Saturday, May 30, 2009

Haiku #3 - Surrender the Oars

No course inspired me,
So I surrendered the oars.
The current: perfect

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

MPOW #18 - You, Artist

The late Gordon MacKenzie, a longtime creative force at Hallmark Cards, once told a story that quickly entered the folklore among designers. MacKenzie was a public-spirited fellow who often visited schools to talk about his profession. He'd open each talk by telling students he was an artist. Then he'd look around the classroom, notice the artwork on the walls, and wonder aloud who created the masterpieces.
"How many artists are there in the room?" MacKenzie would ask. "Would you please raise your hands?"
The responses always followed the same pattern. In kindergarten and first-grade classes, every kid thrust a hand in the air. In second-grade classes, about three-fourths of the kids raised their hands, though less eagerly. In third grade, only a few children held up their hands. And by sixth grade, not a single hand went up. The kids looked around to see if anybody in the class would admit to what they'd now learned was deviant behavior. - From Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind

This mindfulness practice of the week aims to help you learn about your artistic spirit or where it meant. This may be very difficult for you, but the rewards in learning are commensurate with the challenge. Good luck!


Gather some art supplies, it doesn't have to be fancy. Just ensure that you have some media. It could be as simple as computer paper and crayons or pencils or you could delve into paints and canvasses. You decide what's appropriate and convenient for yourself.

Also, and this is important: buy yourself a frame that you like to fit your paper or stock. Get the supplies that you need to hang it, and put the hook up in your home. At the end of this, you will have a piece of artwork to mount on your wall.

Make Some Art
Using your supplies, open yourself up to the creative process. Put as much of you as you can into your pieces. I highly encourage you to meditate before you begin with the pieces and then again throughout if there are any stumbling points for you. This is part of the mindfulness practice. See what you notice as you create your art work. Do you find yourself judging the artwork? Do you notice how tightly or loosely you are gripping the writing instrument? How do the textures of the media feel against each other? Do you have more control when you move slowly, moderately, or quickly? Do any memories or emotions rise to the surface?

Don't stop until you have created at least five pieces. You can create more if you so choose. Be mindful about what it means for you to stop and feel complete.

WARNING: Do not read the next section until you have completed this section.

Judge the Art
That's right, see what it feels like to bring judgment to your artwork. Perhaps you have already done so and this will be very obvious to you at this stage. Perhaps you never did judge either positively or negatively through the process, maybe you can get to know what you did feel or why when you bring your discernment into it. We make emotional decisions and choices every day--in fact, some studies show that without emotions, a person cannot tie his or her shoes because we cannot decide which foot to start with--what does it take to do it?

Rank the pieces in order of your favorite to least favorite. At the very least, choose your favorite one and the one that you least like. Perhaps the favorite one is the one that you want to frame on your wall because it is the most technically proficient, most interesting, best use of colors, reminds you of something. Perhaps your least favorite one makes you feel self conscious, makes you despise your own artwork. Now, do the opposite of what you would expect. Destroy your favorite one. You read that right. Tear it to shreds, burn it, draw all over it. Is this easy or difficult for you? If difficult, explore that. If easy, explore that, too. Are you attached to it? Then, frame the least favorite one and hang it on your wall. How do you feel about it when you see it? Does your missed line frustrate you? Do you not want others to see it? Is it hard to look at it yourself? Are you proud of having mounted it?

There's so much to explore and learn about yourself through this.

Happy Practicing!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Haiku #2 - All the World's a Sage

All the world's a sage.
The extras and the stuntmen
Channel Athena.

Monday, May 18, 2009

MPOW #17 - Open Heart Meditation

"Most of us may feel like we are not up to the task of living with our hearts open, and we might begin to close down, little by little, so that we can get through our days without having to feel too much. One thing that can help us turn this situation around is an awareness of the power of empathy. To open our hearts to another person’s suffering is a revolutionary act that has energetic implications." - From Daily Om's Heart Meditation

The heart is powerful on at least three channels of our experience: data/functional, emotional, and symbolic. In this Mindfulness Practice of the Week, explore all of the channels of the fourth major chakra.

At the data/functional channel, the heart is one of our body's marathon runners, a muscle that when healthy pumps 1900 gallons (or 7200 L) of blood throughout our body, supplying every cell with oxygen and nutrients. It has messengers that reach every part of our body over and over again. Imagine how much your heart must know. Marvel how much your heart does.

Along the emotional channel, your heart beat reflects your feelings. When you are scared and excited, it beats faster; when you are calm, it beats more slowly. Your heart becomes an outward physical sign of your inner state. Contemplate how amazing it is to find so much about yourself reflected outwardly.

The symbolic channel is an especially potent one. Countless songs across many cultures link passion, compassion, kindness, resolve, bravery, etc. to the heart. It is a symbol of many virtues and love. Ponder your heart's symbolism.

The heart inspires in many ways. This week, follow a practice that I have adapted from reiki.

The mindfulness practice of the week

Sit or lie in a comfortable position, holding your hands four to six inches apart (or imagine something similar). See if you can feel the space between your hands. Concentrate on this with a loose focus. Play with it. Pull your hands a little apart. Push them a little together. See if you can notice a connection between them even when they're not touching. When you really tune into the feeling, you may feel an elasticity between your hands. Put your intention fully between them and imagine a ball of energy growing between your palms, warming and glowing. Draw this energy from the earth, the sky, and the living world around you. You may need to move your hands to let it expand and feel potent. When you are ready, bring your hands closer together to tighten the ball into a marble of light. Then, fold your hands over your heart, inserting the ball of energy into the center of your being.

Feel the warmth of that energy in your heart. Imagine it filling you with an invincible, purifying light. In time, allow the light to radiate out from your heart. Leaving your hands softly over your heart, use your intention to gather things into your heart. Gather your loved ones there. Gather your loving feelings. Feel how they shine and strengthen. Also, and very deliberately, invite the objects of your struggles. Maybe your hamstrings are sore, invite them in, thanking them for working so hard for you. Maybe a colleague irritates you, maybe there's a family tiff, maybe you are ill, maybe there's political strife. Whatever it is, welcome that object of struggling into your heart. Let it know that you can still love it, too. More importantly, let yourself know that you can love it. Let your heart fill it with warmth and compassion, so that it can flow and turn into light itself.

Give yourself permission to linger here. Invite in the positive, the neutral, and the negative, showing it all equal love. Let the power of your heart bring wise virtue to everything. It is a powerful experience to bring the intention of your heart to all that you encounter outside of you. It nourishes and enriches you from the inside.

"And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say
That the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!"
-Dr. Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas

This post is dedicated to my loving mother. Mom has the hugest heart I have every known.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Haiku #1 - Weft and Warp

Warp, weft wilderness,
Two threads twine through tapestry.
Fling free from the loom.

Monday, May 11, 2009

MPOW #16 - Sloth Disguised as Productivity

Earlier this week I encouraged us to Make Mistakes of Ambition, Not Sloth. After we're able to redefine ambition as motivation toward production, attachment-free goals, this all sounds pretty good and straight-forward, though we know that motivational challenges are not so easy to overcome. Our own experiences and many spiritual teachings have taught us that being aware of our desires and causes of suffering are the most important step toward dissolving them.

In this mindfulness practice of the week, we take a break from the meditation cushion and instead take a look at random samplings of our lives. During the day, make use of mindfulness bells - sounds or alerts that bring us to the present, once in the present, assess what you are doing, thinking, feeling at the time of the bell. It is an opportunity to break routine and self assess. This is a useful too for many aspects of mindfulness, though this week, we will use it specifically to catch acts of laziness disguised as productivity.

Set up a Mindfulness Bell

Set an alarm to go off 3 times during your work day or productivity period. Maybe you know three specific times when you are likely to just keep yourself busy instead of being your most effective self. Set the alarm to be during these times. If you work in an office, these may be right after arriving at work, right after lunch, and 3pm - as your lunch is digesting.

Or, you might find it more effective to use random times. I found a tool on the following Web site which may be of help (though I admit that I have not tried it yet myself):

The Practice - Catch Yourself
When the bell goes off, ask yourself the following hard question, and be honest with yourself. Once you learn to be honest with this, you make be able to break yourself of bad workplace habits that you did not know you had. Choose one of the following questions, or come up with something else that works for you in the same vein:
  • Am I doing the most important thing that I can be doing right now?
  • Am I procrastinating?
  • Am I inventing things to distract me from what's important?

Common work culprits
The following are common office-place culprits that I work to overcome, and likely millions more do, too:

Checking email - it is possible to spend the whole day doing this and still never finish. At one point, I found that I was receiving over 700/day. I have since learned to filter that. It's also possible to just let those toast messages pop up and respond to things constantly throughout the day. Far less time-consuming to batch them up and pass through them once or twice/day. Or less!

Writing email - Same goes with this one. It is possible to edit, re-edit, re-write, until blue in the face. It is also possible to edit every single message and write an email about everything that comes into your head. This just creates more work for everyone. Try to focus on only the highest priority emails to protect your time and respect the time of others. I also like to keep my emails short and sweet. I have adopted a plan to make it easier for me to write email and for other people to respond to my emails.

Meetings - Are all those meetings really necessary or simply work for work's sake? Do all meetings need to take exactly an hour or always run over? Really? Think about it. What would happen if weekly meetings because once every two weeks? Once every month? Would work cease to be done? What if an hour-long meeting could be replace with a 5-minute meeting, or 2 5-sentence emails? That would save a lot of time.

Drop-in meetings - Oh, I'm really guilty of this one. I find it important to always be available when people need me. I open the door, invite people in, "have a seat." This automatically burns through at least 15 minutes. Close the door to go through longer. I've made the mistake in thinking that I'm only respectful of people if I give them undivided attention whenever they need it. Wrong. I can respect them by saving their time and mine (and the more of my time I save, the more work I can do for them and the company) and keeping things short and to the point. This is possible while still connecting on a real, human level.

Perhaps you already know that these are your bugbears. Perhaps none of these apply to you and you will learn others through this practice.

Good luck. Use the comments box to let me know how it goes.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Make Mistakes of Ambition, Not Sloth

"All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it's impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer." - Niccolo Machiavelli The Prince

Makes mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. What a powerful notion. There are a few bits of wisdom to tease out of this: Making mistakes is just a part of life. All mistakes are recoverable, maybe not back to where you were before exactly, but we will recover and things will go on. When we realize this, it is time to drop our fear of making mistakes. By being inactive, by not making choices, we are passively making choices of low energy, and mistakes exist there, too--sometimes bigger ones.

There are many barriers to acting in a high valence; most of them are just disguised laziness and fear. Webster defines valence as "relative capacity to unite, react, or interact" and "the degree of attractiveness an individual, activity, or thing possesses as a behavioral goal". Don't you want to increase these things? Linking these definitions is pretty potent, too. It speaks to important benefits of extending our energetic orbits that we act in. As we increase our capacity to interact, we improve our degree of attractiveness. Getting into this high valence requires simply wanting to be there more than being in the lower valence. There are a few psychological barriers which keep us in a low valence:

It is so easy to either get caught up in a safe routine. This often comes from fear of making mistakes and taking risks. This is a dangerous place to be, because it keeps us making mistakes of sloth.

2. There's a notion that it's greedy to want more than we already have. By that line of reasoning, ambition can be seen as egoism or egotism. This is a misinterpretation of what a spiritual life need be. In Buddhism, there's a concept of renunciation in which we give up the pursuit of things that we use to define ourselves. However, taken too far, we are no longer adding to the world and being industrious.

3. It is tempting once we have discovered the elation of meditation to sit alone in meditation all the time. While it is important to meditate and practice mindfulness to approach lives from a serene and contemplative approach, it is also valuable to increase our valence. The Lama Surya Das remarks about how curiously Eastern practices come to the West. Rather than focusing on generosity and striving to free all of mankind from suffering initially, the in road is to focus on meditation. Certainly all of these aspects and more (the 6, sometimes 10, paramitas ) all strengthen each other, and the wise practitioner grows them together. However, there seems to be a proclivity for self cultivation rather than public action. I know this personally, because I am quite guilty of this myself. It is important to remember to act out of generosity and develop skillful means, then use these hand in hand with wisdom and meditation... all in balance.

4. As we learn the suffering from attachment, there's a fear of identifying with goals and ambitions. Overdoing the wise notion to not identify with what we create. We can counter goal/ambition identification by remembering to Start Whole. "There's nothing wrong with being goal-oriented. This dojo (school) came because I had a goal to make a dojo." I learned this wise concept in a recent Interview with Kim Ivy. Since we're talking about Buddhism (well, I'm writing a little about it, and as long as we're on the subject...), a couple obvious examples to me are of the industrious Buddhist monks. For instance, look at all of the publications by the industrious Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai Lama. Another example is Matthieu Ricard, a translator for the Dalai Lama, who is involved in many scientific studies, who has led an effort to modernize Buddhist teachings by digitally archiving important texts, and is an author in his own right. Having this ambition to create has added virtue to the world in helping to reach the enlightenment of others.

5. Over-modesty. Another great stumbling block is to not act until you are convinced of your expertise. You may deem it hubris to act. Certainly, it is wise to develop skill in whatever you do, but waiting until it is fully developed will completely paralyze you from action. If you search yourself, you will likely find that this is just sloth disguised as nobility. Refusing to act is certainly not going to help anyone. Again, I urge you to choose to make mistakes of action, rather than mistakes of sloth. Even if you do make these mistakes, you learn from them and have contributed the energy of generosity and loving-kindness.

As we are aware of these barriers, we are able to overcome them. Pledge with me to increase our valences. If we are going to make mistakes--which we will--make mistakes of ambition, not sloth. This poem by Goethe has been a life long favorite of mine, and I leave it with us in parting.

"What you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it."

This post is dedicated to former co-worker and current friend Joe Duffy. His ambition has brought many great ideas to pass. I have never seen him make a mistake of sloth.

Monday, May 04, 2009

MPOW #15 - Authentic Self

"The luxury I advocate has nothing to do with money. It cannot be bought. It is the reward of those who have no fear of discomfort." - Jean Cocteau

"To thine own self be true." - Shakespeare Hamlet

The very best, most pure, more authentic version of yourself is inside you at all times, ready to guide you. Whenever you need a bit of guidance, you can turn to authentic self for actions to take. Your authentic self will help you be bold and decisive. He or she will help you be true and noble. Best of all, this is you. You can manifest your most authentic self at any time.

There are times when we all feel "outside". When we know we are not our bravest, most fearless selves--the selves that we are accustomed to being--we may see the world in a haze. I'm optimistic that there's a way through this. We can cut through our lethargy and get to positive action. "Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action." (Benjamin Disraeli)

I have found a wonderful journey that helped me meet my authentic self. Now that I have met Authentic Ed, I can bring my intention inward and channel him. Every now and then, I renew my relationship with him. For this Mindfulness Practice of the Week (MPOW), I hope that you can also meet this most precious of Our Guides and Guards for yourself

Meeting Authentic You

The first time, start by preparing an environment for the journey. It's a simple preparation. Put on some relaxing instrumental music. Pour a glass of water. Establish a comfortable place to sit. Free yourself of distractions: phone off, alarms off, no beeping computers, cat shut somewhere quiet. It is nice to choose an environment and music that is easy to recall or return to, because it can be used as a quick portal later.

Sit in your comfortable place, have a drink of the water, and hold your spine erect by imagining a string is pulling you up from the top of your head. Perform a quick body inventory, letting your muscles relax in your face, your shoulders, your chest, your lower back, your hips (you likely know or soon will know your personal culprits - if you have not tried it, I recommend that you Connect With Your Body's Wisdom (MPOW #8)), then back to your face and shoulders again. Sink into the music and allow yourself to explore it subtly.

Then let your journey begin. Imagine that rich, thick rays of sunlight are pouring down on my head and shoulders, a waterfall of pure light. It is so rich and warm and nourishing. It is viscous and clean. It purifies you as it massages your crown and shoulders and pours down over your body. You are sitting on a rock in a lagoon under this waterfall of light. The warm light of the sun showers down around you and into the lagoon.

Ahead of you, notice that someone is approaching. It is you, as your most authentic self. Introduce yourself. Get to know this most authentic version of you. He or she is desperately interested in knowing who you are and helping you in the most effective way possible. Your most authentic self loves you.

You have now established a connection that you can come back to at any time. Your most authentic self is always available to help you, to guide you on what you're going through.

Getting Back in Touch with the Authentic Self
You can always embark on the full journey again at any time to establish a deep connection. Though, now, I find it possible to sit anywhere, whether on the bus, in conference room during a meeting, in the cafeteria, or on an airplane, close my eyes, and bring myself to this place. I imagine the waterfall of light or use the music as an anchor. When my most authentic self approaches me, I know that I can Start Whole with his guidance.
I dedicate this post to Mariana Oskey's most authentic, fearless, super-creative, 360-degree self!