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.

Disappointer in Chief

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In this aftermath of the 2014 elections, there is so much talk about the reasons for the outcome. I think it’s pretty simple.

In 2008, we elected Barak Obama. Those of us that supported his first campaign felt that finally someone was going to make a difference in the way that government works. Finally someone was going to lead the country into a time of greater pulling together. So many promises were made that would support this vision.

Starting with President Obama’s victory speech in Griffith Park in Chicago six years ago, the unraveling of this feeling began. He spoke of the difficult road ahead. He talked about how it was going to take us all to make the change happen. This was a new message that was never part of his campaign. We listened and still waited for him to take action to change things we didn’t like.

We can look at the severe problems in the economy or the challenges with wars across the globe as underlying factors that inhibited his success, but these issues were known as the 2008 campaign unfolded. Solutions to complex issues are neither easy nor quick. Campaign rhetoric is easy. Turning those promises into reality is hard.

Very few have been able to lead in a way that brings us together and allows the greatness within each of us to be called forth. President Obama had that opportunity and he blew it.

Which brings us to now. We are disappointed. We want more than we are getting. We are indeed disappointed with Congress and its leadership. That’s a group of people without a single individual for us to focus our frustration on. The President on the other hand, is someone we can focus our disappointment on in a very personal way. The Republican party made the best of this feeling and it propelled them to control of both houses of Congress and many state governorships.

Now that they are in power, what will the Republican members of Congress do that they didn’t do in the last six years? What will the President do that he hasn’t done in that same timeframe? The opportunity for doing the right thing is always with us. Let’s encourage our national political leaders to focus on doing something positive for us.

As I write this, I an not feeling very positive. This morning, one of the darlings of the Republican party, Rand Paul started his day with messages under the Twitter hashtag #hillaryslosers. I know this is politics, but we are tired of this. Remember Mr. Paul, the sentiment of the country can change quickly if you, too, disappoint those who believe in you.

Authenticity 101

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As all the hubbub in the media analyzing the congressional primary victory of David Brat over Eric Cantor reaches a crescendo today, I think the reason Brat won is very simple. David Brat didn’t play the game of big media buys and big money. That’s not who he is. He is a college professor in economics who is concerned with the way things are going. He tried to get the attention of the “establishment” and was unsuccessful. So he decided to take some action.

Now, he didn’t go raise a bunch of money and hire a top political operative and polling team. He found like-minded folks who agreed with his perspective and they agreed to support him. He did this over and over again. Sure, he had support from a very vocal conservative talk show host. This made sense because his basic positions were ones they supported.

The headlines about this campaign victory are misleading. He is not a darling of the Tea Party. They didn’t put their muscle behind him. In fact, they ignored the race.

What mattered here was one man who was true to his positions and talked about them every day to those who mattered – the voters. Showing that when we hear something authentic it motivates us to act. (18,000 more voters turned out for this primary than 2 years ago).

As a leader, this is a good example of the power of authenticity. People know if you are blowing smoke or speaking truthfully. Granted not all the time, but when it really matters, they understand. If there is one leadership trait you choose to guide you, I suggest it’s always be true to yourself and speak to all your constituencies with integrity, NO MATTER WHAT.

Remembering the Power of Design

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I keep looking around for the key to unlock so many doors of uncertainty in my life. The more I read the more I find momentary glimmers of light, and then I forget. Today I am returning to one of these glimmers of light to remember once again.

One of the lessons of many years of working in the world of technology is the power of design. Too often, I follow the old adage, “Fire, Ready, Aim”. I forget what I learned over forty years ago. The more attention I place on what I am creating up front the better the outcome. Too often I skimp on this vital aspect and spend most of my time “fixing” the things that I could have visualized at the beginning, but in my haste went to work building.

This lesson is much more ancient than my lifetime. I have been reading a book written by Thomas Merton about the teachings of an ancient Chinese master, Chuang Tzu. Today’s lesson was the story of the Woodcarver.

The Woodcarver

 Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand

Of precious wood. When it was finished,

All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be

The work of spirits.

The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:

“What is your secret?”

 

Khing replied, “I am only a workman:

I have no secret. There is only this:

When I begin to think about the work you commanded

I guarded my spirit, did not expend it

On trifles, that were not in the point.

I fasted in order to set

My heart at rest.

After three days fasting,

I had forgotten gain and success.

After five days

I had forgotten praise or criticism.

After seven days

I had forgotten my body

With all its limbs.

 

“By this time all thought of your Highness

And of the court had faded away.

All that might distract me from the work

Had vanished

I was collected in the single thought

Of the bell stand.

 

“Then I went to the forest

To see the trees in their own natural state.

When the right tree appeared before my eyes,

The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.

All I had to do was to put forth my hand

And begin.

 

“If I had not met this particular tree

There would have been

No bell stand at all.

 

“What happened?

My own collected thought

Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;

From this live encounter came the work

Which you ascribe to spirits.”

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.

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.

One person’s weed is another’s flower

Yesterday, I was sitting in our back yard having a conversation with a client. Our home sits along a vibrant, spring-fed creek. The beauty and tranquility of this spot, along with its rushing waters, creates a sense of peacefulness and wonder.

I was gazing across the stream looking at a “weed” that had sprung up over the past few weeks. I was told by a friend that it’s called jewel weed. It is beautiful, that’s for sure. It slender stalks are capped by beautiful orange flowers. The flowers are a favorite for the local hummingbirds.

Then I discovered some more about these “weeds”. The juice in their stems is a very effective antidote for poison oak. I have been an adult sufferer of poison oak. In fact, it was so systemic at one time that I was convinced the only way to curb its effects was intense treatments with steroids, which had all sorts of complications. If only I’d know about these “weeds” then.

As I was marveling at the wonders of this “weed”, I began to consider how we treat what we consider “weeds” in our lives. I first consulted Webster’s to find its preferred definition of the word. Here’s what I found: “a weed is a valueless plant growing wild, especially one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop.”

I could feel the power of the word valueless, and the notion, “injury of the desired crop”. I’ve been taught that weeds are to be killed or rooted out with vigor.

How often do I look at my surroundings thinking that which I don’t understand is a weed? This could be an annoying acquaintance , a motorist who cuts me off in traffic, a relative whom I find annoying or an ethnic group that I don’t understand. The range is great in my personal world of weeds.

What’s happening is that my reality doesn’t fit with what I’m seeing. This reality is cultivated over a lifetime of experiences that shape how I view the world. It is my personal realm of truth. So when I see something that doesn’t fit, or disturbs my orderly world, I classify it as a “weed”. Now, I don’t use that word, but I do feel it’s valueless and it grows wild on my cultivated ground of reality.

I thought about this over the past day and find that my world is filled with weeds. When I encounter something that I don’t understand or doesn’t fit, I immediately want to classify it as something that is not useful and discard it. Wow, how much of the world am I missing?

LIke the jewel weed along the creek that could soothe my poison oak, the world is filled with experiences that at first don’t seem to fit my orderly thinking. If I can transcend this limitation, and not push away what doesn’t fit, I may have a surprise that truly astonishes.

The Cup is Half Full

A few days ago, I started this conversation about the half empty, half full cup. I talked about the implications of looking at the cup as half empty. You can go to the earlier posting on this blog to catch up.

Today, I’m in the world of half-full cups. We generally say that the cup half full folks are optimists. They see opportunities in everything. True, and there is more to it than that.

I have studied optimists for some time. I have a tendency toward optimism, so it’s personal. I always felt being a half full cup person was far better than being a half empty believer. It let me feeling I was better than others.

I bounced around thinking this for most of life. Then I met, head-on, someone who made me look like a pessimist. At first, I was enthralled. Great, someone who everyone loves to be around because of their bright outlook. As time wore on, I began to see fraying around the edges of this perspective.

One day, it dawned on me that I was around this person so I could see myself better. It’s that way when a big lesson is up. I’ve written often enough about the impact of living in the future. This is often the orientation of an optimist. They look beyond today, and find how tomorrow’s good outcome will take care of today’s problem.

This leaning into the future is contagious. So many of us want things to be better than they are. There are parts of our lives we don’t like. So, if we think about how things could be different, and apply a bit of hope, then “poof” all is well.

We all had a first hand example of how this brand of optimism works during the 2008 campaign. President Obama’s HOPE poster said it all. We were in a terrible economic mess, and we hoped that this man could get us out of it. This hope infected enough voters, and tipped the election in his direction.

I remember watching Obama’s speech the night of the election. After a few minutes of thanking everyone, he started to reshape his conversation with the American people. The road ahead was going to take hard work. He warned that there would be no quick solutions. I thought I could see in his eyes the awareness that his use of the optimists mantra of hope may turn on him.

Hope is something that is honored as an important attribute. I’m not so sure. Hope, to me, overlooks what’s right before my eyes. Hope has me believe in magical solutions that are often about what will happen tomorrow, rather than being present with what is, today.

I feel that confidence is a far greater quality than hope. Confidence is informed by the current situation, but not limited by it. In reading David McCoullough’s book, 1776, I was moved by George Washington’s confidence in the ability of the Continental Army to overcome great odds against the British army. He wasn’t hopeful. In fact, in some of his private letters, he reveals his concerns about the magnitude of the challenge. Yet, he felt confident, even knowing this situation, that they would prevail.

Sometimes, people will say that hope is the only way beyond a seemingly impossible situation. I disagree. You see, the obstacles I perceive are derived from what i believe. It’s these beliefs that create the feeling of impossibility. When I look at the world through these beliefs, I can’t see things as they are. I see the obstacles, or I see possibilities that aren’t real.

I’m becoming a reformed optimist. I have great help from my wife, who asks questions that puncture my optimism. For the longest time, I was really annoyed by these questions. I said to myself that she wasn’t supportive of my ambitions. I felt she didn’t understand what I could see.

I realized that she wasn’t infected by the emotions of optimism, and she could see some things I was overlooking. I had a fear, unknown at the time, that if I wasn’t optimistic, I would be stuck in a bleak world of “can’t do”. I would look around and capitulate to seeming adversity.

My experience has been very different than what I feared. I don’t have the emotional highs so much, and that fits me better. I also notice one of the other impacts of optimism. I would consistently override intuition. I would know something so clearly that there was no doubt. Yet, my optimism would sweep me right past this knowing and into the realm of wishing thinking. The outcome was often not very pretty.

I can see that pessimists have the same challenge. It’s just the other side of this coin of not seeing things as they are. In the end, the cup isn’t half-full or half-empty. The cup has a certain volume of liquid in it, and that’s it.

When we make our world something it isn’t, we are on the roller-coaster of emotional drama that some call suffering. Stepping into the reality of this moment is both a cure for both optimism and pessimism, and a way to a life that is free beyond comparison.

More about the cup half empty, half full

We have all heard the adage, the cup is either half empty or half full. If you are like me, you say, “Sure I understand what that means.” What I notice is that the more I study something like this phrase, the more I get out of it. In our modern world, we have a tendency to read something once, hopefully in an abbreviated form, and believe we have extracted the essence of the message or lesson.

This is inconsistent with how we learn. We learn through repetition. If you are learning a new physical activity, I have heard it said that competence is attained at 1000 repetitions and mastery begins with 10,000 repetitions. If you talk with professional or Olympic athletes, and ask about their training regimen, you will see the validity of this. Even the greats, like basketball’s Michael Jordan, are the first to arrive on the practice court and the last to leave.

Today, Twitter has become a very popular means to communicate, albeit in 140 characters or less. Recent surveys reveal the popularity of texting versus email among teens and young adults. I’m not saying any of these innovations in communications are bad. I am suggesting that they not be the exclusive realm of our communication, or the mindset of brevity will exclusively become our way of life.

There is so much richness that can’t be revealed in a single observation, reading, viewing or conversation. One of my favorite books is The Alchemist. I have read this book over fifty times. Each time, I find something new that I would swear wasn’t there the past times I’ve read it. Rather than moving on to the next thing, I am finding it valuable to deepen my understandings with what’s already in my life.

Which brings me back to the cup being half empty or half full. As I was gazing over our back yard this morning, I had the thought that in the midst of this saying is a universal truth that is more profound than I realized. If I take the perspective that the cup is half empty, everything I look at is insufficient – my relationships, my home, my job, my income, my life.

This feeling of insufficiency is the root cause of resentment that can envelop everything. I remember feeling dissatisfied in a personal relationship. As my angst grew, I spent time enrolling others (including a therapist) in why my life sucked, and it was all the fault of the woman. I am particularly persuasive, so I had a number of believers in my story. Now, this support is short-lived, because it’s based upon a false belief. That belief is that you, or someone or something else, are the cause of why my cup is half-full.

Seeing the world as insufficient leads me to the conclusion that I’m ultimately powerless. After all, there are so many factors that are out of my control, how could I possible create anything. I just do the best I can. Feel the despair in that!

Tomorrow I’ll talk about the lessons of the cup is half full.