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!