Don’t read that book!

Back in my church/religion days, I remember being told certain things that I now believe were fear based.  But first, let me say again, I am not bashing church or religion.  I believe I was where I was supposed to be at that time, and it was good.  Now back to what I was saying.  We were encouraged to primarily read the Bible.  Any books outside of that were alright, as long as it was within our particular flavor of Christianity.  And even then, there were authors who were deemed okay to read, and those who we were warned about.  We were told that reading books outside of our group that didn’t line up with what we believed would somehow confuse us and contaminate our faith.  That really sounds weird to me now.  If I only read books re-stating what I already believe… well, that just seems a bit silly.  But I realize now that it was totally fear based.  As were many other things that I was told, and told others, over the years.  What were people afraid of?  Again, we were told that reading outside of our little circle would open the door to us being deceived and confused.   Then I might decide that I believe something different than what I had been taught.  Gasp!  The funny thing is, where I am now is largely due to a serious and in depth study of the Bible.  I had started to question why I believed what I believed, so I dug into some things for myself.  I started asking questions and talking to people who had similar questions.  Then I started reading material that I would have been told not to read.  And you know what?  The people who had warned me against reading outside of our group were right!  My beliefs were contaminated and have changed drastically.  And I love it!  I feel like I’m in a very good place mentally and “spiritually”.  And I have a lot less fear in my life than I used to have.  And that is a good thing!

So maybe get a little crazy and do some reading outside of your normal sphere.  You might find yourself looking at the world a little differently.  There are many good things we can glean from others and their beliefs.  I don’t agree with everything that is taught in Buddhism, but I have benefited greatly from many Buddhist ideas and practices.  Having our beliefs challenged and shaken can be very uncomfortable.  Even downright scary!  But after the ideas and beliefs settle after the shaking, you might find that you like what you see.  Or, maybe not.  LOL  And that’s okay.  You know the best way to get someone to read something?  Tell them, “whatever you do, don’t read that book!”  Maybe that will be my next post?  A list of books that you should never read.  🙂

Perspective

I’ve  been thinking  a lot about my last post.  I listed a couple quotes from Alan Watts.  This part in particular; ” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.” The way I’ve been thinking about this is that I (people) am as much a part of nature as the bird outside my window or the tree that the bird is sitting in.  That’s very different than I have thought in the past.  I have always considered “nature” to be outside of me.  “I’m going to go spend time in nature, walking a trail in the woods.”  That kind of thing.

So, over the last several days, I’ve been trying to think of myself as part of nature, an expression of the whole realm of nature.  I can tell there has been a subtle shift in my perspective.  I don’t know yet how to put it in words, but it’s there.  As I think about this more, it will be interesting to see how my perspective changes.

 

Watts quotes

Just an excerpt from some Alan Watts material I’m reading.

“We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms. Most of us have the sensation that “I myself” is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body — a center which “confronts” an “external” world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. “I came into this world.” “You must face reality.” “The conquest of nature.”

This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.”

Whoa.  That is all.  🙂

 

Impermanence

We all know that nothing lasts forever.  But it’s funny how when something is enjoyable, we want it to last and last.  But it seems so fleeting.  And when something is not enjoyable, we want it to change now.  But it seems to last so long.  Impermanence is a teaching in Buddhism that I think we can really benefit from.  This is from Wikipedia regarding impermanence:
Impermanence is one of the essential doctrines and a part of three marks of existence in Buddhism. The doctrine asserts that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is “transient, evanescent, inconstant”.  All temporal things, whether material or mental, are compounded objects in a continuous change of condition, subject to decline and destruction.

That definition might sound a little gloomy, but it’s basically saying that the only constant in this life, is change.  This can be a positive or negative thing, depending on our outlook.  We can be like Eeyore and mope around saying, “enjoy it while it lasts…”  But that’s not very fun.  I’ve been that way before.  Trust me.  It’s not fun.  Or, we can realize that yes, the good times don’t last forever, but neither do the tough times.  I have found that the mindfulness practice (being where I am, on purpose) has helped in both extremes, and in the middle.  For those of us who are fortunate enough to have our basic needs met and live in relatively good health, most of life is kind of in the middle.  The extreme ups and downs are not the norm.  With the practice of mindfulness, the “mundane” becomes a little more interesting.  As I’m walking down the hall at work, being aware that I’m walking down the hall at work seems to add a little more life to it.  I don’t know exactly how or why it works that way, but I just know it does.  And as I practice this with life in the middle (the mundane times), it becomes a little easier to endure the extreme downs, and the extreme ups are that much more enjoyable.

Today, a friend of mine helped me to step back and see an experience that I had today as it really was.  Mindfulness will help with this, too.  I woke up this morning with intense feelings of depression and dread.  I haven’t felt like that in a long time.  In the middle of something like that, it seems like it lasts forever!  But in reality, it was probably 5 minutes of really intense feelings, and probably not more than 20 minutes all together.  By me realizing that, it kind of takes some of the power out of it the next time it comes around.  Now, I’m not a morning person, and it hit me right away, so I was kind of taken off guard.  My first thoughts were something like, “what the hell is going on?!?!?” I started fighting the feelings, which only made them stronger.  As I woke up a little, I realized what I was doing and so I just let myself feel the uncomfortable feelings for a minute.  Then I got curious about them.  Is there a physical sensation in my body?  Yes, my chest and back feel tight.  And so forth.  There is something about this kind of mindfulness that sort of dissipates those really intense moments.  By the time I got myself together for work and out the door, I was fine.

What about the flip side?  Let’s say that I’m having a really enjoyable time doing something that I love to do.  In the middle of me being mindful and really enjoying this experience, I start thinking, “I wish I could be this happy all the time!  But I know that this is only temporary.  Wow.  That kind of sucks.”  That sounds like an extreme example, but for those who work M-F, think about the weekends.  Friday is like, hell yeah!  Saturday is a full day of fun.  But on Sunday, many, many people start to dread Monday.  I know, I was one of them.  I wasn’t able to enjoy Sunday, even though I was doing enjoyable things, because I was already dreading Monday.  I wasn’t where I was, on purpose, enjoying resting or friends or family.  But now, most of the time, I can enjoy Sunday because I’m mindful of being in the present moment.  One thing that helps me with this is focusing on where I am instead of not trying to think about tomorrow. Does that make sense?  It’s a subtle shift, but it makes a lot of difference.

Life isn’t always fun, but it doesn’t always suck, either.  I think that if we can comes to terms with the fact that change happens (sounds like go with the flow!), the ride through life can be a little more enjoyable.

 

PS – I wanted to throw this in as a thought I had after posting.  I’m not making light of anyone suffering from depression or trying to break free of an addiction or anything like that.  I know that it’s not as easy as, just be in the moment and all will be fine.  I wish!  These are tough things to be dealing with.  If you haven’t been practicing things like mindfulness, it will probably take a little time before you start to see noticeable results.  But from my experience, I do believe it’s worth the time and effort and practice.  The Buddhist monk that I got to know a few years ago would always end his talks with, “practice, practice, practice”.

 

 

A little brain fried

Somewhere along the way, I got in this habit of reading multiple books at once.  When I say, at once, I mean that I’ll start a new one before finishing the current one.  Right now, I’m reading “Nothing Personal” by Nirmala, “The Wisdom of Insecurity” by Alan Watts, I’ve read about one chapter of “After Zen”, and I’m working on getting through the second Harry Potter book.  This would explain my current brain fried-ness.  LOL

It’s mainly the Alan Watts book that is frying my brain.  There have been a couple books along my journey that have challenged me to think differently.  But, after the initial “whoa” wore off, I realized that there was usually a commonality between that book and others that I have read.  Alan watts, for me, is a whole other level of “whoa”.  I enjoy reading a blog called Church of the Churchless by Brian Hines.  He had mentioned Watts several times and had recommended a couple of his books to me.  I enjoy reading his material and listening to some of his recorded lectures on Youtube.  He has a great accent!  But if you asked me to explain the book that I’m reading, I don’t think I could do it.  I’ll be reading that one again.  But maybe not right away.

I’ve noticed some interesting changes in myself in my search for a spirituality that makes sense to me.  I almost said, in my search for truth.  But truth is a funny thing. I’m not sure what ultimate truth is?  I used to think I did, but not so much now.  So that leaves me with relative truth.  Things that I no longer see as true doesn’t mean that those things are not true for other people, just like they were true for me at one point.  So I try to be careful about judging others beliefs.  Anyway, back to things that I’ve noticed.  One thing is that I don’t feel like I have to be right.  I don’t know to what degree I felt I had to be right, but I know it was there.  That, and I’m not afraid of being wrong.  I am sure that both were based in fear.  As I type this, the terms right and wrong don’t seem… right.  I’m not sure why, they just don’t.  Another change, like I said in my first post, is that I’m getting more comfortable with not having concrete beliefs.

So, here I am, brain fried, and I think that is OK.  It’s probably good for us to have our minds blown on a fairly regular basis.  🙂

 

 

Being where I am, on purpose

Have you ever gotten to work, or school, or wherever you go, and not really remembered how you got there?  This used to happen to me a lot.  I would spend the morning, including the drive to work, thinking about what I had to do that day.  And sometimes, I wouldn’t remember how I got to work!  I mean, I knew I drove there and all, but I just didn’t really remember it because my mind was somewhere else.  I think we all do this to some degree throughout our days.  But when we live this way, we often miss out on some pretty cool things going on around us.

What if we practiced being where we are more often?  There is a trendy term for this called mindfulness.  To me, mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, to what is going on right now.  Paying attention includes looking, listening, and feeling.  This can be paying attention to outward or inward goings on.  I’ve been practicing this for a while now and I can say that it has helped me in many ways, often with interesting and unexpected results.

I was first introduced to this idea of mindfulness through some Buddhists.  Mainly through the writings of Thich Nhat Hahn.  “The Miracle of Mindfulness” is a wonderful resource!  Like I have said before, many things that Buddhism teaches can help anyone, from any faith, or non-faith, background.  I think it was the Dalai Lama that said, “Don’t use Buddhism to become a Buddhist.  Use Buddhism to become better at whatever else in your life you are doing already.”  Well said.  🙂  Ok, back to mindfulness.  There are endless ways to practice this.  Let’s look at driving a car.  As I’m driving I can say to myself, “I’m driving south on Front St, going 40 mph, I can hear the truck in front of me, and I can smell the exhaust fumes”.  It’s that simple.  Nothing forced, just taking a moment to notice what’s going on, right now.  After practicing this for a while, there is something about being in the present moment that can be very calming.  Dwelling in the past can bring regret, and dwelling the future can bring anxiety.  I can get so used to mentally being in the past or thinking of the future that I never enjoy what’s going on right now.  If I’m working on a project at work, and at the same time, thinking about all the other work I have to do, it adds stress.  And it keeps me from doing what I’m doing now to the best of my ability.  In today’s world, we love to multi-task.  Mindfulness says to do one thing at a time, fully present to that one thing.

I would encourage you to practice this on the easy things at first.  It’s easier to learn how to sail a boat when the water is calm that it is in a storm.  It’s the same with being where you are, on purpose.  Things like brushing your teeth, getting dressed in the morning, washing dishes, sitting outside watching the birds, or just breathing.  I’m going to insert a few quotes from “The Miracle of Mindfulness” as I go here.  “While washing the dishes, you might be thinking about the tea afterwards, and so try to get them out of the way as quickly as possible in order to sit and drink tea. But that means that you are incapable of living during the time you are washing the dishes.” “Don’t do any task in order to get it over with. Resolve to do each job in a relaxed way, with all your attention. Enjoy and be one with your work.”

The breathing thing is a really good practice for mindfulness.  What’s easier than breathing?  It’s happening all the time, on its own, with no effort on our part.  One practice that I like is just being aware that I’m breathing.  What does it feel like as I inhale, and what does it feel like when I exhale.  Something I learned from Hahn is to say this to myself as I inhale and exhale; “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out I smile.  (Inhale) Dwelling in the present moment.  (Exhale) I know this is a wonderful moment.”

So, we are paying attention, on purpose, to what is going on right now.  Looking, listening, and feeling.  This has also helped me in more challenging areas of my life.  One of the most challenging areas for me right now is not drinking alcohol.  I didn’t start drinking until later in life.  I was probably 42 when I started.  And I have enjoyed drinking.  But, I’ve been drinking heavily for a while and have decided that I want to quit.  I don’t see anything wrong with drinking, but for me, it is something I need to let go of.  So I want to quit.  I’ll tell you, it’s been hard!  To quote a couple bloggers who write about this subject, “It’s fucking hard!”  So, I’ve been practicing paying attention to the cravings when they come.  Yesterday was really intense!  Maybe the hardest day yet.  But instead of fighting or resisting or trying to ignore the cravings, I gave them my full attention, without judgement.  I looked, listened and felt.  I started asking questions.  What do these cravings feel like?  Is there some place in my body that is feeling them?  What are they saying to me?  Obviously, they were saying, “I want a drink!”  But as I continued listening, there was another “voice”, so to speak.  Underneath the loud voice, there was a softer one, saying gently, “No, you don’t really want that.”  And you know what, that was enough to get me through.  I can’t really say that the cravings got any less intense, but just knowing that a part of me wasn’t demanding a drink gave me the strength to not give in.  Does it work every time?  No, not yet.  Is it some kind of magic?  Nope.  I don’t claim to know how mindfulness does in me what it does, but I like it.  It’s a practice that brings more peace and joy to my life.

This is a quote from the Plum Village mindfulness page: “Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car or take our morning shower.”

There isn’t anything spooky about it.  It’s bringing your mind and body into harmony.  This helps cut down on suffering in our daily lives.  If I’m here, but I wish I was somewhere else, there is not harmony.  It usually that means I’m dissatisfied with where I am and frustrated that I’m not somewhere else.  That’s not fun.

Now, with all that being said, I also believe in balance.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing some day dreaming or remembering good and fun times we’ve had in the past.  Learning from past mistakes and victories is a good thing.  And I don’t think there is anything wrong with looking forward to future events.  In fact, I have a trip coming up soon that I’m very much looking forward to.  In 9 weeks from right now, I’ll be on a layover in the Phoenix airport on the way to my destination.  Woohoo!  🙂

So I encourage you to live in that balance.  Looking to the past, and to the future is part of being human.  And sometimes, we need to do some day dreaming and let our minds wander around a bit.  But I also think that a good dose of mindfulness each day will do us a whole lot of good.

Go with the flow

Go with the flow.  Depending on where you are in life, and what is going on around you, that phrase will either not mean much, encourage you, or just piss you off.  I’ve been in all three places!  The idea of going with the flow is part of the reason I picked the photo of the winding river for this blog.  If you have ever been rafting on a large river, if you get thrown from the raft, they tell you to point your feet downstream, hold on to your life jacket, and just relax.  Eventually you will clear the rapids, with no effort of your own, and come to smooth water.

Someone said that personal suffering comes from life being how it is, but we want it to be some other way.  I’m here, but I want to be there.  Many times, the flow of life takes us to places and through events that, at the time, we would rather not have experienced.  But in the middle of one of these places or events, my wishing it wasn’t so will only make it more difficult.

I’m certainly not saying that we shouldn’t make plans or have goals.  Or if we are in a situation that we don’t want to be in, that we shouldn’t take steps to change that.  But along the way to the goal or a change in my situation, if things don’t seem to go as planned, that’s where go with the flow comes in.  There is a great book that uses characters and stories of Winnie the Pooh to explain Taoism called “The Tao of Pooh”.  Taoism is not a religion, it’s a way of looking at life.  Whether a person is a Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, etc; I believe that they can all benefit from Taoist teachings.  Here are a couple quotes from The Tao of Pooh that kind of talk about this, going with the flow:

“Things just happen in the right way, at the right time. At least when you let them, when you work with circumstances instead of saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening this way,’ and trying harder to make it happen some other way.”

“When you work with Wu Wei (effortlessly flowing with life), you have no real accidents. Things may get a little odd at times, but they work out. You don’t have to try very hard to make them work out; you just let them. If you’re in tune with The Way Things Work, then they work the way they need to, no matter what you may think about it at the time. Later on you can look back and say, “Oh, now I understand. That had to happen so that those could happen, and those had to happen in order for this to happen…” Then you realize that even if you’d tried to make it all turn out perfectly, you couldn’t have done better, and if you’d really tried, you would have made a mess of the whole thing.”

Again, going with the flow doesn’t mean we don’t “do anything” in life.  I’ve found that when I’m in the flow, when decisions need to be made, it seems like the actions that I feel that I need to take come more freely and naturally.  Also, I seem to have more wisdom about what to do.  But when I’m tense and fighting against what is, I either get stuck not making any decisions, or the decisions and actions are forced and don’t always work out as well.

I’ve practiced martial arts for most of my life.  As most young people do, I started out in a traditional Korean style of karate and trained in that for about 20 years.  As I’ve gotten older, my body finally said, “enough”, and I have switched over to tai chi.  It’s totally different than what I trained in for so long!  I’ve heard tai chi explained a few ways.  It’s yielding to overcome.  It’s using 2 oz to redirect 1,000 lbs.  And try to imagine punching a silk curtain.  It gives with the force without being damaged.  Many principles of tai chi apply to this flow of life.  In tai chi, even though we learn forms and techniques and practice self-defense drills, we won’t know exactly what to do until the attack comes.  At that time, we feel what needs to be done in that instant, without any kind of pre-planning.  My instructor tries to get us to think less, and feel more.  It’s hard to do!  We have to be in the moment, with total relaxation, and just follow the force that is coming at us.  If we think too much about it, tension creeps in.  Many times, my instructor will attack with force and I’ll get stuck, not able to redirect.  Then he says to me, breathe and laugh!  As I breathe and laugh, the tension disappears from my body, the natural flow of energy happens, and I’m able to easily defend myself with no effort at all.  It’s really fascinating!  Any fighting against what is happening with force, just gives the other person more force or power to use against me.  How much like life is that?  A situation arises that I don’t like, and I start complaining about it.  Well, that just makes the situation look bigger or worse than it really is.  Does anyone else experience this?

I’ve learned some things that I practice that help me “flow”.  There are probably some folks thinking, “oh great, next he’ll have us burning incense and using essential oils”.  LOL Not just yet.  🙂  All this is not as “woo woo”, out there as it might sound.  These are just practical exercises, like doing pushups to strengthen your upper body.  The first one is not judging what is happening as good or bad, but it just is.  We will talk more about that idea in more depth another time.  Breathing is a big help as well.  I breathe into my belly through my nose, and as I simply let the air out with no force, I try to focus on an area where I feel tense.  It may take several breaths for me to notice a decrease in tension, but it works.   Lastly, purposely smiling more.  And if you can work in some more laughter, that helps a lot as well.  I encourage you to practice these and see if they don’t help you get through some of the not-so-fun parts of the flow of life.

Smile, breathe, go with the flow.  And maybe try burning some incense.  🙂

What’s it all about?

That is a good question.  🙂  About the time we think we have it figured out, things change.  Our situations change, our perspective changes, our beliefs change…  I chose Shifting Beliefs as the title for this blog.  It just kind of came to me and seems good at this time.  I looked up the definition of “shifting” and it means, changing, especially unpredictably.  That is a great description of where I have been for a while!  And that is ok!  In fact, it can’t be any other way.  The only constant in this world is change.  Many of us don’t like change.  LOL  We want certain things to stay just the way they are.  Well, that’s a lot of disappointment waiting to happen.  I’m sure we will get more into this later on.

A quick background.  I was born in the mid-south here in the US, to a white, middle class family.  I grew up in the mid-west with evangelical Christian beliefs.  Went to college, got married, and had children.  Along the way I also attended a Bible school and wound up going into Christian ministry.  Which was all great!  Well, mostly great.  🙂  Because of various reasons, I started asking myself, “why do I believe what I believe”.  I studied, I prayed, I contemplated, and studied some more.  When what I was seeing caused some of my beliefs to shift, it was scary!  There weren’t many people around who I knew that were seeing the things that I was.  (Hopefully this blog will help someone out there in a similar position like blogs I found at the time helped me.)  I found and started reading material by Wayne Jacobsen.  Wow!  Great stuff.  Not too long into this stage, a friend in another state who was on a similar journey, a little further down the path than I was, recommended a book called “Living Buddha, Living Christ”.  Again, wow!  Then some Eckhart Tolle, more Thich Nhat Hahn, Nirmala, Alan Watts…  You get the idea.  I spent a couple years going to a Buddhist monastery on Friday nights for meditation and some teaching.  I found that many of the eastern teachings were not really “religious”, but it was more of a way of thinking.  I learned ways of dealing with life that I had not been exposed to before.  Mindsets that can benefit anyone, regardless of religious beliefs.

So, you may ask, where does that put my current beliefs?  I really don’t know.  LOL  And that can be an unsettling thing for a perfectionist like me!  I like concrete beliefs with labels and everything.  Well, as the blog name suggests, my beliefs are shifting, sometimes from day to day.  And I have no idea what kind of label I would put on myself.  I’m actually starting to settle into that a little and getting more comfortable with not knowing.  The thought just came to me that if I’m getting more comfortable not labeling myself, maybe I will put fewer labels on other people as well.  Hmmmm… interesting.

I’m not interesting in debates.  It seems that I have many more questions now than answers.  I’m never going to say that I’m right, and you are wrong.  I’m hoping to share things that will help others along their journey, and learn things from others to help me.  We are all in this together.  Life can be hard.  It’s nice to help lighten others burdens instead of adding to them.

I’m looking forward to this blogging adventure.  🙂