Tag Archives: Buddha

No Time Like Now

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” – Buddha

I am a planner. An organizer. I like lists and I especially like checking things off those lists.  I also like setting goals as well as breaking those goals down into manageable pieces and accomplishing them one at a time.  I am also a perfectionist, so if I am going to do something it needs to be done “right”…the first time…which in turn emphasizes the need to plan things out properly so they end up being done correctly.  It’s a bit of a chaotic cycle at times.  I have been this way as long as I can remember…truly, it’s deeply engrained within me.  And while I was never really opposed to doing things in the spur of the moment, that was just never my norm or my go to choice…I always preferred to know what I was getting into…I liked planning and preparing so, at least in theory, I could make the most of any experience.  I didn’t want to leave anything to chance.  But as I get older I am realizing there is yet another layer to this for me.

Much of planning, organizing, and setting goals is focused on the future. It is not so much about the here and now, other than in terms of what steps need to be done now to reach the end goal down the road. Now is simply a means to an end.  Now is just a step in the process.  Now is merely a part of the daily grind.  This is where I have started to run into an internal conflict – the very nature of goal setting and planning, being largely future-focused, flies in the face of what I have come to believe is an essential way to live and experience life – that is, being present in the moment.

One thing I have come to believe for certain in more recent years is the importance and power of being present in each moment. It is on one hand a matter of respect and common courtesy to those with you in the present moment, and on the other hand it is how you can ensure you get the most out of the moment, not missing anything or taking anything for granted. Being present in the moment helps you stay focused on what is really important in any given moment.  It can help you be more aware of the blessings in your life…of what you have to be grateful for in life.  It can teach you powerful lessons and open your eyes to amazing opportunities.  And it can allow you to see all the wondrous things in the world.

Too often in today’s society we move from one moment to the next without noticing any of the people and things around us. We are so programmed, so stressed, so busy, and so focused on what comes next that we don’t appreciate or even see who and what is here with us in each moment.  It results in so many of us feeling lost and disconnected…moving through life such that we “wake up” one day and wonder how we got to where we are.  It’s the absolute antithesis of being present and mindful.  And while we may have things organized and planned out and we may be achieving all of our goals…we are not connected to any one moment and as such we miss so much.

“With mindfulness, you can establish yourself in the present in order to touch the wonders of life that are available in that moment.” – Nhat Hanh

So what’s the alternative? How can these two things be reconciled? How can we be present and mindful in the moment yet coexist with our crazy, busy society that promotes this focused mindset of needing to plan, organize, set and achieve goals?  It certainly is not an easy thing to do.  What I have tried to do is to honor my internal love of planning and organizing while still being present in each moment.  So I take time to plan and organize for the big things, my goals, and other long term vision items.  I have a very intentional process I use when I plan, organize and set goals, so even when I am doing these future-casting activities I am doing them in a mindful way…being present in those moments of planning.  And after the planning and goal setting steps are done and I am in the midst of the tasks that will help me reach my goals as well as all the other daily activities of life in general, I work hard to try and be present in each moment, appreciating each of those moments for whatever they have to offer, be it positive or challenging in nature.   Again I have an intentional process (a daily morning routine) that really helps me set the stage for each day, reminding me from the very beginning of my day that I want to be present in each passing moment…I want to be aware of all the people and things passing through my day…I want to appreciate all the blessings in my daily life…I want to be awake and aware of the things happening in my life.  And I have found that just setting this intention each morning goes a long way toward making sure it happens.  But it has to be an intentional, conscious decision on my part each day…otherwise I find myself lost in the chaos of the day, going through the motions, and not truly seeing and appreciating what is in each moment.

Recognize it is a practice…it is not something you achieve once and have set in place forever as a result. Each moment you can deicide whether you will be present or not. Don’t get swallowed up in the whirlwind of life.  Be present, enjoy what is happening now while working toward your future goals and endeavors. See all the beauty, opportunity, and lessons in each moment…even t those time when the moment is also filled with difficulties and challenges.  There is no time like now, so don’t sleepwalk through your days…plan all you want, but just make sure to also be present, be thankful, and enjoy all that life has to offer you.

What About Me?

One of the most difficult lessons I have ever had to learn is the importance of taking care of myself first. To be honest, it is a lesson I still struggle with almost daily. That concept seems so counterintuitive. We live in a society that prides itself on giving to others, doing for others, sacrificing for others, and serving others. Through messages at home, at school, via religion, and in the media we are clearly expected to give of ourselves before we do for ourselves.  In fact we are taught that do or be otherwise is selfish.

What I learned over the past few years is that the reality of how things work in the universe is actually quite contrary to that societal truth we have been taught practically since birth. The reality is if we don’t take the time to care for ourselves first, we cannot provide for others. It’s just not possible. Oh we try…because society has taught us that is the way it should be, but we continually fail…if not right away, eventually.

Think of yourself as a battery. Eventually there’s no charge left in the battery if it is not put on the charger. If we would regularly recharge the battery it would never die. The same is true for us. If we keep going, giving to others, helping and serving others while never recharging our own batteries, never caring for ourselves, we will eventually “die”…there will be nothing left to give…we can become irritable, lose our tempers, or respond to those around us in any of a number of other negative ways. And these responses are not well received…its not normal for us to behave in such a way…the expectation is that we keep giving as we always have. So you have your “moment” (call it a freak out, a break down, a temper tantrum, or whatever you want to call it), then you go right back to giving and serving, never really recharging yourself…and thus the cycle continues. Is it any wonder why so many of people are stressed, on medications for depression or anxiety, and/or just plain miserable much of the time?

Instead, if we just took a little time to regularly recharge ourselves we could continue to give and serve others…likely even more than we do now. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but that recharging is essential. It will look different for each of us…for some it may be going to a yoga class, going for a run, taking some quiet time to read a book, taking a nap, heading to the spa for a massage, or maybe spending time with a loved one. Regardless of what recharges your batteries, it is imperative you take a little time to do those things.

The bottom line is you can’t help or serve others if you are not cared for yourself. It’s not selfish, contrary to what society tells us, it is necessary. So be kind and gentle to yourself. Show yourself some love and compassion. As Buddha said, “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” Care for yourself so that you can continue to care for others.

The Inside Job, Part 2

In last week’s post I talked about how happiness is an inside job…that it must start inside ourselves in order to be real, authentic, and lasting. I also talked about how mindfulness, awareness, discernment and practice can be used as steps toward choosing a positive, happy outlook on a daily basis. The keys are choice and persistence. We have to choose to be happy (mindfully be aware of our choices and discern new ones when needed) and continually work at choosing happiness on a daily basis (practice). All of that may make good sense, but how do we sustain that happiness, contentment, and feeling of peace? What are some practical tools to help us be more mindful of our choices, to discern happier choices and to practice making the choice to be happy, content and peaceful regularly?

Hence, Part 2 of The Inside Job. I wanted to share some tools I have used and found to be helpful in my quest to choose happiness no matter the situation. To be sure, choosing happiness is not always an easy thing to do. There are so many things working against on any given day. But I have found that with practice (using the tools shared below), reflection (being honest with ourselves about the choices we are making, especially when we are not choosing happiness), and a desire to want to be a better person every day, we can reach a point where happiness becomes more of an automatic response…that it becomes our go to choice most of the time.

One last thought before I share the tools/techniques – this is not about escaping/not facing negative or bad situations. To be clear, this is about how to help yourself reach a point in which you can consciously choose happiness, contentment and peace despite the situation and circumstance surrounding you on any given day. It’s about putting things into perspective, recognizing your blessings, and choosing positive feelings over negative ones. In order to do so successfully, you have to deal with those negative feelings…reflect upon them…face them. And these are some tools to help you do just that.

Some practical tools for choosing happiness over other negative options:

  1. Breathing – Just stopping and breathing can really refocus your attention and perspective. It turns your attention to your breath instead of whatever else is happening in your world at that moment. I like this tool because you can do it anywhere, anytime, for any amount of time and it is extremely impactful to your mindset. I find it most helpful in situations in which I feel stress, anxiety, or anger surfacing. Specifically, what I do is close my eyes (if possible), take a deep breath (for a count of 4), hold the breath for a moment at the top of the inhalation, then exhale (for a count of 4)…and I repeat that as many times as I am able to or need to (depending on the circumstances). Try it once – you will immediately notice you feel calmer and clearer…a great place to then reassess your situation and make a choice of happiness over stress or anger.
  1. Light Meditation – This is one of my favorites as it not only helps me to refocus my attention and perspective, it also gives me a feeling of warmth and support. (That might sound a little strange, but I think once you try it you will understand what I mean.) I find this technique most helpful when I sense stress, anxiety, or a strong feeling of inadequacy or doubt coming on. Like breathing, you can do it anywhere, anytime, and for any amount of time. I prefer to do this technique at home or in my office with the door closed so I can close my eyes and really relax and focus on the light meditation, but you can modify it for use just about anywhere. Once my eyes are closed, I breath normally and just envision a beautiful yellow light above my head (some people prefer to envision a white light, or a light of some other color – the color of the light should resonate with you…honor the color that comes up for you when you do this technique). I visualize that yellow light to be almost like the consistency of honey as it slowly pours down over me, eventually covering my entire body. The more time you have for this mediation, the slower you can envision the light flowing over you (or you can envision it covering your whole body multiple times as well). As I visualize it flowing over your body I “feel” its warmth…its “protection”. I literally think about the light washing away those other, unwanted feelings – I envision those feelings falling away from my body and into the ground beneath me. At the end, not only do I feel calmer, but I feel supported as well, thus being in a place from which I can choose happiness and peace over the stress, anxiety, inadequacy or doubt I may have been feeling before.
  1. Take a walk – We have all heard it said that you should “go take a walk to cool off” when in the heat of an argument or disagreement, and with good reason. It is excellent advice. Removing yourself from the situation that has you worked up is a great first step to calming down and making better choices (no good choices are made in the heat of the moment when your emotions are ruled by anger or frustration). Walking away allows you to refocus, reprioritize, and/or reevaluate. This is an especially wonderful tool for when you are feeling angry, frustrated, anxious or blocked in some way. The downside to this tool is that you may not always be in a situation/location where you are able to take a walk (in which case I would suggest “mentally” taking a walk while focusing on your breathing). While there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to take a walk, I would suggest combining your walk with one of the other tools listed here so you do not spend you walk fixated on the thing that caused you to need the walk in the first place. Fixating on the situation that brought those negative feelings about will likely only prove to perpetuate those same feelings. When we say take a walk, we really mean take a walk both physically and mentally (away from the situation causing the negative feelings you are experiencing). Separate yourself from it all so you can calm down, think more clearly, and make the choice to be happy.
  1. Read something inspirational – Whether it is a single quote or a passage from a book, reading something inspirational can transform your outlook almost instantly. This is one of my favorite tools for when I am feeling stuck, uncreative, unmotivated, or uninspired. Like most of the techniques shared here, you can do this anywhere, anytime, and for any amount of time. Smartphones make finding inspiration quick and easy when you are on the go, while at home you may have a specific book you turn to when you need a little pick me up. Whatever works for you…wherever you find inspiration (be it in word, art, music, etc.), go there when you need to reignite your passion, creativity, etc. – because when you are in those places you will find that sense of happiness (your choice of happiness becomes much easier at that point).
  1. Reflect on the blessings in your life – Whenever I feel like the universe is conspiring against me…like nothing I do is right…like my life just plain sucks, this is my go to technique. By taking even just a few seconds to reflect on all the blessings in my life I can very quickly put into perspective whatever is happening in my life at that moment. I also keep a daily gratitude journal because I have found that taking a few seconds each day to be grateful for something different each day frames my mindset for the day…and if/when I find myself going down that rabbit hole of negativity I can either look at my journal for an instant reminder or quickly recall what I wrote earlier in the day. We so quickly forget all the things we have to be grateful for, despite what bad things are happening in our lives. Reflecting on our blessings helps us choose happiness and contentment each day.
  1. Talk with a trusted friend or loved one whom you find to be positive and/or inspirational – Sometimes we get ourselves to a place from which we need help returning. A trusted friend or loved one who is known for their positive or inspirational outlook is perhaps the best one to help us in these situations. When we can’t see any blessings in our lives to be thankful for, they can point some out for us. When inspirational quotes just aren’t able to inspire us, they often can rephrase them such that they resonate with us. They can tell us to take a few slow, deep breaths to calm down when we aren’t able to do that on our own. Sometimes just being able to talk the situation out with a neutral party (who has a positive attitude/outlook) can help us build the bridge between that negative place we find ourselves and the ability to choose happiness in that situation. Be careful though not to use this technique as a complaint session, as that is not the intent here. Again, if you have chosen the right person to talk with they can help bring you back on track.

Note – These are but a sampling of many possible ways you might choose to bring yourself our of negative thinking and into positive, happy, peaceful thinking. These are some of the techniques that have worked for me, but it is important for you to find what resonates with you. You may find that different situations call for the use of different techniques, and that is okay. Remember, the goal is to bring yourself to a place where you can choose happiness, contentment, and peace despite the current situation and/or events. If there are other things you find work well for you, please share them in the Comments section of this blog, as others will likely benefit from your sharing as well.

The Buddha once said, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”  I believe there is so much truth in these words. When you reach that point when happiness is your thought, you will be happy.