Friday, April 30, 2010

Please Don't Believe Me

Sometimes, I look back at what I have written and think it comes across as a lecture. Like I know something that I am trying to impart. Like there is a clear path, a clear set of steps, and a clear set of results that follows. Like if someone is not doing that, they must be wrong.

None of that is true. I don't know anything about you or about your experience.

I have said this before, and I will try to say it again from time to time. This blog is my thoughts, my stories about what is true or not true. You have your own.

Part of this process is discovering our own stories. What we believe to be true or not. And that is different for everyone. The important thing is to notice the cause and effect of different things in your life. When you are happy, and when you are not.

Just to do that is all that is required. The changes will take care of themselves.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Can Buddha Help Your Short Game?

This just in from The Wall Street Journal--golfers are converting to Buddhism to improve their games.

This is an amusing paradox, but it is typical of how we think. Buddhism is ultimately about giving up on the notion that anything outside us can bring us happiness. The happiness we seek is already in us, or as Jesus said, "the kingdom of God is within."

So golfers are hoping to give up to get. Just like many people ask "why meditate?" The act of meditation itself is not worthy on its own. The journey is not its own reward. Rather, we imagine that there is some destination where our suffering will be over. Where we will be permanently happy. And we are only willing to embark on the path if we think there is something waiting for us.

If you can imagine a path with steps, there seem to be at least three--

First, we might imagine that there is a place to go where we will be happy. It may involve achievements, or money, or status, or relationships, or some combination of all of those. If we get all the ingredients and prepare the recipe just right, then permanent happiness ensues. At this step, we spend a lot of time comparing recipes, feeling like we are getting closer because we taste little bits of happiness from time to time.

Second, we might see that none of these things has given us more than transitory satisfaction (because each of them is transitory). In other words, we give up on the more material kinds of recipes. Maybe we decide on a path to happiness through spirituality or religion. We decide that if we follow the steps of that path, we will be happy.

Finally, we might see there never were any steps to begin with. Happiness was always here, right now, waiting to be found in plain sight, even within sadness. (And yes, this is another paradox. Many people only discover that there aren't any steps because they were willing to follow the steps!)

It may be that Buddhism (or any other religion, frankly) helps people become better golfers. In the process, though, a few may find that they can be happy no matter how they golf.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Just Writing

Today, I thought I would try an experiement. Most of the time, when I start to write I have some idea of what I am going to write about. But today, I have no idea. The only thing that came to me was the words "just writing." And I started.

In a sense, this is like beginner's mind. We start with no idea of where we are going. I have done this with public speaking, too, though that is a bit more unnerving.

But soon, ideas come. Words appear on the page. A narrative forms. Where were these things when I started? I don't know. Where do the thoughts come from?

I am a big fan of TED, which sponsors and posts wonderful, thought-provoking 18-minute talks. Some are by famous people and some are not, but most are well worth seeing. Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote "Eat, Pray, Love," gives a a great talk on the creative process. She talks about the pressure to repeat the success of her book (which was wildly beyond what she had done before). At one time, she says, the term "genius" referred to something that everyone had, but that was considered separate from the person. Everyone had a genius that visited from time to time. And if genius failed, it really wasn't the fault of the person.

That may be a story, but it is a helpful one. Because I don't think anyone understands where the words come from. And, whether they come or not, most of the time we feel they are coming from somewhere other than our brains.

Just like all our other thoughts, the words seem to appear from nowhere. And we are left simply to appreciate the mystery.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Much of this path is about giving up.

Giving up the idea that we can control things. Giving up the idea that we can plan for what is coming our way. Giving up even the very idea that we can know who we are.

This happens a little bit at a time. Maybe one day, instead of having the same kind of cereal for breakfast, we have a piece of fruit, or some eggs.

Maybe another day, instead of rushing out the door, we take an extra minute to give the kids a hug.

Maybe we open to the possibility that our coworker, the one who drives us crazy, is just doing the best he can.

When we say "maybe," we are really saying it may be. We are giving permission to the world to be as it is.

Just allow, as little or as much as you can right now.  Maybe I can do the same.


Monday, April 26, 2010

What's In Your Backpack?

I saw "Up in the Air" recently. If you haven't seen it, George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, who flies around the country firing people who have been downsized. He also has a side business as a motivational speaker.

His standard motivational speech asks people to imagine taking all the things in their lives and stuffing them into a backpack, from knicknacks, to their house and car, to even their relationships. When you think about things that way, it can seem like we are carrying a lot on our shoulders. And there are many who would say that simplifying is the way to go.

Certainly, wanting and needing can lead to suffering. There is simply no way that we can ever have or do everything we want. It's a dead end path--though most of us take a long time to learn that (if we really ever do).

But there is a part of you that does not need a backpack, because it is not carrying anything. The concept of carrying things does not even apply to it. It is that which is before thoughts of carrying or not carrying. It is unconditioned awareness, true nature, just this, suchness, the witness, that which cannot be cut or burned or broken. It goes by many names, but it is always here. We only have to recognize it.

To rest in awareness, even for a few moments, is to realize that there are no burdens other than those created by our own thoughts. So yes, we can take things out of our backpack. But we can also simply discard the notion that we ever had any baggage.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Love and Leadership

I get notes from Amazon all the time about books that I might be interested in. Yesterday's email was about recent books on leadership.

One called "Love Leadership" caught my eye.

I haven't read the book. I don't know the author. But the fact that someone can write and publish a book with this title is very inspiring to me. And from the reviews, it looks like it is inspiring to other people, too.

Do we have enough courage to bring love into the workplace? Can we focus on giving, more than getting?

I think we can. No doubt, it is hard, but I think in the long run, love is the way to go.


Thursday, April 22, 2010


"Kaizen" is a Japanese word that has come to mean "continuous improvement." Many Japanese companies have this spirit of kaizen, in which they are constantly assessing where they are and where there are opportunities to do better. Done well, kaizen is about transparency all the way from line workers to the CEO.

Unfortunately, one of the foremost practitioners of kaizen, Toyota, has taken a bid of a bad rap lately, and some have been quick to say "so much for kaizen." But Toyota is a good example of the importance of staying true to kaizen, and not hiding things when they are different than what you want.

I mentioned a big presentation that I had in this blog two days ago. I was teaming with a more experienced person, my boss, and it was a great opportunity to assess where I was, and to learn how to be better.

He was very complimentary, and at one time, that might have been enough. But I tried to make enough notes about things that he added that I did not know, so that next time, I can go a bit deeper into the material, and do a better job than I did.

We can be hard on ourselves without feeling bad about it. At one time, I would have thought that I should do it just like him, and that if I could not it meant that something was wrong with me. But over time, I have come to realize that in each moment, we are where we are. I did what was possible that day. I did what was possible given my seven weeks on the job, and from that perspective I did pretty well. But I have a long way to go.

Next time, I will do better. And the time after that, better still. That is part of the process. That is how we learn. And when we don't do that, when we aren't ruthlessly honest with ourselves and those around us, we end up hiding things. Then we make the kind of headlines we don't want, much like Toyota has done in the past few months.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Person You Used to Be

Who are you?

When we try to answer that question, we use language, based on thoughts, which are either in the past or about the past or both.

We talk about what we do or where we live or who our partner is and what our family looks like. But those are just thoughts and concepts that we have constructed about various patterns in our conditioned lives. What we say about our life is not our life. When someone tries to answer the question "who are you," just about everyone comes back with a story about who they were, even if that "were" is only five minutes ago. And most of the time, that kind of story suits us just fine.

"When you asked the question, I think I was someone who wanted to start a business."

But who are you right now?

Find that, even if you can't express it.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Big Day

I'm heading to my first big prospect presentation today, and it is with my boss. No pressure!

It's a good chance, though, to be aware of the thoughts that are running through my head, and the nerves that can arise.

Our lizard brain is quick to provide a list of bad things that might happen. My boss might think I am stupid, or think that he should not have hired me. I might say something stupid. I might not know the answer to a prospect's question. The prospect might be bored. The demo might not work. I might offend someone. I might spill something on myself on the plane. The plane might get delayed. I might get lost. The rental car might break down. My boss's flight might get delayed. My boss might embarrass me. I might get food poisoning at lunch.

And so on . . .

It is true that any of these things could happen. There are some that we think we can, at least partially, control. But for the most part, we have no control over any of them. And there are many other things that could happen that I haven't even thought of.

The chance of any of them happening is small, so it seems like a waste to time to worry about them all. But they pop up, in random order and at inopportune times, and sometimes they bang around in the head for awhile. What to do?

Let them. Let them have a voice. Most of the time, we try to keep ourselves from thinking about the bad things that could happen. We visualize good things. And we worry that if we dwell on the bad, that somehow makes it more likely that something bad might happen. My experience, though, is that if I notice the thought, and I ask myself "is that really true?" the thought drifts away on its own. Once I admit I am worried about the prospect noticing I have a spot of coffee on my pants, it all seems pretty silly.

I don't know what is going to happen in this meeting. And there is nothing that I can do that will make the outcome of the meeting or the trip certain.

All I can do is prepare--to know where I am going and what I am saying. And then, to enjoy the ride.

Wish me luck--

Monday, April 19, 2010

Looking for Alfred Hitchcock

When we are watching a movie, often we can get so lost in the experience that we forget we are sitting in a theater looking at images projected on a screen.

There are many writers who have used that image to describe unconditioned awareness or true nature. There are things we are aware of, which have characteristics (heat, cold, texture, and, most notably, impermanence). And there is that which is aware, which has no characteristics, which is without beginning or end.

We are so caught up in the experience of the movie that we miss the white unchanging screen that it is projected on. How can we notice this awareness? How can we watch for it?

I am reminded of Alfred Hitchcock, who made cameo appearances in many of his movies. Finding him, on a bus or in a window or photo, became a game for movie fans.

When you are looking for Alfred Hitchcock, you can still watch the movie. But it feels less solid. The ups and downs of the movie don't pull you in as much as they once did. You can begin to recognize the difference between the movie and the screen, even while seeing that one cannot exist without the other.


Friday, April 16, 2010

The Balloon

I got the following in an email from a nondual teacher who I admire, Jeff Foster. Thought provoking. Enjoy.


We think that freedom consists in having what we want. In reality, freedom is a kind of loss. As Jesus said, you have to lose your life to save it.

When there is no longer any ownership of life, no longer anyone there who is trying to possess any aspect of experience, life is no longer something to be feared and rejected, but something to be loved and celebrated.

Imagine this:

A balloon, filled with air, floats in an infinite sea of air.

And the balloon says to itself, "I'm an individual. I live in a world full of individuals. A world of me and mine: my thoughts, my memories, my beliefs, my achievements, my successes, my failures, my past, my future, my relationships. I own a little piece of the whole, a little piece of life. This is my little part of everything."

What the balloon fears most is its own popping - in other words, its own death - because it sees this as the ultimate loss of 'me and mine'. In other words, death is the loss of 'my little part of everything'. The end of 'my life'.

What the balloon cannot see is that death is liberation. Upon death, 'my little part of everything' simply explodes back into everything. 'My life' dissolves back into life itself. And what is seen is that 'my life' was always an illusion, because there was never anyone there separate from everything! There was only ever everything! The balloon never 'had' anything to begin with, and so could never 'lose' anything. Upon death, nothing is lost.

And this seeing can happen upon what we call physical death, or it can happen now. Die before you die, and there is no death.

The mind will never be able to comprehend what I am talking about. But somewhere beyond the mind, somewhere beyond thought, somewhere beyond the stories we tell about life, there can be a recognition, a resonance, a knowing. And that's what this message is really about: a recognition that's totally beyond mind.

You are perfect as you are - even in your imperfection. Life is perfect as it is, even if you cannot see that yet. This is a journey into your own absence, an absence which finally reveals itself as the perfect presence of everything, as the Home you've always been seeking, and what will be found is this: You wrote these words yourself, to remind yourself of what, deep down, you have always known.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Flow

There are some days when I am tired and can barely get anything done. And there are days when the ideas just flow, when the possibilities seem endless, and when the energy is there to start myriad new things.

Today is one of those days. Yesterday was, too. There are times when my brain tends to think about individual connections, and there are times when it steps back, when it sees broader patterns, when it comes up with the new thing, or the new approach.

I've learned not to question these times. These are days when I get done ten times as much as I might get done in an ordinary day.

Back to work. (Oh, and Happy Tax Day!)


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Just Doing

Great post on Zen Habits.

We all have things to do. Our work, our personal lives, even our spiritual lives are full of lists of things to do. There is no escaping this. It's part of the human experience.

We spend time doing things, but we also spend a lot of time thinking about doing, resisting doing, delaying doing, and then worrying about not getting things done.

Imagine how much more we can get done if we just focus on the doing, rather than the thinking and worrying and delaying and resisting.

So let's pick a thing, anything, and do it. And then repeat.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Next Time

If you are like me, and I think like most people, you spend a lot of time thinking about things that have already happened.

I spend a lot of time thinking about conversations that I have had, or things that people have done. And I wonder why those things did not happen differently. I think about how I could have been better, or how someone else could have treated me with more kindness or respect. Or (and I love this one) how someone "should have known better."

We can notice those things, and notice our reactions to them. But it does not do us much good to think about how they could have been different. Perhaps they happened the way they did because they were supposed to. Perhaps they could not have happened any other way. There is no way to know this. The only thing that we can know is there is no way to go back and change anything that has already happened.

There is one change that we can make, though.

If we come across the situation again, we can remember. We can do things differently next time. This is the only thing that we can change. This is the only way that we can change.

Next time. There is nothing we can do until next time. Until then, maybe we can stop beating ourselves up about the past. Maybe we can cut our neighbor or friend or coworker a break. Maybe we can see that everyone is doing their best.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Watch Your Adjectives

My job is . . .

My boss is . . .

My spouse is . . .

My kids are . . .

Life is . . .

People are . . .

How do you fill in those sentences? We all instinctively come up with words--"great" or "dreadful" or "cruel" or "kind." But these words are not the experience itself. No one's job or life is good or bad all the time. But when we assign a label, that is what we are saying. And that becomes our first thought, or our frame, about what is happening.

These points of reference create stories that we tell ourselves. And we filter the events of our lives through our stories. If our spouse says something snippy, but we think she is a kind, loving person, then we tend to assume she must be tired or be having a bad day. If our boss does something nice, and we otherwise think she is a jerk, we get suspicious. What does she want? There must be some ulterior motive!

In this way, we create much of our experience. Our lives are happening all around us, but the interpretation, the meaning of our life is almost entirely internal. We get to decide what, if any, meaning our lives have. But much of this meaning making is hidden from view most of the time.

What are the adjectives in your life? And how might your life change if you described it differently?


Friday, April 9, 2010

Chasing Happiness

In the corporate world, much is made of goals. Sales people have quotas. Account managers may have profitability numbers to hit. Customer service people have average call time metrics. Lawyers have billable hours targets. Our pay and often our jobs are linked to these goals.

When we are outside of the office, we often have other goals. Books to read. Places to travel. Hobbies to develop. We may have goals for our relationships and our children, too.

Much of this is based on a faulty premise--that if we achieve this, or have enough money to buy that, we will be happy. If we can simply check enough boxes off our to do lists, peace and prosperity await.

But every experience we can have comes and goes. There is nothing that we can keep forever.

Yet here we are, on the hamster wheel, chasing one experience after another, in the mistaken belief that one day, we will have enough of them to be, and to stay, happy.

If  happiness means an emotional high, then it is an experience like any other. With highs come lows. That is the nature of conditioned experience.

But if happiness instead means that our needs are met, then there is a way to be happy in each moment, and that is to rest in awareness, As awareness, as pure presence, as that which is conscious, we are beyond need.

That happiness is right here, right now. Always. Whether we meet our goals or not.


Thursday, April 8, 2010


I have the luxury of being able to work from home from time to time. And right now I am looking out my window. The sun is shining and the trees and flowers are starting to bloom. The change of seasons in full force.

When we were in Florida, I was in awe of the rhythm of the waves. And the beauty of the sunset on the water.

And of course our bodies have rhythms. The beating of our hearts. Our breathing. Sleeping and waking.

We typically think of these things as opposites. Night is the opposite of day. Winter is the opposite of spring. Inhalation is the opposite of exhalation. And in a way, this is true.

But it is also true that these things are all part of one inseparable whole. Light cannot mean anything without dark. Good cannot mean anything without evil.

These concepts can apply at work, too. Projects are interesting or boring. People are nice or jerks. But it's really not as clear cut as our minds like to think. Is it?

One inseparable whole. This is the view of nonduality. Life, just "ising" along in the ever present now. Regardless of our opinion of it!


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Intent Counts More Than Technique

I attended an awards banquet recently where there were several speakers. Most used teleprompters and read prepared remarks.

One was really good. His remarks were eloquent, he got through some pretty technical stuff without a hitch. His voice was smooth and mellifluous.

Another went without the prompter. He stumbled over his words. He often stopped and started a sentence a couple times before he got through a thought.

I asked those at the table what they thought about these two speakers in particular (they were both governors, so the comparison seemed apt). Everyone preferred the second speaker. The one who stumbled.

Why? Because it was clear how deeply he cared. He won us over with intent. With heart.

Often we use perfection as a delay tactic. We edit and refine the email as an excuse not to send it. We memorize or read our remarks because we are afraid of making a mistake.

I've worked on emails so long I have forgotten why I am sending them. Does my intent come through? Not in a good way, I'm sure.

Perfection is not the goal. Authenticity is. Our intent may not come through in that perfect first email. But it will come through. If we are selling something, if we are pushing an agenda, it will be clear. And if we genuinely want to help, that will be clear, too.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Catching Up

When you have a family and you go to the beach, it can be pretty hectic.

I was joking with my wife that I needed to get back to the office to get some rest. There is some truth to that. I think the bigger truth, though, is that it takes a day or two to get back into the rhythms of the office. Just like it can take some time to leave the office behind.

I have tried to change this, to push. But often, I find it is better not to.

There will be time later. The bursts of creativity will come. But for now, it seems best to take it slow.


Monday, April 5, 2010

When the Fear Comes

No matter what we do, there are times when we are afraid. For me, those times often come in the middle of the night. I worry about failure, about running out of money, about leaving my job for something new and not knowing what I am doing.

We all have fears. Just like we all have anger, or frustration, or jealousy.

One of the reasons that I started meditating was I wanted to get more control over those negative emotions. I had the thought that if I did the right practices, that I could make myself better. I could get rid of the parts of me that I do not like, and make the parts of me that I do like stronger.

It hasn't worked out that way. Those parts are still there, perhaps stronger than they have ever been.

Paradoxically, those moments of fear and anger can be some of our most pure experiences. We can see at those times, when we feel out of control, that there is something that is operating on our bodies that is not our body. That drives our thinking but is not our thinking. That is prior to notions of body and mind and self. We can see in those times that we, our small ego-driven selves, are not in control at all.

This can be scary, even terrifying. But isn't the same thing true for the good things that happen? When that brilliant idea comes, where does it come from? Where does any of it come from? When we look back at the best and worst moments of our lives, did we actually create them? Or did they just emerge?

If meditation actually does anything, it seems that it allows us to see more often the silence from which our lives emerge. Nothing more. Or less.