Meditation –On Happiness

Meditating is a new practice for me. It is one that I hope I can stick with. Why am I doing it? Am I trying to achieve nirvana? It isn’t my intention, but I am receptive to the possibility. This whole focus on my breathing and trying to find my center, what’s the purpose? Is it to lower my blood pressure or feel better about myself? I am sure those are some nice secondary benefits, but what is the real reason?

In the first few sessions, I found my mind wandering. I was constantly trying to remind myself to focus on my breath. The “path” is one of the concepts I am concentrating on these days and applying it to all aspects my life. To find my path, to know it, and to stay on it. If meditation is like this path, the breathing is helping me to stay on it. It is guiding me back on course. In the bigger picture, I am always trying to correct my course. I am trying to stay on my path. It is the reason why I am meditating. I need to find my center. I need to discover who I really am and where I want to go. The meditation is going to help me get there.


I breathe and I think. I am not happy. I am not where I want to be in life. There are things I want, and I don’t have them. I am trying to get to the place I want to be, but do I have to be unhappy on this journey? Do I have to go on with an iron resolve and a stoic countenance? The stoicism I heard of as a child was related to unhappiness and a stern face. But that is not stoicism, is it? I am not being stoic by being unhappy. I’m being an ass to both myself and those around me.

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions. –Dalai Lama

I am choosing to be unhappy. I am choosing to not be content with the things I have. I am choosing the wrong path. I can choose to be happy. I can be grateful for the things I have and the people in my life. Every morning I have been writing three things I am grateful for. Do I believe it? Am I really grateful, or am I just going through the motions? Why is it that the morning after a rough day, say a day full of pride, I don’t express my gratitude on paper? If I was to fill my soul with happiness, then the gratitude should come gushing out onto the paper. I need to choose to be happy. I need to change my attitude and get on the path.


I had a flashback to my youth. I was walking in line back to the locker room after a tough junior high school football game. I was tired and hurting, but I wanted to maintain my composure. When I passed by a few cheerleaders, one asked me why I always looked so serious. In my mind, I thought I was training to be a warrior and had to look the part. I should have learned my lesson. I should have learned it when so many people over the years have asked a similar question. Why am I so serious? Why do my brows furrow on my face? Why don’t I smile more? I like to tell myself, and others, that I am happy on the inside, and I just forget to show it on the outside. But I think that is just a façade. I am fighting a war within myself. When virtue reigns over my vices, I find myself happy. The opposite is true as well. When I give into my vices (laziness, gluttony, all the other things keeping my from realizing my full potential) I find myself unhappy and my face will surely show it.

What is the happy life? It is peace of mind, and lasting tranquility. This will be yours if you possess greatness of soul; it will be yours if you possess the steadfastness that resolutely clings to a good judgment just reached. How does a man reach this condition? By gaining a complete view of truth, by maintaining, in all that he does, order, measure, fitness, and a will that is inoffensive and kindly, that is intent upon reason and never departs therefrom, that commands at the same time love and admiration. In short, to give you the principle in brief compass, the wise man’s soul ought to be such as would be proper for a god. –Seneca, Letter 92: On the Happy Life

Meditation: On Pride

I know I need to meditate more. Yesterday was day one. Ten minutes in the morning before leaving for the gym to meet a client. 10 minutes again sitting in the car before walking into work. Later that evening, I lost my focus and subsequently lost my temper. Now I am on the second day, and it needs to be better than the first.

I set the timer for 15 minutes. It is dark outside as I sit in my car in the parking lot. 15 minutes to meditate and then 5 minutes to walk into work. I close my eyes and sit. I try to center myself, but something is missing. Oh yes, my breath. In. Out. Why did I get angry last night? I should have known better. I should not have fell into the trap. In. Out. Pride. It was my pride. My pride was injured. It wanted to retaliate. My pride is me. Not some separate embodiment acting of its volition. My pride. My ego. I own it. No one else is to blame. Blaming others is the easy path. The wrong path.

My thoughts begin to drift. I think about work, about the things I need to do today. Something is not right. My breath. Focus on my breath. In. Out. Back to pride. Back to anger. How do I eliminate it? How do I become stronger? This pride, my pride, is a weakness. When it is in control, I am more prone to anger. Anger is bad. It leads me down the wrong path. It leads to stupid and rash decisions. It leads to thoughtlessness. Chaos.

What will I do this weekend? What will I read? Write? This is not the time to let the mind wander. Concentrate on the breath. Breathe in. Take in the oxygen, the life. Exhale the breath. Expel the pride. Like the Om, expel the pride. When the anger comes, the walls crumble. My defenses are weakened. A city unprotected. My walls are my strength. My protection.

In. Out. Courage. It takes courage to be strong. It takes courage to overlook a perceived offense. It takes courage to not retaliate. Courage, not pride. With courage is strength. Pride is weakness. Anger is weakness.

In. Out. The timer goes off. My mind is now focused on courage. My prayer is to have the strength to be courageous. The strength to put away pride and anger. One last breath in and then exhale. It is time to walk to work.

A city breached and left defenseless are those who do not control their temper. –Proverbs 25:28

Getting Results with Help

What have I learned from being on an assembly line? I have learned to be efficient. If not then I will struggle. Because if you are going to do a process over and over, 35-40 times in an hour, you want it to be as easy as possible. How do you become efficient? How do you minimize the struggle? You learn. You identify what techniques work, how to hold things, and which way to walk. Can you eliminate steps? Is there something that is difficult that can be simplified? Can you be an expert?

BruceLee1What should you do if you can’t figure it out, after all potential solutions have resulted in failure? The best thing you can do is watch and learn from someone else. There will always be someone who can do it better. I recently learned a technique from a 20 year vet that blew my mind, because I never thought of doing the process his way. He left me with some powerful words, “Why struggle if you don’t have to.” There has also been times when I have seen brand new associates do what seems natural to them and achieve success after only a few minutes when others have struggled for years to do the same process. What success can you achieve by looking at problems from different viewpoints and emulating others that are successful?

Growing up I didn’t know the power of having a mentor. It never occurred to me that true growth could be ascertained in this fashion. My development was often achieved through trial and mostly error. This approach wastes one of your most valuable resources: time. Take the wrong path, and you can spend years, even decades, trying to get back on track. The value of having a mentor guide you in the right direction is enormous. I wish I took advantage of this when I was younger. It is definitely something I will share with my son as he gets older.

So what am I doing with the things I have learned? Am I holding this knowledge for myself or am I sharing it with others? Leonard Nimoy said, “The miracle is this: the more we share the more we have.” How am I sharing? What am I doing to make a positive impact on the lives of others? Over the years, I have been sharing what I have learned in unplanned short conversations with colleagues. This in turn has led to a new venture where mentoring, through fitness and lifestyle choices, is the primary focus. This project is in its infancy and happened almost by accident. When my partner and I were brainstorming this concept with several other colleagues, we found that we had no shortages of volunteers who wanted to take part in our program. We let them know they would essentially be guinea pigs in our experiment, but they did not care. They wanted to change their lives for the better, and they wanted us to help them get on the path. Well, here’s to new endeavors. My hope is that our participants achieve the results they desire. My hope is that I can grow along the way.

My son, and any who chooses to listen:

The lips of the wise spread knowledge, but the heart of fools is not steadfast. –Proverbs 15:7

Be Careful What You Pretend To Be

There is one guy who dresses way too good for the work he does. He dresses like a boss, but the quality of his work is substandard to that of an average employee. He tries to look the part and to talk the part, but sadly his looks do not match his actions.

There is another guy who has taken this to a whole new level. Skinny growing up, he wanted to change his appearance. The drive was so intense, and his internal substance was so under-developed, that he began doing steroids. 20 years later, he is still doing them. His vanity has extended into other parts of his life. He has the over-sized house, the way too expensive boat, and of course the brand new, jacked-up truck that completes the image he is hoping to achieve. He is looking for validation but is missing something on the inside.

“Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.” –Kurt Vonnegut

Are these two on to something? Can we just pretend and then become what we pretend to be? Or is it something more. Could be that Vonnegut was referring to something deeper, something with more substance.

Outward appearances without the internal substance will only leave us only as pretenders. It is our character and our actions that define us. And although it is easy to see the vanity in others and even criticize it, can I be this critical of myself? I need to keep my own vanity in check and be the harshest judge of my actions. Humility should always be at the forefront.

My son:

One acts rich but has nothing; another acts poor but has great wealth. -Proverbs 13:7

Build the Wall

 

 

I was watching the cartoon “Justin Time” with Alec one morning, and the topic was about The Great Wall of China (S1:E9). In the episode Justin asked his friend Olive why there was a wall. Olive’s response was, “to keep the people on the other side on the other side.” In the U.S., the debate continues over whether or not to build a wall. For some, it is important to keep the other people on the other side. Others believe we should let them all in.

What is the purpose of a wall, whether it is around your house, your school, or your nation? When my wife and I built the fence around our backyard, we wanted to accomplish two things. First, it kept our dogs and young toddler confined to the backyard and prevented them from getting out and possibly wandering the streets. It was for their protection and for our peace of mind. What was the other purpose? The fence was built to keep the people on the other side of the fence on the other side. If they wanted to get inside the fence, they had to be admitted through the front door. Obviously, their identity and intent was established before they were allowed entry. The fence serves its purposes, and as a result we have a certain measure of security.

 

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The Great Wall of China served its purpose as well, which was to prevent an invasion of the northern enemies. The Chinese kept the people on the other side out. If someone wanted to get on the Chinese side of the wall, their identity and purpose would have to be established first. There are some Americans who want this kind of wall too. The ones in favor of it say it is prevent potential terror threats from entering our borders. They want to establish the identity and intent of would-be entrants. Not much different than the Chinese with the Great Wall, not much with you and your fence. People on both sides of this debate have some very strong feelings concerning a wall in the U.S. I have my feelings, but what this post is really about is building a wall around your mind.

Now, I am not saying we shouldn’t have open minds. My goal is to emulate Henry David Thoreau’s idea to “be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.” I want to have an open mind and encourage it in others, but I think you also need to build a wall around your mind. If you are not carefully vetting what is going in, then how can you monitor what is taking up a permanent residence within your brain?

How about music for an example? Say you hear a really good tune on the radio. The music sounds great and the vocals are really on point. Never mind the actual lyrics, you like what you hear, and you hear it over and over again. But what are those words? Is the message positive or is it something else? There are some really great sounding songs out these days with a message that is not positive. The messages coming over the radio in some songs are ones of drugs, violence, and the degradation of women. There are artists that will glamorize these topics, make them cool. Now you might be thinking, “This is a childish example. Those songs don’t really harm anybody. They are just songs.” And you might be correct that this evil message cannot invade your mind, but what if you are wrong? Or what about your child, with his young impressionable mind? Does it have an effect on him as he listens to it in the car while you are singing along?


About a week ago, my son had trouble sleeping and was scared. My wife was concerned and asked what was wrong. He said every time he closed his eyes he kept picturing a clown eating kids. Turns out that one of the kids in his Kindergarten class was taken to the movie “It” by his parents. The kid came to school the next day and told all his classmates. Chances are my son also seen the trailer on TV. The impression left on his mind was very real, enough to keep him awake at night.

Is this message appropriate for a 5 year old? The lasting effects of this one instance may not be great, but what about constant exposure to that and similar messages? We can rationalize it and say it is not that bad, but how many times can we do it before the “not so bad” imaginary violence becomes real? If we can justify listening to songs that degrade other people, how long does it take before we justify this belief in our minds?

Building a wall that vets all potential entrants into the nation may be a difficult debate going on right now. The choice to build a fence around your backyard to keep your kids safe and keep undesirable people out is a less difficult decision. Fortifying your mind against evil influences and properly vetting what your mind is exposed to should be a no-brainer. Protect your mind, build the wall.

It is possible that my view on a wall around your mind is incorrect. I would love to hear your comments.

“If anyone can refute me- show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective- I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone.” –Marcus Aurelius

Soul to the Sun

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If you are driving north of Jacksonville along A1A, pull over when you see the small sign for Little Black Rock, not too far up ahead as you pass Big Talbot Island State Park. After you park, you will find a trail going into the North Florida jungle. Walk along this trail for about a mile, and as go, you will notice you can no longer hear the sounds of cars but instead the sounds of waves. Crest a sand dune and behold an almost always deserted beach filled with an amazing spectacle. On the other side of this dune is one of my favorite beaches and maybe my most memorable. After I left the Army, I used to surf up and down the Florida Atlantic Coast, but when I went to this beach, I left my board at home. A small barrier island protects the shore from the waves. Over that dune was a mystery I never tried to solve for fear the magic of my ignorance would be shattered. There are huge trees, my guess oaks, laying on their sides with the remains of their branches and roots laid bare to the sun. They are bleached white from the decades, possibly even centuries of exposure. How did they get there? I have no idea, but the power of my imagination has concocted many ideas. I doubt the gods fought a battle and these trees are the victims, but one can only imagine.

My friends and I use to come to this beach and climb and play among the trees as if we were kids again with little worries of the world. The trees were amazing, but for me they were not the best feature this beach had to offer. At the north end of the beach, there is a natural barrier. The ground becomes rocky. A black slick mud covers the ground. It is slowly hardening destined to become a permanent feature on the beach. Over the years, small cliffs have formed from this mud. They are not difficult to pass. They might be a deterrent to some, but the prize on the other side is worth the trouble. Beyond the cliffs is another part of the beach. Even more secluded is this perfect picture of a beach. It is smooth and crescent-shaped with the sea grape-covered dune and palm trees visible in the background. I would often go here and sit at the edge of the water. I would close my eyes and become one with my surroundings. I would hear the soft lapping of the waves and feel the warmth of the sun on my face. I felt like I could sit here for an eternity, meditating, one with the universe. I had so many problems back then and didn’t know how to fix any of them. I may have been having a difficult go at the time, but this moment on the beach was my brief respite, which I so desperately needed. This was my therapy. It may also explain why many other times I would sit on my longboard beyond the break, close my eyes, and search for that oneness.  It has been many years since I have taken that journey down the trail, across the trees, and over the cliffs, but the powerful memories of that beach still permeates my soul. Even now, I can go outside, feel the warmth of the sun on my face, and hearken back to those memories and that peace.

I don’t know how much time I have left on this Earth. It could be decades. It could be minutes. William Penn said, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” When it is all over, do we want to look back and say, “I wish I wouldn’t have wasted so much time on the things that didn’t matter and spent more on the ones that did?” You can’t go back in the past, but you can fix your present and make the most of the time you have left. There have been times I wish I could have gone back in time, but then… I probably would have never made it to that beach.

Double-Edged Friend

Henry Ford once said, “My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.” Does your best friend bring out the best in you? If your friends are not bringing out the best in you, then why do you keep their company? Friendship, however, is a two-way street, and I find this Henry Ford quote to have a double-edged meaning. Do you bring out the best in your friends?

Iron is sharpened by iron; one person sharpens another. –Proverbs 27:17

Response to Adversity

 

I had a service appointment for my car this morning. My overnight shift at work ended at 4:40 a.m., and I drove across the street to the service center to wait until they opened up at 6:30. I brought Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life to read while waiting. I finished up Rule #8: Tell the truth-or, at least, don’t lie. This is an excellent chapter about telling the truth to others and to yourself.

My car was done by 7, and I was soon on the highway home. At 7:15 my newly serviced car greeted the rear bumper of the car in front of me. I slowed down when I saw the brake lights ahead. But when the car in front of me made a sharp dip at the front, I knew my car would not be able to slow down in time. We made contact. It wasn’t much and nobody was hurt, but still contact is contact. We called the police and did all the things you do post-accident. The officer issued me a citation, told me he understood the situation, and if I appeared in court, they would help me out. I was the one at fault.

If this would have happened 5-10 years ago, I may have been inclined to blame anything and everything. It wasn’t my fault that the car two ahead slammed on their brakes. Not my fault that I haven’t gotten enough sleep on this overnight schedule. Not mine that it was past my usual bedtime due to the service on the car. Heck, it wasn’t my fault that the Fates lined up against me and dealt this blow.

I could have possibly spun a good story spreading blame, but who the person I am today is not the same person from the past that would have done that. I have been on a stoic journey that is constantly gauging my response to my external environment. I just read Rule #8 about telling the truth. The truth is that I hit the car in front of me. It wasn’t intentional, but I did it. Nobody else, me.

Now the reparations need to be made. I owe the legal system and the insurance company. This will cost my family money that could be better utilized elsewhere. This will cost me time away from work to make a court appearance. When it is all said and done, there will be a price required for what I did.


Everything in my life seems to be a lesson these days. Take my health for example. I may be my fittest in years. I exercise every day. I eat healthy. I believe I am doing all the right things. A few weeks ago, I got the flu. How could this be? I’m doing all the right things. But no matter how strong and fit I make my body, it is still a fragile, frail human body. It was a ridiculous thought that I could overcome the ability to get sick through fitness. Maybe I can offset a few of the effects or recover faster, but be immune to illness? What’s next in this illogical thought process? Overcome death somehow. Absurd.

The lesson that I am learning is not how to control future events. I can prepare and try to prevent all I want, but I am far from omnipotent. The lesson is about how I respond to adversity. Can I tell the truth even in difficult situations, to others and to myself? Can I not be angry when I feel like I have been dealt a bad hand? This is life. The opportunity for learning these lessons will be present until death, and it is not just a lesson for me. It is one for my son. It is one for everybody. Good times are not guaranteed to last forever. How will you respond in the dark days ahead? When confronted with adversity, will you be able to tell the truth?

Man is not affected by events, but the view he takes of them. -Epictetus

Parenting tip #1: Be the Parent

I have recently started asking some of the veteran associates I work with about their opinions on some of the new hires. The answers were rather similar and can be summed up in two statements, “they are no good” and “they have no work ethic.” Many of these new associates are fresh into adulthood. They are young and inexperienced, and they are viewed as “no good.” I see a few who stand out. They are quiet. They work hard. They show up to work every day. They are in the minority. What a shame. Is this an issue with today’s kids or has it always been this way? They have been thrust out into this world of adults, and they are not prepared.


I try to attend everyone of Alec’s wrestling practice. I am actively involved with the drills. I do it for two reasons. First, I want to make sure Alec understands what it is he is supposed to do and then that he does the work. The second is for his protection. I understand I may be overly protective of my five year old, but I have my reasons. He is one of the youngest in the group and has never wrestled before. With the exception of a few, the boys he wrestles against are bigger, stronger, and wilder. In addition, they lack discipline. Some of these boys have no qualms about applying a rear naked choke to get the advantage. Their actions are not malicious, but they don’t know any better and will do what is needed to win. If I see them or Alec break a rule that could cause an injury, I will not hesitate to stop and reset the action.

Of the boys on the team only about 25% have the ability sit and listen to their coaches’ instruction. One in particular seems to have made it a quest to disrupt the practice. The coaches are continuously telling him to sit down, to stop running, or to leave the other wrestlers alone. While this is taking place, his parents are sitting on the mat nearby not paying attention to their son’s antics. Whatever is on their phones happen to be more important. Do they think they can take a break from their duties as parents since the coach is now the babysitter? Are they not even remotely embarrassed? If this is the norm for practice, I can’t even imagine what the teachers in the classroom have to go through. If the behavior is not corrected now, what will happen in the future? As Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”


Thinking of the future, what will these undisciplined children be like when they are much older? They used to be little terrors, and now they are growing up. Will they self-correct into model citizens. Will they recognize their parents’ lack of attention and go on to be better parents with their own children? One could hope, but that may be a bit naïve. Those children, if they survive to adulthood, if they don’t kill themselves or the ones around them, will likely continue to the pattern their parents set before them and raise a new generation of little terrors even more fragmented and torn than their predecessors. A land of undisciplined, unruly children turned to adults will not improve society. If they continue down this course, they will not make this world a better place.

Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death. -Proverbs 19:18

This is a plea for parents to wake up. Put your cell phones down and pay attention to your children. How can you expect them to pay attention when your lack of attention is the example they follow. Teach them discipline. Mete out a just punishment when they stray off the path. The rod of discipline can take many forms. Taking your kid off to the side during practice and stopping him from causing mayhem now may prevent him from getting kicked off the team in High School. A well-deserved spanking now is more preferable than the punishment found in a prison later. Be their parent. Be their teacher, and maybe we can have a hope for a better future.

Folly is bound up in the heart of the child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away. –Proverbs 22:15

Work to Get Better

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This week I listened to The MFCEO Project podcast #216 with Charlie Jabaley. This is an excellent interview as Charlie has an amazing story. If you can handle the strong language, I recommend that you take a listen. Charlie left a powerful message about the difficulties of first learning how to walk. It is not easy. In fact, it is the hardest thing a youngster faces at that time. But it is a process, and the more he does it, the stronger he becomes. Charlie went on the say that you could do anything in the same way. Want to be a great leader? It is going to be hard, but it is a process. You put in the required effort and time, and you can become a great leader. All you have to do is the work.

Alec’s first season of wrestling is coming to a close. The year brought on many challenges. Alec has never experienced this type of physical contact. As a five year old, even the process of learning the most basic moves was by far one of the most difficult processes he has ever learned. In the first few months, he didn’t seem to get it. But he didn’t give up. He kept working at it. As the weeks passed, he began to get better. Now he can do many of the moves. Even more important, his confidence has grown. He now believes he can compete with the older, heavier kids. He may not win every time, but he is winning. If he decides to stick with the sport of wrestling, I can only imagine what he will be able to accomplish in the following seasons. It won’t be easy. The competition will be getting better every season as well. As NHL legend Paul Coffey says, “Nobody’s a natural. You work hard to get good and then you work to get better.” Keep working Alec. You will get better.