Fear

I was meditating when my wife and daughter began to argue. Because of that state of mind, I didn’t get up and get angry with my daughter for arguing with her mother. Instead, I just felt the feeling of anger and explored how it felt physically. Normally, anger would take over. It was pretty good timing of meditation and a family argument.

Once I accepted that anger was there and let it be a temporary resident, I realized that the physical feeling felt similar to how fear felt for me. It’s a pressure in the chest, a buzzing that feels like way too much stress. Remembering things that cause fear made me also realize that each feeling felt very similar physically except one may be more intense than the other.

Then I realized how many times those feelings were felt during the day and in how many different situations.

  • In the cross-walk when a driver sees you at the last moment.
  • When you have to present your business idea or plan for approval.
  • When you think of some financial catastrophe or when you actually have one.
  • When your bank balance is negative because you and your spouse were out of sync.
  • When you can’t pay your bills.
  • When you think your boss doesn’t like you.
  • When you encounter a bear on a hike.
  • When you watch a scary movie.
  • When you are afraid of being judged by others.
  • When you have a thought about someone you love dying.
  • When you think about America going haywire over the elections.
  • When you walk late at night and the street lights are out.
  • When you consider the moment when you die.
  • When you are surfing at Ocean Beach in San Francisco and the current is insane in all different directions and your leash breaks and the waves are like 10 ton staircases that won’t let you come up for air.

Those feelings. Physically, they feel very similar. The small tingle of fear that your wallet is in the hands of a stranger and the full blown hot fear of a PET scan for cancer metastises. If you watch what the fear really feels like and see that how you think about it is what’s really different (apart from the intensity), then you will see that fear is really quite abundant.

When you separate the mental thought and the physical feeling (which you can do by doing something very hard…accepting the fear), that physical feeling feels like energy. Now, energy you can use to move. Remember that. Also, you can see the thought as separate because it can be separated. When you can observe the thought and feel that the fear is really just energy, then interesting things can happen.

You can think. You can decide how you want to respond. Granted, if a bear is chasing you react as you need to save yourself. But in the case where you are driving in your commute and feeling fear about something coming up like a layoff or an end of a contract, that’s a very good time to feel that fear, accept it and let it be there.

That’s where the blinder on the mind can come off and you can give your attention to what action to take. It’s really powerful.

Fear really is energy, just like anger is and like joy is. Fear is all around us all day long. There is a lot we can be afraid of. But, when you think about fear as energy and that it will be in almost every step you take, it seems that it’s more like the air you breathe or the ground you walk on.

When you realize that fear is really like air you can breathe, the world suddenly looks different. Whatever path you want to explore can feel open and possible. This is really incredible, and it can happen by doing the opposite of what you might expect.

The natural tendency is to avoid the fear. Feeling the fear and letting take full residence in the body can be massively overwhelming. It can be too intense. But allow it. Feel the whole thing and the world will look very, very different. It can be especially liberating if you have been afraid to acknowledge what you want out of life.

It doesn’t have to be so stressful

Do you get a sense that our world is just go, go and go all the time? That there’s always a rush to the next thing? Do you see people driving up on pedestrians and bicyclists cursing at cars? It seems that a delay of a couple of seconds is enough to trigger people into anger. Just a couple of seconds.

The other day as I drove the carpool to school, we all watched a car attempting to park. It could have been someone who was parking a friend’s car or someone who just is a very slow and cautious driver. It’s pretty common to run into slow drivers in the city. It was easily a 30 second delay for about 6 cars. It was mildly irritating.

We watched a man get out of his car, walk over to the driver and punch the window. He tried to smash the driver side window with his fist. He really hit it hard. Given how muscular he was, it was a very good thing that the window held and that the parker wasn’t assaulted. He was so angry at this driving offense that he actually felt the need to destroy property and be physically aggressive with another human being.

On a bike commute through the city, I watched a bicyclist pull into the crosswalk at a busy intersection on Market at about 3rd in SF. He was blocking about 60 pedestrians and a couple of them told him he was blocking the way. He went immediately to cursing at the pedestrians and an argument ensued.

Have you seen people getting frustrated with strangers? If you commute to work or otherwise go out in the morning, you probably see it everyday.

I would venture that these minds have something very common and very human repeating and looping in a mental swirling current. These people are not getting their needs met. These people are going to something they are not happy about going to and just want to get the commute over with. They may want to just get the day over with. If they were thrilled and happy to be going, they might be looking forward to their destination. It’s not so monumental to say that people don’t like commutes and/or the jobs they have.

What is monumental is that when you are focused on getting something over with, you are not really there. You are not experiencing life. If you have an entire string of events that you just want to get over with in a day like…

  • get the kids to school
  • get through the commute
  • get through the morning meeting (how to dial in? where’s the number?)
  • get through the presentation
  • avoid some people in the office or site
  • get through project status meetings
  • get through another meeting
  • get through a chat with the boss
  • get through the commute home
  • get through walking the dog
  • get through making dinner for the kids
  • get through unloading the dishwasher
  • get through getting the kids to just get the damn room cleaned
  • and finally get to your own time (which you may be to tired to get to)

If you approach a day like this…just to get it over with, then frustration will grow and grow over time.

A common theme to handle this problem is to dream of riches or dream of starting a business to free yourself from living a life you don’t want. Or, moving somewhere else where life feels less stressed. However, I should let you know, I used to move every couple of years. I found that where ever I was, I brought myself and my habits with me.

There’s a song performed by Johnny Cash called “A Satisfied Mind“. The lyrics are telling.

How many times have
You heard someone say
If I had his money
I could do things my way

But little they know
That it’s so hard to find
One rich man in ten
With a satisfied mind

No matter where you are, your thinking habits will prevail. Thus, a powerful way to deal with your thinking habits is to learn to meditate. Meditation will help you find what you are resisting. Resistance ultimately causes stress and mental suffering. That ultimately leads to physical ailments. Resistance often causes inaction through avoidance which drives guilt and erodes self-confidence.

When you learn what you resist, you can accept whatever that is. When you accept that, you are acknowledging that there is something you need to work on. From there, you will likely find your true inner feelings about it. That then leads to an authentic action that enlivens and strengthens you.

Acceptance applies to very big things in life and very small things. Apply it to all. In one example, I was asked to work a long way away from where I live. At first, I thought I must do it to provide for my family, but I felt really sad about it. I meditated on it and discovered why it made me sad.  I don’t want to be away from my home and family for 16 hours a day. At a deep level, I’m a protector of my family. There’s crazy stuff that happens in cities. I need to be relatively close by. Also, I want to have an interesting life filled with friends, music and movement. So, I said no. It was hard to say no to. Very hard. It was scary. It was a difficult conversation for me to do. However, I knew not being available for my family and not having a bit of time to be me was a worse risk.

In a small case, I used to hate unloading the dishwasher. I just wanted to get it over with. If I found it already unloaded, I was relieved. If I found it full, I was angry at the kids or my wife for not unloading it. When I realized how much I was resisting a necessary daily task, I accepted it. Then, I began to just unload each piece like a meditation. It became an opportunity to be completely present and aware. I moved from resentment to thankfulness that I could afford a dishwashing machine. I became really appreciative that we have good plates and bowls and cutlery. I was grateful I could pay for them and eat from clean surfaces. This may seem absurd, but it’s very powerful. This kind of appreciation carries over to walking down the street and noticing the flowers someone has planted or the feel of a sweet breeze. It carries over to looking at your children and how thankful that we have made it this far without calamity. It makes the world feel wonderful.

On that list above, there is a lot to resist. You have your own list of resistance. You might resist and want to avoid a meeting coming up. You might think it won’t go well because of this or that. If you step back and accept that you must do the meeting, you may see that you really feel that there wasn’t enough time to prepare or you need to do more work. Accept that and then you’ll think of what parts you need to research more. Acceptance opens to the door to your truths that are blocked by the blinders that resistance puts over your mind.

That presentation is an opportunity to be alive and think on your feet and listen and learn and try to reach an agreement or to know that you tried. If you think about this, it’s really an opportunity to live with others and experience life even though you might think it mundane. If you think it mundane, look into that. You might be in the wrong field of work. It is easier to ignore that but I guarantee you that life really becomes much more interesting when you start moving in directions you want to go.

Ultimately, we all have more than enough time. You will see this if you can catch the resistance and accept it. This is when you can step into something and experience it. It leads to flow. It is living in the moment with an awareness of what you are thinking and feeling. Multi-tasking makes us think we don’t have enough time. I’ve got to do this and I’ve go to do that. It numbs us and ties us up in the little tiny to-dos that make us feel productive but not really see what we did. Accept what is happening and instead uni-task, we have all the time we need.

If you are interested to learn more about meditation, try the Headspace or Calm apps. I’ve used Headspace for over a year. The meditations are guided and short…10-15 minutes. So you don’t have to do anything except listen and follow along. I have found more powerful effects come from longer sessions. For those, I’d recommend finding a Mind Body Stress Reduction (MBSR) course near you. This course has led to many professing that their lives are forever changed and that they feel like they are really living. Doesn’t that sound interesting?

Advice for my children during summer

We’ll see if they take it! They are 15 years old twin girls with minds of their own.

Remember, don’t spend your life watching other people live theirs.

there are a few categories to focus on during your open time this summer: exploring, making, contributing and being. It’s OK if most of your time is being and not doing. That being time helps you understand what is important to you and, ergo, how you want to live.

Spend time learning and exploring and getting inspired:

go outside, read powerful stories, exercise for fun, paint, sculpt, take pictures, study, play music, shoot some hoops, go to a tennis court…they will be empty during the day, play frisbee, go on a bike ride, start taking pictures or make a photo journal, sketch a scene at the park or anywhere, write poetry, start a fiction story, go to clement street and walk into every shop and look around (except certain place…you’ll know which ones to skip), goto the library and pick out a book and read it, go to a museum, go to a busy place and watch what people do, look at photography, goto the Academy of Sciences or the museum of natural history, take notes on everything that excites you.

Spend time being social:

be with friends, go someplace together, start a band, do city hikes, take your friends on any of the outings above

Spend time contributing:

help around the house, cleanup, offer to help a neighbor, volunteer, offer to carry someone’s load, help your mother or father- just to be helping them, babysit for a neighbor,

Spend time being:

meditate, do nothing, take a nap, fish with no hook, pet a pet for a long time, take a blanket to the park and chill out, wander around the city just to wander

Things to limit:

Daily sugar, social media, web browsing just to scroll, netflix/tv shows – if you do this with friends, it’s a little different and a little better. But it’s better to get out into the world with them and have real experiences and see things for your own eyes.

Chronic Stress is Habit You Can Unlearn

Are you stressed? Are the responsibilities too much to bear? Are you frustrated because your life isn’t going the way it’s supposed to go? Are you just trying to get through the day? Do you find yourself not wanting to say hi to neighbors because you just finished a day you wish you didn’t have?

All work and no play makes a dull one doesn’t it. When everything looks like a responsibility and not a relief or a break or fun, then life feels heavy. I know.

I commuted to a job I could barely stand. It was about 4 hours every day of commuting and the work was all drudgery. I was afraid of leaving and kept that job so I could support our life in San Francisco. Our expenses seemed to grow each month. I tried to exercise every day to undo the stress, but I just exhausted and injured myself too often. I felt so trapped, but I sucked it up because that’s what parents are supposed to do I thought.

That sucking up caused so much secondary suffering. I ended up hating my life. I hated where I lived. Everything looked like a responsibility that would never let me go. It was a chronic and unrelenting stress that felt like a vise.

Thankfully, thankfully, thankfully, that all changed. Right now…

  • I’m a father of 15 year old twin girls (I can’t believe how awesome they are); they are so much joy.
  • My wife and I both work at full-time jobs.
  • My wife recently had breast cancer and is taking tamoxifen (which causes a cascading series of unwanted effects).
  • I have financial concerns for my kids’ school costs and have to have constant diligence.
  • I am an active real estate investor working to find ways to grow the portfolio.
  • I eat a regimented ketogenic diet.
  • I do a regimented training schedule where I measure blood work, body composition, time under tension, and other things.
  • I practice piano every day.
  • The kids always have some kind of appointment or need some ride.
  • I’m writing a book with a good friend and it’s requiring a lot of research.
  • I meditate for 45 minutes every day.
  • I have two small barking dogs that cause primarily happiness but also a lot of unexpected and strange work.
  • I write on this blog.
  • I try to surf every weekend, but Ocean Beach just pummels me.

Am I stressed? In moments I can be, but no. No, I am not stressed. I am happy. I’m doing more now than I have really ever done, want to take on even more, and I have never been happier. Almost everything I am doing is exactly what I want to be doing.

What’s the difference?

I learned to meditate. In meditation I learned what resistance is. I learned that resistance creates secondary suffering. I learned that when you accept how things are right now, resistance looses its footing. When resistance looses its footing, it can’t stand next to you with its blindfold over your eyes. When you accept your situation, you can see how things really are instead of repeating how bad things are over and over in your head. Acceptance is not a lack of action. It enables you to see the most meaningful thing behind what’s going on for effective action.

Resistance is the problem. When you resist something, you create a repetitive negative loop which can cycle over and over. When that happens, you become even more sensitive to notice negative scenarios and over time your outlook changes. When that happens, it’s hard to see the good around you.

When my negative thought cycles became visible, I could accept them, feel them and watch them ebb and flow to dissolution.

Resistance becomes visible because meditation teaches you to pay attention to your physical feelings in your body. That’s how I noticed it all. It was the physical feeling of stress.

Because I can accept the pains of the day and see them as transitory visitors, I can also see the incredible beauty in the life of my girls. I can see my wife patting the dogs with a high pitched voice and see that beauty, too. Also, I know that all the people I run into during the day are stressed. I know where they are mentally as the pedestrian curses the cyclist and the cyclist curses the driver, and so I have compassion for them.

For the difficult conversations I used to put off because they were uncomfortable, I now find them to be the single most productive things I can do. There all the little things you knock off your task list and then there are the difficult conversations that change the direction of your life.

I wish I had learned to meditate much, much earlier in life. I’ve heard it said somewhere that the first best time to do something was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

 

 

 

Unlearning Resistance

At some point in my life I acquired the notion that to live well is to live with riches.  Looking back on when this notion actually became part of my everyday thinking, I can’t help but wonder how much of my time I have spent unwisely.  One must take care of one’s needs and that I believe is without question.  For if one cannot provide for oneself, how could one provide for another?

When I speak of spending my time unwisely, what I mean to convey is that each moment spent being dissatisfied, while completely a human thing to do, is a moment used inappropriately given that our time and capabilities while we live is finite. 

Imagine that you are now old and feeble.  Imagine that your entire life you have spent grumbling against the world or some such other perceived unhappy thing and now you are too old to do anything about it.  You have few choices.  The first choice is to accept the situation you are in.  The second choice is to resist the situation.  Is there a third or all the other alternatives just shades of the first and second?  I believe they are only shades cast by either tree.  Physically speaking, those two choices are the physical actions you take.  Lay back and relax or try to get up.  You can accept or you can struggle.  I may be criticized that I am being a reductionist, but this entire example is quite simple so let’s not waste time further. 

Now, the question is that with each action is there a mental idea that accompanies it?  In the first, if the situation is accepted then the mind is resigned and then can look for another activity.  In the second, if the situation is resisted, then the situation is focused on.  It is twisted and turned and the challenge to overcome ensues.  Joy can result briefly.  However, as you are old, one problem is quickly replaced by another.  You must struggle again.  Eventually, your capabilities ravaged slowly by age, will fail you and anger and sorrow will result.  

 So which is the better path?  Acceptance or struggle?  It seems that the outcome of struggle is likely pain.  However, is acceptance giving up?  Is it giving in?  Let’s hold that question and take the same example above and apply it to you as a young person.

In the same scenario, but with your body and mind young, is it best to accept or struggle?  Surely, with the capabilities of youth, the struggle is not as hard as when you are at the end of your body’s time.  You can deal and dispatch with struggles daily.  You can have a string of joys for each problem solved.  It can even become your greatest strength, this constant solving of problems.  But, put time in and let it run for years.  Consider that with each problem solved, you become more and more confident and happy in your abilities.  You may even become well known for your abilities to solve and fix this or that.  You may revel in this light of appreciation from others.  But what happens in time? 

In a very short time, an extremely short time, you will find yourself in the same example as the old.  Will you not?  You may die young and be spared aging, but that is not often sought by most.  You will most likely reach a physical frailty.  You may not even be old when this occurs.  All of your confidence and strength have been in what you could fix and solve.  What then will you do when you cannot solve and fix things any longer? 

Now, we are back to asking ourselves if it is better to struggle or accept.  What happens when things are accepted?  What happens in that relaxation?  Is it giving up?  Is it weakness?

If a child wants a toy and takes many paths to acquire it, but because of some barrier, another child or an adult keeping the toy away, the child stops seeking it.  They may have given up, but more likely, they have only stopped the current physical seeking and once the door is open will go after again.  In this case, the child is coveting the toy and has clearly not given up.  In that coveting, there is the struggle. 

So, what would accepting be?  Are we ready to talk about this?  Accepting would be allowing the situation to be as it is and not taking up a struggle against it.  As a car is coming down the street and their way is the right of way, one accepts this before crossing the street.  Once the car has passed and the way for you is clear, then you go. 

When a glass full of water is knocked from the table by a careless movement and water and broken glass spread quickly across the floor, there is a moment before the mind judges the appropriate response.  Watch closely as this is where the difference lies between struggle and acceptance.  The path of resistance is anger at what has happened.  It should not have happened.  Now, we have work to do that is completely unplanned and those careless movements should be stopped.  It is a personal attack.  Now, the cleaning must be done with multiple tools and it will be messy. 

The path of acceptance is noticing the fall and the break and the spread.  It is knowing that it is best to clean it and that the careless movements should be trained. With acceptance, there is not resistance. There is a clear look at the problem and the pain. From this clear point of view, many options can appear.

When resistance is the path, there is struggle. With acceptance, there is no struggle…just awareness and a choice of how to respond.