Friday, February 27, 2009

Odd Contradictions

Manifesting now.
Life. In, through, and of you, but
It's not what you think.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Do you ever wonder.....

- Why there are times, sometimes for weeks on end, when you are content to sit in your shell, hidden away, asking nothing of anyone, and then all of the sudden this inexplicable urge pulls you, like a one-ton ox pulling its cart, to connect to anyone that will listen?

- Where the unrelenting compulsion to grow comes from? To be more today than you were yesterday, to notice more details in life today than you did yesterday, to appreciate this breath a little more than you appreciated the last one, to be more alive now than you were "back then?"

- What 'time' really is? What it really means to be alive? About the difference between existence and living?

- Whether or not you will ever come to understand yourself? Truly understand who and what you are, after subtracting all the stories you've accepted, consciously and unconsciously, about yourself since the day you were born?

- Who you will be twenty years from now? Who you were 23 seconds after you were born? And where those two "you" overlap?

Do you ever wonder? Are you ever amazed at all of the coincidences and miracles that must have come together at just the right times and moments for you to be, at all the twists and turns that must have occurred for you to end up who you are?

Do you ever wonder? About everything? The big picture? About nothing? The same picture with no stories attached?

Do you ever wonder why?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

You are an AMAZING person!!

Just knowing that you are reading makes me smile. Thanks! You are great!

Now sit back for 16 minutes and let yourself be validated:

Friday, February 6, 2009

My Passion Test — Part I

The instructions in The Passion Test ask you to look at your life and then do a simple 'fill in the blank' exercise: "When my life is ideal, i am _____"

Sounds simple enough... until you start to take it seriously and really, really put some thought into it. If i could have the ideal life... if i could have anything i wanted... if i could do and be anything, anything at all... there is no possibility of failure... what in the world would all that be? I'm going to open my eyes in 5 seconds and find that i have been dreaming, and what i chose here will be the life i will live, for the rest of this life. 5... 4... Choose wisely. 3... 2...

When i put it like that, my palms started to get sweaty as i wrote down the possibilities. Is that it? Is that all you can think of?? No, want more. Don't be a chicken-shit, write it down! I have to admit, i was feeling a tad bit of pressure as i worked through the list.

They do offer some help by asking you to consider these questions before answering: "What do you love to do? What kind of environment do you love to be in? What kind of people do you love to be around? What excites you, turns you on, gets you charged up?"

And with that, they say "Close your eyes and picture your ideal life. What are you doing? Who are you with? Where are you? How do you feel? Now, make your list..."

And after several hours, this is what came out.

If my life were ideal, i would be
1. Hiking.
2. Speaking substantial amounts of Japanese daily.
3. Writing Buddhist & motivational books.
4. Working in a Zen Buddhist environment.
5. Working in a position that demands constant learning and growth.
6. Working in a leadership position.
7. Wealthy enough to payoff my sisters' mortgages and travel twice each year.
8. Have a close relationship with family (sisters and extended).
9. Have a close personal relationship.
10. Living within walking distance of a Zen center.
11. Living a physically active life.
12. Studying calligraphy.

When i first read this list after it came out onto paper, i wondered all the obvious thoughts: Where is working to save the world? Where is being Secretary General of the UN? Where is running my own multi-billion dollar company? Where is writing the book that will open everyone's eyes and stop all gang violence in the US? Where are all the great, grand, and lofty ideas?

And then i thought about doing it over again with those thoughts in mind. Was this all i really want in life? Heck, i might as well dream of being a shoe shine guy at the airport. Or park cars at the Lonely Planet restaurant for tips. But, in the end, i decided that if this is the list that came out, unpremeditated, then this is what i'll work with. (They tell you to take the test every six months, so i have another chance then.)

With that in mind, i pushed on with the next step, where they tell you to compare each of the items against all the others, one at a time, in order to come up with a list of the five top entries, ranked in order of importance. Don't assume right from the start that any item should be on the top of the list; compare every combination of two items, one combination at a time, until you whittle the list down to five. This was the hard part, as i'll explain later, but after about an hours work, this is what resulted.

1. Living a physically active life.
2. Writing Buddhist & motivational books.
3. Living within walking distance of a Zen center.
4. Speaking substantial amounts of Japanese daily.
5. Wealthy enough to payoff my sisters' mortgages and travel twice each year.

How could it take an hour to whittle 12 items down to five, you ask? Easy. It was a full hour, i'm sure, and here are some of the problems i faced. Would i choose working in a Buddhist environment? Or, speaking Japanese? I would dearly love both, but if i am only allowed one, and a choice has to be made, i must admit that if i choose to speak Japanese what does that do for me? A job at my ideal location certainly trumps that. Doesn't it? But, if i really had to choose, wouldn't speaking Japanese make me as happy as working at a Buddhist center? Argh...

I agonized over this for the longest time, then decided that part of the equation is starting from where i am now, which means, i have to consider the job i would be doing, because i refuse to go back to just any job. Then the question became, if i had to choose between speaking Japanese every day or menial labor or a simple clerical job, even if that was at Zen Mountain Monastery, which would it be. Put that way, Japanese won hands down, because i have already decided that i will not go back to the work force simply so i can say i have another job. The job, for me, is now a major part of how i will make employment decisions from now on. But this comparison alone took 10 minutes to figure out.

How about speaking Japanese or hiking? That's an impossible choice. Then again, if i chose Japanese and that meant never getting to hike again, of course i'd choose the hiking. But, listen, you can't go hiking every day, and you can speak Japanese every day, and i've already done my share of hiking in my life so couldn't i give that up? No way! Sure. No. Of course. Remember, you have to choose one of the two.

Then i wondered about all of the items involving working, and it became apparent, that if this is my ideal life i was considering, then writing books would kick all the 'working' items straight down to the bottom of the list. And, what can i say... i have been a loner for over 55 years, so it's not at all surprising, in hindsight, that the relationship items didn't make the cut. I really thought they might for a while, but..... (sheepish grin).

Looking at the list of five after-the-fact, i can very easily see that they do, surprisingly, seem pretty accurate. If i had all five of those in my life right now, i'd be telling everyone i met that i was living in a dream world. It takes no effort at all to get passionate about this set of five life conditions.

I have no idea at this point how it is going to be possible to convert my current life into that life, especially since there is no Zen center in Lockport and i'm not moving!, but i haven't worked through the next chapter of the book yet either. And as 'they' say, everything in its own time.

Once, between two breaths,
Hope sprang free to look for more.
Life's simplicities.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Conversation Five

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.
Always aim for the ultimate. Never look back. Be forever mindful of others. Keep your eyes always set on the Way.

And we come to the end of these conversations. The goal was to discover and understand my "personal philosophy," the ideas that i use to guide my life. More specifically, those ideas that have remained steadfast throughout my adult life. It seems clear to me that the six that have already been discussed fulfill that purpose and have been the lamp that has lighted my path for as long as i can remember — in good years and bad, in good situations and bad, in all the ups and downs.

What also seems clear is that my personal philosophy has no mention of what is usually called worldly success. Nothing came out about a hidden desire to do whatever it takes to become massively wealthy, to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company, to run for political office and hold political power, to control people, things, money, etc. Don't get me wrong, a piece of me still wants to work in a leadership position in a good organization, but it is obvious to me that it wouldn't be the salary or the job title that attracted me to that position, it would be the ideas that i was given rein to lead people towards.

But, be that as it may, it seems that the light that shines on my path is set to automatically turn off if i sit in one spot too long, if i stop and complacently enjoy whatever rewards i have accumulated to that point. It seems that the path i chose to walk some years ago has no final destination where i can take a deep breath and say "Finally."

In a way, that is exciting, because it confirms the feelings of excitement i have always experienced when i am allowed to move forward — in every area of my life — and the feelings of unease, disappointment, and, unfortunately, mild anger when i am told just to sit still and accept stagnation. This confirmation is liberating.

However, it also quite naturally brings me to the last question, which is to ask how far do you pursue the path? If the path is endless, do you never stop moving? Isn't there some point along the trail that would naturally call for a rest, whether temporary or permanent?

The last two quotes give me a very clear and distinct answer to that question. Especially the one by the writer of the great Four Quartets, TS Eliot. "Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go." If our lives are shaped by the expectations we have of them, and the path itself is more important that the destination, then Eliot is saying (to me, anyhow) that we have to live our lives with infinitely large expectations of ourselves.

If you never push yourself to the edge of your limits, if you never reach that far wall and bounce off, if you never try and bite off too much and fail, then you will never know what your limits actually are. And until you get a sense of where your limits lie, you will never know just how much you can accomplish and how far you can go. It is only by attempting to do more than you are capable of that you can find out what your true capabilities are.

The last quote came from a movie about the Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei, a group of very rare Tendai Buddhist monks from the main Tendai monastery north of Kyōto, Japan, that walk a minimum of one marathon a day for a thousand days over the course of six years. As they near the end, they are doing the equivalent of two plus a day, and all of this is done in the mountains. Their vow, when they decide to make the attempt, is to do or die, to either succeed, or to die trying — to find their limits, and then to push past them into the uncharted territory of their future as they redefine their expectations.

Always look for the ultimate. Like that time worn quote that you frequently read, "If you aim for the stars and fall short, you'll at least hit the moon." The opposite of that would be if you only aim for the next town and fail, you might find that you never even got out of your own town. Your goal is the ultimate. Dream big and simply expect that you will get there.

That last quote also ends with the nice point of "Keep your eyes always set on the Way," and that was defined several conversations ago as watching your life's essence unfold with confidence and good humor. Meaning, as you aim for the ultimate, as you push past the limits you previously thought you had, as you expand who and what you are into an existence you previously couldn't have imagined — accept the pitfalls and stumbles with humor, confident that you will get back on your feet and continue to move forward. (Remember Nick Vujicic!)

So, where does this leave me? In the first post about these conversations, i said, "If Jim is right, and your "personal philosophy" governs your life choices, what do these quotes say about who i am and the choices i have made? What do they say about why i am where i currently am in this life? What do they say about the choices i have to make going forward?"

All of this certainly explains why i had to leave my last position and why i was doomed to failure there. It certainly explains why i have done most of the things i have done in my life — my previous jobs, travels, etc. It also tells me why i can work up no interest in looking for another job in another office at another organization if it isn't guaranteed that growth is more important than stability. If it isn't guaranteed that growth is the job perk that is being offered.

It explains to me why my hiking boots and zafu have been more important to me than my career all these years. It tells me why i always admire those who always expect more of others than those people expect of themselves, and don't admire those who simply expect others to expect what they have. It tells me why my mp3 player is crammed full of self-improvement and Buddhism instead of music. It tells me why all the books strewn around my living room floor are the same.

It explains why most of my browser bookmarks point to the Buddhist monasteries and spiritual centers around the US and not to news sites, magazines, and music. It tells me why i fantasize about going to a monastery and doing a one year silent retreat. It tells me why Shikoku calls so loudly for me to come back one more time. It tells me why i want to write a book so badly that i can scream.

It clarifies for me the fact that as i move forward, whatever i end up doing will in some way involve defining new limits for myself. And that gets me so excited i almost pee my pants.


And it explains why i just took five minutes before publishing this post to go over and register for the 2009 Chicago Marathon.

So, as i crane my neck trying to see just a little way down the trail i'm walking, i have two books that i'm working through to help clear my vision: The Passion Test and 48 Days to the Work You Love.

I finish this with one more "Video of the day," Wayne Dyer's 101 ways to transform your life

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Just to be completely clear with myself, i need to make one major point here.

Long, long ago, maybe thirty years ago, i decided that for me, the definition of "rich," as in am i rich or poor, was:

- Do i have a roof over my head each night that doesn't leak?
- Are there still people 'out there' that call me a friend?
- Do i have enough money left over at the end of each month to buy a few beers if i want them?

And that is it. If all three of those get a check mark, then i am rich. Period. It's not that if all three are true, i can convince myself that i am rich, but if they are, i know to the core of my heart, i don't need anything else — hence, i'm rich.

I don't know where i came up with that definition, i no longer have a 30 year memory, but if i had to guess, i would guess that i came up with it sometime after my first reading of the best book ever to be published in the English language, bar none: Arthur Gordon's A Touch of Wonder. (My only commercial plug on this site. Buy it, read it, and memorize it. Learn all about the Deadly Art of Non-Living, among other gems. But be warned, even though the first 4 or 5 readthroughs may not hook you, after that, you will be hooked.)

So, am i unemployed? Yes, of my own choosing. Do i think it is going to be very, very difficult to get another job equivalent to what i had? Maybe impossible. Am i going to be closer to poor than not for a while? Yes.

But, i am debt free. I am healthy, and have health insurance just in case. I live in a house that i own with a roof that doesn't leak. My income covers my expenses each month with extra left over. I can certainly buy a couple of beers each month. I know without doubt that there are people out there that would call me a friend. And the list could go on.

There is no doubt, no denying it, no uncertainty, not one iota of ambiguity... i am a rich man. Very rich, when i think about it.

I'll finish up with my fifth conversation soon, and will then have answered Jim Rohn's challenge to understand my own 'personal philosophy.' To follow that, i've been working through The Passion Test again over the past few days. I went through the process about a year ago, but decided that this is the time to revisit it. More on this later.

A Different Conversation Overheard

So, what are your goals anyhow?

Don't think i have any anymore.

Gimme a break. That's nonsense.

(shrug) Maybe, but it's true. At this point i figure i'm too old and too stupid to do more than i've already done, so why bother setting impossible goals.

Hey! You can't say that in public.

Why not?

Because people will thing you're stupid.

Yeah? And your point is?

My point is, you're not stupid, and your not too old so you have to have some goals. You've got them in every other area of your life.

Did i tell you i have an itch on my ass?


Did i tell you i have an itch on my ass?

My ass itches so i scratch it. (scratching) That's my reality. It's 100% real for me and i have to do the only think i know of doing that relieves the itch. And that is admit it itches and scratch in public.

And your point is?

You don't feel the itch. You don't feel what i feel. So, when you see me react as i do, you judge me by what you are feeling, by your reality, by your current situation, and then tell me i shouldn't scratch in public.

No, what i'm saying is if it itches, scratch it, but not in public, or at least not up to the first knuckle. Most people might overlook a light brushing with the fingertips, but make it too obviously out of the norm and people think you're weird. You can be down about your job prospects, you can think bad thoughts about yourself, you can even admit that you see difficulties ahead, but you can't just come out and say that you are too old and stupid. Not in public. That's over the acceptable limit.

OK, what if i just say that given the current state of the economy, and given my lack of any pertinent job skills other than the ones i don't want to use anymore, and given the fact that age discrimination is a well known and well accepted fact of the workplace, i'm basically screwed. Can i say that?

You are sooo stupid..... No, i didn't mean that. I meant to say, you are so thick headed. Listen, except for that age discrimination part, you know none of that other stuff is important.

Ah, like i could use my accounting skills to run the cash register at Dunkin Donuts? Or i could use my property management skills to stock the shelves at the Speedway? That's what you're getting at? I see your point. Maybe you're right, i do have a future. (grin)

Don't make me mad. That's is not at all what i'm saying. I'm not talking about your next job, because you will have one, i'm talking about your goals. What you want to do, where you want to go, where you see yourself going in the future.

Turn your head for a second, my first knuckle has this strange feeling coming on again.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Conversation Four

I wrote a long conversation earlier today to post here, but just never got around to logging in and pasting it in the blog. Now here i am, late at night, unable to sleep so with the time to post it, but finding that it wasn't what i wanted to say anyhow.

TS Eliot, said in the Four Quartets,

You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
      You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
       You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
       You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
       You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

I think that is pretty self-explanatory, so will only comment on the last few lines, because they do point to what i want to say. This conversation is about the pitfalls we find on our journeys and the quote Do not search for the footsteps of the masters of old, search for what they sought.

What are the pitfalls on the trail? It's not the hills, it's not the climbs, it's not the weather, it's not getting lost, it's not anything most people would usually list in their top ten list of pitfalls. In reality, there is only one pitfall, and that is falling into the habit of thinking that what you are searching for is in the words and letters of the "masters of old." Of thinking that you're on the right path just because you're on a path, instead of taking the path out of the equation and singlemindedly looking for what those masters themselves dedicated their lives to looking for.

The problem is similar to finding yourself very deeply moved at a movie when the heroine finds that her husband has just died in a car accident, leaving her and the children with virtually nothing, and yet, rising above it all, she works through it and builds a new, successful, and fulfilling life. And then going home, with eyes still red from the tears, only to find a message on the answering machine from your daughter saying that your husband had just been in a bad car accident, wasn't expected to live, and could you please hurry to the hospital. Now it is YOUR life. Now it is real. Now it is your path. Now it is no longer an intellectual study.

What do you do? Does it do you any good to analyze what the heroine did in the movie? Does it do you any good to rerun the script in your head as you drive frantically to the hospital? Does it do you any good to use the movie as your guide as you try to rebuild your life?

Eliot was right when he said, "In order to arrive at what you are not you must go through the way in which you are not." The old masters didn't find the answers by following a script, by following what others told them. They didn't get there by continuing to be who they were; by continuing with old norms. They got there by 'boldly going where no man has gone before,' directly through the way in which they were not.

They got there by giving up the words and letters of others and admitting to themselves that "what you do not know is the only thing you know." By coming to the realization that every material thing that they owned was only on temporary loan, with a return due date no later than the day they died. Realizing that "And what you own is what you do not own." That the only thing they DID really own, completely, with no need to return, was what they didn't even have the ability to return, what was with them when they were born and will go out with them when they die.

They got there by seeing that "And where you are is where you are not." Where you are, is not where the non-you is, where you are when you take the conditioned you out of the picture.

The pitfalls are forgetting to wonder who it is that just got angry when you said spiteful words. Forgetting to wonder who is breathing through your nose. Forgetting to wonder who is using your name even when you are not thinking any thoughts. Forgetting to look for the man behind the mask or the woman inside the suit. Forgetting to wonder.

The masters of old found something extraordinary, and they found it by looking within. Not by looking for a path and following it. They found it in that infinitely large eternity called the Here and Now. And they did it while living in that world of the here, there, and everywhere else and the yesterday, now, and tomorrow. And yet, they found something. Or, should i say, they woke up to something that was already there.

So later this morning, when i get out of bed, i hope to remember to start my day with "I wonder...."