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January 13, 2021

Your Path Is What You Can’t Not Do

Like all of Jonathan Foust’s dharma talks, you can take away some real practice pointers about how to approach your life. This talk entitled “Your Next Step” is full of them. Here are a few to consider:

– Jonathan talks about someone who works in hospice & how many people on their deathbed discuss their regrets. The hospice worker’s motto becomes “your path is what you can’t not do.” Meaning that you have the freedom to do whatever you want essentially unless you have a financial or physical restraint. Be open-minded to what draws you.

– He discusses Jordan Peele making the film “Get Out” – and how decisions were made based on the principle of “follow the fun.” I love that – follow the fun!

– A lot of talk about the “pathless path.” Finding your path is your path. Be a light unto yourself (you need to be happy, healthy in order to best be of service to others). All you need is right now – living in the moment. The last 11 minutes of the dharma talk are variations on that theme…

January 10, 2021

Questioning Your Beliefs: The Power of “Not Knowing”

In this podcast about “not knowing as a spiritual practice,” Jonathan Foust explains how questioning beliefs can be  powerful. That “not knowing” can be a good thing. Is something that appears to be good news really good news from a long-term perspective? Or is it bad news? Who knows in the long run.

Jonathan explains how questioning a long-held belief about yourself is a “glimpse” practice. Just a short window, a brief sense, that what you think is true might actually not be true can create a shift. An awakening that one of your foundational beliefs perhaps is not true. That might well allow anxiety to dissipate. You might realize that a long-held belief has been living on the inside in a way that is harmful to you.

That when you tell yourself that familiar story, you’re able to recognize the story for what it is. “Wait a minute, I’ve encountered this story before – but I now see that I don’t have to believe. That I don’t need to preserve the notion that ‘I’m right.’” Powerful indeed.

Jonathan parses the four questions that you might consider asking yourself – these are questions that Byron Katie espouses – as a way to heal:

Start with bringing up – dwelling upon – something that you’re believing, a story that you’ve been telling yourself. In other words, think of something that you’ve been complaining about in your mind. Notice how crystalline you can you make that belief. Now ponder these 4 questions:

1. Is it true?
2. Do you absolutely know it to be true? You’re looking for the crack in the wall.
3. How do you react when you believe in that thought? How does it feel like on the inside? How does your nervous system hold it? Where do you feel it? This is a somatic inquiry. What “emotional” word comes to mind when you think of that belief? Consider how old that belief feels. Can you hold that in tenderness? How does it want you to be with it right now?
4. Who are you without that belief? Often, you might get a “feeling free” sense – this is the shift…

December 28, 2020

Saying Goodbye to This Year With Gratitude

I’ll wrap up this year with an excerpt from this wonderful blog by Anna Johns, one of the many wonderful people I’ve met this past year. Here’s the intro from Anna’s story of gratitude:

In the mid-1970s, the girls of the Bethel Girls Orphanage in a remote village in the Indian state of Kerala, gathered in our Sunday-best to remember the generosity of American families for our Christmas. We had a plastic Christmas tree with ornaments from America, including my favorite: holly leaves with red berries. I had no idea these trees were real until I came to America. Our home in northern Virginia has one holly tree in front and one at the back of our house. I am grateful to these two trees for keeping me grounded and not letting a day go by without remembering how lucky I am to have gone from an orphanage in India to America–the land we all dreamed of–against all odds, coming from the family and background that I had.

Americans sent us a variety of chocolate (stores only had two types of candy that I only saw on my daily walk to school), colorful hair clips shaped like flowers or birds (we only had bobby pins) and once, a beautiful yellow dress with faux-pearl buttons. We celebrated America’s kindness and generosity annually—those are my earliest memories of practicing gratitude.

That special day we forgot about our impoverished existence, which started with a breakfast of plain cornmeal porridge, made from meal in sacks with an American flag on them. After traveling from the U. S. the meal was full of tiny black bugs, which gave it a bitter taste but we picked them out and devoured the porridge.

During mango season I would skip the porridge and wait under the mango tree for a ripe, juicy mango to fall. You have to be fast, because there were 199 other hungry girls with the same breakfast plan. But on that special day in December, I gazed at the beautiful shiny objects in my hands. Even the painful, infected sores from the lice in my hair that plagued me didn’t matter; someone cared about me enough to send these awesome things. Now, lucky enough to be living in America, I have to say, thank you America for everything.

December 23, 2020

Coming to Grips With Death

A few days ago, I learned that my best friend from childhood passed away. We were inseparable growing up, but we grew apart over the years – we hadn’t seen each other over the past decade at all.

Still, as I’m sure you can imagine, his passing has made a big impact on me. When I did have one of those infrequent gatherings with Michael, it was like I was visiting a younger version of myself – for he was a part of me, a profound influence on who I became. Who I am. So losing that feels like losing a little piece of myself. You simply can’t replace old friends.

With this pandemic, there is death all around us. Here are two recent articles worth reading. This NYT article was written by a hospice doctor, a fascinating exploration of the topic. This article is from the New Yorker about the place many of us tend to go when we consider death, fantasizing about the choices we didn’t make and how those inform our life, the negative space in our self-portraits…

December 10, 2020

“Holding Onto the Bottom”

As the promise of Covid vaccines draws near, I’ve been pushing myself to remember what “pandemic times” were like – so that I might more fully appreciate the “normal” things, the small things, when they return. In my mind, I’ve been telling myself to “hold onto the bottom.”

Well, I googled “holding onto the bottom” – and of course, most folks feel like that’s not a good thing. Here’s a line from this blog: “It’s almost impossible to reach the top when you’re always holding onto the bottom.”

I still like my take on it. That by remembering the lessons I’ve learned during the pandemic, by reflecting back, I can enjoy things that I might have otherwise taken for granted…

December 2, 2020

Be Mindful About Your Mindfulness

If you’ve ridden the subway in NYC in recent years, you’ve likely seen the ads for a free 10-week course from the “School of Practical Philosophy.” The course is supposed to be a journey of self-discovery – mindfulness stuff. But this blog analyzing the course is not kind. Falling perhaps in the category of you get what you pay for.

My real point is that “mindfulness” is definitely enjoying a spike in popularity – certainly a good thing, particularly during a pandemic – but be careful to listen to your instincts, to your gut, about what is right for you…

November 23, 2020

Being Thankful for Learning From Others

Recently, my wife met an amazing man – who is amazing at storytelling. This 20-minute video is entertaining, as well as educational, about growing up black in America. My wife & I were struck by Avery’s central message – an age-old message really – that sharing our stories is one of the most powerful things we can do to connect. Hopefully we can share those heart-warming stories with our friends & family this Thanksgiving, whether that be in-person or virtual. Gobble, gobble…

November 19, 2020

Reading Someone’s Heart

Recently I heard someone say: “I want you to know that I’m not just listening to your words, I’m reading your heart.” How powerful is that? Poetic for sure. Not only is the person listening – something that we all could become better at – but they are listening so intently that they are discerning how that person is feeling. Now that’s empathy. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment.

I’m striving to be more empathetic, to move away from my own stories and listen to the stories of others. It’s quite a challenge because our own stories have dominated our landscape for so long. It requires me to constantly check in with myself – to be mindful of where my head is at…

November 9, 2020

“Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.”

As some of my friends wrote me this weekend, there is nothing more compassionate than being there for a friend in need, and nothing more effective at lifting a friend’s spirits. Here’s an excerpt from this NY Times’ opinion piece penned by Phil Clay:

“Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice,” wrote C.S. Lewis on the eve of World War II. “If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun.”

“The moments while my children cast magic spells born out of hope and fear, and the moments when my friend spoke to me of the science while I stood at my kitchen sink and softly wept, hearing little more complicated than one friend telling another, “I love you, and I care for you, and I am here for you and those you love.” Each night, after the spells were cast and the conversation was done, I felt more human, and more capable of performing the work ahead of me.”

October 28, 2020

Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin

You hear that nugget a lot – that you should be “comfortable in your own skin.” But what does that mean? We all have our doubts about ourselves, some more than others. I think it’s about finding our “truth.” Who we really are? Lifting the veil. Lowering the line. This is a big part of what “mindfulness” is all about.

Towards that end, I learned a lot from this Jonathan Foust podcast about “When to Step Up and When to Step Back.” Lot of great lines in there. The truth is like the sun. The truth will set you free. The truth might be like lighting a match that sets your world on fire.

At the 26:30 mark, Jonathan describes our path as something that “we can’t not do.” That we can’t not do. It’s really worth taking a moment to listen to Jonathan, as he always explains these things so beautifully…