Thursday, September 6, 2012

To Find Who You Are

Anne Lamott said, “To love yourself as you are is a miracle, and to seek yourself is to have found yourself, for now.”

The more I thought about Lamott’s statement, the more I pondered the best way to “seek yourself” so that you can truly “find yourself, at least for now.”

The problem with finding yourself, IMHO, is seeing through the facade that masks the uninhabited, messy, awe-inspiring person you were born to be. In short, you need to stop being who you aren’t.

And what makes up this façade, this false persona we hide behind, or perhaps are imprisoned behind? I think it typically is made up of fixations on:
1) how people perceive us,
2) how to get more of the things that we think will make us happy,
3) zealously striving for whatever we label success as,
4) an obsessive need for power and security.

So to my way of thinking, finding yourself is a little like Michelangelo sculpting his “David.” He didn’t have to make or even alter David within the huge stone block; he simply had to know it was there, and then chip away everything in that block of marble that wasn’t David.

I know that sounds easy, and it’s not. One method for chipping away what is false is what Buddhist teachings call mindfulness. That doesn’t mean you spend all your time in thought or zoned out in meditation. Mindfulness is all about action, and it means that while you take actions, be it brushing your teeth or programming a computer or performing brain surgery, you are utterly focused on what you are doing, and more importantly, fully aware of why you are doing it. Being fully aware of the why means understanding your motivation for performing that action. If you are brushing your teeth, are you doing it for better oral health or are you doing it to impress other people with your dazzling smile? Motivations says a lot about you.

Every action is initiated by a motivation, and motivations reveal who you are, and more importantly, who you aren’t. Understanding your motivations is the first step in exposing (or finding) your true self.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Art of Accepting What Is

At the core of Buddhist teachings are four principles, the key one being that life is painful. I’m talking about emotional pain, the kind one suffers when events don’t go your way, or people don’t act the way you want them to. Every time life falls short of our expectations there is some degree of emotional pain. 

Everyone feels pain, usually on a daily basis. Some people experience that pain—as a mild disappointment or a gut-wrenching catastrophe—and then let it go, move on. Others wallow in their pain, blow it out of proportion, latch on to it for years or decades, and wrench every ounce of emotion out of it, worry it like a dog worries a bone.

Buddhism, simply put, is a method to avoid, or at least minimize that pain. And the principle way to avoid life falling short of expectations is not to create those expectations in the first place. If you fully embrace everything in your universe as if it is exactly what you desire, then there is no emotional pain.

That’s easy when we talk of losing a game of tennis, or even losing your wallet. It becomes more difficult when a loved one dies, or your job is eliminated. I’ve heard Christians deal with such pain by saying, “It’s God’s will.”

As a Buddhist, I remind myself of this lesson several times a day: accept what is. Not only accept, but be grateful, thankful for every failure, every disappointment, every thing that angers me. And once I accept it, then I work to improve the situation in whatever way I’m able. Acceptance does not mean you don’t “fix” things, it simply means you’re okay with it now while you work to improve it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Regrets of the Dying

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Here are the most common five regrets for men, as witnessed by Ware:
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

The more I thought about these regrets of other people, the more I wondered about my own regrets, should I die tomorrow. I can somewhat identify with working so hard, because it takes me away from time with my husband, yet writing is so fulfilling to me that I don’t think I would regret that. My husband and my writing are two lovers that I have to balance my time with. Made to choose, I would never write another word, yet I would deeply regret that.

I’ve given number five a lot of consideration. Allowing myself to be happier is an interesting one. I do realize that people—including me—can choose to be happy, or not. Happiness is a choice, and for me it means appreciating what you have at the moment, without dwelling on what you don’t have. It is something I strive for constantly. Being one of the key principles of Buddhism, it is something I’ve been working on for decades.
I think if I were to die tomorrow, my #1 regret would be that I was not more generous with people in my life. There have been so many times when I could have reached out to family, friends, even strangers on the street and given them a helping hand, but I chose to deal with my own issues instead.
So, knowledge is power. Armed with knowing that would be my regret, hopefully I still have time to do something about it.  Work less, be happy with what I have, and give more to others. Sounds like a good plan to minimize regrets. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Message to Myself

The book on the top of my review stack is called The Letter Q. It is a collection of letters from many lgbt authors, giving messages to their earlier selves (in the spirit of “It Gets Better”.) I’ve been looking forward to reading this book because there are quite a few tremendously talented writers who have contributed their thoughts. It should be fascinating. 

Before I begin reading, however, I wanted to think about what kind of message I would like to have given my teenaged self. What would I want to change, what bit of wisdom would have helped me avoid the many hardships of my twenties, thirties, forties, and even fifties?

I am reminded of a quote from James Buckham: “Trials, temptations, disappointments -- all these are helps instead of hindrances, if one uses them rightly. They not only test the fibre of a character, but strengthen it. Every conquered temptation represents a new fund of moral energy. Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.”

So I think my message to my younger self would go along those lines: Set your moral compass toward something you believe in, and don’t let difficulty or public opinion or fear or any other damned thing sway you off that path. Don’t run from adversities, face them head on. Don’t shrink away from challenges where you might fail, jump in and fail if need be, for nothing is gained by not trying. Feel every disappointment right down to your bones, and learn from them, grow strong in the knowledge that you will overcome them. And above all, when you see ways to help others along their path, do so without needing or wanting anything in return. Be generous with others as well as with yourself. 

Would that make a difference in how I lived my life? Probably not. In my teens I didn’t listen to anyone over thirty….

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Are you happy? I mean genuinely happy on a consistent basis. Do you whistle or sing when you walk down the street? Do you enjoy interacting with your fellow workers? Do you wake up excited to face the day?
If not, when will you be happy?

 Many people tell themselves, "I’ll be happy when...

• My health improves
• My relationship improves
• The economy improves
• I get a new this or that
• I get my career on track
• I move to a better location
• I get a raise
• I lose 30 pounds
• I retire

Many people seem to have a list, which ends up being a wall between them and happiness. The truth is that none of these things will make you happy. They can certainly put you in a better position to find happiness, but happiness is a feeling that comes from the experiences in life and our attitude about them. Happiness comes from within, and has little to do with all those things happening outside of you. The old saying is that happiness is a state of mind, and that saying has been around a long time simply because it’s true. Sometimes we feel content, sometimes not, but happiness is around you every day — it’s just that sometimes we have to look closer for it. It won’t come from the things you seek, but rather from the attitude you have about this journey called life.

Happiness is up to you, here and now. You can choose to wait for better days, or you can decide to look for the joy, the opportunities, the smiles, and the good in every day. You get to choose.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Life Changes

In the past several months I’ve been caught up in some significant life changes. Starting as far back as September, my husband, Herman, and I began to prepare our San Rafael house to sell while looking for a new home in Palm Springs.

Over the past few months we have held a dozen open houses in San Rafael, walked through three dozen homes in Palm Springs, found a beautiful new house as well as sold our old one, moved into our new home on Christmas Eve, and began to settle into a new life here in PS.

What seemed so easy to type out in a single paragraph actually was a very high stress, often painful experience of letting go and flinging ourselves off a cliff and into a sea of unknown. It has been a scary path, but one that once we started down we could not turn back.

I’m sitting in my new office overlooking our front yard. Classic Japanese landscaping in San Rafael have been replaced with cactus and palms; gentle, green rolling hills have turned to rugged brown mountains; and our cozy, open Eichler is now a sprawling, midcentury ranch style home. In short: everything is different, everything is new. I feel somewhat disoriented, with only Herman and my writing as constants that I can latch on to.

I know that for some people this kind of move is no big deal. They’ve done it several times and, for them, it’s fun and exciting. But I’m a person who lived in the same house for almost thirty years. That house was my life raft to cling to in a changing world. For me this is an extremely big deal.

I’m sitting here wondering how many times in my life I’ve leaped into the unknown, and been the better for it. Certainly the time I left home to join the Navy. And the time I came home from the navy with a husband instead of a wife. There was the time I walked away from a seventeen-year relationship, only to jump into my current relationship a few years later. And the time I ran from a lucrative corporate career to be a little-known writer of gay literature.

Yes, I’ve experienced times of big letting go, but what I’m realizing here (a lesson I keep learning over and over) is that every day is a time of letting go, of leaping into the unknown. That is what life is, what makes it worth living. The trick is not clinging to yesterday, but embracing now. Okay, it’s a cliché, so shoot me. Lol

Yes, it is a cliché, but it’s also THE KEY to being happy and content in life.
And the truth is, Herman and I are loving our new home, our new city, our new friends that we’ve already made. The last two weeks have seemed like being blown along on hurricane force winds, and we are carried along, smiling, and taking each moment as it comes.

For the moment—and in truth that’s all we have—as I sit here, I can say without hesitation that we are happy and loving this new environment, and I am so grateful that we made that leap. The unknown is an exciting place to explore. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes: "When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." Lao-Tzu