Running, Mindfulness & Rain

I was awakened this morning by a light breeze as it whispered in my ear through the open bedroom window. Groggily I reached for my glasses and the numbers of the clock became increasingly clear. It was 4:55 AM. My alarm would sound in just 5-minutes. 

I lay in bed and listened to the breeze. It reminded me of my desire to run this morning. In my other ear was a much louder declaration, it was the rain; falling hard on the concrete outside. The rain suggested I reset my alarm and sleep for an additional hour.
When I am unable to run, I resort to another form of meditation; Mindfulness meditation. This meditation form is completed as a sitting meditation. Meditation, while running or sitting helps me to develop a deep understanding of the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of all life and offers me practical tools to better integrate mindfulness into my daily life.
Thich Nhat Hahn also known as Thay, warns us that civilization is at “risk of collapse from the environmental and social damage caused by the voraciousness of our economic system.” My meditation practice helps me see an alternative vision that focuses on true happiness which Thay believes we have sacrificed on the alter of materialism.” Thay’s teachings are “based on transforming our suffering by letting go of the scars of the past as well as the worries about the future.” Thay believes, as do I that this is accomplished through meditation and mindful living. Thay spends a great deal of time discussing our addiction to material consumption as a “clear sign we are trying to paper over our suffering.” Thay suggests we should go in the opposite direction, to the very heart of our pain in order to transcend it. Business growth is based in shareholder earnings and measured in the profit and loss column of a spreadsheet. While it is undoubtedly important to make a profit, it is also important to remember the inner journey. We neglect the emotional needs of our employees. We expect them to work harder, longer and produce more all while attempting to accomplish this with less resources and support. 
I recall my father saying when  we discussed career choices as a child, saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” 
Much of my social work practice, firmly grounded in Eastern philosophy is also deeply rooted in Thay’s writings. Having been a practicing social worker since 1986, barley a day goes by when I am not overjoyed by my career choice. There once was a time when unhappiness was my best friend. This was a direct result of my need to compare myself to those around me. The neighbor with the new car and the big screen TV became my mentors. While they are nice and they do bring momentary happiness, I still felt empty. I was reading a recent post from a blog called, I stumbled across this blog after reading one of his books titled, “Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling.” In a recent post, Bike Snob opened my eyes and made me look at my remaining attachment to material possessions. He says, “Honestly, people are such wussbags about their cars. The idea that a vehicle that weighs over a ton and lives most if not all of it’s life outside somehow shouldn’t get dented or scratched is completely delusional. If you’ve ever gently rapped on a car to let an oblivious driver know that he or she was about to run you over then you know how hysterical these morons can get when you dare touch their stupid, over-sized appliances. It’s like getting upset at someone for messing up the front door of your house by knocking on it.” He goes on to say, “Sure, I realize a lot of the blame lies with banks which trick people into leasing cars with easy monthly payments and then make them pay out the ass for every scratch and scuff when they finally return it, but it’s still pathetic how invested people are in the appearance of their econoboxes.” I laughed heartily when I read this post for what more is there to say. Many of us have a similar relationship with material things while we neglect the emotional relationships for which we lack an understanding of their importance. For me, as I learned growing up, it was in fact the perceived appearances that others have of us which defines success. I began to realize, throughI struggled with this fact for many years. 
I now define success by what I am able to offer to others. Materially I have little, but emotionally I am wealthy beyond my wildest imagination. My decade old car sporting 120K miles and many scratches still does the job for me. It suits me like an old pair of jeans; broken in and comfortable beyond belief. The remainder of my life falls completely into that realm. I have family and friends who love and care about me, a roof over my head, meals on my table and everyone in my family has been blessed with good health. For those things I am grateful. What more is there?

A good life lived

I have thought much recently about death, my own death. I’ll stop here for just one second and say “I am not suicidal and I have not been diagnosed with a serious illness and given a predetermined amount of time to live.” That said, let’s move along.

The ying and yang of this discussion is an easy to understand. In Chinese philosophy, ying/yang means “co-arising” and “interdependent.” You cannot not know one without the other. Darkness would be impossible to know without light. Pain would be impossible to know without joy. It is difficult, impossible even to think about life without also thinking about death.

As a social worker/mental health therapist I see people everyday who struggle with anxiety, depression and panic attacks. We con ourselves into believing we are actually living our lives when in reality we are living the lives dictated to us by others. We have all been handed a script by our parents which contains the words “should, would and could.” Another fantastic word to add to this list is “can’t.” We embrace these words, develop an unhealthy relationship with them, make love to them and allow them to dictate every action, every attitude. We are afraid not to. We use the safety net they provide for us and go on living a life that is safe but often unfulfilled. A heard a story not long ago about the actor/comedian Damon Wayans. In that interview he told his father he did not wish to attend college, he wanted to become and actor. His father urged him to “get a degree so you have something to fall back on.” Damon responded, “I don’t want anything to fall back on. If I am aware of the safety net I won’t be successful because I won’t take the chances I will need to take to challenge myself and succeed.” 

We are drawn to a big paycheck or a fancy title. We sit in an office enveloped in fear; fear that I might lose my position. If I lose my position I lose my salary. If I lose my salary, I lose all of the material possessions I have accumulated over the years to let others know and to remind myself of my superficial success. Is this success? Have we achieved success? If this is the manner in which we define success, then the answer is a resounding “yes.”

But is this empire we have built, this castle in which we live…do these things bring true happiness? I saw a patient recently who has these things, these possessions. He sat in my office, both legs vibrating violently, head buried in his hands and tears streaming down his face. He cried. Through the tears told me how unhappy he was. He told me the one thing he “loved” about his job was his ability to “help others.” He hated, even despised his job. He found it an energy drain. We discussed options and he looked at me and through his tears and said, “You don’t understand. If I quit my job, my wife won’t love me and my kids won’t like me because I won’t be able to afford the things I can now afford.” He claimed he wanted to be less depressed and less anxious but was not willing to face those things which were causing the depression and anxiety.

Is this the life you want? A life filled with grief and sadness; of energy robbing people, things and activities. Do you want to live into your eighties or nineties, look back at your life with regret and count the truly happy moments on one hand? This is surely one way to meander through this great puzzle we call life. It is not the way I choose to navigate through my life.

I have achieved a great deal of success in my life. If we define success by the traditional means, then I have not achieved success, then I am among the poorest of individuals. For many years, I have used Emerson’s quote of success as my barometer: 

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

Get up, go outside. Put one foot in front of the other and live, truly live your life. 


What if money were no object?

A must see if you are searching for the true happiness which is within your grasp. Do not let money be your guide. Do not let money be your motivation. Money, and more money will simply buy things. Those things will allow you to be happy for a brief period of time. We are deluded into thinking we then need to go out and purchase more things and when happiness wanes again…we purchase more things.
Find what you want to do and do it. Be happy!!!