Advice on Everything

Before I give any advice, let me explain a few things. Here goes:
The world is a crazy place. We are conscious living things made of meat and bones. We have energy. It is the same kind of energy as other life forms, and non-life forms. We humans are unique in that we not only have awareness, but self-awareness. Our meaty minds move energy, which we experience as ideas. Those ideas scramble around trying to make sense of this crazy world.
In order to make sense of this world, we invent the idea of self. That invented idea is as destructive as the invention of the nuclear bomb. As soon as we came up with the idea of self, then everybody else becomes other. We are each an other to everybody else’s self. The big deal about being selves and others is that we start competing and ranking ourselves against others.
That is all fine, except, besides being meat and energy, with ideas and awareness, we also have feelings. Some of those feelings feel good, and some feel bad. We vastly prefer the good feelings to the bad feelings. Both the good and bad feelings are there to help us survive and live and create more people. They help us make sense of the world and they are also confusing.
Our thoughts, ideas, and feelings constantly change in response to things happening inside of us and outside of us. How we make sense of them determines what thoughts and feelings we have next, and those determine what we do. Lots of what we think and do is designed to create good feelings for the self and to avoid bad feelings. However, because a lot of the sense that our meaty minds make of the world is non-sense, it is like we are wandering in a maze.
In our maze, we go down a corridor that we think will lead to pleasure, because it feels good and makes sense, but as we go further and further down that path we find it causing pain. When we feel too much pain, we want to lie down and not move and we don’t feel like going anywhere else.
We want the maze to take us somewhere wonderful. We want to find that wonderful place and show all the other people in the maze how to get through to the wonderful place. Now, all the other people have been exploring the maze and some know how to get to wonderful places and others are stuck. Some have found wonderful places and lost them. Some people in exactly the same place feel different about that place and one thinks it’s wonderful and the other thinks it’s awful. So even when somebody who finds a wonderful place shows it to you, you may think it is awful. When you find a wonderful place and show it to somebody else, they may not appreciate it either.
As we all wander through this maze, this crazy world, more people are being born and dying, appearing and disappearing. That coming and going also causes good and bad feelings. Through it all, we have to keep interacting with the maze, with our ideas, with other people, with their ideas, with energy, with feelings, with senses, and it keeps changing and never stops. So what can we do?
Now the advice. In order to get through the bad feelings and become more receptive to the good feelings, recognize that you are facing a confusing world, and let yourself be confused. Remember that everybody else in the world is also confused in their own special way. Now and again, stop trying to make sense of things. Give your meaty mind a rest. Focus on just breathing and pretend that everything is going to be okay. Imagine how right were you are is a wonderful spot, even if it doesn’t feel that way.
Show your wonderful spot to somebody else, even if they can’t see it. Move your body in ways that use energy and help you replenish it. Notice the good and bad feelings and appreciate them as they come and go. Notice your ideas about yourself and appreciate that you are a special self-aware being. Remember that the idea of self is only an idea.
You are good energy, trying to feel good. Focus your meat mind on little things that make sense all by themselves. 1+1=2. That makes perfect sense. Breathe air. Taste food and drink. Connect with others, because they all think they are separate too, and they all hurt sometimes too. Try to see their wonderful places and appreciate being wherever you happen to be together.
We all do our best to make sense of things and feel good, but sometimes things don’t make sense and they often feel bad. In that befuddling environment, we try to take care of ourselves and each other and progress in our understanding even if we don’t ever find that absolutely wonderful place or make any real progress within the maze. Sometimes we make more progress sitting still than we do when we run full speed. Sometimes we are full of energy and we can run.

Enjoy Life

Anytime you find joy in things, that joy is in you. When you find joy in a connection with another person, that joy is in you. As you coordinate fun things to do and people to be with, you are creating circumstances for you to find your joyful mindspace. The joy is always in you.

When you think of joy as being in things, you will always look to things and circumstances to bring you joy. When those things or circumstances are not present or if you are stuck doing something that you consider joyless, you will find  misery and tedium as you do them.  When you believe that whether you feel joy or not is based in your response to things, you can look to yourself to find joy in many more situation.  When you are not enjoying what you are doing, don’t blame the activity, but look into your reaction. When you do that, and challenge your habitual responses, the narrow path of joyful things becomes much wider.

As you do things you enjoy, notice the wide variety of ways you find joy in yourself. As you practice finding joy in yourself, you need less elaborate things to evoke that joyful response. You can enjoy taking a shower or washing dishes. Washing dishes is generally not a joyful kind of thing, but you can feel joy in doing it if you are not consumed with finding misery in the task.

There will always be circumstances that bring you joy or bring you down, but when you look to your own response as the source of the feeling, you can deal with any circumstance. You won’t always be joyous, but when you do it regularly it gets easier. Conversely, if you often practice finding misery in things and circumstances that will be your stronger habit. Life isn’t all full of joy. You instill your joy into it. You enjoy life.


Compassionate Confrontation

In addressing conflict and considering confrontation, the best way to deal with other people is to be mindful, present, and compassionate in your interactions.

Try to see things from the other person’s point of view. When they speak, listen. When they have said what they need to say, before you respond, imagine how the situation is hurting them. See if what you need to say will add to their pain or ease it. If you are suffering too much to imagine the other person’s pain, then connect with your own feelings of hurt. See if you are angry. If you are hurt and angry, confrontations can be explosive. Be careful.

Pausing to recognize how you feel gives you the opportunity to take in what the other person said. Thinking about how they are feeling, gives you the opportunity to empathize and imagine the situation from their perspective. Seeing things from another person’s perspective gets you outside of your own head. Like looking at the clouds in the sky, it helps you focus outward. Listening and empathizing helps you be both present and compassionate. If you are hurt and angry, pausing allows you to be more skillful in your confrontation.

Being able to recognize the truth in what other people are saying, seeing how they are right and you are wrong, gives you insight into your own position. If you need to convince the other person how you are right and they are wrong, then understanding where they are wrong and right helps you focus your argument in a way they might better understand.

Being present and compassionate in your interactions with people gives you options about what the best way to respond might be. Having options and taking the time to reflect on options lets you connect with your wisdom and make the best choice. In the next moment, see how that choice went over and make your next choice. If you are skillfully compassionate, whether confronting or agreeing, the suffering in the situation will ease.


Attachers and Attachments

Letting go of attachments is changing how we experience being human. We tend to form identities around our attachments. I have this, I don’t have that. I like this, I don’t like that. I am this way, I am not that way. This is good, that is bad. Although it is perfectly human to do this, a lot of our attachments lead to suffering. It is human to suffer.

However, when we recognize how our attachments are kind of arbitrary and it is possible to be ourselves with completely different thoughts and ideas, we can explore what it is that attaches and how those attachments influence the quality of our lives. As children we attach to ideas of Santa Clause. As we grow, we get different ideas about how presents get under Christmas trees. Letting go of attachments allows us to grow and to experience life from different perspectives.

In Zen our practice is to cut through our delusions and experience the world as it is. The biggest delusion is our sense of self. It is perfectly human to have such a delusion and our attachments reinforce it. The aim of practice is not to let go of attachments, but to get beyond ourselves. Seeing how we attach to things gives us insights into how we think about what we are. What attaches to what? It is not so much about the attachments as about the attachers.

On the way to seeing the world without a seer, thinking about how and what we attach to, beliefs, ideas, habits, feelings, people, and things and how those attachments create and ease suffering, we learn new ways of seeing and being. When we hold firm to each of our attachments, they get ripped from us one by one as the world does its thing and we suffer from each loss. Being able to let go is a valuable skill when we are human and so sticky and clingy.


Zen Dating

The Zen approach to dating is to cut through all the games, to be your authentic self and to be present and compassionate toward whoever is with you.

The biggest game in dating is wanting something from another person and pretending we don’t. We want all kinds of things from other people when we date them. We want love, acceptance, appreciation, understanding, confirmation, sex, commitment, money, security, healing, and on and on. We bring every want and need in our lives into our relationships. In a dating situation it is a brand new relationship and so we play the game of pretending that we are complete, have lots to offer and need nothing. Playing that game is already taking something from the other person as we rely on them to support the fantasies we project about ourselves.

To approach a date from a zen perspective you go into your date as an enlightened person. You can’t just put your enlightenment on for a date like a sweater or scarf. That would be playing a game. You have to use that as your approach to life. You must approach life as a process of personal growth, learning to be who you are, where you are in all circumstances. Going out on a date, is a special opportunity to catch yourself at your normal habits, pretending to be things, and wanting things from other people.

Dating is a time of heightened judging and self-consciousness. When you find yourself being present and connecting with another person you judge positively, imagining a long life of happiness together, or getting what you want from them. When you are not connecting, you imagine you are wasting your time, that the person will not give you anything that you need or want. You sense that they may want something from you that you can’t give.

Whether you are connecting or not connecting changes moment to moment and instead of connecting, you wonder if you are connecting or not. If you think the other person is great, you may start to worry that you are not enough. If you find them annoying, you’re not too worried about how good you are, and you may even find yourself being mean. As you wander away from the present moment, indulge your judgments, and forget your compassion you lose your enlightenment. You find yourself involved in a transaction rather than an interpersonal connection. You are swallowed up by your own game. Zen is remembering to come back to the present and be who you are where you are.

When a date is over, you continue working on yourself, your presence, your compassion and your enlightenment. When you notice yourself playing a game, recognize the game and respond compassionately. When you are deciding what to do, ask yourself, am I playing a game or am I engaged in real life? Ask yourself if you are being authentic or manipulative. If you are bashing yourself, be compassionate with yourself. If you are acting toward another person be compassionate with them.

As dating progresses and you become more intimate, more authentic, with another person, walls crumble, or stand firm. Illusions pop. Pretenses are exposed. You grow and change. You may get married, you may go separate ways. You continue to work on being present, compassionate and enlightened. That is a zen approach to dating.


Shared Reality

Sharing is one of the first and hardest things we learn in life. The problem we have with sharing is the same problem we have with existence. We each experience life as an individual self. That self that is us has wants and needs, some rational, some irrational. If we have a favorite security blanket, we feel comfortable when holding that blanket. If somebody else has our blanket we get all out of sorts. Even if the person with our blanket is our mother, our brother, or our twin, if we aren’t the ones with the blanket, there is no security for us. That sense of security that the special blanket brings is our individual reality.

As we grow older, our sense of self becomes more developed. We learn the nuances of sharing. We learn to share differently within our various social groups. We share freely with some people and not so much with others. We share our blankets, food, money, germs, emotions, ideas, history, cultures and a planet with each other. How two or more of us experience the world together is our shared reality.

Sharing reality is not like sharing a blanket. It’s more like sharing the planet. We have to share the planet with everybody on it. We have no choice. In many cases we do our best not to share our planet. We draw borders, we build walls, we fight wars to kill the people we don’t want to sharing our planet. That is all part of our shared reality, where we each have a self, a self-interest, and sharing is really hard.

On a personal level, we have widespread agreement on our shared reality. We all know we shouldn’t kill each other and to stop at red lights. Even within our cultural conventions our individual realities are vastly different from our shared reality. A shared reality between only two people contains all of each of their experiences and their rational and irrational beliefs, hopes, and fears. It contains a sense of cooperation and a sense of competition. When a third person enters the picture the shared reality adds another unfathomable dimension. Together, we each observe our shared reality through the veil of our individual realities.

That veil is made up of all of our rational and irrational ideas interwoven with each other. Some of our rational ideas are wrong and some of our irrational ideas are right. This tapestry of fact and fiction that forms our veils, our sense of self, is effectively a blindfold. With each of us blindfolded, we need each other to help us navigate this shared reality. As we guide each other, knowing that we don’t know and behaving with compassion anyway, we can learn to stop red lights and not kill each other. We can even lean to share our blankets, our planet and our reality. As we share, how we share, we shape our individual and shared realities.



The Laws of Attraction

The law of attraction is that when you wish for something you get it. That is true for everything that we have, and less true for what what we don’t have or have and don’t want. The law of attraction works very well at a Starbucks. If we have money, we can wish for any hot beverage we can imagine and something like it will materialize.

With love, we follow our own attraction. When we notice we are attracted to somebody, then we love them a little. Our soul may not resonate with theirs, but our heartbeats are each between 60 and 120 beats per minute, our body temperatures are each around 98 degrees Fahrenheit, and we each occupy a proximal space at the same time. On top of that, we feel a sense of attraction to them.

We can approach those we are attracted to with awareness of our attraction and curiosity about who this other person is.  If they feel a similar attraction and look into our eyes, our heartbeats will speed up, our bodies will raise their temperatures, emit pheromones, and produce oxytocin, the love neurotransmitter, like they did when our mothers held each of us as babies.

People naturally love each other, but there is a lot involved in developing trust and understanding with another person. Attraction compels us to interact and make the effort to get to know each other.

The more we get to know another person, the more of ourselves we expose. Sometimes there are parts of us we are afraid to expose. Sometimes people judge and don’t like what they see. Sometimes we judge and don’t like what we see. These things keep coming up as we explore layers of intimacy. Ultimately, we each have to face ourselves as we engage with other people.

There are few better ways of getting to know ourselves than looking from another’s point of view. It helps if that other point of view is generous, amorous, and compassionate.  It helps if we are that way too as we learn to know ourselves and make the effort to know and love others.


3 Easy Ways To Become Mindful

Here are thee easy ways to incorporate mindfulness into your life:

1. Pause several times a day to notice your breath.

Noticing your breath makes you present. Whenever you pause to notice your breath, breathe deeper than you had been. If you tend to carry around residual stress, your unconscious breathing will be faster and more shallow. When you notice your breath and breathe more slowly, you let out a bit of stress right where you are instead of waiting for life to become less stressful.

In those moments where you notice your breath, you also notice other things. You notice your thoughts. You notice how you feel. You notice your body posture. You notice if you are standing or sitting. You notice if you are plugged in or unplugged. As you notice these things and continue to breathe slowly, respond to whatever you notice with kindness. Being present, noticing things and responding with kindness is the essence of mindfulness. It is very easy to incorporate into your day. In fact, it is much harder not to practice it.

2. Unplug yourself.

Turn off your phone, stay off the computer, don’t watch television and be present where you are. You can do that for 5 minutes or 5 hours and as you notice what you notice in that time, respond to those thoughts and feelings with kindness.

3. Start a mediation habit.

Meditation is sitting and focusing your attention on your breath. You can do that for 10 minutes 2 or 3 times a day. You can do it in the middle of the night. A solid practice would be 20 minutes twice a day. Sit once in the morning and once in the afternoon or evening. Dedicating yourself to a sitting habit is the difficult part. Sitting and doing nothing is as easy as it gets. If it’s not easy, its needed.

Mindfulness, when practiced in small doses, spills over into your day. Practicing meditation is doing all three of these at once. If you develop a mediation practice you will find many moments throughout the day where you are unplugged, aware of your breathing, present, and responding with kindness to the world where you are.


Love your no-self

I am me, you are you and we are both part of something else. We live in a world that is built around each of us being individuals. We have names, birth certificates, belongings, opinions, all of which contribute to our sense of self. Self makes complete sense to us. No-self makes no sense. However, the idea of anatta, the underlying truth of no-self, compels us to wonder if it is true or not.

I don’t know how my computer works, how it manages to send information through the air so that it makes sense to your computer, but other people understand that very well. They understand truths about electrical engineering that are complete mysteries to me.

No-self is something you can learn, like electrical engineering. You learn to see the world from a different perspective. No separate self is much easier to grasp. We can’t exist without our parents, without food, water, or sunlight. All of these things are conditions of our existence. We are intertwined with everything. There is nothing about us that is completely us and not also part of something else.

When you don’t think about it, you have a solid, concrete sense of self. When you think about it a lot, that idea breaks up. There is also an experience of no-self where you may get a sense that you are not breathing, but that something is breathing you, or that there are just thoughts and nobody thinking them. These are some ways people have talked about the no-self experience. If you have such an experience the idea of no-self then makes intuitive sense.

Loving yourself is like a stepping stone to no-self. As long as you believe in a self and experience a self you should treat yourself lovingly. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Don’t create situations for yourself to suffer. Do things to help yourself feel better.  Even if you experience a strong sense of no-self you still have to inhabit yourself and interact with the world, which is built around a sense of self.  At an even more basic level, you can’t not eat because you think you don’t have a self.

Understanding no-self is understanding interrelatedness. The reality that we are all in this together. Loving yourself is recognizing that you suffer and would rather not and then finding life affirming, sustainable ways to suffer less. That opens the gates to loving others, noticing that others suffer and finding ways to help them suffer less. That creates opportunities to experience no-self. Loving yourself is a way to explore no-self.

Much of our suffering comes from our ideas about how things are. The idea of self is one of those big ideas that leads to a lot of suffering. The idea that you should love yourself is one of those ideas that can reduce suffering. So, as long as you experience a self, try to love that self. When you experience no-self there is only love.


How to Live a Better Life

To live a better life, start with the life you have. Right now, that is the best possible life you can have. That life includes a certain amount of suffering, which makes it seem like it could be better. How you habitually respond to suffering influences the quality of your life. If you run away from suffering you develop avoidance habits. As you acknowledge and approach suffering, you develop compassionate habits.

Compassion is an awareness and an action. It is noticing suffering, looking to the causes of suffering, thinking of cures for suffering, and doing what you can to bring about those solutions. Sometimes you can do a lot, sometimes less. Learning what needs to be done and what you can do is part of the skill of compassion.

You can practice compassion for yourself. You are the best place to start because you directly experience your own suffering and you have some good ideas about where it comes from and what might help.  As you learn to recognize how you suffer, you will also notice how other people suffer. When you see others suffer, practice compassion for them.

The more you practice compassion the better you get at it and the better your life gets.

The way to engage your compassionate mind is to breathe consciously. Deep breathing is your go to tool for a better life. Our bodies understand that. That’s why they knock us out every night so we can breathe in peace.