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It is so tempting to be timid. Most of us are so unable to control our desires that we give in to this temptation continuously. It becomes the bedrock of who we are. And so we think, “I am above temptation. I am brave enough to set a course for my life and stay with it. I sacrifice. I deserve the future I see for myself.”

But this is timidity. We cannot see the future. We create the future in each present moment. And each present moment is filled with difficult decisions. To only be timid and to only act without caution are equally dangerous to creating a life of happiness and well being. We must seek balance between these two modes of being.  Richard Feynman, pictured above, is a hero of mine who taught me through his actions and words that life moves and we can flow with it only if we sometimes leap over the obstacles in the stream.

To create the life we want, we must let go of the idea that we can see where we are going. The scary truth is we are all blind. In each moment we take a step, sometimes with faith and sometimes with an abundance of fear and hesitation. We step forward. This is what it is to be human. Even to not take a step forward is to take an active role in creating your future.

The path for all of us is to realize these are the two poles of actions we can take – timidity and something closer to a cougar pouncing on it’s prey, with prey being opportunities for change and growth. This cougar image is what I always envision as the opposite of being timid. We must act from a place of balance between these two states. We must strive to be skillful in knowing when to be cautious when we to take a pounce – a leap of faith. Either way, we can’t see ahead of us. Either way, the future will bring change.

Looking back on our life, we don’t want to see that we gave into the temptation of being timid in all moments. We must be sure we savor the moments of grace, climb the moments of obstacles to overcome, and pounce on the moments that bring us joy. We must let go of the idea we are going anywhere, and that being timid is a path. Being timid is just a way to lose our heart and soul in the moments when we are being called to be brave.

Life moves quickly. There is a heap of research documenting that the older we get, the more quickly time seems to pass. Those on their deathbeds report their biggest regrets are what they did NOT do, not what they did do. I am not saying to never be cautious. But I am saying sometimes to be cautious is to be timid, and a life build upon the temptation to be timid is a life that will take the form it will take. It will be a life that goes out without a whimper or a bang. It was just be a life that was lived quietly until it was time to say goodnight for good.

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Self confidence makes self compassion possible. Self compassion makes self confidence possible. We need both self confidence and self compassion to love our self and others completely. If you want to be the change you want to see in the world, start by loving your self or someone else completely without having any need for them or yourself to be different in the present moment.

To love yourself is to love others is to love yourself is to love others is to…. Extend this sentence out into infinity, where love lies as the final home for us all.

Self confidence without self compassion leads to acts of violence and aggression. It can look like dismissiveness. People with this imbalance may be found appropriating other’s resources, hearts, and bodies for their personal gain without consideration of how one’s actions are hurting the other person’s body, speech and mind.

Self compassion without self confidence leads to a weakening of spirit. In such a state people give more of themselves to others than they are able to take back in. They give freely with an open heart but they cannot receive the gifts others have to offer.

Either imbalance is detrimental to the cause of creating an enlightened society. People generally recognize the harm that comes from situations such as over confident leaders taking more than they need and refusing to share their profits with those most in need.

We need to wake up and recognize we also have a crisis of confidence in the other direction.  Allowing yourself to love yourself and let others love you completely is an act of balanced self confidence.  Our bodhisattvas are often those most unable to allow love in, which ultimately is what sustains self confidence.  For this reason, those who are most likely to live a life dedicated to helping liberate others from suffering are often the least able to model complete self confidence.  (Bodhisattva is Buddhist term describing any individual who dedicates their life practice to helping liberate all sentient beings from suffering. A bodhisattva might be a nun, a monk, a clerk at the grocery store, or a friend who is always there willing to give you a ride to the store. It’s not what you do. It’s how you do it that makes you a bodhisattva.)

In our mixed up world of today, bodhisattvas are often those the least able to nourish themselves with the love that others would like to offer in gratitude for their life of service.

This is my mission. I want the kind, generous, beautiful souls in this world who are here to help others not suffer to know the following truth. To know service to others is to know pain and suffering. Allow in the love people want to share with you in gratitude for helping them alleviate suffering. That is a gift to you, and a gift that nourishes you so you can keep going. If you are not able to take in the love others offer, your well will run dry.

Please ask yourself the following question. If someone looks you in the eye and says “thank you,” are you able to look them back in the eye and say “You are welcome.” If the answer is no, perhaps you can start filling your well back up in these small exchanges.

The world needs people who lead by example. We can’t have a society that operates on the assumption that everyone is worthy of love until we have bodhisattvas who can show us how to live in our hearts completely, meaning being able to give and receive love completely and infinitely.  Self confidence and self compassion are in balance when our hearts can give and receive love completely.

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There must be something going around.  Over the last month many of us are having big changes enter into our lives…  sometimes quite dramatically.  We humans aren’t well known for liking all this change.  But like it or not, if it is here it is here.  It might feel like much is out of your control right now, but what is in your control is how you choose to deal with things that are coming your way.  When change enters our lives we are being offered two paths: a path of growth into greater resiliency and meaning or a path of deepening habits that are not helpful.

If you are also experiencing big changes rolling through, remember that this is an opportunity to experience significant growth in ways that will lead to greater comfort and a deeper understanding of who you are in the future.  But like all rapid growth, there will be growing pains.  When unexpected change comes into our lives we are being invited to let go of all habits that are no longer working for us, and letting new habits grow in their place.  This invitation requires a leap of faith as you jump into the void.  You will need to make a jump into the unknown BEFORE growth can happen.  It can be no other way.  I see a lot of people right now trying to see what is ahead before they move forward, holding on to old habits and patterns like a life preserver after they have been thrown overboard.  Only you aren’t holding onto a life preserver.  You are holding onto the anchor.  You’ve got to let go before you can find new land.

Setting your intentions can help as you practice letting go of what needs to be let go, so that they new growth can have the space to come in. Here are my suggestions for you. Have patience — you can’t rush growth in yourself any more than you can rush growth in an oak tree. Have trust — it can feel scary to shed old skin, but know that letting go ALWAYS has to come before new growth can come in, and so there is ALWAYS a time of uncertainty but that time will pass. And if you can, have a sense of humor — life often has a funny way of bringing change into our lives. Often the ways we are being invited to grow have a poetic edge to them, a wink of knowing that you are being invited to do the very thing you have been most afraid of doing. You’ve got this. The key is to relax and let things unfold as they should, without pushing away the discomfort or pushing ahead unskillfully. Your mind will make stories about what these things mean, but as you are always being invited to learn, minds make up stories about a lot of things and 95% of the time your mind gets it wrong because it is just talking from your fears and insecurities.

This I can promise you: Your mind does not know the way. You can can stay skillful with this new invitation for growth by staying present and living within your heart as you start out on your new path.

The eight vicissitudes of life

The Eight Vicissitudes of Life

Pleasure and Pain

Praise and Blame

Ill repute and Fame

Loss and Gain

Life is always going to be filled with these eight experiences.  Do not confuse the vicissitudes of the moment with the definition of how things always are.   Whether your day is good or bad, the experience is just temporary.

 

Don’t Try to Change the Weather

The nature of things is a constant experience of shifting between the eight vicissitudes.  Do not try to change the nature of things. Do not cling to the weather of the day and say, “This is it!  All of life is like this day!”  That is ignoring the nature of things.  Calm is possible, even during a passing storm. Change your relationship with the nature of things. Imagine you are a large, sturdy oak tree and the vicissitudes are the wind.  Some days are calm.  Some days are stormy.  If you rest your attention on your leaves then your life will feel chaotic and out of control.  If you rest your attention farther below then you will find a sturdy self, aware of the weather of the day but not swept up by it.

 

Change How you View the Weather

A peaceful life is not attained by trying to control the weather.  Trying to change what is out of your control will only serve to make you feel more out of control.  A peaceful life is attained by learning to rest your attention on your sturdiness, something that is always present no matter the weather of the day. For many, practicing sitting calmly and follow the breath leads to the awareness of something sturdier – something that is always present and unmoved by the weather of the day.  Others find their sturdiness through yoga, going for a walks, petting their pets, or curling up with a good book.  You need to find your path to shifting your attention away from your leaves and towards your unwavering core.  It’s there, even if you have never seen it before.

Do not confuse shifting your attention with ignoring the weather.  Attempts to ignore the weather of the day will only make you feel more out of control!  Find your sturdiness and use it as a base to observe what is going on.  From your base, observe what is and then just shift your attention back to what you are doing in the moment.  It is a matter of moving your attention back and forth between your base and the weather.  From your base, look at the weather of the day.  Then label it. Then let it go.

Label it. Let it go.

Label it.  Let it go.

Label it.  Let it go.

No matter the weather, remember it is just passing through.  Enjoy the weather when it is nice.  Keep yourself company when it is a rainy day.  And remember to take a slow breath in and out.  All weather passes with time.

Two Kinds of Minds

November 12, 2013

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Your Attention, Please.

The mind is constantly in motion.  Left on it’s own, the mind often spins stories about why things are happening and who we think we are. When the mind is spinning stories we are unable to be present with what is actually happening in the moment.   A mind that is spinning stories is a mind that is not present.  When we aren’t present, we aren’t effective.  To be more effective in your daily life, you need to pull out of these stories and see more accurately what is happening in the present moment.

Placing our mind into the present moment is a matter of shifting our attention.  Attention is the brain system that selects which data will be analyzed.  We need this attention system because in all moments the mind has access to more information than it can process.  It is as if our minds have access to several television channels at once.  We are constantly receiving external channels of information through each of our senses. Our mind simply can’t attend to everything.  Therefore, the mind must prioritize which channels of information to “view” over other channels that will remain unprocessed.  Attention is the process of choosing what we will perceive.  We need to train our attention to be able to put our mind in the present moment.

 

Training Your Attention: The Skill of Mindfulness

You have already become an expert at training your attention system. By the time we are adults we have become such experts at using our attention system that we are no longer even aware that this system exists at all.  Here is an example of a trained attention system in action.  Imagine if we tried to drive a car while paying attention to every single house and sign and person we passed.  We wouldn’t get too far before we ran into something or someone.  But most of the time we do just fine when we drive.  We are able to drive because we get pretty good at knowing where to place our attention when driving.  It becomes natural to look ahead most of the time, while briefly shifting our attention to our mirrors or perhaps looking at something that catches our eye as we drive by.  Everyone who drives a car has learned how to train their attention system.

Now lets get back to those stories our minds are spinning.  A mind’s stories acts as filters on the streams of external data coming in.  For example, if a mind is busy telling itself, “I am not good enough yet,” then this statement will act as a filter for incoming data.  Priority will be put on any data that fits this belief, which results in distorting the reality of the moment.  For example, imagine a person looking at you with an odd expression.  If your mind has a “not-good-enough” filter then you will likely read the expression as a critique about you.  If your mind does not have this filter then you will be able to see that there are an infinite number of possible explanations for that expression, and most of them have nothing to do you with you.  (They may be feeling sick, they may be thinking about a fight with a loved one, they may have a “not-good-enough” filter and are looking around for confirming evidence….).  A mind that can turn its attention to the present is no longer distorting reality through these filters.

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“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” — Mr. Fred Rogers

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 Two Kinds of Minds

Let’s look at the characteristics of these two kinds of minds:

A Mind Spinning Stories

A Mind Settled in the Moment

Stuck in its own thoughts.

(These thoughts often take you to the past, future, or how you wish things were in the present.)

Aware of the senses, body sensations, or the breath.

      (The breath is one of the best ways to anchor a mind in the present.)

Stuck in its own story.

(Things that occur in the world are often experienced as something to do with you personally.)

Ability to see the bigger story of each moment.

       (This eventually includes history,  personal contribution, and interconnectedness)

Sees a dualistic world.

       (Events are experienced as good/bad, for/against, accepted/rejected.)

Sees a holistic world.

       (This eventually includes seeing the history and interconnectedness present in each moment.)

Feelings of distress when things don’t go “your way.” Feelings of patience and acceptance when things don’t go “your way.”
Frantic or Fatigued Solid and Energetic
Feels a drag on effectiveness Experiences a sense of clarity, movement
Opinions about Everything (like, dislike) Appreciation and Gratitude
Resisting Accepting
Judging Observing/Curious
Discontentment Contentment

Attention is the Arrow.  Gentleness and Kindness are the Bow.

Turning our attention to the present is as easy and as hard as this:

With gentleness and kindness, rest your attention on something that is happening now.

Really, that is it.  But the trick is you need to do it over and over and over again, until it becomes a habit.  Mindfulness mediation is a useful way to train your attention on the present.  You’ll need gentleness and kindness to effectively move your attention.  Attention is the arrow. Gentleness and kindness are the bow.  If you try to move your attention without kindness and gentleness then you will be lost before you begin. Without gentleness and kindness, working with your attention becomes just one more way to judge yourself, resist the truth of the situation, get stuck in your own story, and eventually feel discontent.  You will be strengthening those spinning stories, rather than resting your mind in the present.  Gentleness and kindness are a necessity.

In each moment we can choose which mind we want to have – a mind clouded by stories or a mind resting in the present.  With practice, you will begin to experience the contentment that comes from being in the present.  With a lot of practice, the mind will have the chance to see that at our core all humans carry an inseparable goodness and worthiness that is always present.  And that’s when the mind will begin choosing to be in the present on its own.

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“It’s not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our very being is good stuff.”

– Mr. Fred Rogers

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Wow.Wow.
Wow.

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Your Setting Sun – from The Shambhala Principle

The following is an excerpt from a book I am currently read, The Shambhala Principle by Sakyong Mipham, which struck me as particularly insightful.

“Naturally, when we feel that we are faulty, we mistreat ourselves, and then we mistreat others in the same way.

“When this lasts for a while, that depressed and aggressive state becomes the norm, and anything not depressing begins to appear naïve or unsophisticated.  Even our nature appears insubstantial and small.

“Thus, the psychic repercussions of… the ceremony of unworthiness have created a depressed culture, and the product of that culture is cynicism and doubt.  Our sense perceptions are padded.  Generally speaking, we are spooked by our own thoughts.  Self-doubt arises, and we start doubting others.  We forget about bravery as our minds are consumed by doubt, becoming unstable and fickle.  Saying and doing negative things begins to make sense, and developing our warrior mind seems completely unrealistic.  We have fallen into the cowardly realms, where the mind is trapped and depressed.  It buys into aggression as a way to accomplish things.  We have great confidence in anger, we are really certain that aggression is going to work, and we forget about patience and compassion – even towards ourselves.

“The mind that arises from the combination of intelligence and a depressed state is essentially obsessed with negating everything, since the basic premise of such a mind is death and nihilism – hence my father’s term “the setting sun.”  To say our age is marked by setting-sun tendencies is not necessarily saying the world is over but that, at the day’s end, our care and curiosity are diminishing, like a clock winding down.  There is a deflated feeling: Why work for the future when we feel that we are coming to the end?”

 

Habits as Ceremonies

The present moment is the what is happening right now.  Ceremonies of unworthiness are particularly dangerous because they cloud our ability to perceive the truth of the present moment.  And I always find it a peculiarly poetic paradox that ceremonies of unworthiness actually lead to an INFLATED sense of self. Instead of seeing the truth of the present moment, we habitually scan an impartial world for evidence that we are different than everyone else.

The mind complicates.  The mind complicates.  The mind complicates.  When we believe everything our mind tells us, we will become lost, unable to see the difference between what is true and what is just a myth we nourish through the ceremonies in our lives.  For example, if we cultivate the habit of comparing ourselves to others, we have created a daily ceremony of unworthiness that will begin to feel true.  It is not TRUE that you are unworthy, even if it feels true.  It is a just myth that you strengthen in your mind each time you choose to compare yourself to someone else.

Ceremonies of unworthiness prevent us from being present with ourselves and others, which is the only place where truth occurs.  We must be brave to look for these ceremonies in our lives, and then bravely choose to replace these ceremonies with new ones that celebrate the truth of the present moment.  It means saying to yourself over and over and over, “I am just one starfish in the sea.  No more or less deserving than any other starfish near or far from me.”  (Hey – I just made that up!  I like it!)

 

Exploring your Ceremonies of Unworthiness

Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself about ceremonies of unworthiness that may have arisen in your life.

What ceremonies of unworthiness are present in your daily routines?  Internal:  What thoughts arise in your mind that support the illusion of unworthiness?   External: What behaviors have your developed that nourish the illusion of being unworthy?

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What myth is being nourished through these ceremonies of unworthiness?

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Ceremonies of unworthiness nourish fictional myths in your mind, which in turn keep you from seeing how things really are in the world.  How might your ceremonies of unworthiness block your ability to see observe what is actually happening in the present moment?

 

Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed, Song by Silver Jews and video by My Little Pony

I think everyone needs a playlist on hand for those days (.. or weeks … or months) when they are just feeling blue. This song is one of my favorites of my Blue Day collection. And look! I found a fan video with all My Little Ponies – with the images spot on with the lyrics! My heart is happy in this moment.

I love this song because in those moments of feeling down, it is too easy to get stuck in our own story and forget that we are part of something much larger than ourselves.  Somehow just the phrase “sometimes a pony gets depressed” can help me remember that we can find respite from our suffering by stepping outside our immediate circumstance and kindly keeping ourselves company as it is our turn to be depressed.

I love this video with my little ponies because….  well, duh.  MY LITTLE PONIES VIDEO.  Self explanatory.

OMG – this guys is so super awesome. What?! Who is this guy and can he be my spirit animal? Is that a thing?

And the thing about the birds? Officially in my tool kit. Thank you awesome (and not to mention adorable) spirit animal!

I’ve been on the road for a bit and I am very happy to be back home.  That was a long time for me to be away.  Speaking of home, I thought I’d share this cool post about the work a friend/colleague, Beck Tench, does over at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC.  If I get to come back, I hope I end up with her job the next time around.

“One of the greatest gifts of my babymoon is the opportunity to share the Museum 2.0 author’s desk with brilliant colleagues who inspire me. First up is Beck Tench, a “simplifier, illustrator, story teller, and technologist” working at the Museum of Life & Science in Durham, NC. Beck is the brain behind the risk-taker/space-maker paradigm I’ve shared here in the past. In this post, she writes about Experimonth, an intriguing set of crowd-sourced projects that connect scientists with research participants in surprising ways.”