Archive for March, 2011

Save The Date

It’s time to run up your credit cards to the max and live it up everybody. Apparently, the end of the world is coming very soon. In fact, as early as May 21 2011. I’ve personally seen a number of these types of predicions in different forms over the years. The thing that surprises me about this movement is that they set the date so close to the present day. Usually if you want to drum up a lot of fear and paranoia about something, you want to give yourself a bit more leeway to get the ball rolling. Look how long we’ve been hearing about the Mayan 2012 thing. They’ve been working that date for years now. There isn’t even enough time to put out a straight to video disaster movie about 5/21/2011.

Personally, I find this particular “beware the upcoming apocalypse” trend to be amusing because its a great blend of tools from the impending doomsday arsenal: rapture, numerology, dispensationalism and biblical literalism.

Its stuff like this that puts the “mental” back in fundamentalism.

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Where Am I?

This made me laugh and I thought I’d share. It’s from xkcd.com. Click for full sized version.

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I Should

I should meditate more
I should read more
I should write more
I should work harder
I should work smarter
I should work less
I should be a better father
I should be a better husband
I should be a better friend
I should have more time to myself
I should do more
I should have more free time
I should eat my veggies
I should exercise more
I should  eat less
I should relax
I should man up
I should get in touch with my feminine side
I should keep an open mind
I should stand up for my convictions
I should drink more water
I should drink red wine
I should take my vitamins
I should take my medicine
I should call my mom
I should feed the cat
I should take out the trash
I should spend more time in self examination
I should have inner peace. Why don’t I have inner peace? Why’s it so hard to find inner peace?
I should meditate more

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When I started this post, I was sitting in my favorite coffee-house in the world. If you ever have the chance to visit Portland, Maine, you must stop by Bard Coffee. It is the best coffee on the planet served in a great atmosphere by people who are crazy passionate about coffee. I don’t get to go there very often because it’s a bit out of the way from my office. That day, I happened to be walking by at lunch time so there I was, drinking a delicious latte and writing a blog post on my new Mac Air.

I’d just come from a meeting where I was told I don’t know enough, don’t have a good enough plan and don’t have the right focus in order to succeed. I was also exceedingly happy to have had this meeting as it was exactly what thought I would hear.

I’m not crazy (OK, not too crazy). I had a meeting with someone who is an expert in their field and I went to them for some advice on how to do a better job with a project I’m working on. I went in to the meeting with an open mind and made it a point to listen to the words of someone who has been quite successful doing what I hope to do.

I can’t go into a lot of details about the project I’m working on as it’s still too soon to be able to tell where it will go. This project will take a lot of my time and energy and will be quite rewarding for me personally regardless of the outcome. That’s why I found myself at a meeting with an expert who had graciously given me some time to grill him for advice and feedback.

In order to get anything out of this meeting, I could not go in with a lot of pride or an easily bruised ego. If I went in to the meeting already convinced of what I was doing and just wanting validation from another, it would be easy to get offended or to dismiss the advice of this expert. That’s not what I was after.

When an expert offers his time, free of charge, to review your project and provide candid feedback you’d be a fool not to listen to that feedback. I was determined not to be a fool. I went in to the meeting, presented my idea and showed what I had done so far. My idea and work was then dissected in front of me and laid bare so that all of its shortcomings and its strengths were plain to see. Needless to say, it wasn’t a fun experience but it was useful. Since that meeting, I’ve been able to take a lot of the free advice into account and I feel like I have a better understanding of how to proceed with my project and I’m excited about it being successful. I also know that I’ve avoided wasting my time following some paths that would not have worked out for me in the end.

It occurred to me that this is how things happen frequently in our lives. We see or learn something that could be helpful to us but our attachment to ideas/desires/possessions/passions keep us from paying attention to whatever it is. Our pride keeps us rooted. Buddhism teaches us a lot about attachment and how it leads to suffering in our lives. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. As I’ve been thinking about it, I have begun to see how true this really is. Being attached to our ideas means that we are unwilling to change them when the opportunity arises. I have seen this happen in every technical job I have ever had: someone is attached to their idea or method or solution and because of that attachment improvements are not made or are outright ignored. I’ve heard it said that the technology field is one of those rare few where hubris is a virtue and I see that virtue play out every time I interact with technical people.

If we allow our pride to keep us from making changes that move us forward, we suffer while trying to figure out why our wheels just keep spinning and progress isn’t being made. Pride is just a word that we use to define attachment to self. One of the reasons I write so frankly about my successes and failures in a public forum is because I don’t want to let my pride get in the way of my progress toward being healthy. Are you trying to make a change in your life or to get something done? If you’re not seeing the results you want, ask yourself some hard, penetrating questions about your pride and your ego. Without an intense awareness of your attachments, you will not see the success you hope to find any time soon. Once you are willing to admit ignorance or helplessness you are in a better position to move ahead. You may already be on the best course of action or have the right solution for your problem but until you are willing to give up your solution or your beliefs or your methods, you’ll never be able to evaluate them to find a better way. Laying aside pride is the first step to success.

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The Laugh of the Day

If you a drink in your mouth, please swallow it before reading the following comic. Don’t do what I did and shoot coffee over your desk. You have been warned.

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A couple of weeks ago, someone rear ended my car. This is a common occurance in a place where the roads are covered in ice for months at a time. It sucks, but it’s the risk we take getting on the road in December, January, Febraray and March. Fortunately, it happened at slow speed and the only damage was to my liscence plate and I was able to flatten that back out. The other driver wasn’t hurt and didn’t even get a dented plate.

Shortly after that, I was run off the road by a semi while driving on the highway. Snow was also a factor in that and I ended up paying my insurance deductible to have the front bumper replaced. This accident was one of the scariest experiences of my life as I did a 360 on the highway and almost got hit by another semi. If I would have been speeding, I would probably have been killed because of the extra momentum the speed would have given me. Fortunately, I narrowly missed ending up under the wheels of a massive truck.

My family has also been dealing with some new information about a medical condition that someone in the family has. This has caused us to have to adapt some behaviors and it’s been stressful to deal with.

You’d think with all of that stuff going on I’d be a mess but I’m doing pretty well. There was one night where I found myself sitting in front of a bowl of ice cream covered in toppings and whipped cream but it was only once instead of again and again. My Zen practice has enabled me to be able to take these things in stride and to cope with them in a way that is healthier and, for the most part, better than I would have done before I began practicing.

Sitting in meditation really does make you aware of the working of your mind. Since I have become more aware of the workings of my mind, I am able to work with my brain to process these things and not get caught up in the worry about the future or replaying the events in my mind with different, usually horrible, alternate endings. Zen has helped me to keep my perspective focused on the now, the here, and keeping my mind from wandering as much as it would have once upon a time.

The big things are what they are and it’s been interesting to compare how I react now to the way that I would have a year ago. What gets me, more often than not, are the little things. When I have to deal with a frustrating but short lived event I am more likely to be caught off guard. If I have to deal with a person who is being completely unreasonable or if there is something that interrupts my routine or if I want to be doing something and every time I begin I get sidetracked by other events is when I find myself wanting to run to the nearest snack machine, feed it a hand full of dollars and stuff my face full of candy and Twinkies. I guess I’m still waiting for the Zen to make its way into the day-to-day routines that make up so much of our lives: that’s the focus of practice after all.

There have been a number of times over the past few weeks where I have mad a dash for the break room at work or where I’ve given in to impulse while at the gas station or supermarket and I’ve grabbed a bag of Reese’s Pieces or a box of Little Debbies. Every time, it’s been in response to something that has happened to upset or frustrate me. Later, when I’m sitting in meditation, my mind wanders back to the moment of consumption and I have to fight the urge to dwell on it and mentally beat myself up over it. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail. When I do succeed, the Zen practice breaks me out of the cycle that would cause me to eat in response to the self-imposed stress only to cause more stress about eating in response to stress (aint addiction grand?). When I don’t succeed, the Zen practice usually helps me to break the cycle after only one or two repetitions. Regardless of when/how/why I eat, at least my Zen practice is, sooner or later, helping me keep things focused on the here and now.

I think the reason the little things are more apt to throw me off is because when I encounter them, they are my “here and now” and, truth be told, I don’t want to be in that “here and now”.  Zen practice would force me to remain in that moment and it’s understandable why I have a hard time doing that. After all, what person in their right mind would want to remain in an unpleasant “here and now” if escape from it is easy and quick?  However, Zen isn’t about “right mind”: it’s about clear mind—the mind before the moment of thinking. That’s why I need to keep practicing every day. With continual practice it should, in theory, be easier to find that clear mind even in moments that are unpleasant and escape through the vending machine is only 4 quarters away.

Our lives are made up of little things: short events that, one added to another, make up a life. Very few of those events are big, important, world-shaking moments. That’s why it’s easier to deal with them and process them–they won’t come around again for a long time. It’s what you do with all the rest of the moments, the boring, plain, silly, “normal” things that really make an impact on your life. I guess that means it’s time to practice, practice, practice. Zen before getting out of bed, Zen throughout the day, Zen before sleep: that’s the only way to make each of those moments count. Until then, the little things will keep throwing me and I’ll keep dealing with it. After all, that’s what Zen is all about.

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OK, it looks like my WordPress for Android app wasn’t actually posting my entries to my blog and I hadn’t visited the actual site in a while to see that they were missing. Since the blog entries are usually time-sensative, I’ll go through and re-write them and post again if I still like what I wrote. Sorry for not being here, I was apparently having technical difficulties.

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