Monday, January 31, 2011

Wasting Time

If you're not doing something you love, and doing it the absolute best way you know how, you're wasting your time.

If you don't love your job right now, can you find things that you love in the job and do more of those?

If you don't love your relationship right now, can you find things that you love in the relationship and do more of those?

Certainly, there are things you can find that you love about your life. Do more of them. Do less of the things you think you should do but that really drive you crazy. You're not doing anyone any favors with begrudging compliance.

Life is way too short to be stuck doing things that you don't like. And I refuse to believe that we all can't find ways to spend more time doing things that we love.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Our Inner Resonance

"There’s a class of brain cells called “mirror neurons,” which act as a neural Wi-Fi, attuning to the other person’s internal state moment to moment and recreating that state in our own brain - their emotions, their movements, their intentions. This means empathy is not just based on reading the external signs of someone else’s feeling, like the hint of a frown, or the irritation in their voice. Because of mirror neurons, we feel with the other. Empathy, then, includes attuning to our own feelings in order to better sense what’s going on with the other person."

Daniel Goleman, "I Feel Your Brain"

People sometimes talk of the "vibes" or "energy" of a group or a person or even a guru. While many might dismiss that kind of talk, what Daniel Goleman is explaining is a scientific basis, a specific identified brain function, that tunes into the people around us and allows us literally to feel their state. And allows others to feel our state, too.

What is even more compelling is that those who are the most effective at this are those who are most able to quiet the random mental chatter that might otherwise distract them. In other words, empathy, like mindfulness or awareness itself, is a state that can be identified and cultivated.

And shared.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

No God Required

The core of much of my writing is based on nondual philosophy, which is also behind wisdom traditions such as zen, dzogchen, and advaita vedanta.

Over the years, when people of all traditions have started down these nondual paths, they have been on a quest for God, whether as an inner divine spirit (the typical eastern approach) or as a separate "ghost in the machine" that created the visible universe and to some extent still oversees it.

But the realization of the nondual path is to see that there never was any separation between that which you would call God and that which is not God. Either everything is God or nothing is, and the nondual doesn't have an opinion on the matter.

Simply put, the nondual is "what is," without a story. What is with God is a story. What is without God is also a story.

But this what is can also be what is at work, or what is in relationship, or what is in addiction and recovery. Everyone brings their own circumstances and beliefs and stories to this work, and they all can be fuel for seeing through. For dropping our constructed world and seeing what is in all its ordinary simplicity.

We start down a path thinking there is an end, and find not only that there is no end, but that there never was a path.

We don't find the answer; we lose the question.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Goal

One of my coaching clients asked what he should be feeling at the end of the nine month Radiant Mind course. (The third and final weekend is coming in February.) He was trying to get a sense, I think, of whether he had done well, of whether he had made use of all the course has to offer (exercises, phone calls, in person weekends, and so forth).

My answer was that the ideal student would see that none of the work had been necessary.

We're so used to thinking about goals. In almost all areas of our lives, we measure ourselves by explicit or implicit goals. Sometimes, we write these goals out and put them somewhere so we can keep track. Sometimes, though, we merely compare ourselves to others to see how we are doing. All in the context of an idea that we have about where we should be, and how we should be feeling.

What we often don't see is that those thoughts are not reality. The truth is that we are here, exactly right here, feeling and doing and thinking exactly what we are feeling and doing and thinking.

And this is always true. We will never get to any imagined future. We will never undo any regretted past.

We spend so much time trying to get to someplace else that we don't notice where we already are. Where we always are.

Just here. In this moment.

Things change when we see this. Yet the only difference between "before" and "after" is that we now see there is no other place we can be. That we were never anywhere else.

The paradox is that it often takes years of work to see that.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Twenty Seconds

Despite my post from yesterday, we still need goals sometimes. And the question becomes how to meet them more often. How do we establish more positive habits in a world in which eighty percent of New Year's resolutions fail?

In a great book about positive psychology, Shawn Achor talks about what he calls the Twenty Second Rule, which helps people maximize the chances of establishing a new habit.

Simply put, the idea is to structure your life so that things that you want to stop doing take twenty seconds longer, and that things that you want to start doing take twenty seconds less. Studies have shown that willpower is something that is in limited supply. The Twenty Second Rule takes advantage of human inertia when trying to change habits.

If you're trying to lose weight, keep all the tempting food further away. Put the snack food in the basement or garage, for example. If you are trying to stop checking email so often, completely close down your email program (or your computer, even) so that you have to log back in when it is time to check it.

If you are trying to exercise in the morning, sleep in your workout clothes. Roll out of bed, put your shoes on and go!

The Happiness Advantage has lots of other useful suggestions, too.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Prison Break

"If all I have is my conditioning, then how can I respond to what each moment is calling for?"

--Shayla Wright

My good friend and teacher Shayla is offering a course that she calls Mutual Evolution, in which we are invited to rest in a paradox.

We are constantly evolving as human beings. There is virtually no way not to change in our human lives. Even if we feel "stuck," the qualities of that very stuckness are changing in each moment.

As conditioned humans, we like to think we can change by making goals for ourselves, and yet any goal that we come up with is a concept, a thought. And those thoughts limit us. Maybe, for example, we want to be more loving. There's nothing wrong with this, but there are times when life will require a response that does not fit with that concept of loving, that might feel fierce and even unloving in the moment.

Can you see how the goal, then, can get in the way of what is required? We will either try to gloss over the requirement of the moment, because it does not fit with our concept of being loving, or we will meet the moment exactly where it is, and feel bad because we did not meet our goal.

There's another way. Instead of building a prison of goals and requirements, we can open to all our possibilities. We can rest in not knowing what is best, and trust that we will do what is called for.

We can also find others who are looking to break out of this prison of conditioned thought. And together, we can support each other's efforts to see that we made the prison, that we hold the key, that we are already free.

This is what Shayla is offering. The possibility that we can best improve by seeing there is no need to do so.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Just to Rest

Sometimes, the right thing to do is nothing.

Sometimes, the right thing to say is nothing.

We have a tendency to always be in motion. To talk, to read, to be making projects out of something.

And yet there are times when this is not necessary, when what we need is just to rest.

It can be freeing to invite in this rest, and the spaciousness that can come with it. And to see that it is OK, just for this moment, not to do or need anything.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nothing to Believe In

We often live several lives, intertwined.

We have a work life and stories that we tell ourselves that are associated with work. Stories about our capabilities for the job, whether we like what we are doing, how our career is going, whether we are looking for "something better."

We have a home life. We have friends and a spouse or partner. We have kids. And we tell ourselves another set of stories about all of that. Are we with the right person? Do our kids do what we want them to do? Are our friends supportive? Are we meeting our own expectations about what we should or should not be doing in all those roles?

Often we have a third, more personal life that we call spirituality or religion. This generally revolves around a belief that we are more than our bodies. That life continues after our physical death. Sometimes, there are particular behaviors that are linked to this promise of life after death, and if we don't comply, we believe we'll miss out.

This work is not about any of those things. This work is about the place where those stories and beliefs arise. This place is not a place at all. It cannot be defined. It is beyond anything that could be said about it. To even say it is nothing, or everything, is to completely miss the mark.

To see this, one must be outside of concepts. Outside of time. Words can only point. But it is here right now. You are never apart from it. It is your very essence. We try to find it by asking about it in words--is it this, or that? Because most of the time, that's what the brain does. It tries to figure things out, instead of just seeing. Or just being.

Take a break from thinking about this for just one second. Stop trying. You are still here, still in the silence. But when you're not thinking, even for one second, you're no longer a biography or set of beliefs.

That vast silence (not the concept, the silence itself) is what you are. And it never ever stops.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Freedom to Leave

We might think we have the ideal job, or partner, or house.

But we can only say that when we feel completely committed, and yet free to leave at any time.

Will we? Who's to say? But any plans that we make for the future are a trap of our own imagination. When we create a future, we create the possibility of suffering, too. Because the future will be different than our thoughts. That is certain. The only uncertainty is how much we will resist as we compare the real future against our imagined one.

Life is happening, and we really can't say (no matter how well or badly things are going) what's going to happen next. Because it hasn't happened!

Seeing that, or even noticing our resistance to that, is the beginning of freedom. The beginning of allowing life to simply be as it is.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beyond Meditation

I talk and write a lot about meditation practice. My experience over the last fifteen years has been utterly transformational. And I highly recommend it.

But at some point, meditative awareness just happens. Awareness just happens. Formal practice may or may not continue, but if it does, the border between meditating and not meditating gets very hazy indeed.

Last Saturday, I went to see a talk with Scott Kiloby, an incredibly clear nondual teacher. Scott said that he used to meditate, a lot, but doesn't anymore. If fact, he doesn't even encourage it. What's important, he says, is simply noticing, more and more, what is happening in each moment. The seeing that happens in the midst of our day.

He said he used to meditate in the morning, and meditate during the evening. And life in between, he said, was an unconscious roller coaster. Once he had a strong awakening experience, the need for meditating apparently fell away. The awareness had stabilized on its own.

It's interesting to speculate whether one can have that stable experience without meditating. But speculating about the future is a trap. What's clear is you can be here right now. And just noticing that, without worrying about whether or not it will continue, is enough.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Testing, Testing

Great post by Seth Godin.

We test because we want reassurance. We want to know what's going to happen. We want understanding.

And we really can't have any of these things.

When it comes to the important stuff, like "How do I become happy?" or "Am I doing the right thing?," there is no test that applies.

No matter what we think, no filled in dots on a page or check the box in a survey can substitute for the experience itself.

Happiness is just a label, and often a goal to be attained in some imagined future.

And who can say what "the right thing" is, or will be?

These questions, though, can point us to right here, right now. Because if we sit with them long enough we can see that they don't have answers, and never will.

All we can do is what we are doing now. All we can be is this.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Your Room of Requirement

If you're a Harry Potter fan, you may remember the Room of Requirement at Hogwarts.

When a witch or wizard enters this room, it instantly transforms into whatever is needed. Harry used the Room of Requirement as a training facility, for example, to teach defense against the Dark Arts to a group of his classmates. And any number of witches and wizards hid important things there, knowing that no one else could find them there.

What if every room is a a Room of Requirement? What if your life is nothing but that?

How often do we see that life has presented us exactly the right learning opportunity at exactly the right time? Sometimes, if we are stubborn, we even get a variation of the same lesson over and over.

Life, it turns out, is adapting to us as much (or more) as we are adapting to it.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Change We Can All Believe In

I'm going to suggest that there are three kinds of people (I seem to like the number three lately), based on how happy they are.

The first group is miserable. On a scale of 1 to 10, they might be at a 2 or less. I call this group the "Something Has to Change" group. They are miserable and see that they are miserable.

The second group is what I call the "Good Days, Bad Days" group. This group has a big range, maybe from a 3 to an 8. Life is pretty good some of the time for these folks. More for the 8s than the 3s, certainly. But for the most part, life is tolerable and works some percentage of the time. They get some of the things they want and meet some of their goals. Just enough to think that they know how life works and that the know how to be happy. I'd guess the vast majority of people are in this group. Including a lot of people who we might think are in the first group, except for the fact that they haven't bottomed out yet. You might think of a few Hollywood stars who have been in and out of rehab, for example. They still believe their way of living can work, if they only fine tune it a bit.

The third group is the "Life is Great!" group. For these folks, life has a wondrous, blissful sense about it. It is truly an adventure in creation and almost every moment is savored.

Which group do you think is most likely to change?

I dare say it's the "Life is Great!" group.

Why? Because this group sees that life is an ever-changing adventure. While you'd think they have no need to change, it also turns out they have no resistance to change. They are best able to flow with the changes of life because they see that life itself is change.

The "Something Has to Change" group is actually the second most likely group to change. Because they've bottomed out and see they need help. But change is still difficult for this group. They have seen the error of their old ways, but have not replaced those ways with more successful strategies.

The "Good Days, Bad Days" group finds it very hard to change. Almost impossible, in fact. Because their thinking doesn't permit it. They see change as something to be resisted rather than embraced. They put a lot of their efforts into holding onto the good things in their lives, because they are scared to death of losing them. And because of this, any change, any risk at all is terrifying.

The good news is that you don't have to be in the "Life is Great!" group 24/7 to effect great change. Let's face it, no one, not even the most enlightened sage, is in that space all the time.

But if you can just see the possibilities in this moment, and embrace them, that can be more than enough.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Found Out

Often, we can have a nagging sense that we're a fraud, that we're not what people think we are, and that we could be discovered, or found out.

On one level, this is absolutely true. We're not what people think we are. Most people think each of us is our persona, our identity. Where we went to school, our occupation, our partner and children and friends and possessions. The stories we tell to ourselves and others. And yet none of that feels like our true essence, because our story, and how we feel about it, changes all the time, based on our mood or the situation.

But there is some essence at our core. Even though we can't exactly say what it is, we all know on some level that it has nothing to do with possessions or achievements.

The fact that we can't clearly say what this essence is can be very disconcerting. When we are in a fearful state (which we are a lot of the time), it is easy to interpret this essence, this vast space, as something lacking. We worry there is something wrong with us, because our minds can't say what or who we are. We hear the clear messages of society and other people, who seem so certain, and we think we're the only ones that feel this way, the only ones that that have this flaw of not knowing. This becomes a deep secret that we have to hide, even from ourselves. So when we do occasionally see into our timeless nature, we tend to be afraid rather than awed.

We're so ashamed we're nothing, that we fail to see we're really everything.

This fundamental misunderstanding drives our misery and our suffering. We think if only we do more or get more, we can cover up the nothingness inside of us. But we fail to see that the nothingness is the birthplace of everything. It is the pure potential from which the entire universe arises. It is everything we need--everything there is, in fact--right here inside us, waiting to be born in each moment.

We ultimately discover that that our essence is both that which is seeking and that which is sought. We were never anything else. We can't be anything but this, no matter what our thoughts say. And this seeker, this witness, is beyond description, beyond identity. It is consciousness itself, the very same consciousness that is looking through the eyes of every other sentient being. 

We can run from it by piling things on top of it, by pretending it is not there, by pretending the thoughts are in control rather than the field they arise in. But eventually, the vastness overtakes us. We're the ones who find out, and when we do, we're no longer concerned about anyone else learning our secret. Because there is nothing we can hide, and no one to hide it from. And there's no one left to hide anymore.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

No Worries, No Mistakes

We spend a lot of time thinking about the future. We might be thinking about how things will go at work, or who is going to win an election or a football game. We might think about when or if we're going to meet the right person or how we're going to know what is next for us.

And we simply don't know any of those things. Right now, we can't know. Even if we go to the best psychic in the world, we won't know for sure.

This creates a lot of worry and stress.

And yet, no matter what has happened in my life, the good, and especially the bad, when I have looked back at it from the perspective of a few years, it seems like it was for the best. That I learned something valuable from it. That I grew.

Can we see this right now? Can we trust our uncertainty?

Looking back, it seems there are no mistakes. And if that's true, it means there's nothing to worry about, either.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Grist for the Mill

Some of the most powerful Buddhist teachings talk about how the material of our daily lives fuels our gradual transformation.

The teachings of Jack Kornfield, as shared in his classic A Path with Heart, are a great example of this.

Our difficulties are a pointer. Not to what is wrong with the outer world, but to the resistance that happens in our inner world. Our troubles are not due to what is happening in the world. They are instead because of how we label and interpret what is happening.

Are we pushing it away, or are we clinging to it?

Do we want it to be different? How so?

Are we inserting a "should" somewhere? "He should have known better." "It should be different."

Do we think it isn't fair?

Life just is. Everything else we add with our thoughts.


It is easy to notice this in other people. It's not so easy to notice in ourselves. But to notice is to start a lifelong, and completely unpredictable, process of change.

It can be scary to start this process, because we don't know what is going to happen. But we don't know what will happen if we don't, either.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Three Steps

There are three seamless steps to development.

Step One is based on our conditioned sense of self. It is life as experienced by the left hemisphere of the brain. It is based on goals and logic and data. We proceed from past to future. We have a plan.

But occasionally, we have moments of timelessness, in which we notice we are just "here," with no demands. We don't know what to make of these moments at first.

In Step Two, we begin to notice and cultivate these moments of timelessness. We see that unconditioned happiness does not come from the to do lists that the left brain produces. Unconditioned happiness is life as experienced by the right hemisphere of the brain. We begin to spend more time here, to enjoy these "vacations" from life and the healing they can bring. This is a dangerous time in our development. It can be tempting to spend more time here and less in our conditioned life, to engage in "spiritual bypassing," to think that these right brain experiences are better than the left brain ones.

But we are not just the right brain or just the left brain. We are both.

Step Three is to bring these right brain experiences into our daily lives. To loosen the grip of the left brain. To see the union of left and right, of time and timelessness. To take a balanced view.

We can fret about this, and worry if we are doing it correctly. This is what the left brain tends to do. Or we can accept whatever is happening as a perfect expression of the moment.

We'll probably do both of those things. We'll have good days and bad days. But now we're committed. There is no going back. This work will become our path, integrated with everything we do. For the rest of our lives.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Why Trap

"Why" might be the biggest impediment on the spiritual path.

Why is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in everyday life. Why didn't we get the promotion? Why did the client pick another vendor? Why did our biggest competitor get acquired?

But when we are talking about that which can't be described--awareness or presence or whatever name you might call it--why will lead us astray.

Why leads us into the left hemisphere of the brain. To logic and past and future. To stories about things that are not the thing itself. In the conditioned world, we tend not to notice this.

But presence is none of those things. It is the right brain experience of the world. It is right here, right now. Full stop. Nothing more. To try to describe or explain is to kill it.

See it. Relax into it. Enjoy the relief and healing it brings.

And don't ask why.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Outer and Inner

We spend a lot of time feeling like something is missing.

And we compensate for this the only way we know how. We try to buy things and do things to escape this feeling. We think that if we have more, that place of emptiness will be filled. We think that these outer, impermanent possessions or experiences can be a substitute for the inner goodness we think is missing.

If there is indeed something missing inside us, it seems very unlikely we'll plug that hole with the right partner or job or car or house. Yet when we think of the time that we spend on our own development, most of the effort seems to be on these external things.

It might make more sense to look inside, at this sense of something missing. Why do we feel this way? Is it because we have been told that we are inadequate? Let's question that. Is it because we think others have something we don't? Let's see if that is really true.

Without the thought that something is missing, what's here? Everything.

We're all capable of experiencing the miracle of having a human life. And yet we spend most of our days not noticing that. Not noticing the miracles all around us.

Now is a great time to remind ourselves of all that we have. And to see that in this moment, we simply can't find anything that's missing.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Beginner's Mind

"In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind, there are few."

--Shunryu Suzuki

At the beginning of this new year, let's think about all the assumptions we make about our lives.

That our jobs, relationships, possessions, achievements are good or bad.

That if our lives were different, they would be better.

That we know, or even can know, what's best, for ourselves or someone else.

These assumptions only serve to limit us. To drop them, to begin to accept life just as it is, is the beginning of freedom.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Resolutions, Resolved

It's time for New Year's Resolutions.

I'm not a big believer in resolutions. Like many, my record is not very good. At the same time, though, when I make my mind up, I can be very committed.

So my advice about resolutions is--

Don't make one.

If you need to make one, you're not ready. You're not convinced. You're not committed.

You're thinking about things that you think you should do, but that you haven't yet. You're thinking that you need a push and that this ritual will somehow make it easier.

But if you need to lose weight or stop smoking, you're going to do it when you're ready, at exactly the right time for you. Not because it coincides with a new year and a silly, if well intentioned, tradition.

Do it not because you want to, but because you must.

Happy New Year!