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KNOWING vs. BELIEVING

A conversation is recounted in the book # Shantaram  in which the character, Khaderbhai, says: “There is no such thing as believing in #G...

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Thursday, 20 November 2014

TALKING STICK TAKING A SHORT SABBATICAL

I am going to be abroad for the next 10 days or so, no doubt gathering Talking Stick material as I go.  However, there won't be any posts until the first week of December for any of you who might start wondering the blank space is in your Inbox, or who can't wait for a new fix of "The Stick"!

We'll talk again soon.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

THE MEASUREMENT OF SUFFERING

When I started this blog I had been sitting at Port Elizabeth airport since 4pm.  It was then 9.30pm, about an hour and a half after we were supposed to have taken off for Durban, and there was still a while to wait.  The first sign of a problem was when my boarding pass had printed out with a boarding time on it that coincided with the time I knew I was supposed to land.  Of course, my goal directed (and reactive) mind immediately assumed this was just a silly computer error, completely denying (or at least not considering) that there might be another possibility, like a plane which had broken down earlier in the day and backed up all flights by a couple of hours.

When the sorry truth was revealed to me by the lady in the SAA lounge, I immediately felt angry.  It was Friday evening, for heaven's sake!  We should have been warned.  SAA should have put on an extra flight.  I have to waste a precious weekend evening in an airport.  I'm only going to be home after midnight.  This shouldn't be happening.  I have to get on another flight via Johannesburg. And so on, and so on.  My disquiet had me feeling grumpy and disconnected.

This is a form of suffering.  Whenever we get into an expectation, or place a demand that something should be a certain way, when it turns out differently our minds can get reactive and we suffer the consequences of disappointment, anger, regret, resentment and so on.

Business consultants tell us that what we cannot measure, we cannot manage.  So, in order to manage our suffering, we have to be able to measure it.  The equation for measuring suffering is quite simple: S = E - L, where S is the amount of suffering we experience, E is the level of our expectation of how things should be and L is Life exactly as it is.  In other words, the further away our internal expectation or demand is from the reality of how things truly are, the more we will suffer.

So now that we know how to measure it, we also know how to manage our suffering.  All we need to do is align our demands with Life as it is.  The easiest way to do that is simply to let go the demand that anything or any situation should be different from what it is.  The moment we can learn to accept things just as they are, our suffering ends. QED.

Someone once said or wrote (I don't remember right now) that pain is inevitable, but the suffering is optional.  We can choose to suffer, or choose acceptance, but the beauty is that we truly can choose how we want to be.

A friend and colleague who was on the same flight and also stuck in Port Elizabeth, Malcolm Hartwell, summed it up pretty well after a further delay was announced: We can rail as much as we like, but it won't change a thing.  So I stopped railing, cheered up and got home at midnight. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

TAME YOUR MIND

We all suffer from what is sometimes called #MonkeyMind, the state of incessant chatter going on between our ears.  "I'm not good enough", "She thinks I'm a bitch", "I'm a failure", "It's too hard", "It can't be done", "He's such a loser", "I'm such a loser", "Things always go wrong for me", "God never planned for me to be a success", "I have to prove myself", "I  have to fight for everything" and so on.  There is an endless chattering that goes on, and it's time to tame it.

One of my favourite authors is #NatalieGoldberg, who writes about writing from a #ZenBuddhist perspective.  One of her books, #WildMind, invokes the reader (and aspirant writer) to write without being inhibited by the perpetual internal editor:  "Lose control.  Say what you want to say.  Don't worry if it's correct, polite, appropriate.  Just let it rip".  How do you reconcile that approach with taming the monkey mind?

The great paradox is that you cannot free your wild mind and just let it rip without first taming your monkey mind, because it is exactly that which gets in your way, inhibits you, slows your progress, causes you to lose confidence, not to trust yourself and, tragically, to edit your creative self into a boring, compliant, non-wave-making sheep.  Your monkey mind can also push you the other way, having you dramatically play the rebel,  deviant or tough guy in order to prove that you are somehow not as much of a failure, or as ordinary as your money mind is having you believe.

Monkey mind gets in your way in every circumstance.  It is like gazing at the pristine perfection and tranquility of a mirror-surfaced, tree-lined lake, but rather than taking in and feeling gratitude for all the beauty, your eyes fall on a lone piece of litter floating in the distance and you allow that to spoil everything else for you.  Or perhaps it's like making love, the perfect union of two souls, and then, during the act, one suddenly wonders if she looks fat, or the other wonders whether he's good enough to do the job.  The moment is lost.  Monkey mind is what a teacher of mine, Roy Whitten, used to refer to as "the turd in the punch bowl".  It is that part of your mind which contaminates all else that is wonderful within your mind.

How do you tame your mind?  It is about recognising the contamination,  letting it go and clearing it out so that you can access the creative waters and ply them unhindered by monkey mind.  

There are techniques which are beyond the scope of this blog, but you can start with something as simple as a daily meditation practice.  Learn forgiveness, press out your anger in places where it doesn't matter, let go of your wallowing and keep seeing the (proverbial) glass half full.  

It doesn't matter how you do it, but if you want to access wild mind, first come to stillness by taming your monkey mind.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

#AHIMSA: DO NO HARM

One of the cardinal virtues of #Buddhism, #Hinduism and #Jainism is that of #Ahimsa, which exhorts people to do no harm. The ethic of "Nil nohere" - do no harm - is also an ethic of doctors.  Although not stated in quite those words, it is the essence of the #HippocraticOath, which is a vow taken by new physicians.  So what does it mean?

In the Buddhist and other traditions, Ahimsa is inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy.  Accordingly, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself.  

In a world where material possessions seem to matter, it might be tempting to think that "do no harm" means that you should refrain from physically hurting or damaging people and things, and that that would be virtuous behaviour.

However, Ahimsa invokes followers to do no harm, whether by deeds, words or thoughts.  It goes beyond the physical and recognises that by our words we can cause harm.  If we verbally abuse staff, or yell at or discourage our children, although the ultimate harm comes about by the way the abusee processes the words spoken, we need to acknowledge the role that we, the abusers, play as catalysts in sparking or bringing about the harm.  Words can never be un-said.  Once out there, they imprint on the minds of those for whom they were intended, and oftentimes on the minds of those for whom they may not have been intended.  Is that truly the way we want to be remembered by our children, staff and others?  As abusers at some level or another?  And what knock-on effect do our words have?  Do we not then teach the abused themselves to become abusers, or do we perhaps teach others to subordinate their creativity and playfulness out of fear of abuse?

Perhaps the toughest part of the invocation is to think no harm or harmful thoughts.  The tough part is that thoughts simply arise, whether we want them or not.  Often we just can't help ourselves from thinking harmful thoughts.  However, even if we think them but don't say them, how can that possibly be a problem, you might be thinking?  If I don't say it or do it, how have I harmed anyone?  It is so easy for us to heap internal abuse on an errant taxi driver, irritating politician or indeed a significant other.  The problem is that any malevolent thought nibbles away our personal integrity.  It damages and inhibits our ability to connect with others, with ourselves and with Life itself, disconnecting us spiritually.  Each harmful thought sits inside us, festering like an infected sore, waiting to burst.  With enough stored harmful thoughts, it becomes an internal septic stew, which will eventually kill the host or leak out onto others.

The invitation therefore is to notice malevolent thoughts as they arise and give them no energy, simply letting them go.  Any thought which presents as a judgment of someone being wrong, less than, inferior to and so on, or which wishes someone harm, or a resentment is worth letting go as it arises, no matter how wrong you judge the other to be.  It is always possible to deal with an issue without also having to toxify your mind: it is that very toxicity which will inhibit any possible healing.

Oh, and that thing about us not being able to help thinking harmful thoughts?  Well, the good news is that we can re-program our thought patterns.  The more we practice letting harmful thoughts go, and replace them with thoughts of forgiveness and conciliation, the less the other will appear.  Anyway, lest I sound as if I am pontificating on this, the choice is yours.  Be toxic or cleanse yourself.  You choose, but I know who I would rather be around.


Wednesday, 5 November 2014

HAPPY JUST TO BE ALIVE

I recently attended a day's retreat with Buddhist teacher, Ken Holmes, learning more about Tibetan Buddhism and meditation techniques.  Ken is a simply delightful human being who has committed most of his life to living in the Buddhist tradition.  What struck a chord with me was how he started the day, saying how happy we could all be (and ought to be), simply to be alive.  And that was pretty much what Ken exuded: happiness with his own gift of life.

So, if he is right, the question is: why are so many people not happy, or at least not happy with every aspect of their existence?   We are alive, after all.  What if the very fact of our existence on earth was a cause for celebration?  The fact that we have the incredible gifts we have - amongst others, our ability to love and be loved, our capacity for compassion, our wisdom and our access to joy - should surely give cause for gratitude and celebration?

The reality, however, is that we tend to forget about those gifts (and all the others we have) when we realise we don't have as much money as we want, or our boss is nasty, or we aren't as pretty, tall, handsome, slim or olive-skinned as our neighbour, or we are ill, or feeling resentful, or experience evil in the world, and a myriad of other reasons.  

What if we could simply be happy without our happiness having to be dependent on good fortune, chance, circumstance and others?  What if we could be happy, just because we are alive.  How might we then keep the other stuff in perspective?

It's not a bad thought, is it?  The question I leave you with for now is: YBH? (Yes, but how?)

Sunday, 2 November 2014

BATTLING THE DAY vs EMBRACING THE DAY

From time to time I find myself setting out for work with the words: "Right, let's go and do battle with this day."  Fighting talk, but typically the day then turns into a battle.  It's the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy, or as @DrWayneWDyer might call it, the Power of Intention.

When we embark on the day thinking of all the battles to be fought and won, the chances are that, in our tunnel-visioned approach to each challenge, we could both wear ourselves out and also miss the most creative and gracious way of addressing the day by pursuing our quest to conquer all in our way.  What is worse, when we expect a battle with the day, we often get one, with schedules being missed, argumentative people presenting themselves, computers crashing and things generally going wrong.

I can think of times where the paperwork and email volumes awaiting me have been overwhelming, and I have gone to the office ready ruthlessly to seek and destroy that which is not serving me, or which has to be dealt with no matter how little I really want to do so.  Oftentimes, in that state, I will vigorously make an inroad, but eventually run out of steam.  It is a bit like running full-tilt into a swamp, but then slowly sinking into the morass until I give up.  In the office context, it means I leave a task half-done and then find something more interesting to do.

A completely different approach is to schedule time for each task, figure out who is best placed to assist me and then enrol him/her, do a sensible amount each day rather than try and knock it off in one hit and understand that I have some limits.  Eventually it gets done, but from a state of willingness rather than drivenness, and I feel grateful rather than grumpily running headlong into the next task.

Battling the day is exhausting.  It is generally about fire fighting and a reactive approach to what appears before us.  Embracing the day is about planning it gracefully, being gentle on ourselves, acknowledging our limits and getting creative with the time and resources available.

So which do you do?  And how well does your approach serve you?