PEACE of mind

Peaceful Buddha“We are like servants OF our mind; whenever it wants to do something we have to do it without any choice… but if we sincerely practice we can reverse this situation.  If we want to be free of problems, we must transform our mind.”

–Geshe Kelsag Kyatso

 

The teaching traditions of the east refer to the “monkey mind”, the thoughts that swing from  thing to thing, branching out in multiple directions, often simultaneously pulling us all over the map of our lives, and almost always driving us away from what’s right in front of us.  In the west we are very, very familiar with this tendency of our thinking mind, especially when we finally want to stop thinking and get some rest, or simply connect with the child or partner who is seeking our attention.

To practice taming this uncontrollable monkey mind, there are a few things we can begin to do:

1.   Either move or stretch your body.  Our thinking energy and our physical energy can re-enforce each other.  If you are wound up mentally, try to circulate your body’s energy through some form of motion or exercise;  if you are blocked mentally, try to stretch open tight spots within your back, hips, shoulders, neck, etc.  By taking some control of what we can –our position, posture, or movement — we can begin to influence the mental energy that we will experience.  For more tips on this please click here.

2.  Take a few moments to  feel your breath.  We have probably all been in situations where we were uptight and someone said:  “hey, step back and take a  deep breath”.  Sage advice.  Biophysically, our breath is a critical part of our nervous system, and can literally shift you out of the adrenal pumping “fight or flight” mode and into a state that is more “tending and mending”.  For more tips on this please don’t click anywhere for more information; stop, close your eyes, and feel your breath.

3.  Consider changing your media diet.  Fill your mind more with words of inspiration and images of beauty, instead of bad news, polarizing ideas, and violence.  If you need a place to get inspired, try checking out some of the things on Ted.com.

4.  Work directly with your thinking mind by practicing concentration.  Many people have heard of meditation, maybe even have tried it, but then decided that their monkey minds were too crazy to just sit and “not think”.  They are not wrong.  Meditation is very much like sleep;  we can’t just snap our fingers and fall asleep; nor can we do the same with meditation.

However, we can create conditions which make it pretty easy to fall asleep, like turning off lights, lying down, snuggling under the covers, having no sound or soothing sounds, etc. Similarly, the yogis discovered and teach that the preliminary step to “meditation” (“dhyana”, in sanskrit), the thing that we actually can practice doing, is not to stop the mind but to “concentrate” its attention (“dharana”) on one object  When our powers of concentration become very, very strong, we then slip easily into a meditative state, like easily drifting off to a peaceful sleep.

Initially even this task of holding the mind to one thing can be difficult and frustrating.  But so too would be trying to lift a 400 pound weight without any previous gym time.  In every field, “every artist was at first an amateur” as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, and it is no different with mental concentration.  You aren’t supposed to know how to already do it; but every time you try, you practice, you exercise your concentration you will be building that “muscle” and becoming more skillful.

The Mind Unwinders found below can be used as “concentration muscle” builders;  with repeated and sincere effort, you may soon begin to get glimpses of the peace and bliss (“samadhi”) that are underneath and currently being crowded out by all of those run-on thoughts.

 

5 MINUTE MIND UNWINDERS

 

Roses and Thorns

I was buying a juice this morning, and the establishment was selling caps with a caption I want to share with you:

“Let’s make America grateful again”

It stopped me in my tracks.  I realized that with all of the uncertainty and confusion, all of the heavy negative energy that exists in our world today, I had forgotten to be thankful for the things that are and have gone well in my life.  A beautiful, curious, willful young son, his smart, funny older brother, a loving and inspiring wife, a safe home in a great neighborhood, access to healthy food, a job, a smile from the woman who sold me the juice, a great run of games by my Green Bay Packers, a wonderful network of good friends and people in my life…..the list goes way beyond just these.

The buddhist  Philip Moffit teaches that the practice of gratitude is a healthy, balancing antidote to the toxicity that can pervade our thoughts, feelings, and moods.  It is not just “happy talk” to oneself;  rather, it is a conscious effort to recognize, realistically, the truth of one’s situation.  Our brains are hardwired to look for threats and dangers to help us survive.  Thus our habit is too focus on, mull over, chew on, engage with and energize the negativities in our life, actual and potential, and to minimize what’s right.

So simply taking five minutes every day to consciously bring to mind all of things that are good, positive, healthy, helpful, or loving –the roses in our life– can be incredibly powerful in keeping us balanced and sane, even as we assess the thorny threats and plan any actions to address them.

I am grateful to you, for reading this, and for being who you are and doing what you do to make the world just a little better.

peace,

–db

 

 

Are You STUFFed Enough?

“That’s all your house is:  a place for you to keep your stuff, while you go out …. and get more stuff.”
–George Carlin

The holiday season can be a time when we realize just how “stuffed” our lives are.

First we get stuffed over a Thanksgiving feast, which usually fills us up with a rich diet of tasty treats that includes something actually called “stuffing”.  Next comes black Friday, where we trade in food consumption for material goods and appropriate stocking “stuffers”.  Then comes a three to four week sprint through December, with more “stuff” to do than usual – holiday parties to plan, prepare and or attend, travel or hosting arrangements to set-up – and more “stuff” to get – cards, presents, trees, wrapping paper, you name it.

And this year, in tough economic times, we have the added worry that perhaps we can’t afford as much “stuff” to pass around, which might lead to a more empty celebration, so what “stuff” can we do to make up for it?

Our culture is very focused on acquisition of both things and experiences.  There is an underlying assumption we begin to think is true that freedom lies out there somewhere, if only we can own more of our environment so we can control it more and thus be happy and free.

But there is also an underlying truth we can begin to realize, which is that the more “stuffed” we become, the more weighed down we are, both physically and emotionally.  Now we need bigger places to put all our “stuff”, more insurance to protect it, and more time to do more “stuff” in order to maintain it all.

Peace practitioners throughout the centuries have experienced a different kind of freedom, one gained by moving against the prevailing momentum of our culture.  For example, yogis seek freedom by turning in, by really feeling, experiencing what is going on inside their bodies as they are toned and stretched, twisted and squeezed.  In time, through this process, there is a great letting go of all the accumulated stuff – physical, mental, and emotional tension –that has come between us and our true natures.

As you begin to get glimpses of this original state of inner peace and spaciousness, all that other “stuff” that dominated our lives comes into perspective, and we begin to experience true freedom.

So if there is less stuff to be accumulated this season, that is not a bad thing.  Ultimately, it matters less how much stuff you have, or have to do, and more about how little space it all occupies in your mind.

May you have a healthy, safe, and peaceful holiday.

peace,
–db

 

An Attitude of Gratitude?

Eat your peas.  You should be grateful you have food on your plate.  There are children starving in Africa.
–Almost everybody’s grandmother, at least once in their life

It’s that time of year again.  You know, the one where you should be thankful. We need to check that off of our list so that we can then get busy buying all of our holiday gifts and cards and decorations, deal with any travel or visitors, and then maybe get a day or two of relaxation in before the new year starts.

And that’s sort of the problem many of us have with gratitude.  We have been taught gratitude as a social etiquette, as one of the “do’s” on our “do’s and don’ts” list of how to be in our community.  We know we are supposed to feel thanks for certain things, but if we don’t actually feel it, what are we supposed to do?  Is gratitude something that can be cultivated?

In our consumeristic culture, the lesson of gratitude is often:  be thankful for something that is specific and pleasing to my conscious desires.  In other words, gratitude becomes part of a transaction, like part of our “payment” for some good or service we received.

In fact, if we really investigate, we might discover that almost every minute of every waking day is continually filled with all sorts of transactional thinking:  “ooh, i like that, i need to have it;  ouch, i don’t like that, i need to get it away from me;  hmmm, i am totally indifferent to that, which isn’t worth another second of my time.  And we might then feel momentary thanks when we get what we want, avoid what we hate, and are not bothered by what bores us.

When it goes un-investigated, this transactional mode that we find ourselves operating in continually serves to reinforce an ever-narrowing view of life:  its all about me and maximizing my desires.  This then creates an ever-increasing strain on our life, as we constantly try to manipulate our outer environments to conform to this narrowing view of life.  And this, of course, creates a great deal of stress for us when we inevitably can’t control the universe and things don’t go exactly as we think we need them to go.

This constant, unconscious habit of of our minds to be pulled toward “like”, pushed away from “dislike”, and ignoring “indifferent” creates an incredibly unstable mind. Just as it is easy to take a physical tumble when our bodies are off-balance, so too it is easier for us to take a mental tumble when are minds are so ungrounded and unbalanced.  And this roller-coaster movement within our minds also obscures a more valid and true understand of the relationship between ourselves and our environment, obstructing our view of the myriad people, organizations, and circumstances that support our everyday lives and growth as human beings.

Gratitude is not a beam that is directed in a controlled manner toward appropriate people.  It is a fragrance.  When you wear it, it simply radiates from you!  Existence showers.  If you choose to enjoy it, you will.  It is purely your choice.
–Nithyananda

So if you are entering this holiday season and not feeling much gratitude, here is a simple practice to help you to cultivate this “fragrance”:  don’t try to force yourself to be thankful;  instead, spend your day investigating your own mental transactional habits.  Pay attention and notice when your feel the balance of your mind being pushed toward like or pulled away from dislike;  recognize these projections of yours and their powerful effect on how you feel and how you react.

For example, the next time you are calling your credit card health insurance company, notice if just picking up the phone knocks you off-balance in your dislike for the task, in your projected anticipation of the struggle you are about to have, etc.  Notice if this leads to a charge in your voice, or an aggressiveness that might actually provoke the very reaction from the employee that you had negatively anticipated.  Notice if you start to fume when you are put on hold.

From a very specific, narrow, self-centered point of view, these energies might seem entirely justified and natural.  But of course this perspective misses most of the true story:  how amazing is it that due to the cleverness and kindness of others we have phone technology.  We can actually hold a small device, push a few buttons, and speak with someone far away (and if you are talking to a big company, probably as far away as India!).

And even if we are having a challenge with our bank, isn’t it amazing that we have ATM machines located all around town to conveniently get cash as needed?  Or if it’s our insurance company, at least we have insurance, and what an amazing comfort that is, knowing that we don’t have to shoulder all of the costs of getting healthier.

And how convenient these modern, “smart” phones have made our lives.  Now, with Face-Time or Skype, we can even have a video phone call — for no extra charge!  So grandma across the country can see little Quin grow up, or we can see Harry as we talk to him in his dorm room and maybe even help him with a little homework.  It’s actually quite miraculous, and perhaps something for which we realize we can be quite grateful.

The idea of this practice isn’t so much to “fake it til you make it”;  rather, it is too focus your attention on your own, destabilizing projections of like, dislike, and indifference.  When you feel the mind start to tumble, notice what projection is causing that to happen.  The more we simply notice this own subtle mental habit, the less we find that we are reacting to it.  And then, one day, as we begin to actually see the web of kindness that has supported us throughout our whole lives –from being clothed and fed as a baby, being played with as a child, being educated as a youth, given the opportunity to work as an adult, being mended when sick throughout, having roads we can drive on, grocery stores we can stock up at, gyms we can work out at, birds we can listen to, sunsets we can delight in, etc.

And once we begin to actually see the truth of our relationship to everyone else and our environment, then we can respond to that truth.  And as my Buddhist teacher Angie says, “that is usually when some gratitude sneaks in!”   Then, like that flower, we just can’t help ourselves from feeling that way more and more often.

May all of your givings of thanks be happy!

peace,
–db

 

 

 

 

 

The PRAISE and BLAME Game

“You know, most of the people who worked for you back then were afraid of you….”
–Patrick D, a former corporate work colleague of mine

These words hit me like a sucker-punch to my self identity, and continued to rattle around my consciousness for many days.

Leading up to them i had the joyful fortune to go to a dinner party where i quite unexpectedly reconnected with someone from my past corporate work circle.  As we traded stories about the old days and shared some laughs, he then said what is quoted above.

I had always prided myself on being a “good guy”, and have a memory of myself as one of those bosses who was almost too friendly with the staff, blurring the efficient company beauracratic lines.  But now, suddenly the wheels were spinning in my head.  “Was this true?”  “Afraid?”  “How could that be?”  “Sure, I was under a lot of pressure, and had things going on in my personal life.  But was so sure i kept that out of behavior around the office…..”They must have all been really thin skinned!”  “I had some asshole bosses of my own; those people don’t know how good they had it!”

Not surprisingly, when felt to be under attack, our self identities quite often  get very defensive and go on the attack simultaneously.  The sting we feel energizes the thinking that “They” must be flat out wrong, or at least woefully unaware of the bigger context.  And yet….

“What if he is right?  I mean he must be, right?”  Wow, what a fool I am!”  “What things have i done to create that fear but now conveniently forgotten?”  “Oh now i feel like S@&#….if I can be that wrong about myself I need to stay away from people until i  figure this out.”

That feeling of wanting to disappear, to crawl into a hole, of hiding yourself.  It can be a very strong feeling, an empowering feeling….to your self identity!  It gets to roll around in that pity, to wallow in it, maybe to bemoan about it with a few friends.  It may “suck” but it still is all about ME, and MY importance, and how much other people must think about ME (“bad news is still news”).

My practice was to (literally) sit with these swirling thoughts and energetic body feelings, trying to pay more attention to the overall process and flow of energy than in trying to react to, or feed the ME in any direction.  In other words, to take some silent time to be present to the thoughts and feelings but also, in observing them, to dis-identify with the their content.  This practice of mindful patience eventually allowed the reality of the situation to be clear.  And the reality that I was reacting not to reality but to projections:  my own selective memory and image of “doug the executive”;  my own interpretation of the word “afraid”; my friend Chris’ projection of the perspective of the other staff;  the staff’s projections of me.

When all of these projections clashed, it started a new round of projections for me.  Projecting and angry defense of myself to myself, battling against my own projected pitiable self, keeping alive this dispute in my head so that i could keep thinking about MYself.

My ego took a licking and was manipulating its way to keep on ticking.

The reality, the truth of the whole situation was somewhere in the middle, was based on actions more than a decade old, and was something that no one was really thinking about any more….except for ME.

“At the yoga studio you used to teach at they started another yin class.  One of your old students came out after the class and asked for her money back because she said “It wasn’t nearly as good as when Doug taught'”…
— a former yoga colleague of mine

Ah.  These words were received like tasty nectar, when at a recent Sunday service, i un-expectantly bumped into someone who works at a yoga studio i used to teach at, and she passed on the above anecdote to me.  This time my gut, heart, and head all swelled with pride.  “Ah, yes, people do recognize how awesome I am!”  “Aha, i do deserve to be a ‘rock star’ yoga teacher!”

Boy, now i had some wonderful material to roll around in and spin out some really pleasing self images.  I even considered this incident to be the antidote to the previous one:  “Ah, so people used to be afraid of me, but now that i have done so much “spiritual” work, I am obviously now a better and more valued person!  It took a little while but I was able to catch myself doing this.  So i practiced mindful patience with this experience and resulting thoughts and feelings.  I detected a lot of similarity to the effect of the two conversations, actually.  They both gave me a chance to project myself into past situations and know that people were thinking about ME.

And they both had little to do with the reality of the situation.  A yin yoga master would be able to communicate the essence of the teaching, to help people to surrender to the present moment and release their hang-ups over things needing to be a certain way.  Like having the exact same experience in a class.  So maybe i’m not ready for rock star status just yet.

Situations of being blamed or hearing negative things about oneself are obviously challenging to the ego.  And in waking up that beast they present more subtle challenges to the development of our ultimate human potential.  Situations of praise are obviously not very challenging to the ego, but awaken that beast in a different way, creating the same subtle challenge for our ability to grow.

.”Words of praise or blame serve only to beguile us, so blow them away as you would blow your own nose.”
–Atisha, the “Second Buddha”

 

Can we use the practice of mindful patience to take this advice?  Should we even try?

Tell me what you think, or even better, what you’ve experienced.  You can disagree or agree, think this piece was way off or feel it is a critical peace of the peace.  I promise not to get too hung up on it, either way.

peace,
–db

 

 

 

 

Awfully Kind?

“Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the time I am being carried on great winds across the sky.”
–Ojibwa Teaching

My wife suggested that I write something a little more upbeat and positive after posting about the school of hard knocks and then the world being literally on fire.  It was a great little re-Minder for me, for i can find myself worrying about future scenarios.  Usually these  are triggered by some concrete, challenging news or situation, which i then chew on, mull over, and spin out into a cascade of bad fortune leading to the absolute worst case imaginable.

She and I have coined the phrase “awful-lyzing” to express this angst-fueled mental energy.    This is different than recognizing possible ways things could develop and preparing for them.  No, “awful-lyzing” is thinking about, re-imaging the links of bad events that lead to, projecting how you will feel having to live in that future, talking about it incessantly, to others and most definitely to ourselves.  When you awful-lyze, you spend a lot of time with and familiarize yourself with a complete fantasy — or more likely “nightmare scenario”, thereby making it habitually seem actually real to you.

When you become aware that you are no longer familiar with reality but with this “super-sized” bad scene, there are things that you can do to rebalance your perception.  Consciously Remembering Kindness is a practice found in many different traditions — cultural, spiritual, new age, etc.

Because the actual, verifiable truth is that we are all here living at whatever level we live at mainly out of the kindness of others.  Family, friends, strangers, even enemies and all beings (including bugs!).

Please take a few moments, stop reading, and reflect upon whatever you had for dinner last night.  Did someone prepared the meal?  Did someone gathere the ingredients and bring them home or to the restaurant?  Did someone operate a store   so that you could fairly conveniently go and get those ingredients?  Did someone transport that food to the store?  Yes the driver was paid, but they still chose to provide that specific service which is of true benefit to you.  And if you ate meat, someone raised the animals, and then of course there is the animal itself who clearly sacrificed for your benefit.

Hopefully you get the point.  You can follow this chain in many directions (Did someone feed the person who drove the food to the store for you to be able to pick it up there?, etc).  And you can reflect in this same way about many things.  Transportation, your job, the amazing digital gadgets that enable us to be simultaneously more plugged in and yet sometimes more disconnected too.

Remember this is not a technique for putting on “rose-tinted sunglasses” and imagining “best case scenarios”.  Rather, it is a simple way to take a little time, maybe work a little harder to adjust our vision, and take note in actual people, things and circumstances that benefit your life.  The truth is that we usually are wearing “awful-lyzing grime covered sunglasses” that create distortions in our experience and perception of the way things are.

The LA Times recently published an article entitled “Study says people are inclined to help others”.  Interestingly, the reporting said the researchers found, though, that when people had more time to consider their actions, they became less stingy.  Perhaps the “grime covered sunglasses” get put on and dampen our instinct to a higher nature.  Oh how kind it is that others have developed practices to help us cultivate the skill to take them off!

Drawn more specifically from Tibetan Buddhist lineages, here are two specific ways to use this practice in your daily life, and i invite you to experimenting with one or both.  Commit to a weekend, or a week, and then practice:

1.  daily, at a regular time, in the evening or just before bed.  Allow yourself to quiet down, and then very deliberately scroll through your day, pausing to look for simple kindnesses that you benefitted from.  Just like anything new, it might seem a bit strange at first, but the more you look for them, the more easily you begin to see them.  Then extend your recognition of kindnesses by spontaneously calling to mind any teacher, mentor, or other person who touched and inspired you and benefitted you.  Finally, you can reflect upon figures going back through history whose actual activities and accomplishments led to you being able to live the way you do.

If you begin to experience and overall shift in your daily experience, then consider adding a second regular five minute session of this Conscious Recognition of Kindness.

2. before specific circumstances that trigger your awful-lyzing.   This might be work, or other social “obligations”, where people and events can come to be obstacles to your need to navigate through the situation in a certain way.  Instead of girding up for those situations, expecting the worst, why not try to really look and see what kindnesses, however simple, might be involved.  Somebody probably cleaned your office.  Maybe someone plays music you like, or simply does their job so well that it makes it better for the whole office.  Again, don’t make things up, but don’t overlook the many things that benefit you.

“Acts of Kindness, like breadcrumbs in a fairy tale forest, lead us past danger as light cuts through the darkness.  Acts of Kindness, like rain in a drought, relieves the spirit with a whoop and a shout!”
–Paul Simon, “I Don’t Believe”

The habit to awful-lyze may be subtle and thus almost unnoticeable, or it may be very strong.  But when we do notice it, there is a choice.  We can think about and familiarize ourselves with nightmare projections until we begin to believe that they are real, or we can think about and familiarize ourselves with aspects of our actual, lived experience that have been supporting us and carrying us forward all along.

peace,
–db

 

Do we Have to Go Back To School?

One recent weekend I was helping my 20 year old pack for his return to college. I began to notice a tightening, churning sensation in my stomach, and realized i was beginning to have a mild panic attack.  Empathizing with my son, I was being flooded with phrases that i imagined were going through his head:  “it was great to do what i wanted, and not have anyone check up on me.  Now its homework about things i’m not sure i’ll ever need to know again;  have to prove myself to the new teachers;  grades, ugh!”

I soon realized that i it was dishonest to label this empathy, as i had no actual idea of what my son was experiencing;  rather, i was having an emotional flashback to my experience of preparing for school.   In recognizing that I was totally projecting my past experience into my son’s now moments,  the anxiety lost some of its emotional sting.  Driving to his school, I felt even better recognizing that I didn’t have to deal with teachers, tests, and grades ever again!

Yes, i could re-focus my attention again to my adult life, where the classroom was simply my everyday experience.  Like feeling how humid and muggy the air has been lately, the most like that in my memory of Southern California.  Maybe should be no surprise, coming off of the hottest summer ever recorded in the US.  On the radio, news of weather related droughts and fires, and now flooding again in the Crescent Bay.  A glance around the streets finds a nearby (no) service station, listing gas at $5.00 a gallon!

The television, papers, and internet now filled with the national discussion of just how bad things are:  one side emphasizes how we are much worse off than four years ago, while the other promotes how much better off we are than where we were headed four years ago.  Meanwhile, most polls show that most people have no confidence in either side, or almost any of our cultural institutions, to improve our state of the union.

“Holy crap”, i said to myself.  Maybe it would actually be less stressful to be going off to the bubble of college, rather than heading back into it the school of hard knocks living!

“But when the rain comes you know the flower’s gonna bloom;  and when the hard times come you know the teacher’s in the room.”                                                     –Michael Franti

Sages from every spiritual culture and discipline have indicated that life is about learning lessons, but we seem to have collectively enrolled in an AP class that we aren’t well prepared for, and to which there is no lesson plan!  So what can we do?

First, as counter-conditioned as it may seem, one “peace practice” that can be highly effective in this circumstance is the cultivation of gratitude.  We can take a pause and focus on that which we are grateful for:  it may be the presence of a child or other loved one, or even a book, or a song or a favorite meal.  When we are surrounded by the anxiety of what’s breaking down, it’s important to consciously bring to mind those things that still do work, that do soothe us.

It’s important to realize that cultivating gratitude is not a technique to repress the anxiety of our situation or fool ourselves with happy thoughts.  It is, however, a method for piercing the hold of our own projections.  It gives us a fuller, broader, more balanced view of the life we find ourselves living.

I know i sometimes get more work-up over those “big problems” looming over us, which i can read watch hear and learn about, but about which i can do seemingly little.  Especially in today’s hyperlinked world of micro-targeted companies’  sales pitches and news organizations’ ideological bents.  We might go a full 24/7 of being plugged into a universe that caters to our perceived needs and viewpoints, an insulated, projected feedback loop that increasingly distorts our perspective on reality outside that bubble.

However, my daily life is actually more impacted by:  the smile coming from the check-out lady at the local market (“how grateful I am that it is so close and convenient for me!”), or the gentleman in the SUV that actually slows down to let me merge in traffic (as I wave a “thank you”), or the wonderful babysitter that we trust so much we can leave our precious 20 month old behind and enjoy a romantic meal (“she deserves a tip!”).

Our thoughts want to solve problems, which is the good news.  The bad news is that this means thoughts tend to focus on problems needing to be solved.  Actively taking moments throughout the day to cultivate a more accurate, full perspective on your day might help you to see the flowers that are blooming, even in the rain!

A second counter-conditioned response we might have is to stop trying to escape the anxiety we feel and instead breathe into it.  Those of us who engage in yoga have the opportunity to “practice” doing this when we encounter strongly felt challenges right there within our bodies.  Through this practice we “learn the lesson”:  rather than pushing the energy away, we can try to stay as calm as possible even while it intensifies, and then use this experience as fuel to motivate us to shift something within within ourselves, or within our lives.

Maybe we start spending less time on the computer and more time outdoors; or less time on the internet sites we currently visit and seek out something different.  Or maybe we can spend less time in our own bubble of projections, seeking our own comfort, and instead volunteer to help someone else with more immediate needs.

Which brings us to another practice we can cultivate, which is to draw upon our “collective” enrollment in the school of life.  Despite the vitriolic words and images that emphasize what divides us, it is a fact that we are all in this global community together. Every breathe you take is a shared chemical concoction with your families and neighbors.  Probably many of the things you recalled as working, or being positive in your life, are related to or the direct result of the work and service and help of someone else.

So like co-members of a helpful school study group, we can each bring something of value and, in return, receive the support and direction from others to lead us into new ways of living in this changing world.  And that is the ultimate wireless connection we share, and the ultimate way forward to experiencing a life that is “better off”!

         “Fill my heart with discipline, put there for the teaching; in my head see clouds as stairs, help me as I’m reaching; the future’s made, with better days”
–Eddie Vedder

Let’s crack open our books, and our hearts.  See you in class!

peace,
–db

 

Traffic Jammed?

 

If you are like me, you have experienced at some point your own level of feeling “road rage”;  hopefully not to the degree that you chased someone down or fired a gun, but definitely to the degree that you fired off an audible “what an idiot!” –or worse– into the empty space around you in your car.

Just driving today i experienced:  a wide SUV idling to make a left turn from so far to the right side of its lane that i couldn’t pass it to continue straight down the street;  a slow moving woman who waited until her light was red before walking across the road right in front of me and my green light;  an 18-wheel Budweiser truck making almost impossible turns while driving through the narrow streets of our very residential area of town;  and someone texting at the stoplight in front of me, unaware that our light had given us the go until they sped through, leaving no time for me to get through as well.

It’s amazing to me how easy it is to get very competitive and selfish when out driving.  Have you ever sped up just a bit to prevent someone from getting in front of you because you felt that they didn’t deserve it?  That it was YOUR space, your lane, and how dare they try to nudge their way in?  Now who’s the idiot?

Oh, i forgot to mention that as i neared my home i also got rear-ended.  At a stopsign.

Ultimately, we can never control the other drivers with whom we share the road.  We can’t even control our immediate reactions to their actions.  But we can control what we choose to do next, although it may take a bit of practice to feel that control.

One major way to dial down the tension in your car is to be very conscious of the audio environment with which you surround yourself, literally what kind of “vibe” you choose to bathe in.

There was a time when I felt that, in order to be a good citizen, i had to listen to news and talk radio.  There were the two preset channels that i would switch between to hear about the state of the world, and then the third channel i would check out from time to time that featured the hosts i almost always disagreed with, but whom i thought i should listen to so i could understand what “the other side” was putting out.  I often found myself debating them to no one but myself, trying to come up with arguments i would use if i was ever their guest!  And i began to notice that whenever i arrived at my destination, i usually was pretty wound up.

So the question I invite you to ask yourself is:  by listening to talk radio in the car, do you find yourself more informed, or simply more inflamed?

Music too can pump you or calm you down, depending upon what you listen to.  I’m not suggesting that one form is better than any other, but i am suggesting that you consider making a very conscious decision as to what state you wish your nerves to be in as you drive and when you arrive, and set the channel or playlist based on that.

Another suggestion is to create a sense of “sacred visual space” within your car.  Many people hang spiritual icons from their rear-view mirror;  i have a little statue on my dashboard;  others have pictures of their kids, or partners, prominently clipped to a sun-visor.   It can be very effective to have such a visual touchstone, something to ground you in the bigger picture, into the things that really matter in life, rather than acting out of a narrow focus of needing to get to where you want to go one minute earlier.

Speaking of time, it’s another good idea to block off your car clock when you are driving, or if you have one of those radios that let’s you switch visually between channel number and time to keep it on the channel number.  Think about it;  you are driving, you are probably trying to get to where you need to be as quickly as you safely can, taking the fastest, route, etc.  If things are jammed up, you might turn and go a different way.

But how could knowing exactly what time it is help you in any way?  Isn’t it more likely to just make you more anxious and upset?  Seeing how late it is getting, is there anything you can do in the car to change your arrival time?

Finally, I invite you to experiment with a practice of how to deal with all the other “idiots” on the road.  Whenever someone prompts an agitated reaction from you, do the following:

First, make sure you exhale, maybe even a deep sigh, to release tension.

Then, recognize that every single person driving around you is equal in wanting the same thing, which is to arrive at their destination safely, and as quickly as possible.  No one intentionally sets out to drive in a manner that pisses off those around them.  In fact, much of the time the other driver isn’t even aware of the “idiotic” thing they just did.  Consider whether you might have ever unknowingly cut someone off.  I mean, they call it a “blind spot” because it is a place where we are “blind”, right?

Going further, recognize also that we are all probably equal in that we at some point even knowingly driven erratically.  Has there ever been a moment where you were lost in unfamiliar territory, thinking a turn was coming on one side of the road when it suddenly shows up on the opposite?  Did you vear toward it, or circle around?

Have you ever had to rush to the hospital, or to the airport or anywhere else, where you felt such extreme pressure to arrive that it justified a momentary bit of idiotic driving?  Wouldn’t you want people to cut you a little slack?  What if something like that is happening to the person who just cut you off?

I am not trying to say that dangerous driving is ever justified.  But this post isn’t about “them”, it’s about “us”.  What I am suggesting is a way of reframing an experience you are having on the road so that your own state of mind might become a little more peaceful.

So try the next time to choose to see yourself letting someone in who is about to, or just did, cut you off.  If that becomes something that you can do, maybe go one step further and wish them well and hope that they get where they are going safely.  Might this be an attitudinal antidote to take and make yourself feel a little calmer?

Choosing this course of attitudinal action also allows us to practice compassion, to exchange yourself with another, to literally “feel with” them.  It might not get us to our destinations faster than the next guy, but opening our hearts is certain to improve our “car-ma”, so that we may drive, thrive, and arrive on this shared road of life.

peace,
–db

 

Freedom TO or Freedom FROM?

I hope you celebrated a joyous and safe independence day.

We have been hearing much about “freedom” these past days.  We explosively celebrate our freedoms:  TO say what we want, TO hang out with whom we want, TO live where we want, TO eat what we want, TO buy want we want, TO work at what we want, TO watch what we want, TO read what we want, TO choose the government we want (or at least to choose from what feels like the lesser of two evils, sometimes!).

The whole trend of modern civilization is toward the freedom TO pursue our happiness in the external world.  And while that can at times lead to a very materially comforting lifestyle, it often also leads to a burdensome sense of needing to be in perpetual motion:  acquiring the newest, best things or experiences, working harder and harder to pay for it all, and feeling intense anxiety when the overall societal material “pie” seems to be getting smaller.

On another level, this belief in the notion that something external is critical to our happiness also serves to reinforce the patterns of our ego, and to strengthen our self-identification with the little me struggling in this constant pursuit against the big old world.

Is this what our founding fathers had in mind?  Probably many of them.  But listen to what Thomas Jefferson, he of the “pursuit of happiness” fame, had to say on the subject:

      “Happiness is not being pained in the body or troubled in the mind.”

He seems to be suggesting that the pursuit of happiness is not about  the external “things” that so much advertising tells us we need to feel better; rather, in order to be truly free, perhaps we must liberate ourselves FROM the internal things that bind us.

We all inevitably experience the “tyranny of the body” as it falls ill, ages, and eventually stops.  That is why moving the body, and paying nurturing attention to it, are so critical.  Of course, this does not need to be a violent, forceful, revolutionary overthrow of the body, but a peaceful evolution, degree by degree.

TJ also points to the tyranny of our minds, and how mental thoughts and behavioral habits function, often on auto-pilot.  These individual energetic patterns—known in Sanskrit (the language of yoga) as “samskaras”—function like deeply cut grooves in our psychological energy field, both driving our behavior into repeated acts while also limiting the (in) sight of imagined possibilities beyond their steeply ingrained sides.

If we can find moments to slow down, and to practice concentrating the mind, we become more aware of these samskaras, paying conscious attention to when we fall into them, we gain, over time, an ability to stop ourselves as we hover on their edge.  And if we don’t fall deep into that well-worn groove, then we aren’t so compelled to chase down those same corridors over and over.  We also gain a broader perspective on our lives, open to a greater range of optional behavior.

The true tyrant FROM which we all must ultimately find our freedom is this sharp, internal energetic hook of those samskaras

And once we do, a lot of the other “stuff”, the stuff we initially wanted so much, the stuff to which we were so drawn, the stuff that we thought proved to ourselves that we were free…. well that stuff might not matter so much anymore.  Being free FROM the limits of our internal world, we might even find ourselves free to enjoy this moment, exactly as it is, without needing to “pursue” anything else.

May your summer be filled with such moments of independence!

Peace,
–db

 

Peace Pix Photo Essay

Out wandering, as I sometimes do, I looked for signs of peace in these challenging times…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I guess the key is to make the effort to look for peace.  “Seek and ye shall find”.  I did.  Maybe you will too!

be well,

–db

The Beginning is a Good Place to Start

“Our original mind…is not a closed mind, but actually and empty mind and a ready mind.  If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything;  it is open to everything.  In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities;  in the experts mind there are few.”
Shunryu Suzuki

Most of us don’t like engaging with know-it-alls.  Those people who are constantly telling us what is correct, what is right, based upon their extensive acquisition of information, which they are more than ready to share with us.  Sometimes they even spend time in our conversations finishing our sentences — even if the words they use, and sometimes even the thoughts they imply, are not where we were going with our expression.

Imagine if you had a conjoined (“siamese”) twin, and every moment of every day he told you exactly what was going on, what to think, how to finish your sentences.  You would probably want to punch him out, only then you would have to drag that heavy dead weight around with you.  Such a burden!  And such an annoying way to go through life.

Yet this is how almost everyone one of us does go through our days.  Only the twin is in our mind.  Every experience we have, sight we see, smell we encounter, sound or phrase we hear and taste we take, immediately our “know-it-all” mind tells us how to interpret, and what to believe about it.

This is true especially with phenomena that we routinely encounter, such as washing our face, or meeting our boss.  With something like the former our twin thinker will dismiss all new, actual input and sensation, telling us that we have done this 1000 times before and so we have no need to pay any attention to it because there are other, more important things to know or figure out!; with someone like our boss it will replay for us the story we have created about him or her, whether it is pleasant (“she likes me and i feel useful”) or unpleasant (“what an asshole!”).

Either way, we again we don’t really pay attention to who this boss is today, in this moment, or what is actually happening between the two of you.  Rather, all new inputs get edited, so that the ones that reinforce “what we already know” re-prove it to ourselves, while all other inputs get ignored or suppressed or chewed on until we can spin them into our “known” story.  Enslaved to this twin thinker, we miss out on many small, miraculous moments, like the cool, energizing feel of water on our face and the calm in aroma of the lavender soap we use, or the quiver in our boss’s voice signaling their humanity.  And of course we also have to carry around the heavy baggage of all of those old stories we think we know are some unchanging truth.

Such a burden!  And such an annoying way of going through life.

“Not-knowing is true knowledge.  Presuming to know is a disease.  First realize you are sick; then you can move toward health.”
Lao-tzu

Finding ways to practice becoming aware of our presumptions and prejudices, even the very small ones, can put us on the road to rediscovering the vitality of life….not “known” life but true, evolving, ever changing and never exactly the same life.  The boss you encounter later today is a different person than the one you encountered last time, as are you.  And the face that you wash is a different face, with different water, than the one this morning.  Is it possible to “know” this moment, and then to “know” this one, and so on, without having to rely on that twin thinker preemptively finishing the experience for you?

As an experiment, whenever you become aware that you are operating from “know it all mind”, take :30 seconds, focus on your breath, and as you exhale say to yourself “This moment” and as you inhale, “New Moment”.  Since every moment truly is new, how could you really know what is going on, or know how it will all end, before actually paying attention as you go through it?

I invite you to try this practice for one day.  Commit to going back to the beginner’s mind whenever you become aware of your twin know-it-all.  Drop that heavy baggage, and begin to live life anew, fresh with possibilities.  Then tell us all here what you discovered.

Maybe this is Eastern woo woo bulls*#@!.  Maybe it isn’t.  Is it possible to even “know” that? Or only possible to find out?

peace,
–db