Rewards and Punishment

I was mentally going back to my post about hell, recently. If you haven’t read it, I basically don’t believe in a literal hell anymore. Since I’ve already done a full post on it, I’ll not go back to all the details here. You can go to that post here: https://shiftingbeliefsblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/04/hell/. But it got me thinking about how ingrained reward and punishment are in religion. But without reward and punishment, religion kind of falls apart. Of course, reward and punishment are ingrained in our culture, so it does make sense that it would be in our religion. Especially if religions are all man made. Just sayin’.

I can only speak from my experience, but I got “saved”, became a Christian, when I was 12 years old around the camp fire at a summer camp. Of course, the reason I did this is because a man told the group of us that if we don’t pray and believe what Christianity teaches, we will spend eternity in hell. He did talk about God’s love for us and some of that, but the main clincher for me was the whole hell thing. Being “saved” meant that you are saved from the punishment of sin, which is hell. The Bible teaches that Jesus basically took the punishment for us. But he didn’t have to spend eternity in hell, just a few days. Then he got paroled and he’s up in heaven now with God. Anyway, I got saved because I was afraid of the punishment if I didn’t. The reward side is pretty cool, you get to go to heaven for all eternity. And heaven is supposed to be a great place. So I’ve heard.

In the flavor of Christianity that I came out of, the hell punishment and heaven reward was the biggie. But, there are other rewards and punishments as well. If you believe certain scriptures that seem to promise health and happiness and prosperity and all the great things we want out of life, I mean, really, really believe them… that belief will draw those things into your life. And you have to be thankful for them, before you see them. And don’t sin too much, because that kind of fucks up the pipeline between you and the good stuff. Sounds a lot like The Secret… hmmmm…. So those are some cool rewards you get for having great faith and gratitude and being nice to people. Supposedly.

But, if you sin too much, like I said, it will fuck things up. Even though Jesus paid for our sins by becoming sin for us and dying and going to hell for a few days, sin still fucks things up while you are on the earth. Sin being some thought or behavior that God doesn’t like. We won’t go into all that. And besides, the list varies depending on preference, in many cases. Oh, and if you don’t tithe, that’s giving 10% of your income to the church, you bring the punishment of the devil coming and stealing that 10% in some form or fashion. Is that before, or after taxes, you might ask? Well, if you are a super faith person, it’s before taxes, of course. Put God first! And, if you give a little on top of that, even more blessings! But if you don’t, watch out… your car could break down, your fish die, etc. Sounds like the mafia! “Listen. This is a bad neighborhood. Bad things happen to good people. But you know what? For a weekly payment, I can make sure that none of the bad things happen to you.” Holy shit! And if you have premarital sex, God will punish you with an STD or something. There’s a lot more, but you get the idea.

I’m not saying that punishments and rewards should be done away with in society. You could not have a stable, functioning society without them. They are basically for behavior modification. Some people don’t do bad things just because they don’t want the punishment that goes along with it. A normal, sane human (whatever that is?) would probably never kill another human, unprovoked. So most people don’t go around seriously wanting to kill someone but they don’t because of the punishment. But, not all people are normal and sane. But, would I drive faster than 45 mph in the morning on the way to work if I knew for sure I would not get a speeding ticket? You bet cha! And what parent hasn’t taught their children what they believe is right and wrong behavior without punishments and rewards? But is it really the best way to have a relationship with someone?

So now, back to my thinking about my post on hell. What if you take the punishment, the biggie, hell out of the equation? Well shit. That fucks up everything! What is there to be “saved” from? And if we get really creative, and take the reward, the biggie, heaven out of the mix… what is there to be “saved” to? And if we take out the little punishments and rewards on top of the biggies, again, what would that look like? A relationship between two adults based on rewards and punishments would be pretty weird. Don’t you think? If there is a God that we can have some kind of relationship with, it seems to me that, without the punishment and reward thing, we can just be real with each other. And maybe having a free, real relationship, with no hooks in it or strings attached, might be pretty cool.

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What to do? And how I look at it.

This was a recent post by Timber Hawkeye on his Buddhist Bootcamp page:

I’ve worked graveyard shifts at gas stations behind bullet-proof glass, as a barista in multiple coffee shops, was a photographer, a graphic designer, a stripper, and a so-called sandwich artist at Subway, wore three-piece suits at various law firms, folded newspapers, answered phones, washed dishes, painted walls, and delivered pizzas, yet none of those things define who I am, they were jobs to pay the bills, to learn, grow, and keep going. I’ve gone by many names, been married, divorced, single, a hoe, then celibate for years, went from drinking to sobriety, from being a carnivore to vegan, smoking, gambling, meditating, introverted, extroverted, skinny, overweight, muscular, popular, living in apartments, houses, mobile homes, lofts, penthouses, and on the streets, and still, none of the above defines who I am as a person, they were just my habits, jobs, and home addresses or the lack thereof. I am not my name nor my age, everything either changes or can be modified in a moment. Although technically Jewish, I was ordained Buddhist, my mantra is Hindu, and my morning meditation is the Catholic Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi. I am a lot of things, and not one of them defines me. Not the beliefs I hold nor the thoughts I have, not the words I write nor the sentences I speak. So who or what am I? Regardless of what I wear or where I work, if I have a fat wallet or no change to speak of, through everything I’ve listed above and much more, the only thing that matters is how I treat others, the intention behind my actions, and the direction in which I’m headed. So don’t worry about your job title or where you live because they have nothing to do with who you are. Don’t concern yourself with being labeled a Christian or Buddhist, just be more Christ-like or Buddha-like in your actions. Your behavior is what matters. What you do matters. And therefore, you matter! -Timber Hawkeye

I really like this.  It resonates with me.  But it’s difficult to keep that resonation in my day to day life, especially at work.

I’ll write more about this later.  Keeping it short, I’m learning to look at life not so black or white.  This or that.  A friend of mine says it’s black and white.  It’s this and that.  That’s hard for me to grasp!  LOL  My friend, and my studies in Taoism and Buddhism, are helping me to see this more clearly.  With the flow of life and the impermanence of everything, I’m realizing that life is an ever changing flow.  And I’m still working on just being.  I think the two ideas go well together.  More about this later.

Peace.

 

Alan Watts, Out of Your Mind

A friend of mine loaned me a set of Alan Watts CDs called Out of Your Mind. Yes, I still listen to CDs… Anyway. It’s a series of lectures that I’ve been listening to for several days now. It’s blowing my mind! And I’ve read many of his books and listed to lectures. Maybe because it’s back to back to back? Not sure? But I’m totally digging it! I think the whole thing is on YouTube as well, in case anyone is interested in listening to it.

I’m sure I’ll have more to write about soon.

Balance

I was raised in the middle of the US. Some call it the mid-west, but it’s really more right in the middle. Anyway, growing up, most people I knew had that mid-west work ethic. My parents were no exception. Even if they hated their jobs, they worked hard. I was taught to show up early, work late, and work your ass off in between. And that’s the way I’ve always worked. Even to the point of damaging my health a little over a year ago. I got to spend a day or so in the cardiac unit of a local hospital. Good times.

Another annoying trait that was instilled in me was giving a fuck about doing a good job. Whether I like my job or not, I do the best that I can, every day. Don’t get me wrong, this has served me well. I’ve never been fired or laid off from any job I’ve ever had. And, I have often gotten raises and bonuses when many other employees did not. So that’s cool. But I’ve also noticed that I seem to have 2 to 3 times the responsibility and amount of work than many other employees who don’t give a fuck about their jobs. I will have to admit, the people that seem to have the least amount of stress are these employees who just don’t give a fuck. They do the bare minimum they need to do to not get fired. But they seem to be stress free, even happy at times. Hmmmmm…. Maybe there is something to that?

I’ve been thinking all week that there has to be a healthy balance between giving a fuck and doing a good job, but not giving a fuck enough so that I don’t drop dead at my desk. After all, a big part of life is about balance, right? So, I’ve been playing with this idea a bit. I’m going back to the basic tools that I’ve learned through tai chi and meditation. When the opportunity to panic about something at work comes around, I’m trying to remind myself to just stop and breathe for a minute. Smile. And give just a little less of a fuck about whatever it is that is going on. I work for a manufacturing company. So it’s not like someone is going to die if I don’t get a price out to customer so and so in the next 2 minutes. So far this week, I do think I’m a little less stressed at work than normal. So I’ll keep trying to find that balance between giving a fuck, and not giving a fuck. And maybe I can bring this into my life outside of work as well?  We’ll see how it goes.  🙂

Peace.

Hell

I woke up today thinking about the absurdity of the idea of a literal hell. Yep.
Happy Friday. LOL

For anyone reading this who is outside of the Christian belief system, let me give you a synopsis, with some commentary/thoughts interjected. According to the beliefs that I grew up with, there is an all knowing, all powerful being known as God. At some point, he created everything. I guess he was bored? Anyway, at some point, he created the earth and all the animals and plants and what not, along with the rest of the universe. And, somewhere in all this, an angel named Lucifer decided he wanted to be god. Well, god didn’t like that so he banished him and his crew to the earth. Out of all the billions of planets, why the earth? Lucifer eventually became known as, the devil. Then he created a man and a woman named Adam and Eve. Why did they need names? And why were they English names? Why not “grunt” and “snort”? And why are they always depicted as a white couple? Anyway, they lived in a paradise type place. Nice. God then created a tree and said, don’t eat the fruit of that tree. WTF? Well, they did because a talking snake (Lucifer) convinced them to. And then god kicked them out of paradise. Over the next 4,000 or so years, god and man kind had a weird relationship. He picked a favorite group of people and had them kill lots of other groups of people. And he gave them rules. Well, humans broke most of them. When you break the rules, this is called “sin”. To keep god from being pissed that you sinned, there has to be some kind of blood sacrifice. Yeah. I know. Oh, and at some point, he gets fed up with humans and floods the world to kill all of them except a handful who didn’t break the rules. And saved a male and female of every kind of animal by having them ride in a really big boat.

After the world was repopulated, people kept breaking the rules. So god decided to intervene by coming to earth in human form by impregnating a woman named Mary. Is Mary a common name in Israel? I know, I know, it’s a translation. Just trying to be funny. God in human form was named Jesus. According to what the Bible says, he was a pretty great dude. After 30 or so years, Jesus/god was killed as a blood sacrifice for all humans, because we couldn’t keep all the rules, but he did for us. That was really nice of him! Oh, and he came back from the dead and went back to heaven.

At some point in church history, it changed from a sacrifice for all humans, to only a group of humans who believed this happened and prayed a certain prayer, proving that they believed this happened. Also, a punishment was introduced for those who didn’t believe this happened. I guess the people who never heard that this happened were just screwed? The punishment is that you go to a place called hell after you die. Christians believe you don’t really “die”, you just keep living in another form. This place called hell is basically like a lake. Except the lake is made of fire instead of water. So you literally burn in this fire for all eternity. With no chance of ever getting out. Ever. Wow.

God really sounds like a sick fucker to create a place like that, right? Well, to make this idea more palatable, the idea is that hell was really created for the devil and his crew. But, if you don’t believe that Jesus died for your sins, and pray the prayer, well… you go there, too. And it’s your choice to go there because you refused the ticket to heaven. Which is where you go when you die if you believe the right stuff. It’s supposed to be a really nice place. So I’ve heard. But if the devil and his crew are created beings who will be tortured forever, doesn’t that make god a sick fucker, anyway? Oh, and at some point, Jesus/god will come back to earth and kick the crap out of the devil and all the people who didn’t say the prayer and they will all go to hell forever. Amen.

So, back to my thoughts about the absurdity of the idea of hell. If there is a god, and the Christian idea of god is true, then he is nuts. I mean, seriously. My belief is, if there is a god, and he is love (whatever you believe love is) and not nuts, then there is no way he would create a place like hell, knowing that the majority of all humans that have ever lived would go there. Let’s be realistic here. If you are born in a Muslim nation, chances are good that you will grow up with Muslim beliefs. Maybe never hearing about Jesus and the prayer you are supposed to pray. If you are born into a Buddhist nation, chances are that you will have Buddhist beliefs. And so forth and so on. So you have about 70 years to make a decision that will affect you for all eternity? Think about that? Eternity. That’s forever. It never, ever ends. And if hell is real, you burn alive, forever. And what’s the point? It seem like, after about 5 seconds in hell, you would be like, “Ok! I believe and I’ll pray the prayer!” And, how could a person who goes to heaven enjoy living there knowing that there are people in hell. Probably some friends and relatives. Are people going to be like, shew, I’m glad I’m in heaven and not in hell. And then just enjoy themselves forever? And how could people who believe in hell not spend every second of their lives warning people about this horrible place and telling them how not to go there? Even the most zealous believers that I’ve known don’t do this. Maybe at the core of who they are, they know there is no hell? I don’t know?

All this being said, I no longer believe in a literal hell. That belief also makes me question the validity of the traditional view of heaven. But I’ll save those thoughts for another post. Peace out, y’all.

Depression

I went through a very serious, 4 year depression a while back. It was fucking brutal! I would not wish that on anyone. Eventually I found a good doctor who got me on some medication that worked for me. Through some research, I also got a better understanding of how my brain and thought processes work. Around this time I also started getting interested in Buddhism, meditation, and tai chi which helped change my mindset a bit so I could deal with the depression more effectively. My doctor told me early on that there are no magic pills. The medication helped me get to a place where I could start collecting tools to help me better deal with life.

I eventually got to where I would go long periods of time without feeling depressed. That doesn’t mean that I never felt sad or a down or never had bad days. For me, there is a huge difference in having a bad day and the debilitating effects of severe depression. And I noticed that I could spot the negative thoughts that would seem to invite the depression back in, a mile away. And when I do spot them, I’m like, oh hell no! I’m not going down that path, ever again! Very rarely have those old thought patterns and feelings been able to sneak up on me.

So it was kind of shocking for me to wake up today with that old black cloud hanging over me like in those dark days. It’s like I went back in time about 8 years. It seemed like a thousand pound weight was on my chest and it was everything I could do to get out of bed. The thoughts like, damn, I hate that I woke up today, were right there, like they used to be every day. Totally ambushed me. I never saw it coming.

I’m grateful for all the things I’ve learned over the last several years regarding dealing with thoughts and feelings. I used to try to fight the depression. I tried to get rid of it and make myself be happy. It never worked. In tai chi, resistance actually gives your opponent strength. Instead, yielding to overcome is the thought process. No resistance. That doesn’t mean you don’t protect yourself. Not at all. But you go with the flow of your opponent. This is very similar to how I deal with negative thoughts and emotions. I no longer try to fix myself. I notice what’s there, without judgment when possible, and then just see what comes up next. And I try to flow with that. It’s been very difficult to do this today. The feelings are almost overwhelming. So I’m just breathing, paying attention to my work, and mindfully noticing the feelings from time to time.

I’ve read this before, and thought it myself in the past a few times… but today’s ambush made me realize that I might never be fully “cured” of depression, never to think of it again. It might very well be something that pops up from time to time, for the rest of my life. That doesn’t make me sad or scared, but I think it’s good that I realize that. So when I see the thoughts coming from a mile away, or I’m ambushed by a thousand pound weight of depressed feelings, I won’t be shocked or think that there is something wrong with me. I realize today that thoughts like, “Well, fuck! I thought I was over this for good!”, only add fuel to the fire of the depressed feelings. I’m too exhausted to learn any other lessons from this today. I’m sure things will come to me over the next several days.

If you are dealing with depression, my heart goes out to you. It’s a truly terribly thing to have in your life. I won’t tell you to “hang in there” or “things will get better” or any of that other bullshit that NEVER helps. I will just say that I understand, at least to some degree, and I feel your pain. If you haven’t looked into medication, check it out.  Or get someone to help you check it out.  If you can find one that helps, it’s life changing!  If you are a friend or loved one of someone dealing with depression, be there for them. Call them. Send them flowers. Cry with them. If they will let you, give them a hug. Sometimes, ask them what you can do for them. They won’t always know what to tell you, but it means a lot.

Namaste, and peace, and all that.  🙂

This thing we call “God”

I’ve been thinking about god, or at least the idea of god, off and on lately. Which, I really don’t do much of anymore. I thought I would share some of the things I’ve been thinking about, in case anyone is interested. But, like I said in my last post, I definitely have more questions than answers. For the sake of consistency in this post, when I use the word “god”, I’m referring to the idea of a divine intelligent being that is, or is part of, everything. And if I refer to god in the male sense, please don’t be offended. It just saves time and that’s the idea I grew up with, so it’s familiar to me. You could also say life force, or essence, or light, or whatever someone thinks god is. The dictionary defines god this way; “(in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being.” That’s pretty much the definition that I used to agree with. There were slight variations here and there, depending on the flavor of Christianity, but that seems pretty standard across the board.

The way I see life now, I probably will never have a concrete belief in who or what I think god is. From my experience and personal opinion, I don’t think it’s possible for us to REALLY know who or what god is. I used to think it was, and that I knew him pretty well. I’ve changed a lot since then. I don’t think god is like the Christian god that I grew up believing in. I no longer believe in the traditional ideas of heaven and hell. Along the way over the last few years, I’ve heard some interesting ideas about god. There is the idea that the universe is basically a play or a drama and god is the sole actor, playing all the parts. A similar one is that he is playing hide and seek with himself and at some point, people come to the realization that they are god. In both of these, he is playing the role so well, or hiding so well, that we don’t realize that we are all god. At least not right away. I like these ideas. I also recently heard someone say that they thought everything and everyone is an expression of God. I like that idea as well.

A friend and I were talking this weekend about the idea that god is all. So there is nothing that is not god. Many religious traditions have this idea in their writings. The Christian idea I’m familiar with says that god is over all and through all and in all. Well, all pretty much includes, all. If there is nothing that is not god, then god is both (what we would perceive as) good and evil. This really fucks people up! I know it did me, at first. I still trip over it from time to time. But then we have to go back and define good and evil. Aren’t both ideas based on perspective? And, if we go with the idea that all is a drama, and god is playing all the parts, then he is playing both the victim and the perpetrator. And yes, there are always the extreme examples where we just can’t help but think that something is just flat evil and there is no way god had anything to do with it. I’m not saying that this is how it is, period. I’m just sharing thoughts and questions.

An idea tied to the god is all idea is that there is no such thing as sin. This also gets folks riled up! Especially in my area where religion is so prominent. If we are all expressions of god, characters played by god, or one with god because there is nothing that is not god, how could there be sin? How could god be mad or hurt or disappointed by something that he is doing? Now, for us to live in the organized society that we live in, we do have to have rules and laws to generally keep things the way we like them. But I’m talking about sin between man and god. And they would have to be separate to have one sin and the other label it as sin. When I’ve heard this idea presented, people generally ask, “so are you saying you are perfect?” Well, what is your definition of perfect? I would say yes. I’m exactly as I should be.

Then, of course, there is the idea that there is no god. From this perspective, there is no sin, either. There are those social norms that people expect, but sin between god and man can’t exist if there is no god. Also, if there is no god, then there probably is no devil. The traditional idea being that the devil was at one time an angel created by god. Then good and evil falls into social norms versus things that society deems to be good or bad. And when people do bad things, they are probably messed up or broken, somehow. It’s like when hurting people hurt people. Most child abusers were abused as children. And so on. One thing that gets me when I think of there being no sort of god at all is, where the hell did everything come from? Even if everything started from a super dense mass of matter, and it went, “bang!” Where did the super dense matter come from? And, where did God come from? The human mind really can’t grasp the idea that something has been around forever, with no beginning at all. But, that probably has something to do with the fact that most people see time as only linear. But that’s another topic.

And I’m sure there are many, many other perspectives and factors to all this that I haven’t thought of yet. I’m not sure that I want to know the answers to a lot of these questions? A friend recently asked, if you could know the exact time of your death, would you want to know? My initial response was yes. Then I thought about it, and at that time, decided that I would not want to know. Another friend said that he thinks it’s more fun not knowing. That way, you are free to keep imagining. Yeah. I kind of get that. Sometimes, not knowing is fun.

More questions than answers

I recently turned 50. It’s really just one of an average of 27,375 days. But in our society, it’s one of the big milestones. I’m still not sure what to do with the fact that I’m 50? I don’t really feel older, or like I thought I might feel, years ago looking ahead. When I was 20, 50 seemed pretty damn old! LOL Now, it’s just how it is. I actually feel pretty good. I do have some arthritis and some old injuries that remind me that they are still around from time to time. But I’m healthy and active and mostly sane and all that. I do see myself in the mirror from time to time and wonder, “when the hell did that happen?!?!”

I haven’t spent a lot of time being philosophical about the fact that I’m 50. But I’ve spent a little time over the last day or two thinking about some things. I realized that I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up. But I don’t really look at it that way anymore. As much as I hate the bumper sticker phrases, life really is a journey and not a destination. So what I am when I grow up can change many times. It can be hard to keep that in mind in the daily grind. As always, work has been nuts! But it still beats looking for a job, right? But I digress…

I also realize that I seem to have many more questions than answers. In fact, I’d say mostly questions. It’s not that I haven’t learned anything along the way, I definitely have. But many things I thought I knew, I realize that I really don’t. And the perspective on the things I have learned tends to shift with time and age and experience. So even what I have learned shifts a bit from time to time. If that makes sense? It’s funny to think back to my 20’s and 30’s. It’s not that I thought I had all the answers, but I thought I had most of the answers. Ha! Not in a haughty way, it’s just what I thought. Then I had kids, I went through some major life shit, and over the last few years, my beliefs in just about everything have drastically changed. Now I’m like, well, fuck. I don’t think I know much of anything. At least not much of anything, in a concrete sense. And I’m getting to be ok with that. I’m talking more about the realm of ideas and philosophies and “spiritual” shit. I’m pretty sure I know about things like gravity and taxes and not to put my hand on a hot burner. Things like that.

On a side note, I’ve been cursing more and more as I get older. Not in a vulgar, Andrew Dice Clay, kind of way. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But just using the words to express feelings. I recently had another blogger encourage me to let more of myself, where I am right now, come out in my writing. So you might see an increase in some curse words. And it’s fun! Sometimes, there are situations that just require you to say, “fuck!” Ok, I’m off track again…

A friend of mine recently invited me to a class that he was heading up at his church. His idea was to stir people to ask questions and discuss things. The main question was, “what if?” So, things like, what if there is no God? Or, what if God is not anything like I think God is? What if God loves everyone equally, no matter what? What if there is no hell? What if there is no heaven? At least, not like I think heaven is? It was very interesting and I think it was a good activity. One of my favorite questions was, what if there is no such thing as universal truth? What if truth is individualized? In my religious days, this would have blown my doors off! LOL I don’t know if I would have even stayed. But now, realizing how little I probably know about the universe, what’s out there, seen and unseen, I don’t get so freaked out by these things. And, if truth (whatever the fuck that is?) is individualized, then what one person believes and what another person believes can both be true. Even if they seem to contradict each other.

Of course you will have folks asking, “what if he thinks it’s ok to hurt someone and does it?” Yes, I get that. To have a working, relatively peaceful society, you do have to have some rules that everyone abides by. They might not agree with them, but they still abide by them. So the idea that you and I both think it’s wrong to physically assault someone, works in favor of a working, peaceful society. But, I’m really talking more about ideas and philosophies and beliefs that would more fit the label of spirituality of some kind. For example, meditation. I have meditated off and on for a while and I can say that there are some positive benefits for me when I’m consistent with my practice. Someone else may meditate for a while and not find anything beneficial. Well, neither of us is wrong. And just because my experience varies from yours, doesn’t mean that I’m right when I say meditation is good for you and you are wrong when you say it’s not. Timber Hawkeye, author of Buddhist Boot Camp, says, “If someone tells me that the sky is green I simply say “okay”. I don’t need to agree with them, and I certainly don’t need to prove them wrong or to show them “proof” that I am right… I simply go on with my life with this newfound understanding that to some people the sky looks green.”

It seems like I also heard someone say something like, just because someone says the sky is green, doesn’t make it any less blue when I look at it. I don’t know if it’s because of the competitive nature of our culture (or maybe something in human nature) that makes us feel like we have to prove we are right, and someone else is wrong? Hey look, yet another question that I don’t know that answer to, at least not at this moment. And, like I said, I’m getting more and more ok with that. I kind of think the more ok I am with not having to have an answer, the more easily some kind of answer will come to me in time. We’ll see.  🙂

Peace, y’all.

So many ideas, so little writing.

I’m sure I’ve said something like this before, but one problem with reading several books at once, is that there are often several ideas going on in my head at a time.  And I start to write about one, or maybe more than one idea that relates to another, but then kind of grind to a halt.  Could be some kind of block?  Could be that I’m not allowing my mind to be quiet on a more regular basis?  Or maybe too many differing ideas and opinions going around up there?  Whatever it is, the end result is the same.  Fewer blog posts.

So just a short one today.  I finished reading The Tao of Pooh for a second time.  Really enjoyed it this time around.  It’s interesting how you can read something at one time and be like, huh?  And then read it again later and things kind of click.  I also recently finished The Alchemist.  I know it’s considered to be good, and well respected, and has probably encouraged a lot of people.  But I’m at a place where I was like, huh?  Yeah, I just couldn’t put it all together.  I’m still reading The Wooden Bowl.  Very good.  Also Nothing To It.  Very good.  As is my habit, I also started reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  I’m really enjoying it so far.

As far as things I’m putting to practice in my daily life, as I wrote about in my previous post, it’s still just paying attention to what’s going on now.  Sticking with basic mindfulness.  So if I get up to walk down the hall, what does it feel like when my feet hit the floor.  Or the feel of the a/c as I walk by a vent.  Etc.  I did read something about mindfulness lately that I thought was pretty funny.  The author was saying that he can be in the middle of enjoying something like a beautiful sunset.  Then he becomes aware or mindful that he is enjoying a beautiful sunset.  Now he is no longer enjoying the sunset, he is aware that he is/was enjoying the sunset.  LOL  It really can seem like a mind game!  I read something in The Wooden Bowl recently that will fit nicely here.  He was talking about basic meditation.  Sitting, counting the breaths.  In breath, out breath, one.  In breath, out breath, two.  Do this to 4.  If you make it to 4 without your focus being broken, start again at one.  If you lose count, start back at one.  He said that some people get so focused on the counting that they kind of forget about the breath.  The counting is just something to help the mind slow down so you can focus on the breath.  Eventually, you will be able to follow the breath without the counting.  I really like that.  It’s like the mindfulness practice of noticing what is going on.  In the beginning of mindfulness practice, it’s helpful to notice or be aware of what is going on in the present moment.  Eventually, you can drop the noticing of you being in the moment (like dropping the counting of the breath), and just be in the moment.  Cool.  🙂

Hopefully more soon.

Posting on my blog, I know I’m posting on my blog…

Ok, so I have about 10 blog posts that I’ve started working on, but just haven’t had the energy to finish. I’m not sure that “energy” is the right word? But I get half way through typing it out, and then I just go, bleh. Well, I guess that is right word, then. I’ve been struggling lately to have enough energy to do anything other than go to work. Work continues to be very stressful and seems to be consuming much of my life. I know lots of people in the same boat, so I know it’s not just me. I started thinking about what I’m doing, or not doing, now that may have changed in the last few months. I think I know what part of the problem is.

I wrote a post in April of last year and called it, “practice, practice, practice”. I went back and read it and realized I have not been doing this. So what has changed? Well, the first thing I thought of was my meditation practice. I used to meditate every Sunday morning with friends but the building we met in was sold. So that group kind of dissolved. So now, I rarely set aside time specific to meditation. I understand that I can have meditative moments throughout my day, but there is something about taking time out, sitting quietly, and meditating. So I’m endeavoring to do more of that.

The other practice that I realize that I have let go of is mindfulness. I’m reading Stephen Batchelor’s “Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist” (reading is another thing I want to do more of). I keep re-reading a section of his book where he talks about mindfulness. Here are some excerpts from that section that stand out to me:
“Gotama did not encourage withdrawal to a timeless, mystical now, but an unflinching encounter with the contingent world as it unravels moment to moment. To be conscious of what is happening in the present requires training in mindfulness, which Gotama described as “the one way” to achieve the kind of focused presence and responsiveness needed to function optimally on a groundless ground. Indeed, he spoke of mindfulness as being grounded in whatever occurs in one’s body, feelings, and mind as well as in the world about one. Mindfulness is to be aware of what is happening, as opposed to either letting things drift by in a semiconscious haze or being assailed by events with such intensity that one reacts before one has even had time to think.
Mindfulness focuses entirely on the specific conditions of one’s day-to-day experience. It is not concerned with anything transcendent or divine. “When a monk breathes out long,” said Gotama, “he knows: ‘I am breathing out long.’ Breathing in short, he knows: ‘I am breathing in short.’” Such a person acts in full awareness when looking ahead and looking away, when flexing and extending his limbs, when wearing his robes and carrying his bowl, when eating, drinking and tasting…”

There are lots of interesting points all through this excerpt. But the one thing that stood out to me, that I can put into practice fairly easily, is when he talked about when a monk breaths out long, he knows he’s breathing out long. So I’ve been doing that. Like right now, I’m typing, and I know I’m typing. I’ve actually said that to myself. When I get up to get a drink of water, I say to myself, I know I’m getting up to get a drink of water. It might seem a little silly at first, but try it. For me, as far as anything noticeable, it has a very calming effect. It settles my mind and emotions. I’m sure there are lots of scientific reasons for this, but I’m just glad it works. I Googled “effects of mindfulness” and there are tons of things that being more mindful does to your brain. And that, of course, effects everything else. And back to the first paragraph, I do notice that I have a little more energy. Maybe because my mind isn’t going in 50 directions? I imagine that has something to do with it.

Everyone is different, so what helps me might not be the same thing that helps you. People have different things that help them get to a good place, mentally and emotionally. Whatever that is for you, I encourage you to do more of that. But also try the mindfulness thing. Just to see if it helps. If it does, you can add that to your list of things that get you to a better place in this crazy world.   🙂