They are just our thoughts. What can we say of failure or success, other than failure is that which we don't want and success is that which we do?


Tuesday, March 9, 2010


One of the meanings of the word "inspiration" is "the drawing of air into the lungs." Inspiration can be seen as divine, but it can also be as mundane as taking a breath.

When we breathe, when we simply are, we open to the silence that seems to enhance the possibility of inspiration. But how often can we be inspired? On a good day, we might get five minutes, but as Seth Godin points out in his excellent post, that could be five minutes more than a lot of other people.

Inspiration is a gift, and we have to remind ourselves not to squander it.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Sales and Presence

My new role is a sales role, the first pure sales role of my career.

Most of my career, I have been selling in one sense or another. Many people think that there is something wrong with selling, that selling means putting one over on people, tricking them into buying something that they don't need.

There may be some sales people who are like that. And some of them may even be successful. But I don't believe that you can be successful for long in sales if you are hurting people.

The best at sales are those who are best at identifying and meeting their customer's needs. When we are truly present, we are focused on the prospect's agenda first. We are listening to what they are saying, rather than thinking of what we are going to say next. In this way, the seller's agenda and the prospects's agenda are both clear. Nothing is hidden. If there is a match, we work together. If not, we move on.

But sales at the highest level trancends even that. Sometimes, a buyer and seller working together can create a solution that neither of them could have created alone. On this level, sales is a collaborative art. One that involves trust and vison. One that, I believe, is one of the highest callings.

As I enter this new role, I want to remind myself each day of why I did it. To help people, to create, and to solve problems.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Recharging the Batteries

I've enjoyed establishing the habit of writing in this blog every day. It gives me a chance to notice what is happening, to think about how I am or am not bringing presence to what I do. And after a month, I think I can say that, at least for me, there is value in doing this.

On the other hand, I am between jobs. This is my chance to recharge. And anything that I am writing this week is not about practice in the workplace, because I am not in the workplace right now.

So I've decided to take a blog vacation until the new job starts. New job, new challenges, fresh material. See you March 8!


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Constant Motion

This week, I am off work. My last day at my old job was last Friday. My first day at my new job is next Monday. Yesterday I had jury duty, so this is the first day that I have not had something I had to do first thing.

On weekends, it has been easy for me to relax a bit. To do some reading, review my email, write in this blog.

Today it has not been so easy. I am used to being in motion, but I feel caught in between. It is interesting to notice how much I feel a need to be doing things, to be making some kind of progress. There are things to do around the house. There are appointments to make. And I feel like if I do not do those things this week it will be difficult to do them once the new job starts.

This time, which I thought would be for taking a deep breath, for establishing endings and beginnings, has not worked out that way. So far, it is different than what I expected to be.

What to do with that? I am not sure that there is anything to do, other than to observe what is happening. In this process of change, there will be a new sense of equilibrium. There will be new habits and new routines. And as much as the old job felt like a comfortable shoe, there will be some breaking in that will have to happen with the new job.

Right now, I can only wait. And I must admit, I am surprised with how uncomfortable that waiting is.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Morning Rush

I tend to get stressed in the morning.  I am used to having a routine, but with an eleven month old and an almost 11 year old who needs to get to school, there is a bit of juggling and flexibility required. I resist this. For some reason, I want to know when I am going to have my coffee, when I am going to shower, when I am going to have breakfast, who is going to pack a lunch, who is going to make my son breakfast. And I get cranky and stressed when I do not know these things. Yet, every morning so far, the things that have needed to get done have gotten done. Despite my stress.

What is interesting to me is that in the work world I am much more flexible. Why is that?

I suppose, like many things, morning flexibility could be a matter of habit.

If it is, it is clearly a habit that I need to work on.

At the same time, though, there can be an acceptance of the feeling of stress. It could just be that mornings are stressful, that a lot needs to happen quickly, and that my feeling that it should be different is only getting in the way. My wife, after all, seems to deal with the morning routine with ease.

It is a paradox, that we can only change the moment when we stop resisting it. As I notice my own feelings of stress, I also see that they are changing and lifting. Accepting stress, or even embracing it, can ease its grip.

The only answer seems to be to accept what is. Even when it is not what you like. For the time being, morning stress can be my practice.