For the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading the The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau. The book provides an insight into Zen Buddhism history, practices, and principles. This is really a wonderful book that anyone with an interest in Zen should read. I warn you that there are a number of words translated from Chinese or Japanese that you will need to look up to really understand what is being presented, but it is worth it. This means that reading the book is a fairly slow process where you may only read several pages at each sitting, needing time to digest what is being said. If you have an interest in meditation you will find some guidance in what Zen Masters call zazen, the Zen form of seated meditation. In the book they claim that zazen is not a typical form of meditation, but I’ll let you be the judge.
The goal of zazen is to suspend all judgmental thinking, letting words, ideas, images and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them; clearing the mind if you will. It should be noted that zazen is the core discipline for Zen, and carries with it some very specific practices that help you achieve a clear mind one unencumbered by the past and future.
One of the specific practices is counting breaths to help clear the mind. I’ve been doing this because I can’t seem to stop thinking about other things, so the counting helps me block out other thoughts that want to surface as as I sit. One method is to count to 10, counting each breath as one then two, etc. The reason you limit yourself to 10 is that even counting to 10 can be a challenge as other thoughts keep coming up and disrupt the counting of your breaths.
Maybe you will find this method helpful as you try to quiet your mind. Remember the goal here is to clear your mind of the past and the future, coming to grips with being present and aware, but not thinking about anything. I know this may not make sense, but your goal should be to be present but non judgmental, just be. I will continue my reading of the Three Pillars of Zen and share the best of this book with you.
A couple of days ago I posted the following quote on Twitter and here on my quotes page “Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.” Lou Holtz
I remember earlier in the week when my wife called me and said that she thinks we have problems with our home’s foundation. There were tiles cracking in the kitchen, grout coming up, some cracks in the walls, and it appeared that some of the floors were not level. When I heard this I immediately overreacted whining about how much this would cost me, and what a piece of crap this old house of ours was. We had invested lots of money in air conditioning, pest control, and insulation; all things you cannot see but needed to be done. So clearly I had reacted very poorly, and to prove this out a day later when the house was inspected we found that nothing was wrong. We live in Texas and it is common for some of these things to happen, and we were told to keep the ground around the foundation wet with a soak-er hose three days a week for 40-60 minutes during the summer months. I guess it is a Texas thing where the moisture seems to help maintain the integrity of the foundation preventing the ground from cracking and shifting here from the severe heat.
Not only had I reacted like a dumb ass, but my reaction was premature occurring before the inspection even took place. This is probably why I liked this quote from Lout Holtz so much. A persons true character is not something you exhibit when everything is going your way, but instead it is revealed when things are not going your way. I learned a lesson this week that it is how you respond to life that is most important. None of us can escape pain, misfortune, disappointments, and many of the other unpleasant things life has in store, but we can all control how we respond to these challenges.
It is extremely important that you have a cautious response when it comes to perceived bad news. Moving into a negative mind state where you imagine the worst only damages your peace of mind and sends a message to others that you are not a real leader. So the choice is always clear you can respond in a negative fashion or you can respond as a leader and make the best of the situation. Now my example pales in significance to the challenges some people face, but it does illustrate a point.
Don’t imagine the worst and think about the example you set for those around you. In addition to how your response affects others is the fact that a negative response only causes personal psychological damage tainting all your thoughts. Lou was right, it is about how you respond that matters.
In a quest to add just a little more weight, sets, or reps to your strength training routine you find your energy is not infinite. You start out with a 3 day split and pretty soon each workout is taking 90+ minutes and your completely wiped out, and worse there is no way you could keep adding sets to this already arduous workout. So what is the answer? You can try to increase intensity, but with a 3 day split you are pushing the limits of your endurance and this is no longer a lot of fun. I ran into this myself, and then created a 4 day split but over time this also became too much and I finally landed on a 5 day split that allowed me to add lots of sets and progressively increase the weight I was lifting. I’m not advocating this is for everyone as some of you might not be able to devote this many days to strength training each week, but for those that can it allows you to expand the amount of work you are doing and still get it done in a reasonable amount of time. Here is my new 5 day split routine:
Day 1 – Chest & Triceps
Day 2 – Biceps, Forearms, and Delts
Day 3 – Legs
Day 4 – Back
Day 5 – Core
None of these workouts exceed 60 minutes and most can be done in 30 – 45 minutes. This is a big advantage of a 5 day split over lesser day routines, allowing you to focus on fewer body parts and really turn up the intensity while keeping the workouts relatively short.
So next time you consider adding just a little more to your routine, think about a 5 day split. For ways to increase the intensity of your workouts refer to one of my earlier posts Just What is Progressive Resistance?
I was sitting on the yoga mat today meditating as is my custom in the morning after my yoga practice, and I had a couple of thoughts. Like so many of you I find myself thinking about my next conquest, role, position, material thing, or maybe just what lies ahead that day. I always try to turn off the noise when I meditate, either by forcing a thought pattern that will override all these future oriented thoughts, or sometimes I just try to sit and listen. I’m getting to be about 75% sucessful at this most days, but it’s not yet perfect. If you cannot just sit and listen to the sounds around you and drown out the chatter in your mind then you might try focusing your mind on the following themes:
- Now – Think about now just sitting on your mat, tell yourself there is only this moment. You might repeat the phrase “live in the moment, now is all we have” or something like that.
- Compassion – You may also consider just thinking about compassion. You might say to yourself “I will be compassionate with everyone I encounter today”. In addition to this you might say to yourself “I will seek to understand and not judge”. Again use your own words, just focus on the theme of compassion and the words will come.
- Grateful – A third method I use is to just spend some time reciting a running list of what you are grateful for. This might include your family, spouse or significant other, children, friends, pets, dwelling, your work, your health, or anything else that you are grateful for.
Often I use all three themes during meditation. When it is all working you feel in the moment and you are enjoying just sitting there. You may find that this is one of the most wonderful moments in your day, when you are really present and not working towards something or for someone else. You will also find that sitting on the mat as I call it prepares you for the challenges of the modern world, making it all a bit more easy to be mindful during whatever chaos comes your way.