Monday, January 28, 2008

Doing What Needs To Be Done

In Zen Buddhism, we practice focusing on the present moment. If you're eating, then you work on being mindful of each bite and enjoy it completely. If you're walking, you try being mindful of each step, paying attention to your surroundings as you walk.

Applying the same principle to most things in everyday life, the natural side effect, at least as I'm finding it, is a more frequent tendency to do what needs to be done. If I've eaten, I know I have dishes to wash. So I can wash it then, or wash it later. More often now, I find that in being mindful, I just take care of it now. Present moment, productive moment.

Notice I say "more often." There's a part of me that wants to do this in all aspects of life without fail, always doing what needs to be done. I think it's unnecessary to go to that extent, or at least to put any pressure on oneself to do so. You do what you can, and accept that some moments you might decide it's ok to do it later. It's ok.

In most things we do, our habits are shaping every minute who we are. This is unavoidable. What control you have is over what habits you want to cultivate, and what you want to weed out.

A lawn is not ruined with one little flowering weed coming out now and then, moments where you have decided you'll do the chores later. It's what we do most of the time that define us. Being present as much as you can, doing what needs to be done as much as you can, is enough. It'll lead to a happier you.

What do you need to get done today?

Every day we do things, we are things that have to do with peace. If we are aware of our life..., our way of looking at things, we will know how to make peace right in the moment, we are alive.

Thich Nhat Hanh

For a good site on cultivating mindful habits see Zen Habits

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Doing What You Can In The Face of Everything

It's easy to look at the world today and feel discouraged by how things are in general. Maybe it's getting worse all the time and maybe it's not. How much of this is perception is difficult to know, since we live only a short time in this life-in the grand scheme of history.

So when we consider whether it's worth the effort to move forwards with trying to change the world in a positive way, doubt has this sneakyness about it. It wants to creep into your heart and cripple you.

The truth is...

If what you do personally is but a drop in the ocean of all existence...

with that drop, you change the ocean. It's no longer the same ocean it was, before you. With a glance it seems unchanged, but it's not the same. When you practice positive action in your own life and reach for positive change for the better, within you, you will end up feeling it personally. You become your experience, you become your drop in the ocean. And as part of the ocean, you are changing it.

With enough of us, the ocean as a whole is going to start to show more clearly its differences. The waves may continue, but we can survive and be mindful of the fact that we're all connected to form the whole.

Thich Nhat Hahn said the wave becomes enlightened the moment it realizes it is water.

Focus on what you can change within yourself for the better and you will automatically be changing the world.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


" Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. " Dwight D. Eisenhower

In doing some light research on Mahayana Buddhism (the sect of Buddhism with which I fall most in alignment) I found the following summary of the fifth "pledge" a Buddhist takes as translated (or rather, somewhat disambiguated) by Thich Nath Hanh:
[I am] Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practising mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I am committed to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society [sangha]. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practising a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.
I like what he says here about "other items" that contain toxins such as " certain TV programs, magazines, books, films and conversations." I have been a long-time advocate of dismantling the television from my daily life, but I hadn't much considered magazines, books, films and conversations as possible pollutants. Well, maybe the conversations. And maybe the other stuff, too... just maybe not in this way.

I think it's important to recognize that it's not only food that we consume.

Still, I choose not to purchase magazines that capitalize on other peoples "indecency" or privacy; I don't buy books written by people that I am certain to find moral disagreement and I really can't stand mindless pulp cum "box office hit of the summer." I would rather stare at the sky on a cloudy day.

What I really love most about the above translation is this line: "I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations." Just beautiful.

And I sometimes worry that maybe by abstaining I put myself in some sort of false reality, until I realize that reality is just what we make it anyway. I'm aware of social injustices in the world. I'm also aware that I can do better to dismantle it by not supporting those that support injustice. Rather than give these injustices my attention and speech, I choose to support their opposites. Ultimately, activities in talking about it serve no purpose. There's no such thing as bad press, but there is such a thing as having no support.

A proponent for peace will do his best to put his dollar where it really counts: in the hands of people who support his ideals.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

"All that we are..."

"...arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world." ---Siddhartha Gautama, The Buddha

Regardless of what one's philosophy or faith is, some things are tough to deny. Boil this concept down to the most simple explanation: Our thoughts lead towards how we act, feel, exist. If we predominantly think of ourselves as being unlucky or poor, this affects choices we make that often lead towards our being unlucky or poor. We get stuck in these vicious cycles, thousands and thousands of different cycles. With all the increasing attention on The Law of Attraction, due to wildly-successful movies like The Secret, so much controversy continues over the power of our thoughts as they affect our daily lives.

I think it's not important whether one believes any one definition of "The Law of Attraction"-this is best left up to personal experience on everyone's part. Some will stick with strict science, others will keep their faith. In every aspect of life, you can witness for yourself that changing how you practice your thoughts leads towards your life changing, for better or worse depending on what you pick.

We can leave debate elsewhere, on whether ALL things that OCCUR to us are a result of what we have thought. Our thoughts control who we are as individuals.

You are the sculptor, how do you want to shape yourself, using all that you experience as tools?

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Looking inward

I've been reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell called Blink, which is about thinking, how we make decisions in the blink of an eye, and more related to that subject. Last night it discussed something called an IAT test that will analyze how a person thinks unconsciously as opposed to their conscious thoughts--to compare the difference. In other words, as an example, if you consciously think Candidate ______ will be the best president, do you unconsciously think the same?
Harvard University has a series of IAT tests for various subjects. Fascinating. Take a look. The key is to answer questions as fast as you can, before you can analyze and think too consciously.
Here's a link.

Sometimes it's good to know if there are differences in your thoughts, conscious or not. Once aware, there are supposedly ways to get things more in alignment.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


"Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."

Martin Luther King Jr.

Can you imagine what our world would be like if our leaders were people like MLK? In every country, if those who were elected were men and women of peace, of love? It's a grand thought. Most would say it's an unrealistic, impossible dream. I would usually be inclined to think the same, to have faltering hope for a future like that, but then I think--why not?

Nothing's wrong with dreaming of impossibilities, so long as we keep on ticking, doing whatever we can, and maybe try to be a part of this process in one way or another.