It is What it is!

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Acceptance is a challenge. So many things that I experience with myself and the world around me don’t fit what I want or like. My mother doesn’t love me the way I want. My boss doesn’t appreciate my work. The airline is unfair because they overbooked the flight I was on. The driver behind me is a jerk because they are following me too closely.

You know the litany of things that you don’t like and have judgements about. If you are like me, the dialogue is continuous and the outcome is mostly the same – you’re frustrated the other person / entity doesn’t really care about what matters to you!

I end up feeling everything from mild irritation to outright anger. The reaction is automatic and I really don’t want to continue down this road.
So what can I do? As I write this, I’m looking at a small block of wood that sits on my desk. Painted on this block are the words, “IT IS WHAT IT IS”. Simple and insightful, this sentence is key to untangling my long history of judgment and disappointment. At the bottom of my frustration is not accepting things are they truly are.

Not easy, I know. If a friend says they will do something for me and they don’t, I don’t like it. Part of my reaction is irritation with them for not doing what they say, and another part of the reaction is my frustration with myself for also exhibiting this behavior (sometimes I don’t want to see that!).

In the end, my reaction (not my actions, which I will talk about in a minute) isn’t at all helpful. My reaction blocks my ability to understand the situation clearly. Which means that whatever response I have will not be the best response. Also there is often a residue of the experience that resurfaces later, as if the situation happened just a few minutes before.

My reactions don’t change what has happened. The company I ordered a product from shipped it late. The restaurant I was at last night served food that wasn’t up to par. The company I want service from has a seemingly impossible “phone tree” making it damn near impossible to talk to a human.

Whatever I feel, these things happened. It’s more productive to remember, IT IS WHAT IT IS. In the simplicity of this understanding make a decision on what I deliberately choose to do now. Mostly my decision is, “there is nothing to do”.

There are times, though, when I might feel I should speak to someone about the impact their decision or actions has on me. Not because I’m angry, but because my relationship with that person is important enough for me to invest in the uncomfortable conversation we are likely to have.
At other times, I can take action that means I choose to not do business with a company or I choose to, as one of my teachers said, “Love from afar” a friend. When these choices are deliberate and without any judgement, they can be meaningful to me and sometimes to others.
How I know they are the right choice is that I feel at peace, and the reaction I had with the situation doesn’t arise again.
Life is filled with reactiveness. Seems like a good thing to whittle it away a bit at a time.

What bugs you, may unburden your soul

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If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?
– Rumi

One of my biggest challenges is a dance with anger or its father, irritation. When I look outside myself and see what I don’t like, I feel an irritation. When I ask someone to do something that I want and they don’t, I feel irritation that often bubbles quickly into anger. When something I expect to happen doesn’t. I am annoyed.

This morning, I was thinking about the limitation of irritation in my life. As I did, the Rumi saying above appeared. Reflecting, I realized irritation was a way for me to strike back at my discomfort. I want to bend whatever is bothering me to my will. This reaction has been part of my life experience so long it is automatic.

Rumi’s words remind me of a quality that I admire in others who plumb the depths of their fields of endeavor. I was reading a story about Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the math world’s most prestigious award, the Fields Medal. This story explored her life and passion for math. She approached each unknown as a world to be discovered. She entered these journeys of discovery knowing that when it was complete her understanding of the problem she was considering would be far different than when she began and it excited her.

The unbridled commitment to exploration without holding on a fixed outcome is my opportunity as well. I can enter a committed exploration of what is at the root of my irritation with a knowing that my discoveries will enlighten and perhaps surprise me. What is absolutely true is that my “status quo” will be disturbed and that is always uncomfortable and good.

So off I go.

Don’t Let Your Day Run Away From You!

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It’s 4PM, and as you look at the clock, you wonder where the day has gone. Seems like only a few minutes ago you began with a large to-do list and great expectations. Now, you look down and few items are checked off and you have a feeling of foreboding. How will you get all that is on your plate done before the next hour or two has passed?

What happened?

For most, the ad-hoc nature of your day has tossed you around. The unscheduled phone calls, the constant stream of emails, a new request from a customer have all arrived and called for your attention. How did you respond?

In our 24/7 world, you had the feeling that you had to respond IMMEDIATELY. After all, it’s what others expect, isn’t it? Maybe… and if you let this constant barrage of incoming communications be front and center in your world, the most important promises you make will lay incomplete.

What can you do? It’s both simple and hard. I know, because I wrestle with this every day. First, start your day with a quiet moment or two and allow your intuition to give you some guidance about what’s most important to you today. Write down whatever you feel.

When that call or email sound rings, ask yourself, do I need to respond now or take care of what I committed myself to today? This will take some discipline. You will worry you are missing out, or that a moment’s delay will create some terrible consequence for you. Unlikely. Stay the course.

I have found that I make great strides day after day with those things that are truly most important when I follow this simple practice. The reason I’m working, whether it be for financial gain or inner satisfaction or both grows in ways I never imagined.

Spring Cleaning

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Well, it’s officially spring, at least according to the course of the earth’s orbit around the sun. This time of the year seems to inspire cleaning. For some its their closets and for me it’s life. I know, it’s kind of dramatic, but that’s what’s up.

Recently I wrote about focusing on what’s important. What could be more important than clearing away everything that’s not essential? You may say, “sure that’s easy for you, because you work for yourself.” Actually, it’s not easy for anyone. We all hold on to what we are familiar with, sometimes with a death grip

As much as I teach about change, I really don’t like it. It’s kind of like taking medicine that you know is good for you but doesn’t taste very good. So here I am, taking my medicine and not particularly happy about.

I find in this process some simple rules help me decide what to keep doing and what to discard. The first rule is I have to enjoy what I’m doing.  Getting to the truth about this can be a little tricky. If I’m doing something that I feel is important for what I care about, such as making money for my family, I might “fake” enjoyment. So pay attention and don’t deceive yourself.

The second rule is that whatever I do is promoting growth for me. I understand so little of the breadth of the world I inhabit. Each day, I love learning (well at least most of the time). This learning is like the most important food I ingest that keeps me growing in greater awareness.

The final rule is that I find what I do to be rewarding. It could be that it’s rewarding in the traditional way we think about it such as money or other types of material goods. It can also be rewarding because it feels right. In my world, that can happen when I see someone’s life change in ways that are better for them

I have pruned away a number of areas of endeavor that don’t measure up to my three rules. When I finally realized that they were out of whack, the decision was actually easy and I wondered what took me so long.

Rather than labor on the last part of that point, I’ll just say, I’m enjoying my spring cleaning and looking forward to summer.

Sacrifice is Optional

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Stepping back into writing is sobering. It’s a bit like agreeing to grow up, once again. The adolescent part of Thomas wants to stay in its slumber of bad habits and endless excuses. I know the cost of this numbing behavior and yet, it’s so appealing to be unaccountable for what happens in my life.

Oh, that it would be so simple to fall back into the life of letting others carry the weight of the consequences of my decisions. For many reasons, that option is no longer available. There are moments, when this irritates me no end.

One of the impacts of knowing that I’m the one who’s really accountable for everything is that I know that I must look in the mirror if I’m looking for an answer to why something isn’t working out the way I want.

I was talking with my wife yesterday about how hard we are working. We seem to be following an age-old story that says, “you have to sacrifice today so that you can be rewarded tomorrow.” Sounds like a good path to follow.

The problem is there is a flaw in this. I look around and find examples of people who are living as if this isn’t true. They have time for everything that’s important to them. How is this possible?

They know the difference between stories/ beliefs and truth. They know that perceptions create reality and if their perceptions are filled with limiting beliefs, they will experience feelings of insufficiency.

Does that mean that sacrifice is not required? Yep, at least in the way we think about it. Our common understanding of sacrifice is that I give up something important to me by choosing something else that I also feel is important. I began to see the problem with the notion of sacrifice.

I am making a choice. This choice opens doors and closes doors. By being guided by the belief that sacrifice is required, I’m immediately hooked into an emotional response rather than accepting an outcome. Yes, I’m make this new choice and the consequence is that something I am currently choosing may no longer be possible.

I like writing. In fact, I love writing. I made the choice to start a new business. I didn’t stop and consider the consequence of this choice. I certainly didn’t want to cut myself off from my family so I chose to put my attention and time on this new project and the time I spent in the past for writing “disappears”.

My old belief about sacrifice was activated. “Yep”, I said, “not being able to write is simply the way things are.” It’s something i must sacrifice so the project can get going.” Examining this belief, I see how unconscious it is. I rocked along accepting this outcome for months. Finally I “woke up” and realized I was just feeling the limitation of my beliefs.

I realized there were other areas of life that were no longer that important to me. So, I made an inventory of how important each of these “choices” was. That’s right, every moment I spend awake or sleeping comes from choosing how to spend my time. Many of these “choices” are not deliberate. Either I’m not aware of what I’m choosing or I don’t ask myself the question, “how important is what I’m doing right now?” I just mosey along in the rut of habit.

Through this process, I made some simple decisions and already, as you can see, I’m having different experiences. For one thing, I’m writing again.

I also realized that when I honestly look back at my life, I remember times when I wasn’t trapped in believing sacrifice was necessary. Life was a blast! I jumped out of bed in the morning. I zoomed through my day and I fell asleep tired, but not exhausted.

I invite you to join me in remembering the truth of choice and consequences.

Until later,

Thomas

Time to Remember What’s Important!

Have you ever looked around in your life and wondered, “where did all the time go?” I found myself having that experience yesterday afternoon. I was talking to someone who is overseeing how I communicate in the world of social media. I suggested she attract people to read this blog. While we were talking she said, “Oh, I see you haven’t posted since last October”. Ouch..

I’ve been involved in a “startup” business and falling into my old patterns of how busy I am. The startup mentality (at least the one that I learned) is that everything in your life is put on hold to get the business started.

Now I haven’t quite followed the old script. I have been busier than normal, but my family is not being ignored (althougth I’m sure they are feeling less attention). Other aspects of my life have been taking a hit, though, when I live out of the way of the past.

As I’ve drifted into this pattern, I stopped writing. Sure, I’m writing all kinds of things for the new business. You know, the important stuff like business plans, presentations and marketing material. It’s not the same.

I miss stopping what else is going on and wondering. Wondering about what makes life tick and why I am happy or not. I ponder questions of big and small scope. In these times of reflection and the writing that come from them, I learn so much. I’ve missed both the learning and connecting with you.

So the drought is over. I’m back at the keyboard, pondering and feeling and writing. Some of you have written and encouraged me to resume posting. To those of you who proded, Thank you.

Until tomorrow.

Thomas

Finding the Quite

I must be on a fall theme. I’m sitting here in the early morning, enjoying the fire in our newly installed woodstove. There’s something about heating with wood that you can witness burning through the glass doors of the stove that brings warmth that seems unavailable in traditional heating.

The treat for me of this quietness is the feeling of grabbing some precious time for myself. Just the fire and I, sitting here talking with you. In the daily quest for a life filled with service and learning and family and friends and everything outdoors, I seem to have overlooked quiet time.

I know it’s easy to justify this oversight. Sure, I’m busier than I can remember. Physically I feel pretty maxed out, in terms of my capacity. Yet, I know that if I can pry away minutes that have no agenda or mission or task, and just sit with the silence, I feel rejuvenated. Nothing else restores me this way.

I feel a bit selfish. There is so much to do. I know this inner voice of concern is a distraction, and not true anyway. Earlier in the week, when I started writing again, I felt like I had regained a lost friend. For that’s what writing is for me. A friend, that listens patiently, offers reflection if asked, and never complains about anything.

I know that my day has a different music whenI start it this way. I tend to be more patient, more aware and way more peaceful. What needs to get done, does and things don’t, weren’t that important anyway.

So why doesn’t every day start this way, I wonder. Simply put, I get sloppy. I know that being deliberate is so much richer than living in reaction to the stimulus around me. Yet, I forget this simple truth and fall into the pattern of reactivity.  The good news for this morning is, I remembered. I celebrate remembering and sharing it with you.

May you find your own quiet moments today and remember what matters most.

To Conform or Not to Conform – The Story of the Big Orange Splot

Last night, I was reading to our young boys one of my favorite children’s stories, The Big Orange Splott by Daniel Pinkwater. In this story, Mr. Plumbean’s world is disturbed in a most unusual way when a seagull drops a can of orange paint on the roof of his perfect house. You see, his house is like all the others in his neighborhood. This unlikely event starts a change that I invite you find out more about by reading the book.

I was reflecting on Mr. Plumbean last night and he wandered into my dreams. Conformity is such a strong force in our lives. It used to be called “keeping up with the Jones”. How we can belong to our local tribe by being alike seems to compose our actions in ways that we don’t really understand. Marketers know this, and people like Malcolm Gladwell have talked about it. Conforming is as good a name as any to describe this phenomenon.

I have always fancied myself as a non-conformist. I tell myself that I don’t like “the conventional wisdom” – another way of saying I don’t like others telling me what to think. Yet, I see the many ways that I allow what other’s think to influence my thoughts and feelings and actions. I want to be liked, so I stop considering what I feel and let others shape my life.

The act of non-conformity is not so much an act of rebellion, but a declaration of independence. It’s not selfish, although maybe your mother told you it was so. It’s your right to choose what you feel is right. One of my favorite aspects of Buddhism is the following that has been ascribed to the Buddha: Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

We assimilate so much based upon what we are told. Look at our current political campaigns for president. Candidates feel that if they say something, even if it isn’t true, we will believe it because we don’t take the time to follow the Buddha’s wisdom. The compelling story teller can influence us because we have forgotten that we are the ones who decide what’s true for us.

We pride ourselves as Americans on our fierce independence of thought. That may have been so a few hundred years ago, but what about now? Without our return to discernment, we will miss the amazing adventure life offers outside the lines of conformity, and the opportunity to create a life filled with wonder will be left behind.

A reminder to stop thinking!

I was at the American Airlines ticket counter last week trying to change my ticket so I could return home a day earlier than planned. I thought that I could go standby for the flights and fly without a fee. That thought was immediately popped by the ticket agent,who, I can readily say, was a very pleasant woman oriented to being helpful.

She said that there was the possibility of paying a $150 fee and using the ticket I already had. She then arched her brows as she scanned her computer screen and said it didn’t look good. I noticed that I immediately was filled with thoughts of all my recent problems with American. I was getting up a good head of steam to tell her all about it. After all, they owed me some special favors, didn’t they?

As I was watching the irritation and righteousness roll in, I realized what was happening. I was on the verge of jumping into a very old pattern. “Oh,oh”, I said to myself, “this approach won’t be very useful.” So I shifted my attention to feeling appreciation and love for the ticket agent. I shifted my gaze and put my attention on the ticket agent next to her, felt appreciation for her, and continued moving my attention to all the people I could see.

I began to feel calm and knew that everything was going to be just fine. The righteousness went back into its shell and I was humming to myself. In a few minutes, the agent smiled and said everything had worked. I could get on a flight that left within 2 hours and I’d be back home by early evening.

I was reminded in that moment that my best thinking often creates such a mess – and its avoidable. I smile as I write this posting from my seat on the airplane knowing I’ll soon be home with my beloved and boys a day earlier, and with no drama necessary.

From Here to Simplicity

So you get caught up in your daily life’s stress. It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and you have lost perspective about what’s important. How do you know this? You are gearing up to spend four or five more hours getting “things” done before your day is over.

In our culture, there is a rationalizing story that hard work is the way to success. I come from many years in Silicon Valley. Company leaders don’t feel you are pulling your weight if you aren’t putting in 55- 60 hours a week, and go home and continue reading and answering emails.

What’s the cost? Everything that’s vital to our life is the cost. As I’m burning the midnight oil working on a project, I start transferring greater and greater importance to my work. Every day, I inch my way further and further away from the people I care most about, I deny my health, or I ignore the need in my soul for quiet.

All this to feed the beast of success. Success, so I can have more stuff. More stuff, that for the most part, isn’t essential to my life, and requires gobs of non-renewable resources to build or use.

This pattern is played out every day all over this country. If that’s not bad enough, we seem to be infecting the rest of the world. As consumer spending grows here and in Europe, it fuels manufacturing in Asia. The growing population of factory workers and supporting business employees want their taste of the fruits of consumerism.

Where does this end? It ends in a mess. Right now, we are consuming more resources than the planet can replenish. The problem is there is a tipping point and the stuff we all want will rise dramatically in price until it’s only available to the elite. We hard workers will have less and less reward.

Now many feel that the solution is some government intervention, or a restructuring of large businesses. I don’t think that’s going to happen right away. Are we doomed? Not necessarily. A movement called Transition Town is emerging in more parts of the world. It’s doing some wonderful things that help bring us back into harmony with the earth and each other. This is good, yet insufficient.

What’s called for, is a real change of perspective. We are called to reframe our material needs. Move from working and living so we can have stuff to only having what we truly needs. This will mean a lot less for most of us. For those who are practicing this radical simplicity, the reports are encouraging.

They report that they feel freer. They spend significantly less time working at jobs. They are healthier, and their relationships are the richest they’ve been in years.

Even with these appealing outcomes, the change to living a simpler life appears daunting. Does it mean that I have to give all my stuff away. Nope! It means that you start getting deliberate and honest. You have anything that you require to have a safe, healthy, harmonious life. These three criteria are at the root of four questions you can ask about anything you have, or are considering having.

What are these four questions? OK, I’ll share.

  1. Is this possession required for my personal or family safety?
  2. Does this possession promote my well-being or health?
  3. Do I agree with the practices employed to create this possession?
  4. If I don’t have this possession, will my quality of life be truly diminished?

Remember that real honesty is required. Questions like number 3 require us to consider something that we mostly overlook. How was this manufactured? Was the labor employed in a way I would agree with ? Is it done with the most ecologically sound approach? Is the building of this the best use of the natural resources required?

Now here’s the key for the four question exercise. If your answer is no to any of these questions, it’s probably a good idea to pass along the possession if you already have it or not acquire it if you do.

Whew, you may say. That’s a lot. Yep. If you don’t want to drop over the cliff as a consequence of our continuing mindset of more, you are offered this opportunity. It won’t hurt. It will just be a bit uncomfortable for a short while, and then the real benefits will kick in.

I’m writing this not just for you. I was here at my desk until midnight last night. This was very familiar. I could rationalize the situation and say that I don’t normally fall into this type of behavior. I know how easy it is to fall into the old habit, and I’d be off to the races.

The consequences would be more severe this time. I know better. I’ve tasted life without this stress. Good, I say to myself, I can pull back now. Yes, and its this practice of reflection and writing that is bringing me back.

What do you do to maintain your sanity? How do you remember where you have fallen off the path of a balanced life and bring yourself back? Perhaps this is something worthwhile to munch on over the weekend.