06.13.19

Contemplation

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:22 pm by Administrator

this morning I was heading out and the door to the garage banged shut on one of my fingers. it was extremely painful, and I could feel the curse words forming on my tongue, the accusations of stupidity and self-flagellation taking shape in my mind. but in my moment of acute pain, I chose instead to be still, to feel the pain, and to breathe mindfully. I observed the agitation on my insides, as my ego looked for someone or something to blame. the moment came and went, as quickly as that. my finger throbbed and hurt, and I could see the blood pooling under my nail. but other than the pain, I was quite well.

I was reminded in that moment that pain and suffering are not the same. this morning I experienced pain without suffering.

I heard a monk once describe how snipers in the military were being taught breathing exercises and mindfulness so that they could kill more effectively. the monk expressed a lot of concern about this, because it is a misapplication of mindfulness when we use it to cause harm to self or to someone else. I thought of his words this morning and was reminded that it is not the point of mindfulness to be better at doing something or another. mindfulness has no point. contemplation is not how we find our way to a solution; it is the solution. as they say, to be at peace, one only needs to be peaceful.

I had a fascinating conversation today with a brilliant colleague about culture, conflict, and competing priorities. “language conceals violence,” she said, as she described how some of the terms and concepts popular with our new leaders have failed to resonate with many of the longer-standing employees of the company. what matters is the story that we are implying through these words; and the less that this story connects with the personal experiences of our people, the more these words inspire fear and a lack of trust. I think that when we are mindful of the words we use, we become aware of the stories and narratives that we tap into, whether consciously or unconsciously. it is the stories that impose or invoke identities; and identities can trigger great suffering, because they are inextricably linked to the quests and questions of the ego.

my wife has recently experienced conflict with some close friends of ours, and seeing her go through this crisis is almost heartbreaking for me. but because I am mindful of my self-inflicted suffering, I instead observe what it is that my ego is doing. my ego wants to right a wrong; it wants to diminish conflict; it wants to control a conversation; it wants to settle a dispute. these are agendas that are all incidental to the truth that comes out of presence. when I breathe and observe, I recognize that I cannot be present with all people in any argument. I must choose whom to be present with; and with that person, even then I cannot choose an agenda, a position, or a conceptual stance. even then, I must commit myself to experiencing that person not as an idea or as a combatant but rather as a whole person, a miraculous life, one who transcends the issue or conflict at hand. when I experience my wife in this way, I do not fear for her or her well-being. instead, I see her suffering, her truth, and the awesome depths of her humanity as she holds self, the other, and society as a whole in the space of her consciousness. I can see that the experience is stretching her, and this is neither good nor bad. this is pain. it can be experienced without suffering. and so I hold it—this pain—with her, and we bleed it out, and we live

06.11.19

moods, lost sheep, and a prayer

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:22 am by Administrator

as with every monday, i had my monday thoughts and questions. what is this week’s challenge? what can go wrong? what am i doing here? what is my significance? what do other people think of me? what should i be doing instead of this? what is my path to success? as with every monday, i had my monday preoccupations, and as i observed these familiar, recurring, and utterly unoriginal thoughts, i came to some basic realizations.

first of all, i have these thoughts every monday. they never change. even since i began to meditate, these basic thought patterns have not gone away. they emerge every week, like fish wandering back to the surface after a storm. and no matter how much i observe these thoughts, and no matter how much i see the futility in them, they don’t change, evolve, or go away. such is the ego. the ego is not trying to develop itself, mature, or gain enlightenment. the ego is just the ego; it’s a programmed habit with a lifetime of memories and pains to draw upon. it’s a light switch without a dimmer, and it’s either off or it’s on.

second of all, i don’t have moods anymore. i used to have monday morning blues, and friday night highs, and sunday morning ruminations. i used to have deep, simmering, irrepressible moods because those thoughts i just described would reflexively trigger other mental activities that would produce all kinds of predictable feelings. before meditation, i couldn’t stop these emotions from happening, and i couldn’t pack those emotions away. but now, i don’t have moods, because when i observe my thoughts—as one who is thinking them and not as one who is captive to them—i simply can’t dwell on them for very long. they don’t echo, self-magnify, and overpower. they simply run their course and disappear.

third of all, because i don’t have moods, i have a different sense of perspective. before i began meditation (a year ago now), my emotional context would determine my judgments, and my judgments of any given interaction or situation would vary widely depending on my mood. i readily understood that i lacked objectivity or a stable perspective, and i dealt with this by trivializing my judgment—which only aggravated my ego in its quest to be both perfect and indomitable. i wouldn’t say that i’ve achieved objectivity (or ever will), but my outlook is significantly less variable from day to day, and that means my perspective is stable. i can adhere to basic judgments, knowing that my judgment is likely sound. this means for example that when someone says an unkind word to me or cuts me off on the freeway, and my aware self is able to judge that this person meant me no harm, i can abide by that judgment and act accordingly with compassion for the other and for myself, knowing that this view is credible and life-giving.

it strikes me that when jesus looked at the people and had compassion for them, he was not pitying them for their false beliefs or errant ideas. he felt compassion for them because of how conceptuality itself was binding and oppressing their lives. this is the reason why jesus gave people not a religion but rather a profound freedom from it. his parables, stories, and beatitudes were delivered in manners and structures entirely inconsistent with the way religion was customarily taught in his day; and this strangeness and novelty of delivery were essential to his aim. jesus disrupted conceptuality in general and the framework of the jewish law in particular because his interest was to draw people out of belief and into intuitive, immediate, and compassionate awareness. it appalled him that the elaborate theologies and philosophies of learned men served to restrain people from doing good. basic and felt goodness—the conscientious ideal he preached to again and again—was not conceptual to jesus; it was the natural experience of a life unrestrained by unnecessary mental and spiritual burdens.

i know this to be true. i have always known this to be true. and even if it is not entirely true, i can say that it seems sufficiently true. throughout my life i have tried to justify the elaborate conceptual framework of pauline christology; and other times i have tried to dispute it, as if it were anathema to me. but when i am empty of my past and of my suffering, i gain perspective, and i judge not out of feeling but out of awareness. it is then that i know that Christ is neither to be worshipped or rejected. he can be known and loved, and the power of his teaching can be appreciated for the good that it produces. it is monday, and i am breathing, and i see the living Christ.

today i pray to this living Christ, and i say to him at last i am well.
thank you

06.07.19

football thoughts: wentz, player health, and the college game

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:11 pm by Administrator

I’m very relieved we got the wentz extension done, and I’m happy to see it was done before a Dak Prescott deal was completed. take that cowboys!

it’s hard to call it a bargain for the eagles when it’s the biggest guaranteed contract in nfl history; but at a shade under $30 mil a year, it’s the right price for a guy of wentz’s potential. now that the dust has settled on the contracts for foles and wentz, i still believe that the value Jacksonville is getting in foles for $22 mil per year will exceed the value that we get from wentz on his new contract, particularly when one factors in the guaranteed money and all of its associated risks. that being said, the “1B” scenario here is still an excellent one for the eagles, and I’m glad we’re going to go into this season with a confident QB and excellent weapons on the offensive side of the ball.

i haven’t stopped thinking about CTE, and the health of the players i root for still matters a great deal for me. I’ve come to some peace though with the idea that there is enough good-quality information out there for players to make informed decisions about their futures in the league, as evidenced by more than a few high-profile early retirements from football in recent seasons. i recognize that it should be the player’s choice when it comes to deciding between longevity and the financial rewards of the game, and even when that choice seems to reflect the perverse incentives of a dehumanized capitalistic system, it’s a legitimate choice all the same. I’ve written previously that if i were an NFL player, I’d probably play hard for that second contract with guaranteed money and then go straight into self-preservation mode by either laying back, feigning injury, or retiring early. I’m not smarter than these guys; i just have different values at my age. it’s hard to admit it, but I’m glad that the Eagles have more guys like Malcolm Jenkins and fewer guys (if any) like me.

i don’t think specialized helmets or new gear have a real future in the NFL. i continue to believe that a few rule changes are really needed to make the game a bit less dangerous for the players. in brief, anything that can decrease the probability of high-speed collisions will decrease the incidence of CTE. for me, that means rethinking kickoff/punt returns and also decreasing dead time between plays. would football be significantly worse of a game if for example we forced the offensive and defensive personnel to stay on the field for the 4th down kicks? these are guys who won’t be as fresh, fast, and explosive as dedicated special teams personnel, which means that the plays won’t be as dangerous. decreasing dead time between plays and controlling substitutions means that guys will have to play a significantly faster pace of game with progressively less energy, which then means that they’ll be less and less capable of speed and aggression. this might make overall play sloppier, but it will also tilt the game toward higher scoring. most importantly, there will be fewer high-speed collisions on the field. we have to find ways to limit the extent to which big guys with metal helmets are able to charge each other at full speed. ironically, i think that fatiguing the players is the way to make the game safer.

an added effect of forcing guys to stay on the field and with less stoppage of play is that endurance will become a more and more important player attribute. that’s also important to me because i think that the NFL incentivizes bulk and size at certain positions to a dreadfully unhealthy degree. guys shouldn’t be going into the off-season with the primary objective of wolfing down 20 burgers a day in order to gain the extra 30 pounds needed to become that much more immovable to the man lined up across you. that’s bad for the heart, the brain, and the joints. a faster and more unrelenting game will incentivize the mobility and stamina that are better reflections of real physical fitness, and it will also reward more versatile and even hybrid players. that’s a more sustainable and healthier game, in my opinion.

on top of these reforms, I’d like to see the NFL player union buck up and really commit to a strike that will result in mandatory guaranteed contracts for the players. this has been the frontier for way too long; it’s time to make this happen now. additionally, it’s time for colleges to play the players who bring them revenue. it doesn’t have to be guaranteed contracts, but it’s got to be real money—money that affords these young men and women a secure financial future and a pathway to continuing education and empowerment.

this is a lot of rumination on concepts, and it’s a form of suffering. but perhaps my journey into mindfulness is deepening my awareness of how systems are arbitrary—and how individual human beings really do have the opportunity in any given moment to reject them. i believe that this is the power of awareness: the way in which it empowers the individual to truly understand the wonder and potential of every moment. the game of football can change. the game of football has to change. we can change it! and it doesn’t require a miracle. it just requires that we be present with the human beings who are trying to make a living through this savage game that we call entertainment

06.06.19

the tribe itself

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:00 pm by Administrator

randomly I observed just how dangerous my day to day life is because of my commute. I have to move between two major highways twice per day, and my return commute requires me to cross over four lanes over a quarter-mile stretch and at another point to anticipate a sudden deceleration of traffic from 70 mph to a bumper-to-bumper crawl. drivers are doing all kinds of wacko things in the midst of these challenging circumstances, weaving and cutting in and out of lanes for marginal advances. it’s been over a year since I’ve experienced anything close to road rage, but nevertheless the actions of other drivers are continuously illuminating the perils of my commute. today, I was acutely aware that I could perish in a heap of crushed metal at any time, even if I obey all the rules of the road. the fact that I’m inured to the dangers of car travel doesn’t change the reality that I face the highest stakes as a routine part of my daily life.

the risks of driving are just part of the strange brinkmanship that we collectively accept as part of our lives in advanced industrial society. we save money for college tuitions and future retirement, accepting that much of those savings exist in the form of speculative dollars—imaginary entities called stocks, which can be precipitously devalued over the course of minutes by the algorithmic behavior of machines. wealth is largely an illusion; fortunes rapidly evaporate and without much to-do, as much of our assets don’t exist in physical forms that can be tangibly secured. beyond finances, we invest so much of our mental experience in internet life, where we constantly run the risk of being influenced, indoctrinated, or even bullied by entities that may not even represent real people. impressionable children wander through the web and emerge traumatized or even suicidal. the stakes of everyday living, the way I see it, are deceptively high.

once upon a time, the engineers of social reform and the dreamers of utopia imagined that the advancement of society would reduce risks to the individual—and possibly eliminate the vulnerability of poverty in the process. obviously this hasn’t happened as a result of our historical developments. I think though that what has evolved over these centuries of technological and cultural change has been our ability as individuals to compartmentalize risks and threats. globalization, interconnectedness through the web, the insurance industry, and federal financing of retirement have all created a conceptual structure for our lives, within which the extraordinary risks of our daily living appear to be moderate and even justified.

millennia ago, our ancestors could not live under such an illusion, as they did not have the means to create such an elaborate conceptual context for risk. they watched their children die of starvation and of exposure; if hunts went poorly or diseases wrecked a crop, the risk of imminent death was very real. when I imagine the ways in which they lived, I feel great compassion for our ancestors—but then I also gain a new perspective on ourselves, in this present age. in fact, we still face incredible risks to our well-being and survival all the time. the risks are different, and we perceive them differently as a result of our identities and beliefs—but still, our lives are very much informed by the ever-present risk of death, violence, and deprivation.

when I think of those nomadic families thousands of years ago roaming across lands, less interested in the idea of a home than in the reality of a next meal, I understand the importance of a tribe. one who has personally experienced a threat to his survival again and again will have a unique perspective on the importance of kinship and of authority. tribal leaders in these circumstances may have been aware of things such as power and legacy, but for certain they must have been aware of their responsibility to prevent the tribe’s extinction. leadership was never more important than in the time when the leader made a decision to migrate his people in one direction and not the other. the chieftain had to make the decisions that would sustain the life of his people; just as importantly, perhaps, he needed to believe that he had the power—whether from the stars, the signs, or the inner workings of his mind—to make that decision correctly, season after season.

In my own way, I understand the need of the Israelite people for their own god, a god like the gods of their Canaanite rivals. when the stakes are so high, living mindfully and in deep awareness of one’s surroundings necessarily creates an imminent awareness of the necessity of inter-being—mutual interdependence and even collective identification. poverty and constant threats to survival made the social structure of a tribe sensible; and it was the collective mental space of the tribe’s people that made possible the formation of their ego—an intergenerational stream of thought derived from the idea of a distinct, heritable identity. our stories, mythologies, and religions grew not out of individual inspiration but out of the collective and creative consciousness of the tribe. and so the rules, the laws, and the dictates of a belief system had extraordinary importance to our ancestors, as the tribe itself took on life and identity and required beliefs for its own sustenance. thus do we remember Abraham, Isaac, David, and Solomon not as men who lived out their moments as disparate, conscious fragments of our universe but rather as progenitors of a nation.

when Jesus came and turned the law upon its head, and when he consorted with Israel’s rivals and enemies, he became Christ—the man who belongs not to a nation or to an era but rather to the universe across all time. while understanding the origins of the tribe, which lay in deprivation and in the fear of extinction, Christ chose to address this bedrock poverty (to borrow a wonderful term from jorie graham) rather than to address the necessity and importance of the tribe. this is why Christ spent his time with the lonely, beaten, and straggling lost sheep and not with the standard bearers of the Israelite nation. to him, the tribe had no purpose but to address their poverty and to limit their suffering; if the tribe could not accomplish this, then what was the purpose of the tribe? the power of the law was broken through him, because he alone stood up to the crazed nations as one who refused to see society as a necessary means to an elusive end. to Christ, the tribe itself was unimportant; it was the poverty of the people that mattered.

the apostle Paul, rooted as he was in the tribal mindset of his people, created the idea of a new tribe out of the life and teachings of Christ, believing that it was Christ’s intention to replace a failed tribal identity with a broader and more enlightened idea of nation. perhaps Christ would have been terribly disappointed to see his mindful awareness of suffering leveraged for such an egoic purpose. nevertheless, the Christian religion emerged; but even the Christian religion, if understood in a particular way, will undermine its own tribalistic foundations. no matter what ideological or social structure is constructed around Christ’s teachings, the simple truth of what he said penetrates regardless. it was not Christ’s intention to establish a new covenant between god and man. it was his simple and human wish to relieve the fear and suffering of individuals trapped in time, place, and identity. this awareness—and the life and death that resulted from it—was the fruit of his consciousness, as it is the experience of all who can see themselves apart from the tribe

06.05.19

happiness

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:08 pm by Administrator

today my team got to present the final version of a brand-new and comprehensive customer service training that we’ve put together for all the staff throughout our health system. it is a 3 hour training that is thoughtful, challenging, and deeply engaging, and it is sure to transform not only work but also life for thousands of our employees that are going to undergo this experience. at its foundation, this is a training built upon mindfulness. we define it as a core skill in our line of work, and we explain how it can inform every needed communication, attitude, and behavior critical to meeting the needs of our patients.

a consultant that we worked with closely in developing the training thanked me afterwards for my sponsorship of the training. “getting approval to incorporate mindfulness into this training was mind-blowing,” she said. “this never would have happened with any other company I’ve recently worked with.” the comment gave me pause, because it illuminated the aspect of the training that I love most. this training reflects my personal values. mindfulness may not be a religion to me, but it’s as close to a faith as anything I have in my life right now.

a reflection I held briefly during a meditation yesterday made me wonder about our prehistoric ancestors who had no systematic verbal language to speak of. were they more or less human when they lacked words and all the concepts, ideas, and beliefs that words enable? I wonder at this. I have learned in my brief and strange journey that belief in things is largely unnecessary to happiness. in fact, if one requires belief in order to be happy, then the implication is that one cannot find happiness in the bare fact of the moment that he or she is living. to me, this is incomprehensible. how can this be? and yet I too once experienced happiness on account of ideas—of success, of love, of being appreciated by others.

in retrospect, what I recognize now is that the price I paid for the happiness I manufactured through these ideas was the suffering that those ideas also caused me. and the suffering has always been disproportionately greater than the happiness. feeling grand about a perfect performance was always surrounded by much agony and anxiety about the invariable imperfections I produced before and after that seeming moment of perfection. reaping happiness from the love of my wife has always been inextricably tied to my many pervasive and self-oriented expectations of her that grew around this idea of love—expectations that have created uncountable sufferings both for her and for myself over the years. we create stories and narratives to justify these sufferings, as if the purpose of life is to experience the occasional happiness at the cost of much personal suffering. I realize now, with suddenness and surprise, that such a narrative is strange and also unnecessary. I can experience happiness without ideas. I can experience happiness simply by living, as one who is present and manifestly aware of the precious moment I am inhabiting.

lately I have contemplated this idea that even if I were to lose all that my ego so treasures—my career, my personal journey, my relationships, my loved ones—I would in fact be no different. now this may be a troubling idea for many, because my lack of deep attachment to these things might suggest a lack of value or appreciation for these things. but I would contend the opposite: that it is in fact my ability to recognize the difference between me and the things in my life that allows me to understand and value these things properly. I did not learn to appreciate my wife until I came to recognize in a fundamental way that she is not an extension of my ego; she exists even outside her relationship with me. nor did I learn to enjoy my work until I understood that I am a person even outside of my vocation, and it is not the purpose of my life to be that work or to fulfill its potentialities. indeed I think that I did not learn to love the person of Jesus until I recognized that it is not the purpose of my life to worship him. now that he is not a deity to me, I can appreciate his humanity and the power of his decision to submit himself to death. he was a human being who was fully committed to living out compassionate awareness, in spite of the injustice he was subjected to. it was not the injustice that defined him; it was his willingness to choose love in each and every moment of terrible pain that reflected the beauty of his humanity.

when I am abiding in emptiness and able to hold my ego’s instinct to ascribe words, names, and identities to all people and things in my life, I am sometimes struck by the subjectivity of that experience. it is not happiness; but it is a deep form of wellness all the same. happiness is what creeps into emptiness, if emptiness is cultivated and permitted and sustained. happiness is like the sunlight that creeps across the carpet if the blinds are opened before the dawn. happiness is like the breeze that comes into a space sooner or later, after a window is opened. happiness is the salamander that suddenly appears on the patio in the heat of day; he only required space and time to arrive. I cannot create that happiness; I cannot manufacture it out of ideas. but it always comes, if I give it the space and the time to emerge. when I am empty, I am inevitably happy. this is so wonderful that I cannot describe it in words. it makes me recognize the miracle of living: that we were in fact designed to be happy, and we need do or think nothing to actualize it. in fact, we do so much in our thoughts to suppress happiness.

it is wonderful to be alive. this is the lesson of mindfulness. the emptiness of the universe is not profound. it is simple and it is sufficient, as is life itself