Building community in a changing world

January 18, 2022

Being With Suffering While Dying

My intention for this year is to become more familiar with dying, particularly being with dying. I’m presently reading Roshi Joan Halifax’s “Being with Dying” and it’s been enlightening.

Right now, I’m learning how to deal with the suffering that often comes with the final stages of death. And how to be with it. Here’s an excerpt that highlights the points made about truly being present when with someone who is dying – letting go to attachments to how the death should be – and also compassionate and open to relieving suffering if possible:

This double-arrowed vision is yet another paradox of being with dying. I try to open to both suffering and freedom from suffering. If I see only suffering, then I am caught in the relative nature of existence: we are nothing but suffering. But if I see only the pure and vast heart, then I am denying our human experience.

January 12, 2022

Eat, Drink & Be Mindful

One of the more fundamental functions of being human – of being a mammal, an animal – is eating. It’s a repetitive process, for which we almost always are on autopilot. Not only do most of us tend to eat the same foods every day – I eat peanut butter every morning – but the way in which we eat is often the same. One of the big adjustments for me during my first silent retreat was eating at a much slower pace – putting my utensils down after each bite. It was a profound experience.

This podcast with Jonathan Foust talks about eating as a spiritual practice. Jonathan notes we can transform our relationship with food. That we can be more mindful, that we can use our senses intentionally while consuming. All of our senses. Savoring each moment during a meal.

One key is to avoid binging when we’re not hungry. Learning to be aware of what are our triggers that cause binging. The environment and emotions that contribute to that. What are those dining companions that cause us to binge?

Jonathan also talks about how to replace self-criticism with compassion when it comes to food. How to be curious and playful with our meals. Eat, drink and be mindful. This book – “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think” – by Brian Wansink can teach us more…

January 4, 2022

How Much is Enough? (Retirement, Etc.)

As someone near that age where you think about such things, this note from Eric Weigel caught my eye:

Really insightful article on how to think about what you need in life. As retirement coaches/advisors we are often asked about the “number.” How much do I need to retire? But invariably that number keeps ratcheding up as capital markets reach yet another high.

When is enough really enough? When do you just buy that lifetime annuity and forget about how much the S&P 500 has gone up? Or simply, bring your risk down to enable you to sleep better, worry less, and actually enjoy your time doing the things that matter to you? How do you know if you are wealthy?

Hint: When what you have is enough.

Implication: Find out what enough is for you. Please read this wonderful article. It will shift your mindset toward more joy in your life – rich or poor!

I also like this article about “when to quit” by Andre Spicer. And this dharma talk from Jonathan Foust really helped me out on this topic…”the never-ending path of self-improvement”…the remarks at the 9:00 mark about “knowing how much is enough” is key…

December 29, 2021

The First Stage of the Spiritual Journey

Last week, I blogged about “Riding the Ox Home” by John Daido Loori and the stages of enlightenment. Here are a few takeaways about the first stage:

1. The first stage is about becoming aware that a spiritual search can be a directive force in our lives.
2. We ask ourselves, “what is it that we want to accomplish during our lifetime?”
3. The search can’t begin until the real questions arise. Approaching the world with a beginner’s mind. Raise our consciousness and clarify our purpose.
4. Look deeply at what we are doing, and understand why it is what we do. Bring our doubts into view.
5. The moment is where our life takes place. Break out of our inner conversation.

December 20, 2021

Everyone’s Path is Different

I’ve been reading “Riding the Ox Home” by John Daido Loori. I love it’s simplicity. It’s a very easy read. Short and to the point. Although John explains that those of us residing in Western Civilization like our mileposts and “certifications,” the path to enlightenment is not like that at all. Having said that, the purpose of the book is to describe the stages on the path of enlightenment. Here’s an excerpt:

When we are presented with a map of a terrain, we don’t confuse the picture for the reality of the landscape we are walking through. We need to keep this distinction in mind when reading a description of a spiritual journey. A description of a path is not the path itself. No two people experience the same spiritual journey…

December 15, 2021

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

I’ve blogged before about this 45-minute dharma talk from Jonathan Foust about the nature of romantic relationships. Here are some of the points he makes about breaking up (the breaking up stuff starts at the 24-minute mark):

– How do you know when it’s over? Ram Das (through a channeled Emmanuel – long story) asks “how do you know it’s over?” The answer is ‘quite frankly my dear, when you’ve had enough’. This is a really edgy thing because leaving a relationship can be life-affirming but you’re also running away from a personal growth opportunity.

– You might get to a point where you’re asking “have I really turned over every stone?” You just realize that the relationship isn’t working anymore. You tell each other what lights each of you up and you’re unable to support each other in that.

– Breaking up has the same five stages as grief: denial, bargaining, anger, resignation & depression, accommodation. You can’t rush through grief. Acknowledge the hurt and the loss but don’t indulge in it so that it’s all-consuming.

– If you get dumped, you’ll have the challenge of needing to overcome the neurological grooves that the relationship imprinted in your brain. You have to mindfully break the pattern by changing the channel and avoiding the dopamine craving by the brain that can be fulfilled by obsessing about the past. Take proactive steps like removing the material possessions that provide reminders of your former partner, keep busy, lean on friends that tell you that you need to break the pattern. Literally change your physical state through exercise. Consider seeing a therapist to learn more about yourself.

– When you’re ready to try a new relationship, you have the opportunity to be more awake about what you really want. There’s a natural tendency to have a negativity bias about your past relationship, the traits that your former partner had. But you can actually use that experience to your advantage – pick out the aspects you liked and that can help you generate a composite of what enlivens you. Ask what do you really want? That’s your guiding light.

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.