Thursday, December 24, 2009

A message for today

Although my time has largely been committed these past few months to things that have not allowed me to enjoy many interactions with you, my friends, it is your support and the wise words so many of you write that help me maintain the perspective that their is still good in this world.

On this Christmas day, may you be filled with the blessing of joy and peace.

Merry Christmas,

Not to blame, not to strike, to live restrained under the law, to be moderate in eating, to sleep and sit alone, and to dwell on the highest thoughts--this is the teaching of the Awakened. "Buddha"

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Winter's lesson

Mother nature forced me to pause for a few days to dig out from recent storms that left close to two feet of snow and a need for a lot of shoveling. I welcomed the respite from months of speaking and travel to just enjoy this winter wonderland in all its beauty. Nature always has a way of reminding me how important it is to take in her wonder and return me to a more calm self.

Winter storms have a way of slowing the pace of life as our list of "need to accomplish" becomes impossible, leaving us to be with what is. Often it takes a forced break from our everyday hustle and bustle for us to realize that we have not been spending enough time with ourselves. Soon enough the roads are cleared and we are once again be faced with all the distractions conspiring to prevent us from living in the present moment. For me, I hope this chilly reminder will allow me to see things as they are.

As I left to rejoin the world today it did not take long for my mind to become wrapped up in the day's events and issues. The thermometer read -14 degrees as I left for the office, thankful that the heater in the truck was narrowly winning the battle for comfort. Just before arriving at the office, I was once again offered a little reminder of the greatness of nature when I spotted a coyote chasing a squirrel who narrowly escaped becoming breakfast as it scurried up a tree. The coyote was nice enough to pause for a picture before moving on to look for another meal.

May we each be reminded that no matter how bad we believe things are, there is still greatness in the world waiting for us to experience it. Our journey in this life is short leaving us to choose the things that matter the most.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Political divide

As a Nation, we have allowed ourselves to be divided along political lines to the point that debate has been replaced by hateful rhetoric. Once we identify ourselves with a particular ideology we often select the information sources that reinforce the idea that the “other” side is just plain wrong. We stop looking deeply at issues believing that the information we gather through so called news services lets us stay current on the events of the day.

This fact is well understood by our political leaders who work hard to perpetuate this division allowing them to stop short of providing the facts behind their actions. Political protests on both sides’ highlights the fact that this division brings out a vitriolic hatred for anyone with opposing views and we spend our days mired in hatred rather than the facts of an issue.

I have purposely not spoken about political issues here because it would take away from the message of the blog. Those who know me also know that I am deeply involved in the political process. This is why this blog has been somewhat neglected recently. Being positive and political at the same time is a difficult balance. It is not a balance I have mastered.

The mission of my political work is to bring people together to dialog about the issues that are important to each of us whether we realize it or not. Only by putting partisan hatred aside and beginning to speak and listen to each other will we be able to understand what is happening while we argue. There are destructive forces at work in the halls of the World’s governments which have nothing to do with Democrats and Republicans.

Do your best to look at every issue carefully and resist the temptation to draw a conclusion based on a letter following a person’s name. This message is not always well received when I speak but I know that as individuals, we are a lot more alike than different. Most of us want the best for all, leaving us the choice to remain mired in hatred or opening our minds to find common ground. The answers do not come from government, it comes from us. Propaganda that fits our ideals is still propaganda.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Accepting Yourself

How much of your own life have you missed? The simple act of living takes us away from so much of what lies underneath our surface self. Over the course of our lives, the world continuously thickens the shell around our true nature. Traumas from childhood, responsibility for others, money troubles, difficult relationships, etc… create the armor we build around ourselves thinking it will protect us from further harm. Sadly, much of this ends up shielding ourselves from ourselves, preventing us from being truly happy.

Our culture or perhaps human nature leads us to define ourselves based on external standards. Growing up you may have heard; “You should be more like him.” Or; “Why don’t you act more like her.” Inadvertently, this is often how the process of loosing ourselves begins. There is seldom any malice in the actions, just well intentioned caretakers trying to help us learn to fit into society. Those charged with caring for us, especially when we are young, are really just trying to save us from the pain of not fitting in to a highly structured culture.

I am not advocating anarchy or implying that societies do not need rules and certain social norms to function, they do. It is simply that by allowing ourselves to be blinded to our true nature through believing that we must be “just right” that we rob ourselves of our own love. Measuring up to the ridiculous stereotype of what we should be like, look like, act like, think like, is impossible. We all have flaws that cannot be simply airbrushed like a cover shot of a magazine.

Have you ever said to yourself, “I wish I was thinner, taller, faster, etc?” My guess is that everyone has at one point answered, yes. A yes answer does not make you abnormal. We all do this several times a day in one form or another. Our problems arise when we begin to identify ourselves with our faults rather than our true nature. “I’m an angry person.” “I’m a sad person.” “I’m a fat person.” Is this really all you are? None of these are who we are inside. Each is a condition that we have learned to identify ourselves with.

Self love and acceptance is the only way to find true inner happiness. How wonderful it would be to look at yourself and drop the negative story. Opening our heart to ourselves lets the light of the world shine into the spaces we have kept so dark. Self love is not narcissism. Narcissistic people use the false love of themselves as a defense against their inner suffering. True self love is not selfish.

An often quoted teaching of the Buddha reads; “You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A hint of winter

Overnight, Mother Nature left a hint that winter is just around the corner. I awoke this morning to see the trees blanketed with snow from an early season storm. Driving into my office to catch up on the pile of correspondence needing to be dealt with, I could not help being caught up in the wonder of how fast the seasons change.

Regardless of whether or not I am ready, winter is coming complete with snow shovels and ice melt. I am counting on the weather service to be correct in saying that the next few weeks will return the region to warmer weather allowing me to harvest some of nearly ripe tomatoes still hanging on the vines.

Embrace the changing seasons. Each has so much to offer us if we just pay attention. If you would like a little snow, I should have an entire driveway full ready for you to take in about a month. You can even use my shovel. :)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Missing Your Dreams

Most of us grow up imagining the great things we will accomplish in life. Perhaps you wanted to be a dancer, a painter, an athlete, a pilot, a singer, or a writer. The list is as vast as the individual's imagination. While few of us will ever have the opportunity to fulfill these dreams, does it make them any less important? The answer is no.

While we may not realize it, every childhood dream served a purpose. They allowed us to envision doing something greater than our situation might allow. Dreams open us to possibilities bigger than ourselves, leading us down roads we may never travel. Our childish dreams gave us a chance to see all the possibilities without the constraints that reality places on us as adults.

Our society places little importance on dreams. Adult thinking emphasizes responsibility based on tasks, considering imagination unimportant in landing a good job and making a living. The feedback we receive growing up often convinces us to abandon our vision of what others consider impossible. In the process, we lose so much of ourselves.

Growing up, my dreams and imaginations were as vast as the stars in a desert sky. They were my escape from a difficult and painful situation. Dreams allowed me to see a better world full of happiness and intrigue. One by one these dreams were compressed into a little ball named reality as the necessity of living replaced fantasy. For a long time I lived without dreams focusing on placing one foot in front of the other believing I had no choice in the path. I was wrong. Learning to dream again allowed me to see that I could walk around the roadblocks I saw in front of me.

As adults we have choices. We can blame our parents for smashing our dreams into little pieces, holding on to bitterness and resentment. We can blame our situation for not placing enough opportunities in front of us to allow these dreams to be realized. Hopefully, we will come to understand that our parents and others were trying to protect us from being disappointed since they too had childish dreams that went unfulfilled. They most often simply did not have the tools to guide us in the safest ways or the understanding that imagination is a healthy manifestation of a growing mind.

Regardless of how much we may have suffered from being told we would never be good enough to be the things we dreamed of, it is not too late to put this in the past. We cannot undo what is behind us. Forgive yourself for falling short of your goals to open up the possibilities of what you can become now. Allow yourself to dream again.

There is nothing wrong spending a little time with your head in the clouds. Go places in your mind. See yourself for whatever you want to be. Some things may be possible given enough effort. If you believe you can, go for it. Many things we dream of may not be within our reach. Providing that we do not cling to the impossible, we may find that our wildest dreams lead us to see possibilities we would have missed with our minds closed.

I believe I read it best some while back on Amanda Linehan's blog "Look Far, The Art of Self Awareness". "It's OK to have your head in the clouds as long as your feet are on the ground". Living in reality comes with being an adult. Imagination simply makes life more fun.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Changing Seasons

Often we do not have to travel far to witness the beauty that nature offers us. After weeks of putting it off, I climbed on my motorcycle yesterday to ride one of my favorite routes on the back roads through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Soon these mountain passes will be closed as snow will blanket the landscape leaving them impassable.

I stopped first along a little stream called "Silver Creek" to listen to the water as it cascaded over the rocks making the music of life as it wound its way down the mountain. It is difficult not to feel peaceful as the water plays among the little twists and turns of the stream bed.

The little lake in the picture was my next stop. I was struck by the majesty of this place nestled in a little valley about 8600 feet above sea level. At this altitude, summer hides the harshness of winter as water lilies and mountain aspen wrap the landscape in green for a few months. The lake will soon freeze over and the flowers will lay dormant until the spring thaw wakes the spectacle once again.

Sitting for a long time along the shore, I was reminded of how impermanent so much of the cause of suffering really is. We can choose to view difficult situations as seasons rather than something permanent. Given enough time, the current season will pass, melting the snow and ice that covers our happiness, giving way to a new spring where the flowers and leaves once again fill us with joyfulness and peace.

Know that during the darkest times, our flowers and leaves are inside us waiting for the ice to thaw giving each of us a chance for a new beginning. Special places that remind us of this are often not far away. May you find your spot and be filled with peace.

A Special Gift

My friend, Teresa Silverthorn, author of the blog; "Confessions of a Mystic", gave me a Mandala she created for me today. Those familiar with the meaning of a Mandala will understand the specialness of this gift.

Mandalas in Buddhism are viewed as sacred places to remind the viewer of life's impermanence as well as our own internal potential. Common in many forms of Buddhism, Mandalas are used as part of mediation practice where the mediator contemplates the image to the most fine detail, internalizing the image as a place of safety and sanctuary.

Mandalas are meant to help us discover divinity through the realization that divinity is actually within each of us, waiting for us to discover it.

Buddhist monks often spend months creating intricate and beautiful Mandalas out of colored sand. Once completed, the sand is brushed together and washed away in a body of water to signify the impermanence of all things.

Thank you Teresa for this wonderful gift.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Have You Misplaced Yourself?

I have learned in my years on this planet that life is most difficult when we take it too seriously. Somehow, we have come to believe that floating around on this little spec of dust called Earth makes us the glue that holds the universe together. We fight, stress and ruminate over the most insignificant details, making them the center of our lives. Why?

The answer is simply validation. We want our lives to mean something. Our lives should be meaningful but we often miss what is truly meaningful by focusing on the wrong things. As a society we typically define meaning based on material success rather than the intrinsic value that each of us has within us. The messages we receive from birth stress the point that we must "have" to "be".

There is nothing wrong with material success providing we are not harming ourselves and those around us while trying to achieve it. Many people would actually be more successful if they could just remove the remove the preconceived conditions they have been taught as the only road to achieve it.

Often we deny our deepest needs in the pursuit of our perceived desires. We loose ourselves in this process, slowly killing our true self by either trying to become the person someone else wants us to be or someone we have told ourselves we have to be. Living in this state causes immense suffering within us as we deny the person that we really are.

The only way to real happiness is by living truthfully to who we are no matter how deeply we have buried the the true self. It can be very frightening as we remove the layers because we are afraid of what we may find. Breath through the fear and ask yourself; Who am I? What do I want out of life?

Be aware that a little nagging voice may try to stop you. "You are not good enough". "You have not achieved enough". These are the voices that have been placed on us by life's conditions not from truth. Acknowledge this voice for what it is, static. Keep pushing deeper. It is not something that will come overnight but if you keep going, you will find it.

Small steps are all you need, there is no hurry. It took a long time to get to the point where you are and that is fine. It is where you are right now in the present moment. You just don't have to stay where you have been told you must be.

Stop taking yourself and life too seriously. Make time to enjoy the time you have here, laughing, crying and everything in between. You deserve the best because you are you.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Racing to the Finish Line

Commitments have over the last few months have required me to spend less time blogging and more time working. This is not necessarily a bad thing given that much of the extra work has involved helping one of my sons start a new venture which has allowed me to spend more time with him. Balancing this added workload with my already heavy schedule has, however, made me start thinking about what is it that we are in so much of a hurry about in our daily lives.

I cannot remember a time that I did not have at least two jobs and several 'projects' in the fire at one time. For me, being tired has become a way of life and luckily, I can get by without enough sleep for periods of time. My question is, "what is is that so many of us are working so hard for"? Financial gain is obvious but stops short of explaining the full picture. I could hire others to do much of the work I place on myself.

At times, some of what I have written here seems hypocritical as I talk about giving ourselves quality downtime to recharge our batteries and take time out to appreciate all the wonder that is constantly surrounding us if we just look. Perhaps this is due to the insane schedule I have kept over the last few months and I am feeling a little sorry for myself.

The world is in a hurry and so many of the messages we receive involve needing more. The need for money, success, and status are just a few of the images we are presented with each day through advertising and advice from others. Is this what really matters in the end if we are destroying our quality of life in the process? Of course not.

In a relatively short time, we will all be dead. Everything we have worked for so hard can be passed on to others, not the worst thing I'll admit, but is it worth sacrificing our own happiness? Each of us must answer this question on their own since every situation is different.

Earlier this week, I found myself in grave need for a day off. My motorcycle had been sitting in the garage all summer tempting me to hop on and take a long ride. Deciding it was time, I planned a route that would take me through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, using back roads that make one wonder how they can be called highways given that they are not much wider than an average driveway! They do however wind their way through some of the most picturesque landscapes I have ever witnessed.

I purposely did not take my camera to prevent me from paying more attention to photo opportunities than the breathtaking vistas and mountain lakes my route would offer. Ten thousand foot mountain passes barren of trees offer a sense of wonder as to how these mountains have slowly made their journey from the ocean floor over millions of years to give us the opportunity to see them in all their grandeur at this time in history. They did it by not being in a hurry. I really should have taken a few pictures!

The message I am trying to present, for myself also, is that many of us need to slow our lives down once in a while. We will get to the finish line soon enough. As the finish line happens to be in the shape of a headstone, why be in such a rush to get there?

Just a little something to think about, says he as he points to himself!

Post from the Archives: How does a Microwave Work?

When I put a cup of water for my tea in the microwave, I press a few buttons to set the time, hit start and before I know it… hot water. I cannot think of a time when I stood waiting and pondered just how the energy waves interacted with the water to create heat. I just accept that the microwave works.

We rarely look at life like this way. We look for reasons behind the most trivial things. Why did they say that? What did they mean by that? Why is the world such a painful place? We dissect and ponder, looking for hidden meanings of things or in the words and actions of others.

On the emotional level, the human mind has trouble accepting things as the way they are. We want life to conform to our needs. We want others to change, making them more acceptable to the way we think they should be. We may spend years waiting, as a song says, for the world to change, believing that it is just a matter of time.

The answer does not lie in knowing why the world is as it is. Peace comes from accepting that there are things we cannot change. This knowledge leads us directly to the present moment, the only time we have full control over who we are. In this moment we can decide how to look at things, how to react, and whether we are compassionate to ourselves and others.

We are only here for a short ride. Accept the things you cannot change. Make the most of the present moment as this is where your life is right now. You will never have a better past. The future is yet unwritten. You can choose whether to fret over what made the water hot or you can just enjoy your tea.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Little Moments

Sometimes we need little reminders of what is good in our lives. The everyday stress of living and the barrage of negative images we receive every day can take a toll on our minds if we let them.

One of the tricks to doing this is to pause and fully take in the little snapshots in life that make everything so worthwhile. This can be anything. A beautiful sunset. A colorful blossom. The calm of a mountain lake. An image of a playful child.

The snapshots I am speaking of are not those taken with a camera. (I cheated here to illustrate the point) Think of them as images that become memories in the deepest part of our hearts. They are impressions we can draw on when the dark clouds of despair begin to creep in around us.

The only tools we need are our eyes and the present moment. There is wonder all around us that will take our breath away if we just sit still long enough to let it happen.

Next time you find yourself reaching for the camera, worrying about the focus and framing to capture that perfect picture, don't. Breath in deeply and let the image burn into your mind making it available whenever you need it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Difficult Images

Very few are lucky enough to go though life without having to face a few difficult situations that etch horrible images in our minds. Most of the bad news we hear is is far away and affects people we don't know. While we feel empathy when we hear of the suffering of others, our exposure to these events is limited. When we are directly involved with a traumatic event, the emotions can be quite different.

When speaking to people who have been through war and other disasters, I am often struck with the detail in which they speak of events that occurred many years before. To them, the events are as clear as if they happened last week. In its extreme, these images are often the cause of post traumatic stress disorder suffered by some of our returning veterans.

We need to be mindful to place even the most difficult images in the proper perspective. Regardless of how we have been affected, these are incidents that we cannot change. When we allow ourselves to identify too closely with things that are long gone, we trap ourselves in the pain of that moment even though it may have been many years ago. We should allow ourselves to acknowledge the memory without becoming attached to it.

I began thinking of this subject a few days ago after speaking to a new paramedic about some of the major incidents I had responded to during my career and how I dealt with the emotions that came along with them. While I still work as an emergency responder, it has been many years since I responded in the role of paramedic. I do not tend to speak about this often but felt it might help him find perspective when he is faced with overwhelming situations.

As I began talking about an incident that occurred nearly 30 years ago, I became aware that my breathing had become shallow and I was experiencing an overall feeling of tightness in my chest as I relived the day. The incident occurred on Thanksgiving Day, 1980. I was fresh out of school and to this point had only dealt with crisis on a small scale.

The picture below ran the next day and shows a small portion of an incident that was spread out over 4 blocks. A person had intentionally driven a 1970 Lincoln Continental down a crowded sidewalk in Reno, Nevada at 40 miles an hour, killing 5 and critically injuring 26 others. I am the one being pulled from the ambulance in the background by a panicking police officer after I had ran back for more supplies.

While I have placed this and many other similar incidents in their proper perspective, I am amazed at the detail in which I can still remember the sounds and even smells of that day. I have to choke back a few tears when I think of how some of the victims continue to suffer for the simple fact that they happened to be on the sidewalk that day.

The point of this post is to highlight the point that bad things happen, often to good people. Life sometimes exposes us to things we would rather not see or that we are not equipped to see. Understanding this point allows us a better perspective, hopefully to prevent some of the emotional damage that can occur when we are thrust into horrible situations.

It troubles me that with all the research showing that support systems are critical to the long term mental health of our solders and rescuers, both groups often receive little more than lip service from those charged with the task. The stigma of weakness still plays a big role in the problem, preventing many from seeking what help is available. Being human is not a weakness and we can do a better job in helping those who need it.

If you know someone who you believe is suffering, don't be afraid to talk to them about it. If they are not ready to speak, respect this but let them know you are available. When they are speaking, listen without interrupting. Don't try to make the situation seem less than it is. Let them know that you understand the suffering they are feeling and that it must have been a terrible experience. When a person's feelings are validated, it is much easier to move through those feelings. It may be uncomfortable, but the help you give can be immeasurable.

I could not write this without dedicating it to Dennis Godfrey, who was my partner that day. Sadly, Dennis died in a hang gliding accident the following summer. I have never met a person who loved life and people more than he did. Thank you for all you taught me.

We will never live in a world without suffering but we can help each other move through that suffering for a better tomorrow.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Letting Go of Control

There are relatively very few things outside of ourselves that we have control over, yet we spend enormous amounts of emotional capital on things we cannot change. If we look closely we may find that this is nothing more than a way we distract ourselves from being present. By transmitting our energy onto something or someone else we push our minds away from whatever emotion we are feeling in the present moment.

Focusing on controlling the actions and thoughts of others moves us away from dealing with our own issues. We make the excuse, "I will deal with my problems once I fix theirs". In the end, this thinking comes with the risk of doing more harm to both ourselves and those we are focused on.

Much of the Buddhist practice is centered on letting go of the hindrances our minds cling to. Letting go of control is one of the most difficult tasks most practitioners face. We think we feel safe when we are in control yet the truth is that when we are controlling, pain and conflict are never far away.

Learn to let go. Peace comes from learning that we not only cannot control all the things and people around us, but also in the understanding that we do not need to. Next time you feel the urge to control someone, stop yourself and just observe. See what happens when you just let things happen.

As you practice letting go of control, you will start to realize how unimportant much of what has happened in the past really is. The things you held onto so tightly will reveal themselves as nothing more than stories built within our own mind. We will enjoy better relationships with all that is around us, letting us focus in the present moment where all happiness lives.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Post from the Archives.

The Buddhist Conservative Blog was born with the post below. I have been so busy helping one of my sons with a new venture, I have not had much time to dedicate to updating the blog. If you were wondering how it all began, this is the story.

I want to thank each of you for the support and encouragement you have given me.

Are We Really That Different? The Blissful Drifting of a Conservative in Dangerous Waters

I had not given much thought to politics when I signed up for a week long Buddhist retreat set to begin the day after the election. I had voted early allowing me to spend Election Day preparing and watching exit polls. The results came in and our side lost, time to move on and wish the new president elect Godspeed.

Pulling onto the road leading to the retreat center I began feeling the quiet set in when the first sign of danger appeared in my windshield as I hummed along with the sound of the wind rustling the brightly colored leaves of autumn, harmonizing with the gentle rumbling of the diesel engine in my pickup. Standing between me and the gatehouse were a Prius, a Mini, and a small car labeled “clean air vehicle.” Easing forward, my senses alert, I was greeted with a look as to say, “Are you running biodiesel?”

Discretely parked at last, I grabbed my bags and chose a path that would make it appear that I arrived in the Smart Car parked next to my front tire. Failing to consider the horn sounding when I locked the doors, my plan was nearly blown; luckily no one seemed to notice.

Settled in and already feeling hints of inner peace fill my being, I walked with a slow pace to the dining hall for the opening meal. I had done a little research a few days prior to make sure I could live without meat for the next week. Savoring a delicious meal of vegetables, salad greens and tofu, my worldly cares began to vanish… and then it happened! Terror gripped my insides as the retreat manager strode into the room and raised her apron revealing a shirt emblazoned with a huge picture of our next president.

The room erupted in a cheer worthy of a Superbowl victory as I made a quick scan of the crowd, hoping to see a kindred spirit in the fast closing space around me. There were none. As a small bead of sweat appeared on my forehead, I made an attempt to stay invisible for fear that if the joyous mob might chase me off the property if they knew I voted for the other guy.

The meal over, I kept my eyes low so the crowd would not sense my fear. I quickened my pace a little to retrace my steps to the dormitory making sure a stray bag of salted right wing nuts had not fallen out of my pocket exposing the possibility of an outsider. I quickly made sure that a stray McCain button had not been left on a shirt and carefully hid the one red t-shirt I had packed under the bed. Safe at last!

That same night in a Dharma talk, (Buddhist teachings, for my conservative friends), one of the instructors referenced a conversation where she caught herself and her friends contemplating how any thinking person could possibly be a conservative. I blushed a little as I reflected on how many times I wondered the same things about liberals. Earlier, before the silence of the retreat began, I had spoken to several seemingly intelligent people, the same ones who cheered for their victory! My mind was spinning with the idea that intelligence and party preference might after all be separate!

As a society, we are inundated with the image that there is a vast gap between liberals and conservatives. The reality is that mathematically, there are more people closer to the center than the combined fringe but it is the fringe gets all the good coverage. We middle folk are simply too boring to cover. Headline: “Man picks up groceries on way home from work”, details at 11! Our lives are just too real for “Reality” television.

The greatest single blessing we have in America is the chance to think as individuals. As surprising as it might sound, most of us desire many of the same things. We often, however, disagree on the best way to accomplish them. Ninety eight percent of Americans do not believe that is right to burn someone’s house down to protest the cutting of a tree. That same ninety eight percent is against putting a pillow case over your head and burning a cross in front of a black church.

Sadly, these are the images that are projected by each side. All conservatives are just war loving, gun toting racists! All liberals are just tree hugging, big government socialists! It makes good press, whatever that means, but it is simply not the case. We have the right to fight for what we believe but also the responsibility to respect the views of others. The world is an unhappy place and our own anger simply feeds suffering. We should try to seek the middle ground by accepting that we can disagree without fighting.

The next time you talk to some babbling idiot, deemed so because they do not agree with your views, try to lighten up a bit. It does not mean you have to agree with them. Of course if you really want to show how smart you are, always agree with me!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


The idea of the choices we make in our lives came to mind today as I worked as part of a technical fire rescue team to help a young man who had become stranded on a cliff over 100 feet off the ground.

The young man and a friend made a relatively poor decision to climb the face of the cliff without the proper knowledge and equipment that would make it safe. As they climbed higher, the rocks became more and more loose. Unable to move up or down, he held on to a small bush until being lowered to safety. The rescue took more than three hours but thankfully, the outcome was not worse. His friend had not climbed as high and was able to climb down and alert rescuers.

Not every choice we make has the potential for fatal consequences, yet every time we make a choice, something else in our life is impacted. Many choices, picking cloths to wear, what to have for breakfast, have little potential of changing our lives. Other choices, however can impact us dramatically.

As humans, we have the opportunity to choose between things that will make us happy and things that will not. This being the case, it would seem that we would always choose happy. I wish that was the case. Also, if we do not take a minute to think about our choices first, we may make ones that seem like they will bring happiness, and they may initially, but in the end leave us in sorrow.

Think about the choices you have made in your life. I doubt that you intentionally made bad choices but there are likely some that you regret. Bad choices are one of life's greatest teachers. Providing the choice does not kill us, we have the opportunity to learn and not repeat harmful things over and over. For many reasons, we don't always learn these lessons easily.

Repeating harmful actions over and over develops patterns that become familiar. This is another word for addiction. We can be addicted to many things; food, smoking, drugs, anger. Even when we know the thing we are doing harms us, our actions become who we are, making it difficult to quit. We forget that we have choices.

The more understanding we have, both of ourselves and the world around us, the better we can decide which road to take whenever the road forks. When we consider the impact our decisions will have on us now but more importantly later, we will tend to make better choices. We must also consider the impact our decisions will have on others.

Aside from being a little embarrassed and sunburned, the young man I started this story with is fine. Had he fallen, the impact to his friends and family would have had long reaching consequences. I am sure he had not considered this before beginning his climb but perhaps he will next time.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


A short while back, Amanda Linehan wrote a post for her blog "Look Far" entitled; "Reflection: Keeping Your Dreams Alive In The Face of Reality". Basically, she asked the question, "is it possible to hold onto a dream while still accepting reality?"

I have to wonder how many times we hear in our life to "just follow your dreams". Sounds easy enough. If I follow my dreams, I will be happy. There it is. My work is finished.

If it were only so easy! Most of our lives do not include a lot of chances to follow every dream we may have. Situations, responsibilities and other limitations prevent us from going off on a wild tear each time a new fantasy pops into our minds. While it may sound good, deeper reflection may show us that this is not necessarily a bad thing. For us to function in this world, there has to be trade offs between dreams and reality.

Should we just give up on our dreams and accept the cold reality that most of them will go unrealized? I certainly hope not! Our dreams have a much deeper purpose than we often realize. Dreams give us hope when we despair. They enable us to go places we physically will never be able to go. Dreams spawn creativity that logical thought is not capable of. What may begin as a fantasy can even lead us to new possibilities that we would have missed otherwise.

Maintaining a healthy perspective concerning our dreams is key to maintaining a balanced life. Sometimes, we have to consider the impact that chasing our dreams may have on those close to us. We also have to consider the long term impact we may place on ourselves. Quitting our job with the hope of landing a leading role in a movie may sound great until we find ourselves without a home or money for food. It becomes an issue of choosing which dreams are possible and which ones are not.

Even if a dream is realistic, it still may require a good deal of planning to make it happen. Very few of us are born with the resources to do everything we want without a plan. On a side note, most of the people I have met who have these resources are no more happy with their life than those of us who do not. Working hard to achieve a dream gives us so much more than the things in our life that come easy.

Use your dreams to your advantage. Chase those you can, providing they will benefit you in the long run. Let your dreams carry you through the dark times of your life. Dream as big as you wish but always return to the present moment. It is this moment that true happiness resides.

As someone commented on the "Look Far" post; "Keep your head in the clouds but your feet on the ground".

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Most of the Worst Things That Ever Happened to Me, Never Happened

How many times in your life have you spent days or even months worrying about something that never happened? We tangle our minds in a web of "What If's". "What might she think" or "What might he do". This is the trap of placing expectations on the future.

The ego lures us into the future at the expense of the present moment. So not to be caught off guard and find ourselves in an embarrassing or weak position, we run through a myriad of possible scenarios, making sure we have all the bases covered. Since we can never know what truly will happen, we spend immense energy focused only on the possibilities. More often than not, these fantasies are far worse than what eventually comes to be.

Understanding that fear of what “might” happen, is just fear, frees us to just let the future take care of itself. Often, we even feel a sense of relief following the event, saying things like; “I’m glad “that” didn’t happen.” or "What was I so worried about?" These are experiences we can learn from.

The future is yet unwritten. For us to find peace we need to stay focused in the here and now. The energy we now spend planning, fretting and worrying can be used for so much more. Let us open to this moment and breathe in the beauty that is right in front of us. We can never really know if tomorrow will come, let alone what it will bring.

Monday, February 16, 2009

How Does a Microwave Work?

When I put a cup of water for my tea in the microwave, I press a few buttons to set the time, hit start and before I know it… hot water. I cannot think of a time when I stood waiting and pondered just how the energy waves interacted with the water to create heat. I just accept that the microwave works.

We rarely look at life like this way. We look for reasons behind the most trivial things. Why did they say that? What did they mean by that? Why is the world such a painful place? We dissect and ponder, looking for hidden meanings of things or in the words and actions of others.

On the emotional level, the human mind has trouble accepting things as the way they are. We want life to conform to our needs. We want others to change, making them more acceptable to the way we think they should be. We may spend years waiting, as a song says, for the world to change, believing that it is just a matter of time.

The answer does not lie in knowing why the world is as it is. Peace comes from accepting that there are things we cannot change. This knowledge leads us directly to the present moment, the only time we have full control over who we are. In this moment we can decide how to look at things, how to react, and whether we are compassionate to ourselves and others.

We are only here for a short ride. Accept the things you cannot change. Make the most of the present moment as this is where your life is right now. You will never have a better past. The future is yet unwritten. You can choose whether to fret over what made the water hot or you can just enjoy your tea.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What Is It You Want Most From Life?

I am not asking this question as one to be answered, rather as one to be pondered quietly within yourself.

Many will answer this question with something related to love, money, fame or one form or another of material possessions. For some, this may be as far as the thought is capable of going since it is the truth. There is no right or wrong answer.

Others may find surprising insight after sitting with questions like this. Sometimes we are blinded to our true wants and needs due to our fears and a vast number of societal influences. We often find that rather than what 'we' want, we seek what others have convinced us we want.

Every day we are barraged with images and words telling us that our lives will be more complete with whatever is being pitched. Billions of dollars are spent each year telling us we need more. Softer skin, less weight, more hair, better sleep are just some of the thousands of messages we receive each day.

All of these things may bring a degree of happiness. For those looking for something more fundamental, I argue that no matter how many 'things' we now have, we need be looking in a much deeper place. We have all heard that money does not lead to happiness. At the same time, I have never seen proof that poverty does either. There must be something more.

Each of us has to answer this question for ourselves. Look beyond the standard answers and see if there is something else. You may be surprised or perhaps not. Either way, once you find 'your' answer,work to make it reality.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

If Only...

Six letters, two little words. Harmless and innocent by themselves combine to form a foundation of regret and suffering. If only I... If only he... If only she...

Somehow, either consciously or unconsciously we use these tiny words to justify our failure in achieving our dreams, our goals. Is this fair? Perhaps, sometimes. More often than not, these words simply shift the blame, making our shortcomings more palatable.

This is not to say that we are responsible for every failure and disappointment life hands us. Far from it. Life takes its toll on each of us, leaving only the choice of how we face each adversity. Transferring the responsibility for the choices we can control away from ourselves will not make things better.

Next time you catch yourself beginning a sentence with "If only...", allow yourself a gentle chuckle and replace the two little words with two other little words; "Why not". Why not me. Why not her. Why not him.

Six letters, two short words combined, empowering us to dream, to live more fully. We have but one chance in this life. Dream! Fly! Happiness may be as simple as two little words.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Moments That Shape Us

Life is an interesting thing. From the moment we are born, events and experiences begin to shape us.

Since I was born at a very young age, I don’t remember much about the first few years although I am sure that this was a time of great change. Then and since, all my experiences have made me what I am today. What I experience today will make me what I am tomorrow.

Every joy, every sorrow, manipulates our brain cells, altering our outlooks and aspirations both for the better or the worse. While we can control to a degree how we choose to look at things, we can not escape the fact that we have changed.

I will be a different person, albeit slightly, when I finish writing this post. You will be a different person by the time you finish reading it. While I do not expect my words to dramatically alter your life, there are no subliminal messages, the simple fact that you are reading this means your brain is processing thoughts through chemical rearrangement.

Most of us can think back to our early years and beyond,remembering our life changing experiences. Traumas, successes, and failures place their indelible marks on our psyche changing each of us as we travel down the path of life.

For us to find peace, we need to leave the past in the past but sometimes it helps if we take a moment to understand how we ended up where we are.

Understanding that some events were not in our control and others were, can illuminate the reality of life allowing us to learn from both our successes and mistakes, helping us to forgive ourselves and others who may have unintentionally hurt us.

Let us understand that we are the product of our past but in no way is this the sum of our future. We can not stop ourselves from changing, only make the best choices we can to make changes for the better.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Nature's Wonder

Nature is constantly vigilant in her quest to amaze the soul.

I sat for a time this morning gazing to the sky at what started as a thin layer of clouds were pushed together by competing currents of wind rushing over the mountains, forming shapes like I have never seen before.

As the wispy layer coalesced, it became gently twisting ribbons, curling downward into cascading falls of vapor. As they danced across the sky, giant waves appeared as if waiting for someone to ride their thunderous face before crashing on a mythical reef.

Too soon the show was over, leaving forever with me the blessing of being there to witness nature at her finest.

How often do we miss nature’s spectacle simply because we forget to look up?

May we all have the opportunity to allow nature to fill us with wonder as we ride the clouds of our imagination.

Friday, January 2, 2009

What is the Past?

“What is in the past is left in the past. The future is not yet reached. Who knows what tomorrow brings, it could bring death”.

These words the Buddha spoke over 2500 years ago have never been more applicable. For some strange reason, the human mind has a difficult time with the present moment. We prefer to live in the past as a distraction from the here and now.

Many of us have experienced painful traumas in our lives. Nothing I say is meant to diminish or belittle your suffering. Our stories are what brought us to this point. It is in the grasping to this story that keeps us from moving forward. We often spend a tremendous amount of time re-living things we define as the pivotal events that prevented us from reaching our full potential.

When we blame the past for why we do not move forward, we have guaranteed that we will stay exactly where we are. The past has to be acknowledged for what it is before we can begin the journey to now.

One of my teachers once asked a group of students what defines the past? Is an hour ago any more in the past than the reign of the dinosaurs? They are both in the past. The past is a place that we can never return to and in many cases, a place we would never want to return to given a logical choice.

I encourage you to ponder this question for a while. What is the past and why am I so afraid to move out of it? There is no bargaining with the past to make it better and we may not see tomorrow.

For the new year may we accept the past and set it behind us to live each day for what it is, right now.