What defines “success”? Personal success? Is it a certain income, a certain job title, marriage or some achievement? We often consider people around us “successful” by some measure, does that same measure apply, then, to us? Do those we call “successful” consider themselves successful? Or do we all measure success, of ourselves, and others, differently? With a different yardstick? In different increments or units?
Success is personal. What personal success is to one does not mean personal success to another. Only you can define what personal success is, for you. Whether you believe personal success is just being happy or that success is measured in wealth and material conquests, personal success takes commitment and a great deal of effort, devotion and even sacrifice.
But, really, what is success?
From anyone else’s perspective, under scrutiny, I may not look like much of a success. It took me eleven years to get my Bachelor’s Degree. I change jobs every five years. My marriage ended. I no longer own any real estate. I live in the house I grew up in, with my mom. Yet, as I see it, I’m a success! I have a rewarding career. I am healthy, thin, fit, and active. I have an exciting new business. I have many great friends. I’m in an exciting, loving, supportive and fulfilling relationship. I have freedom. I am happy.
What is happy? What does it mean when someone says “I am happy”? Like success, happiness is a word that means different things to different people. Sadly, I think many people use the word “happy” incorrectly. Happy, to some, means what success means; the big house, the important job title, the fancy car, the gobs of money, the trophy spouse, the smart kids. And yet, even with the acquisition, the achievement of all those things, most are still unhappy, most still strive for more success, they are empty and sad, even for all their perceived success.
For other, more enlightened people, true happiness is living in the present moment, mindfully, with gratitude, love, grace, and the ability to forgive. That’s all. And the beauty of true happiness is that anyone can achieve it, with commitment and a great deal of effort, devotion and even sacrifice.
Happiness is personal, it comes from within, it does not happen to us from the outside, it is not dependent on other people or on other things. Only you can create your happiness, only you can maintain your happiness. True happiness is a lot like yoga, it’s a practice, a daily practice. And like yoga, some days your practice will be better than others, but you keep on practicing, day after day, and there is always growth and improvement over the long term.
Personal success, then, is true happiness, and nothing more. Success, like personal happiness, is not something that happens to us, it isn’t something that can be bought, earned or married, it’s internal and grows from within through happiness, that grows with the diligent practice of mindfulness, presence, gratitude, love, and forgiveness.
Happiness is success. Success is happiness. I define mine, you define yours and whether we achieve either, truly depends on our understanding of the words and our practice of the concepts or principles we believe will bring us what we desire.
A recurring theme in much of the reading I’ve been doing lately has been living in the present moment, and, related to that, mindfulness. Eckhart Tolle, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, even Arianna Huffington, all modern teachers of living in the present and mindfulness
I have seen quoted, time and again, on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and everywhere, ” if you’re depressed, you’re living in the past, if you’re anxious, you’re living in the future.” The only time in which we actually live, the only time we can actually make a difference and have any impact, is the present. Have you tried to live and think only in the present moment? Even for thirty seconds? Not so easy, is it?
And, so, enters “mindfulness”, the practice of noticing and acknowledging thoughts as they enter your mind, and then, filtering out those that are based in the past, or in the future. More than that, mindfulness also allows us to identify, acknowledge, and hopefully, derail thoughts that are not beneficial; judgmental thoughts, limiting thoughts, comparisons, and self-critical thoughts, among others.
A practice that helps us hone our mindfulness skills is meditation, and one that all the authors above practice, preach, and promote. I’ve been practicing meditation, off and on, for a few years. Lately, though, in an effort to evolve, I’ve been making a daily practice of meditation. Like yoga, meditation is not something that is ever perfected, it is something, always, that is practiced. Even well practiced meditators, Buddhist monks, even the Dalai Lama himself, have days where their meditative practice is more or less fruitful than others.
I remember the first time I ever really tried meditating; first feeling very self-conscious sitting there with my eyes closed, legs crossed, on the floor. Even though I was alone in my room. I didn’t quite know what to do with my hands, I tried them this way, then that way, then another, flopping them around in my lap like a couple of recently landed fish on the shore. I remember trying to empty my mind of thoughts, I remember not being able to empty my mind of thoughts for more than a split second. I remember getting kind of discouraged and not really trying to meditate again for quite a while. Months later, still reading of its benefits, I attempted meditation again. Again, dissatisfaction with my ability.
When I migrated my yoga practice from my living room a la DVD to the gym, a guided meditation became part of my routine with each class. Still, I struggled with the mindfulness part, but, out of peer pressure, at least I remained still and in good meditative form for the duration. Like yoga, with practice, I improved at meditation during class, and even with mindfulness. On one occasion, I became so mindful I almost dozed off.
In my daily practice, at home, or wherever I happen to be, I feel as though I am gaining ground. Of course, I’ve really committed myself to the practice this time around. And, by “committed” I mean I’ve committed in the best way I know how; I’ve spent money. I’ve bought a dozen Kindle books, I’ve downloaded several guided meditation MP3s from iTunes and Amazon, and I even have a whole folder of iPhone apps with different guided meditations and soothing noises. I even went so far as to order myself a “tuffet” and a “dog bed”, though I think the proper terminology for these items is “zafu” and “zabuton”. Now that I’m heavily invested, I am compelled to practice, regularly, or be consumed with guilt every time I trip over my tuffet and matching dog bed on the floor of my room.
By the way, this is an oft-employed strategy of mine for remembering all sorts of things; put something on the floor in the tripping zone as a reminder. If I don’t want to forget something when I run errands or leave on a trip, I make sure it’s on the floor where I can’t help but trip on it. I even taught my son, Dogwood, this trick, and he employs it often. So this isn’t something just for the middle aged and forgetful. Dogwood will remember something he needs to do in the morning, after he’s gone to bed, so he just takes one of the pillows on his bed and throws it in the middle of the floor. The next morning, he sees the pillow and remembers what he’s supposed to do. At my age, though, if I just see a random pillow on the floor, I just get confused. My tripping objects need to be specifically related to what it is I am trying to remember. Just a strategy, in case you’re so mindful and in the present moment, you forget everything else!
Still, with all the equipage, props and practice, I struggle. More than I should, I think. But I’m committed and I just keep trying. A few things I’ve learned, I thought I’d share, in case you’re in the same boat as me.
First of all, “bed-itation” does not work. In “Zen and the Art of Running”, a great book I read earlier this year, the author, Larry Shapiro, PhD, warns of “sleeping hazards” when meditating. For me, that’s just about anything that isn’t rock hard, cold or incredibly noisy. The Dalai Lama, in “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” while speaking at a large event, warns attendees, all 1,500 of them, that they are likely to fall asleep during a group meditation he leads. “In Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness,” he recommends, daily, for eight weeks, a forty-five minute guided “body scan” meditation, lying on your back in “a quiet, warm place where you won’t be interrupted by anyone, or by the phone”. I don’t even have to be lying down to fall asleep in a quiet, warm place where I won’t be interrupted! The body scan begins with becoming aware of the breath, then moves to the left, big toe, then up the body to the top of the head. I can usually remain awake for the left big toe. I regain consciousness again at the top of the head. Sometimes. Other times, I don’t regain consciousness until the audio has moved to another track, like rap music. And, yes, I’ve tried the body scan guided meditation in bed. I fell asleep on the second deep breath. Bedi-tation, a sleeping hazard. Hardwood floor offers some success. Be advised.
Another problem I’ve experienced in effective meditation practice; the medi-libation. I usually practice meditation first thing in the morning (bedi-tation), mid- day for a brief spell, if I can, and before bed. Well, sometime between my mid-day meditation, the end of my workday, and dinner, I like to have a beer. After dinner, I like to have a glass, or two, or three, of red wine. Needless to say, my late night meditation is very relaxed. I do not recommend libations any time before or in conjunction with meditation, I did order my zafu and zabuton in wine color, just in case. Now, for insomnia? Medi-libation, in moderation, may be just the thing!
So now that I have a tuffet and a dog bed, I practice my meditation seated, and (reasonably) sober. I am having more success remaining awake. I am still struggling, and probably always will, with mindfulness. I am improving, but I have to be very mindful about being mindful. And, as I mentioned above, I’m in good company, even the monks themselves still practice this for hours and hours each and every day!
So, mindfulness; focusing on the present and being alert and aware of thoughts that enter the mind, then letting them pass like water in a stream. Piece of cake! No, really, among a bazillion other random thoughts, I am likely to picture a piece of cake, then a zebra, then, perhaps, a Tesla Model S P85. I’m likely to think of what to have for dinner, that cute shop in New York City where I saw all those Christian Louboutin shoes, learning to fishing, my next business trip or Disneyland. I also write articles. Every great idea I want to write about begins as an article, drafted in my head, during meditation. I can’t help it. But, I’ve devised a plan.
Every time I catch my mind wandering, I just tell myself “Wait! Wait! Wait!”
WAIT! What Am I Thinking. It’s an acronym, get it? When my mind wanders and I am trying to be still, I tell myself to “wait”, I take notice of what I’m thinking and then let it pass. Mindfulness. Yes.
WAIT! When Am I Thinking. If I catch myself focusing on any time but the present, I remind myself to “wait”. I can even think about the past, in the future; I plan how I’m going to recount events and circumstances from the past, in a future conversation. And I bet you do too! How “not in the present” is that? Wait! Presence.
WAIT! Who Am I Thinking. When I catch myself thinking about people, especially if I am thinking judgmentally or am making comparisons, I just have to remind myself to wait.
WAIT! Where Am I Thinking. My mind wanders! It’s normal, I know, but as a reminder, when I want to be more focused, I just remind myself to “wait”.
I tell myself to “wait, wait, wait, wait” when I get off track during my meditation practice AND when I catch myself dwelling on past events, future scenarios, limiting, or undesirable thoughts or when I just need to focus and my mind has wandered. It works great! I swear by it! But, be warned, people will look at you a bit askance if you’re shopping for shoes or filling your car up with gas and you suddenly look startled and yell, “Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait! then smile and go peacefully back to what you were doing. This from experience.
So, I guess to sum up my very mindful thoughts, today, I’d have to say, just stop, wait, and listen. Namaste.
Troubles, troubles, troubles. You know the song. How about the troubles you have that you didn’t know you had until you learned something new? Ever have those types of troubles?
I have troubles with attachments.
All kinds of attachments. There are attachments on my Dyson vacuum I struggle with every once in a great while, when I decide the dust bunnies are planning an attack and a preemptive strike is in order. I also struggle with GoPro attachments. I need to devote a whole day to GoPro attachment mastery. I have recently had some troubles with attachments to emails and text messages being too large. I created a full-scale cinematic production/Valentine’s Day greeting for my Sweetie, only to have to cut it by about 92.7% to a size that could be attached and sent from iMovie to my Gmail account so I could then attach it to a text for quick, same-day, delivery. Sigh. I think it ended up being three frames. Oh well. I’m ready for next Valentine’s Day, the full movie is done and can be burned to DVD and delivered with the card. Ssshhh.
Lately, though, it seems I’m quite attached and I shouldn’t be. Which is news to me. But I’m learning. And, eventually, I think I shall learn to be unattached. Or is it detached? Oh dear. I need clarification.
So the attachment I am having the most trouble with, is trouble I never knew I had before, and I’ve got it bad. Over the past month or so, I have been learning more about mindfulness, meditation and “simply being”. I am not a total stranger to the idea, it has been on my “intend to master” list for quite some time. Now that I have amassed a sizable Kindle library on the topic, downloaded several albums from iTunes, audiobooks from Audible and apps from the App Store, I’m fast becoming a) invested in the subject, b) broke c) overcommitted to reading, listening and learning and d) unable to find time to meditate or “simply be”, as one app instructs. And since becoming so aware of my breath through all of this instruction, I’m kind of dizzy, light-headed and a bit bloated.
No, this is not totally new, this mindfulness and meditation thing, though I’ve sucked at it for as long as I can remember. In yoga, we often begin and/or end the class with some guided meditation in corpse pose. I can do corpse pose. No problem. But the mind is whirring, I fear, audibly. I’m afraid it can be heard churning and humming over the lovely chanting, flutey, water torture music playing in the background during yoga class. With a great deal of effort, I have been able to improve with this some, lately. My favorite yoga instructor guides us through the meditation, telling us to just let thoughts that spring up, go. Just let them go. He says it’s okay to have thoughts, as long as you “don’t chase them down the rabbit hole”. I think it was inappropriate at the time, but I LOL’d. I tend to think visually, often, so the picture was kind of funny. Sorry. I don’t know what goes on in most folk’s heads, I always assumed they were like mine. Now I’m not so sure. Now, I imagine theirs with little fluffy thought clouds drifting around a serene space, one drifting past, then another a full moment later. In my head, it’s like the shooting gallery at the carnival; picture hundreds of really fast little metal rabbit targets, with goofy faces painted on them, and I’d have to say they’re pink, just to add to the absurdity. And I’m trying to shoot them, rapid fire, with a poorly maintained plinker, chained to the bench with a chain just a little too short for an accurate shot. The pink rabbit targets easily dodge my shots, as they scamper back and forth along the little track, before disappearing down the “rabbit hole”. My shooter keeps jamming and misfiring and I manage to hit one out of every hundred or so. Ladies and gentlemen, my mind, lots and lots of rabbits down the hole. Every thought I have is fully explored, in depth, categorized, classified, an action plan drafted, indexed, cross-referenced and color-coded, highlightered … highlighted … highlit, (which is it?!), with charts and graphs, and a bibliography, with web links. I think visually, in Excel spreadsheets, in my brain. With Google open.
I recently read a great book that my daughter, Daisy and her hubby, Sherwood, oh, and their cat, all gave me for Christmas. It was sort of the lid that loosened on this whole can of worms; “Zen and the Art of Running – The Path to Making Peace With Your Pace,” by Larry Shapiro, PhD. It was here I first learned, or perhaps “absorbed” the idea of “attaching” to thoughts. We are, instead, to observe our thoughts, separate ourselves from our thoughts. It all clicked, it did sound familiar, and I harkened back to an often read and re-read (Kindle) and listened and re-listened to (Audible), but apparently not fully absorbed, annul, by Eckhart Tolle, “The Power of Now” with his discussion of “ego” and “essence”. I have a very ADHD ego and my essence is narcoleptic. But we’re working on it. We’re working on it? Great, now I have a multiple personality disorder, me, myself, my ego, my essence, and I.
I went to a crab feed the other night, at a “Portuguese Club”. I went with friends and between us all, including in-laws, cousins, and shirttail relatives, we, collectively are about 1/5th Portuguese. But the food was awesome and it was a fundraiser, so, yah. Anyway, my mind resembles a Portuguese crab feed; incredibly crowded, very loud, lots of food, there is music, dancing, probably too much wine, and not everyone is speaking the same language!
I am currently trying to muster my way through an interesting though terribly clinical read on mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness”. I should have known, I don’t have pain, or illness, thankfully, and I don’t have what most people categorize as stress. It is a good book, but, as I said, very clinical. The dude is a doctor, a PhD, and treats some really unfortunate people and I think I’ve been told each and every one of their stories in the book. I’m not yet half way through the book. I’ve been browsing online for the “lite” version, or Cliff Notes. I ended up downloading a speed reading app from the App Store and have managed to improve my reading speed and comprehension significantly, but, still, I have 60% of this book left to read and I know, know, know, the bits that are going to be most beneficial to me lie ahead, not in what I’ve already laid to waste. I have two more of Jon’s books to read after this one. Maybe they are the “lite” version. We’ll see. There is very good information in Jon’s material. Like meditating, don’t attempt reading this stuff at bedtime. As Dr. Larry Shapiro (above) says about meditation, watch out for “sleeping hazards”.
So, through all of this, which sounds sort of fast, furious and dizzying, I am actually finding some mindfulness, some calm, some peace, intentionally, a time or two a day. I am gaining proficiency at “shooting the rabbits” before they “go down the rabbit hole”, and I find that some of my little anxieties and worries can be more easily reasoned with. It’s not that I have less little anxieties and worries, I am human, after all, but I can now identify them as rabbits and reason with them. Maybe threaten them, is more accurate. “Give up you wascally wabbit or I’ll bwast yuh!” and if that doesn’t work, I just pick up another book on meditation and mindfulness and my little anxieties and petty worries flee in terror!
No, in all seriousness, there is tremendous value in fostering mindfulness, in living in the present and in not attaching to every thought that enters our mind. Think of it like sorting through cranberries, or lentils. Yes, you’re supposed to do that, it says so on the package. Cranberries, or lentils, are like our thoughts. Many are good and should be observed, kept, acted on. Some are bad and should be culled and discarded. The bad ones are usually doubts, fears, insecurities, anxious thoughts, thoughts of the past that can’t be changed, worries about the future that is wholly unknown, unkind thoughts, angry and unforgiving thoughts. Toss ‘em, they don’t belong in our recipe. Keep the good berries, or lentils; the loving thoughts, the positive thoughts, the kind thoughts, the forgiving thoughts, thoughts about the moment, the present. In fact, if there were one thing we could all do to improve our health, wellness, well-being and even our relationships, I think it would be just that; foster mindfulness, live in the present and don’t attach to every thought that enters our mind. The fastest way to this ideal is through the practice of meditation.
Buddha said, “There is nothing more terrible than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that ruins friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts. It is a sword that kills.”
Doubts are fears and live within all of us. It’s what we allow those doubts to do that differs. Do we allow them to rule and destroy our life? Or do we acknowledge them for what they are, limiting fears, part of our spastic and irrational mind, and let them go?
Practitioners of Zen know that doubts live within the “untrained” mind, they are the seeds of discord and unhappiness. In mindfulness, a Zen practice, doubts are sloughed away with other negative thoughts like dead skin cells with a refreshing, cleansing shower. Don’t doubt it.
Mom and Dad – a story:
My mom and dad married later in life, both having suffered through a previous marriage that ended in betrayal, dishonesty and pain. That they found one another and developed a relationship of their own, after their experiences, I consider quite remarkable. Both are very practical people, and I think the thought of growing older alone was ultimately a more frightening prospect than taking another chance. On the day of their wedding, a casual affair at a wedding chapel in Tahoe, as the moment approached, my mom took refuge in the car. Doubts filled her mind and she nearly did not go through with the ceremony, which, likely, would have ended the relationship between her and my dad. A dear friend finally coaxed her from the car and into the chapel. The rest is history, and I was a result of that union a year and a half later.
Mom and Dad had a good marriage. It was not perfect. There is no such thing. They had their differences, their grievances, their doubts and their annoyances. But, in overcoming that initial doubt and marrying, they worked in union for the next fifty years to create a home, raise a child, run a business, share dinners every night, take vacations, retire and care and comfort one another through old age until my dad passed almost two years ago to the day.
Had my mom acted on her doubt, the years of happiness and comfort would not have happened.
A man destroyed – a story:
The man I married was a man consumed by doubt and fear. For years he managed it to a degree that he was able to build a business, we were able to raise two wonderful children and acquire a house, then a home, and, eventually, the ranch we always dreamed of owning. As life progressed and the responsibilities mounted, his doubts and fears grew exponentially. He no longer fretted only over the things most families fret over; bills, retirement, career. His business faltered and died of neglect and he scrambled, in middle age, to build a new career, to follow a passion he’d dreamed of his entire adult life. It too faltered because his attention was consumed by his doubts and not by his passion. His doubts and fears grew to include things so external to us, as a family, and to him, as a man, that he felt completely out of control and unable to act or affect the world around him; issues in politics, policies and beliefs of elected officials. He abandoned his business, he never even applied an effort to the career he dreamed of for most of his youth, he squandered the opportunity at that passion because of his consumption by doubt. He abandoned his children and he abandoned me, not in a literal sense, he did not pack his bags and move out, he just left us. He quit contributing to the family financially, and we resorted to living off savings, equity, then the retirement nest egg we’d built, just to keep a roof over our head. The resources eventually were depleted and we lost all we owned; the ranch, the home, even the pets and animals we adored. In the end, he lost his family. Unemployed and unemployable, still, he spends his time, each and every day, engulfed in his doubts and fears of things far greater than he.
Doubts all around me.
As I talk to friends and people very close to me, I frequently hear of their doubts, often over the person they are with, the person they love. “Are they the right one? I have doubts. I’m not sure it ‘feels right’, I don’t want this to end up like my previous relationships.” Buddha did say, “doubt separates people. It is a poison that ruins friendships and breaks up pleasant relations.” The way I see it, there are two choices when faced with such doubts, we succumb to them and face a life of loneliness and disappointment or we acknowledge those doubts for what they are, the weak and negative chatter of a mind unable to discern the truth and the good from the dismay and deception of doubts.
Doubts are no more than fear and no one ever gained success or true bliss by letting fear limit them. Eleanor Roosevelt is my hero and she has much to say about overcoming fear.
A few of the Eleanor quotes I try to live by:
“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.”
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
“It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know. We all know people who are so much afraid of pain that they shut themselves up like clams in a shell and, giving out nothing, receive nothing and therefore shrink until life is a mere living death.”
Fear and doubt are the same. Both are destroyers. And they are everywhere, within us and around us. Don’t doubt it.
Think of doubt like a cup of poison; if someone put a cup of poison in front of you, certainly you wouldn’t drink it. Perhaps you could not tell it was poison in the cup, certainly if you drank it and it tasted bad or made you feel terrible, you would not drink more. So it is with doubt, why partake of something poisonous that tastes terrible and leaves you feeling terrible? To someone mindful, someone who has practiced identifying doubt and other negative, poisonous and limiting thoughts they have, they learn to dismiss, remove and replace those thoughts with thoughts that are more positive and constructive. They not only resist drinking the poison, the get up and leave the table where the cup was placed grab a glass of clear, cool water and quench their thirst with what they know to be good.
Doubt is not truth. Doubt is irrational thought. Doubt is fear and fear destroys. Don’t doubt it.
I have as many doubts as the next guy. It is human. The key is to learn, through diligent practice, to identify, isolate, and dismiss those doubts, pull them out of our mind like a noxious weed. As we learn to identify and dismiss them, we can soon learn to replace doubts with positive and nurturing thoughts, plant them like seeds for a lovely garden. With practice, we are all capable of this. Don’t doubt it.