Archive for the ‘Wisdom’ Tag
To possess an undefeated mind means not just that we rebound quickly from adversity or face it calmly, even confidently, without being pulled down by depression or anxiety, but also that we get up day after day, week after week, month after month and attack the obstacles in front of us again and again and again until they fall or we do. An undefeated mind isn’t one that never feels discouraged or despairing; it’s one that continues on in spite of it. While the ability to control what happens in life may be limited, we do have the capacity to establish a life that surmounts the suffering that life brings.
Resilience isn’t something that only a fortunate few are born with, but rather something that everybody can take action-steps to develop. Start with the scheme that all problems are solvable. Understand the meaning of victory. Look into the human desire to be happy, how to obtain benefits from adversity and why wisdom can bring an end to suffering.
Identify a personal mission; create a sense of purpose, then commit to that mission. Make a vow: Resolve to soldier on. Identify the obstacles. Overcome the barriers. Avoid distractions. Expect Obstacles. Make use of adversity, negative thoughts and the anxiety of uncertainty.
Accept pain, both physical and emotional. Let Go! Loss can be inevitable. Find the meaning in loss. Exercise self-compassion. Appreciate the good. Find and maintain gratitude even gratitude for obstacles. Encourage others and understand them. Helping others is to help self.
Experience the power of encouragement by mustering your courage against fear, even your fear of death. Resilience is essential for being able to meet life’s challenges. Anyone can increase his or her inner strength. All of us can have indestructible psyche.
I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste. Don’t think you understand It. On the other hand, don’t think you don’t understand It. It? What is It, a pronoun capitalized this way? What is It, pronounced with the kind of emphasis that communicates great significance? Alternatively, it is called the Great Matter, Enlightenment, Emptiness, Suchness. These are ways we refer to different aspects of It. When I write these words, what do you think to yourself? You probably think to yourself either that you don’t understand these things, “Wow, I wish I understood those things, maybe I will someday.” Or, perhaps, “I will probably never understand,” or when you hear these words you have a sense that you do understand these things, at least to some degree; the words conjure up for you a memory of an experience, a mind-state, an insight, or you think of images or sensations that you find comforting or inspiring. It is difficult to say which of these – a sense that we don’t understand, or a sense that we do understand – is more detrimental to spiritual practice.
Buddhist understanding – prajna paramita, the perfection of wisdom – is completely different from ordinary understanding. It is so different that even though it is here under our noses all the time, we miss It. Even though this Understanding is free and available, we revere Shakyamuni Buddha as a once-in-a-universe amazing person because he came to It without even having a teacher who pointed it out to him. This is the central teaching of Buddhism – that there is a kind of wisdom, a kind of insight, “which removes all suffering, and is true, not false.” The Buddha studied suffering – old age, disease, death, loss, dissatisfactions – and asked whether there was any way out of it. He was not the first to ask this question by any means. Almost every religion and social movement has tried to offer people a remedy, a way out, at least a mitigation of this human experience of suffering.
What the Buddha realized was, in a sense, its all how you relate to it. It’s all how you see it and understand your place in it. However, this is not about adopting some arbitrary positive outlook! Well, you could look at things that way and suffer, but if you adopt this philosophy or view things don’t look so bad…This is about seeing the true nature of reality. What is it that we see? A textbook answer would be something like, “we see that we, and all beings and things, are empty of inherent, enduring self-nature.” But this description is so inadequate to convey what we end up understanding. We could also say “we see that things-just-as-they-are, without the filter of our self-concern, are precious.” Or we could say “we see that there is only this moment, and this moment is free from suffering.”
Intellectual understanding of these descriptions or faithful belief in these descriptions, do not convey the release from suffering that the Buddha found. They must be personally and directly experienced for that to occur and once they are personally and directly experienced we are forever changed, but no experience in the past conveys lasting release from suffering either. Perhaps when you hear It – the Great Matter, Prajna Paramita (Transcendental Wisdom), Enlightenment, Emptiness, Suchness – you recall the spacious, unself-conscious feeling you experience in the wilderness. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of the “zone” you get into while doing a body practice or artistic activity. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of how vast space is, or how we are made up mostly of space, between our tiny atomic particles. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of how everything changes, so you can’t really draw a boundary around who you are. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of how it is impossible to trace all the causes and conditions and beings that brought you the meal you eat, and how dependent you are on all these different aspects of the universe. That’s not It.
Now, it would be good for all of us, myself included, if I left you with that message and shut up. But in the West, especially in Soto Zen, they explain things. It is the gentle way. It is so easy to be satisfied with just an intellectual understanding. It is so easy to fool ourselves that ours is not just an intellectual understanding – after all, if it is associated with emotions, it’s not just intellectual, right? It is so easy to allow what was once a real experience to devolve into a mere memory, a mere view. Most of us walk around with a largely intellectual understanding of It. As Dogen would say, we are “playing in the entrance way.” This is why Zen Masters through the ages have pulled out all the stops and done all kinds of strange things to try and wake their students up from their dreams. They yanked their students’ noses, offered riddles, put slippers on their heads. What is that about? Some kind of ridiculous code? A contest to see who was least inhibited? No. It says Right Here, Right Now, Do You See? In a sense it doesn’t matter what is said or done to express it; if both people can experience It, the arrows have met in mid-air. This is extremely important. There is no god in Buddhism that is going to condemn us or even be disappointed in us because we just play in the entrance way. But what a shame.
But thinking you do not understand is just as bad. When I think like that, I am here, and understanding is over there – in that [other person’s] head, or in the past, or in the future. This can be one of the most painful beliefs. It can also be one of the biggest obstacles. We are intimate with It every moment of every day. It is never anywhere else. We experience the perfection of wisdom when we stop looking anywhere else. When the Zen Master comes and challenges us, we answer her in kind. Perhaps we say, “Yes! Buddha caught the pillow!” Perhaps we throw the pillow back. Perhaps we laugh. But the challenge does not send us off in our minds to abstractions or memories, concepts, images, metaphors or teachings. We know the Buddha is nowhere else, and have dropped the self-concern that wonders how “I” relate to Buddha.
Being at home with oneself like that is an immense relief from suffering. We must struggle to understand, unfortunately there are no shortcuts. But what we do in that struggle is exhaust all of our dreams until finally there is no place left to go. Then we see It is something we have understood all along. We just didn’t know what kind of understanding to look for. And a final note – having answered the Zen master’s challenge one day does not mean we will be able to do so the next. This is not an understanding that is of any use to us in the past.
Here though ‘he’ is used; leader maps are pertinent to ‘she’ also to succeed in what he or she chooses. Hence, disclaimer for being a male chauvinist pig. Please read on.
Stories don’t just entertain us–they also teach and inspire us. Here’s how to parse your kids’ bedtime stories for modern leadership advice. Once upon a time…Even now, as adults, there’s something in most of us that perks up and starts to listen when we hear those words. We love stories and stories have always served important functions for us. They bring us together and reinforce our sense of community. They engage, amuse, enthrall, and titillate and they teach throughout history, before most people could read and write, stories, told by firesides and in village gatherings, were the mechanism by which we handed down laws and values, religions and taboos, knowledge and wisdom.
Think of stories as the cultural DNA of a pre-literate society. The stories of a group of people provided a map that, if followed, would guide someone to be a successful member of that group, and over the centuries, some of those maps seem to have transcended culture and geography to offer guidance for being successful humans. This seems especially true for one type of story: The hero’s tale. Joseph Campbell explored this theme in religious mythology with brilliance and depth in his Hero with a Thousand Faces, and I’m indebted to his work. However, in exploring these story maps for clues to the characteristics that define leadership, I looked to more humble sources like folktales and fairy tales of many cultures. Campbell’s work focused on our highest aspirations; what we expect of gods and godlike heroes. I wish to know practicality of how folktales tell us what to look for and accept in those who lead us day-to-day.
Think of folktales as maps of success–how to live as safely and happily as possible, how to avoid making fatal mistakes of belief or action. Until recently in our history, choosing a leader was a life-or-death decision. A good leader could guide you to find food, overcome enemies, and keep peace within the society. A bad leader could lead you into starvation or to death through war or lawlessness, and although the stakes may not be as high today, we’re still wired to accept as leaders only those who line up with our centuries-old map of leadership attributes.
By finding and extracting these leader maps, I could learn not only what people look for in leaders; but the corollary of that, what it takes to be the kind of leader whom others would follow. After reading several of leader stories from all over the world, here’s what I see and accept that a leader is farsighted, passionate, courageous, wise, generous, trustworthy.
In leader folktales, the leader-to-be can see beyond his current situation young, poor, despised to his ultimate goal like save his father, win the princess, kill the monster and can express that vision in a compelling and inclusive way, especially to those whose help he needs to achieve it. He can hold to that vision and share it clearly even when others lose sight of it, believe it’s impossible, or ridicule him for trying. He is farsighted.
Moreover, the leader-in-training doesn’t just go through the motions. He is deeply committed to his quest, with his every action is directed toward achieving it. Nothing dissuades him, even the inevitable setbacks and disappointments attendant on any quest. He may not be loud about it, but is relentless. He is passionate.
Throughout the story, he is confronted with difficult situations. He may be afraid and lonely; he may feel like running away, longing for the comfort and safety of home. He often faces situations that are particularly trying for him personally. But he doesn’t turn aside; he doesn’t unlike his brothers or others who attempt the same journey make the safe and easy choices. He doesn’t wimp out and takes the path of least resistance. He is courageous.
He’s not a cardboard action hero, though. His brain is tested, and he must be able to learn from his mistakes. In many versions of the story, he doesn’t initially follow the advice given to him “don’t look back”; “don’t let go”; “don’t touch this or that on your way out” and his mistakes create more complexity and danger. The next time a similar situation arises, though, he behaves differently and succeeds at his task. He doesn’t deny or whine or blame; he improves. He also often comes up with clever solutions to seemingly insoluble problems. Finally, he uses his powers of discrimination to think through difficult choices and arrive at the best and most moral solution, for example, long-term happiness versus current riches; the greater good versus pure self-interest. He is thoughtful, appropriately humble, clear-headed, and curious. He is wise.
Along the way, the future leader meets people or creatures in need, and he helps them or shares with them. He does so even though his own supplies are low; even though helping them takes him out of his way or slows him down. In some versions of the story, he has to sacrifice his life for those he loves or to whom he owes his loyalty and this always turns out okay in the end and later, when he is king, his people are prosperous and happy because he rules with an open hand. The leader is not stingy, miserly or selfish. He is generous.
Finally, and perhaps most important, his word is his bond. If he tells his dying father that he will find the magic potion to cure him, you know that he will. If he tells the princess that he will come back to marry her, she can send out the invitations. When some creature says to him, “If I help you, boy, you must free me,” you know the creature is as good as free. The hero does not equivocate or exaggerate. He is trustworthy.
This tale survives and thrives in almost infinite permutations because it is satisfying; it feels right to us. We are hardwired to expect our chieftains to be farsighted, passionate, courageous, wise, generous, and trustworthy. If we don’t see these qualities clearly demonstrated, we won’t follow at all; it is dangerous to do so.
It’s time to slow down you life and become more patient. Being that my new year’s resolution is to be more content with living the questions in my life versus rushing towards the answers, I found useful the advice in Allan Lokos’s new book, “Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living.” Lokos is the founder and guiding teacher of the Community Meditation Center in New York City, and the author of “Pocket Peace: Effective Practices for Enlightened Living.”
In the Buddhist tradition, wisdom is said to arise when we see things as they really are, not as they appear to be. Yet to transform our usual views, opinions, and perceptions so that we can see the true nature of things can be a challenging process. It is a part of our journey that can require great patience both with ourselves and with others. Wisdom is all too often painfully earned. As Confucius said, “By three ways do we attain wisdom. The first is by contemplation, which is the noblest; the second is by imitation, which is the easiest; the third is by experience, which is the bitterest.” To see things as they really are, rather than through the distorted lens of conditioned perception, can be challenging to the intellect as well as to our patience.
Yeah ….right! But I found his words really do help you breathe a sign of relief …as if your job to control everything in your world has been lifted and assigned to someone else, so that you don’t have as much responsibility and don’t bear as much weight in your daily. We have much less control than we might think over causes and conditions that converge to bring about the ever-changing circumstances of our lives. The events of every moment come about from the contingent factors that precede them. Nothing exists by itself; everything is interconnected. We can often see the short-term connections, butt the bigger picture, the universal law of cause and effect is often obscured to the untrained, unfocused mind. With practice, we can learn to put full effort into our actions without our happiness being dependent upon the ensuring results. To do this requires a clear understanding of our intention as well as insight into the connected nature of all phenomena.
This one was refreshing for me to read because it ties into a reflection by spiritual author Henri Nouwen that I read every morning to set me straight. Somewhere deep in our hearts, we already know that success, fame, influence, power, and money do not give us the inner joy and peace we crave. Somewhere we can even sense a certain envy of those who have shed all false ambitions and found a deeper fulfillment in their relationship with God. Yes, somewhere we can even get a taste of that mysterious joy in the smile of those who have nothing to lose.
If you’re lucky, you have a few friends like that. I do. And when I read this meditation every morning, I picture their faces, and suddenly the need to get promoted at work or acquire some recognition for my blog disappears, and I feel okay with me even if I stay in a cubicle and take orders as best I can. I don’t need to be a King to be happy. In fact, that responsibility could make me miserable. Lokos’s work was just recognized by the New York Times in an article right before Christmas that concentrated on coping with travel stress. I found that the five pointers he lists for anxious travelers also work for mundane tasks throughout the day. Here they are:
Q. What are five things travelers can do to self soothe while en route?
A. 1. Accept the reality that most of what causes stress in travel is out of your control. In fact, you have much less control of things in general than you might like to believe.
2. Feeling rushed is one of the leading causes of stress. Go to airports and bus and train stations extra early. While others may be rushing frantically, you can be strolling leisurely.
3. Check in with yourself. Notice what you are feeling in a particular moment. If it’s annoyance, frustration or fatigue, don’t get all caught up in it. Don’t cling to the sensations.
4. Travel lightly. When I arrive at my destination for the holidays I announce to everyone, “I hope you like this sweater I’m wearing because you’re going to see it a lot.” And mail rather than carry gifts. Even one shopping bag is a nuisance.
5. Those around you are doing their best. Offer a smile that says, “Yes, I know it’s difficult, but we’ll all get there.” Perhaps a little later than scheduled, but you’ll get there. Let someone go ahead of you; it’s part of the holiday spirit.
Positive thinking is so firmly enshrined in our culture that knocking it is a little like attacking motherhood or apple pie. Many persons swear by positive thinking and quite a few have been helped by it. Nevertheless, it is not a very effective tool and can be downright harmful in some cases. There are much better ways to get the benefits that positive thinking allegedly provides. Perhaps the statement that best exemplifies positive thinking is "When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade." It seems so self-evident that this is a good thing that we never question the wisdom of the adage. But it does not take a whole lot of digging to unearth the flaws in this reasoning.
First, did fate really hand you a lemon or was this merely your initial, unthinking response? Second, is a lemon really a bad thing, something that you would rather not have, but now that you do have it you will somehow salvage something by making lemonade? Finally, it is quite stressful to be handed a lemon until such time as you figure out how to make lemonade. Do you really have to go through this phase?
No matter what happens to us in life we tend to think of it as "good" or "bad". Most of us tend to use the "bad" label three to ten times as often as the "good" label. When we say something is bad, the odds grow overwhelming that we will experience it as such and that is when we need positive thinking. We have been given something bad, a real lemon, and we better scramble and make some lemonade out of it and salvage something out of this "bad" situation.
Now think back on your own life. Can you recall instances of something that you initially thought was a bad thing that turned out to be not so bad after all or perhaps even a spectacularly good thing? Like the time you just missed a train and had to wait a whole hour for the next one and it was horrible except that your neighbor also missed it so you talked for the first time and a beautiful friendship developed. You will find many instances in your life, some of them very significant such as the job you desperately wanted but didn't get only to find that a much better one came by and you would not have been able to accept it if not for the earlier rejection.
Now let us propose something radical and revolutionary. Let us propose that, no matter what happens to you, you do not stick a bad thing label on it; no matter what. You are fired from your job, your mortgage lender sends you a foreclosure notice and your spouse files for divorce or whatever. This seems so far-fetched as to be laughable. Of course these are horrible tragedies and terrible things to happen. Or are they? Is it possible, just possible, that you have been conditioned to think of these happenings as unspeakable tragedies and hence experience them as such?
Viktor Frankl in his book Man's Search for Meaning narrates the tale of the beautiful girl of privilege who was grateful to be in a concentration camp because she was able to connect with a spiritual side of her that she never knew existed. Observations like this led Frankl into his life's work of determining why, when faced with extreme adversity, some persons positively flourish while others disintegrate. Those who rise so triumphantly never label what they go through as bad and lament over it, they simply take it as a given as if they were a civil engineer surveying the landscape through which a road is to be built. In this view, a swamp is not a bad thing. It is merely something that has to be addressed in the construction plan.
If you never label something as bad, then you don't need positive thinking and all of the stress associated with getting something bad and experiencing it as such till you figure out how to make lemonade out of it simply goes away. That is the huge pebble in the positive thinking shoe. This is bad, really bad is a lemon. But somehow I will make some lemonade out of it and then perhaps it won't be so bad. First you think its bad and then you think you will somehow make it less bad and there is a strong undercurrent that you are playing games and kidding yourself. Some people succeed, many don't. Those who don't are devastated that the model they were trying so hard to build caved in on them. That's why positive thinking can sometimes be harmful.
Can you actually go through life without labeling what happens to you as good or bad? Sure you can. You have to train yourself to do this. You have been conditioned to think of things as bad or good. You can de-condition yourself. It is neither easy nor fast but it is possible.
Let us say you break your leg. There is stuff you have to do like go to an orthopedist and get it set and go to therapy when the cast comes off. But all the rest of the stuff you pick up like: Why did this have to happen to me? Bad things always come my way. I am in such pain. Who will hold the world up now that I am disabled? is simply baggage. You don't have to pick up this load and the only reason you do is because you were never told that you didn't have to.
I am telling you now. Don't pick up that useless burden. Don't label what happens to you as bad. Then you won't need positive thinking and much of the stress in your life will simply disappear. Poof! Just like that.