This post will be purposely short and to the point. It originates from a bit of journaling this morning. I like to start my day with a grateful practice, but my thoughts often turn to other questions about the meaning of our existence on this planet. Enough said, here is the journal from this morning:
I am grateful for being alive today, and having the opportunity to live a more fulfilling life.
The question you must ask yourself is what is the purpose of all this? What do you mean by living a more fulfilling life?
Why am I here? Is it to fulfill a destiny, serve others, or to master my own philosophy?
Maybe it is all or none of the above. Maybe it’s as the Buddha taught to end suffering.
Whose suffering? Your own and all sentient beings.
How? For me it must be by writing and actions.
It’s not much of a reach to say we all have more than one purpose for living and these can be noble or selfish, or even some combination of the two. As humans we are fairly complex, possessing desires, dreams, and sometimes selfless motives for what we do.
There are many noble reasons to exist including:
Service to your community
Taking care of your family
Showing compassion for others
Being more mindful and spiritual
Becoming a better human being through philosophy
On the other side of the coin exists our selfish or negative motives:
The accumulation of wealth and material things
Sensory desires like sex, drugs, drinking, etc.
The desire to punish, belittle, and criticize those that are different from us
Wrong thought such as anger, hate, or envy
A preponderance of ego; thinking you are better than everyone else
The selfless or noble motives for your life result in happiness and the selfish in destruction. The choice is always yours alone.
I have written a number of posts on meditation including Meditation Experiences Uno, Meditation Experiences Dos, Meditation Experiences Tres, and Meditation Experiences Cuatro. All of these were my personal experiences of meditation and to some degree outlining the benefits that you might be able to experience yourself. Of course your experience during meditation and afterwards may vary. One of the things that happens when you start meditating on a regular basis is that you may begin to develop expectations. These expectations of a special experience or some sudden break through, maybe even enlightenment may cause you to view your practice as a tool or some means to and end.
In the tradition of Zen Buddhism having some grand expectation for each meditation session is frowned upon. You should just sit in Zazen, expecting nothing, with your focus on being present. In a world that is dominated by activity, doing things, getting shit done; this might be very difficult for us. We typically spend most of our time thinking about what we are going to do in the future, that we often cannot make ourselves present in the now. If everything you do in your life must be in support of some goal or to satisfy some desire, meditating will seem foreign and you will struggle to be present even for a few moments, though you sat for 20 minutes. You may even feel that why should I devote 10 or 20 minutes just sitting, when I could be doing something productive. What the hell have we become?
There is a quote from Gary John Bishop that anyone that meditates should take to heart. While the book Mr. Bishop wrote Unfu*k Yourself isn’t about meditation, it will make you think about how you are fucking up your life with thoughts of the past and future.
Let me wrap this up. If you really want to change the way you think about this world, you will need to drop all these expectations and stop living in the future or even worse in the past. A consistent meditation practice will help you live in the present and change some these preconceived notions you have established over your lifetime. In a sense there is a war to be waged. There is the real you, a person with inherent Buddha nature and there is you that has been constructed over a lifetime. Choose the present moment without expectations or continue living imprisoned in the future, it’s all your choice.
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If it is freedom that you seek, then you are in the company of billions of other people. We think that freedom can be found primarily by removing responsibility. Many view this as financial freedom, freedom to purchase anything we want, or being free to do anything we want. This kind of freedom is a pipe dream for most and is just another stroll down the path of materialism. To equate this type of freedom with the real freedom that only exists between your ears is nothing more than bullshit. We live in a world that thinks if I acquire enough money, then I can do whatever I want with my time. Think of all the actors, sports, and rock stars that accumulated great wealth, and ended up in an early grave to some degree as a result of this financial freedom. A life without purpose will soon lead to a life of excess. Listen, I’m not saying that it is a bad thing to acquire a certain level of financial freedom, but this kind of freedom does not equate to happiness.
There exists many of what I call fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of speech, freedom of choice in its various forms, freedom to vote, and freedom to choose what you do with your time on this earth. All of these are important, but are in a sense table stakes. Beyond the fundamental freedoms that most democracies attempt to offer is a much more precious freedom.
You will never be truly free until you gain some control over your thoughts. There is no real world that is completely stress free, free of responsibilities, free of pain, free of desire, or free of problems. Most people just seek to escape reality by taking vacations, drugs, alcohol, or any number of distractions. Been there, done that, and it really didn’t help, it was just piss poor attempts to turn off my thoughts. There are also those that use physical activity as a way of escaping. These might be runners, weight lifters, rock climbers, or even sky diving. While these are much healthier alternatives than the drug and alcohol route, they are still a temporary reprieve from a mind tortured by stress, anxiety, lust, or anger.
The end result of all of these attempts to escape your thoughts is that they still exist, and you have done nothing to change them. Any real freedom from your monkey mind can only exist in meditation. During meditation you can become truly free and begin to realize the Buddha nature that exists in all of us.
It is these little glimpses of freedom that you experience during meditation that gradually changes the way you view the world and thus changes the way you think. Don’t get hung up on the process or type of meditation, just sit and concentrate on your breathing. Start with 10 minutes and gradually work your way up to sitting for 20 minutes per session on a daily basis. If you think that spending 20 minutes a day meditating is wasting time, then you are still operating in the wrong paradigm. There really is no better use of your time than to meditate and once you have experienced it over even a short period of time like a couple weeks the freedom you were seeking will be yours.
I recently changed my byline to The Stoic Buddhist and you may ask why? It is partially due to the many books I have read on Buddhism and Stoicism. So one reason is the interest I have in both philosophies, but as my studies progressed I started noticing some pretty interesting similarities. In this blog post I just want to focus on a couple of the things stoics and Buddhist’s have in common.
Well back to the question about the byline. This will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me one can embrace multiple philosophies and sometimes even just certain tenants. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Both Buddhism and Stoicism have always encouraged independent thinking analyzing what you feel is true and real in the world. I doubt that the Buddha would have objected too much if someone wanted to read the works of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, or Epictetus. Both Stoicism and Buddhism take an analytical approach to philosophy as opposed to a faith based approach of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. Buddha was not a God and either was Marcus Aurelius or Seneca, and in the case of the stoics far from it. So in my life and studies I borrow from both, calling myself a Buddhist first and foremost, that also has a keen interest in stoicism.
Two of the more common themes that I noticed in both Stoicism and Buddhism are about desiring less and not fearing death.
Both Buddhism and Stoicism teach that there is inherent suffering involved with desires. The more you desire the more unhappy you will be, ever wanting more. The Buddha taught that the root of suffering was desire and Epictetus equates freedom to limiting what you desire.
Another quote from Marcus Aurelius speaks to the idea that very little is needed to be happy.
Actually Marcus Aurelius wrote extensively in his book Meditations about the need to control ones desires and the destructive nature of vices and materialism. As you know this was a Roman Emperor who could have had anything he wanted, but practiced a huge amount of self control in the way he lived. I think both the Stoics and Buddhists recognized that desires led to excesses, creating suffering and ultimately preventing one from leading a more noble existence.
It is my understanding that both Stoicism and Buddhism viewed death as a natural part of life and not to be feared. With that said the Buddhist might believe that you will be reborn into another life; the Stoic will just state that this death is part of natures life cycle and your body is given to the earth. In either case as a Stoic or a Buddhist you will be expected to not fear death, to be courageous, and calm upon your demise.
Whether a Stoic or a Buddhist it is not death to be concerned with, but rather how well you have lived. Was the life you had meaningful and of service to mankind? To the stoic philosopher or a dedicated Buddhist a life satisfying selfish desires is a life wasted and not worth living. Another similarity between the Stoic and Buddhist view of death is that it begins when we are born with each day we die a little bringing us that much closer to our final demise.
Below is a quote from the Buddha from the Pali Canon , Sali Sutta that illustrates the nature of life and death.
From Marcus Aurelius a quote on the inevitability of death and our response to it.
While this by no means is meant to provide any kind of exhaustive comparison between similar views shared by Stoics and Buddhists, I wanted it to be more of an introduction to the idea that there are some aspects of the two philosophies that they have in common. As death pursues us all I hope there will be time to go into a more detailed analysis of where the two philosophies converge.
There is no way of cheating nature of our own inevitable destiny. We all will face death, some sooner, some later, but it will surely come. With that in mind whether you are a Stoic or a Buddhist; it is all up to you to live an authentic life and cherish each day.
I’ll leave you with a final quote from Seneca.
“You want to live-but do you know how to live? You are scared of dying-and, tell me, is the kind of life you lead really any different from being dead?”
Maybe you find yourself trading that precious commodity, your time for the accumulation additional wealth. I think this is a trigger for a lot of people in their 50’s and 60’s who begin thinking about retirement. You begin to realize the opportunity cost of staying at your less than fulfilling job. You become preoccupied thinking of all the things you want to do that you just don’t have time to pursue. I know for myself things like a career path, promotions, and all those other things that seemed important in my 40’s occupy little space in my mind today. This understanding of the value of time, which you should have had all along becomes so much more important than the accumulation of wealth and the agony that often accompanies it. Instead of mellowing out as we age, we often become less tolerant of the bullshit and wish for more autonomy and freedom to pursue what really matters to us.
The feeling of regret for not realizing this long ago comes up and you may feel you have wasted years or even decades running on the hamster wheel for monetary rewards. Then again maybe you have had a great career, but realize it’s time to pack it in and start something new. In either case you are faced with the decision to keep doing the same old thing or break free and use the remaining days, months, or years to do something else. If you are a fan of the stoics you will find a lot of material devoted to death and the importance of living life in a meaningful way. One of my favorite quotes is from Marcus Aurelius:
This is the third post on my meditation experiences. In Meditation Experiences – Uno, I spent some time discussing how I started meditating and the technique that works for me. In the post Meditation Experiences – Dos, the focus was on the benefits that I have received from my practice.
In this blog post, I will make the case that you should expect nothing from your practice. I know this seems contrary to all that we are taught during our life, which normally revolves around if I do something I should get some benefit from it, or in the opposite case maybe it detracts from my life in some way. For your practice to be pure and lasting you must not fill your head with expectations. The very fact that you expect something becomes an ego trip of sorts, where you say to yourself if I meditate then I will become enlightened or I will become calmer, or whatever you might expect from your practice. Before too long, you begin thinking you are superior to the rest of humanity because you have become more spiritual or by virtue of your discipline. I’m not saying that there won’t be benefits that come to you from your meditation practice, but I am asking that you leave the expectations at the door.
Here is the thing with expectations they will make your practice more difficult and may result in you quitting altogether. Let’s say that you expect your practice to make you calmer, more empathetic, or maybe more compassionate with the rest of the people on this planet. The next thing you know someone runs into your car and you start screaming profanities at the other driver, or thoughts of why does this shit always happen to me. Stop expecting your meditation practice to turn you into the Dali Lama and when you stop with all these expectations your practice just becomes something you do. Maybe your practice is actually part of a bigger picture on the road to becoming a more spiritual person who embraces Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. I would guess for many of us that meditate it has become just a part of our spiritual practice, and not a thing we do to satisfy some expectation of what we get from it or who we will become.
After I got over the idea that my meditation practice should give me something I dropped all the expectations and it became a habit. What I mean by that it has become like eating, sleeping, breathing, yoga, or any other thing you regularly do. Once your practice becomes a habit, something you just do, you can quit thinking about what is it doing for me. Will you benefit from your meditation practice? Absolutely, but beyond what you might expect is a realization that your practice helps you develop the Buddha-nature that is buried deep within yourself. Maybe what I call Buddha-nature will for you be, Jesus Christ, God, or Mohammed.
This is one of my favorite quotes and I feel is very applicable to your meditation practice:
“I expect nothing and accept everything” Gary John Bishop
Take this to heart as it applies to your meditation practice and all will be well with you.
Note: I wrote this post using Grammarly, which really helps. Give it a try, it works with WordPress and Google Docs.
In my prior post Meditation Experiences – Uno I wrote about how I started meditating and to some degree why I decided to try meditation. In this post, I would like to make a case for meditation, the benefits if you will at least from my own perspective. Some of you may have tried meditating in the past and found it difficult if not almost impossible to just sit and count breaths. You may have been so busy thinking about what you need to do, that the whole process was just painful and seemed very unproductive. Here is the problem, it takes time to create a habit of meditating and the first 5 or 10 sessions may seem difficult at first, but like any good habit, you will need to make the investment before seeing any returns. You may feel like nothing is happening here and I am still letting my monkey mind dominate my meditation session and then something begins to change and you start to both enjoy and benefit from the experience. Mind you it might have taken a month or longer to get to this point, but it does happen.
Why did this seemingly simple thing, just sitting and breathing suddenly become enjoyable? Here are a few benefits I have received from meditating:
Being Present – I began to understand that my monkey mind and drive to be always doing something that supported my goals was preventing me from just enjoying the process of meditating. I was so anxious that I was spending all of my time recalling the past and then at the same time thinking about what I needed to do in the future. So instead of looking at meditation as just another thing to check off my to-do list, I began looking forward to it because it helped me be in the present. In fact, I often tell myself while meditating “You are present” or “You are here”, this often helped to drown out the thinking about the future, which often dominates my thoughts. What I’m really saying here is you are fucking yourself over by thinking you need to be productive all the time. This was part of my problem, I was looking at meditation as a kind of goal or thing I had to do, instead of just appreciating how it was helping me live in the present moment.
Discover Your True Self – As I continue to meditate I have begun to realize that there are things more important than my job or who I thought I was. Meditation helps you get in touch with who you really are. This doesn’t happen immediately, but over time you begin to realize there is the actual you, not some role you play. Maybe it is your true self, you know the compassionate, introspective, and loving person you actually are. For me, meditation is helping to peel back the layers of responsibility and anxiety that dominates much of our lives as we spend our time trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations.
Calms the Mind – Meditation is one of the few things I have found that breaks the monkey mind pattern of thinking and calms the mind. When I finish a session I feel renewed and free if even only for a while. You might get a similar feeling from walking on a nice day when you are not bothered by cars or loud noises. While I love a good long walk and find it very relaxing it feels different than meditating. The aftereffect of meditation is more like a reset or rebooting of the mind to a state of calm and clarity.
I know that there are many other benefits that could be attributed to meditation, but for me, these are the ones I have noticed a couple months into the practice.
So is it worth it?
My answer is a resounding Yes!
Final Parting Shot
The mistake I made in the last year or so is that I would start out very consistent and then my practice would fizzle out. I simply did not put a high enough priority on it, missing many days, stopping and starting. Those benefits of being present, discovering yourself, and calming your mind come from daily practice. I’m not saying I never miss a day, but it has become pretty rare now, and if something prevents me from doing it at my regular time, I fit it in later in the day.
I would love to hear about the benefits you attribute to your own meditation practice, leave me a comment.
I hope to write another post soon as this wonderful journey continues.
Do good and stay safe.
Note: I wrote this post using Grammarly, which really helps. Give it a try, it works with WordPress and Google Docs.
This is my first (Uno) post regarding my recent meditation experiences. `It is not so much my intention to teach about meditation, but I am more interested in explaining my own journey. However, with that said there are a couple basics that you may want to consider such as the sitting position and the benefits of having some kind of seating cushion often referred to as a Zafu. There are a number of different sitting positions, but I would say most of the world uses either full lotus, half-lotus, or Burmese. These are pictured below:
When I started meditating I tried the full lotus position, but I’m not that flexible and was unable to get into the correct position, so I used the half-lotus position most of the time and even tried the Burmese position. One thing I like about the Burmese sitting position is that your knees are at the same level, where when sitting in half-lotus one is higher than the other. This comes in handy when you put your hands on your knees, you feel that your arms are completely balanced.
If you already meditate, you are probably saying stop you are boring me to death. Ok enough about sitting positions, just choose one that works best for you and get on with it.
Once I got serious about meditating, meaning doing it every day the question was for how long should I sit? I started out with sitting for 10 minutes, then 15, and now I am sitting 20 minutes at each session. With each successive increase in time came benefits as it seemed like the first 10 minutes or so was still a battle of fighting with my monkey mind, which was mostly focused on challenges at work. So while 10 minutes of meditation was better than nothing I didn’t really get a whole lot of benefit out of it, but when I moved to 15 and then 20 minutes things started to change. I’m speculating that I could probably get even more out of my practice if I extended the time to say 30 or 45 minutes, but I’m not there yet. Most of my meditation sessions occur fairly early in the morning after I have completed my yoga practice, which by itself takes about 30 minutes, so, all in all, I’m spending about 1 hour in the morning practicing yoga and meditation.
I have tried Zen (Zazen) meditation with your eyes open and the mudra hand position (see below). I did this for some time but was never really comfortable having my eyes open and eventually changed to meditating with my eyes closed, but I still use the mudra hand position from time to time.
When I started meditating about two months ago, I used the technique of counting breaths, which helped me drown out the monkey mind a bit, but I rarely do that now. Most of the time I will focus on just watching my breathing and trying to stay present.
If you are not currently meditating you might ask, why in the hell are you doing this? For me the answer was easy, I was very unhappy, experiencing a lot of anxiety and worry in my life, and I knew if I gave meditation a fair try I might be able to alleviate some of this angst. I will be honest I was fucking miserable and dreading each day and knew this was no way to live. In my next post, I will explain what meditation is doing for me and cover some of the benefits you can also expect during your own journey.
Note: I wrote this post using Grammarly, which really helps. Give it a try, it works with WordPress and Google Docs.
I contend that most of the anxiety and unhappiness you experience comes from giving a shit about things that don’t warrant your attention. Every day you agonize over whether I will get that project done on time, or will I accomplish that ever-growing list of to-do items. Let me be clear, I’m not saying you don’t need to accomplish things in your life, but you’re playing this game as if it were life and death and it’s eating you up inside. You give all this shit that you feel must get done a high priority, in effect you care too much. Every project, every endeavor you undertake is not intended to be done as if it were some kind of death march. You not someone else is sucking the fucking joy out of everything by taking it all too seriously.
We perceive what we do as so important when in the grand scheme of things the shit we are doing is just stuff that we feel needs to be done and we are going to bust our ass to make sure it is accomplished regardless of how it affects our well being. I work as a consultant and on a daily basis, issues are being escalated. The end result is that 90% of the work that needs to be done is considered high priority and only 10% can wait. These escalations are not self-imposed but instead, the priority is being dictated by the customer or my leadership. Is it any wonder that we care too much?
Listen whether this sense of urgency is self-imposed or being imposed upon you, really doesn’t matter, either way, you are screwed if you continue to react in the same way you always do. So what can you do about this overwhelming avalanche of high priority shit on your plate? There are several things to consider:
Choose carefully from the list of things everyone thinks must be done right now and prioritize 3 to 5 things you can do today and defer the rest. This may not make you more popular, but it will improve the quality of your life by providing some much-needed focus and strangely enough your productivity will actually increase. Not being burdened by a list of 15 things and instead focusing on just a few things allows you to be more present and take back a little bit of control over your life.
While those around you will think the world will come to an end if this or that is not done you can rest assured that this stuff they deem so important just isn’t and not nearly as time-sensitive as everyone makes it out to be. Sometimes you have to push back and ask for more time to accomplish something or even ask why in the fuck are we doing this in the first place? Stop believing in this insane idea that working more is a badge of honor, or makes you more productive. Don’t buy into all the memes that say you won’t achieve anything unless your working 18 hours a day, it’s is just bullshit and unsustainable.
Finally and this is maybe the most empowering, which is why I wrote the quote above. You cannot and should not take all this shit so seriously, hell you shouldn’t even take your own life so seriously. You can’t spend your life making everything a high priority, in fact, this thing you call your life is really just a journey, yet we make it into some fucking project. Once our life has become a project it is just a series of milestones and tasks that get checked off, never stopping to enjoy the process. I love this quote by Kurt Vonnegut “We are here on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different”.
This thing you call your life is not a series of goals to achieve or some fucking death march. Start today by taking things less seriously, living in the moment, and stop making all things you are compelled to do of equal priority. Years from now you will thank yourself.
There are many philosophies and religions where the practice of forgiveness is extremely important. We are taught to forgive others for their sins against us, errors in judgment, or even crimes they have committed, but are we equally forgiving of ourselves?
If you are an egomaniac you wouldn’t feel bad about what you have done in the past and forgiveness would not even be a consideration. Fortunately for you, there is an awareness of how you fucked up, and you feel bad. Maybe what you did just hurt yourself, but most likely it also affected others and you are experiencing a guilt trip. You become angry with yourself, condemning yourself for being so stupid. All this guilt and anger does nothing for your current state of mind and prevents you from apologizing to yourself and others. It may be something where you physically harmed yourself or someone else, and a certain amount of guilt is warranted because as I said before you are not an egomaniac, you have some sense of empathy at least for others. It may be that you just can’t forgive yourself for the unsavory shit you did, but nothing will change if you continue to be weighed down by this guilt.
Here is the thing we are all just humans, well most of us anyway, and we are flawed as hell. There are two courses of action for you at this point:
Stop doing the shit that is making you guilty. This could be some destructive habit or behavior, but you need to stop doing it. There will be some relief coming your way as you have quit doing the stupid thing that makes you feel guilty.
Forgive yourself and move on. Every one of us has messed up our lives in various ways and it is very easy to keep blaming ourselves or worse yet someone else. Walk away from it, that shit you did that is tearing you apart is now in your past; bury it!
Many of us have an uncanny ability to forgive others, but when it comes to ourself we just can’t seem to be as gracious. You are terrorizing you, and can’t seem to come to grips with the imperfect version of you.