Day 1

2 01 2017

Image result for day 1

Last night was a New Year’s Eve unlike any other.

I certainly have spent New Year’s eve before unencumbered by the fervor of loud music and flowing booze but never quite to the extent I did for a couple of hours at the Buddhist Sangha (community) to which I have been attending for about a year now.

Though I look forward to the Monday evening meditation and discussion, I was very hesitant to go there last night.

Firstly, I had envisioned a night with my kids including games, music and sarcastic commenting on whatever ridiculous late night New Year’s Eve coverage was going to be on the television.

Secondly, reflecting inward after what will surely go down as one of the most sobering years of my life, was not high on my list of options to ring in 2017.

However, with two teenagers who rather spend a night with friends their own age, I was left with me, my thoughts and a list of On Demand music videos from artists I hadn’t heard of nor could pronounce.

I decided to walk down to the Sangha, hoping it was not just me and two other people, as I was expecting.

There were a lot of cars in the parking lot. This surprised me and for a moment, I thought maybe there was some other event going on, as well. Then, I walked in to a community of 30-40 people with varying levels of experience and reasons for being there who had decided to take a breath, literally and metaphorically, to start this New Year in a much different way than in the past.

It was a humbling experience. This is not the stuff that unicorns and rainbows are made of. One of the things I appreciate the most is the true down-to-earth nature of this community – the ability to meet people who intuitively feel there is something beyond the surface we have been trained to grasp for.

This is a time to come together as a community and simply take a pause. I can’t tell you how important, (notice I didn’t say “easy”), this practice has been over the past year.

I heard a podcast today (replayed from 2009) that recounted a story of an older man who refused to quit smoking after decades, even following a stroke. He simply said it was who he was and that in this life, he was a smoker. Upon having a second stroke, however, that part of his brain that associated himself with smoking, was damaged and he never reached for a cigarette from there on in.

The biological science of craving aside, he just didn’t think of himself as a smoker anymore. We are so ready to confine ourselves to the thoughts that provide guardrails to what we think we can do and who we can be that we often have to experience something profound to challenge these notions.

I really appreciate the idea of our thoughts being tools that are available to us, rather than our specific identity. This is something that meditation has helped me work toward – the ability to see my thoughts, acknowledge them, investigate further and then, maybe just then, let them slip away so that I can be in the moment with no expectation and no identity. Can you imagine what could happen then?

Wishing you a year of discovery.

Until next time,

Marc





Acceptance AKA “What If…”

29 09 2016

whatif

There is a school of thought or belief that the individual journey we are on is exactly the one we are supposed to be on.

It is phrased in many different ways. Perhaps you have heard things such as “it was meant to be” or “it happened for a reason”. I don’t personally subscribe to either of these but do believe, as difficult as it may seem, wherever I find myself (physically and metaphorically) is really where I am supposed to be at that moment. It took me many, many, many difficult moments, however, to finally get here.

To me, I have spent more time than I care to admit thinking about life’s more challenging moments in terms of “why is this happening?” and “what is the lesson I am to take away from it?” However, it hit me today that I have never asked myself why certain things are not happening, as well.

I am incredibly grateful for the thousands of things that don’t happen to me and people I care about every day – illness, grief, pain, loss – particularly when these very things afflict so many innocent people all the time.

But what about all the good things that are not happening and seem to be so far out of reach and why stew on this today? Well, I am traveling for a few days and always feel doubly melancholy when I’m away from my kids and not within a 5 mile radius. Luckily, I’m on the same time zone, so it could be worse. With each time zone, it gets exponentially worse, in fact.

This made me realize that so many of the “dreams” that I have for myself – which all revolve around creative pursuits – would be pretty difficult to activate fully without a significant amount of travel, which would invariably take me away from my children a lot more and given the fact that homes schooling isn’t an option, probably for the best. So, what if, and I hesitate to even suggest this at the risk of sounding too “airy fairy”, but what if the universe was holding back knowing that it’s simply not the right time for this?

What if we had the knowledge that what we are going through and experiencing, both good and bad, is all purposeful because, believe it or not, this is the exact right time to experience it – as long as we did not miss the opportunity to take from it the lesson of its intent to move us forward on our journey? Similarly, what if we also knew that those things we long for so achingly may not present themselves just yet because it is simply not the right time? What if we had patience and faith and ignored all those self-help books that give us 10 steps to achieving all our goals in the next year?

I’m going to have to keep thinking about this one but I think there’s something there. Glorious, painful and mysterious all at once – just like life.

Until next time,

Marc





Emotional Storage

12 12 2015
Messy_storage_room_with_boxes

Scientists have finally revealed what the inside of my brain looks like.

I have been working slowly – actually, I think I’ve given new definition to the word “slow” – let’s say, “slothily”- through the various rooms and closets in my house in preparation for ultimately moving at some unforeseen time between now and the next sighting of Haley’s Comet, scheduled for sometime in 2062.

Over the years, I have realized that having lots of things and clutter around me does nothing to help with anxiety. Or, actually, it helps anxiety a lot – which is the problem. I need help ridding of anxiety, as the case may be. Always thinking ahead, my prominent thought is “how the hell are my kids going to get rid of all this crap after I die?” No one can accuse me of not planning ahead.

There are so many things that have been boxed up and set aside in storage for years and years. I am not sure when exactly I am planning to re-look at all of this stuff. Perhaps it is this fear that one day, if I am lucky enough to become elderly, I will be all alone; just me, a practical cup of tea, my new “iCollar” for the elderly implanted in my wrist and a handkerchief surrounded by nothing but photographs and illegible artwork and a slew of elementary school report cards to remind me of a life long past. How freaking depressing! And don’t get me started on the compendium of marriage related photos, albums, letters, cards, and wedding paraphernalia that were left behind for me. There is a whole section of my attic that looked like a marriage threw up in there.

No thank you!

Always one to look for the meaning in anything, (as is the tendency of “Sags” as I recently learned), it occurred to me that I have been carrying quite a load in my emotional storage locker, as well.

You are probably familiar with the idea of “carrying baggage” around – those experiences and feelings that can become obstacles to us moving forward in life. But what about storage?

Storage, to me, is even worse. With baggage, you can compartmentalize or hopefully, discard all together, but storage? You’re in for the long-term, brothers and sisters! With storage, you are just taking all your crap and placing it somewhere else where it never goes away. Sure, in the short-term, it’s great to be rid of it for a while, but it’s there…looming, waiting, and eventually, reminding you of, wait for it – your baggage.

I write a lot about thoughts and the impact that this has had on me, both in a positive and negative manner. Many of my thoughts are all about storage because I don’t necessarily carry them with me front and center but they are nestled deep in some cerebral storage locker just waiting to be uncovered, unpacked and let loose. The hell with that.

I am committing myself to trashing, donating or selling most of everything I have stored up – physically and mentally. So, if you are interested in some thoughts, perceptions and feelings that aren’t of any use to me anymore, hit me up – I am very reasonable.

What are you storing that it’s time to discard?

Until next time,

Marc





Bullying, Looking in the Mirror & Changing Leaves

30 10 2015

Another lesson from one of my kids..

Another lesson from one of my kids..

I had a conference with my daughter’s Gifted Teacher today to review her progress in the program and so far in her 7th grade school year. The project they have to work on this year is in developing a Public Service Announcement (PSA). My son did one two years ago against smoking and my daughter has chosen bullying as her topic – writing, directing and acting in the final product.

In discussing this, her teachers said that, whereas at other times my daughter might take her time to figure out a topic or strategy, this time, she knew what she was going to do for her PSA as soon as she was asked. Her teacher asked her how she knew so quickly. Apparently, my daughter explained to her that she had witnessed someone getting bullied in the hall and felt bad for not intervening. She wants to finish her PSA and then show it to that student.

My daughter has a high level of empathy and this moved me a lot. Who hasn’t been in a situation before where you should have spoken up but didn’t for whatever reason? This is a 12 year old girl and she was able to both acknowledge this and do something about it.

I can’t say I blame her. My mouth has gotten me into trouble in the past. Over the past decade or so, as I have let wisdom take a front seat instead of back seat, I have been much better about letting things go or just trying to measure my words, though I have a long way to go – as my soon-to-be-ex (or her mother) will attest to, I am sure.

I understand where my daughter is coming from. She’s a little thing. She doesn’t bother anyone. She’s a good student. She is not Rizzo from Grease. I am not a non-confrontational person by nature but it made me think about what types of bullying we deal with as adults and how do we stand up for ourselves or others, especially when there are big things at stake like jobs, marriages or other types of relationships?

Not all bullying is as direct as having your books knocked out of your hand at your locker in the middle school hall. Sometimes it is being told that you are not good enough or don’t know enough or don’t fit in – either directly or through a veil of arrogance. Sometimes we bully ourselves with our thoughts and actions (or lack thereof). So, how do we combat these?

The first thing is to be able to say to ourselves that not only is bullying happening but we don’t have to accept it. Then, you have to speak up. In some fashion. You have to politely interrupt the discussion – at the conference table, at the dinner table or in your own head – and state your opinion, correct the misperception and then move on. This “move on” part is the most difficult because this is where we confront our fears and ultimately, bullying is all about intimidation and fear.

Move on. Understand that you don’t want to be surrounded by people who are there to bully you – subtly or directly. Understand that you are not a sum of what others see or perceive but the thoughts you allow to enter and grow. This means you may need work toward a better job, better relationship or better self-awareness (or all three).

I took a walk after work yesterday and the color of the leaves in the Northeast this year are beautiful. I am not sure that a leaf gets to choose it’s color or vibrancy any more than we can choose our true nature but I do know that there are many factors that are influential – the amount of rainfall, soil moisture, summer and autumn weather, as examples. We have a lot of influential factors, as well, but it is not easy. It is up to us to manage our thoughts, assumptions and, for me, response to fear in a way that lets us show our true colors and vibrancy. That’s the best response to bullying – from others or ourselves – that I know of.

Until next time,

Marc





Independence Day (from my) Thoughts

6 07 2015

I think therefore I am (anxious).

I think therefore I am (anxious).

In honor of this past Independence Day Holiday, I am writing about me – again.

I spent this past weekend back at my parents home with my kids and my sister and her family. As luck would have it, my neighbors growing up were also all home and it turned into this fantastic ad hoc reunion with lots of kids and fun and no timelines. It was fantastic and just what I needed. It was a physical and mental independence day from myself.

It was at the exact right time for me. In my last blog, I wrote a little bit about “downsizing” my life right now. At this stage, I expected some sort of security that is now eluding me big time – financially, socially and even culturally. Most, if not all of that, is just based on a false pretense of what reality really is. But it feels that way nonetheless.
Everyone that I was with this weekend – from my sister and her husband to my neighbors growing up through a very good friend of my sister and her husband who stopped by were 100% unpretentious. These are all good people. Smart people. Down-to-earth real people. I miss that and I need that so much.
Where I now live, waiting at the bus stop or sitting at the baseball game or theater production, it’s hard to remember that we probably all have our struggles. I think once people get a little bling on their fingers and change in their pocket, they start to give themselves perhaps more credit for their lot in life than they should. Sure, careful planning, responsibility and hard work have a lot to say for a strong condition in life. A little luck doesn’t help either.
This is where comedy (and meditation come in). Meditation teaches us to sit with our feelings without labels and without stories: feel them and recognize how they manifest in your body. (“I am angry and that feels like tension in my shoulders.”) It teaches us not to try and hide from our feelings and this is what I love about good comedy, as well. It says “hey – I know it looks like I might have it together but I found a stink bug in my hair today that was probably there the whole day, my son told me that he can’t wait to leave the house and my ex decided I need to give her more money…but no worries, still living the dream!” It calls life what it is and I love it! I love people who can laugh about this, too. It is too difficult otherwise and wasted energy to try and be comfortable all the time.
I met a guy at a bar last week who just seems to have it all. He’s good looking with an amazing looking wife. Two fantastic careers, great sense of humor, smart – you name it. This dude even played with Springsteen. I mean c’mon! I was joking with him that I want to come back as him in my next life. (Well, maybe it wasn’t all a joke.) The point is that we got to talking over a few beers/shots and got to know each other and there was no pretending about anything. We even touched on meditation a little. It was an honest, real conversation and it was fantastic. I wasn’t there sitting trying to keep up with him and he wasn’t trying to be something he was not (though why would he – I mean, c’mon!).
I think when we face our insecurities and can laugh about them is when we really can connect with people. Why can’t CEOs and star baseball pitchers also be honest about their flaws while those of us who stumble a bit more through life pick one or two things to be confident about.? It can go both ways. It doesn’t compromise who we are or what we do. It just makes us more human.
I don’t know if you have ever been at the very tail end of a rain storm. I have. I was driving down south (if I recall it correctly) and it was pouring and then, all of a sudden, it just stopped and it was as if you could see the line where the storm ended. It was weird and cool at the same time. It has occurred to me that life is a lot like that. When there is something to get through, there is a definitive end and though sometimes it will come to you, more often than not, you have to try drive in a lot of directions to get to the end yourself… but it is there. Storms don’t last forever and neither do struggles in life, though it certainly can feel that way.
Are you waiting for the end of the storm to pass over you or are you willing to try and find the end on your own?
Until next time,
Marc




The Virtue of a Made Bed

12 02 2015

Textured-wall-tiles-draw-your-attention-instantly

Until recently, I rarely ever made my bed. It wasn’t for the reasons you may imagine: “what’s the point, it’s just going to get unmade at the end of the day?.”

It was pretty simple, actually. There were a ton of blankets and pillows and it took a long, long time. And I was the only one who would make it. That, and I, too, admittedly, didn’t really see the point. My wife had 3 or 4 blankets, an assortment of pillows and lots of other stuff. That is typical, I realize but it was a lot to get through.

Then my wife filed for divorce and everything came to a grinding halt. I mean – serious halt – like the one where everything goes into slow motion and you can actually hear screeching sounds from thousands of miles away. What little control I ever thought I had quickly was removed and through these almost 2 years of, let’s call it ‘hell’, just for lack of a name at this point, it became clear that I needed to surround myself with people and things that were positive more than ever.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to get all “self help” on you. I wouldn’t even know where to begin with myself let alone you. So, here’s the point. I write – all the time. I read a lot, too. I do both of these activities for work, comedy writing, scripts – you get the picture and I found myself sitting at my desk completely cluttered. Millions of thoughts floated simultaneously and a list of items to do and the order in which to do them (categories, actions, timelines, sub actions) would not help my cause.

Then it occurred to me – I need a decluttered environment to declutter my mind. There has been plenty written about this but I chose to ignore it, pretty much like everything else. It is true. I make my bed and organized my desk almost every morning (after the kids go to school because before – what’s the point, right?). It makes a difference. This is sort of my physical meditation. Clear mind, clear room and I can think. It works.

I have been thinking about why and I can only tell you why it works for me.

I am not a neat freak by any stretch of the imagination. (There are a few things, though, that if I could get my kids to agree to, would inspire me to write poetry: answering the phone, closing a drawer, putting a glass in the sink and pushing down the garbage. Four things. That’s it. Not too much to ask, right?)

Though I’m not OCD, I realized that the more clutter around me, the more a subtle (or maybe not-so subtle) reminder of how out of control things seem in my life. When I am working in a decluttered zone, I visually see calm and that sets my  mind in the right state to focus on other things like writing. That’s it – all I have to offer.

I will say this. I feel so good about my comedy right now. Not “wow – I’m going to make it” good but “yeah, ok, I can do this” good. There are two things that have changed: 1) I have been very honest about my personal situation in a funny way (or I hope a funny way) without worrying if people think it is appropriate or not, and  2) I have been more focused in my writing. For that, I have to thank the simplicity of a fitted sheet, a top sheet, two pillows and a barely fitting blanket. My bed looks like a bare bones lasagna but it is orderly and now, so are my thoughts.

Try it.

Until next time,

Marc





Who are you?

5 01 2015

00881114922

I think way too much. Always have. There’s at least a dozen comments in my high school year book that say as much. And, by the way, that’s not a compliment.

The brain doesn’t shut off when it should.

The brain analyzes things that don’t need to be analyzed.

It’s getting better but it has more to do with just being tired than anything. There are some benefits to getting older and more tired, I guess!

At this (what I hope) midpoint in my life, I have been increasingly turning my attentions to who I want to be, not what I want to be. It was a real eye opener.

Just the other day, in walking my son through his high school course catalog, it was a natural question to ask him – the same question adults have been asking adolescents for decades: “what do you want to be when you grow up.” What an awful question. I still can’t answer it. Then, you go on that job interview and you get the dreaded question: “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Another awful question.

What, where – they are the wrong questions. The question we should be asking ourselves and our future workers, parents, friends is “who do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s not as easy as you may think. Of course, those Miss America “motherhood and apple pie” response of “a contributor to world peace”, “a role model”, etc. are bound to come up.

Truthfully, though, not everybody should want to be Ghandi or Mother Theresa. We need Wolves of Wallstreet (honest wolves) and mercenaries and missionaries. Understanding who we are and who we aspire to be are incredibly helpful in avoiding years and years of jobs and relationships that are not aligned with the real us. Once we are able to understand the 3-5 descriptions of who we want to be, it helps to guide and narrow down our choices – not a bad thing.

For a couple of years at work, I was on the interview circuit – meaning I was asked to interview candidates by co-workers for various jobs. It was really interesting because you could tell the difference between those who defined themselves as a specific role versus those who had a more multi-faceted view of who they were. I am not going to opine on what my opinion is because it is only that. I have no answers or conclusions; only observations and opinions. However, I will say that when I came across a candidate who espoused that he/she would “do anything needed to get the job done, day or night, and give up this and give up that”, it sent red flags my way. I applaud the work ethic – I really do. My only issue is that, again in my opinion, when someone defines “who” they are in such an unbalanced way, they are typically not very good at dealing with disappointment, failure, change and feedback.

I don’t know who you are – I am still figuring out who I am but I do hope whoever it is – it is a tapestry of goals, ideas, skills and roles – for both of us.

Until next time,

Marc








%d bloggers like this: