Day 1

2 01 2017

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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





Someone Died Unexpectedly Today

25 10 2016

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It’s true. It happens every day, numerous times every day. I hope it wasn’t anyone you knew though one day in your life, it probably will be. This is the tug of impermanence – the truth that all we have is this moment.

My dad used to say that the only guarantees in life were death and taxes, (and quoting Ben Franklin, apparently). I’m not going to comment on the taxes part but let’s just say – “message received”.

I have been very stressed lately about a house that will just not sell. It is in great shape and at a great price and it won’t sell. In addition, I am (laughably) being sued for it not selling by a certain former love as if it were my fault. The weight that these two situations places on me is heavy at times and waking up from this is not as easy as it may sound either.

So it is upon committing to a practice of meditation and simply being mindful of the moment and the feelings that present themselves while doing so without judgment that this heaviness starts to dissipate, for not only good things are impermanent.

It is in this practice that the clarity of time, or lack thereof, re-emerges. There is no enlightenment. There is no nirvana. There is simply presence of the moment and a call to take that with me one more moment today than I did yesterday.

I am grateful for this moment and the call to slowly lead the background to the foreground – the daughter singing, the son face timing his friend, the smell of the leaves when I open the door and the vibrating pulse reminding me that we are all energy and spirit if we take a pause to recognize it.

The unexpected condition we know as life is actually quite expected. It may only be that by walking toward it with clear presence that we can truly be free.

Until next time,

Marc

 





Remarkable Day

10 05 2016

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 May 5th was a remarkable day.

I wrote this at 5:04 PM, after what seemed to be a race with unpredictable ending, sitting on the exact train I was supposed to be on to get from NYC to my daughter’s Jr. National Honor Society induction.

In a hurry to get to a meeting downtown and after already being late due to ridiculous traffic, I decided to exit the taxi in a hurry and just walk the remaining 10 minutes or so to where I needed to be. Since I tend to get car sick in the back of taxis, I had decided to meditate to the best of my ability and simply have my credit card ready once we arrived so as to save those precious 10 seconds it would take for me to pull out my wallet and pay the fare.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, as it may turn out), I left said wallet in the back of the cab and realized it too late. After calling 3-1-1, taxi cab receipt in hand, being provided the cab drivers’ number from the dispatcher and trading phone calls, it turned out that the wallet had been taken and was gone. While definitely starting to panic, weirdly, my initial reaction was how relatively easy and helpful it was in reaching out to and getting help from both the taxi dispatch and the driver.

As someone who has been reading a lot lately about one’s “Buddah nature”, I breathed deeply (several times) while still engaging in the meeting and as time allowed, started to cancel various credit card accounts online, to the best of my ability. I had given in to the fact that the wallet was gone and that my attachment to this outcome was of no help to me. I had to “speak” to myself the way in which I would to a friend. And this is where things started getting interesting.

As anyone close to me can tell you, I have a hard time- a real hard time – holding on to things when I travel – wallets, glasses, books, license, credit cards – you get the picture. No matter how much it seems I try to organize, remind myself etc, I lose things more times that I am comfortable admitting. My inner dialogue always goes something like this: “I am such a loser. Why do these things always happen to me? Oh, yeah – it’s because I’m a loser.”

What I realized this day though was that I have been framing all of these incidents – not just losing things – but everything, good and bad, in the wrong way. It’s not “why do these things always happen to me.” It’s “why do these things always happen for me.”

There are no coincidences. As I have written about before, I personally don’t subscribe to the notion that everything happens for a reason but I do believe that things happen for a lesson, which is more graspable.

Here is what happened next:

  1. I am at lunch with work colleagues when one of them has to ask to have her salad “to go” because she has to go to Fordham University to see final presentations from the senior class, which leads to a conversation about Fordham and the campus.
  2. During this conversation, I feel a vibration on my cell phone, which is in my pocket, but do not immediately look at it as to not appear rude during the discussion.
  3. Once the topic changes and there is a natural pause, I look at my phone and it is a Facebook message that says “found your wallet in a cab. Please call ….”
  4. I call the number provided and a guy tells me where he is located and I arrange to pick up my wallet at his office building later in the day. (I profusely thank him, like too much.)
  5. I look up his profile (or what I thought was his profile) on Facebook and it says his name is Tom and he is a graduate of…wait for it….Fordham University.
  6. Then, there is a mildly boring period of getting back to the business of work meetings and I head to the subway to make my way to pick up the wallet, (after canceling a drink with someone I was supposed to meet up with – more due to the meeting going over than the lost wallet).
  7. I get on the right train, wrong direction – end up in Brooklyn.
  8. Get on the train going back but now unsure of myself ask a woman sitting next to me (we were on a train stuck on the tracks for a while) about my route which convinced me to get off, though it turned out to be right all along.
  9. I then get back on the next train going in the right direction and make my way to the office.
  10. Turns out it was not Tom who found my wallet, but his friend, Travis, who was using his phone.
  11. I get my wallet back and rush to the subway with 35 minutes to get from downtown to Penn Station and here I am.

While on the subway, I pulled out “Rising Strong” by Brene Brown which I am reading. I turn the page and she is talking about her vulnerability during a visit to a special place in Texas, Lake Travis. What? She then talks about a scientist (on the same page) with the same last name of someone who just happened to email me recently out of the blue.

What is going on here?

I am not looking to make something out of nothing but c’mon. The universe is telling me something. I think the universe actually has a wicked sense of humor. Maybe by finally “letting go” of this idea of control, it’s the most straightforward way of knowing that the universe really does have our backs. That day could have gone in so many different directions but every single interaction – from the taxi driver through dispatch, was leading to something bigger than the sum of it’s parts.

I boarded the train in the morning and the evening as planned. However, what happened in between was anything but. Isn’t this the best metaphor for life? We are born and then we exit but what really matters are the unexpected, wonderful, tragic, elaborate, simple, mind-boggling, boring things that happen in-between and what we take from them. That is truly remarkable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Groundlessness

30 06 2015

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I am fortunate enough to be involved with a start-up within a larger organization. I say “fortunate” because it suits me personally – entrepreneurial, a bit risky, a bit improvised but with the security of people way smarter and talented than myself…sort of like my whole approach to comedy, I guess.

One of the “mantras” that our team has been guided to embrace is the idea of “being comfortable with being uncomfortable.” When I first heard this, I said something like “you obviously don’t know me that well; I have been uncomfortable my whole life.” While there is probably some truth to this, it is really difficult to feel uncomfortable. My natural tendency is to do anything to help get through it and fight against it, some of which is good (listening to or playing music, exercise, writing, having a glass of wine) and some not so good (I will let you use your imagination here…let’s say multiple glasses of wine for arguments sake). What this mantra is really telling us to do is accept the discomfort. Similar to the messages being relayed in the popular Pixar flick “Inside Out” – sadness is a necessary emotion that should not be suppressed. It is the same thing with discomfort.

This notion resonates with the Buddhist teachings of Pema Chodrun that I have read recently. The idea around groundlessness, as I understand it from my very rudimentary perspective, is that rather than use things, even spirituality, to ground ourselves so that we feel secure and firm “under our feet”, true spirituality helps us understand that the ground is really just a perception of sorts and the nature of life is forever changing, unpredictable and not within our control – essentially “groundless”.

If you weren’t uncomfortable before, you ought to be now. It’s interesting to me because I have had a really difficult time explaining to a few people how I really feel right now and I have used the word “untethered” a lot, not even thinking or considering this concept of “groundlessness”.

It’s an interesting word – untethered. It adequately describes how I feel – not tied to any one thing at any particular time and trying to figure it out. However, what if instead of trying to solve something that is unsolvable, I accepted the fact that this is a natural feeling, despite my false notions and perceptions of how I perceive the world to be? Would I be comfortable ever with the notion that there is not clear plan, 401K, house, family, trajectory, etc and even if there was, that it really could be fluid in nature?

Well, for me, the “reality”, if there is one, lies somewhere in between. Most people who plan over time will reap some sort of outcome for their efforts. That doesn’t preclude the fact, however, that the feeling that one receives may not be one of security. That won’t stop the groundlessness…nor should it necessarily. These “security” barriers that we work so hard for are not necessarily  a guaranteed home run – perhaps in terms of the material but not in terms of happiness. I know this is starting to sound…well, not like me but I guess all I am saying (and learning for myself) is that the acceptance of groundlessness as part of our real experience may lead to a lot more happiness than another upgrade on our car lease or piece of furniture.

Until next time,

Marc

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The Positive Side of Hopelessness

4 05 2015

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I have been reading a book by Pema Chödrön, “a notable American figure in Tibetan Buddhism” in which she talks about the benefits of hopelessness. That’s right – not hopeFULness…hopeLESSness.

This is not what I had expected at all, as you can imagine. In fact, I thought that in the practice of meditation and being one with  the present, that it was hope I would find. Rather, hopelessness is the beginning.

Here is what she has to say on the subject:

“The difference between theism and notheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God. It is an issue that applies to everyone, including Buddhists and non-Buddhists. Theism is a deeply seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us. It means thinking there’s always going to be a babysitter available when we need one. We all are inclined to abdicate our responsibilities and delegate our authority to something outside ourselves. Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves. Nontheism is realizing that there’s no babysitter that you can count on. The whole of life is like that. That is the truth, and the truth is inconvenient.”

The truth is inconvenient? Boy, don’t I know it. Those are probably the truest 4 words ever spoken in the English language.

What Chödrön is essentially saying is that there is a benefit to the idea of hopelessness. If we are able to abandon hope it forces us to stop waiting for something better and/or not fully live in the present. Living in a present that is less than ideal is uncomfortable and inconvenient. However, doing so gives us great confidence in our ability to do just that because we have to face what is – whether it is good or bad – and after we do just that, we gain great confidence.

Basically, suffering is part of life. It is inescapable. There is great comfort and pride in actually doing something and dealing with what is here and now. I think that regardless of how badly a night of comedy might go, that is why I keep coming back. At least I was living. I couldn’t stand up there bombing and hope it would get better. I could deal with it right then and there and sometimes that actually turns out to be just fine.

And that is just comedy. In the grand scheme of thing, it is not important. Today, I went to a WWII discussion with 3 veterans on a panel and they all spoke to the daily uncertainty they lived with as young soldiers – having to deal with the very real present and death every day. They accepted this suffering and talk about it with great humility and pride. It has given them incredible resilience and perspective. Perhaps the hopelessness that they felt 70 plus years ago was the most pivotal thing that could have happened to them in their young lives because it forced them to accept what is and not what they hope it to be.

This is a lesson I am learning every day in my life. Through some of the most challenging days over the past 2 years, I have felt more grateful than I had ever felt before.

Until next time,

Marc








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