Building community in a changing world

December 8, 2021

“Life, doo, doot, dooo”

As it’s my last day of my youth, I’m doubling down of taking it day-by-day, enjoying the simple moments. I love me these lyrics from Des’ree’s song entitled “Life”:

I’ll take you up on a dare,
Anytime, anywhere
Name the place, I’ll be there,
Bungee jumping, I don’t care!

Life, oh life, oh life, oh life,
Doo, doot doot dooo.
Life, oh life, oh life, oh life,
Doo, doot dooo
Life, doo, doot dooo
Doo, doot dooo

So after all is said and done
I know I’m not the only one
Life indeed can be fun, if you really want to

Sometimes living out your dreams,
Ain’t as easy as it seems
You want to fly around the world,
In a beautiful balloon

December 1, 2021

Relationship Maintenance

I’ve blogged before about how my wife & I regularly do a check-in exercise that we’ve slightly modified from what Jonathan Foust has taught me. It’s incredibly powerful and helps to keep us connected. This 45-minute dharma talk from Jonathan provides great insights into the nature of romantic relationships. Here’s some of the points he makes:

– Jonathan is always careful to note that he’s not a couples therapist, but he does know communication techniques that can be helpful.

– Many harbor the mistaken belief that by meeting someone, they can make us whole & happy.

– Yet, a key to a successful relations is understanding yourself. The Imago therapy model is that our wounds tend to show up in our relationships. So knowing your own wounds is crucial to understanding whether a potential partner can help you work with your issues.

– You need to know the wounds of your partner. Then try to have empathy by reversing your roles to understand the wounds. That doesn’t solve everything but allows you to slow down in a conscious way.

– Know that what you can’t communicate with your partner controls the relationship. If there is something you can’t communicate, you are being restrained by that. Take responsibility for what you’re feeling and what you’re not sharing.

– At the 19-minute mark, Jonathan explains the check-in exercise that I love so much. Without a designated time to check in with your partner, it’s so easy to let things slip and not truly connect. As part of this, make it known how you pull away from the relationship. Share your red flags.

– Relationships are hard work to keep them awake & alive but it’s the fast lane to being awake. No relationships, no relationship problems. But then you’re missing out on this big opportunity to grow yourself. But it’s important to pull from the communications toolbox to do the work.

Fortunately, my wife & I learned about Imago therapy nearly 30 years ago, early in our marriage. I credit it with providing us with a conflict resolution mechanism that might have saved our marriage. I can’t imagine what we would have done without it. Our society unfortunately doesn’t teach us these things in school – the simple basics about how to maintain a relationship. I’ll get off my soapbox.

Anyway, check out the books written by Harville Hendrix, the therapist who invented Imago therapy. There are couples therapists around the world that specialize in Imago…

November 16, 2021

Letting Go of Repetitive Thoughts

Recently, I covered why hearing something for the 100th time can be a good thing – and I’ve covered the fact that humans average between 50-80k thoughts per day. This blog comes courtesy of Jack Kornfield, who quotes Buddha: “Whatever a person frequently thinks and reflects on, that will become the inclination of their mind.”

Here’s an excerpt from Jack’s blog on this topic:

Yet however much we try, sometimes we’re caught in our repetitive thoughts, and knowing about their emptiness doesn’t help. We can obsess for months about a past relationship or about our fear of failure at work. These difficult patterns of thought can repeat and persist, coloring our consciousness so deeply that we can be tormented by them, unable to see without their distortion.

If we pay attention to the feelings underneath these repeated thoughts, there is often unacknowledged or unaccepted emotions, pain or difficulty. It might be a grief or loss that we have not fully acknowledged, or worry or fear, or longing or a thwarted creative impulse. When we let ourselves drop below the thoughts and sense what is asking for acceptance, our willingness to feel these emotions that have been driving the thoughts often allows them to quiet down.

Following this we need, quite deliberately, to create positive thoughts in order to replace these unskillful patterns of mind. The understanding of these as simply unskillful states means that we can do something about them, as opposed to saying we’re neurotic and there’s no hope.

November 2, 2021

The Wisdom of the Body

Broke my hand so my ability to type is challenged. But thought I’d share some nice nuggets I’ve learned so far from the experience:

1. I was able to rely on some of my teachings to remain quite calm in the pre-op period before the anesthesia made me unconscious. I essentially put myself into hypnosis and my central nervous system was very relaxed despite the ‘going on’s’ of the hospital experience. Being calm before surgery helps the healing process, studies show.

2. The imbalance caused by an injury can be seen throughout the body. Other body parts start hurting as they are relied upon more. Or laying down more than normal. Doing yoga or deep breathing has been critical – and feels so good. Rocking and rolling on your spine tells your central nervous system that everything will be okay.

3. Slowing down. Man, do I need to learn that lesson. As my friend Lynn Teo just reminded me durin, take a pause and let your body tell you what you need. The wisdom of the body.

October 26, 2021

Nurture Your Romantic Partnership

If you have a “significant other” in your life, you know that you should not just be practicing self-compassion for yourself – you should also be practicing compassion for the relationship. I thought my wife and I – together thirty years (today is our anniversary!) – had been doing a pretty good job at it, having developed a nice rhythm of conflict resolution long ago.

But then we took advantage of a check-in and clearing exercise that my teacher Jonathan Foust mentioned that he did with his wife – Tara Brach – every week or two. My wife and I started doing that exercise a few years back and it really helped. It has brought a deeper connection into our marriage because it’s so easy to let the days, weeks and months go by and not really check in.

It’s interesting that because we rarely have a conflict these days, we don’t have many of those intense conversations that we used to have early in the marriage when we did have conflicts more regularly. And of course, a clearing exercise would be of great benefit for those that do have conflicts. You’re creating an opportunity to have an open and direct conversation at a time when you’re not seeing red. Under those circumstances, these clearing talks wind up being more productive.

October 20, 2021

The Cycle of Life (As Seen From a Tree’s Perspective)

A group of us spent last weekend helping out a farmer friend with some chores around the farm, including the clearing of a few dead trees. This friend is quite attuned to her environment and I thought I would share what she so thoughtfully wrote (with her permission):

In prep, this afternoon, I did already drop one of the trees. One of the dead oaks had fallen a couple months ago and gotten stuck in a hickory (smaller than the oak) that was still alive. The weight of the oak pushed and bent the hickory so badly, I didn’t think it would recover from the fall of the oak.

So I dropped the bent hickory that was holding up the fallen oak. Observing the angles of both trees, knowing the strength of hickory wood, understanding the weight and pressure that the oak laid on the hickory, then making the wedge cut, listening intently to the first crack, and reacting to the anticipation of the fall (in this case, two trees would fall together).

It’s really an incredible feeling to have all senses “turned on” so intensely. To me, this is concentration meditation and open awareness meditation in full bloom simultaneously. After the drop, it’s quiet. Then I acknowledged to the tree that I took it probably a year or even two early. I don’t know for sure, but I sensed with that harsh bend, it would not have lived a regular time.

But I don’t sense at all that trees suffer, even when they are dying. They seem to be just fine when they are dying. It’s amazing. I used to go through the forest cutting off these giant vines that choke and kill trees, thinking I was being nice and “saving trees.” Maybe I was saving the trees, but not for them; it was for me. It’s interesting to re-think intentions.

And I don’t say that trees don’t suffer because they aren’t capable of suffering. They might very well be capable. I don’t know at all and take comfort in my forever agnosticism. But I’m pretty sure trees get – not in a thinking/understanding way, but rather in an actuality kind of way – that dying is just another process that is part of the “life” cycle. Suffering simply isn’t attached to that process for a tree.

Trees have been along far longer than humans; they have had more time to reach a higher evolution than us in that sense. This sense of tree (non)suffering came to me on a retreat once. There was a tree down by the river that was covered, really covered, in giant poison ivy. But before that break in silence, that tree let me understand that it was absolutely fine with the poison ivy. The poison ivy would kill it for sure, my guess is within one year, but the tree was absolutely fine – things were as they should be. Huh, we have so much to learn from our elders.

October 12, 2021

Become 10% Happier

If you’re interested in learning about the basics of meditation, a painless read of one man’s journey towards that path is “Ten Percent Happier” by Dan Harris. Dan’s story is entertaining, a New York City news anchor who hit rock bottom before he found meditation & mindfulness as a way to redemption. It was a #1 bestseller. And it was motivational in moving my practice forward at a time when I needed the push a while back.

In his book, Dan posits that if there was a fairly easy way for you to become 10% happier in your life, why wouldn’t you do it? I found it to be an inviting way to approach mindfulness. Just think baby steps. Not looking for a cure for all your ills. Just alleviate some of your pain & suffering. And that’s how I look at the practical tips I’m sharing. Pick out just a handful for you to consider. The ones that resonate with you. You don’t have to try them all.

Dan’s book was so popular that he’s got an entire wellness business now. Including a great podcast – he has access to whomever he wants and he’s obviously experienced as an interviewer since that’s been his profession…

October 5, 2021

The Four Noble Truths

A few weeks ago, I re-read Deepak Chopra’s “Buddha.” It’s an easy-to-read, entertaining version of Buddha’s alleged life – with a few pages about the basics of Buddhism at the very end. It’s always refreshing to be reminded of what the basic teachings are:

1. The Three Universal Truths
2. The Four Noble Truths
3. The Noble Eightfold Path

And then drilling down into each of these, as pulled from this document:

The Three Universal Truths

1. Nothing is lost in the universe
2. Everything changes
3. The law of cause and effect

The Four Noble Truths explore human suffering, described as:

1. Dukkha: Suffering exists: Life is suffering. Suffering is real and almost universal. Suffering has many causes: loss, sickness, pain, failure, and the impermanence of pleasure.

2. Samudaya: There is a cause of suffering. Suffering is due to attachment. It is the desire to have and control things. It can take many forms: craving of sensual pleasures; the desire for fame; the desire to avoid unpleasant sensations, like fear, anger or jealousy.

3. Nirodha: There is an end to suffering. Attachment can be overcome. Suffering ceases with the final liberation of Nirvana (Nibbana). The mind experiences complete freedom, liberation and non-attachment. It lets go of any desire or craving.

4. Magga: In order to end suffering, you must follow the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path consists of:

– Panna: Discernment, wisdom:

1. Samma ditthi: Right Understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Right View is the true understanding of the four noble truths.

2. Samma sankappa: Right thinking; following the right path in life. Right Aspiration is the true desire to free oneself from attachment, ignorance, and hatefulness.

– Sila: Virtue, morality:

3. Samma vaca: Right speech: No lying, criticism, condemning, gossip, harsh language. Right Speech involves abstaining from lying, gossiping, or hurtful talk.

4. Samma kammanta Right conduct or Right Action involves abstaining from hurtful behaviors, such as killing, stealing, and careless sex. These are called the Five Precepts.

5. Samma ajiva: Right livelihood: Support yourself without harming others. Right Livelihood means making your living in such a way as to avoid dishonesty and hurting others, including animals.

– Samadhi: Concentration, meditation:

6. Samma vayama: Right Effort: Promote good thoughts; conquer evil thoughts. Right Effort is a matter of exerting oneself in regards to the content of one’s mind: Bad qualities should be abandoned and prevented from arising again. Good qualities should be enacted and nurtured.

7. Samma sati: Right Mindfulness: Become aware of your body, mind and feelings. Right Mindfulness is the focusing of one’s attention on one’s body, feelings, thoughts, and consciousness in such a way as to overcome craving, hatred, and ignorance.

8. Samma samadhi: Right Concentration: Meditate to achieve a higher state of consciousness. Right Concentration is meditating in such a way as to progressively realize a true understanding of imperfection, impermanence, and non-separateness.

September 29, 2021

Hear It for the 100th Time

We’ve all been on that treadmill of wanting to make a certain change in our life but never getting it done. Maybe we experience a handful of successful days. Maybe we never even get that far. It can be frustrating.

Don’t beat yourself up about it. It happens. Self-compassion. But know that if you think and hear about that desired change often enough, perhaps it might really happen for you. Sometimes it takes ten times to hear about the change for it to click in. Sometimes a hundred times. You’ll get there. Just don’t give up. Keep pondering.

Think of it like this: Each time you think or hear about it, you’re actually practicing. And practice makes perfect. In a way, this is true as you are slowly building up those neural pathways for the change you want. This is the science of neuroplasticity – our brains have the amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections.

In other words, you can change old habits – including thought patterns you find uncomfortable & unwanted – by changing your neural pathways. It’s incredible field that has grown in the last 50 years, which debunks quite a few longstanding myths about how the brain works. There’s a quite a few book out there about this – such as Norman Doidge’s “The Brain’s Way of Healing” and “The Brain That Changes Itself.”

September 22, 2021

Living Life No Matter What

Here’s an excerpt from this blog by Tara Brach:

In the Buddhist tradition, the Pali word dukkha is used to describe the emotional pain that runs through our lives. While it’s often translated as “suffering,” dukkha encompasses all our experiences of stress, dissatisfaction, anxiety, sorrow, frustration, and basic unease in living. But if we listen deeply, we will detect beneath the surface of all that troubles us an underlying sense that we are alone and unsafe, that something is wrong with our life.

The Buddha taught that this experience of insecurity, isolation, and basic “wrongness” is unavoidable. We humans, he said, are conditioned to feel separate and at odds with our changing and out-of-control life. And from this core feeling unfolds the whole array of our disruptive emotions—fear, anger, shame, grief, jealousy—all of our limiting stories, and the reactive behaviors that add to our pain.

Yet, the Buddha also offered a radical promise, one that Buddhism shares with many wisdom traditions: We can find true refuge within our own hearts and minds—right here, right now, in the midst of our moment-to-moment lives. We find true refuge whenever we recognize the silent, awake space of awareness behind all our busy doing and striving. We find refuge whenever our hearts open with tenderness and love. Presence, the immediacy and aliveness and warmth of our intrinsic awareness, creates a boundless sanctuary where there’s room for everything in our life.