Do You Care? Enough?



Life is confusing, complicated, and sometimes painful.  There is no question that we all face a daily barrage of feelings of inadequacy, fear, and outright confusion.  The question is "How do I react to this?"

We often react in a manner to protect ourselves from fear, pain, and feelings of being inadequate with avoidance or addictive behaviors.  We use drugs, alcohol, television, our jobs, or even codependent relationships to hide from our pain. When these things don't work we blame others and become manipulative.  Surely we're not to blame for our own pain, it must be someone else's fault.  At this point we've given away our power and the responsibility for our own happiness.  We typically react by withdrawing further or we start to try to manipulate others and situations in the external world.  Since our happiness and well being relies on everyone and everything 'out there', we need to control and manipulate and that leads to deeper feelings of unworthiness and emptiness.

The harder choice, which must be made every moment of every day, is to maintain responsibility for our own lives - including our happiness and sense of worth.  In order to do this we must not turn away from pain.  We must care enough for ourselves, for life, and for others to face the hard feelings and learn the lessons that they provide.  We have to open up to learning about our fears, our shame, our feelings of being unworthy and come to understand the source of these misunderstandings, and how to nurture them until we are whole again.   Hiding, avoiding, and numbing will not make our pain go away.  Only by leaning in and facing ourselves can we learn what truly brings love and fulfillment.  Reaping the benefits of being a fully alive and spiritual being requires caring enough to do the hard work and leaning into it no matter what.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living


If you find my ideas helpful, please donate below so that we may share more freely.


Please support Zen Presence by making a small donation below.







Not Enough

Some of the time, or even most of the time is not enough. 
Not for a puppy, not for a child, or for someone in need. 
Day in, day out is what we need.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

Pain and Beauty

I have found that the amount of joy and beauty that we experience in life is equal to the amount of pain we are open to.  This doesn't mean that we have to hurt all of the time.  It means that we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable and be strong enough to allow ourselves to experience pain in order to fully appreciate beauty and love.

Be brave, it's worth it.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

Art

From Seth Godin this morning:

Brian Eno possibly said that, "the first Velvet Underground record may have only sold 1,000 copies, but every person who bought it started a band." 

Art doesn't have to be popular or well received to make an impact.  Be your true self, do your art and don't worry about what others say or think.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

Curiosity Doesn't Kill



Curiosity is tied to learning.

Curiosity leads to adventure.

Curiosity sleeps with creativity (What if?).

Curiosity is linked to empathy and understanding.

Caring requires curiosity and they both require bravery.

Curiosity leads to love, and yes sometimes pain, but curiosity doesn't kill.

Without it you're already dead.


Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living



Choosing

Living a meaningful and value oriented life isn't easy.  It involves taking responsibility for our choices and our actions.  It involves looking deeply into who we are and what we do.  As we pay attention to our naked selves, we notice a lot that has gone unnoticed before.  Not everything we see is pretty.  It takes courage to look deeply and bravery is required to take ownership of our thoughts and actions.  It seems so much easier in the beginning to take the easy route--to go with the flow and to live on the surface, but in the end that path is heartless and meaningless.  

In the beginning we can not control our thoughts, only our actions.  The mind seems to be it's own creature, almost separate from what we think of as our "selves".   We just look, noticing.  We see our thoughts, our emotions and recognize them for what they are.  After a period of time these too will change and we see that we are not our thoughts, nor our emotions.  We are something bigger.  We get to choose.


Each moment we choose:

Fear


scarcity                         limitations 
                        competition                                              aggression        
WAR                                                              famine                                              disease 
                           lack                                                                            death




OR



Love

compassion                              cooperation         LIFE

                                      HARMONY                         generosity                                      success  


                                                             Acceptance                                  forgiveness   

                   abundance


Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

Fear and Ecstasy



I've spent many hours, days, and perhaps years of my life trying to conquer fear.  I've often said it is the source of all evil.  Greed, hate, anger, selfishness--I equated them all to fear.

I was wrong.

Fear is not evil.  Fear, love, joy...they simply are-- they exist, sitting on a shelf.  They are "empty" as a Buddhist would say, neutral until we pick them up and use them.  Like anything else, it is not fear that is the problem, it is our response that determines the outcome.  Evil is a participatory sport and requires participation.

I see my fear as it grows, 
sometimes so large that I feel lost in it's shadow,
and I tremble like a lover in ecstasy.
For I know that when my fear is gone,
I will have drawn my last breath.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living


Simply Sitting

http://www.flickr.com/photos/eggrole/


There is nothing more simple than just sitting.  Not sitting to learn (though you might), not sitting for clarity (though it's likely), nor sitting for some epiphany (you can't force understanding); but sitting just to be - to feel the flow of life coursing through your veins.  To breathe, knowing that our breath is the furnace of life.

Sitting can be scary if you are used to being busy all of the time, but give it a try.  Sitting can be the foundation for a rich and meaningful life.

Sit anywhere:  outside in the sun, on the end of your bed, in your favorite chair, on a cushion, or even in your car.  Just sit.

If you hear sounds of joy, such as birds singing or children laughing, then hear sounds of joy.  If you hear sounds of sorrow, your regrets or fears bubbling up from deep within, then hear sounds of sorrow and know that they are only thoughts and that they will pass.

Sit and smile, or sit and cry.  Sit and be yourself -you don't have to do anything at all. This moment is for you.

Simply sit.

Let life flow.

Be yourself.

Breathe.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

The Next Sandy Hook

The next Sandy Hook, Columbine, or Fort Hood incident is just around the corner.  I don't know when or where, and I hope that I'm wrong, but I bring this up for a reason.  What will we do about it?

The best opportunity to deal with such a crisis is before it happens.  Oh, it's easier in a way to point fingers after the fact; to blame guns, laws, or parents.  But is it effective?  Blame is simply a method of discharging pain or discomfort and I've never seen it solve a problem yet.

In our culture we judge.  How rich is he?  What dress is she wearing?  What kind of athlete is he?  How well does she do in school?  The result is shame and trying to live up to the expectations of others instead of listening to our own voices and realizing our true abilities.  Shame drives some to push themselves at all costs and others to retreat to dark and lonely places.  Neither is healthy.

Judgement is the fuel for shame.  Empathy, understanding, and compassion (not sympathy) are the cure for shame.  The manner in which we interact with our children, neighbors, coworkers, and even strangers has a dramatic impact upon their behaviors.

Although true empathy is difficult, inconvenient, and takes tremendous emotional strength, it is one of our most powerful tools and abilities.  In modern times, where everyday life is fast paced and work is stressful (if you can get it), empathy and understanding are more important than ever.

Are you willing to see the pain in someones eyes and recognize a cry for help?  Are you willing to sacrifice and go out of your way to help someone in need?  Someone you don't even know?  Can you just listen for a moment to another's pain without judgement?  Can you offer a smile when one is needed?

You may even avert the next big shooting or similar tragedy.  You might remove the straw that was going to break the camel's back.  You'll never even know it and that's the beauty of it.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

Cell Phones, Lust, and Impulse Buying

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/


“Greed, envy, sloth, pride and gluttony: these are not vices anymore. No, these are marketing tools. Lust is our way of life." ~ Jon Foreman

As a self-proclaimed minimalist, living in a motorhome, I try not to buy too many gadgets.  Now I do like gadgets, momentarily at least, it's just that I know that they will rarely bring the long term satisfaction that I seek.  I don't know how many times I bought a new electronic item, because I just knew my life would be better with it, only to find it lying unused in a drawer a few months later.

We all have this constant craving for something to make our lives better.  Most minimalists have figured out that material things are not the cure for our cravings and that things often complicate our lives more than they help; however, that doesn't stop us from having occasional cravings.  If you are human at all I'll bet you still find yourself wanting to buy something other than what you really need.  For some it's new clothes, cars, gourmet foods, self-help books or programs....the list of possibilities is endless in this consumer society of ours.

I recently lost my IPhone (it was stolen actually).  My initial reaction was to get sick to my stomach.  My phone was an integral part of my life--I relied on it for email, internet, texting, passwords, account numbers...  What in the world would I do?

After the initial feeling of nausea, my mind quickly turned to craving and I was filled with LUST.  I was almost glad someone had stolen my year and a half old phone.  Now I had an excuse to get a new one.  I immediately started researching.  What was the best bang for my buck?  Who had the best camera?  Which phone had the best screen?  What apps were available?  I spent the better part of the afternoon drooling over the selection offered by my carrier.

The government shutdown brought me back to reality.  I was not at the end of my contract period, so I'd have to pay full price for my phone.  Paying $500-$600 for a cell phone during the middle of an indefinite layoff didn't make sense.  I'm glad I had a reason to stop and think before an impulse buy.

After such a close call, I decided to think of ways to combat impulse buying.  Methods I could use to slow me down long enough to really think about it.  I came up with the following:


  • Be fully aware of your desire.  Acknowledge it for what it is-- lust or craving.  Feel it's momentary power over you, then pause and wait for it to dissipate.
  • Ask yourself if you really need the new thing.  Calculate the true cost of it.  How many hours will you have to work to purchase it?  What will you be giving up in order to purchase it?
  • Ask yourself: What else you could do with your time or money?  
  • Think of a similar item that you bought and reflect on it. Did it bring the satisfaction that you desired? Or did it fall short?
  • Realize that you are being manipulated.  Advertising has one purpose--to create or stimulate a desire to purchase.   Having a cell phone is no longer good enough.  We want to upgrade.  Why?  Because advertising is constantly reminding us that there is something newer and better out there.
  • Don't tempt yourself.  If you've got a problem with sugar, don't spend time in the candy store.  Avoid advertising like the plague.

I've since decided to wait a while.  I will buy a phone eventually, when I know I can afford it, and when I've had time to rationally decide how much to spend and what I actually need.  For now I'm kind of enjoying not having a phone--it's a very freeing experience.  I'm afraid my minimalism gets more extreme all of the time.

Zen Presence- Ideas for Meaningful Living



The Moment After - An Opportunity for Magic.



There is a moment after really bad news - I mean earth shattering and turn-your-world-upside-down news - a moment in which a door opens offering an opportunity for magic.

I 'm not speaking of the moment you hear the news and are in shock, nor the next when you refuse for a moment to believe it and try to wish it away or see it as something it's not.  Definitely not the moments you spend feeling cheated and  bitterly blame God or someone else for your misfortune.  I mean the moment when all of the structure and pretense in your life has been shattered and there is no illusion to cloud your view.

Right after denial and blame comes a moment of potential magic.  A moment when denial no longer works and you see things the way that they truly are.  A moment to see the difference between true limitations  and the self imposed limits we put on ourselves because of fear and our false beliefs.  A moment in which you realize that your choices and decisions have brought you to this point, but that you have always had the freedom to change your beliefs and your life.  When you see there are so many doors of opportunity and that you hold the keys to all of the doors. When all of your assumptions are gone and you stand naked in the world of possibility and see that you are stronger and more powerful than you ever thought possible.

Most of the time we ignore the opportunity to start new and the moment of magic is lost.  We feel that we have too much invested in the old way.  It's like walking into a restaurant, not liking what we see on the menu, but staying because we're already there.  We try to piece and patch back together our old life - a life with the same limitations and pretenses we had before, but not quite the same...so we curse at the holes and long for the missing pieces.

I do believe that life's challenges truly are an opportunity to learn and grow.  None of us want them, not consciously.  We think we want an easy life where everything goes smoothly, but that won't happen and that's not life - that is fantasy.  Real life is challenge, learning, and growth.  Tragedy or seemingly insurmountable problems are an opportunity for growth.

Of course we don't have to have tragedy in our lives to have an opportunity for magic.  Every moment could be like this.   As a matter of fact if you look deeply and are willing to question your choices and your reality every day then you are less likely to have dramatic challenges.  If we are truly aware of our thoughts and actions and the reasons behind them, we don't need a traumatic event in order to change our lives.  Every moment is an opportunity of choice, a chance to change anything and everything about our lives.  Are you willing to look really hard at your limiting beliefs, the rules you've created or chosen to follow, the excuses you give, and to quit bitterly blaming someone else for all of your misfortunes?  Are you willing to get up from the table, to say "I've changed my mind" and look for a better restaurant - one with a menu more suited to your taste?  If so an opportunity for magic awaits you.

I challenge each of you to begin by taking just an hour or two of your time to really look at your life and ask yourself why?  For every aspect of your life-  why?  Is it what you choose?  If not why?  Please don't accept the pitiful excuses your mind will give.  "I'm already here, I might as well stay" is never a good reason for staying anywhere. Life is short.  Keep asking and keep looking at the answers.  When you feel particularly vulnerable and fearful then you're making progress - the walls are weakening - the world is about to open to you.

Just keep asking and looking deeply.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living



The Problem (The Solution)



The problem is not your cell phone.
The problem is not the internet.
Email is not the problem and neither is Facebook.
Television is not the problem.
A bottle of wine isn't the problem.
Your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend wasn't the problem either.
None of these things are the problem, nor are they the solution.
The problem is that we keep searching outside of ourselves for solutions,  for saviors,  for magic cures and then when we don't find them we use these same items to hide from our pain and vulnerability.

There is nothing wrong with using the internet, a computer, or a book as tools when looking for answers, just don't think you'll find the answers in the tools.

The solution is......




Every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution.  ~ Niels Bohr

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

Snakes, Sharks, and Ghosts



When I first met my wife I introduced her to hiking.  She'd been on a few short hikes, but not as a serious pursuit.  Hiking is one of my favorite activities and I needed her to enjoy it if we were to spend a lot of time together.  It provides a great deal of my physical exercise, quiet, solitude, and is often a spiritual experience for me.

On our first few hikes together I noticed that she always lagged way behind me.  At first I thought that maybe she was just taking her time and appreciating the scenery, but watching her I noticed that she was walking hesitantly and watching every step.  I laughed and asked "What are you doing?"  "Looking for snakes" she said.

She later went on to tell me that she would like to enjoy hiking but she spent the whole time worrying about snakes.  It was as if she expected a snake to be hiding behind every bush or rock, waiting for her to come passing by.  I explained to her that unless we were hiking in a particularly snaky area, there was no point in worrying.  I typically only saw two or three snakes a year and very rarely were they poisonous.

While fearing snakes is quite natural and can perhaps be beneficial, worrying about them all of the time can ruin a perfectly good hike.

I live near the sea and although I frequently take walks on the beach, I never go into the ocean more than knee-deep.  Recently someone asked me if I surfed or went snorkeling.  I replied that I was afraid of sharks.   It later occured to me that there are only a few shark attacks each year - in the whole world - with millions and millions of people enjoying the water.  I was more likely to die choking on my dinner than from a shark attack.  It was then that I realized that sharks weren't keeping me out of the ocean - ghosts were.

Are there any ghosts in your life?

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

Lost and Found

Over the last few years I've given up a lot - I mean a LOT - of things.  When we left our comfortable little home in Georgia several years back I sold about $5,000 dollars worth of our possessions on Ebay and Craigslist.  I then made 4 trips to the local thrift store with donations and took 6 truck-loads of junk to the landfill - it was rubbish that no one wanted (so why had I kept it?).

Two years later when we moved from Colorado to California we downsized so that everything we owned fit into a Uhaul trailer - and that was including my motorcycle.

We recently downsized again into a Motorhome.  I put an ad on Craigslist for anyone interested to come and take everything away.  It was an awkward but freeing experience to see someone drive off with almost every single material possession that I had.

Here are a few of the items I've given up:

  • A permanent home
  • Television
  • A full time job
  • Almost all of my furniture
  • Most of my physical books
  • A CD collection 
  • A valuable collection of over 200 vinyl record albums
  • Over half of my clothing
  • Our second vehicle
  • 2 Kayaks (I do miss them)
  • Junk foods and wheat
  • 35 pounds of body fat
  • Lawn mower (and the lawn that needs mowed)
  • Homemade wines and home-brewed beer (no space)

I don't count, but I'm quite sure that I truly own less than 100 things.

Here is a list of a few things that I've added to my life during the same time-frame that I gave up the items on the previous list.


  • A motorhome so that I may live where I want, when I want.
  • The freedom to spend each summer living and working near the National Park of my choice, but to spend winters with family and friends
  • A strong motivation to be creative and generate multiple streams of income
  • A closer relationship with those I love
  • A dedicated practice of mindfulness and meditation
  • More peace of mind
  • Blogging and reading have replaced television as sources learning and entertainment
  • Bicycle riding and more evening walks
  • Fitness and health
  • A portable Kindle library
  • A portable music selection
  • An appreciation for healthy foods
Maybe living in a motorhome isn't your thing and maybe my form of minimalism is a little too extreme for you. That's okay.  We each need to find our own place where we have just enough - enough to be happy without so much that our possessions begin to weigh us down.

I encourage you to do an inventory of the things that occupy your life.  What would you be better off without?  What would take their place?

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

Blogging Matters



It matters.  How you spend your time, your attitude, your words, and your smile.  It all matters.

I hope you all take the time and make the effort to share loving kindness with those around you.  The internet offers an opportunity to share with even more people, including those that are not close by.  We can truly make a difference in many people's lives.

A blog is a great way to connect with other people and share ideas.  Don't start a blog solely with the idea to make money, I'm afraid you'll be sorely disappointed.  I've made a few dollars with Amazon referrals and personal mindfulness coaching, but if you break it down I've made pennies an hour. 

Although you may not get rich with a blog, I guarantee that if you really put yourself into it then it will open doors for you.  You have to be sincere, patient, and build rapport with your readers and other bloggers to build a community.  I started Zen Presence just over a year ago to share the ideas of loving kindness, minimalism, meditation, mindfulness, and meaningful living - Zen for non-Buddhists.  I am not a writer so it was tough at first to put my self "out there" and risk embarrassment.  It takes courage to share our deepest thoughts and ideas.

If a blog isn't your thing then find another way to communicate and contribute.  The world needs you.  You could simply share encouragement in comments on other people's blogs or  join a Facebook community and share articles or ideas.  

Equally important - don't forget to share with those you encounter daily.  I remind myself constantly that the internet is only a small part of my life.  Right here, right now is where I have the opportunity to put my ideas into practice with the people that I am in contact with daily.

Though I may someday have something of monetary value to offer to the community I've built here on Zen Presence, I do not blog for monetary gain.  Below is a letter from a reader (with permission), name removed.  This is why I write and blog - to share ideas that may help others lead a rich and fulfilling life.



What you taught me matters, more than you realize. I am going to be able to pass it on, to my husband, to my child, and possibly to the world.

If our paths had not crossed, I most likely would not be alive now. I accept that. And best case scenario, I would have continued sucking up in a job that didn't appreciate me, and living in a co-dependent marriage.

I would not be the soul you know. My mask would not have come off.

You can call it chance. But I remember, word for word, what you said, after xxxxxxxxxxxxxx. It weighs on me daily. There is more.

I'm being sappy. And I don't apologize. I'm done with that. I owe my life to the love of others, so all I can do is love. That's fine with me. We all have God within us, which means, we all have love within us. I want to feel it, and to feel anything. It's all good.



I didn't teach this person anything, I shared ideas - ideas for meaningful living.  I hope that you will share ideas and encouragement as well.  Do what you can, it matters.

If you have a blog please share in the comments below, we'd love to read it.


Related posts:

Because

Stepping Forth


Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living.

Bigger and Why It Matters

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” 
                                                                                                                                                                                   ~ Carl Sagan


Life is bigger than you, much bigger, and yes it matters.

If you read any Buddhism at all, you will come across the idea of  inter-being, the idea that we are all connected and that there is no separation.  At first (and for quite some time) this can be very hard  to wrap your head around.  For many years I misunderstood it to mean that you and I are one, when so obviously we are two different people.  I've now come to understand inter-being as the idea that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves - much as our hearts and lungs do not exist independently, neither do we.  All of our organs are a part of our bodies, there really is no separation.  At what point does your heart end?  There is no exact point at which your lungs end - they are all connected - your body is a system.  You (and I) are a part of the entirety of all that is.  We may feel that we are separate, but that is illusion.

Living as a self-centered individual leads to fear and doubt.  We build walls, our world closes in, and our heart tightens up like a clenched fist. 

In order to open our world we must realize that everything that we do and experience contributes to the process and evolution of the Universe. Our contributions will continue to reverberate forever.  We cannot separate ourselves from everything else out there.  We are part of "it" and "it" has no end.

Realizing this, selfish or hateful acts no longer make sense.  Being selfish or harmful to other beings when we are a part of the whole is like the heart refusing to pump blood to the lungs or the lungs refusing to supply oxygen to the remainder of the body.  We are all interconnected and part of one great system.

Why is this important?  Because as we come to realize this deep down, then we understand that we need not fear death, we need not be greedy, we need not be selfish.  As we begin to truly see the connectedness of all that is then we see life in a new way and everything changes.  Our fear slowly dissipates and our heart begins to unclench.  Our thinking becomes more clear and the path (life) seems less confusing

It's not easy to consciously live as a part of the whole, moment by moment, realizing that we need not be greedy or fear the death of this thing we call "I". Our egos will fight it.  As an ancient Zen master once said, "It is like swallowing a red-hot iron ball.  You try to vomit it out, but you cannot."  It requires concentration and commitment.  As first we may intellectually realize the truth of inter-being, but that is only the beginning.  Quiet meditation and looking deeply will eventually help us to realize this truth on an entirely new level.  Maybe just a little at first, but that's a start.  It's the start of a whole new way of living.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

.


 



In the Smallest of Things






"Although it's light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle only an inch wide.The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass....Each reflection, however long or short it's duration, manifests the vastness of the dewdrop, and realizes the limitlessness of the moonlight in the sky." ~ Dogen Zenji


The moon is reflected in all bodies of water....an ocean, a pond, even a dew drop, and so it is with truth and the beauty of the Universe.  

Do not look only to the dramatic or grandiose, for beauty is contained even in the smallest of things - a walk, a touch, a prayer, a heartfelt conversation,  a smile - all contain the beauty of all that is.  The deeper you look, the more you will see.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

Motorhomes

photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24842486@N07/


If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.”  ~ Charles Spurgeon

I bought a motorhome a few months back.  My wife and I will be travelling the nation with my sister's family. Our goal is to live and work out west in and near various National Parks during the summer months and be closer to family during the winter.  Life is short - I want to have my cake and eat it too.

In support of our simple lifestyle and desire to stay out of debt, we didn't want a payment on our motorhome so we bought the nicest 10 year old motorhome that we could afford with our savings.  I was pleased with our choice and thought it was very nice when I purchased it.

A nice new deluxe motorhome is parked next door.  It is beautiful with all of the bells and whistles.  Suddenly my motorhome seems to have a lot more problems and doesn't seem as adequate as before.

On the other side of me is a small 18 ft camper trailer.  It's maybe 20 years old and a very plain and simple model.  I saw the older gentleman looking at my motor home.  I bet he was thinking that maybe his old trailer wasn't as nice as it seemed when he bought it.

On the north side of the next island is a woman living out of her car.  She's often hassled and chased from one parking lot to the next by law enforcement.  I bet she wishes she had the 18 ft. camper trailer and the money to pay for a camping spot.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

The Greatest Life-Hack of All

Image: www.flickr.com/photos/47000103@N05/


A friend recently contacted me and wanted to know of any tricks I had to maintain my peace of mind and to keep from backsliding into old habits and routines (I get similar requests almost weekly).  He has come out of a long, dark winter and did not want to slide back into fear, drinking, and other bad habits.  He knew of course that willpower alone wouldn't do it. so what kind of hacks did I suggest?

It seems everyone is looking for life-hacks and shortcuts to make life easier.  Books and programs selling short work weeks, getting fit without exercise, and productivity hacks all soar to the top of best-seller lists.  It still amazes me how easily the modern versions of snake oil sell, but I guess human nature doesn't change so the carnies just change the label and call it something else.  I fall for it once in a while myself.  We're all looking for the magic pill that will make life better and easier - once and forever.

do you really think that Tim Ferriss works only 4 hours a week? 

Often times the snake oil salesmen are not intentionally selling you a worthless potion - it worked for them!  Why then do so few people get real value from self-help books or routines?  Could it be that most people don't do the required work?

What Tim has offered is convenience -  a set of systems

All routines, procedures, and systems are empty.  They're like closet organizers- the structure is there for you to use, but if you don't use them to organize your belongings they are worthless. Tim Ferris offers some serious productivity and time saving 'hacks' in his best selling book The 4-Hour Workweek , but do you really think that Tim Ferriss works only 4 hours a week?  What Tim has offered is convenience -  a set of systems, and like an instant sauce which requires water or milk to be added, you must add the work.  I'd dare say his strongest hack is willpower -the king of all hacks.

I will agree that there are routines and systems that we can use to make our lives easier and more manageable.  I've found that maintaining a morning routine and following certain guidelines give me the strength and clarity I need to live a productive and meaningful life, but I work hard at mindfulness every day.  Willpower is required.  (See more on tools and systems here, here, and here)  Mindfulness, meditation, exercise, and self awareness are all great tools, but if you have addictions, bad habits, and challenges - and who doesn't - then a lot of willpower and determination is required to overcome them.

Living a meaningful life can be hard work but it's worth it.  Grab your tools and get to work - the work of Life.  With the right practice it gets easier.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

Blue Moons and Such



My wife and I took a wonderful evening walk on Jockey's Ridge (the highest sand dune on the east coast of the U.S.) last night.  As we were walking back towards the parking lot I saw the full moon rising.  I had my camera with me, as I always do, so I paused for a few shots.  Unfortunately I had forgotten about the 'blue moon' and did not have a tripod so the pictures are a bit grainy and not as sharp as I would like.

The walk was enjoyable.  It was an excellent evening, even before the rising of the moon.  The evening was topped off with a stop at Kill Devil's Custard, which was a special treat since we rarely eat sweets.  All in all the evening was like a holiday.

This morning I woke thinking about what a wonderful evening it was, but how sad it is that every day isn't lived with such deep appreciation of life.  Why does it take a blue moon or a holiday for us to treasure life?  Isn't every day, every moment, every breath precious enough?  Will I one day come to the end of my life wishing that I had treated every day as a holiday, every moon as a blue moon?

"...we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.  Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity.  We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment."  ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

Six Tips for Dealing with Anxiety





We all experience anxiety at times.  Occasional anxiety is natural and manageable.  Unfortunately, the busy pace of modern life leaves seven out of ten adults experiencing stress and anxiety on a daily basis.  Sadly, chronic worry and anxiety can rob you of your happiness.  When anxiety starts to interfere with your ability to be happy and have a functional life it's time to take action.

There have been times in my life that I've let anxiety get the best of me, but with years of study and a little trial and error I've found the following methods to effectively conquer anxiety.

Use Mindfulness to Understand Your Anxiety

Pay attention to your thoughts.  Learn what triggers your anxiety and identify your concerns.

When we identify our fears then we can question their validity and find solutions when necessary. Often worrying is wasted energy with your mind running through various doomsday scenarios. It is rarely productive.

Understand that although the things that trigger your anxiety may come from the outside world, your anxiety itself is self-generated.  Your internal dialogue and thoughts are what maintain your anxiety.  Listen to and identify your internal dialogue. 

Write a list of your worries and fears, then decide if they are valid.  If they are, then search for solutions.  If not, let them go.  When you hear the 'tapes' of fear and worry playing over and over in your mind, observe them but do not give them power.  Watch them and let them go.

Meditation

I've found quiet meditation to be the most important factor in dealing with anxiety.  When we stay too busy or distracted then our fears or concerns lie below the surface and fester.  It is important to spend a few moments every day meditating and becoming aware of our thoughts and emotions.  

If we are used to being busy or preoccupied then quiet time and mindfulness can first lead to an increase in anxiety before it gets better.  Unfortunately, many people stop meditating when they start to experience increased anxiety.  They keep themselves busy or preoccupied to try and escape their heightened anxiety but it won't go away.  We must face ourselves and our fears if we are to get better.

When you first begin (or restart) a meditation program, give it a few days.  Try and push through the initial uncomfort and see if you don't feel more calm with a daily meditation practice.

Talk to Someone

Some of my most enlightening moments have come from discussing my fears with someone else.  After weeks or months of keeping it bottled up inside, I would finally bring it up in conversation and it was like a veil was lifted as I realized that either my concern was exaggerated or more easily solved than I originally thought.  Just talking to someone will help.

Try talking to a friend or family member about your problems.  In some cases it may be prudent to seek a professional counselor.  Don't let pride stop you from getting your life back.

Get Some Exercise

I regret it every time that I stop getting enough physical exercise.  When I am maintaining my exercise routine I am calmer, happier, and I feel in control of my life.

Exercise basically burns away the chemicals like norepinephrine and cortisol which cause stress.  Vigorous exercise will also produce endorphins which enhance our sense of well being.

A brisk walk or bike ride can immediately reduce stress and anxiety but to reap the full benefits exercise it should be routine.  Make it a practice to exercise at least 30 minutes each day.

Get Adequate Sleep

I know, this sounds like a Catch-22.  You can't sleep because you're worried, but your anxiety builds because you aren't getting enough sleep.  

You must find a way to break the cycle.  Make sure that you aren't taking in too much caffeine.  Perform a physical activity until you are exhausted.  I personally do not like using medications, but talk to your doctor if you can't solve the problem yourself.  Proper sleep is essential to a happy and productive life.

Practice Living in the Present

When I say practice, I mean just that.  Most of us spend the majority of our time thinking about the future so it can be very hard to be fully present here and now.  Start by doing it for short periods of time -practice.  Take 30 minutes and sit in the sun not thinking about anything - just enjoy the sun.  It's hard, I know, but with practice you can learn to do it.  I'm now able to take entire days off from worrying or thinking about the future.  It is great to just enjoy the moment or an afternoon with no worry or anxiety at all.

For quick, short term methods of lessening anxiety check out my article from last year - 51 Great Ways to Relieve Stress.


If you need more help working through fear and anxiety then I highly recommend Thich Nhat Hanh's excellent book below.

 

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living







Are You a Coward?

Are you a coward?

This is a question I've started asking of myself every morning along with the following:
  • Are you brave enough to stay true to your values no matter what?
  • Can you face the challenge of rising to a higher calling?
We can start each day trying to be the best person that we can.  Not to compete with or compare ourselves to others, but to compete with the person that we were yesterday and to be a little better today.  We can clarify our vision and purpose each day as we strive to improve.

Can you stand naked -stripped of  labels, norms, and excuses?

Will you resist the temptation to conform? Not when it's easy, or convenient - but no matter what!

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living



The more I talk, the less I have to say

Listen to and trust your own voice.


"I know it would be outrageous
to come on all courageous
and offer you my hand
to pull you up onto dry land
when all I got is sinking sand
that trick ain't worth the time it buys
I'm sick of hearing my own lies

and Love's a raven when it flies"

 ~ David Gray




Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

I Forgot

    

Beware the barrenness of a busy life ~ Socrates

A few weeks ago I began working on a new website, Healthy Food Matters.  I started it because I believe that it does matter.  Where our food is sourced from, how animals are treated, what chemicals are added, if it has been genetically modified.....it all matters.

Often when I start something new, I lose myself in it.  I can become quite obsessive at times.  The point is that I forgot.  I forgot how to just be.  I forgot how to relax.  I forgot how beautiful the beach is as the sun rises.  I forgot to sit outside and enjoy the late evening sounds of summer. I forgot how to have a meaningful conversation with my wife.  I forgot to call my relatives.  I forgot, I forgot, I forgot.

There is nothing wrong with working hard until we forget who we truly are and what really matters.

Courtney's article here, on Be More With Less, reminded me of who I am and what is important to me.  I recommend that you read it.  Whether you read Courtney's article or not, I hope that I have reminded you to take a moment and remember who YOU are and what really matters.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

Unloaded



Creation is now,
or never was.
Colliding, smashing.

I saw myself,
I dissapeared.
I am,
I never was.

It's all the same.
When I wake,
tomorrow never comes.

Yesterday I was,
today has flown.
Now
it's all gone

Colliding, smashing.
It never was,
It only is.

Life is now.


Read Smile, breathe and go slowly.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living
Now




Smile, Breathe and Go Slowly ( Thich Nhat Hanh )

“Smile, breathe and go slowly.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

A year into this blog and I've only recently come to realize that just because my readers are reading a blog with the word Zen in the title, it doesn't mean that they know who Thich Nhat Hanh is or are familiar with his work. Through several recent emails and conversations I've come to realize my mistake.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and peace activist.  He is also a poet and an author, having written and published over 50 books. We do not need to be interested in Buddhism in order to benefit from Thich Nhat Hann's work.  His writings offer very practical methods of bringing mindfulness and loving kindness to the very center of our being.

I believe that Thich may be the most enlightened and sincerely mindful person alive and that his work can help you immensely in finding purpose in your life. For this reason, I would like to introduce you to Thich Nhat Hanh and some of his work.

Thich was born in Vietnam in 1926.  He became a Buddhist monk at the age of sixteen.

During the Vietnam War, Thich chose to help villagers suffering from the bombings and the aftermath of war rather than to sit and quietly meditate in his monastery.  In the early 60's he founded the School of Youth Social Service, rallying near 10,000 student volunteers to rebuild homes, organize agricultural cooperatives, and re-establish order in the lives affected by the ravages of war.

During travels to the United States during the 1960's, Thich spoke for peace in Vietnam.  During one of his visits he spoke with Martin Luther King, Jr and convinced him to oppose the Vietnam War publicly.  This helped to galvanize the peace movement that continued through the 70's and until the war was finally ended.  In 1967 Dr. King nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Perhaps the best way to introduce you to Thich Nhat Hanh is through his writing.  His poem, 'Call Me by My True Names' speaks volumes about the person of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Here is what Thich had to say before presenting 'True Names' in his book Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life :

In Plum Village, where I live in France, we receive many letters from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It is very painful to read them, but we have to do it, we have to be in contact. We try our best to help, but the suffering is enormous, and sometimes we are discouraged. It is said that half the boat people die in the ocean. Only half arrive at the shores in Southeast Asia, and even then they may not be safe.

There are many young girls, boat people, who are raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries try to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continue to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.

When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we may become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.

After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The tide of the poem is "Please Call Me by My True Names," because I have so many names. When I hear one of the of these names, I have to say, "Yes."

Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow -
because even today I still arrive.


Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.


I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.



I am the mayfly metamorphosing 
on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, 
when spring comes, arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.


I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, 

selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, 
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean 

after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, 

my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, 
with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood"

to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.


My joy is like spring, 
so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, 

so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.


Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.


Thich Nhat Hanh

Below are a few of the great titles written by Thich Nhat Hanh

p.s. If you believe that Healthy Food Matters then visit my new blog at http://healthyfoodmatters.org





Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

Making Space

    image: photophilde
"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" ~ Leonardo DaVinci  

Just as clutter in a room constricts us, so does a clutter in our mind.

As Shunryu Suzuki explains in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”.  The more that we think we know, the less we are apt to learn.

In the same vein, when we apply labels to ourselves, we limit our experience and our direct contact with life.  


Labels and beliefs are filters through which we experience life. Filters restrict.

Make space for living - emptiness allows great potential.  


Be mindful of how you fill the void.

Instead of being a writer, a politician, a salesman, or any label you can name - try just being.


Instead of saying to yourself I am a minimalist, try just saying I am.


Perhaps next you will be willing to see beyond I am and experience life as 'It is'.



Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

Living life fully engaged, the potential of emptiness

Why Nothing is Best




There is no best song, no best idea, no one best way to do things.

The nature of the universe is to constantly change, to adapt, to evolve.

If there were one best song, why write another?

If there were one best idea, you'd never need to think again.

Stagnation leads to decay.

Avoid attachment and clinging, participate in the ever-changing river of life.

The human mind has developed to take note of new things and pay special attention to them, until they are no longer new...pushing us on... evolving forever.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living
Evolution

Modern Zen Stories XIII - Attitude




Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way. ~ Viktor Frankl


Nothing affects our experience of life as deeply as our attitude.  Today I'd like to share a few stories from other places around the web.


A Childhood of Three Parts on Living Simply Free

Attitudes and Suffering on Castles in the Air

Rehearsing Failure, Rehearsing Success at Seth's Blog.

A life lesson from a hundred dollar bill on Soul Speak.

If you are in a hard spot or struggling in life, please see my last post When Your World is Falling Apart - 7 Steps to Recovery


Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living
Best Blog Stories on the Web, Zen in modern life

When Your World Is Falling Apart- 7 Steps to Recovery

“Sometimes it takes falling apart to see exactly how or what loosened the mortar. Sometimes we find we are responsible for the how & the what."  ~ Collen Truscott Fry

When your world is falling apart, when all of your decisions seem bad, when you can't find a job no matter what, or everything just seems to suck - STOP!  When you're going down, stop struggling.  It's like quicksand.  The more you thrash about - the deeper you will sink.

Have you ever noticed that when someone makes bad decisions they seem to repeatedly make bad decisions?  Have you ever known someone that jumps from one bad job (or relationship) to another one just as bad or worse? Could it be that when you are in a hole and keep doing the same thing, only faster and harder, that you are only making things worse? Eventually the hole seems so big that you are stuck forever.  STOP DIGGING THE HOLE.

The more we feel that we need to do something quick, the slower we should go.  The fear and the panic should be a sign that something isn't right and let me give you a clue - the problem isn't out there.  You're not going to change all of the circumstances of the world, but you can change yourself and how you view and interact with the world.

When your world is falling apart, it's time to look inside and do a little work - to build a strong foundation from which to rebuild.  I recommend the following as a place to start.  Tweak it as necessary to make it work for you.


  • Get eight hours of sleep.  I know, I know - you are a super human and only need three hours of sleep or maybe you are so busy that you couldn't possibly spend eight hours unconscious.  To either of these I say BULLSHIT.  Study after study has shown that 7-8 hours of sleep is necessary for us to function at our peak.  If you won't do this then don't expect things to get better.
  • Get proper nutrition.  The mind-body connection is scientific fact.  When you are not getting the proper nutrition then your body and your mind suffer.  When your body and mind suffer your life will suck. I'm not going to get into the great diet debate here.  Let's just suffice to say that fast food or factory foods will not cut it.  Fresh, real foods are necessary.  Buying a majority of your foods from the perimeter of the grocery is a good starting point.  Stay away from the center isles where the artificial food-like-substances are sold.
  • Get some exercise.  You don't have to run a marathon to reap the benefits of exercise.  Start with a walk or bicycle ride three to five days a week.  Fifteen minutes a day is fine for starters.  Build up until you are getting 4-5 hours a week of exercise.  You will begin to see an improvement in your mood and well being almost immediately.  Many studies have linked mental well being with exercise.
  • Spend some time alone.  Meditate or simply spend some quiet time with yourself.  It's a great way to start and finish your day.  It may feel awkward at first if you are used to constant distractions - work through the awkward feeling.  If problems or fears surface, acknowledge them but don't feed them with attention.  Make a note to return and attend to them at a later time.  Right now you are seeking to center yourself and build inner strength.  After working through the awkward feeling and anxiety you will feel a peace.  A few minutes a day of quiet time will eventually bring strength and clarity.
  • Eliminate negative influences.  To the greatest extent possible, separate yourself from any person, place, or thing that is bringing you down, is disruptive for you, unsupportive of you, or otherwise harmful to your well being or self esteem.  These influences can be people, habits, television shows, or thoughts.  They are toxic to your well being. Take the time to identify them and eliminate them.  
  • Stop doing what is expected of you.  Don't let guilt and other people's expectations rule your life.  Every day do a little less of what you should and more of what you want to do.  Do things that bring joy and excitement.  You'll find passion creeping back into your life.
  • Be thankful.  I've talked about this many times.  Learn to appreciate the good things in life - the sun, your family, your pet, your health....  Just be grateful for something.  If you are currently coming from a negative place and feeling bitter, then I know you're probably thinking this step is crap.  The stronger that feeling, the more you need this step. Skip it at your own peril. Studies of the mind show that when we focus on problems and what is wrong in our life, then we fail to see solutions - you'll just keep digging that hole that you're so busy complaining about.    Re-framing is an excellent way to see the world in a more positive light.

When you are whole again and ready to take on the world then take steps to make better decisions ( read here).  


If you like this article then please pass it along.  Not for me, but because someone may need to read this.  You may share on Facebook, Google +, email it to someone, or link to it from your blog.  If you don't have a blog yet then you should consider it.  We all have something to say and we all can make a difference in this world.

Check out my guest post this morning at We Only Do This Once.


Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living


Please support Zen Presence by making a small donation below.