Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How me and God made a difficult decision

I have a hard time making decisions. It once took me four hours to buy a pair of shoes at Kohls. I kept walking around the department store, getting very familiar with the various departments and even starting to recognize some of the employees by sight. A nice salesgirl had been helping me for a while and she must've gotten called to another department for a couple of hours, and when she returned to the shoe department and ran across me she said: "ARE YOU STILL HERE?"

I was like, Well, yeah.

So last night I was walking outside. (Seems I do a lot of walking.) Just my usual jaunt around the neighborhood. It was around 9:30 and a pretty decent night, maybe fifty still, not windy. And as I was walking down this long block I saw a car in a driveway. The car had a weak light glowing on the inside. Sure enough, as I got closer I could see that the car's roof light had been left on.

It was late. The house was dark. There was no outside light on. I could see faint light inside, shifting as if a TV were on, behind the curtains. I hoped that the car's roof light would turn off automatically, but I felt it probably wouldn't. In fact, it already seemed to be waning.

Ugh. I dreaded the idea of knocking on the door. What if it was an old person and they had a heart attack? I mean, I don't know about your neighborhood but nobody knocks on doors after say maybe seven p.m. here. My walking route called for going around this park and so I figured I'd keep walking and come back to the car to see if the light was still on.

Off I went. And of course I was thinking about the light and what I would do if it was still on. I weighed the pros and cons. Pros: the person doesn't have a dead battery when he gets up to go to work in the morning. Cons: the person has a heart attack when some stranger (me) knocks on their door in the middle of the night.

Okay, I told myself, maybe they won't have a heart attack. And I asked myself, what would I want done if the car were mine? I decided I'd want to be a little startled and have my car start in the morning.

But still I didn't feel like knocking on their door. That clearly made me a bad guy. An interrupter at best. A terrifier at worst. Yes, I was wavering in my thinking that I was going to knock.

I was getting close to returning to the car now and yep, the roof light was still on. Darn it, I thought. Why did I have to make this decision? I was just out for a relaxing walk and now my stomach was tied up in knots.

But I was coming up on the car. In a half a block I'd be there. I didn't want to stop walking (I still had a long way to get back home).

Well, I'd done all I could. I was willing to knock or not knock. The selfish part of me wanted to keep going by, rationalizing that maybe the car would start in the morning anyway, or maybe somebody else who lived there would yet be returning and would see the light, or that I was sparing somebody from having a heart attack, yada yada yada. The other part of me knew knocking was the right thing to do.

So, willing to go either way, and with the car right there, I gave it God. You know what, I was still a little keyed up, but I had a peace and a conviction come right over me. I walked up the sidewalk and rang the doorbell. But no one came to the door. I rang again. Still nothing. Great, I thought. So I gritted my teeth, pulled open the storm door and knocked.

There was a translucent little window in the door and I could see that somebody came up behind it. But they didn't open the door. I called, "The roof light is on in your car." After a few seconds, I could hear the deadbolt turning. The door opened.

It was a young guy (I'm pretty sure he didn't have a heart attack) and I told him I was sorry to be knocking so late but that his car's roof light was on.

"Oh," he said, looking over my shoulder and out at the car. "Thank you so much!"

As I walked away I could hear the car's door open and shut and the car start up.

Monday, March 28, 2016

How do you react when squeezed?

It's easy to think we know who we are. We roll along through life and I mean, come on, who doesn't think they're a good person. And yeah, life pretty much affirms that that's the case...until someone cuts you off in traffic, or the IRS triples your real estate taxes or you find out your spouse cheated on you.

It's then—when life squeezes you—that you really find out what's inside you.

It's like they say, when you squeeze an orange you get orange juice and pulp and seeds. You don't get guacamole. But not so with us. When you squeeze "good" us, you often get anger and fear and disillusionment.

It's only when the pressure's on that we know our truest self. That's why sometimes the real heroes in life are the people you'd least expect it from—because what's deep inside a person is often impossible to see on the surface.

The old adage is you won't know what you would do if a baby fell into a well until a baby falls into a well.

So next time things go wrong and you get squeezed, then you'll see who you really are.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The secret benefit of kindness

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. —Mark Twain

Okay, it's great to be kind to others, but that's not what this post is about. This post is about the secret way in which kindness benefits you.

It's simple. When you're a kind person, it not only benefits others but it benefits you. Because if you're a kind person, yes, you'll be kind to others but you'll also be kind to yourself.

Think about it. How many times do you beat yourself up for a multitude of reasons? We can be so hard on ourselves. But again, if you're a kind person you're going to be kind to yourself.

Don't you like spending time with kind people? Well, you spend 24/7 with yourself. Wouldn't it be nice to have such a kind companion?

So cultivate kindness. Show it to everyone. Unfailingly. Aggressively. Before you know it you'll be showing that same kindness to yourself.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Is life a mirror?

We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are. —Anais Nin

Any idea, person or object can be a Medicine Wheel, a mirror for man. —Hyemeyohsts Storm

Can life be that simple? What we see, how we perceive the world is within us, not outside? The evidence points that way. Take what's called "The Rashomon effect." Several people see the exact same incident but perceive the event in contradictory ways. While that may bring memory into the equation, it still suggests a more subjective, as opposed to objective, way of seeing the world.

There's the classic example of a group of people spending a night on a mountaintop. One person experiences the peace of nature. Another is bored. A third is afraid a bear is going to rip the tent—and his entrails—open.

But there's even more evidence within ourselves. It's what's inside us that makes the difference. I heard someone use the example of a homeless person living in a cardboard box under a bridge. Take, say, the next four days the person will be facing. It doesn't look good. No, how could it. But what if that selfsame homeless person had a winning lottery ticket for a million dollars and just had to wait the four days to collect the money?

It would make those four days much more tolerable, no? Perhaps it would even make them pleasurable as the person anticipates the relief and pleasure that is on the way.

So next time you're walking down the street and the world seems wonderful or ugly or generous or cruel or however it seems, don't be thinking it's the world outside you that's causing your perception. Take a look inside.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Are you following the herd?

A friend and I were talking not long ago. She said she was going to read the novel Fifty Shades of Grey. I asked her if she knew what type of book it was. She said, "Yeah. Mommy porn." I wondered about that for a minute, and knowing that my friend really wasn't a 'mommy porn' sort of person asked, "Well, why are you reading it, then?" She said, "To see what all the buzz is about."

Hey, people do what they do. Life is tough. I'm not judging her or anybody else. But what I am wondering about is doing something just because everybody else is doing it.

That never caught on with me. Maybe I'm missing out, but I've never read The DaVinci Code, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, or whatever. Pick a blockbuster and chances are I haven't read it or seen the movie. And I'm sure a lot of those things are good. They just never appealed to me. And I have things that appeal to me. I'm not some sort of Mr. Spock, emotionless, unreachable.

But I never do something just because somebody else (or billions of people, for that matter) are doing it. Maybe it was because of how my mother raised me. I can remember saying to her (countless times): 'Can I do this (fill in the blank)?' Mom: "No." Me: "But my friend Timmy's mom is letting him do it!" And my mother would say: "I don't care if every single person in the whole world is doing it; you're not."

Even as a kid (even though I didn't like it!) that made sense to me.

So nowadays I pick and choose what I do because I want to do it. Not because of what everybody else is doing. Let the crowd and herd mentality go its merry way. I just won't be joining it.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Are you getting what you want (even the bad things) out of life?


I was glancing through this book's description (I can't recall the book) and came across something like: 'No matter what you may think, you are getting what you want in life.'

I thought, 'Oh, absolutely no way is that true!' But then I thought about it. (I find that things that upset me terribly are often true.) Well, maybe it could be true just a little bit, I relented.

I certainly think it's true for other people. LOL So often I see people struggling with problems or issues that could be seemingly relatively easily overcome but the people just don't. And after enough years of seeing that sort of thing, I start wondering, Well, maybe that's the way they want to be. 

I have a friend that has worked fourteen-hour days for years and years and years. And for years and years and years she's complained about how terrible and unfair it is that life treats her thusly. Well, this is a professional person who could do just about anything she wants work-wise, including cutting back her hours. But no, the years keep rolling by and she keeps working the long hours and keeps complaining.

This sort of thing is, of course, harder to see when it applies to oneself. But think about it. What things have you struggled with for years that you should've been able to overcome in a relatively timely fashion? Yes, your conscious mind screams that you don't want to live that way. But when you really get gut-level honest with yourself, isn't there something that you're getting out of living that way?

I know it's true for me. (Honesty is a painful thing sometimes. But a necessary thing if we're going to change.)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

What to do when you don't know what to do

Inertia. It can hit us all. And when it does, we often don't know what to do. Oh, we're willing, often desperately longing, to do something, but we just don't know what. It can get to the point where it's terribly upsetting—your life is stuck and you're wanting to get out of the quicksand, but you just can't seem to move.
"Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might..." —Ecclesiastes 9:10
There you have it. When you're stuck, do what's right in front of your nose. Which isn't to say that's what you want to do or are capable of doing. No, not at all. It's just saying that for now you need to do what's right in front of you and do it as well as you can and that will lead to the next thing.

Some years back I was seeing a psychiatrist and I told him I was lost in my life, especially regarding what do for work. He said, "If you can't make a decision as to what kind of work to do, make a decision to work." In other words, work at something. That I could do.

A friend in a self-help group once gave me his secret for overcoming inertia. He said, "Do the irreducible minimum—and you may find you want to continue." I tried it. It works. I don't know how many times I've used his advice. Say I don't feel like writing. I'll tell myself, 'I'll sit at the computer for ten minutes.' Well, it's usually a couple of hours later and I'm still working away. Or how about doing your taxes? I'd tell myself I'd sit down and look at all the tax forms for no more than fifteen minutes. Again, hours later I'd find myself sealing the envelope to the IRS with my completed return and check in it.

Doing something takes the pressure off. It gives you a sense that although maybe you're not going exactly where you want to, you're at least going somewhere positive. (I remember a bumper sticker I once saw. It was of Cap'n Crunch standing on the bow of a ship, sword extended, and the caption below it read: "I may be lost, but I'm movin'!") So, can't find the spouse of your dreams right now? Okay, maybe not but you can go to the gym and work out to lose those five extra pounds that will make it easier to attract that spouse. Can't land your dream job at the moment? Work on your resume. But it doesn't even have to be situation specific. Mow the lawn. Clean the kitchen. Anything at all. Just do something.

There's a saying: "No honest effort is ever wasted." You'll find if you just do what's right in front of you, you'll feel better about yourself and it will lead you do something else. You'll be on your way.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The art of enjoying little victories

Life is tough. Sometimes it's just one thing after another after another. I never used to be comfortable because I was always looking down the road at more tough stuff coming up. When I got through the latest challenge, then I would be comfortable, then I would be happy.  Only thing is there was always another challenge coming up, so, I would be comfortable, what, when I was dead?

The rock group Rare Earth has a song, I Just Want to Celebrate. The lyrics go:
I just want to celebrate another day of life. Had my hand on the dollar bill. And the dollar bill flew away. But the sun is shining down on me. And it's here to stay.
The idea being, yeah, you lost your money but you're still alive, and the sun is still shining down on you, so celebrate!

I live in Chicago and a few years back during the whole anthrax scare, people were finding what they thought was anthrax anywhere and everywhere, and they were flooding 911 with emergency calls. Mayor Daley held a press conference, reporters peppering him with paranoia-filled questions. One reporter asked about the city's plan if there was a water shortage. Daley pointed to the east and said, 'We've still got the lake (Lake Michigan).' The reporters cracked up.

But the mayor's point was life goes on and let's enjoy what we've got, even in the midst of scary stuff like anthrax and terrorism and the possibility of Donald Trump becoming president.

The Robert Redford movie The Milagro Beanfield War is about a real estate developer who wants to build an upscale resort that will divert the water supply a group of poor bean farmers need to grow their crops. A water-rights battle ensues between the deep-pocketed developer and the poor farmers. It's David vs. Goliath, but in this case David simply can't win.

But the farmers' side wins a temporary restraining order, momentarily stopping the developer's momentum. In a marvelous scene, the farmers' two lawyers watch the farmers celebrate their victory. Then after a while one of the lawyers turns to the other and says: 'You realize, though, that in the long run they're going to lose, don't you?' The other lawyer nods, looks out at the celebration, and says: 'I know. But still, this is something special.'

So that's what I'm saying. The tough times are always going to be coming. Yes, like in the movie, ultimately we're going to lose, but also, like in the movie, we can celebrate and relish those little victories in a major way.

Is your glass half-full? (It should be empty.)

You always hear the proverbial question, 'Is your glass half full or half empty?' I don't think either answer is optimal. At least if you want to receive. If you want to receive, your glass should be empty.

To stay with the glass analogy, if you have a glass and it's full, absolutely to the top, can you pour any more into it? Of course not. Same goes for life. If you've got it all figured out (ie. if your glass is full), if you know just who you are and where you're going and exactly how to live, well, you are not going to be able to receive anything at all. What you might have received is spilling out of the glass. 

Think of a closet. If it's stuffed with clothes, where can you put new ones? And if you'll let me get a little 'law of attraction-ish' on you I can relate a personal example. I once had a really full closet. Well, I decided to give a bunch of the clothes in it away. Two weeks later I, from out of the blue, got a package from my brother in Florida. It was a bunch of clothes (really nice stuff) he wasn't wearing anymore.

In Buddhism the masters practice what is called 'new mind.' It's having a mind that is not clogged with beliefs, ideas, preconceptions and convictions. It's a mind that's new, empty, ready to receive.

And so if you want to get a lot from the universe, stay empty, stay new, keep that glass of yours empty and you'll be amazed at how things will come your way to fill it up.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

When joining the "one percent" can be a good thing

We're all familiar with the term "the one percent," the people earning extraordinarily large incomes. And for sure when you read that some CEO makes 500,000 times what the average worker does, or the head of some pharmaceutical company is charging $10,000 for one pill it can be disheartening. So, okay, maybe joining the top one percent of income earners isn't such a lofty goal.

But what about other categories? What about being in the top one percent of givers? Of carers? Of kind people? Of listeners? Of honest people? Trustworthy, friendly or loyal people?

Now those are some categories worthy of aiming at and that a person would be proud to belong to.

When it's all said and done, who is really going to care if somebody made a lot of money. Actually, there's an answer to that—the greedy people who want to do the same thing. And hey, if that's what floats their boat, that's fine with me. But it doesn't float mine.

Onassis, Carnegie, Rockefeller. Who cares. Gandhi. Mother Teresa. Even somebody like Princess Di, who was privileged no doubt but spent so much of her time going to hospitals and encouraging sick kids. When she died, people wept.

So striving to be amongst the top one percent can actually be an awesome thing—just pick your category wisely.